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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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May. 9th, 2010 07:29 am (UTC)
The things fans do for love...
Why do people get so incensed? For us, I think it comes down to the fact that fanfiction is such a huge part of fandom culture, especially for women. (This is a rather stereotypical generalization, of course, but I have the impression that guys are more likely to hang out on discussion boards like Westeros, trying to construct timelines and arguing about who would win against whom in a fight, while women prefer LJ communities and produce more fanworks.)

I think we tend to get so immersed in that culture that we take it for granted, and it’s a shock to learn that some of our favorite authors disapprove of what we consider to be one of the staples of fandom. It’s not pleasant to be told that your way of being a fan is just plain wrong, or worse, that your hobby is sick and disgusting, which is what Diana Gabaldon was saying. Fans may be especially sensitive about that, because there’s a stigma against having fannish interests to begin with, and it hurts to find out that even other geeks think you’re too geeky.

Personally, when I find myself wistfully thinking that it would be nice if ASOIAF could have an active fanfic community, it’s not the stories themselves that interest me, so much as what those stories could tell me about other fans’ viewpoints. Every fanfic is an interpretation, and some even constitute arguments, such as all the BSG fics that try to subvert the messages of that cracked-out final season. Then are the “fix-it fics,” as you described. I find that if someone has written a decently believable story about how your favorite character survives after all, it really does dull the pain a little. You can think of this story as a little parallel universe in which things turned out differently.

(I suspect I’m going to end up longing for one of those after ADWD. You should know that you’ve already managed to traumatize me with a yet-unpublished book. That’s partly the fault of my horrible taste in favorite characters (*cough*), but I honestly doubt that any fanfic author could do a better job of torturing your “children” than you do. Please take this as a compliment!)

So, this isn’t really meant to be an argument…just my attempt to explain some of the emotional reaction from the pro-fanfiction side.
May. 9th, 2010 08:06 am (UTC)
Dear George R. R. Martin,
first I thank you for sharing your thoughts on that matter in such a detailed way. I don't think that the legal consequences of fanfiction are really as prolematic as you might think. However, that's the one area where a modern author is rightfully protected, so he or she could live of his work.

In regards to the readers' or fans' reactions to the characters or the world, the author has to let go, as harsh as it sounds. Seeing the characters as children is actually a very apt metaphor, because parents have to let their children go once they are old enough and let them make their own experiences and meet people with the disapproval of their parents. In the consequences, the children will affect other people without direct involvement of their parents and will incite incalculable reactions.

Books are just the same, once they are printed and published, they are out of reach for the author. Authors can not control the reactions to their texts. They might disapprove of those reactions, but they can not forbid them or prevent them. The interactions with the text, including fanfiction, will just happen with or without consent of the author.

Fanfiction has only a little bit to do with the original author who is the aknowledged creator, because it consists of stories from fans for fans. It could be considered as an exclusive dialogue between readers over the text, independently of the quality.

The internet has certainly changed the forms of the readers' dialogue over the text and has contributed to a greater publicity of this dialogue, compared to the Symposion of Plato. ;) But I don't think that this increase of publicity will stop within the next years/decades, so people will continue to post their fantasies over imaginary characters on the internet with or without consent of the author and the readers will continue to feel insulted when authors call them immoral or pervert.

I can understand that authors want to protect their characters, just as parents want to protect and guide their children, but, as I said, once the book is in the hands of a reader, the further consequences are out of their reach. The moral conflict between authors and readers (and the reason for the passion in this discussion) arises from the conflicting relations to the text and the characters, the author considers those readers who write new stories about his/her characters basically as robbers or (in the worst case) as rapists, while the readers consider themselves as lovers of the characters and the disaproving author as the father/mother-in-law from hell. ;)
However, authors can ignore the existence of fanfiction or say that they don't want to know about it, and imo, that is the only solution that settles the matter for both sides.

I hope I could explain my position with the right words.
I wish you all the energy you need for your writing.

