Why I Don’t Like Fan Fiction

BooksThere is a beautiful safety in books. In that time, when you are in a great novel, your focus is clear, and reality can gracefully slips away, leaving you to play in the imagination of the author. You walk with the characters, you explore the land, you fall in (and out of) love, and when the book is closed, a bit of you feels lost, returning to the too real world.

The sad thing is that when you return to a book again it is never the same. That initial spark is diminished. This is because the surprises are gone, and with each additional reading it slips more and more; until it is nothing more than words on paper, something to be almost merely analyzed. It is a memory now, a glimmer of that first magical escape.

The fact is I understand the desire to create fan fiction. As a lover of books and an author, I truly do.

It’s hard to let go, move on, especially if you want more than what the author wanted to give to you. It can feel like an early death, especially when there is so much more to live. And maybe it is that book, that author, that inspired you to write yourself! Your inspiration driven from a need for more and more.

The problem is at the heart of every piece of fan fiction there is one bit of truth, one thing the fan fiction author doesn’t want to consider:

It is not their decision whether the story continues or not.

They are not the author and only the original author should make that call.

Can I borrow this?

Because of the internet, fan fiction has moved from being something someone does privately in journals without another’s knowledge to something widespread. There are websites everywhere for it! And while many of the sites will claim they don’t make a dime from the work (especially if the author is still alive), it doesn’t change the fact that they are still playing in another’s backyard… without the owner of the house’s permission.

“Hey kids! Get off my lawn!”

Peter PanCopyright laws around the world are not universally the same. Some countries are passionate about keeping the copyright on a work, letting it span generations of family members; while others (like the US), allow the copyrights to expire. It is when they expire here that all bets are then off. Sometimes laws can clash over the same book in different countries. A great example of this is Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, where the copyright is still believed to be owned by the Great Ormand Street Hospital (there is still some debate around it), yet here in our country we consider the copyright expired, allowing sequels and other uses of the characters (Hello Tinkerbell movies, Peter Pan and the Starcatchers, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates).

The first time I heard of fan fiction and its popularity was when Harry Potter was at the height of its popularity. I was quite the Potterhead at that time, even following the great podcast Pottercast. Why do I bring this up? Well, there was one eye-opening interview on that show that summed up for me one of the big challenges with fan fiction.  This happened before the last Potter book was released and a fan fiction author was on the show and she was terrified.

Utterly terrified.

See, this fan fiction author created her own last Harry Potter book and put it on a fan fiction site. Well, it started getting shared around by people claiming it was the actual last book in the series. It was growing in popularity and this poor young author was scared she was going to be tracked down and sued. Her appearance on the show was because she wanted everyone—everyone!—who downloaded and read her book to know that it was not real. She said over and over again that she didn’t want to get in trouble.

And you see, with that story, the fine line you walk if you decide to attempt fan fiction and share it with the world. Frankly, this stuff doesn’t belong to you.

Can’t it help me learn to write?

Another trend I have begun to see is that some teachers will use fan fiction as a way to teach creative writing. I’ve read the arguments on how some believe this  may stir creativity, gently teaches someone what it takes to write a book (from inspiration to plotting to creation), as compared to just pushing them into the literary deep end of the pool. But I find that debatable.

Yes, Joseph Campbell and others will argue that all books come from a place of familiarity (the hero’s journey, etc.), but it is one thing to be influenced it is another to take someone’s characters and worlds.

Of course, one of the things these teachers and writers hesitate to admit is that it is an impossible task, and the new work will always be wanting. The writers know it, the readers know it, and even the teachers know it.

How did this guy think up ents?Consider- We are all unique, not just in our DNA makeup, but in the experiences we have that make up who we are. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, and the trials he had over World War I and in studying literature influenced that epic. To be more precise, his study of literature influenced his use of languages (and those he made up), and the friends he lost during the war influenced his characters and their relationships.

Honestly, my fellow writers, you will get a lot more out of getting into the real world and collecting your own experiences (which includes reading a lot of different kinds of books). And the last thing any creative writing teacher should be telling their students is to copy another’s voice; they should be focusing on helping their students to find their own.

But I love this story!

Anyone that decides to write fan fiction is a lover of books.

They have dreams of being an author and they are inspired by a tale. A good percentage of them do it purely out of love with little thought of financial return.

Yes, many published fan fiction authors will point out that they are not trying to take money away from the author (especially if the author is long dead); or if they are alive, they just put it out there for free. They just want to share their work, share their love of the stories. So, in their perception, the birth of their continuing story is from a place of love. A conception over a literary honeymoon, if you will.

“Don’t they see we love them too?”

Whatever, the case, it doesn’t change the fact that they are attempting to do something that the original creator didn’t intend. They are assuming since they have such love for the creation and they are inspired that it justifies the work. They are like the teenager with the first love, blind to the actual situation around them.

Take a deep breath.

Sometimes things are just not meant to be.

The forgotten party

Writing is one of the most private artforms.

The entire experience begins in one’s head, maybe in a dream or in a stray thought… and then grows and grows… nurtured over time, until the author has in front of them a book that makes them proud. Beginning in such a personal matter, it is hard for an author not to feel strongly and passionately for their creation. It is more than about the money or the ownership, it is like a child.

So it is easy to imagine how an author might feel violated to suddenly have their work “taken over” by another. And authors ranging from Anne Rice to George R.R. Martin to J.K. Rowling have voiced their discomfort with the practice.

