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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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Comments

( 184 comments )
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ext_225182
May. 10th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC)
Comic book deaths
I felt a surge of energy as I read your take on Spiderman and the comic book curse of respawning. Can you think of a more poetic death to Colossus than him sacrificing himself to save the world? Didn't anyone see the brilliant allegory of a RUSSIAN saving THE WORLD? It was beautiful, disastrous, emotional.

But now he's back in his shiny steel glory. So are a host of characters gone and returned. The alternate universe ploy is great - it provides you with countless versions of the same characters, so you can can kill 'em off and pop them back again at your leisure.

The link of love is a treacherous one in any case. If you love Frodo so much, respect him enough to keep him within the confines of Tolkien's novels. If you love Jon enough to really care about what happens to him at The Wall, leave him at THE FRIGGING WALL!

Don't wrestle the creator and downright OWNER of the characters. They're THEIRS. Good, strong, meaningful characters are very hard to come by. That's why they're so dear to their respective authors. It took them an immense ammount of time and effort to build these people from scratch.
prefunk
May. 10th, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds" is my new favorite quote.
rusty_halo
May. 10th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
I don't want those pictures in my head.

A perfectly understandable preference, and a simple solution: Don't read fanfiction. No one is trying to force those images into your head; we write for ourselves, not for you.
hanarobi
May. 10th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
To publish is to make public. And what is made public is no longer under the author's control.

Love your characters all you want. No one forces you to publish stories about them. But once you choose to do so, you have, at least implicitly, accepted all the consequences of the characters being public. You cannot dictate what people think about the characters and what they say about the characters to other people.

Seems pretty damn simple to me.
grrm
May. 10th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
If I had "accepted the consequences," we would not be having this lengthy discussion.

Sorry, no.
(no subject) - hanarobi - May. 10th, 2010 10:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - hanarobi - May. 11th, 2010 12:35 am (UTC) - Expand
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kaleaargent
May. 11th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC)
HBO and copyright issues...
I have a question that ties in to the whole copyright issue. It's long been known that HBO will take a great idea or existing story, turn it into a series, and despite whether the series is good or even complete, will cancel the show and retain the copyright. This happened to Daniel Knaff and his Carnival series. Even though there's a strong fandom and Daniel Knaff is the original creator, HBO retains the rights and will no longer even let DK do anything with his own creation. What we have now is an incomplete story that will never be concluded in any form of media, despite the original creator's intentions.

I hope this is not the case with your series and HBO. I won't ask anything about the legalities of your deal with them, but I would hate for them to cancel the series after a couple of seasons and then prevent you from publishing any form of Song of Ice and Fire, even though it is your intellectual property.
grrm
May. 11th, 2010 01:09 am (UTC)
Re: HBO and copyright issues...
It's a different situation. CARNIVALE did not previously exist as a series of books before the HBO show.

I retain all publishing rights in my deal with HBO.

I am not privy to any details of the CARNIVALE deal, of course, but standard WGA rules include something called "separation of rights," under which the original creator SHOULD be able to complete the story in, say, prose, if not as a TV show or movie. But maybe not. It's all determined by the terms of whatever contract he negotiated and signed.
delenapyle
May. 11th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
fan fiction
I totally agree with you. I would not like to see anything happen to any of your characters. I also want to thank you for making my dream come true. When I first stared reading I saw all these different people's names that I recognized and always dreamed that one day I would read a book that would have my name in, but since my mother made up my name I always thought it was a lost cause. Imagine my surprise when I was reading your book and there was my name!! It was not spelled the exact same way. (mine is DeLena) but there it was for all the world to see!! Since then I have read everything you have written and would be horrified if I saw something happen to one of the characters that I have grown to love as much as my own children. Once again thank you for making my dreams come true.
hawk528
May. 11th, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Not sure if it's been mentioned yet but author Catherynne M. Valente has weighed in on the subject as she seems to have read what Gabaldon and GRRM have said. She is of the opposite opinion..if anyone wants to take a look it's at her live journal: http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/582169.html
(Deleted comment)
grrm
May. 11th, 2010 04:55 am (UTC)
Re: tired
It's your privilege to read or view whatever you choose, of course.

I like to inspire people. Michael Chabon once told me that my novel DYING OF THE LIGHT helped inspire him to write. And he's gone on to write magnificent stuff and win the Pulitzer Prize. So that's really cool.

Of course, he didn't help himself to the characters and setting of my novel when he started writing. He made up his own.

My own inspirations include Tolkien, Lovecraft, Robert A. Heinlein, Eric Frank Russell, Robert E. Howard, and Stan Lee.