Best Regards
May. 9th, 2010 08:16 am (UTC)
I think you make an interesting point about fanfics, one I had not previously considered. I have read fanfic in the past, but have mostly moved on to my original addiction, which is original fiction. (It has been supposed that I do not in fact read books, I absorb them. The number of books that sit on my shelf and that have been read would argue against that though, lol!) I can totally understand how they could be disturbing at best to some authors, and I feel bad that I had not realized that before. Thank you for opening my eyes to that.
Also, that's an awesome song, and I'm glad you posted it. I am going to share it, and maybe someday look up what she is singing in French, lol!
May. 9th, 2010 08:37 am (UTC)
Bravo, you are quite right.
May. 9th, 2010 09:15 am (UTC)
For the record, I never liked that Ahab, he's a complete jerk.
May. 9th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC)
Thank you for the insightful post, George.

I'm surprised and pleased that the tone in that last discussion remained generally civil overall. It was an interesting debate that left me feeling like both sides (insofar as there are sides to such a grey area anyway) left with a fair understanding of the opposing view.

I wonder if I'm the only one who came in this with a different idea of what fanfiction was. I was only aware of the much milder borrowed world, original characters flavour; what's likable about a character stems from the unique voice his author gives him, and to me the notion of hand-puppeting the character behind the author's back feels kind of hollow.

Still, I've been wondering. Perhaps in the end, the essence of good writing is the creation of characters who are credible and likable enough that other people can appropriate them through reading, and bring them to life in the inner worlds of their minds; do characters even exist without that appropriation? Maybe fanfiction of the character-borrowing kind is what happens when the minds in question leak outside somewhat.

Oh, and lastly:

> Why do both sides get so incensed about this issue?

The Internet is exothermic. Science yet has to explain why!
May. 9th, 2010 10:10 am (UTC)
Everyone will re-imagine stories they love, superimpose their own interpretations, secret scenarios, cherished characters that are the brainchildren of other authors (or their own characters, or their actual selves). It will happen. Honestly, I doubt any author would be against such imaginings.

One would also say that fanficters have a ‘right’ to communicate their ideas and musings to others under article nineteen of the U.N. backed Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as individual Constitutions from varying governments around the world (and of course, The Bill of Rights in the U.S.).

Now, that being said, while I would never say they could not express their ideas concerning stories or characters under a “what if?” scenario in a public area designed for other people to critique or enjoy their work, such as fanfiction.net, I would have to say that they probably shouldn’t.

Not because you, Mr. Martin, are protective of your babies; hell, I would be as well if I were you. Not because it shows a certain amount of respect; let’s face it, they must be impressed somewhat with your creations, else why labor in your realms with your characters? No, it is because I think part of writing is in creating your own worlds and characters.

I am all good with people writing fanfiction for their personal purposes. I am absolutely fine with whatever goes on in their heads along said lines. However, to people who write wonderful (or dubious) prose without creating their own backdrop: you sharing it does not necessarily get you props from writers. Indeed, some become protective of their hard work, while you miss out on fundamentally bringing something of your own to life. You play Dr. Frankenstein and usually create abominations stitched together from truer creations. In some cases, these abominations might be lovable but are tragic nonetheless. Of course, as I am not a writer, I could very well be talking straight out of my nether regions. Still, my opinion.

Ultimately, so long as they do not attempt to violate copyright law, I would weigh in every time in their favor for their right to express themselves, even if I disagree with what they are expressing. Of course, I personally would respect any decision from any author concerning THEIR original works and characters if I was a writer of fanfiction, but that is me and I am not.
May. 9th, 2010 10:19 am (UTC)
Comic books and characters
The topics of character continuity and fictional reality are actually more interesting than the topic of fanfiction, but I'll drop my two cents on fanfic first.

Just like with real children, once they are out in the real world you can't control what happens to them. You can wield the long arm of the law but you and I both know that the law won't be able to stop people sharing their ideas until we have a fascist state. Ultimately, if someone tells your story better than you did, hers will be remembered and not yours. See: Shakespeare. Your expressed opinions will influence your respectful fans and not your disrespectful ones.

So, comic book characters. This was an unfortunately poor choice of examples for making your point, because there are many great "what if" comics. The Dark Knight Returns / The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, etc. On top of which, with comic book characters, part of parcel of us reading the comics is that we cannot believe that these are "real stories." We cannot believe that a man can live six chronological decades and age eight chronological years, or not age at all. We cannot believe that a man can go through the trauma of seeing everyone he knows abused or tortured or killed by his nemeses at one time or another and remain sane. We cannot believe that the same superpowered people can continue to fight each other for years without inflicting mortal injuries at some point. We cannot believe that the people who died can continually come back to life or were only "fake dead." Grant Morrison said that he liked to believe that everything that is in a character's history actually happened to a real person and it's all there somewhere in the character's past - I think that's the dumbest possible attitude, although I do like Morrison's crazy writing anyway.

