Megan Lindholm says NO to Fanfic

Fantasy author Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb comes out strongly against fanfic on her site. She tackles all the usual "pro-fanfic"  arguments one by one and in great detail.  Among her comments:

“I should be flattered that readers like my stories enough to want to
continue them.”

        That’s not flattering. That’s insulting. Every
fan fiction I’ve read to date, based on my world or any other writer’s world,
had focused on changing the writer’s careful work to suit the foible of the fan
writer. Romances are invented, gender identities changed, fetishes indulged and
endings are altered. It’s not flattery. To me, it is the fan fiction writer
saying, “Look, the original author really screwed up the story, so I’m going to
fix it. Here is how it should have gone.” At the extreme low end of the
spectrum, fan fiction becomes personal masturbation fantasy in which the fan
reader is interacting with the writer’s character. That isn’t healthy for

On the notion that fanfiction is good "practice" for becoming a writer, she says, in part:

  No. It isn’t. If this is true, then karaoke is the path to become a singer,
coloring books produce great artists, and all great chefs have a shelf of cake
mixes. Fan fiction is a good way to avoid learning how to be a writer.
Fan fiction allows the writer to pretend to be creating a story, while using
someone else’s world, characters, and plot. Coloring Barbie’s hair green in a
coloring book is not a great act of creativity. Neither is putting lipstick on
Ken. Fan fiction does exactly those kinds of things.

Her long, self-described "rant" is worth a look.

41 thoughts on “Megan Lindholm says NO to Fanfic”

  1. I don’t disagree with most of her points. In particular, I agree totally with her statement that having someone rewrite your characters and plots for their own pleasure doesn’t seem to me to be flattery. It does in fact seem like a way of implying that the author screwed up and requires editing by someone more talented (ie, the fanfiction writer).
    However, I do think writers can learn to write, at least to a certain degree, by writing fanfiction or other prose that isn’t aimed at a market. It’s not that different from writing anything, in the sense that an author can learn how to use the language and even how to plot, at least to a certain degree, by writing every day, and by trying to rewrite stories to make them better. There isn’t necessarily a lot of useful feedback in the fanfiction community, but there isn’t a lot of useful feedback from others when an author scribbles her first romance novel in a notebook and leaves it there to die, either (I speak from experience regarding the latter:-).
    Karaoke can help develop a singer’s voice, too– I keep my vocal range extended by singing along to the radio when I can’t get to choir practice. Admittedly singing with the radio is never going to make my voice professional quality, but it helps. In the same way, any kind of writing CAN help develop a writer’s skills, if it encourages the writer to compose on a more regular basis. I’d say it could be a start, although eventually an author needs to learn to develop his or her own characters and worldbuilding, or s/he won’t get far in publishing.
    I’m not using this to advocate writing fanfiction, mind you… just disagreeing with this particular conclusion.

  2. I don’t think the point (in reference to ‘fanfiction doesn’t help make you a better writer’) was that the skills that need to be developed are dedication, or a mechanical ability to write, or to type. I think she meant — and I agree — that the creative muscles aren’t being flexed. You’re not needing to come up with your own characters or situations, or your own worlds, because you’re using the author’s. You’re taking a huge shortcut, and as such, are avoiding exposing yourself to the lessons needed to become a real writer.
    Now, many writers (professionals, even) have said that they wrote what would be fan fiction, when they were younger. This is generally something they did as teenagers, and grew out of it very quickly. (Which speaks, I think, to the lack of educational value fan fiction has to offer)

  3. For me, reading fan fiction is like watching a 40 year-old man/woman riding a bike with training wheels still attached. Take off the wheels people.

  4. If this is true, then karaoke is the path to become a singer, coloring books produce great artists, and all great chefs have a shelf of cake mixes.
    Very, very poor analogies. Much more accurate analogies would be:
    – Learning to play an instrument by learning the notes to other people’s songs (for musicians)
    – Copying great works of art (for painters)
    – Using other people’s recipes (for chefs)
    Just as some people (e.g. Mozart) were able to compose original works right away, many people can’t, and some require practice using the paths forged by other people. I sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to bake a cake from scratch right off the bat, but I didn’t use cake-mix either. I bought some cookbooks and followed the recipes, and eventually got enough of a feel for what makes a cake work that I was able come up with my own recipes.
    And if non-profit copyright infringement is such a big deal, we need to clamp down on all those high-school bands playing all those (incredibly bad) covers of “Wish You Were Here,” “Enter Sandman” and other songs during those Battle of the Bands-type contests.
    (Standard disclaimer about how I don’t read or write fanfic applies. I’m only commenting in this case only because of the terrible comparisons Lindholm chose to use in her examples.)

