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A Few Last Words

Spain
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.

Comments

peloquyn
May. 9th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
I see fanfic as somewhat akin to P.Diddy using "I'll be missing you" in one of his songs...he felt, somehow, that he could not possibly create a more ideal phrase, so he took it from someone else (permission is moot; it's the idea that you'd actually use someone else's work in that fashion). I find the idea preposterous. I don't like the idea of cover songs, even as homage, and I tend to group fanfic into the same boat. People who love to write (make music, etc.) that just can't quite manage to come up with their own way of expressing an idea just borrow from someone else that they admire. Again, all legal issues aside, it's somehow cowardly to me. You, Mr. Martin, have poured your heart and soul into making characters that we all love (or love to hate, as the case may be) and even if I would have loved to see certain characters live or make different choices, I would never take it upon myself to "improve" upon your stories. You have to take chances and make difficult choices for the lives of your characters and that doesn't give anyone the right to improvise how they'd rather you had accomplished something. They are, after all, yours. It takes courage to kill off a beloved character, as it takes courage to share that with the world.

How is fanfic wholly different than Vanilla Ice thieving a riff from someone else? He didn't create it, but he made a name for himself with it...yes, it is different in that P. Diddy and Vanilla Ice made money from their pursuits (and one apparently had permission and, as we know, one didn't!). It doesn't make it less cowardly. There are many "famous" fanfiction authors out there - well, ok, "internet famous" - but they still have a following because they used someone else's ideas and expanded upon them.

I have often wondered why fanfic has such a large following...as I wondered at the numerous P. Diddy fans that had no idea that "I'll be missing you" was a hugely popular song before he ever incorporated it into his own. Sure, he got permission from Sting to use the original...but even if it is flattering, it's still disingenuous to use someone else's ideas as a familiar delivery device for your own.

Sure people are inspired by other peoples words and works...but using that as an inspiration is not the same as taking existing characters and writing your own version/alternate story/universe. If you're going to pour your passion into something, why not make it wholly yours? The folks that write fanfic clearly have a passion for writing, and I can appreciate that. I don't understand their feelings of entitlement when it comes to using other people's characters in their fanfic - these characters are someone else's brain child(ren) and just because you love them enough to create something about them does not entitle you to do so. I'm even of the opinion that "public domain" works are not fair game for fanfic either...but I'm a purist, I admit. I have appreciated derivative works, to be sure, but I'd much rather read something new and different than rehashing the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" that fanfic tends towards.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh as I know many people that love their fandoms and the fanfic which they have inspired and I don't believe that any of them that participate do it for anything but love. I appreciate their passion...and I understand that creation of your own work takes inspiration from all avenues. I just can't fathom sitting down to write anything using someone else's characters/world. Just as you'd stated that they were like your children, I don't feel like I could take those children and do any form of justice to them on my own and I'd really rather not offend their biological parent!

It's not as black-and-white as all that, clearly. There will always be folks with a sense of entitlement that will want to use someone else's idea to further their own. I don't see it as a legal issue, I see it as an ethical issue. I'd not take someone's music, re-record it and claim it as my own because it's not "right", according to my own moral compass - I don't see how writing fanfic is vastly different from that.
anivad
May. 10th, 2010 06:50 am (UTC)
But there are certain forms of writing that cannot exist as one-off pieces outside of fan fiction; for example, the alternate point of view, the character study, the alternate ending, the tribute (like this thing I wrote for the movie Moon: http://anivad.livejournal.com/832511.html), the crossover.

None of my three fanfic novels to date would have been possible as original works - they're a trilogy about fictional characters entering the real world and having to deal with the realisation of the nature of their existence, along with the existence of other characters played by the same actor who played them. Identity crises and existential dilemmas abound. Can't do that in original writing; first I'd have to create and write the original sources that each character came from, and then people have to read them and be interested enough to stay on for the final story, and it wouldn't have readers being able to draw from their own existing knowledge of those sources.

