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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. 10th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
i read the sample chapter for dany and tyrion but was looking for the sample chapter for jon that i heard was crawling around, still, no such luck, help?

in my search i found some little arya chapter...

it felt... wrong. its not just the characters that make the world, the names, appearence, personality attributes, its the writing stype...
not for a second did i think i was in A Song of Ice and Fire, nor did i believe it was arya who i was reading about... i can't even tell you if the girl who wrote the chapter is any good as a writer. she can put a sentence together, but not as well as grrm, she sure loves arya and has a good idea of how she acts what she mite say but even with a slight miss seems flagrantly ...Ew... Theres enough room for as many tough-as-nails lil girls in literature as you can imagine, but there is only one Arya Stark.

Create your own characters, when we look for a book it isnt that there arent enough worlds to travel to in the highway of literature, its the level of writing that often falls short. How are u gonna get better like that?

May. 10th, 2010 01:10 am (UTC)
Great Song
I've never heard that song before, but I really like it. Thanks for including it at the end.
May. 10th, 2010 01:31 am (UTC)
Fan Fiction
You know, I never really thought about it but I think I agree with GRRM.

That said Im not a writer and have never written a "Fanfic" but I have seen them. They are also prominent in the video game world. Especially with Final Fantasy video games. You will see sites with fan fiction areas, also Zelda is a popular game that is fanfucked.

That would suck if some fan sent you their write up and it just happens to be the same thing or damn close to what you are working on. Once you have seen it, no one can say you didn't copy their idea if you kept your new book tight to the vest so to speak.

But no worries here. Im no writer. I draw and digitally paint but no writing skills here. They say a picture is worth a thousand words...well try handing in 5 pictures for a 5 thousand word paper in college. ;)

Anyway, Im a Cowboys fan...so I am required to say..... the GNATS Suck!!! Sorry GRRM.I had to say it.
May. 10th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
Another Thought
Well this just gave me an idea.

What about Fan illustrations?
Drawings, of your characters in situations that say is not in the books?

What if someone was to create an image of one of your characters doing something and it is very much like a scene that you are putting together for your next book?

Now I know you can't really publish ONE image like a book or something.

Anyway id imagine this would fall under the same thought. Your messing with my children...but visually now. Unless of course approved by you like say the calendar illustrations.

Anyway, I think most who illustrate from the books just like drawing the characters. Its not always about drawing out an entire story that changes who the character is.

Just a thought.

Oh and Im new to the GRRM experience. I have just started the first book (Game of thrones) due to seeing many threads on forums about peoples favorite fantasy books and The Song of Ice and Fire ALWAYS pops up and I felt I am missing something.

-Cowboys Fan
May. 10th, 2010 09:12 am (UTC)
Re: Another Thought
GRRM's got a section of his personal website set aside for fan art sent to him by fans.

It's not a problem for him.

Glad you could join us.

Also, take care in reading comments here if spoilers concern you -- you'll encounter them unmarked in these comment threads; and for your own safety, you should know that GRRM is a dedicated Giants and Jets fan. :P
May. 10th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC)
For some reason, what jumped out at me the most from this post was your comment about straight characters becoming gay characters. I was very much in agreement about everything that you wrote, just nodding along, but for some reason that gave me pause.

Slash fiction started with stories about Kirk and Spock, and has gone on from there. While now it is more often the province of straight women, I think it originated in the gay community as a real desire to see gay characters included in genres that typically exclude them. A lot of the time fanfiction writers may not be consciously taking a straight character and making them gay, but picking up on what they view as subtext and expanding into maintext in order that they can see themselves more fully represented in the books, comics, tv etc. that they love. It is interesting that in the case of Kirk and Spock, Gene Roddenberry is on record with saying that "... we certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that, if that were the particular style of the 23rd century." - that is, fanfiction writers were not just pulling something out of nothing.

What I am trying to say, in a somewhat convoluted way, is that while I fully understand your having a problem with someone taking a character and making them into something that they are not (whatever that something may be), I can also understand why this particular shift from straight to gay happens so often, and I really cannot blame fans for that. There is such a dearth of queer characters in science fiction and fantasy who are not sidekicks or villains (and of those even we have very few) that people are effectively identifying their own.
May. 10th, 2010 06:29 am (UTC)
Just wanted to add another aspect to the excistence of slash fiction and why so much of it is coming from straight women.

It's the idea that the realtionship that is romantic should be the really intense ones. I mean who gives a damn about Kirk and mindless bimbo of the week? It's Kirk and Spock that really have a spark going and that's because they're both fully fledged characters in their own right, you can identify with both of them.

If you look at Supernatural today,which is probably the most slash heavy fandom at the moment, it has the same issues. The women on the show are just pointless or evil (see luminosities great vid Women's work), the characters that have the interesting realtionships are all men, ergo slash ensues.
May. 10th, 2010 05:50 am (UTC)
*nods sagely*
I've had a problem with fan fiction for a long time now and I totally understand your point.