Yes, fan fiction writers are driven by their passion for a creation, but many times they are failing to see it from the author’s perspective, the very authors who created the work they love. And no matter how great that idea is the fan fiction writer has, it is a dream, a fantasy. Nothing more than a “what if.” Possibly even something that the original author already considered and decided against.

For those fan fiction authors, my advice is to pause before diving into the creation of one. Maybe that idea you have that is spurring your desire can grow if you give it a chance, become something new. Maybe, in time, it could become your own story with new characters and new settings… and who knows? Maybe someday you will inspire another writer.

Hopefully, they will stay in their own backyard.

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen DaydreamMaximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

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46 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Like Fan Fiction

  1. I would agree with what you are saying, so long as you are talking about a writer who wants to keep her or his world private. Not all do. Some universes, for example “Thieves’ World” and “Wild Cards”, are specifically set up to allow multiple authors to explore. (The anthology that I am putting together, The Fauxpocalypse Project, is designed with that in mind.)

    Some authors actively encourage fan fiction–I believe that Orson Scott Card contributed to a website for fanfic based on his “Seventh Son” series. Would I personally allow fanfiction based on my works? Not yet, there is still a lot about my world that I haven’t revealed, and I would want to make sure I had all of the rules set out before I let someone else play in Catskinner’s sandbox. In general, though, I would be flattered to have created a world that inspires people to want to tell their own stories in it.

    • I understand what you mean about Wild Cards, I follow George R.R. Martin’s writing from time to time around that. But even he sees a difference between the two, because he is very against people doing fan fic around his world. I believe he stated something like only he gets to torture the people of Westeros… Which feels about right.

      I guess it comes down to in a way how you see your story, your “world.” Is it organic and growing or locked in place like a painting or a statue. Most writers see their work as a statue completed.

      I think if we have learned one thing over the last year is that Orson Scott Card has a very unique way of looking at reality. LOL!


  2. I love how so many of your posts are so timely, Scott. I never gave much thought to Fanfiction until recently, after I’d finished reading part 8 of Wool. (Incredible science fiction, really. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series.) I was on Amazon to check that I’d read ALL the books, and up popped pages and pages of Wool sequel type books – all written by various authors. I was astounded. Obviously, there must be some type of “Fanfiction Arrangement” with Hugh Howey, the author. Maybe it attracts a lot of buzz for the book? I haven’t researched how this happened, but I intend to. I wonder if he receives a cut of the profit. The whole Wool phenomenon intrigues me anyway — the first time ever deal Howey’s agent struck up that allowed him to retain his rights to the book as well as his profit from kindle sales, and a great deal with the publisher. I’d bet movie rights will follow, if they haven’t already.

    One last comment that may amuse you. I recommended your Jane Austin book to a friend, and her first comment was, “Sounds interesting. Is that what people refer to as Fanfiction?” I laughed and said I didn’t think so. But it made me realize that not everyone out there is familiar with the term Fanfiction.

    • Thanks Deb!

      Howey seems to have a very unique relationship with authors who do fan fic. I don’t think I would do it for my own writing. But if you go to his website he has a page up just to support the fan fics he likes based on his work. So in a way he supports it.

      LOL. A Jane Austen Daydream is definitely not fan fic! LOL. To be honest, I have even a hard time calling it historical fiction, since I made a point right at the beginning to show “the facts be damned, this is fiction.” Some Austen scholars pushed back on that, but I did it on purpose so there would be no confusion with a biography. Someone called it alternative history, but I don’t know. When you consider the “twist” in the book it becomes something different. A new genre possibly? Wow, that feels so rock star! LOL.


  3. Ah, fan fiction. It’s such a sticky term, just like fan art; any type of fan creation, really.

    I definitely see where you’re coming from here, and I’ve thought about it many times before. I guess it all goes back to the question of where ideas come from, as you mentioned.

    I grew up writing fanfiction, and I can’t say that it didn’t help foster my writing – not so much to copy the original author’s voice, but to try writing on my own in an already stable environment, sort of like a child on a playground – able to play and have fun, but safe within the perimeter. I wrote fanfiction because I wanted to practice writing, and trying ideas, all while paying tribute to a story I loved. Some of them spawned their own worlds, and some of them were just fun.

    I think the interesting thing is that, in a way, everything is fanfiction. This might sound odd, but I think of Greek myths, and fairytales, and how many times those have been written about. There is nothing new under the sun, so to speak. Even the authors you mentioned drew off of myths and legends – the difference, I think, is this was far after the legends had been written, not while the author was alive, or only recently dead. And also there’s a bit of a difference, because those myths were there for everyone, and sort of belonged to everyone…like but not like the public domain stories we have now.

    I do agree that there is something lost when fans become overly involved in something; fandom is both good and bad. It’s sad to see people making money off of characters that don’t belong to them – whose authors are alive; dead is legal, after a point – and yet it’s nice to see people being creative. There is a very fine line, and I don’t think the author’s feelings are often included in it, when really, authors usually write for themselves, not for anyone else. They loan their work to the fans, not give up ownership.

    I’m not against fanfiction, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. I know that on major sites if the author has expressed they do not want fanfiction written, the site will not host it. Also, copyright is iffy.

    It’s funny you mention Peter Pan, actually. I think I’ve said this before, but I’ve been working on a story set in Neverland, a sort of sequel. According to my research, the Children’s Hospital holds the rights to the play, not the novel; that copyright expired. I think for me, writing about these characters in their world has been a lesson in respecting authors and their works, as odd as that might sound. Would it be better if I wasn’t writing it? Perhaps. But, it feels as though it should be written, and I can say that I’m doing everything in my power to pay tribute to the original, and the author’s vision. I’ve done extensive research, and have read everything I can about Barrie and his world. Will it be the same? I don’t think so, but I’m not writing it just for fun, or to play in this world; I’m writing it because it means something to me, and I want to take time and care to make sure that shows. And you can bet I’ll be telling people: don’t think my story is better, read the original; it’s the best, it can’t be replaced.

