Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Someone Is Angry On the Internet

My position on so-called "fan fiction" is pretty well known. I'm against it, for a variety of reasons that I've stated previously more than once. I won't repeat 'em here.

My position is not unique. It is not universal either, I realize. Some writers actually encourage fan fiction (I know some of them, have heard their arguments), others don't seem to care one way or another (I know many of those). Many writers have no idea that it exists, no concept of what it is (in part because of the confusing term "fan fiction," which subject I will return to later), and have given the subject no thought. So there's a wide range of opinion on this matter, even among writers.

There are lots of us who oppose fan fiction, though. One such is my friend Diana Gabaldon, author of the mega-bestselling OUTLANDER series... and the occasional terrific short story and novella, some of which Gardner Dozois and I have been privileged to publish in our anthologies. Diana recently outlined her own feelings about fan fiction -- especially fan fiction involving her own world and characters -- in a series of posts on her blog:


Subsequent to Diana's first post, all hell broke loose. (As it seems to do more and more often on this "interweb" thingie). A thousand comments on her first two blog posts on the subject. It's all there, for those who want to check out the "debate." Which soon, alas, became heated, as hundreds of... what's the correct term here? fanficcers? fan fictioneers? fans of fanfic? defenders of fanfic?... arrived from all over the internet to take issue with Diana. A good number of them seemed to open their posts with variations on 'I don't know who you are and I've never read your books and I've never visited this blog before, but I've come by specially to lambast you.'


I have a colorful metaphor in mind to describe what this reminds me of, but I won't use it. Metaphors seemed to spark much of the outrage here. Writers have a natural prediliction for the colorful phrase, the striking comparison, but in political discussions -- and this is, at base, a political discussion -- that can lead to hyperbole, which can lead to anger.

So let me try to eschew all that and remain calm.

I am not going to rehash the arguments for and against "fan fiction." If you want to read those, go to Diana's blog. In between the shouting and the abuse and the endless restatement of the same three or four points by several hundred different posters, there's actually some fairly cogent posts on both sides, arguing the pros and cons of the issue.

I would like to say a couple of things that I don't think anyone else covered, however (and yes, I read all thousand-plus comments, though admittedly I skimmed some that just seemed to be more of the same).

As I said, my reasons for opposing fan fiction have been stated in the past. They are more-or-less the same reasons as those cited by Diana Gabaldon, and pretty much the same reasons that would given by any writer who shares our viewpoint on the matter. So I won't repeat them here. But I'll add a few thoughts.

One of the things I mislike about fan fiction is its NAME. Truth is, I wrote fan fiction myself. That was how I began, when I was a kid in high school writing for the dittoed comic fanzines of the early 1960s. In those days, however, the term did not mean "fiction set in someone else's universe using someone else's characters." It simply meant "stories written by fans for fans, amateur fiction published in fanzines." Comic fandom was in its infancy then, and most of us who started it were kids... some of whom did make the mistake of publishing amateur fan-written stories about Batman or the Fantastic Four in their 'zines. National (what we called DC back then) and Marvel shut those down pretty quickly.

The rest of us knew better. Including me. I was a fan, an amateur, writing stories out of love just like today's fan fictioneers... but it never dawned on me to write about the JLA or the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, much as I loved them. I invented my own characters, and wrote about those. Garizan, the Mechanical Warrior. Manta Ray. The White Raider. When Howard Keltner, one of the editors and publishers of STAR-STUDDED COMICS, the leading fanzine of its day, invited me to write about two of his creations, Powerman and Dr. Weird, I leapt at the chance... but only with Howard's express invitation and permission.

So that's the sort of fan fiction I wrote. How and when the term began to be used for what is called fan fiction today, I don't know. I wish there was another term for that, though I confess I cannot think of one that isn't either cumbersome, vague, or prejorative. But it does bother me that people hear I wrote fan fiction, and take that to mean I wrote stories about characters taken from the work of other writers without their consent.

Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that's fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that... well, I think their wishes should be respected.

