Monday, May 10, 2010

Fan fiction?

spaceball.gifI haven't been very looped in on the discussion, but evidently a debate has been happening in the interwebs over the value--or not--of fan fiction. 

Here's an item by George R.R. Martin in which he denounces the idea of fan fic and basically says writers are dumb to let fans play in their sandbox. He cites as examples the famous case of Marion Zimmer Bradley getting threatened with a lawsuit by a fan who was writing Darkover fiction that Bradley had read and encouraged after Bradley wanted to write a novel using a premise similar to something in this fan's story. He also talks about Lovecraft and how he died a pauper supposedly because he didn't protect his copyrights, while Edgar Rice Burroughs made himself a millionaire off his Tarzan and Barsoom properties.

Here's an item by Nick Mamatas rebutting Martin's piece and contending that the comparison between Lovecraft and Burroughs is invalid, and making the case that the only reason Lovecraft has a legacy and is so well known and highly regarded now is that he encouraged his fellow writers and fans to play with the Cthulhu Mythos which, in turn, helped keep Lovecraft's own work alive so many decades after his death. 

This is an item by Corinne Duyvis in which she ascribes a lot of value to fan fiction as a way for writers to practice the craft and get feedback from readers. 

And there are many other such posts around the world dealing with this general topic. What do M-Brane readers think about it? Does anyone who reads this blog or who has written for the magazine read or write any fan fiction, or have you in the past? I used to when I was a kid and had a lot of fun with it, and I think it may have had some of the benefits that Corinne describes. I even self-published a lot of it in my Star Trek fanzine under a variety of pseudonyms. My co-editor and I probably wrote ourselves over half of all the content that we ever published over 21 monthly issues, so we certainly got some practice at writing a lot of stuff. That's not to say that any of it was any good, but it was probably a useful exercise for a young kid nonetheless.

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Anonymous said...

While I don't write or read fan fiction, it's probably apparent to anyone in the M-Brane & AeA world that what ESR referred to as "Open Culture" is very important to me, and I suggest is a key to cultural relevance moving forward. Without this, culture becomes the sole creative possession of big media, more and more watered down and oriented toward blockbusterism. I've not read the Mamatas post yet, but it is a good point noted here. I just can't believe that the dangers outweigh the benefits of the open solution.

I guess we'll find out.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris
I think the practice of writing fan fiction can be beneficial, but only if the writer branches out after using the fan stuff as learning exercises. It is very beneficial in the tenet that there are no truly original ideas, only original execution of ideas. I started writing my Sivil Galaxi stuff at 13 set in the Star Wars universe. By 15 I was making it different, making it my own, and studying what worked and didn’t work in the Star Wars setting. The shame I continued to feel “having stolen” the premise of Interworld empires and republics totally and completely EVAPORATED when I continued to branch out and found much more obvious “thefts” by George Lucas and his early writers in character names such as “Han” and place names such as “Stars End.” Those very clearly came from the Foundation works and the entire principle of the droids was also directly swiped from Asimov. (Then came IG-88.)
I do not read any fan fiction, because nothing I’ve tried to read has actually seemed like a good (or perhaps like a well told) story. It all seems like early attempts to learn the craft. Martin’s example is right...just by reading the fan fiction based on your own stuff, you can be found guilty of stealing it if you develop a similar idea.
Coincidentally, I made a sale to Star Dreck (Epic Saga Publishing) this week. In talking to editor David Fitzpatrick, he bemoaned that most of what he is receiving is not the parodies he VERY clearly asks for, but fan fiction mostly by people who cannot complete sentences or develop ideas. I figured that’s par for the course, especially with Star Trek, which I would guess has inspired more fan fiction than Star Wars, DC, and Marvel Comics combined.
There are no truly original ideas, only original execution of ideas. My character Jorgen who appeared in M-Brane #4 started in my earliest Star Wars drafts as human–like everybody but Chewbacca and the raging barfly alcoholics in A New Hope. (I now consider Chewbacca a token.) Se became metamorphic Dolarian because I couldn’t decide what type of alien to make hir. The metamorphy led to the homeworld being put near the center of the galaxy. This led to the thought that the metamorphic aliens could be the progenitors of all life in the Sivil Galaxi. After all, they can become anything or anyone. There’s a wealth of material in writing and potentiality, all derived from what began as Star Wars fan fiction that now has no direct analogy in Star Wars. My Dolarians also predate DS9. The concept was not stolen, was all my original idea and considerable development. Yet Jorgen unintentionally is, at hir core, the Shmoo.
Fan fiction can be great escapism, and if the writer has no ambition beyond his own entertainment with characters and setting he so dearly loves, it is in fact ideal. But as he learns and grows, the time comes for that fan fiction to be filed away for the writer’s more mature efforts ro make his own mark in his own world.
Jeff Kozzi

Corinne said...

