My oldest daughter is deeply “into” fan fiction. She downloads it for free, reads it, and writes a fair share herself. I don’t think she has uploaded any yet, but she shared some with me.
The strangest combinations come in to being in the Fan Fiction universe. Harry Potter meets Gandalf for advice or as a mentor. (Actually that is a no-brainer as Gandalf is the twin of Dumbledore.) Emma from Twilight meets the Teen Wolf and ditches her vampire for him. Hermione gets paired off with Aragorn. You get the idea.
Now there is only one thing that is legally objectionable about fan fiction. The whole lot of it is undiluted plagiarism. From a literary aspect, and from a point of view of new authors wanting to make their own unique voices heard, there is much to be objected against; but legally, I think that sums it up. I tried to write some what I realize now was fan fiction, about the world of well-known German YA author Karl May when I was 11, and was told bluntly by my mother, “create your own darned story!” I had been creating my own stories already but, thanks Mom, for the pointer! I needed to hear it; it gave my comparatively lazy creativity a fresh kick in the hindquarters and I got on with writing my own darned story.
While I goggle at the creativity and unique ideas my youngster pours into different cross-over universes from different best-selling authors, both the writer and the publisher in me cringe, and so does the mother. I tried to correct the error of her ways gently. “Sweetie, EL James made a fortune recasting her fan fiction into a different genre and changing the characters’ names.” (Let’s for once ignore the effect that if you recast a vampire acting like a vampire into a human male acting like a vampire, you turn him into the worst pervert.) – “Yes, but Mom, you don’t understand. This is Fan Fiction!”
I try a bit harder: “Listen, Girla, you already invented a brand new character and she’s your story’s best feature! And you changed the setting completely. It’s really your story, not Teen Wolf anymore. Won’t you just rename the other characters, so that it can be all your story?” – “Naah… it’s them I’m writing about, not someone else.”
Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between whether she’s telling me about her own writings or some other fan fiction she’s read. My head spins. I can’t remember whether that basilisk in HP2 actually ever spoke to Harry in Parseltongue or not. I didn’t read the books (yet), only watched the movies, and only in their completeness years after they came out (why? I was too busy writing my own darned series).
So when she asks, “so what do you think?” I reply with the most detestable answer of all: “Of what?” Because honestly I can’t tell the difference anymore. Ever since that, I’m the dense mom who will never understand The Teenager. I’ve sinned even worse: I’ve bashed the genre. “I wish all that beautiful young creativity would go into dreaming up their own, new, unique stories.” My internal publisher is craving to publish teenage authors, just as my inner writer in my own teenage years was craving to get published. I want to give young ones that platform! It’s the definition of P’kaboo! But – not for stealing other people’s ideas. Sorry.
My real objections to Fan Fiction:
1. It’s stolen.
That is probably the biggest one. Plagiarism, in the mind of a writer, is on the same level as burglary. We spend years fine-combing our work to make sure we didn’t accidentally plagiarize someone. The ethics of fan fiction are totally skewed. I wouldn’t walk into your house and help myself from your fridge, any more than I’d loot your characters, your world-building etc from your book. And I wouldn’t tolerate you doing the same from my books either!
2. Flattery, or a problem?
With the recent post about MZB and her child abuse, I felt compelled to read up more about an author who, to be honest, shaped a lot of my outlook, my writing style and my take on fantasy in my teenage years. (Somehow I always managed to ignore her very explicit sex scenes in favour of the rest of her epic style. Had I known…) I found some interesting things on her. While she in her early writings published some fan-fiction herself in a fan-fiction magazine, she also allowed others to “take over” writing books in the Darkover world. This became part of the immense success of the series. She supported fans who wrote fan-fiction in her worlds, and even boosted some into fame.
Of course, as author, it must be flattering if fans start writing fan fiction in your world out of sheer enthusiasm. But there are limits to it: While I’d take serious umbrage to fans changing the characters or relationships of my characters, it actually happened to MZB that a fan of hers published a sequel in one of her series that was so close in storyline to the sequel she herself was about to publish, that her own was never brought out. That was when she pulled a stop to fans publishing books in her worlds.
Seriously, fans, you wouldn’t want to do that, would you? Out-explore your favourite author’s world to the point that there is no more space for her to publish the next installment, in her own voice, the voice that made you fall in love with that world in the first place?
3. It floods the market
From a purely mercenary point of view, let’s look at this: Teens who read are usually voracious readers. They are happy to explore new authors etc. When we were teens we had enough pocket money that now and then we could march into a bookshop and grab a brand-new book; for the rest, we lived in the library that was kept well-stocked for us. We even requested titles.
Fan-fiction is being uploaded onto the internet for free, and downloaded for free. Only boring adults and stupid teachers would have a problem with the quality of the writing. We Teens are forgiving of poor grammar, because all we really want is the story. And who would spend even 99c on a novel if you can download more stories about your favourite characters for free? There must be over a million fan fiction stories and authors up there by now. It’s a massive, giant free-for-all, but… there is no more space for people who actually want to be paid for a unique story they wrote and put care, effort and professional polishing into.
4. Every corner of a “world” is coloured in.
With thousands of Harry Potter fan fiction writers, no mystery remains, no corner remains unlit, no dialogue remains unwritten – in HP’s world. The musician in me baulks against all that noise, but it’s a hard one to explain.
5. New worlds are left unexplored and unread.
It takes a certain kind of laziness to want more all the time in the world you are so overly familiar with while ignoring stacks of new worlds that are being written into reality every day by real authors inventing their own darned stories.
6. The publisher in me…
… would reject them all. Why? They are written in poor English; the ideas are copied or clicheed; no effort of thought has gone into creating these stories; the whole genre is one of plagiarism; so what exactly am I bringing readers that they can’t dream up themselves?
Watterson, the creator of Calvin& Hobbes, refused to sign any subsidiary rights. His explanation: He didn’t want Hallmark to corrupt Calvin’s character by making him wish someone Happy Birthday in some or other brainless greeting card.
On Facebook you’ll find memes that hijacked (illegally used) his brilliant drawings anyway, with or without permission. Who is to control Facebook? But it is a form of robbery as it rides roughshod over the creator’s wishes. He didn’t want his characters to be misused even if he could earn money from allowing it; now people are doing it without him (or his estate) earning a penny. It’s on the same level as taking someone’s ebook, copying it and making it available for free on Epub Bud without asking the author. It’s, gee, thanks.
No, I don’t like Fan Fiction. Thank you.