Myself, I think the writers who allow fan fiction are making a mistake. I am not saying here that the people who write fan fiction are evil or immoral or untrustworthy. The vast majority of them are honest and sincere and passionate about whatever work they chose to base their fictions on, and have only the best of intentions for the original author. But (1) there are always a few, in any group, who are perhaps less wonderful, and (2) this door, once opened, can be very difficult to close again.

Most of us laboring in the genres of science fiction and fantasy (but perhaps not Diana Gabaldon, who comes from outside SF and thus may not be familiar with the case I am about to cite) had a lesson in the dangers of permitting fan fiction a couple of decades back, courtesy of Marion Zimmer Bradley. MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it... even read and critiqued the stories of her fans. All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress. MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book. The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue. MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit. She also stopped encouraging and reading fan fiction, and wrote an account of this incident for the SFWA FORUM to warn other writers of the potential pitfalls of same.

That was twenty years ago or thereabouts, but that episode had a profound effect on me and, I suspect, on many other SF and fantasy writers of my generation.

Okay, it was one incident a long time ago, you may say. Fair enough. Let me bring up a couple other writers, then. Contemporaries of an earlier age, each of whom was known by a set of initials: ERB and HPL. ERB created Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. HPL created Cthulhu and his Mythos. ERB, and later his estate, was extremely protective of his creations. Try to use Tarzan, or even an ape man who was suspiciously similar to Tarzan, without his/ their permission, and their lawyers would famously descend on you like a ton of bricks. HPL was the complete opposite. The Cthulhu Mythos soon turned into one of our genres first shared worlds. HPL encouraged writer friends like Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith to borrow elements from his Cuthulhu Mythos, and to add elements as well, which HPL himself would borrow in turn. And in time, other writers who were NOT friends of HPL also began to write Cthulhu Mythos stories, which continues to this day.

Fair enough. Two writers, two different decisions.

Thing is, ERB died a millionaire many times over, living on a gigantic ranch in a town that was named Tarzana after his creation. HPL lived and died in genteel poverty, and some biographers have suggested that poor diet brought on by poverty may have hastened his death. HPL was a far more beloved figure amongst other writers, but love will only get you so far. Sometimes it's nice to be able to have a steak too. The Burroughs estate was paid handsomely for every Tarzan movie ever made, and collected plenty on the PRINCESS OF MARS movie I worked on during my Hollywood years, and no doubt is still collecting on the one currently in development... though the book is in the public domain by now. Did the Lovecraft estate make a penny off THE DUNWICH HORROR movie, the HERBERT WEST, REANIMATOR movie, the recent DAGON movie, the internet version of CALL OF CTHULHU? I don't know. I rather doubt it. If they did, I'll betcha it was just chump change. Meanwhile, new writers go right on mining the Cthulhu mythos, writing new stories and novels.

Cthulhu, like John Carter, is in the public domain by now, I know. But it wouldn't matter. Because HPL let so many others play in his sandbox, he essentially lost control of his own creations. That's what I mean by (2), above. The fan fiction door, once opened, is hard to close again.

A writer's creations are his livelihood. Those copyrights are ultimately all that separates an ERB from a HPL. Is it any wonder that most writers are so protective of them?

Those of us, like Diana Galabdon and myself, who prefer not to allow fan fictioners to use our worlds and characters are not doing it just to be mean. We are doing it to protect ourselves and our creations.

Furthermore, we HAVE to do it. That's something no one addressed, in those thousand comments about Diana's blog. There was a lot of talk about copyright, and whether or not fan fiction was illegal, whether it was fair use (it is NOT fair use, by the way, not as I understand the term, and I have a certain familiarity with what is and isn't fair use thanks to my own experiences with THE ARMAGEDDON RAG), but no one mentioned one crucial aspect of copyright law -- a copyright MUST BE DEFENDED. If someone infringes on your copyright, and you are aware of the infringement, and you do not defend your copyright, the law assumes that you have abandoned it. Once you have done that, anyone can do whatever the hell they want with your stuff. If I let Peter and Paul and Nancy publish their Ice & Fire fanfics, and say nothing, then I have no ground to stand on when Bill B. Hack and Ripoff Publishing decide they will publish an Ice & Fire novel and make some bucks. Peter and Paul and Nancy may be the nicest people in the world, motivated only by sincere love of my world and characters, but Bill B. Hack and Ripoff don't give a damn. They just want the bucks.