    But then again, I think a story becomes more beautiful, the more times you read it. You notice new things, and begin to see more of the author’s feelings. Dissection is not a bad thing.

    Fanfiction is an iffy subject for some, and I think like anything it has its pros and cons. I can only hope that people continue to do it out of love for these stories. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed the post.


    • You should read Joseph Campbell (or see one of the documentaries he did back in the 80’s). He talks about the importance of myth (the hero’s journey) and how all stories follow a series of “beats.” It has always been that way and you can tell when a storyteller misses something important. Really fascinating stuff.

      Technically, from what I can see, you have the rights to play with Peter. And to be honest, Barrie was changing and reworking that story (and the play) throughout most of his life. He never seemed happy with it. Peter Pan always felt like to me a great idea that needed finetuning.

      I think your point about an author’s ownership is spot on.

  4. Great post! This is something I’ve been struggling with lately. Someone above mentioned Hugh Howey, and his pro-fan fiction stance has made me pause and think, because he is the man and he generally makes me pause and think. But I find myself unsure. The idea of people writing in my world or about my characters doesn’t particularly bother me, but beloved characters in my favorite books? That’s where I have a problem, especially when it comes to “re-imagining.”

    The one example that comes to mind is Wide Sargasso Sea–a book which never ceases to infuriate me, especially as it is so lauded. Mr. Rochester is one of my all time favorite characters, and he is already flawed and complex. I don’t see how another author had the right to drag him through the mud in ways that Bronte didn’t intend. It feels like a violation to me.

    However, you hear stories about people beginning their writing journey through fan-fiction, and anything that excites people to create and express themselves generally makes me happy. So I suppose, for me, the intent and purpose of the fan fiction plays a role.

    (Though, I can’t agree with you about re-reads holding less spark. On the contrary, I find the books I read regularly become increasingly valuable because they become enmeshed with my own life.)

    • Howey definitely is unique in that. I can’t imagine many other writers doing it. Most are very protective of their work and creation.

      I didn’t like Wide Saragasso Sea either. It felt unnecessary and really hurt Rochester as a “hero.”

      Thanks for writing!

  5. Fan fiction just seems to be so derivative, even derogatory, to me. I totally agree with your opinion that it is doing something with the author’s universe that was never intended. In a way, it almost seems offensive. I understand it comes from a place of love, especially if the fan is passionate enough to write something of their own. However, on some level, it seems like it also says, “Dear author, this is what should have happened.” Writing, like you said, is incredibly private and stays that way even after being published. Of course, people can speculate, but an author’s intentions stay secret until they explicitly explain them. If someone took something I wrote and tried to “continue” the story, I might be flattered on some level, but also insulted that my work was not apparently good enough.

    In terms of using it as a teaching tool, that seems like a horrible idea. It creates a block for a writer- a limit. With such limited inspiration, it is no wonder that a large majority isn’t only broken in terms of plot or grammar, but also just horrid to read. Everything I have seen in terms of fan fiction, save for the few popular and successful titles, have been painful to read. Even a few that have received commercial success (not naming names) have been just plain bad writing.

    All in all, I think that fan fiction should stay exactly where it was for many years: in private.

  6. I started writing fan fiction after watching a film. The film itself was technically fan fiction of the book it was adapted from, probably because it had been adapted numerous times before and they wanted to try something slightly different. After seeing how they had tweaked elements of the much-loved story it inspired me to start writing down my own variation. Only later did I discover that doing so was called fan fiction and there were others out there who were all doing the same. I also found an audience, with whom I could share my creation. I had tried writing a novel before, but it had floundered because I didn’t know whether it (or I) was any good and I had no idea who to ask, or how to find out. Fan fiction not only gave me an audience, but more importantly it gave me the vital critical and positive feedback I needed to improve my writing. It also gave me the chance to try things out to see what worked and what didn’t, and learn my own strengths and weaknesses. I saw writing fan fiction not as an end in itself, but as an apprenticeship to learn some of the tools I would need to set down my own stories, in the same way an apprentice carpenter would copy his master’s work before going on to create his own pieces.

    Then I took a step into the unknown. I lovingly crafted my plot, created my original characters and began to write a story of my own. However, I missed the network of support or encouragement that I enjoyed in the fan fiction environment. The other new, unpublished writers I found on-line were all too focussed on looking for feedback on their own fledgling efforts, and there was none of the same community spirit or collaborative process. It was writers talking to other writers, rather than writers getting genuine feedback from people who just enjoyed reading. I realised then that the life of a proper writer is a lonely and solitary one. It was something my “apprenticeship” hadn’t prepared me for.

    The other thing I learned during my sojourn with the “real” writers was that trying to get your creation published was an horrific and ultimately hopeless endeavour, particularly for someone like me who is inherently shy and self-effacing in real life. The idea of standing before publishers, “selling” my story brought me out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t sell water in a desert. Even if, by some miracle, I did get published, I wouldn’t have the titanium skin required to weather the public pillory of on-line reviews at places like Amazon or Goodreads. (Don’t get me wrong, I can deal with any amount of private critique, it’s only public humiliation I struggle with) I realised then that I would never be a real, published author. I’m just not cut out to travel down that path.

