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A Few Last Words

I've just locked the comments section of the previous post. We've had about four hundred comments since the post went up last night, and the whole thing is about to collapse under its own weight. I suspect that someone or other has already said everything that can be said on the subject, so now we're starting to go around in circles.

Also, with this many comments, it's becoming obvious that some of the later commenters aren't actually reading what went before. I'm starting to get asked the same questions over and over again -- what about Suvudu? what about the Vance book? what about fan art? what about role-playing games? All fair enough questions, but I have answered all of them in responses to earlier comments. Some I have answered two or three times by now. I am not going to answer them four, five, six, or twelve times, sorry. So if you've posted a question that has already been asked and answered, your post will likely be ignored or deleted. (Yes, I know it's a pain to have to read four hundred comments. Tough. If I have to read them all, so do you. That's the price of taking part in the discussion).

Some comments haven't been unscreened yet. There have been so many of them coming in so fast that it has been hard to keep up. A few have been buried by now, especially comments on comments on comments. Ty or I will get to all of them eventually, I hope, and everything will either be unscreened or deleted.

I want to thank ninety-five percent of the people who took the time to comment. I appreciate your thoughts, and even more, I appreciate the relative calm and thoughtful tone of this discussion, which never degenerated into the kind of ugliness I've seen (and am still seeing) in the comments over on Diana Gabaldon's blog, where the discussion has long since been derailed. I don't know how many minds were changed here, but all the major issues were thoroughly aired, it seems to me, and I hope this generated more light than heat.

There were a few issues raised during the debate that I'd like to address a bit further.

A number of commenters suggested that I was wrong in my assertion that copyrights need to be defended, and suggested that I was confusing copyrights with trademarks. Perhaps so. This was raised often enough that it is obviously something I need to look into further. There were also posters who agreed with what I wrote, however, including some who identified themselves as lawyers or law students, so I don't think the issue is as clear cut as the "trademark" folks are claiming. I'll investigate this, and if I was wrong about this, I will come back here and say so (eventually, this is not my top priority in life). If I was right, I'll come back and mention that as well.

ERB v HPL. I never said that allowing others to play with the Cthulhu mythos was the ONLY reason Lovecraft died in poverty. Actually, I am a huge Lovecraft fan, and not much of a Burroughs fan at all (though Melinda Snodgrass and I did once work on the screenplay for A PRINCESS OF MARS). I know a lot about HPL. His work has been hugely influential on modern horror. But my point stands. I could write a Cthulhu Mythos novel tomorrow, and I would not have to pay a dime to any Lovecraft estate (if such exists) or get their permission. I would never dare write a Barsoom novel, though surely PRINCESS is in the public domain by now. (The later John Carter and Tarzan novels may still be under copyright).

A few people have quoted or posted links to the other side of the Marion Zimmer Bradley incident, the account of the fan involved. Fine, two sides to every story, check it out. At this point, twenty years after the fact, it all becomes she said/ she said. But the version I posted was hardly "urban legend," as one commenter called it. It was the version given by Marion Zimmer Bradley herself in SFWA FORUM, what she told the rest of the writing community. If you want to believe she lied, well, that's your prerogative.

More thoughts as I have 'em. Just now, I have work to do.


May. 9th, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
I don't have the legal knowledge to comment on copyright and trademark law. I haven't ever sold a novel or short story, so I'm not qualified to comment on the nature of the publishing business either. All I have are dreams and stories, and I hope that's qualification enough.

Many people here have ably expressed why fanfic is akin to stealing an author's work, and I wholeheartedly agree. My personal belief is that fanfic is written by people want to be writers but don't want to put the work in to be an actual writer. And while I think the point has been made that 'creators' of fanfic have gone on to be authors, I would still submit that writing fanfic is at best a waste of time and at worst a form of mental masturbation.

A fanfic 'writer' could create prose with the eloquence of King (Martin Luther, not Stephen) and still not be a real author of fiction because they are hijacking someone else's creativity. Many people can create a nice sentence, but only a creative mind can breathe life into places like Bag End. World-building, and creating meaningful characters requires time and practice and fanfic robs its creator of that opportunity.