  5. Right, Candy. Thank you. As usual, you said it better than I did:-). Imitation can be a good route to learning– many artists have developed their talent by way of copying great paintings, and many jazz musicians learned to play by first copying someone else’s solos before developing their own style. Again, I stress I’m not saying that fanfiction is a good thing, just that I think this particular argument against fanfiction is flawed.

  6. She makes her case very eloquently, and with a tremendous amount of passion. I’ve said before that I don’t understand that point of writing fan fiction based on books, though I know a lot of people who do it.
    I especially like the part at the end. It is inspiring and I don’t feel the least bit demeaned or condescended to. I disagree with some of her opinions, but I agree with others, and under no circumstances do I think that her wishes for her characters should be ignored. She has made her wishes known, and she deserves to have them honored.
    I hope that the Farseer fan fiction writers honor her wishes on this. I sincerely hope that they take her advice at the end, and turn whatever fanfics they may be working on into original stories, rather than abandoning them entirely. I really do.
    ~ bri ~

  7. Candy, your analogies are even worse than hers! Writing fanfic isn’t like a band playing a bad cover version of a song. It’s much closer to “rewriting” someone’s song by changing around some of the lyrics and screwing up the tune, then claiming it’s an original composition.
    If you think that’s contructive practice for a musician, knock yourself out. Seems like a waste of time to me, though.

  8. I disagree with Candy’s assessment of her analogies, and also (along with Mr. Montgomery) find her substitute analogies FAR worse.
    If all you do is make cakes using mixes, then you certainly wouldn’t gain the skills needed to be a competent chef. Your replacement analogy, using recipes, would be the best way to learn to cook.
    Likewise, your other examples represent substantially better paths to education, but they don’t fit with the lack of educational value you get with writing fan fiction.
    The coloring book analogy was quite apt, I thought: when you write fan fiction, you are, essentially, just choosing different colors to fit between someone else’s lines. Your substitute implies that you’re analyzing methodology and style, by analyzing other artists’ styles. This is what you’re *supposed* to do, but you aren’t supposed to take that knowledge and paint exactly the same thing again.

  9. Candy, your analogies are even worse than hers!
    All three of ’em? I’d appreciate a more detailed rebuttal. And really, I think my analogies are better than Lindholm’s precisely because in my analogies, the person doing the copying can fuck around with the originals (which you can’t do with cake mix, or singing karaoke, or a coloring book). To once again visit the culinary world as an analogy for fanwriting: In the in-between stage of learning to bake, I started changing parts of the recipes. I’d discovered I disliked the taste of nutmeg, even in minute quantities, so for any recipe that called for nutmeg, I either omitted it entirely or subbed with a dash of cinammon. Then I realized I much preferred brown sugar and honey to white sugar in my cakes, and started experimenting with how much I could use in a recipe before fucking up the structure (brown sugar is somewhat heavier than white, and honey, besides being liquid and twice as sweet by volume, browns much faster and at lower temperatures than regular sugar does). After making many different cakes, I eventually figured out an original recipe for a cranberry-hazelnut coffee cake that used brown sugar and honey as sweeteners and NO nutmeg.
    This, I believe, is not a bad analogy of what many fanfic writers do in terms of writing, especially fanfic writers who go on to write original compositions.
    But no analogy is perfect, of course. Cooking, while requiring some creativity, is not nearly as dependent on it as writing, painting or composing music. Someone else, for all I know, has come up with the exact same coffee cake recipe I have, mostly because you can mess around with only a limited number of variations of flour:leavener:fat:sugar ratios.
    It’s much closer to “rewriting” someone’s song by changing around some of the lyrics and screwing up the tune, then claiming it’s an original composition.
    Do fanfic writers as a group claim that they created the characters or the world? I doubt it. Maybe a few really fringey, insane ones.
    But thank you for clarifying my point with part of your sentence. I take it you’d include songs like Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” in this category of not-real music?
    But just to be clear about my stance on fanfic and permissions: In my opinion, if an author says she doesn’t want fanfic to be written based on her works, the fans should absolutely respect her wishes. The ones who don’t are asshats.