    My problem is I wake every morning with a strong desire to write. I have ideas and characters of my own trapped in my head, bursting to come forth. I love crafting a story and I love seeing the reaction from the readers, who tell me that my writing makes them laugh, cry, gasp and sigh. To know I’ve made someone happy is the best feeling in the world, but without fan fiction I would have no outlet at all. So I merge my own ideas with another’s characters and situations, because it’s the only way I can find an audience. Do I feel like a real writer? No, not really, but considering that I’m not making any money from it and I’m taking inspiration from books that are long out of copyright I didn’t think I was hurting anyone. Reading your article made me feel as though I’m doing something terribly wrong. If the only choice is between gift-wrapping a story in shiny fan fiction paper or leaving it to go dusty on my hard drive, entertaining no one, isn’t it better to share it and brighten someone’s day? Because if not, I might as well take up knitting.

    • Thanks for writing!

      Like I said in the post, fan fiction always comes from a place of love. They love the characters, the stories, etc., and they love the idea of writing. And it’s obvious to me based on your response that you do love writing.

      The problem is that the original creator is typically against the project. Yes, there are a few writers who are okay with it some reluctantly accept it (like Rowling), while others are very much against its (like George R.R. Martin). It’s their creation, their baby. Like I said, it’s their yard.

      The thing is everyone has their line, somethings they are okay with and some that make them feel uncomfortable. For example with me, I am okay with adaptations into other mediums, or work that it is inspired by another (Bridget Jones from Jane Austen, etc.). Where I have issues when someone takes over another’s characters.

      It sounds to me that you need to build some self-confidence in your own writing and fan fiction has become kind of a crutch, trusting in the work of another. Have you ever joined a writing table or taken a course in writing? Those kind of environments can be very positive at the start of one’s writing. I would recommend checking into it, especially a writing table, maybe at a local book store or coffeeshop.

      Cheers and good luck!

  7. Fan fiction can be a fun and engaging pastime, but sometimes, when it comes down to it, walks the fine line of plagiarism. One of the hardest jobs of authorship is creating believable worlds and interesting characters. It takes true writing talent to get them just right, and to make them engaging enough to carry an entire novel, let alone a series of novels.

    Fan fiction merely builds upon the hard work of others–everything is already there, basically all one has to do is come up with a plot. But plotting is only a portion of writing. If anyone aspires to be a serious writer, this is a cop-out. Just because somebody comes up with an idea for a story does not make them an author. A real author has to write it, but first they have to create all the building blocks that make up that story, and it’s extremely difficult to do this well. In the case of fan fiction, all of this hard work has already been done.

    Now, as a reader I totally understand that when people love a book so much they want to keep ‘living’ in that other world, and fan fiction is a way to do this. That’s fine. What I have a problem with is someone earning a quick buck by using someone else’s work, work that could have taken the original author many months or even years to accomplish.

    And as a learning tool, I think fan fiction is great. Art students frequently learn to paint by copying great works of art and imitating a famous artist’s style and technique. But to truly develop as an artist, you need to come up with your OWN unique style. It’s no different with writing. To become a great writer you need to conjure up your OWN characters, your OWN worlds, your OWN writing style, to win the respect of the literary community. If that’s not important to you, then fan fiction is certainly one way to ‘get your name out there,’ but personally, I would much rather create something unique than just imitate somebody else, even if my work is only a fraction as good.

    • A lot of authors are very protective of the work. Not just because of financial reasons, but because of how much care and energy and time went into their creation. Yes, Rowling thought up Harry Potter on a train ride, but it took years of planning (and notebooks filled with ideas) before she was ready to show the first book to someone. That is her baby, her world.

      Writing is difficult and it should be understood by the students as being difficult. Too often we hold writers’ hands thinking that everyone has a book in them. But writing, like playing the piano or drawing or acting is not for everyone. I’m not saying that young writers need to be thrown in the deep end in their education, but there are ways to do it without piggybacking on another’s work. For example, you can write in the “style” of another (Isn’t that what they do most often in painting?). Making the work a tribute and turning it into a lesson about voice. Or you can teach the art of parody, by taking something and trying to find a completely new way to think about it.

      Like I said in my piece, that is someone else’s house they are playing in.

  8. I guess I understand your point, but I have to admit that I was once an avid fanfiction writer myself, and I loved the experience. I feel like it did help me practice writing until I was ready to start creating worlds of my own, and I’ve had fun publishing my work on FanFiction.Net (a site that thankfully respects the wishes of authors who have openly expressed their disapproval of having their stories “tampered with”). I’ve always wondered how I would feel about having my future novels become the source material of fanfiction. It may be a small chance, but if I were to write a popular story, I’d probably have to make my peace with that possibility.

    To be fair, even though I’ve written a ton of fanfiction in the past, 99% of it was based on video games instead of books, and those stories made up 100% of my published fan work (the one or two stories I wrote based on Harry Potter were always just for me). I’m not sure I could bring myself to publish fanfiction based on another author’s work. I’ve always found it easier to write about characters whose actions were intended to be controlled by their audience. 😛

    • Every writer has to draw their own line. For example, I have no problem with adaptations, then the story is switching mediums and nothing is being taken away from the original story. So creating fan fiction on video games doesn’t feel problematic to me (Heck, the idea of playing with an idea from Final Fantasy sounds interesting. I love those games).

  9. I very much agree with the idea that after reading a book that captures you once, any other time after that just isn’t as special. The first time, you have no idea what’s going on and it only sucks you in more and more. However, I find that there are books I love to read over and over again because even though I know what’s going to happen, there’s something about it that moves me every time I read it. I may even find something new I didn’t notice before, so it’s not necessairly becoming a text that I’m just reading to analyze.