All of the effort spent on fan fiction takes away time that an aspiring author could have spent honing their own skills. I don't want to write the next Hobbit, or the next Dark Tower, or the next Song of Ice and Fire book for that matter, and why would I? I'm too busy trying to write down what my own characters are telling me. Any more voices in my head and I'd go mad...

In short, I'd love to have the grace of your pen, George. But mine will have to do. I'm cool with that.
May. 9th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
I was coming here to say *exactly this* (though I'm NOT a writer in any way, nor do I aspire to being one).

THANK YOU. Cosigned.
May. 9th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
written by people want to be writers but don't want to put the work in to be an actual writer.

If you write something, you're a writer. Whether it's published or not.

An artist who can't (or won't) sell their paintings is still an artist.
May. 10th, 2010 01:06 am (UTC)
In response to affablyevil...
With respect, comparing a visual artist and a writer is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, particularly with the example you've provided.

I've written lots of things. A 5th grade report, love letters...none of those things make me a writer of fiction.
May. 10th, 2010 04:41 am (UTC)
Re: In response to affablyevil...
What you seem to be arguing is that only through the accruement of capital is a writer legitimate, which I have to vehemently disagree with. Being a "writer" is an identity, just as being a poet or a painter or a candlestick maker. While primarily it is used to refer to a professional occupation, more and more as a term it has come to be associated with avocation or even a hobby, and less necessarily a person's primary source of income, especially given today's economy at least in the States.

I stand by my analogy.
May. 9th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
You know, I am getting very weary of the assumption that fanfiction writers are all frustrated would-be conventionally published authors, who can't manage to write a "real" story.

First of all, a good many fanfiction writers are already published authors of their own original fiction. They write fanfiction to unwind, to relax from the pressures of creating their own stuff-- or merely to take part in the fun participatory community of fandom.

Second of all, the majority of fanfiction writers harbor NO AMBITIONS WHATSOEVER towards commercial publication. I have on my flist fellow fanficiton writers who are very happy in their chosen careers: a sucessful surgeon, a neurophysicist, several instructors in various universitys around the world, a reporter for a newspaper in Indonesia, a research scientist for a well-known company, a number of people in various fields of web-design and other technologies, a large number of students in the process of getting their masters or PhDs in fields completely unrelated to writing. As well as an even larger number of us who work in more mundane jobs, but enjoy them very much.

WE DO NOT WANT to take part in the hassles and time required to be commercially published. Fanfiction is our hobby and our passion, because we love the fandom in which we write, and we love the community and companionship of other fanfic writers. We write both for ourselves, to explore the stories we love, and for one another.

You are criticizing a culture of which you know nothing. The impulse to share stories and to embellish them and transform them and explore them is as old as human language-- and those of us who like to tell such stories to one another resent constantly being told we are "not creative".

In fact, in many ways, fanfiction is a more difficult challenge than writing new material. If one writes original fic, one makes up the rules and has control over them and can write whatever one wants and no one will know the difference. In fanfiction, we are restrained by the stucture of the sandbox created by the originators of the source material-- and we welcome that restraint. It's like writing a sestina or a sonnet-- we have to stay in the parameters of the form we have chosen.

Furthermore, fanfiction has come up with new literary forms that commercial publishers turn their noses up at! Ever heard of a drabble? It is a story told in EXACTLY 100 words, no more, no less. A perfectly constructed drabble is like a little jewel, shining out with impact and insight about the situation it describes. You will never find a publisher who wants to publish a collection of drabbles. There are other forms that are welcome in fanfic-- other types of fixed-length-ficlets, vignettes, character studies, and many other experimental ways of telling a story that the money-minded publisher would never touch.

World-building and character-creation are not the be-all and end-all of writing. Yes, even when using someone else's world and characters, someone can polish their prose and breathe life into the unfilled gaps in those worlds and the unexplored points-of-view of those characters. Or they might twist the original story just a little-- and come up with amazing insights into the source.

Finally, fanfiction absolutely is NOT stealing. The authors (or their assignees) of the original material still possess that material and all the profits that come from it-- including the profits made from fanfiction writers who purchase multiple volumes of their books and everything else related to their fandoms that they can afford to buy.

Most fanfiction writers respect the requests of authors who say "Please don't." Personally, I think authors who say "Please don't" are foolish in not embracing the culture of fandom, and thereby increasing their own popularity and profits.

