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A Few More Last Words

And one more thing...

All this debate about fan fiction, here and on Diana Gabaldon's blog and Charlie Stross's blog and ten or twenty or a hundred other places on the internet, has generated (I hope) a certain amount of light and (I know) an enormous amount of heat.

Why is that? I wonder. Why do both sides get so incensed about this issue?

There's a lot been said about copyright and trademark and infringement and fair use and who has the right to make money off what, and all that's well and good, valuable stuff, worth discussing and debating... but the fanfictioneers keep saying that it's all about love, never about money, and as I ponder this, I think they're right.

It is all about love.

On both sides.

Let's forget about all the legal and financial issues here. We've discussed those to death. Let's just talk about the emotions.

Here's the thing. I think the fan fictioneers write about certain characters because they love them. And I think the writers who object to having their characters written about do so because they love them too. Which brings us back to the "my characters are my children" thing, which may be central.

Now, not all writers feel this way, certainly. Some will say, "Do whatever you want with my characters, I don't care, so long as you don't impinge on my ability to make a living. If you start f*cking with my income stream, I'll shut you down. Elsewise, have fun." Which is fine, if you share that view. But y'know, I don't. I'll never say something like that. I DO care what you do with my characters.

Fiction is fiction. It's all made up. Dreams and visions made of word on paper. Every writer who isn't insane knows that. Every reader too. But still...

When I was kid back in the 50s, I read a lot of comic books, including Superman books -- SUPERMAN, ACTION, LOIS LANE, JIMMY OLSEN. At that time, those comics would occasionally publish what they called "Imaginary Stories." Even as a kid, I knew that was a stupid name. I mean, ALL the stories were imaginary, weren't they? Today we'd call them "What If" stories or "Alternate Universe" stories. They were stories outside the usual Superman continuity. "What If Krypton Never Blew Up" and "What If Superman and Lois Got Married," stuff like that. Some of them were pretty good stories. Lots happened in them -- more than ever happened in the "real" Superman stories of the 50s. Even so, they never completely engaged me. Because they weren't REAL.

Of course, Superman himself wasn't real. None of the stories were real. I knew that, even when I was eight years old. But there's a contract between reader and writer. I'm telling you a story, trying to make it all as real as possible. And you, the reader, while you're reading the story, you're going to pretend that these people are real, that the events in the story actually did happen to them. Without that pretense, why would you care?

(Once, at a Milford Conference several decades ago, I got in a long and heated argument with two New Wave writers who put forward the proposition that since fiction is not real, it should not pretend to be real, that good fiction is all about the words, that stories should celebrate their "paperiness" the same way abstract art celebrates its two-dimensionality, as opposed to earlier styles of painting that tried to create the illusion of three dimensions. Maybe that's why I have never liked abstract art. I certainly don't like stories that celebrate their paperiness. I want the illusion. I want the stories and the characters to be as real as they can possibly be, at least during the time it takes me to read them. And maybe afterwards as well).

The imaginary stories were intellectually interesting, as "what if" stories, but they never engaged me on an emotional level. I knew, as I read them, that nothing in them really mattered. If Superman or one of his friends died, well, it was no big thing. They would be back next issue, unchanged. On the other hand, a few years later, when Gwen Stacy died, I was almost as devastated as Peter Parker. Gwen Stacy was real to me.

(Which is also, by the way, why I hate hate hate the retconning that has become so f*cking common in today's comic books and films. It seems to me to be a breach of that unwritten contract between writer and reader. You told me that Peter Parker married Mary Jane, you had me read a decade's worth of stories where they were man and wife, you never said they were imaginary stories, you claimed that this was what was really happening to Spidey in his real life... and now you turn around and tell me, no, not only are they not married, they were NEVER married, none of that actually happened, nyah nyah nyah, but keep buying our comic, now we're going to tell you what really did happen. Sorry, no. Strike up the Who, I won't get fooled again. I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it).

As a reader (books, comics, whatever) and a viewer (television, film), I want characters I can care about, engage with, believe in. If I don't find them in the work, I'm going to lose interest very quickly. If I do find them, though... well, even though I know such creations are just fictions, I will nonetheless begin to care very deeply.