In order to be able to engage in the story I'm reading (in a comic book) I have to believe that this story, right here, is the only story, and it will always be the only story. These characters are the characters, and they will always be the characters. I will be able to come back and read about them at any time, forever. Those are the rules, and there are exceptions to the rules. The exception proves the rule.

I think comics are a weird exception themselves to the rules that you outline in your post about the unwritten contract between creator and listener. I also hate retconning, and I've also never seen the third Aliens movie for the reasons you describe. The recent Star Wars movies are a kind of retconning in the sense that the older movies promised that Darth Vader and Obi Wan had a past that was noble and terrible and above all epic, and the newer movies crapped all over that idea, so I pretend that I never saw them and imagine adventures and betrayal of a much higher order.

Great work so far on the books, and best wishes.
May. 9th, 2010 10:32 am (UTC)
I think the crux of the issue is this; fanfic-writers love the author's works. Usually that translate into loving the author, if only for creating the world and characters they enjoy. If an author has no problem with people playing with their creations, fine; but if someone loves the world and creations enough that you feel like you want to explore them more, then shouldn't they respect the creator's wishes if told not to do so?
May. 9th, 2010 10:39 am (UTC)
Part of why I love your books above all others is because I know how much you love your characters. I don't mind waiting years between them, because I know you're not just going to throw some words down and say 'done,' you're going to take your time to make it as damn near perfect as it can be, which is what I want. I have never been as absorbed in a book or series as I have been with Ice and Fire. I cried when I read the Red Wedding (and actually threw the book across the room), I laughed until I cried when Tywin died (not because he died, but because of the line about his poo) I jumped for joy in Feast when Littlefinger revealed his plans to Sansa. If someone had written those same events in their own version..I would not have had nearly the emotional response that I have, because like you said, it wouldn't have been REAL. That's pretty much my stance on 'fan fiction' (for lack of a better phrase). Maybe people love to write it and read it, but I usually don't bother, because it isn't what really happens. Even if they wrote the most amazing story ever, and everything turned out just like I'd always hoped, I'd know that it wasn't the truth, and the original creator may have done it differently, which would completely kill the emotional response that I get when I read about a character that I love.
May. 9th, 2010 11:47 am (UTC)
I think I finally understand now. I'm really glad this debate arose, and that first post by Gabaldon I strongly disagreed with. But her subsequent posts and this one have made things clear and I finally understand and truly respect your decisions and why you make them, even why that opinion is sometimes universalised. I still like and read fanfiction, but I don't think I'll ever now feel resentful of yourself or Robin Hobb, for example, banning fanfiction of your work. Really well explained.
May. 9th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
You swayed some
Long time Listener, first time caller...

Originally I couldn't care less about Fan Fic. I ran into it some when I would read stories people wrote set in RPG settings where 'canon' things appeared. Then I stumbled onto some of the Harry Potter Fan Fic around 2002 and boy did that sour in my mouth. But I figured, hey, if the creator didn't write it then its false.

However then it occurred to me that HPL didn't write all Cthulhu. So I determined if the author didn't sanction it, then it didn't happen. Let them write. Whats the harm?

However, your arguments reinforced the reason(s) that this matters. These are your characters and I now agree, Fan Fic is damaging. Really? I don't want to read ASoIaF written by some sod who thinks they know the setting and story well enough. chances are they will just drool in the corner and make me hate them.

Re: you being mean and killing your characters - I will admit when I read GoT I was getting into it. I loved to hate the villains, I identified with the main hero (Ned) a lot. He felt like the kind of guy I could see myself being in the setting. I would say in my head what I thought he would do...then you did THAT to him...and to quote Will Farrel as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman "I'd punch you. Punch you right in the mouth." I hadn't been angry in ages from a book. I teared up a little in the later Harry Potter stories and some of the Temeraire Novels (I picked up GoT in 2009) but you had the ability to get me to emotionally invest in your characters. That was when it occurred to me that I liked this series.