  10. If all you do is make cakes using mixes, then you certainly wouldn’t gain the skills needed to be a competent chef. Your replacement analogy, using recipes, would be the best way to learn to cook.
    This assumes that writing fanfic is a completely worthless activity that neither requires or engenders any creativity/writing skills, which is something still very much up for debate. There’s a name for this logical fallacy. I just can’t remember it at the moment.
    And no, using recipes isn’t necessarily the best way to learn to cook, just one of the most efficient. You can learn by observation, you can learn by trial-and-error, etc. My mom doesn’t use recipes at all, and never has (she’s illiterate). She’s one of the best cooks I know, and she just kind of throws in approximate ratios of whatever and keeps tasting and adjusting until it tastes right. It’s infuriating for a recipe-oriented person like me to ask her how she makes, say, chicken curry and she says something like “Oh, a pinch of this, a couple stalks of that, and a medium-sized whatever but sometimes you want to use the large size if it’s the wrong time of the year and the flavor isn’t as intense, then you use a handful of this…”

  11. Ahhhh, found the logical fallacy Brian had been indulging in. It’s such a basic one that I’m ashamed I forgot it: Begging the Question.

    Show that in order to believe that the premises are true we must already agree that the conclusion is true.

    His conclusion (that writing fanfic does not develop any writing skills nor involve creativity) is not something that everyone has agreed on. I certainly can see how writing fanfic could help someone develop skills that would be helpful when going on to write original fiction, though because of the extremely low barrier of entry, the vast majority of fanfic would probably be pretty damn crappy (an opinion that seems to be borne out by people who do read fanfic).

  12. I think Candy’s mother isn’t the only one who’s illiterate.
    ZZZZZZING! I grew up learning English as a second language (third, actually, after Chinese and Malay). Somebody has caught me out on my non-existent English language skillz, oh nos!

  13. I think Candy’s posts make great sense. Because folks hate fanfiction, they must feel it has no value (otherwise, you cannot feel as comfortable hating it). That’s completely sensible and we see that kind of thinking all the time. If a reader hates romance, they tend to sneer at it’s value because then they’re more comfortable hating it. We aren’t comfortable hating anything unless everything about it is useless and damaging. If we hate just for our own self-interest, we feel like slugs.
    But it’s ridiculous to say writing on a regular basis cannot help one become a better writer — honestly, that’s so absurd as to be a little bizarre. Of course you can improve writing skills through writing fanfiction, or letters to the editor, or ranting blog entries. Anything you write will help you learn to communicate more clearly and manipulate the tools of writing more efficiently and to more pleasing results. Fanfiction would be one way to improve your writing skills.
    Will writing only fanfiction allow you to make a simple side-step to writing great fiction? No, not anymore than futzing with ingredients in your favorite baked goods will make you an Iron Chef. Not anymore than singing in the choir will make a transition to Nashville a simple change of clothes. At some point you’ve got to go further if you want to be “professional.” At some point you’ll have to write stuff that isn’t fanfiction — lots and lots and lots and lots of stuff. If you stay stuck at fanfiction, or playing with brownie ingredients, or singing in the choir — you’ll eventually get really good at fanfiction, brownies, or choir singing but you won’t morph into something entirely different. BUT when you do figure out that you don’t want to just write fanfiction and you abandon it to write “real” stories, you’ll bring along the writing skills you gained in fan fiction — they don’t disappear just because you saw the light.
    That doesn’t mean I approve of fan fiction or disapprove of those writers who say “Don’t write in my world” — I think they’re doing a great thing by being very clear about their preferences and defending their turf. I just wish they didn’t feel like they have to make fanfiction into some global evil in order to feel better about taking a stand for their own personal rights to their own work.

