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Someone Is Angry On the Internet

My position on so-called "fan fiction" is pretty well known. I'm against it, for a variety of reasons that I've stated previously more than once. I won't repeat 'em here.

My position is not unique. It is not universal either, I realize. Some writers actually encourage fan fiction (I know some of them, have heard their arguments), others don't seem to care one way or another (I know many of those). Many writers have no idea that it exists, no concept of what it is (in part because of the confusing term "fan fiction," which subject I will return to later), and have given the subject no thought. So there's a wide range of opinion on this matter, even among writers.

There are lots of us who oppose fan fiction, though. One such is my friend Diana Gabaldon, author of the mega-bestselling OUTLANDER series... and the occasional terrific short story and novella, some of which Gardner Dozois and I have been privileged to publish in our anthologies. Diana recently outlined her own feelings about fan fiction -- especially fan fiction involving her own world and characters -- in a series of posts on her blog:


Subsequent to Diana's first post, all hell broke loose. (As it seems to do more and more often on this "interweb" thingie). A thousand comments on her first two blog posts on the subject. It's all there, for those who want to check out the "debate." Which soon, alas, became heated, as hundreds of... what's the correct term here? fanficcers? fan fictioneers? fans of fanfic? defenders of fanfic?... arrived from all over the internet to take issue with Diana. A good number of them seemed to open their posts with variations on 'I don't know who you are and I've never read your books and I've never visited this blog before, but I've come by specially to lambast you.'


I have a colorful metaphor in mind to describe what this reminds me of, but I won't use it. Metaphors seemed to spark much of the outrage here. Writers have a natural prediliction for the colorful phrase, the striking comparison, but in political discussions -- and this is, at base, a political discussion -- that can lead to hyperbole, which can lead to anger.

So let me try to eschew all that and remain calm.

I am not going to rehash the arguments for and against "fan fiction." If you want to read those, go to Diana's blog. In between the shouting and the abuse and the endless restatement of the same three or four points by several hundred different posters, there's actually some fairly cogent posts on both sides, arguing the pros and cons of the issue.

I would like to say a couple of things that I don't think anyone else covered, however (and yes, I read all thousand-plus comments, though admittedly I skimmed some that just seemed to be more of the same).

As I said, my reasons for opposing fan fiction have been stated in the past. They are more-or-less the same reasons as those cited by Diana Gabaldon, and pretty much the same reasons that would given by any writer who shares our viewpoint on the matter. So I won't repeat them here. But I'll add a few thoughts.

One of the things I mislike about fan fiction is its NAME. Truth is, I wrote fan fiction myself. That was how I began, when I was a kid in high school writing for the dittoed comic fanzines of the early 1960s. In those days, however, the term did not mean "fiction set in someone else's universe using someone else's characters." It simply meant "stories written by fans for fans, amateur fiction published in fanzines." Comic fandom was in its infancy then, and most of us who started it were kids... some of whom did make the mistake of publishing amateur fan-written stories about Batman or the Fantastic Four in their 'zines. National (what we called DC back then) and Marvel shut those down pretty quickly.

The rest of us knew better. Including me. I was a fan, an amateur, writing stories out of love just like today's fan fictioneers... but it never dawned on me to write about the JLA or the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, much as I loved them. I invented my own characters, and wrote about those. Garizan, the Mechanical Warrior. Manta Ray. The White Raider. When Howard Keltner, one of the editors and publishers of STAR-STUDDED COMICS, the leading fanzine of its day, invited me to write about two of his creations, Powerman and Dr. Weird, I leapt at the chance... but only with Howard's express invitation and permission.

So that's the sort of fan fiction I wrote. How and when the term began to be used for what is called fan fiction today, I don't know. I wish there was another term for that, though I confess I cannot think of one that isn't either cumbersome, vague, or prejorative. But it does bother me that people hear I wrote fan fiction, and take that to mean I wrote stories about characters taken from the work of other writers without their consent.

Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that's fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that... well, I think their wishes should be respected.

