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A Few More Last Words

Spain
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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( 187 comments )
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carnadai
May. 15th, 2010 02:17 pm (UTC)
TV-fanfic vs Book-fanfic
Dear Mr. Martin,

To me, without any rational reasoning, there is a difference between writing fanfiction based on books and fanfiction based on TV-series and especially cancelled TV-series.

I would feel gross writing fics about a book because it feels like getting in between the author and the story. Writing about ongoing TV series is a little odd to me because there is going to be more anyway. Writing about cancelled TV-shows however feels like helping to keep it alive, and does in some cases help fanclubs remain active which makes DVD's for long-dead shows (and therefore money for the creators) far more likely.

But as I said, my reasoning is mainly based on how I feel about it. May I ask how you feel about it?
floatingpencil
May. 15th, 2010 09:51 pm (UTC)
I enjoy fan fiction, but I'm never very surprised when an author says they don't want it written. It might be hypocritical of me, since I read it, but I can't say for certain that I wouldn't feel the same way.

I'd rather see someone take your position than act the way Anne Rice did. For years there were flourishing online groups, writing what were called 'specs' about her characters. Whatever she might say now, she knew very well that they existed, and chose to ignore it. When she decided not to ignore it, instead of just asking that it be removed, she went nuts. Threats, cyber-stalking, the works. With the result that her fanbase more or less disappeared - people were disappointed and angry, and the fact that it all co-incided with a massive drop in the quality of her work (apparently she now doesn't allow her editor to actually edit anything) probably didn't help.

So I suppose what I'm saying is, I'd sooner see someone pick a position and stick to it.
chamilet
May. 16th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
That's fine. And I bet you don't go seeking out fanfic with your characters either. Neither does Ms. Gabaldon. It's the "fans" who seek out the fanfic and bring it to the authors attention that are the problem. Showing that they're "such good fans." "See Mommy, I love you best cause I found this bad thing that people are doing and brought it to your attention." They need to just go on with their lives and leave well enough alone and not upset Ms. Gabaldon's applecart and not upset the fanfic writers' either!!

And THAT'S what I think authors should be discouraging. Because fanfic isn't going to go away, but no one needs to bring it to your attention and upset you with it, either. Everyone's happy...except the fan trying to prove that they love you bestest because they're your little tattle tale.
strayth
May. 16th, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
Regarding the Fanfic Subject,
Recently I had a discussion with my friend regarding Fanfics / movie classic remakes. To my generation (please hold rolling eyes for the end), films like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Roger Rabbit and TMNT are things of affection and nostalgia. I can still enjoy some of the films in the franchises mentioned above.

But the thing is about reloads (I've heard is the industry term) is that anything good enough to remake is going to be ruined in the re-making.

Fanfics I've found go the same way. Now if someone wants to write for their own personal entertainment, I think it would be abusive to deny them that pleasure. Once they start publishing, though, I hope they understand what they're really doing.

You mentioned that the law will assume you've abandoned original intellectual property if you don't actively protect it, and sadly you're right. I see people constantly asking "oh why does [restaurant franchise] have to sue [this ma & pa diner]? They don't have enough money?" and the real answer is just that; judges WILL consider whether or not a copyright or trademark has become neglected and thus "willed" into public property. It's a shame but that's how things keep working smoothly, otherwise we'd have to pay royalties on words like cheeseburger. (Can you imagine? In THIS country?)

So not to deviate too far from the point - it is the obligation of the creators to defend their content, since we can't expect them to put food on their table AND entertain us all for free. Things need to be kept as an exchange.

I seldom mind little indie projects, or projects that form out of some collective interest for the sake of criticism or theorizing or education. (In fact the first and third of those are valid defenses against copyright infringement suits, it is known.) But the exceptions can range from mildly irritating to actually damaging.

I sincerely hope these fans, these would-be writers, will consider creating their OWN work, harnessing their OWN creations and not just building on what those have done before them. If they're intent on following someone, they're never going to get ahead. It's tough, and in a lot of publishing situations (shared properties, think comic books), it actually does have merit to practice someone else's creation. But I hope they can read what they see here with an open mind and not feel too defensive or stricken - there's a lot of serious thought put into material, even if the material's origin is solely to entertain.
audiovore
May. 19th, 2010 05:02 am (UTC)
Slightly swayed over the line.
I have come to this discussion regrettably late. But after reading, I have been swayed from my centrist opinion to your side of the line. Not as far over as you are, but enough for argument sake.

I did want to at one note to your previous ERB-HPL example. This isn't a pro/anti-fanfic argument, but I do believe it relates a little. Although Lovecraft died poor(which as you said probably wasn't directly due to his 'openness'), and Burroughs rich, I ask you, where do they stand today? I know that in all the circles I run in, people do know who/want Tarzan is, but mostly only due to the Brenden Frasier and Disney movies, and the old cartoon. Only a handful of them would know its origins beyond the cartoon, let alone Burroughs name(which I only recalled after reading Burroughs proper, 'ERB' rang no bell). Now only one and a half of my circles know who/what Cthulu is, but all who do definitely know who Lovecraft is. And those that are fans worship the man. I know of no Burroughs worshipers(but I guess there might be a few).

So while Burroughs may of won in the race to 'die with the most things', Lovecraft has a lasting legacy that will directly invoke his name, and will/does probably have the greater cultural impact/significance, for decades, if not centuries from now. While Burroughs' legacy is a theme song(Watch out for that tree!(holy crap. I only just realized I was confusing George for Tarzan)) from a show that was a parody of his work. And will continue to fade into further obscurity with the march of time.

So in closing its not an argument for or against, just something I find interesting.
estellanara
May. 26th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
I think I would love your Alien movie...

A french fan.
nomaden
May. 31st, 2010 06:46 am (UTC)
I agree, but..
First off, let me get started by saying that I agree with you. Both on the gut emotional-level as on the finansial- legal level.

But, come to think of it, didn't write a piece of fan fiction yourself but a few weeks ago? In the cage fight, where your Westerosi hero Jaime Lanister met Randland's Rand al'Thor? Even though most of your tale took place at your home ground, Westeros, you did allow yourself to use another authors characters.

At the same time, you allowed quite a few others - fans, Brandon Sanderson, etc. to use your Song of Ice and Fire-characters in their version of the cage fight.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't have written your cage fight, and I'm not saying you should have sued Brandon or anyone else for making use of your characters. Quite on the contrary, I enjoyed reading your, Brandon's and quite a few others' version of the cage fight.

Nor am I saying that I disagree with my first statement. I believe that fan fiction is quite problematic.

So what am I saying? I honestly don't know. It could be that nothing is ever simple. Even though the both of us apparently share the same view of fan fiction, both of us apparently enjoy it too. Even encourage it in some ways.

Best regards,
Tor, Sweden.

PS. I love your books. You might just be the best author alive!
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