Simply put, I don't want to read about anyone making the lives of these characters chipper and cheery...It wouldn't be right. Also I don't want to read anyone abusing these characters except you. Oddly it doesn't feel wrong to me the hardships these characters endure because it is apparent how much they mean to you.
May. 9th, 2010 12:15 pm (UTC)
I think of Aliens 3 as a bad dream and Resurrection has a good enough reason for Ripley to be there so I can go along with it.
May. 9th, 2010 12:46 pm (UTC)
So... there won't be any Pretty Guardian Sailor Westeros happening anytime soon?

afk hiding
May. 9th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
One thing that always bugged me was hearing about the death of Chewbacca in a synopsis of one of those Starwars novels.

I do not want to hear that. Chewie gets it in what I think is an anti-climactic way. But not only that, I have similar feelings to your Newt. I understand Chewie isn't immortal, but not like this!

BTW- I trust you even more now as a writer (even though I already thought you were quite, quite talented) with your explanation of why the Newt thing sucks. I thought the writer did it to isolate Ripley...stranger in a strange land factor, you know.
But yeah, she busts her ovaries to save Newt in Aliens. Why do they nullify that in the opening sequence?

Ah well. Keep Dancing, George. I look forward to it.
May. 9th, 2010 01:08 pm (UTC)
This is exactly how I feel. Exactly.

Thank you so much for putting it so well. Now when there's a discussion I can point people at this instead of fumbling for words when I'm feeling upset.

"Portraits of My Children" gave me nightmares.
May. 9th, 2010 01:10 pm (UTC)
It's all in the name!
I believe once you name something, it's yours. Naming the character, place, group of people...whatever. That makes it personal. Especially in fantasy when most likely those things blossom from your imagination and have never existed in anyone else’s. Fanfiction seems like the worst kind of criticism to me, like the author's original storyline wasn't good enough. I know the fanfiction writer probably doesn't agree. They simply want to see the characters they love go on and do and experience other things, but I agree with George . . . There's a line that shouldn't be crossed. Fun is fun, but plagiarism is plagiarism, no matter how you try to sugarcoat it. A lot of work, sweat, love, and tears go into creating and destroying these make believe people, and no one has the right to F*** with them but the one who birthed them!
May. 10th, 2010 02:41 am (UTC)
Re: It's all in the name!
Fanfiction is not plagiarism.

Plagiarism is when someone claims something as his or her own *WITHOUT* giving any credit to the originator of that something.

Now, fanfiction can be badly written, it can be out-of-character, it can be a great many things. But as long as the writer of the fanfiction acknowledges the original source (which it does by it's very definition, as well as the disclaimer that accompanies most of it) it is not plagiarism, any more than quoting a source in a scholarly paper with proper attribution is plagiarism.

Whether you like fanfiction or not, it's a good idea to correctly define terms.
May. 9th, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
Well, I'll try to say my thought about that but, if there're some mistakes is becasue I'm not English.

I understand your love with your "guys". It's hard don't do that. In fact, I consider that it is impossible if you talk about Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister. But when I write fan fiction is, only, because I love too. It's not the same, I know but, as you said before, not all the writers care their characters like you. In fact, most of the writers I read only look after their main characters and I usually fall in love with supporting characters.
What I want to say it's that the best of the fan fiction is that you can find many points of view about one story. When you read the book (or the original story) you get the writer thoughts but as you read more and more fan fiction you can a big own point of view. (I don't know if I could explain well).

Of course, you can find better and worse things. You can want that what you've red could be in the originally story or you can (too many times) want to pull out your own eyes. But we know how to choose.
May. 9th, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
Oh man, I've been trying to talk myself out of thinking about this for about an hour, but no luck! I also tried to avoid tortured analogies... probably with equal success.

First off, I want to state that I absolutely respect the gut-level reaction that GRRM and other authors have when encountering fanfic. I'm not a writer, and I have been reading fanfic for years, but I can easily imagine feeling similarly if I was in their position. However, I have to take exception to the implications that flow from characterizing artistic expression as 'children'. I get why it's an apt analogy, but I think it's unhelpful, not only because it lends itself to the kind of emotive grandstanding where we imagine someone's daughter doing something nasty with the neighbour, but because it leads us to implicitly likening fictional characters to real people and I think it colours the debate in unfortunate ways. It's reasonable to expect that your children be respected as private citizens--expecting similar things for an artistic work you have published is not reasonable.

