Fan Friction


Feel the fan love?

Feel the fan love?

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.

Which famous road movie am I thinking of?

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the fried Kentucky version

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!”

Willow's gone mad!

Willow’s gone mad!

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!

Fan Fiction writers hitting the jackpot with Kindle World?

Fan Fiction writers hitting the jackpot with Kindle World?

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!

It's raining royalties!

It’s raining royalties!

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?

author Anton Aardvark wrote "From here to Ant-ernity"

author Anton Aardvark wrote “From here to Ant-ernity”

In a fantasy line up of writers giving your characters and worlds a “make-over”, which authors would you choose and why?

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9 thoughts on “Fan Friction

  1. well, being a wannabe writer, i certainly wont mind if someone plays with one of my characters in his/her story 🙂

    but I may not read any fan fiction written on sherlock Holmes I am really a blind fan of this character, and till date no actor has fitted in his shoes for me 😦

    • The problem is that whoever plays with your characters stands to make a great deal of money out if while you will see absolutely nothing – and you may not even get a mention, so you couldn’t promote your other work on the strength of this “success”.

      I saw the actor Jeremy Brett, who played Holmes in the most faithful adaption to date, on stage and he was quite extraordinary as Sherlock. I’m quite open to seeing new interpretations, as long as they are done respectfully and with full credits going to the originator. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  2. Good article!
    It’s true that the vast majority of fanfiction is absolute tripe, but I think that authors who forbid it are taking a narrow view. Fanfiction is what happens when a reader/viewer/consumer loves the material so much that the author just can’t push more of it out fast enough for them. They want more, there isn’t more, and so they make their own. More often than not, fanfic features a blatant self-insert character. Those are often criticized as hideous Mary Sues (regardless of the actual quality of the fic-writing), but the fact remains that they are expressions of the fic-writer’s desire to be not merely a consumer, but a part of the world the author has created. In my opinion, fanfic – and especially self-insert fic – is an expression of the most fundamental form of literary appreciation.
    Besides, nothing created by someone else can truly cheapen an author’s creation. If it’s really that awful, that’s on the fic-writer’s head. If it somehow manages to be a better story than the original… Well, it’s not unheard-of for fic-writers to change the names and self-publish, and power to them.

    • Thanks for stopping by and for your insightful comment. Yes, Kindle World is set to explore this very point about readers becoming enthusiastic writers, although with some rather dubious licensing and copyright provisions in place. The whole fanfic issue has become a minefield of late.

      Approved fan fiction under the Kindle World banner will probably net the original authors some money, because it will promote their original work; good fan fiction writers will finally get more recognition and potentially money in an entirely legal way. Which is a good thing.

      Alas, Kindle World can take the fanfic writer’s work, spin it and profit from it 100% while the fanfic writer won’t get anything, if whatever Kindle World has used their writing for happens to be successful. Which is a bad thing, not just for the fanfic writer but also the original author, for the true fan will have stayed fairly true to the author’s original intentions, when they set up their world and characters. With Kindle World taking over the copyright of the character created by the fanfic author alone, the original author’s intention and creation will most likely be perverted into something that the author will truly loathe, something that could potentially be quite damaging to book sales of their existing work.

      • Ew, I’m not sure I like that idea. I really don’t think fanfic should be available for sale at all, at least not those using material that’s still under copyright. (I’m an absolute fiend for Holmesian pastiche, but that’s a slightly different ball of wax.)
        I’m sure there will be a lot of writers eager to make some money from their fic, but Kindle World doesn’t sound as though it fits the bill at all. The possibility of losing all control over your idea, even the purely original bits?! That’s horrifying.

        • I know, I’ve been trying to follow the various online discussions about it since Kindle announced their launch of Kindle World fan-fiction last spring. The contract they get writers of fan fiction to sign clearly gives Kindle/Amazon the right to take the fan-fic writer’s own creations and use them in any way they see fit. For example, I’ve published some “Merlin” fan fiction here on WP and elsewhere (for free, as it should be). Although based in essence on the BBC’s hit series “Merlin”, my story contains a whole army of my own characters, some of which somebody might conceivably use to create a “spin off”. The contract would allow Kindle to make a Hollywood movie out of my characters or a TV series and I would never see a single penny of royalties (take Joss Whedon’s “Buffy” and “Angel”-verse for example and see think how lucrative that would have been for Kindle/Amazon!).

          • I can’t understand that at all. Even if it is just the nature of the beast, and there’s no chance of actually publishing the idea (short of the original creator miraculously deciding to grant permission), why would anyone voluntarily give up any chance they might have of rewriting and using it someday? Obviously, some are doing it, or Amazon wouldn’t be wasting money on the system, but…!

          • If you go to Kindle World’s website you’ll see that several US TV shows have already signed up and given their permission for people to write fan fiction and to publish it on a “paid for” basis with Kindle World. Some fan-fiction writers have huge followings, especially those who write teenage/sexual fantasies about celebrities or actors portraying a character in a hit show. I looked at some young writers’ output on wattpad.com and they had 1.2 million hits for their mini-books on Justin Bieber/various boy bands. From an advertiser’s point of view these are happy times, for some deluded person will provide great content for a pittance and that content, if it proves to be popular, can then be spun without having to pay out royalties, and can be used on zillions of other websites, again creating an advertiser’s heaven.

            Perhaps publishing on Kindle World is just pandering to people’s vanity, people who don’t have the confidence to sit down and invent a “world” and characters of their own but still want to tell all their friends “hey I’m a published author”. Whatever the reason, Kindle will make a fortune from this, even if the writers’ work isn’t taken up by the movies or TV.

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