F'rinstance, I have never seen the third ALIENS movie. I loved ALIEN and ALIENS, but when I read the early reviews of ALIENS 3, and learned that the new movie was going to open by killing Newt and... what was his name, the Michael Biehn character?... well, I was f*cking outraged. I never went to the film because I did not want that sh*t in my head. I had come to love Newt in the preceding movie, the whole damn film was about Ripley rescuing her, the end was deeply satisfying... and now some asshole was going to come along and piss all over that just to be shocking. I have never seen the subsequent Aliens films either, since they are all part of a fictional "reality" that I refuse to embrace. Not even the film with Ron Perlman in it, and Ron is a both a friend and an actor I greatly admire.

Thing is, it hasn't worked. Though I've avoided seeing the films, the reviews I read still poisoned the well. I know too much about what happens in ALIENS 3. I know Newt dies. And just that little bit of knowledge has seriously crimped my ability to enjoy ALIENS itself. It's still a fine, exciting film, but now when I get to the end, when Newt is climbing into the tube and asking Ripley if she'll dream, instead of the frisson of emotional satisfaction that I used to get, the little teardrop at the corner of my eye, I remember, "F*ck, Newt has an alien inside her, she's going to die," and I get pissed off and sour all over again.

All over a character who does not exist, has never existed. I know that. It does not make the feelings any less strong.

And if I can feel that strongly about characters created by other people, can you possibly imagine how strongly I feel about my own characters?

That's why I liken them to my children. I can care about Newt and Gwen Stacy and Frodo and Captain Ahab and the Great Gatsby and on and on... but I care about the Turtle and Abner Marsh and Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow and Haviland Tuf and Daenerys and my own guys a thousand times more. They are my sons and daughters.

There are lots and lots and lots of people like me, I think. And it's that which accounts for the emotional vehemence of these debates on fan fiction, on both sides.

The fan fictioneers fall in love with a character or characters, and want to make things come out right for them... or come out the way they want things to come out. I know that much of the old BEAUTY AND THE BEAST fanfic was posited on the basis of Catherine and Vincent consommating their relationship and living happily ever after, with occasional adventures. There was certainly a ton of it based on wiping away our entire third season; many B&B fans feel about Catherine's death just as strongly as I feel about Newt's. They want to undo it. I would strongly suspect that out there somewhere there must be ALIENS fanfic where Newt does NOT die horribly too. It's love of the characters that prompts people to write these things. Hell, if I was ever hired to write a new ALIENS film, the first thing I would do would be to say, "Hey, remember how at the end of ALIENS Newt asks if she will dream? Well, she will. All the films from that moment have just been her bad dreams. We'll open my new movie with Newt and Ripley waking up..." Which would be a sort of retconning, I know, which I just denounced. So sue me. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. It would also be the most expensive fanfic in history, I guess. Too bad I'll never get the chance.

But let's turn it on its head, and look at the things from the writer's perspective. As much as the fans may love our characters, we love them more. And suddenly we are confronted with stories in which other people are doing all sorts of things with our children... things we never envisioned, never authorized, and may even find stupid and/ or repugnant. Characters we killed come back to life. Living characters are killed. Villains are redeemed. Straight characters become gay. Romeo and Juliet don't commit suicide, they survive and live happily ever after and have seventeen children.

Sure, we could shrug and say, "None of these things really happened. These stories are not canon. They're just imaginary stories. They're not REAL." And I'm sure many writers do this. But I can't. All legal and financial aspects aside, I don't want to read your fanfic where Gatsby and Daisy run off together, and I certainly don't want to read the ones where Gatsby runs off with Tom Buchanan, or the two of them and Daisy have a threesome, or Gatsby rapes and murders Daisy... and I'm pretty sure F. Scott Fitzgerald wouldn't want to read 'em either. Now, plug in Jon Snow and Jay Ackroyd and Haviland Tuf and Daenerys Targaryen, or any of my characters, for Gatsby and Daisy and Tom, and I'm pretty sure that you can figure out my reaction.

It's like with Newt. I don't want those pictures in my head. Even if they're nice pictures, if you love my characters and only do nice, sweet, happy things to them. You're still messing around with my people. I won't use any analogies here, I know how that upsets people... but there is a sense of violation.