Despite this, I still feel a little hurt at your disapproval. I have written fan fiction without a second thought, simply because there was an untold story that I felt needed telling. The only time I've ever felt this, however, was in cases where the medium of the original story couldn't effectively convey the story I was seeing. In my case, it was a video game. Or, more specifically, a video game character's back story.

Admitting it is kind of like admitting to my parents that I picked up a hitchhiker once. Yes, I know it's dangerous and I should never do it and you've told me a thousand times, but this person looked like he needed help and I couldn't trust other people to do what I felt I needed to do as well as I felt I could do it. C'mon, it's just this once.

I have to stand up for derivative works in general, though. Some people gave some historical examples of quality derivative works, but I've got a contemporary one: a band called The Protomen. While other bands are running around simply playing existing music in rock form or whatever, The Protomen composed a musically original and powerful rock opera complete with interesting characters and a compelling story, all loosely based on a classic video game about a guy in a blue suit. The world is better for their existence.

I couldn't blame Capcom if they had nipped The Protomen in the bud before they had a chance to become what they are, but they didn't and something beautiful came of it.

I guess it's kind of like fostering in A Song of Ice and Fire. Yes, it's your child and you want to have the raising of him, but isn't there something to be said of trusting the child to the care of someone else, giving them the potential to become something you could not have made them on your own? As the parent it's your right to make that decision, to trust someone else with your child or not.

In the case of your works specifically, GRRM, I can't imagine that anyone could add anything constructive. But perhaps that just means my own imagination is limited.
May. 10th, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
You're forgetting the someone else...
"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."

But somebody somewhere DOES want to read it, and some other person wants to write it. I have yet to hear a convincing reason of why I or anyone else in society should privilege YOUR "I don't want a book to exist where X happens" over somebody else's "I want a book to exist where X DOES happen".
May. 10th, 2010 07:12 am (UTC)
A firm maybe (?)
I just reread my post here and I’ll apologize in advance for its long winded, at points dry, rambling inconclusiveness but I’ve read through all the comments (with just a bit of skimming) and I had a couple thoughts that I think haven’t been beaten to death just yet. All the law stuff aside (of which there should be no argument), and the financial stuff, I just want to talk about the art for a second..

Let me start by saying: Of course, it’s your work and if you say ‘No’, weather you’re in the right or not, it’s a dick move to go on writing fanfic anyway.

That being said, I think a fan has every right to write down his/her (her/his) imaginings of elsewise established characters and worlds. A world may be the author’s, its characters, his/her children, but THAT WORLD is not the same as the one in the reader’s imagination. The author’s world is one broadcast, the reader’s, one perceived. The broadcast world is based on the author’s imagination and writing ability; the perceived world is based on the broadcast world itself along with the reader’s own imagination and tastes. Does the world of Westeros belong to George R.R. Martin? Absolutely. But he can never touch the Westeros that exists in my head (though I’d sure invite him take a stab at it). And if the characters of his Westeros are his children, then in my Westeros they are to no less capacity, my friends. What else do you want to do with your friends but play.

Now I’m an adult and a writer (one more than the other, I’m afraid, though I’m not sure witch) and the best way I can think of to play with something is to write a fun story about it. (Call me boring.) This, I think is the nature of fanfic. It’s playing pretend with your favorite characters, just for a little while, knowing full well, at the end of the day, you can’t take them home, you can’t plan for their futures and you CAN’T change who they are. That’s not being a good friend.

I’ll admit, I’ve written a couple stories about established characters (superheroes), back in my early twenties. I knew they amounted to nothing; they were just fun to write. But here lies the distinction. I never tried to broadcast them. This means publication, the internet, or any form of broad distribution—paid or otherwise. Because once this happens, other people’s perceived worlds are affected not exclusively by the author’s broadcast world but my alternative world as well.

‘It’s not canon’ you say. People know the difference. Maybe. Or maybe you get a character, so diluted that you have to throw up your arms and cry ‘What’s the point?! Look at Dracula (I know he’s VERY public domain but I did say all legality aside). There’s been so many versions and variations of that specific character that the original (as far as he goes in fiction) has drowned completely. Who wants to see that happen to the Hound? Or Tyrion? I sure don’t. And what if one line of fanfic becomes extremely popular? As popular as the original, or more? What if it goes on for years, generates its own fanfic? What if the fans decide that THAT is canon?

As I said I’m a writer—an aspiring writer—I like to think I am anyway—and I think I’d be fine with someone borrowing my characters for a page or ten. As long as they didn’t display it for all to see. What if they wrote my character better than I did? What if GRRM borrowed one of my characters? Or Michael Chabon? Good God, I’d be embarrassed at ever having tried to write that character in the first place; I’d kill them off just so I didn’t have to measure up in future works.