Once you open that door, you can't control who might come in.

No one would ever do that, I hear someone muttering in the back. Hoo hah. The history of publishing is full of such cases. Even the famously and fiercely litigious ERB estate was famously victimized back in the 60s, when someone forget to timely renew the copyright on a Tarzan book, and a bottom rung comic company noticed and promptly started up a completely unauthorized (and unpaid for) Tarzan comic.

Those are some of the reasons writers like me will not permit fanfic, but before I close, let me put aside the legal and financial aspects of all this for a moment, and talk about more personal ones. Here, I think, Diana Gabaldon absolutely hit the nail on the head in the latest of her blog posts on the subject. And here, she and I agree completely. Many years ago, I won a Nebula for a story called "Portraits of His Children," which was all about a writer's relationship with the characters he creates. I don't have any actual children, myself (Diana does). My characters are my children, I have been heard to say. I don't want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I'm sure that's true, I don't doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still...

I have sometimes allowed other writers to play with my children. In Wild Cards, for instance, which is a shared world. Lohengrin, Hoodoo Mama, Popinjay, the Turtle, and all my other WC creations have been written by other writers, and I have written their characters. But I submit, this is NOT at all the same thing. A shared world is a tightly controlled environment. In the case of Wild Cards, it's controlled by me. I decide who gets to borrow my creations, and I review their stories, and approve or disapproval what is done with them. "No, Popinjay would say it this way," I say, or "Sorry, the Turtle would never do that," or, more importantly (this has never come up in Wild Cards, but it did in some other shared worlds), "No, absolutely not, your character may not rape my character, I don't give a fuck how powerful you think it would be."

And that's Wild Cards. A world and characters created to be shared. It's not at all the same with Ice & Fire. No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.


I have gone on longer than I intended, but I think this is important stuff. "Fan fiction" -- or whatever you want to call it -- has been around for a long time, but never like now. The internet has changed everything. Whereas before the fanfic might be published in obscure fanzines with a circulation of a hundred, now tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, can read these... well, let's just call them "unauthorized derivative works." (Except in cases where the writer has authorized 'em, which I suppose would be "authorized derivative works.") More than ever, we need some boundaries here.

I salute Diana Gabaldon for opening the debate.

And now I step back, and await the onslaught.

(But a word of warning. I'm not nearly as nice a person as Diana is, and this Not A Blog is screened and monitored by my assistant Ty. Diana was willing to let everything go in her comments section. I'm not. So -- my roof, my rules. Disagree, if you want. Disagree vigorously. Argue your points. But no name-calling, no abuse, no threats. And you can spare me the "I have never read any of your books, but now I'm not going to, and I'm going to tell all my friends not to read your books either" posts as well. Fine, you just want to read books by authors who support fan fiction, go ahead, do that, there are a number of very fine writers in that group, we don't need to hear about it here. No derailing the discussion, please. Let's talk about the issue, not tone. I'd love to see some rational discourse here, thanks).

(And yes, the title of this post is a reference to the classic xkcd cartoon that can be seen here: http://xkcd.com/386/)



Page 10 of 10
<<[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] >>
May. 8th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
I think its quite simple really, leave other peoples universes to them. If your can write good stories, your going to be able to create your own universes. If you have the writing abilities use them, publish your own stories on the net, just think what the possibilities are, how much are you not writing because your stuck in someone else's world? More importantly, on a selfish note, what are people like me missing because you choose not to use your own imaginations to their full?