Edited at 2010-05-09 11:52 pm (UTC)
May. 10th, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
In response to dreamflower02...
Your response to my post is well laid out, and certainly passionate. You lead off by saying that I've made some assumptions, and I agree that I probably have. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to point out a few of your own.

First, I'm not criticizing a culture. I'm criticizing the practice of writing fanfic. Fanfic creators are also members of fandom, which is a culture. I'm also a fan and I feel very passionate about the authors I'm a fan of. Trust me, I wouldn't want to write my own stories if I felt otherwise. And by the way, it's not about the money for me either. Your assumption that people who write original works of fiction for money is a little silly given the incredible odds it takes for someone to be as successful as a best-selling author.

If fanfiction has given life to new literary forms, I think that's wonderful. But we don't need fanfic to do that. Fanfic didn't create the haiku or essay.

You are correct in that world building and character creation are not critical to writing. I can write a song, or a letter to an editor and have no use for those tools. However, world building and character creation are in fact, the central element in creating works of fiction. The words of a story form its body, but the world and the characters in it give that story a soul.

Of all of your points, I find the notion that writing fanfic is more difficult than original works dubious at best. JRR Tolkien invented several languages, thousands of years of history, and a pantheon of gods before he wrote the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Do you honestly think that writing a derivative work in his Middle Earth is harder than that? Did I mention he did all of that while fighting in World War I? I have no doubt that many people have written 'great' fanfic using Middle Earth, because it is easy to touch the clouds while standing on the shoulders of a literary titan.

I think what disappoints me most of all is the sense that fanfic writers feel entitled to create their works because their love of the subject matter is so great. You may love someone's house, but that doesn't give anyone the right to go in and rearrange the furniture however they like, especially when they ask you not to.
May. 10th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
Re: In response to dreamflower02...
"I find the notion that writing fanfic is more difficult than original works dubious at best. "

Firstly, writing difficulty is a spectrum; there are original works that definitely require a lot of time and effort to create, but there are also those that require next to none. And the same goes for fan fiction (I took five years to perfect one particular fanfic novel).

I know from personal experience that I've spent much time agonising over situations in fanfic I'd written myself into that seemed unsolvable due to the constraints of the universe and the character's personalities. For example, if there was a problem in the narrative which would be easily solved by the character turning into a saucepan, this would be easy to enable in original fiction - just make the character in question into a shapeshifter. But if it was, say, a Harry Potter fanfic and the character in question was Ron Weasley, then he has never been able to turn into a saucepan and there is no reason why he should suddenly have this ability. So I'd have to find another way to solve that, and that's where the additional effort comes in.

"I have no doubt that many people have written 'great' fanfic using Middle Earth, because it is easy to touch the clouds while standing on the shoulders of a literary titan."

But there are also people who have written terrible fanfic using Middle Earth. Here's an impromptu example:

"1 dae legilas and aragggon were runnin about wheeee wen suddnly they were nakid and died from munsters lol."

Standing on the shoulders of a literary titan didn't seem to help in that case, and I would think that would indicate that the fanfic writer's own skill does matter when it comes to the quality of a fanfic. Also, when people speak of great fanfic, they mean just that - great fanfic. It's not meant as a comparison to non-fanfic works, and can't be compared, because they're completely different genres of writing.

"You may love someone's house, but that doesn't give anyone the right to go in and rearrange the furniture however they like, especially when they ask you not to."

Interestingly, someone used a similar analogy over at Diana Gabaldon's blog, which I think was more accurate than yours: Say that you decorate your house in a certain way and invite people in to look at it. Then they go home and, inspired, decorate their own houses in a similar way, but making occasional changes here and there to give it their own personal touch; and then they hang a sign on the wall saying that the decoration was based off yours. Your own house remains unaffected. And what a lot of anti-fanfic writers are basically saying is that, no, those people should not be allowed to decorate their houses in a similar way.
May. 10th, 2010 01:31 pm (UTC)
Re: In response to dreamflower02...
Thank you! You made exactly the points I had planned to make, right down to the house-decorating analogy.