May. 10th, 2010 08:23 am (UTC)
Hi George,

Big fan of your work, however I have 2 things to say:

1) You might want to think about where you put "Straight characters become gay" in that paragraph. Comparing it to people being killed, & the bit about stupid/repugnant.....there is a very bad connotation there, when read. Intentional or not. It sounds like subconscious homophobia to me.

2) Slightly off-topic but I would like to mention that every aspect of your writing is A+ except your sex scenes. If you are after some constructive criticism, then please look into the way you write them. Firstly, some of it is downright offensive & objectifying of women. My wife is bisexual and is horrified with your lesbian scenes. Secondly, please please please never use the words 'Myrish Swamp' ever again. :) I've never heard of a more gross term for a part of the female anotamy.

Apart from that I respect your opinion on fanfic. I personally dislike it, because I'm a canon-lover.

Take care.
May. 11th, 2010 06:01 am (UTC)
Re: Umm.....
Ah... please remember whose POV you were reading when you came on that phrase.

Word choice, syntax, imagery, these are all aspects of voice, which is an aspect of characterization. I use words and phrases and descriptions in a Tyrion chapter that I would never use in a Bran chapter, and vice versa.

As for slash... that's a minefield of sexual politics that I don't have the time or energy to tiptoe through right now... especially since I am not sure what my position on some of this would be.

Hal Duncan turns the question on its head in his own blog, here:

He has some interesting things to say on the subject, especially the slash / sexual aspects of this whole question. Obviously, we're not in agreement on fanfic in general, but I thought he made some good points.

As for the sex scenes in Ice & Fire... well, my goal would be to write each one differently, according to the circumstances, the participants, their relationship, the viewpoint from which the scene is being shown, etc. Some of those scenes are meant to be disturbing and ugly, others more erotic. All of them are meant to be a window into character. Some even advance the plot.

If your wife is offended by all of them, though... well, I guessed I've failed. At least for her.

One thing I've learned, however, is the internet cliche Your Mileage May Vary is triply true where sex is concerned. The scene one reader finds hot another will deem laughable, and vice versa.

Re: Umm..... - anotokino - May. 11th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Umm..... - caitsith1980 - May. 13th, 2010 09:28 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 08:40 am (UTC)
I had come to love Newt in the preceding movie, the whole damn film was about Ripley rescuing her, the end was deeply satisfying

Yes, thank you! I didn't watch the third film for the same reason. (The Michael Biehn character was Corporal Dwayne Hicks.)
May. 10th, 2010 09:29 am (UTC)
This whole post needs a "like" button.
May. 10th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
Alien 3...and Serenity
Just like you like to pretend Alien 3 never happened, I consider Serenity to be an abomination and a blot on the universe.

In re a writer's relationship with his or her characters, I get what you're saying and agree entirely.
May. 10th, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)
Change of Heart
This series of posts has really changed my outlook on fan fiction. As a writer I often thought it was authors who felt they were too big for their breeches that denied their fans the right to produce fan fiction.

However, looking at it now, I feel that if I ever get to the point where people want to write stories about my characters that I would not only be doing them a disservice by allowing it, but that I would be doing my characters a disservice as well. I mean...before I thought that as long as it wasn't canon, it didn't matter what other people did to the characters I had created. I didn't care. But now I feel like that mentality is figuratively spitting on the people I've invested so much time and emotion into creating. I feel guilty, like I've just unwittingly put a baby kitten outside to enjoy the fresh air and only now do I see it staring up at my window, drenched and cold.

I don't want to do that to my characters. I now feel that if I want to create breathing people, I should make them as real as possible, and care about them as much as if they were my children. I think that may be what sets authors who don't support fan fiction apart.
May. 10th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
When you write nothing of value, you learn nothing of value. Fanfic writers are notorious for claiming that they will become better writers for writing fanfics. Garbage. Ridiculous. All you are doing is thieving someone else's voice, driving your own unique voice deeper and deeper. Writing your own crappy stories is the only way that you will eventually write your own decent, or even good stories.
May. 10th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC)
Just for the record: A) I don't write fanfic B) I don't read fanfic C) I didn't even know there was any controversy over the issue.

Having read many of the hundreds of comments in this and previous posts I am amazed at the depths to which copyright idiocy has sunk. I agree that there (probably) should be controls over what is published for money, but fanfic? Honestly George, have you not earned enough from your books? What harm does it do? Don't read it if you don't like it.

Am I allowed to imagine stories in your world, or do you own my thoughts too? These are your fans; people who care enough about the world you created to spend time, effort and love in creating additional content. They don't do it for money.

If you don't want this, don't publish. Otherwise instead of spending hours worrying about fanfic, sit down and belt out a few pages.

A less kind fan may say "At least someone is writing" :)

A long suffering fan.
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