Myself, I think the writers who allow fan fiction are making a mistake. I am not saying here that the people who write fan fiction are evil or immoral or untrustworthy. The vast majority of them are honest and sincere and passionate about whatever work they chose to base their fictions on, and have only the best of intentions for the original author. But (1) there are always a few, in any group, who are perhaps less wonderful, and (2) this door, once opened, can be very difficult to close again.

Most of us laboring in the genres of science fiction and fantasy (but perhaps not Diana Gabaldon, who comes from outside SF and thus may not be familiar with the case I am about to cite) had a lesson in the dangers of permitting fan fiction a couple of decades back, courtesy of Marion Zimmer Bradley. MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it... even read and critiqued the stories of her fans. All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress. MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book. The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue. MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit. She also stopped encouraging and reading fan fiction, and wrote an account of this incident for the SFWA FORUM to warn other writers of the potential pitfalls of same.

That was twenty years ago or thereabouts, but that episode had a profound effect on me and, I suspect, on many other SF and fantasy writers of my generation.

Okay, it was one incident a long time ago, you may say. Fair enough. Let me bring up a couple other writers, then. Contemporaries of an earlier age, each of whom was known by a set of initials: ERB and HPL. ERB created Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. HPL created Cthulhu and his Mythos. ERB, and later his estate, was extremely protective of his creations. Try to use Tarzan, or even an ape man who was suspiciously similar to Tarzan, without his/ their permission, and their lawyers would famously descend on you like a ton of bricks. HPL was the complete opposite. The Cthulhu Mythos soon turned into one of our genres first shared worlds. HPL encouraged writer friends like Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith to borrow elements from his Cuthulhu Mythos, and to add elements as well, which HPL himself would borrow in turn. And in time, other writers who were NOT friends of HPL also began to write Cthulhu Mythos stories, which continues to this day.

Fair enough. Two writers, two different decisions.

Thing is, ERB died a millionaire many times over, living on a gigantic ranch in a town that was named Tarzana after his creation. HPL lived and died in genteel poverty, and some biographers have suggested that poor diet brought on by poverty may have hastened his death. HPL was a far more beloved figure amongst other writers, but love will only get you so far. Sometimes it's nice to be able to have a steak too. The Burroughs estate was paid handsomely for every Tarzan movie ever made, and collected plenty on the PRINCESS OF MARS movie I worked on during my Hollywood years, and no doubt is still collecting on the one currently in development... though the book is in the public domain by now. Did the Lovecraft estate make a penny off THE DUNWICH HORROR movie, the HERBERT WEST, REANIMATOR movie, the recent DAGON movie, the internet version of CALL OF CTHULHU? I don't know. I rather doubt it. If they did, I'll betcha it was just chump change. Meanwhile, new writers go right on mining the Cthulhu mythos, writing new stories and novels.

Cthulhu, like John Carter, is in the public domain by now, I know. But it wouldn't matter. Because HPL let so many others play in his sandbox, he essentially lost control of his own creations. That's what I mean by (2), above. The fan fiction door, once opened, is hard to close again.

A writer's creations are his livelihood. Those copyrights are ultimately all that separates an ERB from a HPL. Is it any wonder that most writers are so protective of them?

Those of us, like Diana Galabdon and myself, who prefer not to allow fan fictioners to use our worlds and characters are not doing it just to be mean. We are doing it to protect ourselves and our creations.

Furthermore, we HAVE to do it. That's something no one addressed, in those thousand comments about Diana's blog. There was a lot of talk about copyright, and whether or not fan fiction was illegal, whether it was fair use (it is NOT fair use, by the way, not as I understand the term, and I have a certain familiarity with what is and isn't fair use thanks to my own experiences with THE ARMAGEDDON RAG), but no one mentioned one crucial aspect of copyright law -- a copyright MUST BE DEFENDED. If someone infringes on your copyright, and you are aware of the infringement, and you do not defend your copyright, the law assumes that you have abandoned it. Once you have done that, anyone can do whatever the hell they want with your stuff. If I let Peter and Paul and Nancy publish their Ice & Fire fanfics, and say nothing, then I have no ground to stand on when Bill B. Hack and Ripoff Publishing decide they will publish an Ice & Fire novel and make some bucks. Peter and Paul and Nancy may be the nicest people in the world, motivated only by sincere love of my world and characters, but Bill B. Hack and Ripoff don't give a damn. They just want the bucks.