    On fan fiction: I’ve never tried writing it myself. There have been a couple of instances where I have tried to read it, but because I know it’s based off of something someone else wrote, I can never get into the story. The voice isn’t the same, the ideas aren’t the same, it’s all too different. I understand why people do it, because of their love for a certain story and they imagine what the characters were like before or after the originial telling, but it’s not the real deal. I wonder why a teacher would try and have their students try and write fan fiction, ut just as you pointed out, it’s not the importance of trying to capture someone else’s voice, but trying to discover your own and share your own ideas and beliefs.

    Thank you for sharing your opinion on this matter.

    • I think we are on the same page. I understand WHY people like it, I just question why anyone considers it a good idea. When I was in school we would be assigned to write in the style of something, and that is fine (and good practice), but to take on another’s stories, that is more borderline to me.

      We need to teach a respect for books and classics, much like they do for paintings, classical music, etc. Today we have books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. ARGH!

  10. I don’t think it’s fair for fans to say that they are only writing fan fiction because they love the story so much and the author should be flattered.

    That is like saying, “I’m only throwing this huge party in your backyard because I love your house so much! I didn’t think you’d mind.” The homeowner has spent years and tons of money and work owning and maintaining that house. Work that you’ll never see. You only see the finished product and think, “I want that, too. Why can’t I have that?”

    That’s why it bothers me. It’s not theft, exactly. The writer’s original book is still out there for people to enjoy. It’s more like someone just barged in, uninvited, and set up housekeeping. It just feels….icky.

  11. I agree. I’m not a fan of fan fiction. I get it though. I often wonder where characters go when the stories end, but I’ve never actually written fan fiction.

    About Peter Pan, yes, it is still copyrighted from what I understand. Bill Willingham wanted to use Peter Pan as the mysterious villain in Fables but couldn’t.

  12. Pingback: The Fan Fiction Revolution~by CountOmer | FanFiction Fridays

  13. Thanks for posting this, Scott. I get in trouble all the time for saying I do not like fanfic – I understand the urge, I really do. I rewrite books in my head all the damn time. But I will never do it publicly. I keep those re-writes in my head.
    I can see how fanfic might be helpful when teaching ‘style’, but I think it’s a bad idea. Reading and learning to identify ‘style’ and ‘author voice’ makes more sense to me.

  14. I am going to have to disagree with you on this because I feel that fan fiction can be wonderful. Not just in writing but because of what it does for the fans. Some authors have no problem with fan fiction and truly believe that the characters they created are intended for their audience. Through fan fiction, fans get a chance to explore the world and characters that before then were somewhat limited to them. They get to be in charge of characters who very well may be better friends to them then actual people. They get to be in control and enhance the story any way they like.
    Furthermore, I found that fan fiction can also get people who would never have wanted to write a single page, find a love of writing. They are writing about characters they know and a world they know so they can get a better grasp on the writing. That can then be a spring board into creating their own works which someone may write a fan fiction about.
    Not all fan fictions are bad and sorry for ranting.

    • Ranting is fine.

      It’s not a matter of fan fiction being well-written or badly-written, it’s a matter of respect for the author and their intentions. The characters don’t belong to the readers (even though it can feel that way since reading is such a personal experience), nor the locations. They belong to the authors.

      And, I must admit, you would be hard pressed to find many writers who are okay with it. Most are very angry about it, with some exceptions. Trust me, a lot of cease-and-desist letters go out everyday. It’s their property, their livelihood. Just because an author decides to look the other way, doesn’t mean they are happy with it.

      It’s one thing to be inspired by another’s work, it’s another to attempt to take it over.


  15. Scott, I do see where this post comes from, and I also understand how some established authors can be displeased with people writing fanfiction of their beloved characters.
    However, I have to disagree that fanfictions writers are attempting to take over and control their favorite published stories.

    I am a part of a close-knit writing group, of whom most of these people started their writing endeavors via fanfiction. I, myself, have had ideas for fanfiction but was too nervous to write because I didn’t want to incorrectly portray character’s personalities. But that was me. Others claimed they were too afraid to create their own world because they simply didn’t know where to start. Writing fanfiction for them meant they already had an established world and characters, so it was like a stepping stone. For them, they weren’t aiming to actively change the story or any of its components; they just wanted to be creative and needed some guidance.

    The reason why writers of fanfiction cannot make money from their stories is obvious. I am troubled to see why famous authors would fear for their income with these copyright laws in place. That girl who was terrified she’d be in trouble over her Potter fanfic had no real reason to be. The world knows who the author of Harry Potter is. Unless there were some words said by JK Rowling herself that this girl should be worried, then Rowling should not fear for her livelihood. (I do wish that you’d provide links/sources for these stories that you reference, so that we can read these ourselves and better see what you see, or to better prove our points should we disagree.)

    Furthermore, there are authors who don’t have issues with fanfiction, who have actually written fanfiction themselves. (Please head over to this link to read about these authors: http://www.dailydot.com/culture/10-famous-authors-fanfiction/).

    Fanfiction writers do not intend to cause harm, or for the authors to be up in arms. The reason people write fanfiction is just because they love to write, and they love whatever story is currently inspiring them. To suggest that these creators of fanfiction are either malicious, or un-creative, or even wish to take over the stories for themselves seems pretty arbitrary. You also suggest that there could be authors who don’t appreciate fanficion of their work, but you do not put forth any evidence to this claim; it’s merely a dramatization without support. You actually charge us to find that information ourselves, not just in this post but the comments as well.

