Thoughts on Fanfiction?

I’ve volunteered to do a talk about Fanfiction at the UK Meet. I don’t think anyone can be in any doubt that I love fanfiction and write it myself. Sometimes you just want Captain America and Loki to have adorable evil babies together, so much so that you have to make it happen. And if I want a comfort read where I can pretty much tell beforehand that I will like the characters, and the story will obey no rules of romance, but will be either comforting, or whimsical crack, or make me cry, or all three together, I go to fanfic.

What I didn’t know was how much controversy there was about it in the m/m genre, both its plain existence and the existence of original fiction which was initially written as fanfic. It seems to me that an author’s story is their own. Offering it for free first doesn’t take away their ability to alter it so that they can legally offer it for a price later. The existence of 50 Shades of Grey and other books bears me out here, I think. But I look at the mass of indignant comments here

and think “OK, I’m missing something. I don’t understand where this outrage is coming from. I just don’t get it.”

Given that that’s the case, perhaps I’m not the right person to have volunteered to talk about fanfic at the UK Meet. As I clearly have a blind spot here, can I put it out to you – what are the points that you think ought to be covered in a talk about fanfic? What questions ought I to think about answering?

To me, the energy, inventiveness and sheer right-outside-the-box-ness of fanfic is a well of invention that I think benefits m/m fiction immensely. I understand that one cannot use someone else’s copyright protected characters or invented universes and legally profit from them – that these things have to be altered or replaced in a way that makes them the author’s own – but if that’s done sufficiently well, what is the problem?

Comments (10)

Rj ScottJune 15th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Agreed… as an ex fanficcer I agree with everything you said there. I wrote AU and as such the ony thing that really inspired my stories was the look of the guys and maybe some of their mannerisms…

And where is this Loki/CA you talk of?


RebeccaJune 15th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I haven’t read any commercially published fanfic-turned-original-fic. But I think there’s a point to be made that characters can represent archetypes. If you write some fanfic about specific existing characters, then yes you are using someone else’s background material, worldbuilding, etc – your story doesn’t work without the weight of their work behind it. But to move on and adapt the story in such a way that it is now your worldbuilding, and your background material, and the characters simply represent the same archetypes as the characters in the original, then I don’t see the issue. Those archetypes will have existied for centuries, possibly even millenia!

CassiopayaJune 15th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

There are only 27 stories that can be told and they can have infinite variables, but in the end we’ve all been writing fanfiction for a long time now.

Dante wrote Roman Histories/Bible crossovers. Jane Austen wrote crackfic. Speaking of Austen, where would Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fall on the original/fanfic scale? Why is it that when men do it we call it Metafiction and when women do it we call it Fanfiction? I could go on, but you get the gist…

Alex BeecroftJune 15th, 2012 at 4:45 pm

@R j Scott
When I was growing up, it seemed that practically every fantasy book I read was Tolkien fanfiction with the names changed. Obviously it wasn’t, but I don’t think anyone can deny that hundreds of writers leapt wholesale on that bandwagon and unashamedly profited by his influence. That’s how writing works – when something is influential, people are influenced by it. Fanfic is just a more self-aware branch of that.

I’m afraid it’s actually more ‘Steve makes friends with Loki’ but who knows where that could lead? 😉 It’s on AO3 as “A Kindness Repaid.”

Alex BeecroftJune 15th, 2012 at 4:51 pm

@Rebecca Yes, it’s actually almost impossible to write fiction without using character-types which have been used forever. If people can still recognise your pirate as being clearly Jack Sparrow under an alias, you probably haven’t done enough to make him your own, but on the other hand how could you write a drunk, fairly good humoured, sexually ambiguous pirate captain who wasn’t a bit like Jack Sparrow? (Make him a woman, possibly?)

Much of my fanfiction is so closely tied in to canon that I couldn’t dream of filing the serial numbers off – there would be very little left if I was to take the canon away, but if your story stands up on its own and would be unrecognisable with a few changes of name, then it’s clearly mostly original already.

Alex BeecroftJune 15th, 2012 at 4:56 pm

@Cassiopaya Yes, P&P & Zombies – all of that series is pure and simple fanfiction. The only difference between that and a novel in which, say, Arthur and Eames from Inception are rival ballet dancers is that P&P is out of copyright and Inception isn’t. Legally there’s a difference, morally there isn’t. And as you say, that’s the way fiction has always worked. Where would we be if someone had sued Shakespeare for filching most of his plots from Italian plays? Not in a better place.

Becky BlackJune 15th, 2012 at 9:17 pm

I’m interested in whether others agree with me about 50 Shades having crossed a line because the fic it started out as was based on a book. Now that it’s been converted and sold it is now sitting on bookstore shelves directly competing with the books that inspired it. That’s not the case for a conversion of a fanfic about a TV show or movie. So to me there is something fundamentally different there that I’m not comfortable with, but I don’t know if that’s just me.

Alex BeecroftJune 15th, 2012 at 9:29 pm

That’s an interesting thought. Someone over on LJ mentioned that erotica writers reacted very badly to her saying she wrote fanfic, and I thought ‘well, yes. Slash PWP really does directly compete with professional erotica, and is available for free.’ So I can see that there could be economic repercussions in that case which make it more serious than most.

Melissa VJune 16th, 2012 at 1:27 am

It is my opinion that everything is inspired by something that came before it. Whether it’s a character’s physical attributes or personality or certain points in a plot.

So, 50 Shades or “The Book” was originally a Twilight fanfic. Well, isn’t Twilight basically a romanticized and modernized fanfic of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? (Ok, that may be a stretch but hopefully you get my gist.)

Alex BeecroftJune 16th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

@Melissa V I think that’s right. I can’t imagine how it would work if we all tried to be 100% original all the time, given that pretty much every idea has already been used. What would become of the publishers if they couldn’t jump on the latest bandwagon and release a slew of imitators every time a new book becomes a bestseller? What would have happened to the Fantasy genre, without all that pseudo-Tolkien?!

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