A Defense of Fan Fiction: Part Two

In my last post we started discussing several arguments against the potential value of Fan Fiction and tried to logically break those arguments down as they might apply to all genres.  We discussed:

  • Quality as a valid but hardly unique concern.
  • Social relevance given that Fan Fiction can be used as a way to track culture without the influence of corporate or money making concerns.

This leads me to my last point. If you accept that some fan fiction writers are truly talented and that they have valid stories to tell, someone inevitably chimes in with…

So Tell Your Own Story Already!

I have to admit, this is the point that I tend to find the most frustrating.  It is no revelation to any Fan Fiction author that they are operating in established worlds. I could submit the fact that maintaining a characterization throughout a 250,000 word piece takes skill whether you originally created the character or not, or that plot pacing is plot pacing whether you are responsible for naming the planets in that particular galaxy or not. And we won’t even get into the fact that, as we established earlier, several Fan Fiction authors do indeed go on to create their own worlds.

Because the truth is that a counter argument to this assertion can be boiled down to something much simpler.

I did not create the characters or world I am writing about?

… So what?

If the author-created nature of a world or character is going to be criterion by which to judge the validity of a story or genre, we’ve got an issue.

Why? Walk into the Sci-Fi section of any book store and you will see entire shelves dedicated to books that take place in the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Warhammer universes, just to name a few. If we require unique worlds from all of our authors, all of these books are now booted.

After all, A.C. Crispin did not create Spock nor write the episode “All Our Yesterdays”.  Nevertheless,  in “Yesterday’s Son “  A.C. Crispin took not only Gene Roddenberry’s characters, but the plot Jean Lisette Aroeste put to script and did something with them. She built upon the preexisting world, took the characters someplace that had not been previously imagined, and did so well enough that she was asked to write a sequel.

Plus, it’s important to note that at the time that she wrote “Yesterday’s Son” she was not a professional writer. The  manuscript wasn’t solicited by Pocket Books, she just wrote it for love of the fandom and sent it in on her own.

So, while the argument that Fan Fiction isn’t “unique” is theoretically true, it is also fairly moot. Not only can you get esoteric and say that there are no new stories under the sun, but its simple fact that there are entire hoards of published authors who make their living expanding, clarifying, filling in, and adding detail to worlds that were created by others.

In closing, Fan Fiction does what every single work of literature does and what every single other genre author does. It answers the question “what if?” It doesn’t matter that the worlds are already established or the characters previously existed. If the story being told is told well, if there is skill in the craft, it deserves some degree of acknowledgment for that. Just because there are bad examples (and dear lord almighty there are some truly horrible ones out there), one cannot throw out the entire genre to mockery.

And just because it is not a money maker, one cannot ignore its usefulness to aspiring authors or society in general.

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About Jaime McCall

Jaime McCall is a Knowledge Base writer who develops blog posts, help articles, and product documentation for Constant Contact.

Posted on December 28, 2012, in Lantern Hollow Press Authors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. In older times (before copyright), everybody “stole” other people’s characters/worlds/ideas; often nobody knew who first came up with them, and every generation got to retell the story adding its own twist. The version we happen to have often depends on the vicissitudes of manuscript preservation. The Beowulf legend existed before the man we call the Beowulf Poet got ahold of it. Was Virgil just doing fanfic on Homer? Almost. What about Dante and Virgil? Shakespeare and Holinshed’s Chronicles? The lines seem blurred because they didn’t exist. So not only is Jaime’s case for the potential validity of fanfic valid, the phenomenon is nothing new–it simply wasn’t named before, or was just called “literature.”

    That said, we no longer live in that world and cannot go back to it. For both good and ill, the printing press and copyright laws have changed the landscape. Is the computer changing it back? Yes and no. It makes the distribution of stuff possible that would not have been published a generation ago, but it cannot fully remove the stigma of being “mere” fanfic. So the question remains how much time and energy a serious writer/reader should devote to it. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, and how much rethinking will be done. Jaime is giving us a good start in doing that.

  2. I’ve been struggling to understand why this argument for the legitimacy of fan fiction is bothering me so much. I think one of the problems is that what proponents of fan-fiction want is legitimacy, and what people who dislike the *idea* of fan-fiction want is some measure of legitimacy for the work itself by which they can distinguish between “literature” and “non-literature.” It’s a bit like the discussion of what art is in contemporary terms, where it is very difficult to pin down a definition, let alone an objective standard. Yes, I can easily see that some writers of fan-fiction, even if they never aspire to any other form of expression, are good writers and effective in their writing, even though they are not starting with a foundation of original ideas. However, I think what we’re actually seeing in this debate is a broader grinding of the traditional metrics for the value of writing with the development of new media and new technologies.

    How do you measure good writing in the old standard? Sales, typically, or how much it’s studied by academics. How do you measure good writing for fan-fiction or other non-published fiction? By pageviews, web traffic, comments on the page, and other measurements that are almost exclusively invented in the last 20 years. Maybe you can use critical theories to come to a more objective measure of the value of individual works of fan-fiction, but there are things that these methods will miss. But, just because we don’t have comfortable metric for the value of fan-fiction as compared to other fiction doesn’t mean the writing isn’t good, or that the author isn’t legitimately expressing himself or herself.

    The same sort of thing happens when you try to argue that video games can be art. Some people dismiss the idea out of hand because they aren’t familiar with the potential of some games to express themselves artistically, while others try to apply measurements that don’t actually fit with games. If we’re coming from two different perspectives for measuring the same thing, it’s not surprising that our opinions can’t come to an objective agreement.

  3. I was just thinking about Pride and Prejudice (as well as other Austen novels, but mostly that one) and how it has been such a defining novel for so many people, that authors can’t seem to resist asking, “What happened next?” What about their married life, their children, the secondary characters who crossed their paths briefly and might have stories of their own? There are many (probably too many) novels that tell the stories surrounding the original. Since the novel is public domain, these works can be published too with little fuss.

    Take, for instance, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Seriously. If that isn’t fan fiction, I don’t know what is, and it’s not only a widely selling published novel, but it is also becoming a movie. Whether this is good or not remains to be seen, but the fan fiction is out there.

    For me, I am too impatient to sort through the bad in order to find a good online fan fic story, and I say this having spent a couple of years dabbling a bit in it. However, I appreciate what fan fiction offers to someone like me, who loves the characters more than the plot. Some of us just want a little more time with the characters before we say goodbye. If the plot is more important to you than the characters, I doubt fan fiction will have nearly the same appeal unless it is focused on the world instead, which I suppose some does.

    All in all, I think you did a good job explaining the value of it here!

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