I never really buy into the "but they'll sue me!" defense; that's easily avoided by just not reading fanfiction of your work. It's no reason for people not to write it. Only very few fans send their work to authors, anyway - the vast majority are happy to play in their little sandboxes online with other fans.

Jeff, while I agree with most of what you're saying, I don't agree that fanfiction is *only* beneficial if the writer branches out, and that that's a logical step for writers to take. Believe me, I did not spend my time in fandom thinking, "Yeah! I'm developing skills I can use for my original work later!" Instead, I spent my time making Tony Stark drink a lot and sleep around a lot, and making Scott Summers be very emo over his dead wife, and having Catwoman run around town and steal shit and flirt with Batman. I was just having fun. If that's the end goal, like you say, there's nothing wrong with that, so I don't quite see how it's any less mature than original fiction, or how fanfiction is only valid if it's followed up by original fiction.

Jeff Kozzi said...

Hi Corrine. Your Netherlands location explains why you do not understand the lawsuit concerns. America is the land of the free-to-sue, where disposable coffee cups must be marked "hot contents" or any patron can get a first degree burn by their own carelessness *or design) and then sue for millions in damades. And that patron will have NO problem finding a lawyer to take the case, and if they get lucky with the judge they have WON. It happened to McDonald's, so now all coffee sales have to protect themselves against sertving coffee HOT.
That really is how it can be here...too many lawyers. In the case of the writers, they may have to prove they never read the website with a similar wituation with their own copyrighted characters. If they cannot prove that they didn't see something, they have no defense. If someone posted the fanfiction in January 2009, and the writer got a new computer in April 2009, they could be in court now with the author losing because the newcomputer means he must have changed the computer to hide any evidence that he had visited the site where the fanfiction was posted. The writers must actively defend their work and should not read any fanfiction. In MZB;s case, the fanfiction very well might have influenced her later work. The subconscious works in many different ways, so there is no telling that she did NOT get any influence or inspiration from the fanfiction.
The Internet makes it more dificult because the fanfic writer does not have to actually be sent the material.

Corinne said...

My name is Corinne - one R, double N. ;)

I'm well aware of the lawsuit concerns in the US; I'm also well aware that the specific case you're talking about has been wildly misrepresented in the media and is nowhere near as unreasonable as it was made out to be. (As I recall, the woman was 79 at the time, the coffee was several dozen degrees hotter than the very maximum allowed temperature, she actually received disfiguring third-degree burns that required major skin grafts, and asked for a very reasonable amount of money--$20k to cover $11k of medical costs and over two years of recovery. McDonald's refused and offered $800.)

Similarly, the case with the Marion Zimmer Bradley fanfiction lawsuit -- the fan sent his/her work to MZB, who read it and wrote back that she liked the work and was doing something similar, and did s/he mind if MZB used a similar take and thanked the fan in the acknowledgments? The fan wanted a better deal than that, MZB disagreed and decided to go ahead and use those ideas anyway, and then the fan sued.

Christopher Fletcher said...

The core of the problem with the MZB case was that MZB was perhaps TOO friendly with the fan writers, going so far as to actually read and comment on their work which--legitimately or not--opens that possibility that fan writers can see things in future MZB work and say "Hey, that was MY idea!" Wasn't it the case, though, that she just bagged her own plans for the book after the problem arose? Whatever the details were, I think it was both unwise for the author to get involved with the fan fiction like that but also completely ridiculous for any of the Darkover fan fic writers to seriously believe that they ought to be able to make a monetary claim to any of that stuff. Lessons learned all around, I guess.

