Rewriting the Rules of Fiction


The Wall Street Journal Reports Amateur authors writing tales about favorite characters are drawing big audiences and landing book deals. Meet Harry Potter's grandparents.
Fan fiction, stories by amateur writers about characters from their favorite books, movies and television shows, was once mainly a fringe pursuit. Now, it's changing the world of fiction, as Internet exposure helps unknown authors find mainstream success. Some Web sites are attracting unprecedented numbers of readers and, in some cases, leading to book deals. They are also feeding the appetites of readers and viewers who can't get enough of shows like "Lost" or "House."



Isn't fanfac essentially lazy and derivative?

Sure, the bad stuff is. But a GOOD fanfic writer, while "stealing" someone else's creation has to make it seem like the character they're writing is the SAME as the character on TV/in the book/in the movie. And if you think it's easy? Go on, I dare you, try it. Try and write Fox Mulder so that people believe it's him; try and write Harry Potter so people believe it's him.

And in reality, it's no more lazy for me to write Hotch or Reid (from Criminal Minds, my current obsession) than it is for me to write a version of Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs.

I've thought about this before. Both original writing and fanfic have their challenges. In original fic, you have to create the entire universe for your characters--be it the world of space or the world between two people. You get to decide who will be like what, what the personalities are and you basically just have to keep things straight within your story. In fanfic, sure, the "universe" and characters are already created for you--but you have to write those characters so that other people reading it will recognise the characters--in a really good fanfic, I shouldn't need names to know which character is which (if I'm familiar with the show, if I'm not? Well, names would help). As I said, this isn't as easy as it seems. Which is why most of us obsess and love the shows we write for--we have to know those characters and know them well--otherwise, we might just be writing original fic.

Can you imagine a movie that takes place on exact replicas of each set and location on "Return of the Jedi", but was about two bike messengers falling in love against the backdrop of 1970s Chicago?

Typically, in fanfic, it's the characters that matter, not the setting. Although some people do create original characters to inhabit a certain "universe" it's not as common. In slashfic (I can't speak for gen) the characters are the focal point, not the setting. Now, if you took Han and Luke and put THEM into 1970s Chicago, then you'd be writing fanfic. All be it an A/U (alternate or alternative universe). Not saying that people don't take "universes" and write OCs (original characters) but that's not quite the fanfic I'm used to.

That's part of the joy in writing fanfic is in putting the characters in unusual situations, whether it be something they might actually encounter in their own universe or not. That's why we have A/Us; and technically, I suppose, for shows other than Oz or Queer as Folk, slash IS also A/U.

Can you imagine a movie that takes place on exact replicas of each set and location on "Return of the Jedi", but was about two bike messengers falling in love against the backdrop of 1970s Chicago?

Honestly, no. But mostly its because I don't think a movie could hold that level of pure Awesome!

I wouldn't say it is lazy. It is just another challenge - like writing a certain type of poetry -there are rules you must obey. Boundaries in which you must stay.
I don't write Fanfic but I have read some and it is difficult to get it right. To bring creativity to the story and yet keep it true to the voice of the original.
Some fanfics start with the same premise many novels/movies do- "What if". What if this character had not chosen to do this or that. What would happen? Good fanfic expands our understanding of the characters, gives us more stories in a world we like.
Bad fanfic does stuff like what one guy I know does - he inserts himself into the stories so that he can have adventures with the beautiful women there. That I find a little creepy.

Isn't fanfac essentially lazy and derivative? By definition it starts from plagiarism. Fanfic MUST contain characters created by another writer. It makes it seem like the literary equivalent of paint by numbers.Can you imagine a movie that takes place on exact replicas of each set and location on "Return of the Jedi", but was about two bike messengers falling in love against the backdrop of 1970s Chicago?

Their description of fan fic bears NO relation to any fan fic I've actually read. Most of it is written by semi-literates pre-teens, perverts, the mentally ill and the obsessed for semi-literates, pre-teens, perverts, the mentally ill and the obsessed.

I'm not sure if you're referring to just the HP fandom or fandom as a whole. I'm kinda hoping it's just the HP fandom to which you are referring.

Since I write slash, I probably fall under the "pervert" category. Please note: I do not write or read HP slash as the books held very little interest for me. And I happily admit to being obsessed with the tv shows I write fanfic about...if I wasn't, I wouldn't write fanfic. *shrug* While it's true there's a lot of dreck out there and, in some fandoms, such as HP or the anime-type fandoms, there seems to be an inordinate amount fangirly teens, there are also very many literate people who read AND write fanfic. We're outnumbered (as I do consider myself to be at least somewhat literate), I'll admit...but we do exist. And not all the teenyboppers are airhead fangirls, either--I've met a few who are quite mature and even good writers, given their age.

