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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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( 184 comments )
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box_life
May. 9th, 2010 04:51 am (UTC)
I've never gotten the urge to write in your universe before for a variety of reasons, but if I did get the urge now, I would almost certainly resist it. It's not because of anything you've said before now per se. It's because of this: you don't like it, something feels funny and wrong about someone else using your guys. That's okay. That's enough. All the other arguments seem like justification for that feeling. Isn't that feeling enough?

So I guess I'm saying thanks for the honesty. In the end, that's what I'll respect.
barristans_sqir
May. 9th, 2010 04:57 am (UTC)
bravo.
Well said.
Only the weak of mind could fail to grasp that.
Or perhaps some will fall back on selfishness
"well... I still really want to..."

I was not 100% behind you before.
I am now. Or at least really close to it.
methe
May. 9th, 2010 05:14 am (UTC)
The point you make about love is well taken.

This isn't a subject I've put a lot of thought into, but phrased in that light, some of my own reading choices make more sense.

I don't read fanfic about stories from individual authors. I just don't. Most authors have story lines that begin and end. That's the story, no additions needed.

Comics are different though. The bend, fold and mutilate the characters at will. Authors change, story lines get dropped, reconned, alternative universes rise, fall and are forgotten. And there's no satisfactory ending to many of the stories. Ending the stories. giving characters some closure, would mean Marvel or DC loses their revenue stream.

There is a small number of internet authors that have brought comics storylines to a satisfactory conclusion. I'm pretty certain those authors actually care about the characters, unlike Marvel/DC/etc.

Otherwise, I'm pretty much on board with your position. I would never read any fiction based off a novel. It just strikes me as wrong and unnecessary.
specialj8d
May. 9th, 2010 05:16 am (UTC)
It's interesting that you're so quick to condemn the writer of the third Alien screenplay for killing off a character you were very engaged with. More interesting, perhaps, is your statement that your own characters are 1000 times more dearly loved by you than the character of another writer..

These are interesting, of course, because you have the reputation for seeming apathetic toward most of your characters...based, I am sure, on your penchant for killing off so many important characters, the protagonists with the antagonists.

I'm sure you'll hate* the comparison (indeed, I hate myself for thinking it), and it will justifiably draw scorn, but the case could be made that Jordan must harbor a far greater love for his characters. In a dozen length novels, not a single primary protagonist character has found a lasting demise. In contrast...Eddard, Robb, Robert, Renly, Drogo..and those are just the "good"-aligned characters with any decent screen time.

As we await the day when we can open our copies of Dance, I am confident that one of most common thoughts among readers is this: Which of your children will be given the red smile in the next installment?
grrm
May. 9th, 2010 05:54 am (UTC)
I have a reputation for being bloody minded and vicious and killing a lot of my characters, I will agree.

I don't think that translates to apathy, however.

It hurts to kill your children.
(no subject) - anticron - May. 9th, 2010 07:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: - lt111 - May. 9th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
mauvais_pli
May. 9th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
This is much more to the point, I feel, and again, your perspective is perfectly understandable and worthy of respect, but one-sided.

You said the writer and the reader engage in a contract of sorts, and you go on to describe what the contract means to the writer. What about us the readers? We come to love the characters and care about the reality of them very much indeed. We are given by you this wonderful world filled with things to explore and, apparently, a big fat warning sign saying DON'T TOUCH. What are the terms of that contract again?

I think you completely disregard the fact that reading is a creative process, too, understanding the stories and characters and making them real in our heads. Even as we read, our perceptions may differ from what you intended, and that's where fanfiction comes from, because it actually encompasses much more than putting this character and that in this unreal situation. It is a way of processing the book, and then, eventually, of interacting with people who similarly love the book and its characters.
subgirl
May. 9th, 2010 05:25 am (UTC)
You are a brilliant author, and this is why I keep re-reading what you've written in (patient) awaits of ADoD instead of EVER reading fanfic.

I don't want to dilute your story.

Plus, it never has the correct voice, no matter how lovingly done it is. I just can't see fanfic correctly.

(just had to comment, as I feel I may post a link to this in reference to why I don't read fanfic, no offense to those of my friends who write it, since I am not as eloquent as you, obviously.)

Thanks for everything you write! (even the sports)
axechucker
May. 9th, 2010 05:31 am (UTC)
Yeah...

Someone's gonna sample that Safka song and make a rap track outta it.

