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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 05:03 pm (UTC)
Not to beat a dead horse, but...
ALIEN3 was the directorial debut of one of the greatest directors currently working in modern cinema. David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) was himself displeased with the eventual film that made it to the screen, but the nuanced beauty of his filmmaking is all over this movie. It toned the gung-ho sci-fi action down and jacked up the foreboding cerebral psychodrama, which was really the most disappointing thing that could be said about it. Newt and Hicks weren't just tossed aside, they were mourned and their mortality hammered home the theme of the film, which was much more terrifying intellectually than the first two.

Alien Resurrection, in contrast, has virtually no redeeming qualities other than a few creative moments of imagery and some decent acting and directing (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, in one of his rare disappointments). The plot and storyline are so laughably, unforgiveably amaturish and bad that you'd think Joss Wheadon wasn't simply the hack he is, but that he actively hated the series.

My recommendation? Watch the third film and read the Earth Hive series (which as someone mentioned above is excellent). Alien Resurrection is something I wish I could un-watch, but ALIEN3 is at least as good as the first two films, just with a very different tone.
May. 9th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
Interesting! I just wrote a long post in reply to this, as I didnt want to spam up your comments thread. Here:


But, I disagree with the idea that an author cares about characters because they believe they're real, and doesn't care about them because they don't.

I believe that characters belong to everyone because they're real - because they're not just an extension of the author - not because I don't. Interesting characters take on a life of their own, and I don't think the author should get to limit that life (except in the legal sense!). I mean... I think that subcreation in the Tolkien-y sense, is a function of trusting in the solidity of the fictional world. Or rather, it's eternally bubbling, shifting, changing vital force.

So, fanfiction is just an extension of that life. It's a celebration of it. Ok, so, sometimes it's a poorly written, pornographic, badly-spelled, self-indulgent celebration of it. But, still, I think the impulse isn't harmful - fanfiction celebrates the independent life of stories. It shows that characters have acquired a reality beyond the mind of the author. And I think that's nice. :)

And that was my brief version. Golly.
May. 9th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
I agree with GRRM on so many levels. I've been writing my stories for so long, so for things to happen that didn't happen in the world of my mind (which is very real to me... all of my characters are real to me) really irritates me. Especially the slashfiction and that stuff. It's not something that happened in the world, it's not something I agree with, and you people do not know my characters or how they would respond in situations, so you should not write about them as if you know! But that's just me, and I'm a very overprotective person when it comes to my characters and my worlds.
May. 9th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
I'll open by being ironic.

I don't feel there's much in the way of a reply that can be given here because it's what you want for a property you own. Nothing else really matters, we don't have a right to the work beyond what you agree to so no-fan fiction. Fair enough.

I suppose I don't have any other way to respond because I'm a librarian and most of us would probably feel that way. I do enjoy when an author allows fans that kind of use and particularly enjoy things released under Creative Commons and it's variants. For things like the CCL to mean something though we have to support writers who choose not to allow use of their work as much as we support the ones that do.
May. 9th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
While I tend to support most fanfiction I really do have to say your argument is proably the best I heard for the other side. Thanks for expressing it.:)
May. 9th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
I couldn't agree with you more. If fan ficers are so revved up to write they should create their own worlds. Better situation for all of us. When you brought up Newt though my mind immediately went to Sandor! Can he really be gone!!! That was a crushing blow for me, akin to your Newt loss.

Newt = Sandor :(..... tears tears tears
May. 9th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
Bravo, sir.
All of your recent entries on fanfic were absolutely enlightening. I agreed with your stance before, but I'd never known your reasoning behind it.

Also, I'd previously wondered how it affected you to kill off a character, and that question, too, has been answered. That has always been one of the aspects of your series that has kept me enraptured, the idea that literally anyone could be killed, no one was safe. Many other SF/fantasy series I've read are much more predictable, simply because you know with nearly absolute certainty who's going to be the hero and slay the dragon/dark god/evil king. So I salute you sir, for having the bravery to do what is necessary for the story.

P.S. I don't mean that as a slight against writers who's main characters seem to be immortal, I love those sort of stories too.
May. 9th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
"Which is also, by the way, why I hate hate hate the retconning that has become so f*cking common in today's comic books and films."