Publication releases your work into the cultural arena, and strict legalities aside I think people then have the right to interact with it in any way they see fit (as long as they acknowledge the source material and are not making money). And I know this is an unpopular position, but I think this right exists even in the face of an author's request that fan fiction not be written. True, I might not personally feel comfortable flaunting such a request, but that is a matter of politeness and if we were all polite all of the time, there would be a dearth of interesting discussions pretty much instantly. And that's the problem I have with everyone agreeing that of course it's not ok to write fanfic if the author asks you not to: because any author who wanted to prevent their work being discussed would be quite rightly ridiculed. And I don't really see how we can first of all, satisfactorily define fanfic so that none is inadvertently committed, and secondly, justify shutting down what is in reality a potent method of critique. Which isn't to say 'let's make an exception for the really good quality fanfic.' Some legislatures and courts think it's possible to demarcate the boundaries of things like artistic merit--I think they're deluded. It's all or nothing, folks, and I come down on the side of the debate where we agree that an author can't dictate the terms on which their cultural product (which they would very much like you to buy, thankyou) is discussed.
Opal [blogspot.com]
May. 9th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you George
Thank you for loving your characters. Very thoughtful post. Love the Alien(s) references and your diagnosis of the deterioration of the Aliens "franchise". Ripley, Newt, and the robot-scientist were great characters, and it annoys me too when the crop of post-post-modernists disrespect the integrity of personality and human experience in favor of pointless plot thrills and other audience manipulations. Great fiction means caring what happens to characters, even if it doesn't make you happy. Many potentially powerful story arcs have been destroyed by writers craving certain outcomes at the expense of character integrity (e.g. Farscape).
I love your writing!
May. 9th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
I think that while intellectually you DO have a point and ARE totally on the side of the right and the law you still do have a flaw in your argumentation.

Because one thing is damned sure: there WILL be people out there who WILL write fanfiction, either out of not knowing about your position or not caring too much about it. statistically the absolutely largest share of them WILL be fans, even admirers and adorers of your works.

And you not only illegalized them with your statements over the last few days but in a way also antagonized and devalued everything they believe in.

In my book thats "horribly bad Public relations work" unregarding of your motives.

It might be really painful for you to think of some kid sitting out there and thinking about what he/she/it would let Jaime do in situation X, but hey... it keeps the "fan author" lucky and tied to your work, he will share his enthusiasm and THAT is good PR, even if it's by the way of bad prose. There's the saying of how every satisfied customer will tell up to 10 people of his experience (as will every dissatisdied customer spill the beans about how bad company X handled him) in this case: tell others how brilliant your work is and how much he likes it. Which DIRECTLY leads to your "I WANNA LIVE OF THIS" thesis.

You can try to hinder the guys out there on the other side of your skin from doing stuff you don't like.

I'm here totally with Eric Flint (who has some very interesting editorials written for Baen even if they rather regard real copyright issues and the benefits of freely available Ebooks and the menace of illegal downloads, but it almost completely is transferable to the issue of Fanwritten stories in your own literary universe): every one you come down on with all the might of the hammer of thor will be rather disappointing news and certainly at least one possible consumer lost, but if you show a certain amount of leniency to the "small fishes", to those who don't do any real measurable (financial) damage, you WILL get word of mouth and what today often is tried to copy as a grassroots advertising campaing... just by doing NOTHING.

I'm far from having any professional experience in the literary business, so i cannot pretend to really have any concerns about losing my livelyhood by such a kind of "theft", but i DO possess some other experiences and a lot of contacts to many kinds of fandoms over the last decades and in my experience as a reader and a fan and having tread on the ground of fanfiction myself over some time my honest opinion on stuff like this is: a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" attitude will do you more good than any absolute "DON'T EVER DO IT" could. Even if it would nag on your very soul not to shout it out loudly
May. 9th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
Never an issue for me.
I never understood the point of using other peoples characters and worlds to write stories. First off I'm anal and would rather come up with everything myself. I'd re-invent the wheel happily every time. I also thought it was an illegal © mess anyways. On the other hand, when I do graphic design, I happily steal my co-workers work to save time and I feel pride when they use my designs(they must of liked what I did). I did have a co-worker get upset about me using her designs (she only made muttered comments now and again), until she started using my work when she got in a time crunch! I think people have every right to defend their work if they choose too. I'd defend my designs relentlessly if it effected my pocketbook.
May. 9th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
Given this, I really don't understand why you would license your characters for RPG products, or agree to their use in things like the Suvudu cage match. I suppose you have some control over the latter, but you really don't have control over the former.