In addition, there is this, so far as regards J.R.R. Tolkien: his world and universe is the only one I write fanfic in. He actually at one point expressed the hope that other minds and hands would use the mythology and legends he created. So we have the Great Man's express permission to do so.

Some people who come and play in his sandbox are not very skillful, but they still love the sandbox, and they are immensely grateful to him for building it and giving it to them to use.

Finally, I said that there were *some things* about fanfic that were more difficult. Certainly world-building and character creation are difficult. Yet you also have to realize that a certain amount of that also enters in to fanfic. For example, JRRT never described the lands to the East of Mordor, so any fanfic involving those unexplored areas of Arda most certainly call for a bit of sub-sub-creation. The same thing goes when an Original Character is called for in a fanfiction, or when that fanfiction calls for a minor character who was little more than a name in canon needs to be fleshed out.

Fanfiction IS a genre of its own, with its own rules and guidelines. And those can be more challenging in many ways.

May. 10th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
I was writing original fiction way before I wrote fan fiction. I continue to write my own original fiction and I still write fan fiction. After I get published in something more than magazines I still see myself writing fan fiction. It's a hobby. It's something I love to do. It's not a 'waste of time' any more than any other form of entertainment is, with the added benefit that fanfic helps me grow as a writer from the feedback and criticisms that I receive from my readers. I can't post my original fiction online for fear of plagiarism, but I can post fanfic because no one will ever be able to copy it and publish it commercially.

It's not a question of effort. If anything, fan fiction requires more effort than creating worlds from scratch. I like the unique challenges that writing fanfic poses - having to stay within the constraints of a character's personality, for instance: such that if I want to get from Point A to Point B in a story with Character X in it, I have to find a way of doing so that fits in with the constraints of that world and in which X remains completely in character. Whereas if X were my own character, it would be far more easier to give him or her a personality that would allow the most convenient way of getting from A to B. Or I could have a magic unicorn appear out of nowhere to assist X. There's less of a challenge involved.

And what do you mean by "All of the effort spent on fan fiction takes away time that an aspiring author could have spent honing their own skills."? Fan fiction IS me honing my own skills. If it weren't for fan fiction, I can say for sure that my fiction-writing ability wouldn't be at the level it currently is.

Being inspired by other's creations and wanting to have stories to share with my other fanfic-writing friends was a far stronger motivator for me to write than anything else. I had characters I loved in a world I loved, with a ready audience who did the same and who would read my stories and give me feedback and let me know what I had done right, what I had done wrong, and how to improve.

I got to know my current writing mentor through fanfic, and now trust her enough to share my original writing with for feedback and without the fear that she might run off with it, but it's a trust that takes time to develop. As it is, I can now send her an original story and get her response alone. Whereas if I write a fanfic, I can post it on fanfiction.net or my own LJ and get reviews pouring in, both good and bad. All that feedback has been extremely useful in my journey as a writer. The good reviews encouraged me and gave me confidence in my skills. The bad ones motivated me to be better.

And another large motivator for me was my love of the original source and wanting to do justice to it. If I loved, say, Marty McFly and Doc Brown, I didn't want to sully their good names with terrible writing. So I did all I could to be better, to be able to write stories that were worthy of them, that would make their creators Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (who are in favour of fanfic) proud if they were ever to encounter my stories, rather than make them feel violated. It was a really strong driving force to be good enough for them because I admired them and their work so much. When I write my own original fiction, there's no one there for me to be 'good enough' for, save myself.

"I don't want to write the next Hobbit, or the next Dark Tower, or the next Song of Ice and Fire book for that matter"

I don't either, and few fanfic writers do. But am I interested in what Frodo's thoughts might have been as he threw that ring into the fires of Mordor? Possibly.
May. 10th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
My personal belief is that fanfic is written by people want to be writers but don't want to put the work in to be an actual writer.

This is a bit like saying, "My personal belief is that literary analysis is written by people who want to be writers but don't want to put the work in to come up with original subjects for their essays."

A lot of people write fanfic because it's their way of engaging with and interpreting their favorite texts. To say "they should be working on original stories instead" misses the point entirely. (A lot of fanfic writers do also work on their own stories, but that scratches a different itch.)

Edited at 2010-05-10 06:19 am (UTC)


George R.R. Martin
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