Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Fanfiction and why I don't approve

Fanfiction has been in the news lately. Can anyone not know that EL James wrote an erotic series based on Twilight characters Bella and Edward, called Master of the Universe? She then changed the characters' names and 11% of the text. Benefiting from her own fans as well as piggy-backing on Stephanie Meyer's, the book, now called Fifty Shades of Grey, was bought by everyone on this planet except me.

I don't approve of fanfiction. An author writes the story she means to, no more and no less, and it's gross impertinence of her 'fans' to attempt to write what she chose not to. Real fans would have more respect. Had Jane Austen wanted there to be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she'd have written it herself. Had JK Rowling envisioned Draco Malfoy and Hermione overcome by mutual lust, she'd have mentioned it in one of Harry Potter's seven volumes.

It doesn't help that the standard of writing is generally poor.

My stance on this clarified for me this week, when I was tracking down the last Mary Renault novel I haven't read, Kind Are Her Answers. It's an early one, so not one of her best, but I still want to read it. And I came across links to Mary Renault fanfiction sites. There's no way I was going to visit them, but it seems most of the stories add in the homosexual sex that Mary Renault chose not to describe in detail. Her view on the subject was: 

"I have sometimes been asked whether I would have written this book more explicitly in a more permissive decade. No; I have always been as explicit as I wanted to be, and have not been much more so in recent books. If characters have come to life, one should know how they will make love; if not it doesn't matter. Inch-by-inch physical descriptions are the ketchup of the literary cuisine, only required by the insipid dish or by the diner without a palate." 

She also, like any sensible person, disliked being pigeon-holed, and having some of her novels on the Gay and Lesbian shelves in libraries like my local one would, I feel sure, have annoyed her.

Yes, I know Shakespeare based some of his plays on other people's plots, using the same names. That's no excuse for us lesser mortals. Some writers argue that copying another's work is acceptable as a means of learning to write, like using training wheels on a bike. But a bike doesn't have an opinion on the matter, whereas most authors do. I'd certainly hate my characters to figure in another person's writing, and behave in ways I know they wouldn't.


  1. I haven't purchased 50 Shades. Guess there's 2 of us!

  2. Hurrah! Even Ocado, who sell groceries, tried to flog me a copy as I did my food shopping. Honestly...

  3. The illustrations you use for this post are very well chosen!

    People will do what people will do, there is not much one can do about it unless there are laws being broken, and even then there are no guarantees of order being restored to the universe. If tens of millions of readers want to get lost in the questionable prose of Ms. Meyers that is their affair. If even more find escape in the painfully awkward writing of Ms. James, whatever. Barnum's Theory proven once again.

    If your works, or much less likely, mine, ever become so popular that they "inspire" literary thieves to use them as the basis for their own attempt at glory, I think our best course of action would be to ignore them. As soon as they try to appropriate a character of mine that character is no longer authentic, it is a stuffed and stitched approximation lacking any life. If that appeals to a certain segment of the reading public that's their business. I may feel differently if I ever find myself in that situation, but I doubt it.

  4. That's my conclusion too, Alan, should I ever reach those heady heights of popularity. I'd have to let it go; not much one could do, and bad publicity if it is seen as somehow ungrateful to one's fans. Though of course, the readers who really 'get' an author's work wouldn't do it.

  5. Speaking of fad reads - I'm still catching up on erm... Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code 10 year or so after everyone and their brother's read it. LOL!! And it's a bookswap copy!! It's returnable!

    May I wave a tiny flag for the fanfic stories around Star Trek?!?!
    Ahem. Running away now!

    Take care

  6. Kitty, I'm making a sign at your departing back as you boldly go.

    (No, not that one, the Star Trek one...)

  7. Hi I haven't buy it either... It's not my cup of tea. I can't see the point in writing a book based on someone else's idea.

    I hope you don't mind Lexi if I ask you to help my friend, Debz

    Please would you be so kind as to download the children's book posted on my blog to help promote it for the young authors who have their short stories published in it. Thank you.