Classifying all fanfic writers as " semi-literates pre-teens, perverts, the mentally ill and the obsessed" is no different than referring to all librarians as bun wearing, glasses wearing, cat owning women. You always have the ones who make up the stereotype but you also have those who defy it...and everyone else falls in between.

And if you're looking for good fanfic--then you should totally avoid It's a breeding ground for the annoying fanfic writers, or so it seems. Of course, I don't actually read a lot of gen--but the view times I've actually read anything linked to I've wanted to spork my eyes out.

Sometimes you really have to look for the good stuff.

fanfiction isn't really illegal under copyright law

Yeah, but it isn't legal under copyright law either. And I've read arguments going both ways about the legality, or lack thereof. The only way it would be settled (and even then there'd be room for appeals, I'm sure) is by having a test case. I really hope that never happens. Of course, that's just dealing with fic derived from a "fictional" source--these days there's Real People Fiction (RPF or if it's slash RPS)--and I'm not talkig historical characters but current day musicians and/or actors; that's a whole other realm of legalities and issues.

It is a broad area, for sure. There are several genres and interests within each genre--pretty much something for everyone. And I know of a couple ff writers who've gone pro. I also know some folks who think that some of the "officially" sanctioned Star Trek (TOS) novels were very fanfic like! I used to read those all the time, when I was going through my ST:TOS phase (pre internet, btw!).

fanfiction isn't really illegal under copyright law -- there are lawyers who believe that it would be found as a fair and legal derivative use, and other lawyers who believe otherwise. It hasn't been tested. But I do agree that it is nerve-racking to know that articles, which might be provoking those legal tests, given that it's unclear how they would resolve.

Some fanfiction writers are not good enough to go pro. Other fanfiction writers are professionals. It's a big genre.

There's plenty of high-quality fan fiction. I know several published authors -- well-known, renowned published authors -- who also write fan fiction under different names. The reason that much of what you've seen is terrible is twofold: first of all, as we all know, 90% of everything is crap. Because the bar to publishing fanfiction is so low, there is no editor weeding out the terrible stuff. The wonderful work is out there as well, but it's in a sea of the 90% of everything. As librarians, we certainly know that part of our job is to select, that much of what exists in book form is not what we would recommend, but that there are still valuable works that we select and choose.The other reason you've probably seen lots of terrible fanfiction is that it's links to the terrible stuff to get center on the Internet as jokes. In general, only people who choose to read fanfiction see the good works, because why he would you be exposed to it if it's not something you're reading? But really terrible fanfiction, the god-awful stuff, gets linked to from joke sites.

I agree. Their description of fan fic bears NO relation to any fan fic I've actually read. Most of it is written by semi-literates pre-teens, perverts, the mentally ill and the obsessed for semi-literates, pre-teens, perverts, the mentally ill and the obsessed.Journalists always do that. One technical trend or web fad comes along and they make it sound like the Second Coming or the biggest thing since the mouse. Nevermind that it's not and it sucks. Usually.

The quality of fan fiction varies greatly. The very, very few things I've even seen that have been HP fic have sucked ostrich eggs and the writers all seem to be teeny bopper Mary Sues. I'm sure there's quality writers out there but since I'm really not into I don't go looking for it.

On the one hand it's nice that some fanfic writers are getting the acknowledgement I suppose they deserve but honestly, it's a bit unnerving having too much attention focused on the fanfic because, to the best of my knowledge, it's illegal under copyright law. I'm not aware of any cases being taken to court, although I have heard of C&D letters being sent out to archives and or writers, so I guess it really hasn't been tested in a court of law... But still, I got into fandom early enough on, that I've inherited the "shh, don't talk about it to the mundanes" attitude about it, especially with the genre I write in, which is slash. There's always been the, perhaps mistaken, idea that if you don't throw the fanfic in TPTB faces, then they'll leave us alone.

Fanfic is a free for all--and the quality of what is output reflects that. Some people even refuse to use a spell checker on their work, so you can imagine the kinds of dreck one has to wade through. Other people are simply wonderful writers who, most likely, could write pro novels and do well. But most days, it seems like one has to wade through an awful lot of bad stuff to get to the good.

As for my own writing? I know I'm not good enough to go pro, and I honestly have no real interest in being a pro writer, but I don't think I'm that bad either. *g* Very much middle of the road. (I use a spell checker AND I having a passing familiarity with grammar. Most days. ;))

As for fanfic, it's been around for quite a while, and I really don't see it going away, unless, of course, fanfic writers start getting sued...


90% of everything is crap.

Ahem, credit where credit is due. That is Sturgeon's Revelation [aka Sturgeon's Law]; coined by noted author Theodore Sturgeon. I only mention it, b/c Ted is an author who is brilliant yet unknown by most.

As it is said in a corollary, the existence of immense quantities of trash in [fan fiction] is admitted and it is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than the existence of trash anywhere.

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