Fanfiction has been called the lowest form of literature numerous times by writers and readers worldwide—a rather unfair assessment of it, really. Especially when everyone knows that the lowest form of literature is Contemporary Poetry, as can be seen in the example below:
By Chaz Eurotrashsky*
To the mailbox
Look down at
And I am
*Not a real name, or a real poet, for that matter.
Fanfiction is when a person writes a story using another person’s characters and often setting. For example, if I were to write a story about the hobbits from Lord of the Rings, wherein Frodo finds a new love or Sauron comes back to life, that would be fanfiction.
A natural question to ask is, “Is this legal? It sounds like plagiarism.”
The official answer is that it’s covered by the “Fair Use” laws of copyrights. Meaning, it’s okay to write this story so long as 1. it is not written for profit, 2. you give credit to the original author, and 3. you do not libel the original author in the work. Fulfill those three requirements, and you can write anything you want!
With all that room for creativity, one might expect the world of fanfiction to be a great opportunity for fans of a certain literary, television, or other work to use their imaginations and develop storylines far beyond those of the original version. Unfortunately, this is not the case, since most writers incapable of writing their own characters and setting are, not so shockingly, also incapable of plot creativity. I would estimate more than 70% of all fanfiction stories fall into one of the following three plot categories:
THE MATCH-UP: This is a romance story, wherein the author pairs up two of the characters in the original work. No real plot, but lots of description of facial expressions, curves on the body... When this story is purely a sex fic, it’s called a “lemon,” and when it’s a homosexual relationship, it’s called “slash.” To complicate matters slightly, if the original work was an anime, and the relationship is homosexual, then it’s called “yaoi” or “yuri” depending on whether the story is about males or females respectively. Different names, same basic idea.
MARY SUE (or, MARTY STU): This is another romance fic, but instead of two characters from the original work, this time, the author inserts himself/herself into the story, and one of the characters falls in love with them. Frequently the “fanfiction author character” (“Mary Sue” or “Marty Stu”) will save the other character’s life, maybe save the world... You get the idea. It’s an ego-boost type of story.
CROSSOVER: This includes characters from one work being warped into the world of another work, as well as characters from one work being warped into the real world, as well as the fanfiction author character being warped into the world of fiction. Same difference, and really, the same plot throughout.
I actually got my start at writing by doing #3 on the above list. Mostly comedies, mostly vulgar... the types of work only high school freshmen and sophomores could appreciate fully. I look back on them now and say, “What the heck was I thinking?” But back then, I was laughing as I printed them out, saying, “This is gold!”
What happened to me? Well, I wrote (more or less by accident) one fanfiction story that did not fit into any of the above categories. This story, Mineswept, set the tone for the rest of my fanfiction days and even prompted the idea of an original science fiction novel.
Let’s look at what makes Mineswept different from the vast majority of fanfiction stories:
It has some original, well-developed characters who aren’t just versions of me running around and falling in love with each other.
It involves an intricate comedy that does not depend on crossover.
These two things actually count for a lot in fanfiction. When I set out to write my stories based on Darkwing Duck, I included a set of characters grown older than they had been in the series, along with an original character named Evan (who is not, repeat, not me) who mirrors some of the heroine’s actions in the story.
The simple fact of fanfiction is, so long as you avoid the cliché, you have a very good chance at writing an excellent work. Of course, every story is only as good as the person who writes it... And now that I’m moving on to original fiction, I’d like to think of the fanfiction genre as more of a stepping stone than a final destination on the road of writing.
But even as I leave that genre, I have a message for writers and readers alike. (And yet again, it will come in the form of a numbered list.)
To all creators of original series: Imitation really is the highest form of flattery; don’t get angry at fans for writing fanfiction! Believe it or not, there are a few authors who get really mad about this genre because they think it does more harm than good. I’d also like to point out that most of these fanfiction-hating writers are real douchebags in person—yes, I’ve met a few of them. You mention the “f” word in front of them, and they give you a lecture full of sound, fury, and bullshit, by the end of which, they try to convince you that you are horrible scum and deserve to die. Let me be clear to these people: so long as no copyright infringements are made, and so long as the author adheres to the rules of the Fair Use laws, nobody has a right to tell anyone else what they can and cannot write. Period.
To all fanfiction writers: try NOT to do any of the above cliché examples, and see how far you get. If those three are the best you can do, you probably shouldn’t be writing, anyway, unless you’re really young and inexperienced, in which case, these clichés are only good for learning examples of what not to write in the future.
Don’t complain about the appropriateness of yaoi / yuri / slash stuff. All NC-17 fiction should contain a disclaimer saying “not for children,” but the bottom line is, if you don’t like it, then just don’t read it. Don’t write hate mail to the author. Destructive criticism never did anyone any good.
After I finish the Darkwing Duck fanfiction trilogy, I’m going to call it quits on any fanfiction where I do not have the original creator’s consent.
Speaking of which, Scott Ramsoomair is awesome. I asked him via email if he’d mind me writing fanfiction for his comic, VG Cats, and he’s not only given me permission, but he’s also given my site a link from his page.
By contrast, I wrote Dan Miller of the comic Kid Radd in regards to fanfiction, and he said that although I could write it, he would not post any link to it on his page, and he would not read a single word of it, not because he hates fanfiction (he’s really an awesome guy, as far as I can tell, and his comic is very awesome indeed), but because original creators sometimes try to distance themselves from the fan base so they do not get sued for “copying” a fanfiction author should something occur in the ongoing original series that is similar to a previous fanfiction.
This is actually a legitimate argument against fanfiction; a few years ago, Babylon 5 had this problem when a fanfiction author wrote (coincidentally) what was basically the plot of the next big Babylon 5 feature. The feature had to be delayed a year while legal issues were taken care of so that nobody would sue anyone for copying the fanfiction work.
Here’s my stance on it: Suppose Scott goes and uses my VGC fanfiction novels to write his next few comics. Guess what: I didn’t own the rights to Scott’s characters when I wrote the fanfiction, and I don’t own them now. He can do whatever he wants, even blatantly copy my plots, and because my work was fanfiction, I still can’t make a dime off it. Nor would I want to, honestly. When I finish my original novel, then we’ll talk about what rights I own.
The reason you write fanfiction is for the fun of it, not for fame or fortune (although Scott’s link has gotten me a lot of hits on this site, I must admit). Your audience consists of fellow fans of the work you write about, and your reward is a bit of constructive criticism at best, a load of hate mail at worst.
And lastly, a brief message to those few out there who are hardcore fanfiction writers enjoying a regular exercise of Marty-Stu yaoi crossovers: please don’t hate me for calling your work “cliché” in this rant; remember, there are a lot of contemporary poets out there who could stand to learn a thing or two from your ingenuity.