I’d heard of fan-fiction before, being the Harry Potter nerd that I am, but I never read any of it. I never dabbled in it either. You’d think, as a writer, that I’d start there before I decided to write my own stories. I mean, I can see the appeal – the world, the characters, the conflicts are already established. You just have to figure out which story to tell, and then write it down. It’s great practice for beginners.
But I’ve always had too many voices in my head. I’m constantly caught in an onslaught of new ideas, new characters, and new stories. I’d love to write fan-fiction, but there just isn’t any room left in my brain.
I was officially introduced into the world of fan-fic late last year when I read Dalton, a story about two of the main characters from Glee. It was a sort of spin-off show to the main storyline. Honestly, the writing was sub-par and some of the mistakes were those you learn to avoid in Writing 101. But the story? The story was beautiful. It had me hooked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d come home from work and sit in front of the computer for hours reading it. So, no – maybe the author wasn’t the best writer. But she was one heck of a story teller.
And let’s face it. There are plenty of “professional” writers who are impeccable when it comes to language, grammar, and punctuation. But they can’t tell a story. They give you no reason to keep reading. It’s much easier to break someone of the habit of putting commas in the wrong place than it is to break them of the habit of writing bad stories.
What I want to know is this: Is fan-fiction a good thing or a bad thing in relation to the original author and their work(s)? Let’s look at some pros and cons:
I’m going to start with the negatives because I think they’re a bit more obvious. First off you have the clincher – the fact that a person other than the author is using the characters, setting, and ideas that have already been established to create new stories. Essentially, that’d be like writing a sequel/prequel/spin-off series to an already established book without having the rights to do so. I can see the problem there.
Another major point is that fan-fiction can often cause negative, or at least unwanted, portrayals of characters, which can in turn affect the actors who portrayed them on the silver screen. Just do a Google images search of “Draco and Harry Fan-fiction” and you’ll get a very quick idea of how it might not be well received.
And, of course, fan-fiction writers don’t gain much experience writing in this way. They don’t often get helpful critiques, it doesn’t help them to get better at characterization, and becoming a well-known fan-fic writer doesn’t exactly earn them acclaim and respect in the writing world.
So, what the heck could be good about writing fan-fiction? Well, a lot actually. For one thing, it helps to perpetuate a story that people don’t want to see finished. Who here actually wanted Harry Potter to end? Fan-fiction not only allows characters to continue living, but also brings about the stories of characters who may not have gotten a lot of scenes in the original work. A great example of this is the Trio’s kids at the end of HP7 – we don’t know much about them and we’ve never seen them at school, except in fan-fic forums. These places allow fans to gather and continue to live in this universe.
This perpetuation also leads to something that most authors wouldn’t mind having more of – word of mouth. Sure, it probably isn’t a big deal to people like J.K. Rowing and Stephenie Meyer, but what about authors who have a very die-hard, niche audience? Authors like Cassandra Clare and George R.R. Martin who are beginning to grow in popularity but haven’t hit that mega status yet. I can imagine a great piece of fan-fic could drive a person to delve into a series if they were previously hesitant about reading it, just so they can discuss the other stories with their friends. I’m sure it’s not a frequent occurrence, but it’s got to happen on occasion.
The last reason is, in my opinion, the most important of all. It gets people to write. Have you ever read a book that was just so good that you immediately sat down and started to type out your own story? I have, but then again I’ve been doing that since the fourth grade. I’m hardwired to write. But what about those other people who thought about dabbling but never got around to it? Then they read that one book that changed everything. Sure, maybe they won’t become published authors, but they’re still writing and adding their creativity into the mix. They’re putting new ideas and stories out into the universe and how can we do anything but benefit from that?
THE BIG QUESTION
But there comes a point, right? There has to be a line. When has it gone too far, when is it not okay to write fan-fiction?
Let’s just point out the elephant in the room: Fifty Shades of Grey. If you haven’t heard of this book yet, I’d be pretty surprised. But for those of you who might not know, Fifty Shades is Twilight fan-fiction that got a face lift. Basically, the author (E.L. James) wrote a story about Bella and Edward and their bedroom escapades (which were quite a bit heavier than the original story would leave you to believe, IYKWIM). A couple of things happened between here and there, but in the end James decided to pursue publication and turned the fan-fiction into a story of its own, replacing Bella, Edward, and vampires with Anastasia, Christian, and a billionaire.
It’s common knowledge that this was originally fan-fiction. And recently it became the fastest selling paperback novel of all time. There are two other books that round out the trilogy. And it’s being made into a movie, and a BIG movie at that – B-list actors need not apply. Let’s face it, she’s making a lot of money off of this. But, is that legal? Well, yeah, I guess. I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of speculation and a lot of people are going to discount her for its origins, but Meyer hasn’t slapped James with a lawsuit yet and at this point I doubt she will.
What does Stephenie Meyer think about it? She’s okay with it, actually. She said in an interview that it isn’t her genre, but that it’s good that James is doing well with it. She also said that obviously James had a story in her, so if it hadn’t started out as Twilight fan-fiction, it probably would’ve surfaced in another way. J.K. Rowling has also said she’s flattered by fan-fiction and glad that people write it. (And, yes, Dan Radcliffe and Tom Felton are aware of certain plotlines and they don’t seem to mind much either.)
But what about authors that do mind? Anne Rice and George R.R. Martin are apparently quite against it. Both of them consider it copyright infringement and Martin thinks it’s a bad exercise for want-to-be writers.
I believe fan-fiction is a good thing. I like being able to find a story I’ve never read before and read about characters that I already know and love. Maybe the writing isn’t the strongest, but these are written by die-hard fans, so you know that the story will be solid and that most details will be canon. I think that as long as it doesn’t leave the world of free publishing on the sites that host these sorts of things, it’s fine. I’m still not sure how I feel about Fifty Shades, knowing that the original intention of the story was a reproduction of the material found in Twilight.
But what I really want to know is what YOU think. Do you think fan-fiction is a good thing or a bad thing? If someone wrote fan-fiction about your characters, would you be flattered or would you call it copyright infringement?