On Fan Fiction

Is this a sandbox that you really want to play in?

Okay, I’m going to do it. I’m going to discuss fan fiction. I’ve been avoiding the subject for many years because I don’t think much of it. To me it’s like cheating, playing in somebody else’s sandbox. I suppose it has its uses – supposedly some successful writers started out writing FF, and it let them cut their writing eye teeth. From my point of view though, writing FF, even if you’re going to go into “regular” fiction later, deprives you of the experience of developing characters and world building because you’re writing about Kirk and Spock or The Doctor or Harry Potter, ad nauseam.

Okay, so you can learn some of the basics of prose with FanFic. But what if you wrote something to that order, and you decided that it turned out pretty darn good, and instead of letting it languish in the fan community, which is the fate of most, you do a little Microsoft Word trickery and change “James T. Kirk” to “Dirk Manly” and “Yeoman Janice Rand” to “Honeysuckle Heartthrob” and “The Enterprise” to… okay, you get the idea. Then you take the resulting mess and pass it off as something original.

That couldn’t happen… could it?

Oh, yes, indeedy it could. And did. And not just with Fan Fic… but apparently with a particularly specialized kind of FF called Slash, in which the “Slash” indicates a certain form of congress between two characters who consent or otherwise during the plot. So you could have “Doctor/Sarah Jane” fanfic (pronounced “Doctor Slash Sarah Jane”) in which those two characters do the horizontal tango, or Neo/Trinity fan fic, or one particularly disturbing subset called “Kirk/Spock”, but we won’t go there. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

It seems a sharp-eyed reader on Goodreads discovered a very disturbing parallel between a piece of Edward/Bella fanfic called “Master of the Universe” and a certain bestselling piece of erotica.

That’s right, you’re already ahead of me. In “Master”, the Twilight characters get their freak on and it turns out that Edward is more of a freak than the original books hinted, but that’s okay because Bella seems to like it… and what do you know, after some Search and Replace and a little tweaking, Cullen becomes Grey, as in Fifty Shades of.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a link comparing the two. Just keep something in mind – I have not read the entire selection – I just looked at enough to convince me. I have no idea if this is from a particularly graphic part of the novel or not, and take no responsibility for content. This is the courtroom of the blog, and I’m presenting Exhibit A.

I’m not sure where to come down on this. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and have no plans to. If I’d been a fan of the series, I’m not sure what I would think. Probably that it was cool that somebody made it out of the bush league and was now swatting for the majors. But as a writer, I can’t help think that this is a huge swindle. When most of us pick up a novel, we expect it to be an original work, and while FSoG is self-plagiarism, it is plagiarism nonetheless, as devoid of originality as most movies coming out of Hollywood nowadays. Oh, wait a minute…

Anyway, there’s one other point that remains as Goodreads reviewer Alicia implies in her review/expose of the book: bad writing is always bad writing.

But on the other hand… the readers of Fifty Shades of Grey aren’t looking for Ernest Hemingway when they pick their copy up to read. And I to be honest, I don’t know what I’m worried about. I suspect it’s too much to ask for Erotica/Slash to have some kind of integrity.


5 responses to “On Fan Fiction

  1. Interesting stuff. Where do you draw the line though? A good example is the movie Strange Brew. The plot is taken wholesale from Hamlet. My high school reading teacher argued to the gills that it wasn’t, but it is clear to anyone even mildly literate that it is.

    I think one reason people want to do fan fic is because they like the worlds that writers build. I know a few people who want to see Andy Birch do a few more pizza deliveries, but is my wanting it going to get 5 more Company Man novels? (oh please say yes).

    PS This discussion came up on reddit today as well: http://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/uh6qq/what_sort_of_rights_do_you_need_to_sell_fan/

    • There is a difference between FanFic and literary thievery (also called Creative Plagiarism), which is a tradition. Without Romeo and Juliet, no West Side Story, for example. It’s overlooked, or considered flattery because there are only thirty-six dramatic situations in the world. Plus, by mixing and matching, you get books like A Death of Honor (Casablanca + The Andromeda Strain).

      There’s also a difference between FanFic, where the writings are supposed to stay “underground”, and taking things mainstream, which is where the Star Wars and Star Trek novels come in. Are they merely FanFic where the authors are ones who made good? But then, the licensers of these franchises wants pros writing the books (I was approached to do one for Star Wars some years ago and turned down the opportunity – but that tale’s been told here).

      I can also see a difference in writing Fan Fic without permission, and asking permission to play in another author’s universe. Theoretically you might ask to do something in the Company Man universe, and I could theoretically say yes – but could add a proviso – e.g., you can, but you have to leave the surviving principals of the original novel out of the picture just in case those 5 sequels materialize (incidentally, I did have an idea for a TCM sequel, but that story, too, has already been told here).

      Probably the best way to ensure that you get your sequels is to make sure the book sells well. I was at an SF convention with Jack Chalker some years ago, and someone asked him why he kept writing sequels to his popular novel Midnight at the Well of Souls, which had become a cult favorite. His answer was, “It’s pretty hard to say ‘no’ to a million dollars.”

  2. The author was interviewed by USA Today. She shamelessly admitted to using the characters of Bella and Edward as “inspirations” for the lovers in the Gray series. I haven’t read them, nor do I intend to. I’ve read erotic books by other authors (some were good, others were bad) who had lots more originality. The same people who read these books like reality tv. They are sheep; they will consume anything.

  3. I don’t know how fair it is to the original authors. They will be linked to these works of fan fiction, like it or lump it.

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