A Few More Thoughts on Fan Fiction

Gordon and I only just talked about fan fiction two days ago, but in debating its merits managed to avoid much conversation about its place in our world today. To begin with, the topic was first brought up by Marilyn in her comment on our reactions to easy-money shows, and she specifically mentioned Anne Rice.

For those of you who don’t know, Anne Rice became famous for writing vampire novels decades before the Twilight books came out [and a few centuries after Bram Stoker's most well-known work]. She also had a very particular stance on fan fiction, which I have pulled from an old archived version of her site:

“I do not allow fan fiction.

The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters.

It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.”

A Metro article titled “How fan fiction is conquering the internet and shooting up book charts” featured the author taking a softer view on the matter, saying:

“I got upset about 20 years ago because I thought it would block me. However, it’s been very easy to avoid reading any, so live and let live. If I were a young writer, I’d want to own my own ideas. But maybe fan fiction is a transitional phase: whatever gets you there, gets you there.”

Apparently Rice was initially so dead-set against others using her characters since she felt it would affect her as a writer, but may have also been commenting all those years ago on her personal feelings about creative property and how much you can really “own” it.

Just last month actor Mark Ruffalo was shown various pieces of artwork showcasing a fairly close relationship between The Avengers‘ Bruce Banner, who he plays, and Tony Stark, portrayed, of course, by Robert Downey Jr. His reaction was completely positive. When asked whether or not he “shipped” the pairing known around the internet as Science Bros, he responded with:

“Yeah! I love it; it’s awesome. I endorse it 100 percent. You know what it is? It’s open-source creativity.

“I’m going to call [RDJ] and tell him, and he’s going to laugh his ass off. He’ll love that.”

The whole idea of “open-source creativity” leads me to the conversation about what it means to own a character, and for how long. Renowned comic book writer Kurt Busiek made the thought-provoking statement that “75 years after the debut of Superman…he ought to be in the public domain.” He goes on to say that the initial expectation was that the publisher would own the character for 56 years max, and that we’re almost two decades past that.What would it mean for Superman, or even Batman, if they were no longer the sole property of DC Comics [and, by association, Warner Bros.]? They would join the ranks of Robin Hood, Huckleberry Finn, and Tarzan, free for people to not only write stories featuring them, but to publish said works without any legal repercussions whatsoever.

Finally, a comment left by Adam on Wednesday’s post asked how we can really define the genre. He mentioned the short story “A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman, which samples both Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and that of H.P. Lovecraft [both within public domain], and where it falls between basic wish fulfillment [which includes the "wouldn't it be awesome if...?" sentiment] and “serious fiction.”

To provide an example of the latter we can take a look at Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It hit number three on the New York Time’s bestseller list, and even accrued some pretty positive reviews.

Gaiman’s piece won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, while Grahame-Smith’s spawned two sequels [somehow] and much talk about a film adaptation. It’s clear that both garnered a fair amount of attention, but can the quality of that attention be chalked up to the author’s intent?

I like to think that on some level Gaiman came up with the idea of having Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu cross paths and thought to himself how awesome that would be. On that same note, I’m sure that Grahame-Smith didn’t consider himself to be writing schlock, and put a fair amount of time and effort into adding to Austen’s novel. In a way it’s difficult to separate the two, or believe that you can really swing too far towards either extreme.

Adam’s other primary question was whether  “the only difference between some fan fiction and an homage a publisher’s endorsement, the more relaxed attitude of fiction of forums or blogs rather than in Barnes and Noble?” And my short answer to that would be: “Yes.”

What’s really cool, though [and that I read about in the article where Anne Rice recanted her stance on fan fiction], is that fan fiction is actually helping to bridge that gap. The record-breaking 50 Shades of Grey actually began as a multi-part fan fiction series titled Masters of the Universe, and appears to be roughly 89% the same as that original draft

As a means of building up an audience, the not-yet-20-year-old Abigail Gibbs had millions of hits on the publishing website Wattpad as she wrote her Twilight-inspired novels in The Dark Heroine series. This number accounted in no small way to her ebook hitting no. 22 within a day on the Kindle charts.

Finally, as a means of defending the activity of writing fan fiction as a whole, isn’t it totally normal? The first every story I can remember writing was about the Power Rangers, and I swear I have that book [10 pages, max] in storage somewhere. We write about what we love, and that usually encompasses books, TV shows, movies, et cetera. This is not an uncommon thing.

In addition, for those of us who consider ourselves writers, it’s not unrealistic that we might find ourselves one day writing with the creative property of others. Someone has to continue on Spider-Man’s saga, and it certainly isn’t going to be Stan Lee. Even a writer on a show such as The Office is penning scripts for Jim and Pam and many others who they had no part in creating. In many ways it’s simple preparation for a job we want, or wish we had.

And that’s all I have to say about fan fiction for now.

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2 responses to “A Few More Thoughts on Fan Fiction

  1. You just had to bring up 50 Shades of Grey.

    Seriously though, good post. Agreed, agreed, agreed on all the major points. =)

  2. Pingback: Shame Day: Dark, Gritty Fan Art of Beloved Childhood Characters | Culture War Reporters

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