March 15, 2015

Talking Shop: Fan-Fiction

Recently, an author friend of mine was the victim of a little author bullying, on the subject of fan fiction and writing. This particular brand of bullying comes along as a result of the idea that, "fan fiction is not real writing."


Thorin and Thranduil "slash" fiction


Truth Time: a few years back, I would completely agree with this opinion. I remember attending write-ins and kick-off parties for National Novel Writing Month, where fellow participants would announce their November project was a Dr. Who fan fic, or a mashup of their favorite Avengers/DC Characters, and--I'll admit--I harbored a very negative opinion of them. To me, National Novel Writing Month was a professional challenge, the purpose of which was to produce an original, imaginative, and potentially publishable work. People who used already-established characters and worlds as their set-up were, to my mind, 'cheating'.

In particular, I was offended by this opinion:

Why would this upset me so? Because as an author, it bothers me to think that somebody who doesn't like my story, into which I put months and sometimes years of thought, would feel entitled to simply re-write it.  The idea that a plot twist or development that doesn't satisfy a certain person's opinion of what should have happened could be considered an "error", really upset me. I took particular offense with readers who didn't like the way JK Rowling ended the Harry Potter series--with many a heart-rending death of beloved characters--and believed she was wrong to have written it the way she did. It's one thing to say one doesn't like or doesn't appreciate an author's story...another to say the author is wrong.

However, now having published a few novels of my own, and having met and spoken to several authors whom I admire, and simply being more immersed in the world of reader-writer relations...I admit, I was wrong to believe fan fiction "wasn't real writing". I still disagree with the opinion that a writer can be "wrong" simply because their story doesn't align with reader predictions...but the practice of writing one's own alternate timelines, histories, universes or match-ups is not, as I once believed, a cheat.

What changed my mind? How I Met Your Mother.



I don't think it's much of a secret that the official canon ending of How I Met Your Mother upset a lot of viewers. My husband and I were among them. The show's wrap-up frustrated and upset us so much, we've lost all interest in re-watching the series at all (a thing we do quite often, usually), thanks to knowing what a disappointment the ending will be. In fact, I distinctly remember the first thought to pop into my mind when the final credits rolled, that being, "I could have written that better."

Yes. I realized, in exactly that moment, I was doing the same thing that so offended me when others did it. Instead of blasting JK Rowling for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which was an ending I liked), I was doing it to How I Met Your Mother (which was an ending I hated). And while I'm not immune to making hypocritical errors, I recognized that I couldn't exactly justify the one over the other, simply because of my personal opinion on whether or not an ending was "good".

Avengers fanfiction by Bookwormgirl 16

This got me thinking. It wasn't the first time I'd consciously thought "I could write that better", when a story fell short of my expectations. In fact, in thinking about it, I've said it quite a lot. But it's not only stories I dislike that get my attention and spark my imagination: from my earliest "storytelling" endeavors, I've taken the tales I was told and added my own elements.

Fun Fact: the characters of Justyn and Brooke, from my short story Playing Hard To Get, were originally conceived of as X-Men fan fiction characters.

Oh, yeah. In the beginning, I was a fan fiction writer.

I think it was hard for me to see modern fan fiction writers as "legitimate" because way back then, I didn't have anyone to share my works with and therefore they were never really anything more than my own "make believe" stories. That doesn't mean I didn't start out with fan fiction, though. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Thundercats, Gargoyles, heck, I even made up characters for Independence Day and Raptor Red. In fact, my husband and I met over a drawing of a fan fiction character I was drawing one day in class.

Here's what I learned from this: fan fiction, in whatever form, is quite possibly the first step in any writer's journey. Even Stephen King started out writing stories with characters he first read in another's work (he talks about this in On Writing).

And look at what has become of fan fiction writers today. Some of the most famous bestsellers today famously started out as fan fiction. 50 Shades of Grey and Beautiful Bastard both stemmed from fan fiction, and while I think 50 Shades is some of the worst writing I've ever read, one does have to acknowledge that it's popular. Bastard, on the other hand, was a book I quite enjoyed, and I've met Christina Lauren and found her wonderful and fun!  Another perhaps little-known fact, though: Christina Lauren is actually two people. They met online, in fan fiction circles, and turned their passion into something greater.

"Sugarless Gum", a well-loved
Adventure Time fan fiction

Naomi Novik is another author I read, love, and admire. She is also an advocate for the legitimization of fan fiction. For the longest time I wasn't sure why this might be. Her best-known series, The Temeraire Chronicles, was (in my opinion) one of the most "original" and well-executed stories I'd read, and contained not a lick of fan fiction. Reading a little deeper, though, one realizes that while her published work might not look like fan fiction, she probably started with fan fiction. Her passion for writing probably grew when she shared her love of another story, somewhere down the line, with other fans, and together they theorized more adventures for characters they loved. After meeting Naomi Novik, I found out this was true: she did indeed "start out" writing fan fiction.

I've always been an avid believer that serious writing is a craft, and serious writers must practice, and learn, and grow, and seek feedback. Fan fiction writers do all of these things! And they do come up with some wonderful creative stuff.

Authors can't dismiss fan fiction authors as "not real writers". They are real writers...and in many cases their later, more well-known works took first steps in an environment of "what-if's", "alternate universes", and a supportive environment of fellow fans in their fandom. So authors, whether published, self-published, authors of fan fiction, or only posting to their personal blog without any interest in official recognition, are, yes, real writers.


(And author bullying, or bullying in any form, is not okay.)

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