May I apologise if I have annoyed or offended anyone.
May. 8th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
I gave my two cents about fan fiction and I'll admit it was a "sunny side of the street" answer. Well nobody seemed to care about that so I'll be blunt. Want to know the truth about fan fiction? I'll tell you what it is:

The truth is as long as you're a popular author, people are going to write fan fiction about your work regardless of if you've given consent and no matter how mad it makes you. You can't change it, you can't stop it and you'll never be able to do anything about it. So rather then get upset you might as well get used to it and spare yourself undue stress. Nobody is arguing against your right to dislike fan fiction of your work, that's your right and you're entitled to it. However, like I said before, it's also something you can't control.

Deluding yourself that fanfiction about your work is something you can "allow or not allow" or pretending you have any control over it is unhealthy. The only thing you can do is not acknowledge it, don't read it and pretend it doesn't exist. Otherwise you could end up like that friend of yours who got blackmailed.

Furthermore, getting in these debates about fan fiction is completely pointless. We can argue all day about whether it's right or not but in the end all we're doing is bringing more attention to fan fiction and probably getting it more notoriety as a result of the debate. If fan fiction is something authors keep swept neatly under the rug then it's not going to be dangerous for them.

Bottom line: You can't stop it, you can only ignore it. We all know that's the truth and anybody who says otherwise is in denial. That being said, this debate is entirely counter-productive and should end. Unless of course you want more people reading/writing fan fiction, in which case by all means, discuss...
May. 8th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
A couple Questions
From what I've read here and elsewhere, authors don't seem to have much of a problem with the idea of fans engaging in their works on their own. I don't think there's a single person that reads seriously that hasn't wondered how a book could've been different if a scene had been changed. Who hasn't imagined how the history of Westeros would have changed if Robb hadn't gone to the Red Wedding? Who honestly hasn't thought about what will happen next in their favorite stories? I know I have.

It is natural for people to speculate this way about books they care about. In fact, as an author, I imagine this is one of your goals when writing. There has to be a sense of satisfaction when you know people are engrossed in your world. Though I do not do this, I even think it's alright when people take this idea a step farther and transform their ideas into their own narrative stories. But I think this is only alright when the purpose of these writings are for their private use only.

My problem with Fanfic is that it takes this innocent and common practice to the next level. When you decide to share your speculations and opinions with others, they become something else entirely. More than the legal issues involved with such an action, I truly believe that it puts your motivations into question. Why does the Fanfic writer need others to validate their work? I'm curious to know what motivates people to put their work out into the public forum.

I was also wondering why publishers don't take a more active role in curtailing fan fiction. It seems like they would have a vested interest in protecting the authors that have signed with them from tragedies like the one that struck MZB. I'm no expert on the relationship between author's and publishers, but is there no stipulation against the distribution of unofficial literature or something along those lines. I imagine there must be, publisher make their money from selling books and Fanfic, whether intentionally or not, poses a threat to sales. It seems like the legal departments at a publishing house would be much better equipped to handle these sorts of problems.
May. 8th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
Fan Fiction
Ok, I think I understand where you are coming from. Please read the following and let me know where Phil is a criminal.

Phil has just finished a A Feast for Crows and thinks about the plot and if he were one of the characters how he would respond differently than from what has been published. He does not tell anyone or write anything down, but he thinks about how he would do things differently. Criminal or not? (thought crime).

Phil likes the story he thought of and jots down a few notes so he can keep it straight in his mind. Criminal?

Phil writes down his version in complete detail but shows no one. Criminal?

Phil sends this version to several close friends. Criminal?

Phil posts this version on his website for everyone to see but makes no attempt to publish. Criminal?

Phil seeks to publish his version as an alternative time line story. Criminal?

At what point along the line has Phil made a decision that made him a criminal in need of prosecution?
May. 8th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Characters as Children
As to the legal aspects of fan fiction, I'm not 100% sure, but I believe that most courts would throw a fanfic writer out fairly easily. In the MZB example, for instance, she could have simply gone immediately for a declaratory judgment that there was no infringement. The fic writer would have had to retain counsel, and the best she could hope for would be scrapping the book, so there would be no damages to pay the lawyer. Seems like there had to be more going on in that case.

