While many authors don’t give a flying fig about fan fiction and are quite happy to let their fans’ imagination run riot, I was rather surprised to read the other day that some best-selling novelists object to this form of flattery and think it’s a rip-off.
Vampire writer Anne Rice is reputedly just one of a whole pantheon of authors who won’t allow fan fiction under any circumstances. Under a new ruling Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories can now be shamelessly exploited for the purpose of fan fiction, provided the characters and scenarios date back to before a certain time of original publication.
This will permit fan fiction writers to indulge in whatever they like to do with Sherlock and Dr Watson, for provided they do not impinge on what Conan Doyle wrote after the stipulated date, fan fiction writers have been given a free hand. Note how the BBC’s series “Sherlock” skates always within the permitted perimeter and doesn’t venture out into the later Sherlock stories at all. The mind boggles, how Sir Conan Doyle would greet the Cumberbatch treatment his sleuth has received in an attempt to make the famous detective stories more enjoyable for a modern audience.
My first reaction was: “Get over yourself authors, fan fiction is not plagiarising! Something original and fun is being created here. Somebody’s just enhancing your storylines, having fun with your characters and worlds because they love them so much. You should be flattered and humbled!”
But then I started thinking how I would feel if somebody, a total stranger somewhere in the universe, started writing Willow the Vampire stories that were based on my little heroine and my Stinkforth-upon-Avon-verse.
- What if they turned my feisty Willow into a silly giggling bimbo?
- Or painted her lips and nails Barbie-pink?
- Or forced my poor defenceless vampire to carry a Gucci handbag instead of her customary fang-some grin?
You say Flattery, I say Fiddlesticks
Let’s face it, the worlds and characters we create are the fictional equivalent of our children. Would we want some total stranger invent a weird scenario for our kids to star in? I think NOT.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so big-headed as to assume a sudden onslaught of readers would rush to create Willow the Vampire fan fiction, but stranger things have happened in this universe, right?
Just think of the annual occurrence of the Easter Bunny laying eggs or the mysterious place where single socks go when you’re sure both members of a pair made it into the washing machine!
After grinding my teeth for a while and a few involuntary growls escaping my lips, I could sympathize with Anne Rice and Co.
When Flattery back-fires
Most fan fiction, it has to be said, is truly awful and was written by hormone-infested teenagers who fantasize about the characters in an unsavoury way. However, there is also some outstanding fan fiction being published on various reputable websites; some of the fans’ writing turns is actually better than the original!
And this may be the real crux of the fan-fiction matter, the reason why some writers, namely those with a fragile ego and jittery writing hand have such problems with the concept of fan fiction. Before Anne Rice rushes to the phone to call her lawyers, I’m not naming names here!
But it has to be said that, despite huge “box office” success, some best-selling authors aren’t actually that good as writers. They just happened to be handing in their manuscript at the right time and place, and were lucky to find a literary agent or publisher who really went to town on the marketing and promotion side, because the manuscript captured the prevailing Zeitgeist. Hey presto, a best-seller is born, even if critics pan the book and subsequent movies make us yawn.
So maybe, if a multitude of readers for some peculiar reason should suddenly decide to write Willow the Vampire fan fiction, I should view this not as flattery or affront, but as a way to capture different facets of my heroine, namely those that have escaped me, but were noted by readers. Maybe I should accept that as a writer I can learn something from what a reader imagines when reading my stories and meeting my characters?
In a fantasy line up of writers giving your characters and worlds a “make-over”, which authors would you choose and why?