Once you open that door, you can't control who might come in.

No one would ever do that, I hear someone muttering in the back. Hoo hah. The history of publishing is full of such cases. Even the famously and fiercely litigious ERB estate was famously victimized back in the 60s, when someone forget to timely renew the copyright on a Tarzan book, and a bottom rung comic company noticed and promptly started up a completely unauthorized (and unpaid for) Tarzan comic.

Those are some of the reasons writers like me will not permit fanfic, but before I close, let me put aside the legal and financial aspects of all this for a moment, and talk about more personal ones. Here, I think, Diana Gabaldon absolutely hit the nail on the head in the latest of her blog posts on the subject. And here, she and I agree completely. Many years ago, I won a Nebula for a story called "Portraits of His Children," which was all about a writer's relationship with the characters he creates. I don't have any actual children, myself (Diana does). My characters are my children, I have been heard to say. I don't want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I'm sure that's true, I don't doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still...

I have sometimes allowed other writers to play with my children. In Wild Cards, for instance, which is a shared world. Lohengrin, Hoodoo Mama, Popinjay, the Turtle, and all my other WC creations have been written by other writers, and I have written their characters. But I submit, this is NOT at all the same thing. A shared world is a tightly controlled environment. In the case of Wild Cards, it's controlled by me. I decide who gets to borrow my creations, and I review their stories, and approve or disapproval what is done with them. "No, Popinjay would say it this way," I say, or "Sorry, the Turtle would never do that," or, more importantly (this has never come up in Wild Cards, but it did in some other shared worlds), "No, absolutely not, your character may not rape my character, I don't give a fuck how powerful you think it would be."

And that's Wild Cards. A world and characters created to be shared. It's not at all the same with Ice & Fire. No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.


I have gone on longer than I intended, but I think this is important stuff. "Fan fiction" -- or whatever you want to call it -- has been around for a long time, but never like now. The internet has changed everything. Whereas before the fanfic might be published in obscure fanzines with a circulation of a hundred, now tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, can read these... well, let's just call them "unauthorized derivative works." (Except in cases where the writer has authorized 'em, which I suppose would be "authorized derivative works.") More than ever, we need some boundaries here.

I salute Diana Gabaldon for opening the debate.

And now I step back, and await the onslaught.

(But a word of warning. I'm not nearly as nice a person as Diana is, and this Not A Blog is screened and monitored by my assistant Ty. Diana was willing to let everything go in her comments section. I'm not. So -- my roof, my rules. Disagree, if you want. Disagree vigorously. Argue your points. But no name-calling, no abuse, no threats. And you can spare me the "I have never read any of your books, but now I'm not going to, and I'm going to tell all my friends not to read your books either" posts as well. Fine, you just want to read books by authors who support fan fiction, go ahead, do that, there are a number of very fine writers in that group, we don't need to hear about it here. No derailing the discussion, please. Let's talk about the issue, not tone. I'd love to see some rational discourse here, thanks).

(And yes, the title of this post is a reference to the classic xkcd cartoon that can be seen here: http://xkcd.com/386/)



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May. 8th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
In general I agree with you. As a reader I have little desire to munch off somebody else's table-scraps versions of the grand meals prepared by my favorite authors. Except that I do enjoy parodies, which are not the same thing as the "fan fiction" you're discussing.

And there needs to be a clear line drawn here. Somebody wrote a passionate over-reaction claiming that, for instance, A Thousand Acres is Shakespeare fan fiction, and the musical South Pacific is James Michener fan fiction. No they are not. The first is an entirely new story on the same theme, and the other is an authorized adaptation into a new medium. That's not what's being talked about, and if the term "fan fiction" does cover such things, then we need another term that more accurately describes what we are talking about.