Though for me it's more about what's been happening in the Star Wars Expanded Universe lately.
May. 9th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
In all fairness to fans, most of us would be pretty mortified if we knew that the creator of the canon we're writing for had read our fanfic. The original authors are not part of the community we're writing for - most authors who acknowledge fanfic (and don't request that people not write it) make a point of saying that they won't read it, which is a great relief to us.

In theory (I say, because I really only write for two fandoms - Doctor Who (the DW writers have never to my knowledge chimed in on fan works, and the BBC has always mostly turned a blind eye to fanworks, knowing that it helps the popularity of the show) and the Dresden Files (Jim Butcher has officially licensed his works now under Creative Commons so people CAN write fanfic freely and happily)), if I were to hear that the creator of a fandom I write fic for had asked that people not write fic, I would... Well, I wouldn't stop, because you can't just turn off inspiration and love, but I would refrain from posting my stories in archives or on public forums, just sharing it with my friends. I can't think that anyone would have much of a problem with that? I mean, you've gotta know that people are imagining other things happening whether they write it down or not.

Part of me wants to say that once you release your stories into the public scope, there's not much you can do about people creating new stories for them, and that it's only with the advent of the internet that it's becoming so public. But that's also very insensitive and I do think that the creators should have some sway in how PUBLIC those stories are going go be, anyway.

As a writer, to be honest, I can't really wrap my head around why anyone WOULD have a problem with someone writing fanfiction or anything with their characters - my reaction would be excitement and a sense of pride that someone's loved my work that much. But part of that might be because as a writer, I COME from a fanfic background, and the internet has been very big in the development of my identity as a writer and a fan, together and separately.
May. 9th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
The truth is that do not know how should feel me.
I have written a pair of fan fiction on "A Song of Ice and Fire" with no type of wickedness, does not like me to change nothing, so when I write almost do not touch nothing, is almost intact. I wrote them because needed to broadcast what it felt and thus I made it.
Now do not know how to feel me.
I sit down as though would have killed to someone or a worse crime, and I do not believe that has done nothing bad.
However if annoying will not return it to do. I will stay with my histories in the head and already is.
I feel that my level from English is very very bad.
May. 9th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
I used to fic for the love of it, in a world condoned for fanfic by its original author. Her words to her fans were: Play nicely (that is no tentacles etc).

But then I became a published author in my own right and I simply don't have time to indulge any more.

It was fun and it certainly taught me a lot about story telling and how to make my readers happy.

I do respect authors when they say they don't want people to write the "what if" stories.
May. 9th, 2010 07:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you. You have just put your finger on why I simply can't read fanfiction. The occasional parody, maybe, but fanfic in general? Nope. Even though some people I consider to be very good friends enjoy writing it, I just can't bring myself to read it.

I may have the equivalent of fanfic in my own head about characters from a book, film, tv programme or what have you, but it's in my own head and that's where it stays. When I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more likely) I prefer to create my own children rather than fiddling with someone else's. And I wonder all the time why some of my friends (many of whom are talented writers) aren't spending their time creating their own worlds and children instead.
May. 9th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC)

A dad wants his son to grow up to be a pro baseball player, his mom wants him to be a doctor. Instead, he makes a decent living programming computer games.

If someone messes with what I had/have planned for my characters, I may be disappointed, but these things happen.

Of course, that's easy for me to say now, at a time when I have yet to be assaulted by fanfic based on my stories. I may feel different when that inevitably happens--I may be downright incensed or flabbergastedly pleased; we'll see.

I can tell myself that I will not read any fan fiction based on my work, but that will probably hold up as well as my intent to not read reviews did.
May. 9th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I agree with you 100%!
May. 9th, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
I'm paraphrasing here, but there's a distinct difference between "I disallow fan fiction because I want to maintain creative control of the works in which I have an intense emotional investment" and "I think fanfic writers are a bunch of filthy perverted criminals and they make me want to puke." I'd like to thank you for taking the former tack and maintaining a respectful dialogue on this subject. I don't have much opinion either way of fan fiction -- I can count on one hand the number of pieces of fic I've read -- but I've been on the 'net approximately since God was a toddler so of course I'm aware of it and its place in internet culture.
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George R.R. Martin
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