It's not rational, perhaps. These are all just made-up people. Words on paper. Who cares what happens to them? Let's just all celebrate their paperiness.

But I'm not wired that way. And neither, I suspect, is Diana Gabaldon.

This has nothing to do with money or copyright or law. It's a gut-level emotional reaction. And it's all about love. On both sides.

Or to put it another way:

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Comments

( 186 comments )
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m0beus
May. 9th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
Well Said
Appreciate your words, and I definitely understand where you're coming from. Think those are fine reasons. If writing fic were my thing, I would know to stay away from your guys.

BUT, feel I should say that, were I ever to be published, I would be fine with fanfic, but not because my characters would be "just paper" to me:

The best analogy I can think of is a father whose son makes it, against all odds, to the Major Leagues. He would see all sorts of rumors and speculation, "fake stories." Some would be satisfying (best of their generation, could turn X team around if they were traded) some that's silly (lambasted on Mike and Mike) and some that's hurtful (character issues, etc.) and might even drive the dad to respond. But all of it would be validation that the kid has made it, become important to so many people. None of it's real, but it's still important to kid and dad alike.

Out of the untold multitudes of characters out there, only a few become popular enough to inspire others to spend time writing about them for free. Like you said, fics a sign that the character inspires love. Plenty of great characters, I've no doubt, simply vanish. The more exposure a character gets, and the more emotions they kindle, the better off they are. Like sports: when they stop talking about you, it's time to worry.
katharon
May. 9th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
While I understand the level of love you're mentioning, there is actually a flaw in the argument about comic books. I agree that Spider-man should not be messed with, but for years upon years (meaning: long before Joe Quesada's poor editorial decisions), he was written by a variety of writers as being in a happy and long-standing romantic relationship with Mary Jane. Occasionally, I believe, he faltered, but it didn't matter which hand was writing them.

By their inherent nature, comic books are authored by people who are fans of the books. Many writers took up writing because they were fans of the books as children and now have the opportunity to write what they enjoy. These authors may not be Stan Lee or a number of other rather famous comic book creators and authors from the 60s and 70s, but they are just as legitimate of authors of these books as the original ones.

Of course, I haven't read the other arguments made by the other names mentioned, but I thought I would point this out. Sometimes, it does start with love. A number of now-published for their original stories authors have started in fanfiction, have learned how to make stories that others enjoy, and have gone on to create original works for a larger audience. At its core, fanfiction is harmless, and could be taken as a writing exercise. This isn't the argument you're making though.

As it is, I just thought I'd give my two cents.
jhlub
May. 9th, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
Aliens
You might be reading the wrong comics then. Many of the Aliens comics (Dark Horse) were written between the releases of the second and third movies, and do include Ripley, Newt, and Hicks all making it back. If I remember correctly, the Earth War series was particularly spectacular, and I've contemplated how cool that one would have been as a movie with modern, Avatar-grade CGI.



(I kept on telling myself I could keep reading the Not-A-Blog for Ice and Fire updates, without actually making a LiveJournal account and speaking up myself. Fail. Angry face to you!)
mythfish
May. 9th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Aliens
Seconded. The Dark Horse comics are pretty darn good. Far better than the rest of the movies.
Re: Aliens - jhlub - May. 10th, 2010 12:36 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Aliens - cyberstorm79 - May. 13th, 2010 10:50 am (UTC) - Expand
monksp
May. 9th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
For a split second when I read that, I mixed up the real person and the character, and thought you mentioned a fanfic where Gatsby and Pat Buchanan ran off together.

It will be the stuff of my nightmares tonight.
dagas_isa
May. 9th, 2010 03:12 am (UTC)
I don't think there's any problem to an author not liking fanfiction or telling fans not to write it. I also think the majority fans are quite reasonable when an author says that they do not allow fanfiction. I think the problem (and the explosiveness) comes when authors try to put some universal moral imperative on Why Fanfiction is a Dirty, Wrong Thing and Why Good Fans Don't Do It.