A few cautionary points, however.

1. Authosr with enthusiastic fan-fiction-writing fans cannot track down and stop all the fan fiction on the internet. They will waste their lives trying, and they will not succeed. Better to ignore it. Because:

2. It is not true that you will legally abandon your copyrights if you do not aggressively defend them. You are thinking of patents. Copyrights are different. If your copyright is initially valid, it remains valid, no matter who violates it.

3. I can't help thinking but that your comparison between ERB and HPL leaves a different lesson than the one you intend. The difference between their financial fates surely involves many other factors besides their attitude towards copyright. And, in the end, the Cthulhu Mythos lives today far more richly than either Barsoom or Tarzan. Is that because HPL let others share his world? Maybe, maybe not. Tolkien's lives too, and he never let anybody play in his sandbox that way. But Tolkien wasn't hostile towards his readers, but very patient with them, even when drawing the line, even though he privately despised some of the things they were doing. I do wonder if ERB's positively hostile attitude wasn't more harmful in the end. (You, of course, are not hostile - inviting readers here to chat about your characters and how they should be depicted in art or film is very welcoming and not at all like allowing fan fic.)
May. 8th, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
Trademark, not patent. Trademarks can be diluted. Patents can be as selectively enforced as the holder wishes. Happens far too frequently in the technology industry.
(no subject) - kalimac - May. 8th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pandarus - May. 8th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 8th, 2010 03:50 am (UTC)
To the best of my knowledge, GRRM, your statement about losing control of your copyright when you fail to act against someone else producing derivative works is flatly false. That's true of trademarks -- defend it or lose it -- but copyright holders may choose to ignore copyright infringement and it has no effect on their ability to litigate future instances of copyright infringement. The Tarzan example you cite as supporting evidence does not support this claim: failure to renew your copyright is not the same as failing to litigate against infringements on an extant copyright. An author may choose to ignore any particular instance of copyright infringement, and still have full power to go after some other instance.
May. 8th, 2010 03:50 am (UTC)
I don't read or write 'fanfic' so I don't got a horse in this race.

I do, however, think that copyright lengths are a bit extreme now, thanks to Disney (?)

I got no problem with you making money off of your work/creations, but I think that there should be a more reasonable. Certainly stay under your control while you are alive, but after that, I think it should run out eventually.

If that means that Bill T. Hack writes some egregious Ice & Fire book sometime in the future, so be it. There is probably already some hack writing some horrible Ice & Fire story, we just call it 'fanfic'. I don't have to read it, no matter what it's called. And as you said, you'll be dead so you won't care about your 'children' any more.

But on the fanfic, if you say you don't want it done for your fiction, then people should abide by your wishes.
May. 8th, 2010 03:56 am (UTC)
IP and copyright; Fair Warning: Mr Martin, you will not like this opinion
I've always been somewhat conflicted over copyright and IP in general.

On the one hand, I understand the whole argument. As an artist (writer in this case), you have a right to be compensated in the open market for your work. And no one else should be able to get rich off of your effort. To the extent that is true, I agree with your position. So just what is a fair model of compensation for a musician, a writer or other entertainer? It sure isn't what we got now.

On the other hand, creative works like novels and songs would be just real-time performances if not for technological media like paperbacks and CDs, and nowadays, the internet with pdf and mp4 formats. As a performer, you agree to compensation by those who would have you perform, but only for that "performance". It costs one no more or less effort to have a second or seventieth printing, but somehow the author and the publisher are entitled to more? There is something wrong with the whole idea of royalties; an artist performs and the instant the performance is complete, well no more effort is required.

Intellectual Property (IP) is profound and nonsensical all at once. And to exacerbate things, Congress keeps extending copyright and patent protections to extremes. Disney is the most blatant example of this simultaneous profundity and hypocrisy. Does Walt's estate have the right to wring every last cent out of Steamboat Willie 75 year's after Walt died? The answer should be clearly no. But Mr. Disney has the right to be compensated for his work. And he was. And then some. At the same time, his company took "public domain" works from the Brothers Grimm and is still making a mint off of it!