    As someone who is aspiring to become a published fiction author, you may be urged to ask me: “How would you feel if someone took your precious characters and misrepresented them in their own story?” I may actually be flattered! I wouldn’t want to read any fanfiction, because I don’t need to, I’ve created my own story for myself. But, there is not a single novel on this planet that has pleased every single reader. I would not pretend that fans would wish for something different to have happened. And I would tell them, “That’s what fanfiction is for!” I don’t care if someone were to hate the ending of a novel I had published; they can go home and type one up themselves. They cannot make money off of it.

    Also, please consider cosplaying–costume play: dressing up as a character from pop culture. Would you beg to have these “cosplayers” burn their costumes of their favorite literature characters? Surely, no one person can 100% accurately portray their favorite fictional character in costume, yet this is also a fan hobby that is done frequently. What about fanart? I am surprised Devianart.com didn’t pop up in this post because that site is full of fan-inspired work! Fanart surely does the same thing as fanfiction, if an artist creates a story of their own based on their favorite characters in their work. Right? Fan-inspired art–of any kind–to the artist, is a form of flattery, not thievery.

    On fanfiction, Stephenie Meyer claims that some fanfiction she has read was actually very well written, and that these writers should focus their efforts into getting published with their own stories. (It’s in the link I gave you.) This relates to what you suggest, that these particular writers should just write their own book; stay away from a completed product. Is anything original anymore? All ideas comes from something that has been already established elsewhere. And often, these fanfiction writers are just pursuing a hobby. That’s it. They don’t want to become published; they just want to write because it’s fun!

    You also hint that writers of fanfiction don’t have desire to write their own creative stories. This is not true. Who have you interviewed in order to suggest this? The writers I know write fanfiction and their own adventures. Fanfiction does not limit a writer; fanfiction enables someone to explore a method of art and creativity that they may have been afraid of before.

    • First off, I want to thank you for reading and responding to my post. It is always refreshing when something you write inspires such a reaction…

      I’m going to start with the last paragraph first. I never implied or would ever consider passing judgment on someone’s ability to write based on doing something I disagree with. This is simply my blog, my opinion. I’m not a judge or a jury. I’m just a dude with an opinion…. And my opinion can be summed up like this- it belongs to someone else, and it is a mark of respect to let it alone. And writers are very protective of their works (And let’s be honest, if there was money to be made out of sueing fan fiction writers, publishers would be doing it left and right. Frankly, it would be a waste of time and money to do it, so fan fiction writers can think of themselves as lucky. There are copyrights here).

      Yes, some writers are okay with it. Fine, but they don’t speak for others. Let’s think of it this way. Mr. Wilson across the street will allow you and your friends to play football on his lawn, but his next door neighbor, Mrs. Rowlings, won’t. Well, you play on Mr. Wilson’s. Like a lawn, this is someone property.

      You say it enables, I say it limits someone to find their own path. It’s like walking with a crutch when you are learning to walk. Writing and coming up with ideas should be hard. Take the time to find your own voice, don’t try to find it through someone else.

      Now in regards to dressing up in costumes. Okay, I have no idea how to respond to that. That is kind of out in left field in the conversation. I’m talking about the writing of fiction merely. I’m not talking about adapting, or dressing up… Heck, I have a Sherlock Holmes hat nearby me. And, honestly, I look pretty dapper, in it. Thank you very much.

      Thanks for writing!

  16. It is with some shame that I admit I am an (avid) reader of fanfiction. I don’t go around advertising this to people, it’s not a topic I would bring up with some one while on a date or even something I would discuss with my mother. It is, quite simply, a guilty pleasure. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m disgustingly picky about the fanfiction I read. Bad plots, gender benders, terrible writing style, bad word choice, plot holes, even terrible spelling. All of them get the ruthless back button on my web browser, without care to the authors feeling or if this is their ‘first fanfiction- BE NICE’ according to their opening introduction. Truthfully my choices generally stick in the Harry Potter fanfic area, only occasionally and briefly dipping into other fandoms.
    However, with my preferences lying in the Wizarding World fandom, one of the largest fandoms, I am subjected to some of the absolute worst fanfiction. Main Characters names are butchered, scenes skip without any context or transition, plot holes are so big you could lose your freaking car in them, and if I see one more person misspell a Hogwarts House name I’ll be ready to scream (DID YOU EVEN READ THE BOOKS? HOW ARE YOU PART OF THIS FANDOM WITHOUT KNOWING HOW TO SPELL THE HOUSE NAMES???? GAHH). But there is always the 1 out of 20 that turns out to be great.

    I totally understand where you’re coming from though. I wouldn’t want some kid coming to play on my lawn either; particularly if they are taking my lawn and ripping it up with a smug look on their face.

    Seriously though HP fandom; Harriette Potter? Please. Stop. It hurts me. No more gender benders. I beg of you.

    • JK Rowling was one of the reasons I was opened up to the problem with the practice. She has learned to accept it (She can’t sue kids), but she is not happy. See, a few years ago she gave an interview and someone asked her if she reads them. And… I swear this is true… she looked like she was about to cry.

      She only would say, “I don’t talk about it.”

      The interviewer than asked her if she ever wrote fan fiction and she looked appalled by the idea saying she would never have considered it.

  17. Often times I feel bad for Rowling. For those who have followed the HP world, Rowling has done many interviews talking about her work and what it means for her. Her happiness, her depression, her heart and soul. Harry Potter was a world for her to escape into, and she gave us all that world as well. To see so many bad fanfictions produced from the world she worked so hard to create will never be an easy task. Some of it is like a slap to the face. The fanfictions that simply take the names of the characters and place them in an entirely different world, setting, character, is a disgrace to the original piece.