The first is a policy decision that's well within the author's right to make. The second is equivalent to a personal attack on those who write fanfiction and consider fanfiction to be important to how they relate to a creation that they love.

I'm also hesitant at saying that creators who allow fanfiction to be written for their characters and worlds love them any less than I'm sure you or Diana Galbadon do. If characters are likened to the children of their creators, then it's reasonable to say that there are different parenting styles, and that one's strictness or lenience is not necessarily an accurate measure of the love one holds for their characters.

I don't want to read your fanfic where Gatsby and Daisy run off together, and I certainly don't want to read the ones where Gatsby runs off with Tom Buchanan, or the two of them and Daisy have a threesome, or Gatsby rapes and murders Daisy... and I'm pretty sure F. Scott Fitzgerald wouldn't want to read 'em either.

To tell the truth, if I were writing those stories I wouldn't want F. Scott Fitzgerald reading those stories, and not just because of the storylines you mention. Fanfiction at it's best is basically a fan connecting to a text created by someone else through the lens of their own perspectives and experiences, and I think the scrutiny of the author inhibits that process.
geminai5
May. 9th, 2010 07:33 am (UTC)
I second this opinion in regards to fans respecting authors and their wishes and how the main problem was with the perceived personal attack on fanfic writers/readers as a whole as being morally deficient and sexually deviant with malicious intent to prove the author made a mistake of some sort in the canon story.

As you say, it's about love, but unfortunately, it has become an I-love-the-characters/world-more-than-you debate between the author-creator who requests that no fanfiction be written, the author-creator who allows fanfiction to be written, and fanfic writers and readers.

We're all entitled to our opinions regarding who wins that debate, but to disrespect and bad-mouth the others in that debate is the gasoline fueling the rage.
inizitu
May. 9th, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
That's rather beautiful, GRRM.
lno
May. 9th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
Alien3 spoiler
For what it's worth, Newt never had an alien inside of her. She had died as a result of her cryotube flooding.

Other than that, I agree with everything you wrote.
deleigh
May. 9th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
Great arguments
That was a very good, well thought out argument that you can tell you put a lot of emotions in. I really didn't have an opinion on fan fiction, but after reading that, I think that I support your views. Now hurry up and finish Dance With Dragons or I might just have to come up with a little adventure for the characters of Westeros myself.... (I kid, I kid)
nategator007
May. 9th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC)
Perlman
Speaking of Perlman, I know you probably don't have any say in the matter BUT if you could get him to do a guest appearance in the ASOIAF TV program it would be truly awesome. He's probably unavailable with the SoA show, but maybe something small...

Perlman as Darkstar would redeem the character in my eyes forever.

Oh, and I hate what they did with Spider-man, well said.

Finally, there are some good reboots - Battlestar Galactica for example. But I think the big difference between them and the bad stuff is that they are so far away from the traditional material that they are really different stories entirely. Much like how you draw from historical influences (War of the Roses) to inspire a completely different story. Maybe fan fiction should work towards that endeavor, inspiration not copying characters.
odiedragon
May. 9th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
I know this has taken a lot of your time, George. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue.

I agree with you 1000% about your own characters and worlds. And you're right, a lot of fanfic is wish fulfilment. I've read plenty of it, and most of it was bad. But I also know someone who's now taken inspiration from a quick source-related one-shot she wrote, using mostly original characters, and using a lot of those ideas to write her own original work not at all tied to the source material. And I think that's a wonderful thing.

Sadly, I'm learning that for myself, I'm probably never going to use writing as more than stress relief and wish fulfilment. I can't do the hard stuff, not without making it sound trite, rehashed, and cliché. I do better with an existing framework, and if that makes me a horrbile worthless hack, so be it. I'm comfortable with that. I will never be a professional, and that's okay. I'm also aware that what I'm doing is the modern equivilant of the Bibical Origin Slush Pile fodder, that is, the writing of your RPG campaign as a story. That doesn't negate the friends I've made, or the enjoyment I've gotten out of the act of writing. Maybe it does to you, but so long as I'm working with source material* that is not forbidden to use by the creators, I'm okay with that. Frankly, if I'm not using your world (which I never, ever, ever would dream of) the views of yourself and other writers/creators don't enter into it.

