On Fanfiction

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.

The first book in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series.

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.

A contemporary Dracula and Sherlock Holmes fanfiction.

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?

6 thoughts on “On Fanfiction

  1. I’ve never understood authors who are against fanfiction. Imitation is the best form of flattery. It’s free promotion for their book/show/movie, etc. It’s not like they have to take credit for the bad stuff.

    • I agree that it’s great free promotion. It helps keep people interested between books, movies, etc. I believe that the majority of authors against fanfiction are concerned about fanfiction writers making money off of their characters and stories. Legally the authors would be in the right, but the time spent in court and the cost would be substantial.

  2. Fifty Shades of Grey is the only one that truly bothers me, because at one point EL James was making ~1 million dollars a week for the very thinly veiled pornographic re-telling of Twilight. It IS her fanfiction, it is quite clear the editor just changed all the names and vampire references. It bothers me because there are thousands of deserving writers of original work who will never be published, or of those, will never see a million dollars a week.

    Cassandra Clare started writing fanfiction, and I’ve also read very compelling articles that she was actually a bully on fanfiction.net. I liked the Mortal Instruments original trilogy, but as she expands to new work, she’s basically recycling all of her characters for each new time period, and the Mortal Instruments characters were recycled from her alterations of JK Rowling’s characters for her fanfiction. She’s at least made more effort with world-building and alteration unlike EL James.

    Anne Rice may be against fanfiction but she is very much pro-writer, especially those self publishing or on their first novels on Amazon. There are bullies on Amazon that write one-star reviews on new work and when the self-published author replies to the reviews, they send threats and things like that….this happens on goodreads too actually, where the reviews that come up on the book’s page are the ones with the most upvotes, so some authors and their teams and friends conspire to downvote any negative review…etc…but Anne Rice has really gone at it with the Amazon bullies and I respect her for that.

    I don’t remember who it was, but an author was asked if they read the fanfiction of their work that they have championed the existence of, and they responded that they couldn’t read it because they were afraid then that they might accidentally or subconsciously think the idea was their own, and unknowingly copy someone who has already copied them.
    I wouldn’t mind any future fanfiction if I’m ever lucky enough to be published, but I agree to not read it and then be subject to some kind of lawsuit by the fanfiction author for some kind of copyright despite it already being my brainchild in the first place.

    • I’ve only read excerpts of Fifty Shades, and I don’t remember many of the details from the Twilight books. So correct me if I’m wrong, but the story in both series seems to be the romantic relationship between a naive, clumsy young woman and a slightly older, successful man with secrets. Those types of characters are staples of the romance genre. Any bookstore will probably have dozens of books featuring those characters on the shelf. And legally, Fifty Shades satisfies the legal definition of no longer being fanfiction. Plus Stephanie Meyer seemed okay with the series before she decided that she wouldn’t read it because it contained too much sex.

      I completely agree that Fifty Shades isn’t world class writing and that there are plenty of other authors who deserve the success and notoriety that E.L. James received. Unfortunately that’s the nature of the publishing business. Good books are bypassed all the time by agents and editors. Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times, Harry Potter rejected 12, and The Help (which has since become an Oscar nominated movie) was rejected 60 times. I can say say that I’ve read and reviewed quite a few books that have been published by major publishers where I questioned whether or not the acquiring editor was completely sober while reading it.

      With Cassandra Clare, I did hear word that there were bullying issues with the fanfiction. It became such a big issue that she changed her name from Claire to Clare in order to distance herself from the issue. As for her recycling characters in newer work, that’s again an unfortunate result of the publishing business. She has a brand that’s well-known and a substantial fan base that will buy whatever she writes. Stephen King is another example of that as he’s written quite a few terrible books and still remains a fan favorite.

      I didn’t know that about Anne Rice. She’s a great author, and it’s awesome to hear she’s helping new writers. As for that last author, I believe you’re referring to Tamora Pierce. I understand her and your concern about reading fanfiction of your own work. It could get pretty tricky legally.

      Thanks for responding and sharing your thoughts!

      • It’s such a shame that marketing is taken over quality 😦
        I would’ve loved to have been in the room when the agent or editor read Fifty Shades online and had to pitch it to the publishers lol. Oh to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

        I’m doing my MFA and it’s sad how like, every professor I’ve worked with (Hollins included actually) who has a book published rarely has more than 3 stars on goodreads, and there’s that whole weird stigma that creative writing degree holders to write pretentious and insufferable things.
        Marketability > Craft.
        *sigh*

        I really like your blog! You convinced me to give The Maze Runner a second try.

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