The question then is where to draw the line. So let's ask the extreme questions. One, would all creative work stop if there was no copyright? Answer: of course not. And two, should creative work be "protected" indefinitely, or how long is long enough?

Let's take question two first. I suspect most everyone but the greediest copyright attorney would agree there has to be a limit, so now what should it be? Lifetime plus 75 years is silly, sorry. Whatever limit is there would be mainly arbitrary. What is wrong with there being no limit (no copyright) at all, which is really heading us back to question one? Creative works will not stop because the potential is much less lucrative. If you ask most any famous (and wealthy) writer, musician or even actor why they started doing it, and most will call it an avocation, not a profit making venture. Certainly all of the "starving artists" would.

So I say abolish copyrights altogether. FanFic and the whole other gamut of issues are solved.

But! But! What about the right of a famous author to earn royalties? Well, there is no such right. However, I did say at the beginning of this missive that entertainers should be compensated fairly for their work. The question remains then, what is fair?

What is fair is the same for everyone in the labor market: whatever someone else will pay you for your work is the sum total of its worth. So if an author wants to get compensation for his next novel, he or she can find a "sponsor" or a syndicate of sponsors and get paid upon release. (Don't forget to pay your editors). And he/she can get paid for personal appearances as well of course. And those moved by the art can always send gratuities!

Let me finish by saying I think it is only by our technological advances that some select few in the entertainment sector can now become obscenely wealthy by getting compensation for rent of virtual property. In the old days Homer and Shakespeare made a relatively modest sums. And their survivors expect no windfalls upon their death. If someone wants to rewrite Hamlet as a comedy, no one bats an eye. But a Hobbit musical, well how dare thee! What's the difference?


PS - I find it ironic that some of the biggest defenders of rent- seeking on pseudo-property are political liberals. I understand it though; they do not want to lose their golden geese. - T
May. 8th, 2010 03:56 am (UTC)
I'm obviously not a lawyer, but intellectual property is intellectual property, and if an author doesn't want to see his work used by another, it should be pretty straightforward to have it stopped. Outside the law, it's simply a matter of respect and human decency. Don't steal. Make your own gosh darn worlds. They might even be more interesting once you start fleshing them out.

I have a question though for you Mr. Martin. What if someone wrote about a character who lived in a world you created and had no interaction with any established character in your book. The perspective of a Melon or a Barleycorn as they marched toward the Redgrass Field under some unnamed lesser lord, for instance?
May. 8th, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
Dear Mr. Martin,

Thank you very much for a well-written and cogent comment on the whole subject.
May. 8th, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
I couldn't agree more! I abhor the idea of 'fan-fiction' where people want to use the same character, the same world, and usurp everything that was created by someone else. Why not use that creativity to create their own characters and their own world instead of making a mockery of what someone else has labored on and toiled over for a living!
An example of this was used in a class I had taken. I was fortunate enough to get into the famed Tolkien Class at my college. We studied Beowulf and Arthurian legend before delving into LOTR. Eventually though, my teacher brought up the subject of "slash fiction." He said he was disgusted and warned us against being lured into reading such "trash." I have such a reverence for Tolkien and cannot understand why people can't respect his contributions instead of writing pornographic novels about Aragorn and Legolas! It's infuriating! Granted, most of this came about after the movies, so it's more about the actors than it is the characters.
The idea that someone would do that with any of the characters from ASOIAF makes my blood boil. We all do it though, we wonder and muse to ourselves what we wish would have happened, but they are not our characters. Was I heartbroken when Ned was killed? YES!! Was I angered at Cersei's cruelty? OF COURSE!! Did I eventually learn to hate Jaime Lannister a little less? Definitely. As crestfallen, flabbergasted, and sometimes confused as I can be during the series, I would not change a single thing.
*steps off soapbox*
May. 8th, 2010 04:02 am (UTC)
There were a few other differences between ERB and HPL...ERB was almost insanely prolific (besides the Tarzan books, he wrote series about Mars, Venus and the earth's core of Pellucidar, as well as standalone books) while HPL wrote reluctantly and slowly. ERB was also, frankly, a much better businessman overall, while HPL was terribly handicapped in these matters by his upbringing and prejudices. De Camp's bio of HPL is quite specific about the mistakes he made, and allowing others to play in his sandbox was by far the least of them.
May. 8th, 2010 04:05 am (UTC)
Furthermore, the case of MZB is commonplace and happens in every industry, creative or otherwise. You start working on an idea, someone else unintionally comes up with the same idea and publicizes it before you. How embarassing! Whilst fan fiction may make that scenario slightly more likely. It will certainly not remove it. What happens when a legitimate fantasy author, writing about another world with different characters comes up with exactly the same amazing plot twist as you and releases his book a month before yours, thus making it look like you completely copied off him. It's embarrasing, it's inconvenient, but that's life! Someone in that situation has the choice to either postpone publication and modify their story to be better and more original, or they can simply publish it and rely on the fact that they are much more famous and nobody will read the other author anyway! IMHO you can't simply stamp out every little inconvenience in life without killing a much larger amount of fun in the process.