* There are actually several SoIaF references in the source material, but they are just names and sometimes similar concepts, nothing outright lifted.
dromdol
May. 9th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
Well said.
usomitai
May. 9th, 2010 03:38 am (UTC)
It is all about love.

This.
undomielregina
May. 9th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
It's interesting, because I can understand exactly what you mean, and I totally empathize with this:

...but now when I get to the end, when Newt is climbing into the tube and asking Ripley if she'll dream, instead of the frisson of emotional satisfaction that I used to get, the little teardrop at the corner of my eye, I remember, "F*ck, Newt has an alien inside her, she's going to die," and I get pissed off and sour all over again.

The funny thing is, I think that's exactly the kind of emotion that produces a lot of fic. My reaction to that feeling would be, "well, I'm going to go find fic where it turns out okay instead, because that will make me feel better." But I'm also trained in post-deconstruction era lit crit, which means I have a very flexible attitude toward interpretations of a text and I can completely believe in an interpretation of Aliens where everything is fine at the end, since it's left open. Alien 3 isn't the only way it can run in its potential as a work, although it is the only way the greater canon of the Alien universe can turn out (and this all gets very complicated very fast...)

And having said all that, I completely understand how for other people, the events of the original work and their reactions to those events are so important and immutable that anything else looks like a cheat or a lie. It's all about different and valuable ways of looking at texts and I think you understand them in a very different way than I do, which actually makes me feel a lot better about your stance on fic (that is, I think I understand why it's so emotionally difficult for you, where before I completely didn't).
tehsp0rk
May. 9th, 2010 03:43 am (UTC)
I think you hit the nail on the head here about the heated nature of the fanfiction debate. People grow a deep connection with characters, though I tend to agree that no one will love them better than their authors. Once upon a time I was an avid 'fic reader and occasional writer, but I eventually felt a frustrating sense of futility. No amount of fanfiction would ever bring back characters I loved or do what I felt was proper justice.

I also think one important factor to consider is that there's been an increasing expectation of instant gratification. With the advent of the internet and vast improvements in speed and content delivery, a lot of people have become accustomed to getting what they want in very short order. While it's tolerable to expect this of say, funny youtube videos, it's more of an issue with something like books. People read them, like them, and then want MORE. I'll admit that for me, fanfiction was often merely a 'quick fix' in between waiting for new television seasons or additions to a book series. Sometimes after TV series finish, fanfic authors will write "virtual seasons" that continue the story. I just don't think that people are willing to wait for content or to accept what's given when it's finished. There's always that 'itch' for more.
boss_bass
May. 9th, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
Which is also, by the way, why I hate hate hate the retconning that has become so f*cking common in today's comic books and films. It seems to me to be a breach of that unwritten contract between writer and reader. You told me that Peter Parker married Mary Jane, you had me read a decade's worth of stories where they were man and wife, you never said they were imaginary stories, you claimed that this was what was really happening to Spidey in his real life... and now you turn around and tell me, no, not only are they not married, they were NEVER married, none of that actually happened, nyah nyah nyah, but keep buying our comic, now we're going to tell you what really did happen. Sorry, no. Strike up the Who, I won't get fooled again. I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it).


It's better, at least for me, when they openly say that the story takes place in parallel universes where things might have gone differently, but I see where you're coming from.

Ret-conning is probably inevitable in any type of franchise where there is more than one author/artist. Sooner or later, you're going to get some author/artist (or even editor) who has a pet peeve, plays favorites with the characters, inserts their own baggage and odd personal opinions into the works, and so forth. I've seen it happen in comics, in the Star Wars Expanded Universe ( *cough* Karen Traviss *cough*), and it obviously happens a lot in films. Fortunately, ret-conning means that you can also erase that author/artist's screw-ups when they happen, so that the whole Joe Quesada/"One More Day" debacle just becomes a weird dream by Peter Parker or the like.

That said, I think there are benefits in such universes in terms of exploring possibilities, that outweigh the issues that can occur when you get the above situation in a multi-author franchise. Particularly if you have an editor who can then say, "Oh, this stuff is just nonsense/bad dreams/what if?s, and this is the main canon."
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