    But I simply can’t tear myself away from some of the well written fanfictions. I love the ones that keep her characters true to who they have been portrayed to be. It’s a new plot to the already amazing world that has been gifted to us by Rowling. There are times when something beautiful can come out of the muck that bogs down the world. Those are the pieces I read.

    • I guess my reply to this is beautiful or not, is it right? Does the beauty justify the action? Does the enjoyment justify the effect it has on the writer and their creation?

      I get that readers feel a sense of ownership of a work since it takes place in their “head.” Sometimes it is really hard for people to understand that line.

      Thanks for writing!

  18. I view writing (or reading) fan fiction as similar to tattooing or nostril piercing. I don’t care if people do it, but I don’t understand the appeal.

  19. Fan fiction could make the difference between 1000 purchased books and 10000. It is much better advertising than the professional PR and marketing firms who strangle you with rules and limits and bore readers to death with their intruding, nauseating advertising.

    As long as the fanfic writer states very clearly than this is not the real book and demands no money for his/her work, I’m fine with fanfic. It can make your book famous in 1/10 of the time it takes a big publisher to squeeze your rights out of you. Worldwide.

    I rarely bother with modern books I see in ‘spamads’, ‘spamtweets’, ‘spamposts’ and ‘spambanners’. I’d rather bet on a book that’s discussed, dissected, analyzed and fanfic’d over and over in blogs and forums. It tells me people felt strong about it and can’t stop thinking about it. It lives on their minds. It must be some book.

    But enough with the business side.

    Serious readers know and cherish that bittersweet feeling at the end of the book, when all is told and no one can change the fate of the hero, for good or bad. But readers still think about the story, about all the little clues, the details, the words they have missed.

    Cinderella got the prince, but what happened next? We don’t know, the author didn’t tell us. Happily ever after, I guess. But we have the clues, the characters, the social setting. I think he left her after the first baby, when her lovely feet got swollen and she had varicose veins. I think she asked for a huge castle and three warships to sign the divorce papers.

    Did I ruin the story? Probably. Did I keep thinking about the story? Sure. Is someone likely to go find the original story to have a conversation on it? Maybe more people were led to the book this way than by clicking google ads or amazon spam.

    • I don’t understand your argument regarding marketing. Are you saying it is good for an unknown to try to mimic an established writer (setting a bar probably pretty high), or that it helps an established author reach more people by allowing it? To be honest, I think I disagree with both points. An established author/book probably doesn’t need the help (and fanfic rarely reaches outside those who are interested in the practice), and I would be surprised if a publisher or agent would venture onto such a site to find the next big name in books. Maybe this will change over time, but right now this is how I see it. Yes, you may get the occasional story, but those are few and far between.

      The problem is, no matter how much the site notes it is not making a dime or it is doing it with love, there are still copyright issues there. You are dealing with another’s product. My gut feeling is that if publishers and their attorneys could make money out of sueing fan fic writers they probably would. The problem is the news story would not be “Rowling fights for her story and her property” it would be “Rowling sues teenage fan.” So from their perspective the fight is just not worth it.

      Personally, I think it limits a person’s creativity to begin their writing career (or the development of their own voice) in the practice.

      Thanks for writing!

      • I am talking about established authors. Publishers may not go to blogs and forums, but readers do. Readers are the ones who buy the books and spread word of mouth. Publishers sponsor those atrocious pop up ads many of us kill with ad blocks. Sure, they get NYT listings, but who reads those but authors and publishers?

        I agree wannabe writers shouldn’t start with fanfic or use someone else’s idea. It’s like starting your security force business by stealing money and equipment. I understand the authors’ concerns about copyright and ugly ugly fanfic stories. I know it looks like someone’s stealing your kids. But I also know that half of my books would still be on their shelves if I didn’t happen on some forums or blogs and read the fanfic.

        It’s films you should be worried about, not fanfic. I misjudged many books by their film adaptation and almost didn’t read them. Remember the “Name of the Rose”(to take an established one), where they didn’t kill the girl and they barely touched anything but the murders? In fanfic, we’d just laugh or tsk tsk it and move on. Hey, it’s fanfic, nothing to see. The film destroyed the essence of the book and discouraged many readers.

        Why is that OK? Because they paid? Because they’re “traditional” promotion everybody feels comfortable with?

      • Adapting a book or anything into a movie screenplay is an art, and much more difficult than many realize since they are such different writing mediums with their own unique limitations (I wrote a few posts about this, but an example of what I mean is limited point-of-views and time). Of course, in an adaption, the author signs the contract (if they are still around), so they agree to it (good or bad), which is very different than fan fiction. I don’t know the book you reference, but it wouldn’t be the first time a book has a bad adaption. Of course, there are those that have improved the source material as well. Some easy examples of that are The Wizard of Oz, Forest Gump and even The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Now, I love Tolkien, but the films are more solid and a lot of his little quirks [poetry, the power of the ring, Tom Bombadil, etc.] were adjusted in the translating).

        My main focus of the piece is I don’t think it helps a person learn to write, nor do I think it shows the respect it should for the author and their creation. Some believe it does, like copying a work by Van Gogh with a paint-by-number kit. Of course, those that do the paint-by-number kits rarely put them on a website for the world to see.

        When I wrote the post, I did some looking into writers reactions to it. Very few were very positive or backed. Most wouldn’t comment or were angry (like George R.R. Martin). The problem I have found is that many that do fan fiction are very passionate about their work (understandable) and the story they are playing with (also understandable), so it’s not always easy to step back and look at it from a different perspective.

