Funny how things can explode in parallel in several different parts of your life at once. This past week there was a veritable eruption (no, not of Eyjafjallajökull) over fanfiction, on multiple people's blogs.
This time 'round it was personal, since many of the people advancing their opinions (good, evil, indifferent) were writers. Some were people who had their creations fanficc'd; some were published writers who wrote fanfic of other creations and were proud of it. Discussions of what was legal/illegal, right/wrong, polite/rude, etc. unfolded. Many jaws were broken on both sides.
Fanfiction is strange stuff (that is, to the uninitiated) It evokes squeals of glee from some, wrinkled noses from others. From a few, it evokes vomit. Not just the stories themselves (although I think most of us gagged on all the Legolas-Gandalf slash floating around out there), but the mere idea of it.
Both sides, as one of the other bloggers pointed out, are rooted in emotional attachments in different things. Those who do it, do so out of love for the material; those who stand against it, also do so out of love for the material. The former show their love by transforming the original; the latter show their love by defending it against what they perceive as corruption or dilution.
I can see where both sides come from. Maybe a little too well, which is why my take is a mix of left, right and center:
- The legality of fanfiction is a gray area and continues to be one. Appeals to the law may not help you here. Assume the rules may be different for each fandom, because they usually are.
- Hence, if an author doesn't want you posting fanfiction of his work — or doesn't like fanfic at all — don't make sport of him. Respect his wishes and move on. Calling for boycotts of his work may simply create an issue where there isn't one. Some authors are very vocal about not suffering fools gladly and will be only too happy to think of you as a fool asking for something you haven't earned.
- I'm OK if you create fanfiction of my own work as long as you don't attempt to turn it into an overtly commercial enterprise. Actually, that's one way I'll know I've "arrived" as a writer: it means I have a fanbase!
- The quality of fanfiction, like the quality of most published fiction, runs the gamut. Most of it is amusing. Some of it is remarkable. Duds and gems alike abound. Ergo, the fact that something is fanfic says nothing about its quality apart from that.
- The question of whether a fanfic writer of quality is obliged to invest their talent and effort in original material is not something anyone but that writer can answer. I have heard arguments to the effect that any writer who cuts their teeth on fanfic should graduate to original work later on. There are advantages — you can publish and monetize your own material without worrying about legal recourse, for example — but not everyone will feel inclined to leverage those advantages. Why harangue them about something they're doing mainly for their own pleasure anyway? I'd rather have ten happy fanfic writers than one miserable published author, although I don't believe it'll always come down to such a false dichotomy, either.
I've written fanfiction myself. It was, I freely admit, pretty bad stuff (no porn, just bad writing), and most of that material has mercifully faded from memory. It might still be floating around out there; I haven't looked for it. I stopped producing it after I started concentrating on my own original material, mostly because a) I got more satisfaction producing my own material and b) it took up what time I had to devote to such things.
That doesn't mean I assume everyone else who has the urge to go pro will feel the same way. Or should. Many pros now are former fans who still keep a strong connection with their fandoms, and resent being told that they need to put aside childish things and join the Grown Ups at the Big Dinnertable.
The one big takeaway for me from all this has nothing to do with fanfic at all. It's the simple tenet that nobody who takes their work or play seriously wants to be lectured about what to do, not do, or how to do it — by fellow practitioners, ardent devotees, or random strangers. You can make your case pro or con, but the more strident the attack, the greater the odds of someone smacking their forehead and saying "My god! I've been living all wrong!" asymptotically approaching nil — and the greater the odds of the other party simply feeling they're all the more justified in dropping anchor in their current spot.
On a side note, this reminds me of a project I noted down and then shelved: a kind of shared universe, where the story, setting and characters have been created for the express purpose of allowing fanfic to be derived from them. I'm fairly sure someone's taken a stab at doing something like that, but it's something I might be interested in setting up later on. After I get my current book off my back, for instance.