But speaking as a big fan of historical fiction (and isn't the fictionalization of historical characters even more of an abuse than fanfic, given that these are real people we're talking about), I'm rather glad for the human tendency to adapt. My world is vastly richer for the existence of "1776," "Sweeney Todd," "Henry V," "Richard III," "The Illiad," Wagner's Ring Cycle, "War and Peace," and any number of other pieces of work that take either historical figures or pre-existing fictional characters and adapt them.

But this does raise an interesting point. I don't know of any cases where you've written historical fiction, or taken existing well-known characters, and used them. Have you ever done so? Or is the creation of a new character a crucial part of the creative process for you?
May. 9th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
I respect your stance
I think it should be hard for any fan, upon hearing that their favourite Author does not want them writing fan fiction, to continue writing it. These are fans of the author as much as the stories. But I am sure there are others who think "what George doesn't know won't upset him" and keep writing, and sharing.

GRRM, you have said a few times that you don't want to read what the fanfictioneers do to your characters, that F. Scott Fitzgerald would not want to read someone's fictional take on Gatsby. It makes me wonder, if the problem is simply your knowledge that these fanfiction stories exist. If they went on without your knowledge, would you still object? If you didn't know that someone built bran steam powered mechanical legs (yes I am thinking of the most rediculous thing possible) so that he could compete in the tournament of the Three Crowns, breaking four lances against the Knight of Flowers before being thrown from his horse, would you still care? Is this an out of sight, out of mind situation? Just curious. I won't be reading or writing any Fanfic, based on your work or the work of anyone else. Mostly because I don't have the time. There are so many prize winning or nominated books, or works of high praise I just have not had time to read. Why would I want to read an amateur account of how Buffy the Vampire Slayer killed LeStat after The atrocious Queen of the Damned movie (wouldn't blame her though, the movie was awful!).
May. 9th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC)
Re: I respect your stance
What I don't know can't bother me.
May. 9th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC)
The fanfiction debate
I've been following this debate for the last few days across the two websites, and it's made me actually create a live journal account just so I can add something.

I like to think that I'm firmly on the fence when it comes to fanfiction. I read it a lot when I was younger, and weaned myself away as I found it massively addictive and it was distracting me far too much from my studies. For me the attraction was one that seems to be quite common, I liked to read more about my favourite characters, especially if it was building on a backstory only hinted at.

My favourite was always my friends' Lily and James story, where they interjected Rowling's characters with their own creations modelled on themselves. It was a good read, but I was always aware it was unofficial.

I've made particular mention of it here, however, because I feel it demonstrates one of the main concerns of many authors on fanfiction - my friends got far too involved. When Sirius Black was killed my friend took it far too seriously ... just because the character she'd based on herself had been in a relationship with him in their story (at this point I feel I should mention that it was a non-smutty story). To this day she refuses to read that particular book, I don't think she ever watched the fifth film, and likes to continue with the delusion that it never happened.

I will also happily admit that, should JK Rowling ever write prequels based on Lily and James, I would inevitably end up measuring them against my friends' story. Not good, but its not something I will be able to help.

However I completely understand why authors choose not to allow fanfiction of their works, and support that. It's their original creation, and that does create an emotional attachment. And as authors, their emotional attachment should trump that of the readers, every time. And as for the people that start hurling abuse at authors that chose not to endorse fanfiction, well, I'm not going to say what I think of them. Suffice to say, they should get over it. And I don't think attempting to act a little more maturely would hurt either :)

Anyway ... all of that is off-topic! I actually just wanted to thank you for this timely debate on the merits of fanfiction ... I'm doing a module called 'Fantasy and Fandom' for my English degree, which looks at how modern fantasy writers make use of the themes / motifs / tropes present in many medieval texts, and whether all novels should therefore be classed as fanfiction to a certain degree. I have an exam for it on Saturday ... and I now have a extremely contemporary debate to reference :D

Thank you,


p.s. I've read a lot of fantasy, but if I was only allowed to read one series ever again it would be 'A Song of Ice and Fire'! It's my favourite :D I'm also trying to convert as many of my friends to it as possible ... although the fact that Sean Bean will be in the HBO series is helping my arguments somewhat when dealing with those who like to read less than I do!!!
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