  8. Me too - I've not read 50 Shades of Grey, and have no wish to. Why? Because the reviews tell me that the writing is dreadful.

    And fan fiction - grrr. Why do it? I will, occasionally, for practice, try writing in the style of Joyce, or early Margaret Drabble, or Hemingway. It's fun, I learn stuff about voice, and then hit the delete button. So the ideas and the voice that emerges from all this playing is truly mine!

  9. I have a few disjointed thoughts on this.

    - 50 Shades is as bad as the critics say (and no, I didn't buy a copy!)

    - It's a real compliment to an author to have fans playing in your world because it's so real to them.

    - If I were a famous author I might feel rather peeved at people misusing my ideas.

    - I can't see much link between Twilight and 50 Shades, but maybe I didn't read either book closely enough.

  10. I don't have a problem with that, Jo - I used to love the parody competitions they had in Punch, or was it the Spectator? It's publishing fanfic online, or worse, for real, that I find inexcusable.

    Have you read the sample of PD James' Death Comes to Pemberley? It's dire and dull beyond belief.

    I used to enjoy early Margaret Drabble. Haven't read her for ages...

  11. FH, it was a real compliment to my design ability when people took moulds from my dragon jewellery and mass-produced cheap copies in Thailand then imported them to the UK, but I wasn't at all pleased about it. I think this comes into the same category; people who can't think up their own ideas steal other people's.

  12. Hi there
    I find myself disagreeing with all of you, so I thought I'd add my two cents.

    First of all, I would differentiate between fan fiction and copycatting.

    Copycatting of course is obnoxious unless you were to openly admit it and pay homage to the originator. Imitation, they say, is the best form of flattery.

    Fan fiction I would say is a fun way to play with the characters who have caught your imagination. It's usually found on fan fiction sites, so not mascaraing as original work. In this case, I can't imagine why anyone would actually object to it. Also, it can be interesting to see what different people will do with the same work - perhaps even improve on it sometimes.

    Compare it to music - what if there was only ever one version of the same song? We'd never have some brilliant covers.

    What about movies? Should Tarantino not have made Kill Bill because it pays homage to martial arts movies?

    Speaking of Jane Austin, I really liked Clueless which was the modern version of Emma. Though, perhaps I have drifted off the point now :)

    Thanks for the fun distraction from work. Oh, and I haven't read 50 Shades either.

  13. A dissenting voice! Thanks, Fiona.

    I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters while I'm writing; I know things about them that don't get into the novel, and a bit about what happens after the novel ends. No one else knows my characters from the inside like I do; so no one else can write them properly. They'd get things wrong, and that would really irk me.

    One of my beta readers for Remix would have preferred Ric to end up with Jeff rather than Caz. I knew he wouldn't do this; a) he's not crazy, and b) he's not bisexual. But that's just the sort of scenario that, were my books much more successful, would get written by 'fans' and posted on fanfic sites.

    (Mark you, I have to add that some authors write terrible sequels to their own brilliant books. Catriona is one such, the sequel to Kidnapped. Many film sequels are bad, too.)

  14. Many noted authors agree with you, including Anne Rice, George R.R. Martin and Nora Roberts. It's the authorial point of view that says, "This is my world, I'm allowing you readers to peek inside but don't think you're sharing it with me. You're just an observer." I, on the other hand, like Stephanie Meyer's attitude: delight that she had inspired her readers, pleasure that people loved her characters and world so much that they wanted to stay in it longer, and gratitude that she created something that so many people cared about so passionately. When asked about the success of 50 Shades of Grey, she came across as genuinely pleased although acknowledging that it was nothing she'd ever have written. Personally, I'll consider myself lucky if any of my readers ever want to share my world to the extent of spending their time, energy, and creativity extending it. I would find it an incredible compliment to have inspired someone so much that after closing the pages of the book, they continue to think about the characters, imagine what they might be doing, and spend their time writing about them.

  15. Would you still be as gracious if your characters in their fanfic existence were a travesty of the ones you wrote? Do you draw the line anywhere? To take an extreme hypothesis, if a hero of yours appeared as a paedophile in fanfiction, would you still be happy to have inspired someone else, and find it an incredible compliment?