  14. I think one of the main, recurring problems with this argument can be neatly summarized in the title.
    Megan Lindholm says NO to Fanfic
    Of course she does. And anyone who sees that she does really ought to respect her wishes.
    But this is not a sweeping, all-binding declaration. It is the opinion of one author, and is binding ONLY on her own works. Megan Lindholm is not going to demand that all of JKR’s fans stop writing fanfiction immediately. She’s not even going to suggest that Monk’s fans stop writing. It’s simply not within her jurisdiction.
    It’s much closer to “rewriting” someone’s song by changing around some of the lyrics and screwing up the tune, then claiming it’s an original composition.
    And again, we insult people. No one is claiming originality. At all.
    And ‘screwing up the tune’ is clearly an offensive way to put it. Obviously, no one here has read any truly good fanfiction – and I can’t blame you, because it’s very hard to find. But there are people that will not merely ‘color in the lines’. There is fiction that explores other facets of characters, for example, or that speculates on motivations not fully revealed.
    It’s not that fanwriters believe that they can ‘do it better’ than the author – because the author cannot possibly stop to explore every single angle of each and every character. Sometimes, we really do just want to know why someone did that, and to share our thoughts on the matter.
    And fanfiction does take creativity. Not, by any means, the same amount as original fiction. But a lot of it requires prior research in the same way (what is the real air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? – just to be a little flippant) and clarity of thought and writing. How do you mimic the style on screen, if it’s televised? What kind of diction does a darker show call for? Can you properly describe the point of view of a schitzophrenic character? Could you possibly make a little allusion to Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”? These are all things I’ve personally tackled, and had a fun time doing.
    And if, in the extreme analogy you’ve given, fanfiction is like coloring in the lines, so what? There are people that do painstaking paint-by-numbers for a hobby. They don’t have to be good – but at the same time, you don’t have to go to their house and proclaim their stuff “art”. If they put their paint-by-number on their livejournal for their friends to ooh and ah at and possibly give their own paint-by-number techniques, it’s not going to hurt anyone.

  15. If you stay stuck at fanfiction, or playing with brownie ingredients, or singing in the choir — you’ll eventually get really good at fanfiction, brownies, or choir singing but you won’t morph into something entirely different.
    That’s very true, Elaine.
    I don’t think that anyone can argue that writing fan fiction is useless as a means to develop technical writing skills – punctuation, grammar and spelling. It’s even valuable when it comes to some of the more refined skills – mastery of dialogue, description, transition scenes, flow, pacing, etc.
    What you very rarely find in fanfic (though there are some that do it) is the opportunity to practice world building and character creation. A large number of fan fiction writers who try their hands at character creation fail miserably – let’s face it, the vast majority of OCs in fanfic are hopelessly Mary Sued. And most of the worlds used in fanfic are recycled. Even in sci-fi fan fiction, where the opportunities to create new worlds are infinite, there is a tendency to reuse planets that we’ve already visited rather than create new ones.
    When it comes to those two things – world building and character creation – I will agree that, more often than not, fan fiction isn’t the best way to practice. It could be done, but it usually isn’t.
    ~ bri ~

  16. “I don’t agree that writing ‘letters to the editor, or ranting blog entries’ will help hone one’s craft as a fiction writer in any meaningful sense.”
    Clearly you don’t teach writing. A number of students I’ve run across in writing courses (especially the young ones) would be far far improved if they had spent some time on letters to the editor and ranting blog entries BEFORE trying their hand at fiction. When you don’t know the mechanics of communicating with the written word and jump into the deep end — with fiction — you usually produce garbage of such a fine stench that no one can help you. If the mechanics of turning ideas into written communication are still weak — ANY written communication meant to convey information that is put in front of those who can comment will be helpful to you.
    I write a lot of fiction these days — and sell it — but I BEGAN by writing nonfiction. Newspaper writing to be exact. Sure, it didn’t teach me squat about character, dialogue (except how to format it), plot, theme, or a bunch of other stuff but it taught me what worked and what didn’t in converting what was in my brain into a form people could receive in the manner I meant. Letters to the editor will also do that. So will blog entries if you can get folks to read them because if they don’t make sense — folks will be quick to let you know.
    I strongly believe converting idea to print well so that if conveys what you intend is an EXTREMELY meaningful skill for fiction writers.

