seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

The periodic Fanfic discussion Revives...

nycshelly pointed out one of the latest in a series of established writers talking about the EEEEEEeeeeeeeeeevils of fanfic, this time from Robin Hobb.

EDIT: Apparently Robin wrote this about a year ago. My response is still valid, even if this is not, actually the "latest" screed on the topic.

Once more I must reiterate my statements from before, just because... someone should, and that someone should be a published author. I'm not as well known as Robin Hobb, but I am someone who knows about the basics of the field... and some of Robin's statements are, not to put too fine a point on it, utterly ludicrous. Let's look at some of them:

Fan fiction is like any other form of identity theft. It injures the name of the party whose identity is stolen.
What utter rot. No one except idiots (and overexcitable fangirls) confuse fanfiction with the real stuff. The vast, VAST volume of Potterfics out there have had exactly ZERO effect on J.K. Rowling's reputation. No one I have EVER heard of has contended that they have formed their view of an author based on the fanfiction made from the author's work. I've seen a few cases of obsessive fangirls convincing themselves of something about an anime based on doujinshi and their own preferences, but no one thinking sensibly would do this. This isn't "identity theft". No one is claiming to be the author in question. Fanfic writers do not in any way, shape, or form imply that they have any direct association with the author. In short, there isn't anything at all to support such a hysterically extreme position. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero.

That’s not flattering. That’s insulting. Every fan fiction I’ve read to date, based on my world or any other writer’s world, had focused on changing the writer’s careful work to suit the foible of the fan writer. Romances are invented, gender identities changed, fetishes indulged and endings are altered. It’s not flattery. To me, it is the fan fiction writer saying, “Look, the original author really screwed up the story, so I’m going to fix it. Here is how it should have gone.”
The key words here are "to me". This is a case of an author taking things far too seriously. Our words aren't holy writ. They're stories. They produce reactions. If they don't, in fact, we're failures. Authors who don't produce reactions don't sell many books. It's perfectly natural for a reader who reacts strongly to your writing to do something about it, if they feel at all interested in writing themselves. Some of the reactions will be, um, not for family consumption. Some will be negative -- yes, they ARE basically saying you screwed up. What amazes me is that Robin Hobb acts as though that should be taken seriously. Is there a SINGLE author on the entire planet who has never had a negative review? Is there ANY written work on earth that hasn't been lambasted by someone? I don't think so. Not so long as the written work had more than the writer's ten closest friends as readers, and maybe not even then. SO WHAT? This is one of the most important lessons any published author, or actor, needs to learn: SOME PEOPLE WILL HATE YOUR STUFF. And those inclined to write may REwrite your stuff. I, personally, rewrote a number of classic stories that peeved me, such as "Harrison Bergeron". (personally, I'd call that "anti-fan fic"). And some will honestly want to explore new or different paths. Again... SO WHAT? If they were trying to get it published for money, under YOUR name, that's a problem. But they're not.

Note, also, that even the money question isn't particularly important. In Japan, fanfiction is a major industry -- one that actually has made money for the fanficcers. And one which is watched closely by the regular publishing industry for potential new talents. Which leads us to...

“Fan fiction is a good way for people to learn to be writers.” No. It isn’t.
ACTUALLY, yes, it can be, Robin Hobb. You are wrong. You are completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong. Different people learn the tricks of writing many ways. The most CRUCIAL is to write SOMETHING. Anything. But write. I actually learned a fair number of techniques doing fanfiction with my wife; specifically, if anyone anywhere thinks I can write interesting characters, they can probably credit my fanfic work with teaching me how. A number of other writers, some of them very well known indeed, have "committed fanfiction" in their past, and if it didn't teach them anything it sure as hell didn't HURT.

Fan fiction and copyright.
One subject that Robin almost-sorta gets right. Yes, copyright has NADA to do with money. But infringing is a different issue. You generally can't infringe on COPYRIGHT unless you are copying someone else's stuff directly. What you *CAN* infringe on without doing that is Trademarks. This is a very fuzzy area of law, and the excesses and stupidities of things like the MPAA, RIAA, etc., have just made it fuzzier and more annoying. Bottom line, you may well NOT be infringing on copyright, but that WON'T protect you if some jerk with more money than common sense decides to sue you on it. OTOH, if you play it right, the jerk will lose far more from the bad publicity than they could possibly have lost even if you WERE selling your fanfics for 20 bucks a pop and hitting the NYT bestselller lists.

The other stuff is just more of the same, including the old "why write fanfiction instead of original stuff? It's not creative!" which is an entirely separate line of bullshit. By that standard there's nothing creative in the commercial fanfics, er, Tie In Novels. Sure, some of them might well qualify as Uncreative Stuff. But others are very creative, and in some ways writing in someone else's universe is MORE demanding, because it comes with constraints that your own stuff won't. (Timothy Zahn's contributions to the Star Wars universe were pretty creative within those constraints, IMCGO, and few people have accused Zahn of being UNABLE to write stuff on his own.

The most amusing part of Robin Hobb's rant is the last section, where she basically says "here, write your fanfic, change the names, and publish it!" Yes, really. She changes the order -- i.e., she says to change the names and all before you write it -- but in essence, magically, by taking the exact same characters you would write in your fic, and the exact same situations, and changing the names, she's telling you that suddenly it becomes worthy, creative fiction.

Think about that. I go to write a fanfic about, say, Stargate. This is (quoting Robin again) "UNWORTHY OF ME". So instead, I change the names of the main characters -- Jack becomes John, Daniel becomes Darrin, Samantha becomes Sylvia, and instead of "Stargate" I make it a network of "Portals", and make a different name for the godlike race they're fighting, and suddenly it's Worthy and Creative? Unless I change a lot more than that, I might not even avoid a C&D from Sci-Fi.

The bottom line? An awful lot of stuff published *IS* fanfic. We published authors just filed the serial numbers off better than the average ficcer, and maybe do more crossover fics than they do. Maybe that just makes the average ficcer more HONEST than the authors who take a holier-than-thou position on the subject.
Tags: fanfic
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