I’ve had a conversation about this with several other writers, and I wanted to open up the conversation here.
If I went up into the attic, I know precisely where to find the handwritten pages and pages of Pern fanfiction. I was a green dragonrider, didn’t you know? My friend Cindy and I spent hours and days writing an interwoven story about our crushes on the various Pern young men (I had a thing for F’lessan, and she liked Piemur until the later books spoiled that by giving him a girl.) It was the eighth grade. We were thirteen. Cindy is the only other person alive who has seen those sheets of paper.
Many writers will admit to writing fanfic when they were younger, or even now, just for the fun of it. It’s a portal, a gateway.
World building, character building, those things take practice, and skill. For many beginners, it’s just plain easier to start off with a world and characters that someone else has made for you, particularly ones that you’d wished might have hung around longer, or had stories of their own. The concept of inserting ourselves into these beloved fictional worlds just allows readers to keep daydreaming the world. It lets us hang onto friends we’re not ready to part with.
What I do not like about fanfic these days is (a) people making money off of other people’s ideas, and (b) the shamelessness of it. I know I sound like a prude when I say it. But seriously, EL James is making a killing on 50 shades of grey, which is thinly veiled Twilight fanfic. She didn’t do the hard work of coming up with a character (I won’t go into whether I thought Stephanie Meyer did that, either).
I find it amusing, the shipping and the story after story about every cross-section of fictional worlds you can come up with. But I also find it frustrating and disturbing. Some of those fanfic writers are particularly talented. They are wasting that talent by not writing their own worlds and their own characters. It’s lazy.
The other part of this conversation that I had the other day was the concept of Fractured Fairytales, or fairytale expansions, retellings or undoings. Even myths for that matter. Are they just elaborate fanfiction?
What about licensed work – say a novel in the Star Trek Universe that is written by someone outside that space? Isn’t that fanfiction?
I really like some of this stuff,too, so I’m not casting aspersions. What I’m asking is more about the sanctity of originality, I suppose. Are we using archetypes to retell myths? Or are we using ready-made characters? Where is the line between creating something new, and stealing from someone else’s intellectual property?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think it’s worth talking about.
- Did this bestselling author lift her last work from the pages of fanfic? (dailydot.com)
- AngelExposed’s Fanfiction: Marvel should probably hire her. (eurydicehowell.wordpress.com)
- When is a fanfic not a fanfic?: Part 1 (carriej56.wordpress.com)