        Thanks again for commenting!

  20. Agreed. Fan fiction is, albeit a homage..never as satisfactory as the real thing. Yes, it might lead some readers to go back to the original, but on the whole, it does not. Here in the UK we have our own versions of this, with famous writers ‘completing’ or ‘adding’ to novels by Jane Austen or the Brontes. The only way this can be great is when it’s the story of a character IN a novel ..I’m thinking of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea : the story of Bertha Mason, the mad wife of Rochester in Jane Eyre. Other than that? Noooooooo

  21. Pingback: Is Historical Fiction a Good or Bad Thing? | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  22. What it all boils down is that fan fiction is plagiarism. The argument ‘that we love the characters as much as you do’ doesn’t hold water. The author, whether alive or long-gone, has created a story line, conjured a sense of place and given birth to the characters that have entranced the reader. These hard-won ideas and prose have emerged from no place other than the author’s fevered brow . Nobody else has the right to take ownership of these people and places. I would be mortified if another writer stole the town and its inhabitants from my own novel. What do they know about these people? I know them intimately, some of them are a part of me. Have we met?

  23. Pingback: Is Fan Fiction Misinterpreted? | Sara Bird

  24. When your argument is exposed for what it is, the only kind of person it can persuade is a very specific kind of author in the modern world. In fact, gauging someone’s reaction to your argument is a good way to determine what kind of a person he is.

    Your argument is entirely derived from the idea that an author owns his work. Key word: “owns”. Ownership is a concept that humans invented in order to make life easier. It first applied to simple physical objects, then it expanded into real estate, natural resources, money, people (children, slaves, etc.), businesses, and increasingly abstract forms of “property”. Only in recent history did people come up with the idea that it is possible to “own” information.

    Set aside the construction of ownership, for the sake of argument. Words are just words. When you read words, they create thoughts in your mind. Depending on how you interpret the words, the thoughts are more or less equivalent to the thoughts that were going through the mind of the person who wrote them. There is nothing magical about the act of writing the words. Every potential arrangement of words is waiting to be put on paper. It just so happens that the author put a particular arrangement of words on paper before anyone else.

    Before jumping into questions of right and wrong (which can only be answered by inventing rules to define “right” and “wrong”), let us observe the world for what it is, and determine what people *want*.

    Which people should we focus on? The two relevant categories of people are authors and readers. For any given book, there is one author and a potentially infinite amount of readers. I hope it is obvious that the interests of the potentially infinite outweigh the interests of a single person (remember, we are still setting aside the construction of ownership), so we should focus on the readers first.

    Readers *want* to read words that are arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner to create thoughts in their minds that interest them. It is as simple as that. If they enjoyed the thoughts that a particular story created in their minds, then they are likely to enjoy another story that creates those same thoughts but with an interesting twist.

    Therefore, it is in the best interest of the general public when people who are skilled at arranging words exercise complete freedom to write about whatever ideas interest them, *especially* their personal twists on ideas that they acquired from books that were already popular. All that matters is that the words get out there into the world.

    Now we can focus on the interests of that single person: the author. Actually, it is difficult to say for sure what the author wants. Money is an easy motive to understand. So is fame.

    Money: some authors write because they want to receive money in exchange for copies of their work. The good news for them is that their work is irreplaceable. No matter how many derivatives of their work pop up, they cannot provide readers exactly the same experience that they would get by reading the original book. Readers will always have a reason to buy copies of the original. And if the author wanted to make money off of derivatives of his original work, then he would have written his own derivatives (typically they are called “sequels”) and sold them.

    Fame: some authors write because they want as many people as possible to read their work and to know who wrote it. Derivative work can only *increase* their fame because it is inevitable that the people who read the derivatives before reading the original will eventually learn who wrote the original. They might not have been exposed to the original before being exposed to the derivative.

    If we care enough about the interests of the author, then these points certainly justify a *simple* copyright system — merely one that limits the distribution of the original text and one that prohibits people from taking credit for work that they did not do.

    Now we are left with an infinite variety of potential personality types that authors might have, and goals that they might have for writing. So how do we get from “don’t distribute unauthorized copies of someone else’s writing or take credit for it” to “don’t write a story starring someone else’s characters”?

    The answer, plain and simple, is pride. Some authors take so much pride in their own imagination that they develop a personal attachment to the ideas that they originate. They claim “ownership”. They come up with the idea that only they have the “right” to write about those ideas. They take offense when other people write about those ideas, even when those other people do not claim to have come up with all the ideas in the first place.

    Now, is pride really a legitimate basis for an ethical system?

    Pick any one of the countless fanfics out there that is well written, has been read and enjoyed by thousands of people, and has inspired some of them to think in new ways or even to write their own stories. (DO NOT dismiss these fanfics as “unlikely” — whether or not you choose to acknowledge them, they are a significant part of fan fiction’s offerings, and dismissing them only makes you appear ignorant and bigoted to people who *have* read them.) Are you going to tell me that the world would be better off without this fanfic just because it hurts the pride of the single person who wrote the story that inspired the fanfic? Are you going to tell me that one person’s pride outweighs thousands of people’s love of reading?

    If that is your answer, then with all due respect, GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS.

    Or persuade me that the concept of exclusive “ownership” over fictitious ideas amounts to more than pride. But until then, your argument is a logical fallacy (an appeal to pride), and it is frankly insulting to anyone who does not share your sense of pride. It insults infinitely more people than it can persuade.

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