May. 8th, 2010 04:11 am (UTC)
Well I agree with you Mr. Martin; if a person who writes fanfiction other than the sole purpose of his own amusement (i.e. for money), he should not be writing it in the first place. If you want to publish your work, then you should come up with your own ideas and characters.
May. 8th, 2010 04:19 am (UTC)
Damn it! I actually read the entire list of comments for the first of DG's posts. It's such a horrible train wreck, like tech board discussions of music/movie sharing.

I've always been amazed at the number of people that seem to think that there's no limit to what can be done, as long as no profit is to be had. Although, I do live in America, and cash changing hands seems to be the only metric we're capable of understanding these days.

You know, her stuff really seems to reach across a really broad spectrum of people. I was hoping the entire time I was reading that a copyright lawyer would pop up and lay the smack down. There certainly were enough people on the other side doing that. Seriously, is "I read on an internet site that hosts fan fiction that fan fiction is just perfectly legal" actually enough for people?

Also, are copyright protections actually "protect or lose"? I thought they were more akin to patents, which holders can knowingly allow someone to violate and then torpedo someone else's efforts without the first violation damaging their case against the second.
May. 8th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
Seriously, is "I read on an internet site that hosts fan fiction that fan fiction is just perfectly legal" actually enough for people?

If by that you mean the references to the Organisation for Transformative Works - well, the OTW isn't just a site that hosts fanfiction. It's a panfandom project several years in the making, not for profit, aimed specifically and explicitly at promoting the understanding that fanfiction is fair use, and engaged in protecting the rights of fans to engage creatively (for no profit) with texts. As such, and with various lawyers (including copyright lawyers, iirc) on the team, I think it's a pretty reasonable source of information. They've certainly done their due dilligence into understanding the nuances of their legal position, in preparation for the time when a case against fanfiction finally DOES go to court.
May. 8th, 2010 04:22 am (UTC)
honestly? I don't agree with the points you have made. But I respect you as an author, so I won't start a hissy fit as in DG's blog. You don't like fanfiction, so I won't write it from your stories or read them. (except Jaime/Brienne but I am weak like that) You have the right to give your opinion and I want to respect it.

But why Gabaldon's blog left me literally in tears? I mean literally. I spent time crying and feeling awful. She insulted us. If she had just mentioned that she would appreciate that we wouldn't write fanfiction about her characters, I would be completely calm about it and respected that wish. But she didn't, she compared us to rapists, said fanfictiion is like selling your children to slavery and so on.

Fanfiction has literally saved my life. Literally, again. I live in Finland, and through fanfiction I have met people who live at the other side of the world and would have never met otherwise. Those people, their words and kindness have give me strength to go on after my suicide attempt, and place to tell what I think even when I am crumbling. Fanfiction is only a small part of it, actually.

