The “Sin” of Fan-Fiction

Technically speaking, my 2014 NaNo started out as a fan fiction over ten years ago. I had read a book and went “I could do that better” and set about attempting to do just that. I never actually finished, and certainly didn’t share it with anyone. But I’m not ashamed (okay, a little ashamed) to admit that it was total wish-fulfilment crap. My goal of writing a better version of that story did not succeed. Probably because this was my first attempt to write anything at all, and also because I was 11 or 12 at the time.

Still, that little nugget of potential sat deep in my soul as I started developing unique ideas. It slowly got compressed and whittled down until it became the seed for Harpies’ Song. It’s been forever and a day since I’ve read the story that inspired my latest NaNo win, but if what I remember is correct, then there’s very little of that story left in my own. No more than there are Greek myths and German fairy tales anyway. (And there are always Greek myths and German fairy tales in my stories)

The act of writing fan fiction is… debated. For a long time I shied away from writing anything that could be considered such. Yet, I once read a LotR fanfic that was amazing! Obviously not all fan fiction is bad or poorly written, and some of it is genuinely interesting and enjoyable. But a lot of people have a problem with it. And this includes published authors.

Whether or not fan fiction is the horrible sin that some people think it is, is very clearly up for debate. For those who have (somehow) never heard of or encountered fan fiction, it is the creative (usually written) work of someone based on the world and characters of someone else. In other words, it takes the world and/or characters from a book, movie, TV show, play, etc. and creates a new story about them. Like I said, sometimes this is done poorly, and sometimes it is done well.

Technically speaking, there is an awful lot of mainstream fan fiction out in the world right now. Shows like Sherlock and Elementary are fan fictions of the (now public domain) works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, obviously is a fan fiction of Jane Austin’s novel Pride and Prejudice. The Fifty Shades of Grey series famously (infamously?) started out as Twilight fan fiction. Not all fan fiction is bad, and obviously it can be lucrative if done right.

The problem, I think, lies in modern authors and their fears of copyright and/or trademark infringement. (And in cringe-inducing fan fictions.) Which, if it’s costing them money, I totally understand. You might think “geez, this author sells a zillion copies of their book. Why do they care that I wrote something using their characters?” But you have to remember, THAT IS THEIR LIVLIHOOD! Sure, some authors sell a ton of books and end up fabulously wealthy. But most don’t. A lot of authors have to keep another job in addition to their writing. The ones who are able to live comfortably on their book sales, well… The amount of time and effort they put into creating their books is going to be on par with the time and effort you put into your own job.

Think about it this way. You work in an office, doing office-y stuff. You are pretty good at the office-y stuff, and you enjoy your work. Then you realize that there’s somebody who is doing the same office-y stuff as you, but for free. Because they simply “love the office-y stuff” and just want to do it for fun. Wouldn’t you be worried that you’d lose your job because of this person? It might not be a concern that you’d be fired and replaced by them, but if your boss could find the same office-y stuff you do outside the office, for free, well… Why would they keep paying you to do your job?

… I feel like that was a very heavy-handed metaphor. I’m sorry. But do you understand what I’m trying to get at?

Authors being wary of fan fiction is a totally legitimate thing. Personally, I look forward to the day that I’m published and well-known (and well-liked) enough that this becomes an issue for me. I’d like to say that as long as you aren’t trying to sell your fan fiction based on my work that I’d be okay with it. But… we’ll see how I feel after I’ve actually published something. (But honestly, I will be measuring my success by appearances in the “Geek” category on Pinterest)

If you write fan fiction, just be aware that some authors are super against it. And if you post it, they will come after you. Others are uncomfortable with your fan fiction and would really prefer if you didn’t write it (often citing that they feel it is an invasion of privacy and/or intellectual property theft). Then there are those who are totally cool with it so long as you respect their intellectual property, don’t try and sell it, and in some cases follow other guidelines (like J. K. Rowling who asks that all Harry Potter fan fiction be PG).

The author quote about fan fiction I love best comes from an author I’ve never read (but feel I should, because he sounds cool).

I am not a precious sparkly unicorn who is obsessed with the purity of his characters –rather, I am a glittery and avaricious dragon who is jealous of his steaming pile of gold. If you do not steal the dragon’s gold, the dragon will leave you alone. Offer to bring the dragon more gold and the dragon will be your friend.

Charlie Stross

Oh, and if you know where I can find My Dad is a Flapjack-Flipping Elf Lord I will owe you cookies or something.

For further reading on this topic, maybe check out:

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