In Defense Of Fanfiction

Published on January 30th, 2010 in: Over the Gadfly's Nest |

By Lisa Anderson

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who is a published novelist posted a blog entry about fanfiction. He stated that he understood the ways in which it was flattering, and that it was probably good that fanfiction could not be stamped out. He also argued, though, that it was both stealing and lazy writing, because it borrowed someone else’s characters and world.

He has a right to his opinion, and in fairness, he stated it far more kindly than many others have. Nevertheless, I would like to explain why I disagree with him, and bring up some points he may not have considered. For the record, I am a writer of both original fiction and fanfiction.

pratchett gaiman

So long as the writer doesn’t make a profit, I don’t believe that fanfiction is stealing in any way. My friend has said that if you take a car without permission and bring it back, it’s still stealing. I don’t agree with this analogy. I think that theft is defined by the loss of value and/or the loss of use. If someone goes for a joyride in my car, I may not have lost its value, but I lost the use of it while it was gone. On the other hand, if someone is writing Good Omens fanfiction, Neil Gaiman is not going to find his laptop computer locked if he tries to begin the sequel at the same time. Therefore, neither value nor use is lost to him.

My friend’s other argument was that the real hard work of writing lies in the creation of characters and their setting and situation. I see his point there, but as I pointed out to him, writers of official derivative works, like Timothy Zahn, have their own challenges working within an existing frame. I also have another friend who writes novels and considers fanfiction to be excellent practice for her original work.

Here’s the thing: fanfiction writers aren’t necessarily doing it to create great works of literature.

Don’t get me wrong: many of them do. I’ve read many fics that use beautiful wordplay, dead-on characterization, and well-crafted plots to create strong emotions. I do not deny the existence of poorly written fics, which suffer from out-of-character behavior, cliché phrases and plots, and writers who insert themselves as flawless original characters; to say that “all fanfic is bad” is far from universal truth, and honestly, beside the point.

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One Response to “In Defense Of Fanfiction”

  1. Clio:
    April 11th, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I am both a published novelist and a fanfic writer. I don’t write fanfic for novels, though – I write videogame fanfic, specifically Final Fantasy. As a person with some experience in the art of writing, I can state categorically that it is not the creation of characters that is difficult but the bringing of them to life through words alone; not the creation of settings that is a challenge, but writing them in a way that your readers can see, smell, hear, taste and touch. I think it is actually MORE difficult and HARDER work to take on someone else’s character, and remain true to that characterisation, and convey it successfully, than it is to invent one’s own.

    Fanfic writers don’t write for fame or money, or to live the ‘artist’ lifestyle. They write for love alone. To me, that makes it the purest form of literature.

    And I’ll just sign off with my one-word answer to all those who criticise fanfiction: Shakespeare. He never had an original plot or character in his life.

    Bye now.

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