I'm telling you.
bloodypoetry
May. 9th, 2010 05:31 am (UTC)
I totally understand that point of view. Hell, I love to read Joss Whedon fanfic, and some of it squicks the heck out of me.

But (while this isn't really a issue, since you've forbidden fanfic and most authors will respect that), why do you even have to read it? The best way not to be disturbed by fanfiction is to avoid it. Which is pretty easy. I avoid a lot of things on the internets. In order to keep sane, we have to avoid a ton is disturbing crap that lives online.

Also, the term we use for ourselves is 'fanfic writers'. The other kinda makes us sound like mouseketeers. Which, while you might be going for a 'fanfic is written by children' thing, most of us aren't kids.
mjallen7
May. 9th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
seriously
george, if i knew they weren't already making another alien film (which i hear sir ridley and sigourney are reuniting to do) i would beg and plead for your "rebooted" version as a followup to aliens. give it the superman returns treatment...while it wasn't great, the idea was to trash the less than stellar 3rd and 4th parts and just create a sequel of sorts to superman 2. heck, bring back michael biehn...i think you would have some serious fan backing for that endeavor. and on spiderman? i was done after that mary jane thing...
awibs
May. 9th, 2010 06:01 am (UTC)
You mean to say you don't like being Cthulhu'd?!
thebesttruth
May. 9th, 2010 06:10 am (UTC)
Immediately after reading this, all I could think of was one thing:

If the deaths of some of your favorite characters in other fiction have made you emotional to the point of irrationality (as in, wishing to ret-con Newt's death several paragraphs after denouncing retconning in general), which is a common response to loss, how then do you cope with killing your own 'children' off?

I've always appreciated the way you approached mortality: with total, brutal honesty. It allows me to invest in your characters in a more authentically, as they are not timeless and immortal. In my own personal way, I grieved over the loss of some of my favorites (Catelyn being a particularly strong example) and while the depths of my passion may not be so deep as yours, I understand the feeling.

That being said, I wonder how it feels to kill your own creations. Part of me says that one of the biggest pains of loss (losing control/being reminded of our impotence) is removed when you have a say in how and when one of your children will die (within the constraints of the story). Certainly, in your role as "The Creator", you are both potent and in control.

But then, you do not have the benefit of being a guiltless god, or so I would guess. Deciding upon and describing the exact events both leading up to and effecting someone's death makes you responsible. Unquestionably and unalterably responsible. Many people struggle with irrational guilt after a death as a coping mechanism designed to impart some sense of that lost control. Were you to feel it, your guilt would be no delusional mechanism.

Or maybe I am way off the mark, and you are a fantastic serial killer, delighting in the destruction of every creation you ever could've loved. I doubt it though.

Either way, I realize it's a complex issue, and I don't expect a large or detailed response. My curiosity, in essential form, might read: do you find it easy to maintain a certain detachment to the deaths of your characters because of the control you have, or does the control make the deaths all the more painful?
grrm
May. 9th, 2010 06:13 am (UTC)
It feels bloody awful.

The Red Wedding was the hardest thing I ever wrote. I skipped over it originally, delayed it for months, wrote the rest of what followed, and only then returned to it when the book was elsewise done.

Even killing the bad guys is hard. They're my children too.
(no subject) - daisakusha - May. 9th, 2010 08:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kizeesh - May. 9th, 2010 01:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aulus_poliutos - May. 9th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Horror and loss of control - bastetbabe27 - May. 10th, 2010 07:55 am (UTC) - Expand
marinliliz
May. 9th, 2010 06:28 am (UTC)
My dear sir, I think finally someone got it right! It is about love. Love for one's work and love for the work of others to the extent of wanting to be immersed in it.

As a fanfictioneer, I may disagree with the view of writers such as yourself and Diana Gabaldon on fanfiction but I respect and understand your need to protect your creations. There may be those that don't, but most do and until this post there was a lack of respect for us fanfictioneers as fans of your work. I think that was what hurt the most. Well, and the name calling. We're always seen as the big bad wolf coming to eat your children but never as fans showing our love for your work as others can through fanart or naming their pet/child after a character created by you.

Thank your for acknowledging us as loving fans and for pointing out, elegantly, the view of a loving author.

Oh and the the Michael Biehn character in ALIENS was called Hicks, Corporal Dwayne Hicks.
grrm
May. 9th, 2010 06:34 am (UTC)
Hicks. Thanks. I always get him confused with Hudson.