By the way, I concur with what Brandon said above, and I am very excited that we are about to launch a new "open culture" fictional milieu with our AETHER AGE project. It bears some comparison with fan fiction in that it's a world that many people may want to play in, but it's an entirely different model for it and we're looking forward to seeing what develops after the book is finally released.

Corinne said...

Yeah, the book got scratched, though I don't know if that was MZB's decision or the publisher's. I definitely think she shouldn't have read the work - when I get published, I intend to fully encourage fanfiction and never read a word of it - but I don't think it was all that absurd of the writer to sue. You know the kind of work that goes into writing a novel; if I wrote a novel that's entirely a labour of love, that I knew I'd never be able to make money of, and shared it with someone... and then that person goes "cool, I'm going to use these ideas and make lots of money off them, and I guess I'll just stick your name somewhere in the acknowledgments" -- well, I'd be pissed and betrayed. I doubt this is always the case, but if the author flat-out tells the fanfiction writer "I like these ideas, let me use them", it's not nearly as ridiculous as people often make these situations out to be. It's not like the fanfic writer posted something on her LiveJournal and then turned around and sued when a book came out that had a vaguely similar concept.

Basically, I don't agree with the writer suing at all, but I do think that MZB was in the wrong here, and that this entire situation could be avoided if she just didn't read fanfiction; therefore, authors panicky about lawsuits shouldn't use that case as an example.

If there's a similar case out there that a) doesn't have proof that the author did read the work of fanfiction and b) actually went somewhere, I'd love to hear about it. Until then I'm afraid I'm sticking with my stance that writers being anti-fanfic because of lawsuit concerns is ridiculous.

(Chris, I don't think you're actually arguing that based on your comment - I just wanted to clarify since I realise I didn't in that previous post. Oops. *g*)

I always love the idea of shared universes, by the way. So cool more people are playing with them!

silviamg said...

I wrote about this a while ago for Fantasy Magazine:

Jeff Kozzi said...

Here's the thing about the McDonald;s case. Following the plaintiff's success, plenty of people started spilling hot coffee on themselves in order to sue restaurants.
There is a legitimate fear of lawsuit from writers, because any fanfic writer can hear about the MZB case and sue because they wrote fanfic with a similar theme or concept that the legal writer/owner used. The fanfic writer on such a tenuous claim will probably lose, but the defendant does not get reimbursed for attorney's fees, so it costs him money for having allowed someone to play with his copyrighted works.
Fanfic is great, but it is a labor of love. If the writer of fanfic has some hopes of fame and fortune, he should be turning to things he can professionally write and publish as soon as he can. The number of guidelines I have read that need to mention "no derivative works" is what tells me that too many fanfic writers do not understand that fanfgic is not professional work, but a stepping stone to producing professional work. I am sure Chris learned a lot in his fanzine that influences his editing skills on M-Brane today.

Corinne said...

I genuinely don't think the fear is all that legitimate. You can get sued about everything these days. Plenty of writers get sued about taking ideas from other original fiction; wasn't there some kind of case with J.K.Rowling supposedly stealing the idea of Muggles?

Disapproving of fanfic as a whole based on a few deluded individuals will not keep you from getting sued, and will, instead, alienate a giant part of your fanbase and probably cost you some income as a result.

As for your last paragraph, two things:

1. No. Just no. Fanfic is a legitimate, enjoyable way to spend your time. If someone doesn't want to turn pro, then more power to them. The two don't need to be intertwined. Fanfic is not a stepping stone. It can be, and it was for me and many others, but it can also be a goal on its own. Just like you can write original fiction without necessarily wanting to get published.

2. ...number of guidelines I have read that need to mention "no derivative works" is what tells me that too many fanfic writers do not understand...

Erm, the vast, vast, vast majority of fanfic writers understands this perfectly. Those that don't tend not to be very well-respected in the community.

You're basing your assumptions on a very small group of fanfic writers, because that's the only group you'd come into contact with/hear of in the profic communities. That's just not fair. So some fanfic writers don't get this--there are plenty of things aspiring profic writers don't get, either. Based on the amount of guidelines I've seen not to include personalised mugs or a box of chocolate with your queries to agents, I could say the same thing about profic writers--clearly they just don't understand how the querying process works.