My main confusion, however, regards your assertion that because your characters are your children, others cannot write about them, as it makes you uncomfortable as a parent. If I recall correctly, however, the whole point of "Portraits of His Children" (spoilers here, perhaps) was to demonstrate that the protagonist had sacrificed his own experiences for the sake of his characters. He had created them, rather than having all of the fun they had. Yet, under your reasoning, the characters don't get to have any fun either, because they only do what you tell them to do.

It seems like the goal of any artist, including one creating a character, is to create something that engages the imagination of the viewer or reader or listener. A great character is not just something to be admired for how well they're written, but it becomes alive to those who see it. Instead of just saying, "Wasn't it amazing how Jaime. . ." fans will start saying "What would Jaime do if. . ." It seems like fan fiction is another way for fans to have that conversation with each other. It demonstrate that the character has become so real to them that they imagine what he would do in situations the author hasn't even thought of. The character has come to life, instead of just being words on a page.

There is an easy way to keep a character totally safe: write him exactly the way you want him, lock the manuscript in a vault, then have it interred with you. I, however, wouldn't treat my child like that, and authors generally don't treat their characters like that. They put them out there, to get their praise and admiration, but also their scrapes and bruises. It seems like you can't have it both ways: If you want everyone to see your character, fall in love with him, or hate with him, or anything in between, then you have to accept that, once the fans imagination becomes involved, the character becomes a bit less yours.

It doesn't change the fact that, as far as what does happen, you are god, and could kill of characters at any time (and in your case, you exercise the privilege regularly). Also, if anyone tries to make money off of your creation, or offer a definitive take of their own, rather than speculation I'm right there with you: sue the &*^#. But if it's just conversation in story form about what they might do, it doesn't seem fair to forbid that, after putting the character out there. It's denying them the thousand lives they've earned by being so great.
May. 8th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Characters as Children
"In the MZB example, for instance, she could have simply gone immediately for a declaratory judgment that there was no infringement. The fic writer would have had to retain counsel, and the best she could hope for would be scrapping the book, so there would be no damages to pay the lawyer. Seems like there had to be more going on in that case."

Hardly. To a neutral observer, it's MZB versus the fan there. The fan says "I sent her an idea and she stole it for her book". MZB says "but I already had the idea anyway". You really cannot predict where that case is going to go. Worst case scenario is that you lose everything and all the royalties from that book go to the fan. AND you pay your lawyer a hefty hourly sum.

Best case scenario if you fight the fan? You pay a bunch of money to your lawyer and you get to publish the book like normal. Not exactly ideal, either. I can totally understand why MZB just chose to scrap the book: it was tainted. This is why most corporations and authors do not solicit or accept 3rd party ideas.
May. 8th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Characters as Children
Although now I've come across the fan's side of the story here:


"Hello, it was me.

Here's what happened. It _was_ fanfic, but published under MZB's more or less
aegis as a permitted issue of MOON PHASES (Nina Boal, editor). It was a book
entitled MASKS set entirely within Darkover.

I received a letter offering me a sum and a dedication for all rights to the
text. I attempted at that point to _very politely_ negotiate a better deal. I
was told that I had better take what I was offered, that much better authors
than I had not been paid as much (we're talking a few hundred dollars here) and
had gotten the same sort of 'credit' (this was in the summer of 1992).

At that point I did not threaten any sort of suit whatsoever; in fact, a few
months later I received a letter from Ms. Bradley's lawyer threatening me with
a suit should I be a bit too frank about Ms. Bradley's um, writing methods, and
who her current collaborators were at the time (at least that is how I took the
lawyer's phrasing). Needless to say, I could not afford to defend myself if
sued. Winning with the truth could have bankrupted me (and probably still

I can't use the book. A later submission to DAW of original work was returned
in _incredibly_ short time with a preprinted slip. (this may have had more to
do with the quality of the work than the byline, I hasten to add, though I've
never seen them work quite that fast before).

It's been a long strange trip. But it DID cure me of fanfic."