Personally, if (or when, if I feel hopeful) I ever publish, I would be all over my self in excitement for someone writing fanfiction about my book. I wouldn't read it, though. Legal issues, as you know. ^^

I respect her opinion, but the way she said it crushed me and I am truly afraid that I cannot read her books anymore. She just practically mocked and insulted me, and I have made a promise long ago that I won't let myself to be bullied that way ever again. And I was a huge fan of her books.
May. 8th, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
I think that the problem with fanfic isn't so much predicated on its relationship with original works as it is related to its own authors.

To use your children analogy: the children you create are products of yourself. They reflect you, your values, your experiences, and the perspective that you've developed over the course of time. Each of these children, and the environment in which they reside, is a little piece of you (that being you the author).

Fanfic writers in a lot of cases end up being people who play constantly and exclusively with other people's kids. They bring in different sets of values and experiences and perspectives in interpreting these people, but these children are never the product of the fanfic author - even if someone were to write something horribly out of character for Tyrion and Jaime, so far outside of their established personalities that they may as well be different people, the fanfic author is still, at heart, merely aping the original author.

Fanfic is bad not because of its affect on the original author (it may be for that too, but I lack the perspective to have a reasonable and informed discussion about that with someone like you) so much as its affect on the author of the fanfic. In playing around solely with other people's creations and places, fanfic authors firstly dull their own ability to create and secondly dull their ability to see established canon for what it's supposed to be. You would think that these two conditions wouldn't go hand-in-hand, but in my experience it's true: even as the creative muscles used to establish characters and settings atrophy, many fanfic authors see themselves and their own intentions in place of the explicit or implicit intentions of the original author.

I don't mean to disparage fanfiction as some kind of universal evil, either, or to imply that fanfiction is some kind of addictive brain-killing affliction that creeps insidiously up on otherwise productive potential authors. I do, however, mean to say that it's too easy to get too comfortable in it, and commit a kind of creative suicide without meaning to. A person who writes nothing but fanfiction is much less prepared to attempt to write original fiction, and that takes away from people who may have enjoyed this person's original fiction (if it were ever made). On some level my objection to fanfiction is as a reader: if people could take the millions and billions of words that have been produced for fanfiction and then channel it toward something original, it could revive dead genres, or create new ones, give birth to entire movements that you or I or anyone may not have even conceived of yet. Fanfic is the great killer because it is born of and breeds further laziness.

My position is a lot murkier than yours - the question of how to apply it to concepts and stories in the public domain is not so easily answered, no doubt - but I think that kind of self-interest would serve a lot of potential authors better than worrying about whether or not what they do is strictly moral or even legal.

Edit: Please forgive me if this comes across as somewhat disjointed, I'm having trouble thinking clearly.

Edited at 2010-05-08 04:33 am (UTC)
May. 8th, 2010 11:45 am (UTC)
dull their ability to see established canon for what it's supposed to be

There's an implicit teleology in that statement which I (and, I think, most fanfiction writers) would reject. There's nothing a literary work is "supposed to be" other than a literary work, which is to say, a text to be interpreted and responded to critically, which is what fanfiction writers do.
(no subject) - rose_griffes - May. 8th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 8th, 2010 04:26 am (UTC)
Roleplaying Games
Impassioned, Mr. Martin, but what's your opinion on role-playing games, licensed or no?

When my characters drink and debate with Tyrion Lannister in the Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying Game by Green Ronin, am I engaging in fanfic? Same goes when my telekinetic ace hurls bowling ball at a shell of the Great and Powerful Turtle in the Wild Cards setting for Mutants & Masterminds (also by Green Ronin), am I doing the same thing?

I realize that these works are licensed and you're seeing money off them, but what conceptual space does this occupy? How do you feel about it?
May. 8th, 2010 07:57 am (UTC)
Re: Roleplaying Games
I keep answering variants of this RPG question.

I don't see playing a game and writing (and publishing) a story as the same thing at all.
Re: Roleplaying Games - linakitten - May. 8th, 2010 08:48 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 8th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
Can't agree more, and this is from someone who used to write fanfic with the permission of the creators (ElfQuest and the Pinis) back in the day.
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George R.R. Martin
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