  16. Often fanfiction characters are a travesty, because the authors are developing authors, learning to write, and not great at it yet. So, no, that wouldn't bother me.

    TRIGGER WARNING. To take your extreme example, if someone turned my hero into a pedophile, I'd wonder what they'd seen in the book, what meaning it had in their life, why it inspired them so. The first thing that comes to mind is that my heroine is an abuse survivor--physical, not sexual--who loved her abuser, in the way that children often do love parents who abuse them. Pedophiles are manipulators, usually, who manage to repeatedly abuse children by being good at building trust. That often leaves their victims with intense shame about their own complicity in and responsibility for the abuse. So tying those two things together, I'd suspect that the fanfiction author was working out personal issues around abuse and the complicated mix of love and hate that victims can have for those who abuse them, and that somehow my characters were helping her do that. Yes, I'd still feel complimented.

    I love my characters--adore them madly, have fun in their world, love my plans for their futures--but nothing anyone else does with his or her own imagined version of them changes my relationship with them. I see it like this: the world I create is the "real" world and the world a fanfiction author creates is their daydream of my world. If their daydream is x-rated or gross or silly or crazy, it doesn't affect me or my characters in our real world, anymore then the dialog I might have in my head with a person who cut me off in traffic actually affects that person's day. But it means that something about my characters captivated the reader enough that out of the millions of possible characters in the world that they could be daydreaming about, they're choosing to daydream about people I made up. Regardless of what their daydream consists of, I would take it as a compliment.

  17. Sarah, that's very interesting. I suspect you are more giving and caring than I am. I write hoping to entertain readers, and maybe give them something to think about, and that's all. If they want to fantasize about my characters, that's fine, but I'd rather they did it in private and didn't share on the internet or publish their own versions.

    I won't read the Jane Austen rip-offs because you can't unread something, and I don't want to have an unwitty version of Elizabeth Bennett lodged forever in my head alongside the genuine article.

    I have to add, I think Stephanie Meyer's attitude may well be considered and pragmatic rather than genuine. The alternative would have been to come across as grumpy and grudging of another's success, and possibly alienating a tranche of her readers. And anyone would be very unwise to get involved with years of litigation.

  18. Interesting discussion!

    I read part of Meyer's first book but am not a vampire lover so didn't get far. Haven't tried 'Fifty Shades' either and if it really is fanfic for profit I don't want to!

    I think that I have a foot in the dissenters camp here though.
    It's natural for authors to consider their work close to perfect as they will have spent many hours falling in love with their characters as well as polishing and perfecting.

    From the reader's perspective, however, there may be ways that they would like the characters or plot to change. Using a fanfic site, allowing free downloads, and with the author's permission acknowledged, seems to me to be perfectly acceptable.

    It is a considerable complement to the originators that people want to play with their concepts and as someone said, it's a good way to have fun, interact with like minded would-be authors, and explore new ideas.

    For example,a parallel universe for Harry Potter where Dumbledoor survives (or for Remix where Beth2 survives) might be amusing, at least for me. *grin*

  19. Q, I do take your point. For me, I'd have:

    * Winston Smith escape with Julia at the end of 1984, and in a sequel, bring about the downfall of Big Brother.

    * The second Mrs De Winter persuade Maxim to buy another house just as nice as Manderley, settle there and have children.

    * Daniel Deronda marry Gwendolin Harleth instead of that boring woman whose name I've forgotten.

    I could go on...

  20. I don't think I'd care as long as the fan fic writers weren't making any money off of it. If the 50 Shades stuff were based on something I did, I'd probably be a little pissed.

  21. Stacy, so would I. And I think we should scotch the idea that we are artists and too creative to care whether or not we are paid for our work, or whether someone else bandwagons on it.

  22. Draco Malfoy and Hermione overcome by mutual lust?

    I think I might write that one myself!

  23. Many have got there before you, Perry. Draco Malfoy has a strange appeal to the fanfickers...