But only a small minority of writers do those things. If I judged querying writers as a whole based on those, people would think me ridiculous. Why is it any different with fanfic? I'm seeing a heck of a lot of assumptions about fandom in these recent discussions, and usually from people who don't know the first thing about it.

Jeff Kozzi said...

I posted here according to what Chris asked, some opinions on fanfic from M-Brane writers. I had specific concerns and opinions and expressed them as such, looking at many of the shades of grey on the topic. This is the LAST I will post on the subject because I’ve expressed what I felt needed to express on the subject. But I NEED to address your basic points one-by one.
In American litigious society, responsible people with something to lose need to make reasonable effort to protect themselves from lawsuit. As a writer, I would not read any fan fiction based on my creations. As a property manager, I shovel snow from walkways. Those are the same things. It is not a high risk for either event to happen at all and neither lawsuit would probably ever happen. But by showing reasonable diligence, I increase my chance for success in court if either did happen.
Throughout my posts I have espoused that fanfiction has a time and place. I never “disapproved of fanfiction as a whole.”
The “reasonable” diligence” CAN keep me from getting sued because the case could get tossed out on the first hearing. Notice my wording, “could” not the definite all knowing “will” in the context you used. Thank you for sharing your precognitive talents.
I can’t point out to you how approaching someone else’s beliefs with “No. Just no.” comes across and will not try. The rest of your “1.” just ignored that my feelings on the subject has been from the first post that fanfic can be of great value as a stepping stone or as a form of personal writing. But as soon as the fanfic writer is posting his piece on the internet, he has taken a step towards the search for “fame and fortune” as I put it previously. And he is in violation of the copyright holder’s rights. That never means that his work is without value.
Here’s the specific example. If the fanfic writing tells the story of Spider-Man meeting Alpha Flight’s nemesis the Master, now Marvel Comics is at risk of a frivolous lawsuit if they publish an issue of Spider-Man fighting the Master. If Spider-Man seals the Master’s mouth shut in the fanfic and the professional issue, the chances of lawsuit go up. If Spider-Man subdues the Master at the end by fully webbing him and leaving him hanging upside down from a rafter in each, the fanfic writer is going to be SCREAMING about the theft. The reality is, Spider-Man has not yet met the Master so the chances are he always could in a one-not story. Spider-Man frequently webs the mouth of adversaries shut. Spider-Man frequently leaves adversaries hanging in just that way at the end of the story. The fanfic writer followed the established conventions of a universe owned by someone else, and now that proper owner can get sued for telling a similar FORMULAIC story. To win that lawsuit, Marvel has to prove the negative that the writer, editor, artist, publisher, assistant editor and everyone else involved in the issue never saw the fanfic. And, conversely, if three representative of Alpha Flight show up, and in each story those three are specifically Sasquatch, Northstar and Puck all entering the same way two-thirds the way into the story, then Marvel SHOULD BE sued.
Thank you for telling me where my thoughts and assumptions come from, but your precognitive skills are weaker in that area, as a review of my prior posts would clearly indicate. AS STATED ABOVE, I made a recent sale to Star Dreck and had been talking to the editor about the sheer number of inappropriate fanfic submissions that run contrary to very clearly posted guidelines.
But I now put myself in the category of people who don’t know the first thing about things of which you know it all, and I fall silent.
Thank you for the reminder why I usually do not join these online discussions. Now, with apologies to our great hosts at M-Brane, I will either get that pink triangle tattoo and sign in to the concentration camp, or I will sail to America where I am free to have my own beliefs without persecution. Let’s just hope I don’t get sued when I get there.

silviamg said...

Jeff, regarding the stepping stone and fame and fortune, I am copying and pasting something from the article I published last year with Fantasy Magazine: "lots of people writing fan fiction are not interested in a professional writing career the same way that my brother-in-law probably wouldn’t want to glue model airplanes all day long."

A fan fic writer is not necessarily expecting fame and fortune any mother than my brother-in-law expects fame from glueing airplanes. It's something people like to do. A hobby. A chance to meet like-minded people. Some fandoms are so obscure or so narrow, the whole idea of fame is laughable.

I don't think the fact that "the sheer number of inappropriate fanfic submissions that run contrary to very clearly posted guidelines" has anything to do with this discussion. I publish Innsmouth Free Press and get everything from erotica to poetry to 15,000 words pieces in the slush. People don't format stuff or send it to the wrong e-mail address. Not following the guidelines seems to be a habit for 90 per cent of all the people who submit to me, and I'm not talking just newbies.

Anyway, talking about fanfic, Clarkesworld (a professional magazine) recently published The Things written by Peter Watts, which is definitely a fanfic based on The Thing directed by John Carpenter. Discuss?

Corinne said...


Someone disagreeing with you online does not equal persecution.

As a writer, I would not read any fan fiction based on my creations.

Me neither. That's what I've been arguing for, actually, so I'm not sure why you're arguing that point. I never disagreed. I think it's highly unwise for authors to read fanfiction of their work - my problem was with the pro authors who don't believe fanfiction of their work should exist in the first place.

(For the record, as I've also stated before, I'm totally cool with them disliking fanfic/being against it, as long as that decision is an informed one. Most of the arguments against fanfic I've seen so far weren't.)

But as soon as the fanfic writer is posting his piece on the internet, he has taken a step towards the search for “fame and fortune” as I put it previously.

But that's not the case for most fanfiction writers. Again, you're making assumptions. Most are just entertaining themselves and sharing it with other people. It's a community. There is zero chance of fortune involved, which they all know, and fame only within that community.

If fame and fortune is their goal, then yes, moving on to profic is wise. But my reactions to that were based on your multiple statements that it should be a goal for them.

And he is in violation of the copyright holder’s rights.

The area of fanfiction is a legally grey one, actually. As they're neither claiming the character as their own nor making any money off it, it's not nearly as clear-cut as many people are maing it out to be.

I made a recent sale to Star Dreck and had been talking to the editor about the sheer number of inappropriate fanfic submissions that run contrary to very clearly posted guidelines.

Erm, yeah, which I acknowledged. I just argued that you can't decide that such a large group of fanfiction writers don't get that they can't sell that work, when, as an editor - especially for a zine like that - the only fanfiction writers you'd come into contact with are the ones who don't get they can't sell their work. Of course you'd get a skewed idea then. The vast majority of fanfic writers are chilling somewhere on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth or and would never even consider trying to make money with their fic.

I'm totally fine with ending this discussion since it doesn't seem to be very fruitful, but the sarcasm, caps, and continued misspelling of my name are really unnecessary, as is accusing me of disrespecting your opinion/experiences when you're totally ignoring mine.

Christopher Fletcher said...


I have not read that Watts story based on the The Thing, but I'll look it up. Interesting that it's based on the Carpenter film. I feel like I heard that there was an anthology either recently out or planned that was based on re-imaginings of "Who Goes There?," the Campbell story that both of the Thing films (the old one and Carpenter's version). I can't remember the details offhand, but it's interesting that this particular premise has engaged people again and again. There was also an episode of the X-Files TV show years ago that was an homage to the Carpenter film.

silviamg said...

Hey Christopher,

Watts' story is here:

Christopher Fletcher said...

Corinne and Jeff,

I'd agree with you both that it's probably best to not continue with the discussion between the two of you. It's become a bit unpleasant, so let's just let it rest. You both have valid, reasonable points, and they have been made a couple of times. Also, as a third party reading it, I'd say that the differences between your perspectives are not really as large as they may sound in this context.

silviamg said...

Oh, I was also thinking about Hellbound Hearts, which would qualify as fan fic in my book (authorized fan fic, but nevertheless). It's set in Clive Barke's Hellraiser universe.

Here's the thing, George R.Martin would have us believe authorizing an anthology like "Hellbound Hearts" means Barker will end up a pauper, like Lovecraft, but I think it's exactly the opposite. This kind of stuff can keep a fandom alive.

There would have never been a Return to the Labyrinth four-volume manga if Jim Henson's estate didn't realize, gee, these people keep writing stories about Jareth and Sarah. I bet there's money to be made there by selling them a comic book!

If fans didn't care, this stuff would simply languish in obscurity. I mean, every time I go to the used bookstore there's 45 cent titles from the 1950s which I've never heard about. I'd rather have someone writing fan fic of my stuff than get stuffed in the 45 cent bin.

For most writers, the biggest threat is obscurity, not some 15 year old kid writing yaoi fiction using my characters.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Thanks, Sylvia, for pointing out the Watts story. I just read it and enjoyed it. Obviously it's a story of professional quality, but it certainly could be considered fan fic also. Another one of these worlds that has generated a lot of fan fic that has crossed over into pro fic is the Romero living dead universe. Some years ago, Skipp and Spector did a couple of anthologies of original Romero-universe zombie fiction which were quite good and well-received. Also, the entire zombie sub-genre that exists today is largely derived from the Romero movie conception of the walking dead. Indeed, that may be another example of how the work of fans (both as writers and imitative filmmakers) has kept something alive that might have been more obscure otherwise.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

I know this is going to be off-topic, but here's my take:

Other than writing, I draw too. I grew up loving manga and anime, and my drawings were heavily influenced by these influences. Then I started reading X-Men comics, and I copied the characters (free-hand) onto blank A4 pages. I drew a lot of these. I found out only later, but my brother (who was 10 at that time), took those drawings to school and photocopied them for 5 cents each, and sold them between 20 and 50 cents, depending on the quality. I didn't get anything out of it, suffice to say!

When I look back at those drawings, I can't help but smile. Sure, I got the proportions wrong, but I wouldn't be able to draw portraits like I do now ( if I hadn't cultivated those 'fan-art' drawings (don't know if I can call them fan art, when all I did was copy comic illustrations).

As for writing, my early stories echoed particular scenes that I loved from TV series. My Fantasy stories were steeped in the Dragonlance world (which I still love and read). I wouldn't be able to write two stories for AeA if I hadn't written those godawful stories.

Writing fan fiction is still a form of writing, and it's one of the ways to hone your skill as a writer. Just make sure you give credit where credit is due.

By the way, I'd love to read other people's interpretations on Ibis's adventures, but I'm getting way ahead of myself, aren't I?

Jude M said...

I think a lot of people miss the inherent value of fanfic as a body of literature in and of itself. The nature of fanfic is both exploratory and transformative. It's not just writing practice that writer should somehow "move beyond." Fanfic can be used to explore more closely concepts like gender roles, relationship power dynamics, cultural expectations, and, yes, sex. Concepts and interrelationships of concepts that "regular" authors can't often do because they have the business of publishable plot and worldbuilding and character development to attend to.

Many of the authors experiencing their kneejerk reactions against fanfic are, I suspect, not thinking beyong, "OMG Eleventyone!! People are making my characters have sex in ways that squick me!" And aren't seeing the utility of fanfic as, in part, literary criticism and cultural criticism.

Anonymous said...

what part of the fanfic stuff you say cannot be done with the writers own characters?
if you say reg writers are too busy with business of publishable plot and worldbuilding and character development, aren't you also saying fanfic sucks because it don't have publishable plot and worldbuilding and character development?

silviamg said...

"what part of the fanfic stuff you say cannot be done with the writers own characters?"

Lots! For example, pairing off Elizabeth Swann and Jack Sparrow might have made sense to many a viewer, but it didn't happen in the movie, and will not happen in official merchandise. But what if ... that's the seed to a whole story.

"if you say reg writers are too busy with business of publishable plot and worldbuilding and character development, aren't you also saying fanfic sucks because it don't have publishable plot and worldbuilding and character development?"

Nope. It must just not be publishable because it is not comemrcially viable (for example, Jack/Elizabeth or Kirk/Spock), because the writer would not want to follow such a storyline because of the audience(for example, an explicit homosexual relationship for Dumbledore in a book like Harry Potter), etc.

That essentially is one of the great points of fan fic: it can address stuff that would never be publishable in the established universe. It can explore tangents.

For example, Bobba Fett was a minor, minor character in the original Star Wars, but fans were so curious about him they began to make up theories and storylines for him at a time when the producer/writer wasn't interested in that minor character.

Fan fic can also allow you to tell the story from another POV, not something the author might be interested in. For example, what if Twilight was told from the POV of the werewolf? How would that change the narrative? Or like in The Things, tell the story from the POV of the "thing", something Carpenter didn't do.

None of this may be "publishable" by the writer or the editorial house, but it can be tackled in fan fic.

Fan fic writers have the freedom to travel where the creator would not thread.


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