Example: Most people know who Neo from The Matrix is. Whereas if I have to go "okay, imagine there's this character named Tom, and one day he discovered his world wasn't real and all this stuff happened to him. Imagine that this is a movie, and Tom was played by Actor X. Now here's another story about a kid named Theodore, and one day he went time traveling with his best friend William to finish a history project. Imagine that this is also a movie, and Theodore was also played by Actor X. Got it? Great. Now here's another story in which Tom and Theodore meet and have an excellent adventure."

it just doesn't have the same impact, and that first part feels useless when it's the second part that's the point of the whole story.

And fanfic is often new and different - they provide different ways of looking at something, making something 'old' into something new. They give new insights into that original work, which is really what fandom is being about - exploring the source.

Also, why the assumption that fanfic writers are writers who don't have the creativity/talent/effort to create their own original worlds and characters? Because all the fanfic writers I know do. They write fanfic in addition to their original writings, because it's a different experience.
hippoiathanatoi
May. 10th, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)
The fanfic novels sound interesting, but can I say that I don't think it's true that they couldn't have worked as purely original works? Your main objection is it lacks the impact you want to make. Hrm ... I don't know how I feel about it.

Certainly, The Last Action Hero did all this -- a fictional character entering the real world, realizing he's not real, encountering the real actor who plays him, etc. -- without there being the need to actually create films featuring and TV shows and whatnot featuring Jack Slater. And people understood, to a degree, that Jack Slater was, in a sense, a cipher of all the action heroes Schwarzenegger ever played before, so they can draw from their past knowledge without specifically having seen a Jack Slater film before; a similar strategy could well work in an original work of fiction.

(Now, one might say it's not a good movie -- I personally think it's underrated, that there's some very smart things about its conceit -- but if so, that has to do with a lot more than the conceit of the story.)

Obviously, doing this is in some ways going to lack the depth of borrowing from someone else's world. And it may be less satisfying. But it's not really impossible to do, is it? Just ... difficult. Maybe insurmountably difficult, or needlessly difficult, according to one's talents and desires. But possible? I think so.

I think the other objection, that laying down the background feels useless, is the sort of thing that a writer could choose to see as a challenge rather than as an obstacle. I'm not sure, really.

Have you, BTW, seen Shadow Unit? It strikes me as ripe for this sort of fanfic, being a fictional TV series and all.
anivad
May. 10th, 2010 09:06 am (UTC)
It's possible, certainly; I've also written one completely original continuation of that trilogy in which I did invent a TV series, but it lacked something in comparison to the fanfic versions; didn't feel as rich. I thought the same about The Last Action Hero.

But what I meant in terms of it being impossible was more along the lines of not being able to tell that particular story with those particular characters, because once the details are altered it's just not the same story any more, and the story I want to write will still remain unwritten.

Perhaps a better example in this case would be this Minesweeper fanfic I wrote ages ago -> http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1106180/1/Sunglasses about the story behind the smiley faces you see on the screen during the game. Once Minesweeper is out of the picture, the whole story ceases to make any sense. It can't exist without Minesweeper.

I know that laying down all that background could also be seen as a challenge, but there are times when I just want to write one story rather than create a whole world, and fanfic is often useful for that. If I want to write a short descriptive piece to stretch my vocabulary, sometimes I might find it easier to use an existing storyline and describe all I can out of a 10 second scene from a movie rather than create a whole new world just for that simple exercise. Plus, with fanfic, I can share it online without fear of plagiarism.

And yeah; sometimes the specific characters and world are important. I watched Star Trek XI and thought it would be awesome if Spock and Sylar were to meet, seeing as how they were both played by Zach Quinto, and if I had changed the names and created a whole new backstory for each they just wouldn't be the same and it would defeat the whole purpose of wanting to see what would happen if I put those two characters with their specific personalities together.

A lot of fanfic for me is a form of character study - to see how well I can capture another person's character and bring them across via dialogue and actions in written form. I enjoy that; it's one of my favourite things about writing fanfic, and that moment when I get the characterisation right, it's a wonderful feeling. I'd never be able to get that with original writing because whatever I write would basically be in character: I'm creating the character as I go along.

Nope, haven't seen Shadow Unit.

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