I have an account of Fanfiction.net that I haven’t touched in years. It mostly contains half-finished stories based on Japanese anime and a single Star Trek: The Next Generation story. Nothing I’m particularly embarrassed by or eager show off. There isn’t a writer who didn’t produce a boatload of terrible writing at the beginning of their career. And those certainly fit the criteria of bad writing.
Fanfiction has become a hot topic over the past few years. Legally, it’s a situation that requires care on the part of a writer. When the copyright on stories and characters expires, they fall into the public domain. This means that they can be used freely without legal ramifications. In the U.S., that’s pretty much anything published pre-1923 that didn’t have its copyright renewed.
For the most part, fanfiction has lived on the internet on websites like Fanfiction.net. A Google search returns millions of results. In more recent years, stories with roots in fanfiction are appearing on store shelves and on The New York Times Bestseller List.
Cassandra Clare of The Mortal Instruments books has a well-documented history with fanfiction, especially as the author of a wildly popular Harry Potter fantasy epic that came out in the 2000’s. Another popular series with ties to fanfiction is E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Gray which is based on a fanfiction of Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight books. There has been a trend to view these authors’–and any other author who admits a relationship with fanfiction–negatively.
That’s something that I find interesting.
The character of Sherlock Holmes has appeared on television and in film over 250 times. He’s probably been featured in thousands upon thousands of books, all legal so long as the author doesn’t draw from the original stories still under copyright for a few more years. Technically, those stories are fanfiction. They certainly weren’t written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Consider the re-imagining of Jane Austin in Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies or any of the adaptations of Romeo and Juliet that have been written over the years. All fanfiction. Yet there isn’t nearly the same amount of uproar when they hit the bestseller list.
One of my goals as a writer is to write a novel featuring Sherlock Holmes. I’ll reread the pre-1923 stories for research, draft rounded characters, and outline like crazy. Then I’ll write. I might face criticism for writing it, because it’s fanfiction or because it’s not up to another person’s standard for the character. But a good writer develops a thick skin long before they’re published.
I haven’t given much thought to where I’d stand on fanfiction based on my published work. There’s the fact that I got my start writing it, and I believe that I should seriously consider allowing other writers the same opportunity to get their footing. Plus having men and women who want to borrow my characters is kind of flattering. It means they liked what I wrote. So long as they’re not making any money off of it, what’s the harm?
But then there are horror stories of fans who become too committed to what’s been written by themselves or other fans that they become rabid when the author contradicts them. Things can get bad, and it’s not just confined to online. Stalkers, threats of violence, and other real world interaction can be nightmarish.
The thing is, whatever I say is going to have no bearing on what’s written online. Authors like Anne Rice and George R. R. Martin have come out as strongly opposed to fanfiction, and I guarantee that their novels have inspired fanfiction across the internet. Whatever is going to happen will happen whether I agree with it or not. Besides, the dangers of being an author or any other public figure exist with or without an opinion on the topic.
Writing and reading fanfiction can be a whole lot of fun. It’s a way to continue enjoying a story that’s ended or to explore avenues of interest. It can also be a way for writers to get experience learning how to craft their own stories. The characters may be borrowed, but the story details are original.
I never deleted my Fanfiction.net account, and I’m not sure that I ever will. That account contains the only copies of those stories. I may not be absurdly proud of those stories, however it’s fun to look back and reminisce. They were a huge part of who I was when growing up. And I wouldn’t trade the hours I spent writing them for anything.
What’s your opinion on fanfiction? Have you read or written any?