A far cry from the bogeyman GRRM makes it out to be.
May. 8th, 2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
Mr. Martin,
I have a pretty specific question. I'm writing a PhD in Archaeology with a concept, developed by me, of digital fly-throughs over ancient cities.
Supposed, as a huge fan, I'd like to do one through Mereen, let's say, only for my creative pleasure, and put it up on youtube.
Or what if I made one of a fight-scene between Hound and Dondarrion? I actually finished a -still nude- model of Sandor a couple of weeks ago, animation and even game ready.
You stated that Fan Art is ok for you, this would be digital created images, making for a short movie. Or are you only in favor of single pictures? The boundarious are pretty fluid here, aren't they?
May. 8th, 2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
I have never written fanfiction. Even if I were tempted to, I wouldn't know how to do it or where to begin.
I'm writing stories, for my own fun (when I'm not too lazy to do so), but I never published anything or put anything on the net for people to read, except one, once, on a writing forum and it was a story that was, is mine, with my characters, my worlds.
I wouldn't want anybody to play with my creations, as talented as they would be, it would feel much too weird really, intimately.
I don't know if I have talent or not (I probably don't) but this all fanfic issue would probably make me pause and grow cold about publishing anything of mine if I had a fancy to do so someday.

I loved the line 'No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.' That's absolutely how I feel towards my own characters. *grins*

That's kinda funny because I read something on my friend's LJ the other day about the very same thing (on a Robin Hobb community). It's amazing, and scary, how people can be... how fast love can turn into hate. In a way it reminds me children wanting to steal the other kids their toys.

oh and are you ok with people doing illustrations about your creations? I think you are, but I'd just like a confirmation.
Thanks. Take care,
May. 8th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
I was going to write a long rambling response to this subject, giving attention to my former thoughts regarding fan fiction, opining my general "Oh, let the kids play in your sandbox, who cares?" attitude, and mentioning my personal attempt back in 1985 to write, draw, and letter my own version of the Marvel "What If" comic featuring Conan and Dave Sim's Cerebus. ('Twas a long and ultimately unsuccessful attempt; I can only hope my 9-year old next-door neighbor appreciated the half-finished not-quite-collector's item he had in his grubby little hands.)

All that aside, it basically comes down to this: Ser Martin's tale of Marion Zimmer Bradley's lesson struck a chord within me, enough so that I've nearly done a complete 180 on the subject. I can honestly say that fan litigation never even crossed my mind. Having to scrap a good portion of any work simply because someone thinks they can suddenly "get their break" and affix their name to it would awaken something very ugly within me. And I know the argument goes both ways; creators can steal ideas as well, of course ... but I think if you, as a fan on a fan site, add to a preexisting work, you should then lose all rights to whatever it is you threw onto the web.

If your idea is so damned brilliant, show it to your damned lawyer first, and then go write something original.

I would say any authors who actively encourage fan fiction of their own works open themselves to troubles of MZB-type proportions. Kids will be kids, fans will write their Arya/Jon/Hodor three-way fictionettes, but there's no law saying authors need to encourage any of it.

George and Diana aren't threatening to come to your house and unplug your computers. What you do within the privacy of your own home is entirely up to you. But creator rights need to be respected, protected, and preserved. As with any musician's rights, an intellectual property is still a property.
May. 8th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Knock offs
I personally do not care for fan-fiction. It irritates me. I don't care what Joe Schmoe fantasizes about in regards to an author's created world. All I care about is what is put out by that author. Anything else is a waste of my time. It's like buying a knock-off Coach purse. Yeah, it resembles it, but it's still a cheap imitation.

I recently borrowed from the library what I thought was a collection of tales from HPL. I read one short one and part of a second and started getting a little confused. I'd never read HPL before but I knew what he was about, and these stories just seemed a little off the mark. Come to find out it was a book of stories "inspired" by HPL's world. I was so d@mn aggravated that I returned the book after having it out one day.
Page 10 of 10
<<[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] >>


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

Latest Month

May 2016


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner