Thoughts on Fan Fiction

Not long ago, I had a spirited conversation about the “merits” of fan fiction with a small body of students. For those of you who don’t know or have never heard of fan fiction—don’t worry, you’re not really missing much. I’d encourage you to google the meaning for yourself because ultimately the discussion came down to a disagreement as to the definition of fan fiction. But I will confess that the “spirited” nature of the conversation surprised me…for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost is that I’ve been a working writer for the better part of 25 years. Because of that fact, I know a whole boatload of working writer/editor types. It’s not because I’m special or anything of the such, it just happens to be the circles I walk in. Much like musicians seem to hang around and pal around other musicians, it’s just the way it is.

That said, most of the professionals I know don’t read fan fic…nor do they really even give it a second thought. Period. While I’ve never done a poll or seen the results of one, I’ve always felt the general consensus was that the overwhelming majority of fan fiction is simply “fans” exploring their geeky fantasies. Not writers. Fans.

I sat on a panel once called “Playing in other people’s sandboxes” (catchy title, not mine) in which the writers talked about what it was like to write licensed properties (for those who don’t know the score, I’ve done a handful, including Planet of the Apes, Battletech and The Remaining, a recent GN adaptation of a horror flick). One writer, who shall remain nameless because I didn’t run this by him first, who writes for Star Wars said that his contract required him to sign that he agrees to not read any fan fiction at all. It’s a legal thing to protect him and the company. But the point is that “not reading fanfic” is actually being added to writing contracts!

One of the arguments tossed at me what the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, a work I have not read nor do I intend to. It’s a “fan fiction” of Twilight, an original work that I don’t really hold in high esteem. I’ve read reviews of Fifty Shades from sources I trust and the consensus was pretty much “bad writing.” Yes, but it sold incredibly well. That is a fact that is tough to argue. But here’s the thing: hardly any (if any at all!) of the people in my writing/editing circle of friends/colleagues have any respect for that work. Yes, it sold well, but it’s not very good.

And therein lies the real issue with fanfiction. Do I think that all fan fiction is bad? Of course not. There’s so much of it out there that ONE of them has to be worth reading. But the overwhelming majority of it is crap. And, if you’re a writer who hopes to one day make money writing, why would you intentionally put yourself in that category? Why would you purposely do that knowing that publishers don’t have much respect for it?

As a rule, I don’t read fanfic. Just not interested in it. Are attitudes changing and will it change? Obviously, I don’t know, but if I were to guess, I’d say yes. I think as younger editors who have been raised with the internet always at their fingertips are in charge of more and more, I think it won’t matter so much to them.

I dunno, though. What do you think?


Filed under Columns, writing

4 responses to “Thoughts on Fan Fiction

  1. I have stepped into the world of Fan fiction a few times. It helped a lot when I was younger and still learning my style. Yet, I have the same opinion of Fifty Shades. I want what I become known for to be my creative work, in so far as that is possible, great quality, and something I and other writers can be proud of. I’d rather sell one copy of something good than thousands of something that others think in bad or something classed as fan fiction in that sense, Just my thoughts.

    • “when I was younger and still learning my style”…I think is the key in your statements. When a writer first begins writing, they often don’t know WHAT to do, particularly if there are no real instructions or directions for them. Heck, I remember when I first started, my dad asked me how I was going to make money and support a family. I had no idea how to answer him. If he asked that question today, I’d know how to answer because…”younger” people grow up. 🙂

  2. Keith

    Here’s the thing… you’re right, most fan fiction is terribly written and rarely original. Most just repeat their favorite lines from the show, book, or comic, that it’s based on.

    But I also think you’re kinda wrong.

    I’m not a writer, by any stretch of the imagination. I get ideas and on occasion I write them down, but I haven’t sat down and written anything in years.

    You asked why would a writer who one day hopes to make money write fan fiction. My answer is simple. In order to practice writing. It’s like playing a guitar, boxing, or even playing a video game. The more you do something, the better you become. By putting your writing out there for the masses to read you are inviting feedback.

    I love watching Will Smith in his first acting role “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. Especially in those early episodes you can see him mouth the lines of the other actors in each scene. He was not a very good actor at all. He has grown into a gifted actor over the years.

    My point is that it’s interesting to see how he’s grown in his craft. Some people may be embarrased by their early writings, but I find it fascinating to see improvement in someone’s work. You know they spent a lot of time inbetween making a lot of small improvements.

    I may have written a fanfic of a Harry Potter/Doctor Who/Star Trek/Deadpool crossover, but I’m smart enough to keep it to myself … at least until I can figure out how Gandolf got in the transporter room with the Doctor’s screwdriver tangled up in his matted beard.

    Anyway – writers write.

    • I hear what you’re saying…but using Will Smith as an example doesn’t work. Dude was a millionaire when he started acting and he was a famous musician–so he was already an entertainer. We don’t want to WATCH someone learn to box, or learn to play guitar; we want to watch them after they’ve figured it all out and are starting. “Rookies” in baseball still have YEARS of practice behind them. FanFiction is not (generally) the work of a “rookie,” but of someone much earlier than that. The problem, though, is still the stigma fanfic carries–and it does among professionals in the industry. You may have written your crossover (and–knowing you–it’s likely very funny), but unless you’ve gained new desires I’m not aware of, you aren’t working to become a professional creative writer. What I’m saying is someone who has that desire should avoid it because it hampers not helps their career.
      Unless they make that MAJOR hit…and then everything is moot. 🙂

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