The money that fanfic writers aren't making has never been an issue. So why do those who defend fanfic always feel obliged to whip that dead and decaying horse as they thunder past it?
(Deleted comment)
Re: tired - grrm - May. 11th, 2010 05:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: tired - sa_lemoncakes - May. 12th, 2010 05:24 am (UTC) - Expand
zebrui
May. 11th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
This:
http://pir8fancier.livejournal.com/423186.html

That said, I enjoyed reading this honest post of yours and I can see where you're coming from, even if don't share you view. I think you went about saying your opinion in much less inflaming and derogatory fashion than DG did. You kept my respect, she unfortunately lost it.


dinpik
May. 11th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
Given that pir8fancierhas said, in another thread on a different journal some time ago, that she would love to be able to publisher her Harry/Draco stuff, I find her
"fans won't ever cause you problems!" attitude -- less than convincing.
sightergoliant
May. 12th, 2010 02:33 am (UTC)
Great now that that's done you can get back to working on, you know, that non-fanfiction book that we heard about. Something to do with fire-breathing lizards and the Texas Two-Step? Yeah, that was it.
jesterado
May. 12th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
Not sure if we're all done here, but ...
Two things, George.

Thing the first: I understand that you feel protective of your characters and are not happy when people twist your vision into something you'd never imagine. However, what about the moments which capture the reader's imagination but are never described? I've never written fanfic, but these posts have got me thinking about what I would write if I did. What would it be like to be a footsoldier watching as Robert crushed Rhaegar's chest? What would it be like to witness Eddard and his companions fight the Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy? (I'm a sucker for a good fight scene).

As readers, these moments stick in the mind and I can see where the impulse to write about it comes from. Are you suggesting that we shouldn't write this down, that we should keep it in our minds? Alternately, are you suggesting that if we do write it down we should only share it with a few real world friends? This is where the internet makes things complex, I guess.

Thing the second: I'm an English teacher and I suppose I'm guilty of making my students write fanfiction after a fashion. I've set numerous assignments where students write another chapter or rewrite a scene from a different character's point of view. What I'm trying to do is get them to connect with the text, to show me they've understood it by immersing themselves in it.

Fanfiction seems to me to be people who are trying to connect with the text in a stronger way than by just reading it - love, as you pointed out.

Anyhoo, all the best with Dance and sorry if I'm writing about something that's already dead.
ramendik
May. 12th, 2010 11:00 am (UTC)
Romeo and Juliet don't commit suicide, they survive and live happily ever after and have seventeen children.

Done and dusted LONG before the word "fanfic" was invented, in an opera by Georg Benda. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_und_Julie

The very same thing was done, in opera again, to A.S. Pushkin's "Evgeny Onegin". BOTH the original poetic novel AND the opera are now considered classical works of Russian art.

Sorry, this happens. And is not some artefact of modern fandom. It's how art works, and has worked since Time Immemorial. Yes, most people doing it don't end up as renowned great authors - but the same is true of Benda, who has even heard of him outside of specialist circles?
ramendik
May. 12th, 2010 11:10 am (UTC)
Ah, and the Safka song seems to be about editors/processers, not coverers.

If only because, for coverers, there is that thing called Compulsive Licensing. It's compulsive, but not free - a royalty is required. So they'd have to be buying more than tears.
tortispullo
May. 12th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
fanfic
I have never had any interest in reading fan fiction. To me it seems to be a cheap knock off of something far superior. I think fan fiction is likely more fun for the person writing it than it is for the reader. I don’t even like knock off or spin off novels authorized by the original author. When I was a kid I loved the Dragonlance stuff by Weis and Hickman but couldn’t stand all the knock offs that came out after. The tone and characters just never seem the same to me.
theconch
May. 13th, 2010 01:17 am (UTC)
I confess I haven't thought too much about this question until now, but it was enough to make me get out my livejournal account to respond. The open source software geek in me recoils at the thought, but I have to say that Copyright law as it stands pretty much handles everything well. I think Fan Fiction should totally be allowed...when the author dies. I'm not a fan of the "Death +70 years" and "Corporations get to renew copyrights and milk money out of creative people for at least 100 years" clauses of Copyright law, but it seems to me that Copyright law itself does handle this situation perfectly. Kids, only one author to a sandbox at a time. Who the crap would actually write fiction in another person's Universe when that person is still alive, and hasn't asked them in? How rude! How gauche! I certainly believe that the dead should be honored, and there should be a span of time where copyright doesn't go to the public domain, but once it's in the public domain, it's there to be used.

I haven't read it, but I've heard good things about "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies". I think that kind of work is clever and nice and fun. But the main reason it's acceptable is that Austen is not in that sandbox anymore. Nobody was playing in it, and the toys were rusty. So somebody came along and played in it, and nobody is hurt.

I'll end this (fairly morbid) section on fan fiction by addressing Mr. Martin directly: Sir, may it be at least 200 years before anyone else is allowed in the Westeros sandbox. I'm not interested in reading anyone else's interpretations of your work. I'm interested in your work. That's one thing about fanfiction that I just don't comprehend.

Apropos of the HPL copyright question, TSR's first copy of the rulebook "Deities and Demigods" featured a "Cthulhu Mythos" section and a "Melnibone Mythos" section, both of which were removed on subsequent printings. I'm sure Moorcock could defend himself, but I assume there was some sort of HPL estate that requested the removal of the Cthulhu section. Incidentally, the Nehwon section (based on F. Leibner's work) was kept. Also incidentally, the back cover of the immediate printing following the removal still claimed to have "17 sections", and it took another printing to go down to "15 sections". The original "17 sections" Deities and Demigods was selling at Comic stores for over $100 back when that represented too many lawns to mow for me to think about buying it...

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