Vasquez and Bishop I remember. (Lance Hendricksen. Another terrific actor. I had the privilege to work with him once on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST).
Hudson and Hicks - whatamiatailor - May. 10th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC) - Expand
rarewind
May. 9th, 2010 06:33 am (UTC)
Consider me converted
George,

You know, this has been a hotly debated topic for years on the boards. I for one never had an interest in fan fiction nor any need or desire to try and write my favorite authors characters. In fact, I am paying you to tell me a story and I like the arrangement that way.

I must admit I felt you were being a little sensitive about it, and really didn't understand why. Now I do. That was about the best impassioned argument that I have heard in quite awhile, thanks for laying it all out on the table. In fact, I kinda feel like a parent who tries to tell another parent how to raise their kids. That's never a good idea with them, and it isn't for you. These are your creations, your passions, your ability all melded into these beings that your pen brings life to. It's simple. They belong to you, and nobody should try and control them but you. Well said Sir...
flake_sake
May. 9th, 2010 06:37 am (UTC)
I think you're right in that it is about love.

Fanfiction is a lot like the "what if" stories you described, they'll probably never have the weight canon has to me and I wouldn't want them to, but I wouldn't want to miss them either.

I just wanted to give one more reason why a few years ago, entirely too old to be counted as some teenager who is trying her writing legs, and usually writing original stories, I fell in love quite hard with the fanfiction scene (despite all it's misgivings).

I never read or wrote fanfiction on books, but I did for a tv show. The show inquestion was already a colaborative work, it was also hugely successfull and spawned a lot of books and comics to the series. When the tv show ended and I just didn't want the story to end,so I turned to this books and comics, which essentially sanctioned commercial fanfic. Only they were written by people who for the most part were clearly not in love with any part of the original story.
Many were terrible, they were written in bad style, forever prolonging the status quo (while the show had always introduced and executed big changes), the character voices were barely recognizable. I forgot them again as fast as I could.
And then I discovered fanfic, where the lows went far lower than those books ever would. But the highs went so much higher too! The characters were written by someone who really got them, by someone who had something to say about them and also by someone who had no constraints writing.

And that lack of constraint was so freeing that a chosen few of those "what if" stories became insanely dear to me.

We are all lovers of stories, but we are also part of an industry that tries to make money and is governed by the usual power patterns in our society. With tv-shows (far more than with books), the possibilities of what can happen are sometimes incredibly constrained.

When I found fanfiction, I realised that what people were doing here was writing down what I had done from the day on I could read. Reimagening stories, altering stories so that they fit for me. When I was small there was a dire lack of characters like Arya, there were about five female characters I ever could identfy with, in the hundreds of books I read before I was even twelve. This felt horribly constraining and the first thing I did in my head was usually to either reimagening a female character to do something awesome too, or to turn the hero I identified with most into a girl. In a way it was a self defense mechanism, because the image of woman portrayed in fiction was so little, like I felt I was. And while I loved those stories, I always felt like they were kind of excluding me on purpose. My imagination was my way in.

I wonder if other people have had similar experiences and if that's why such a large portion of fanfic writers is female and also why so much fanfic concerns issues that tend to get surpressed by a still largely heteronormative industry of storytelling.

Because breaking those rules, that was what really made me fall in love with fanfiction. Because suddenly everything is possible, not only what is pleasant to watch for white men and what they imagine women to be. Developments that simply would have upset the status quo of a tv-show too much to happen, suddenly could and be played out to their full extent. Sure that also leads to horrible failed experiments with great stories, but those zombies can be put so much easier to rest than when canon turns into one (which as you described with your alien experience sometimes happens), so to me it's worth the risk.

This has little context in connection to fanfiction on books, where the creative descissions all rest in one hand and the story clearly is exactly as it the author intends it to be but the more commercial the art, the more I enjoy it when the story gets set free. It's maybe also an act of rebellion to me, a way to find room in our common imaginary worlds.
bloodypoetry
May. 9th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
Word.
(no subject) - kayjayuu - May. 9th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
ponderable
May. 9th, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
Love And Truth
First of all let me chime in the praise for your essay: You hit the nail on the head about reading.

Then I would venture to say, one major point is truth. So the make believe is woring, we are enjoying a story told to us, and then in the wonderfully constructed truth we encounter something which is very inconsitstent, and kills our believe. Here we have the ultimate treason. (I would rather have Lord Eddard be executed than to back down becoming a spitlicker)

I feel that authors who avoid their protagonists getting killed create ghosts...
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