  17. While I don’t want to come out in support of fanfic, I do want to come out in support of masturbation, fantasies, and masturbation fantasies.
    And I think it’s perfectly sufficient to point out that fanfiction is unethical, especially when the authors publicly state that they don’t want people to publish it online. It weakens the argument to make a lot of unsupported, easily disproven artistic slams.
    Stop contending that it’s bad practice, or that it doesn’t teach the craft, especially since there are pros who successfully used fanfic for just those things. You don’t have to make an anti-art argument. Stick with the facts: It’s infringement, it’s unethical, and it seriously bothers some writers.

  18. I think fandom is sick of Hobb and her comments, which you seem to have picked up a tad late. See this. She doesn’t directly talk about Hobb’s rant, but does discuss some of the issues.

  19. I don’t know if fandom is sick of Hobb and her comments, so to speak, but what they are not is astonished. Nobody in fandom, AFAIK, is unaware that there are plenty of writers who don’t want fanfiction written of their work. In general, fans then don’t write fanfiction of their work. In a cursory search, I am unable to find any Robin Hobb fanfiction. This is not because she is an unpopular or bad writer, it is because people are aware she doesn’t like or want fanfiction written about her work and don’t write it.
    The majority of fans are just that — fans. If a writer expresly forbids fanfiction, fans won’t write it, or at least won’t publish it, which is actually the issue at hand. I’m sure there’s a fringe element who feels “Fuck you, I’ll write it anyway” but in general, one should probably not address a large group as if they consist entirely of those who make up its fringe element.
    “And I think it’s perfectly sufficient to point out that fanfiction is unethical, especially when the authors publicly state that they don’t want people to publish it online. It weakens the argument to make a lot of unsupported, easily disproven artistic slams.”
    Absolutely. As has been pointed out previously on this blog, there are plenty of fanfiction writers who have gone pro, and credit fanfiction with helping them to hone certain of their skills. As has also been pointed out on this blog, many, many fanfiction writers are young teens and children writing what is in effect the equivalent of those “write in the style of X author” assignments we’ve all probably gotten in school. And many of those kids are writing in the worlds of authors who encourage and promote such work. For instance:
    Clearly Laurie Anderson is of the “good practice” rather than “wasting your time” school of thought, at least in respect to younger fans. And who is to say that her opinion isn’t worth as much as Ms. Hobb’s? Clearly each writer is entitled to speak for themselves, but just as clearly they do not speak for other writers.

  20. Wow. Some people really don’t know how to read something and see both sides, or to read something without bias. I’m mostly referring to the comments here – some of the responses to others’ comments are just ridiculous.
    Let me first state that if a writer has issues with or takes offense to fanfiction because of *copyright* issues, or if they (Like Ms. Lindholm/Hobb) feel that they just don’t want people messing around with their stories (continuing them when they didn’t want them to be, writing weird porn based on it, rewriting endings, writing scenes in between the “canon” scenes, etc.)… I have no problem with that. I also have no problem with authors like Anne McCafferey, who allow fanfiction only if it follows guidelines set by themselves (she allows it only on a special forum, where she can control it and weed out the dumb porn stories). In regards to my own (future, since I’m not finished with editing the heck out of them enough yet to put them out to any but my writing buddies) work, I don’t agree so much (I’ll disallow the nastier porn and require fanficcers to be nice about reviewers who don’t like their work and such, but I don’t mind the idea of people writing stories with my characters if they try to write them well… or inversely, if they write them badly enough that they’re great fun to tear apart with my writing buds).
    Thus, though I may follow a different path regarding fanfiction myself, I can understand concerns that some authors have, and can understand how some might not want people doing things with them where they can’t see or control it. I can understand, in other words, not wanting fanfiction done of your work, or wanting it done under only certain circumstances. It’s just like how some authors don’t want movie or TV adaptations of their work – it’s a derivitive work that may or may not be of good quality or follow the spirit or plot or characterizations of the original (good example: the “Legend of Earthsea” thing SciFi did, which was so completely different from the Earthsea novels that their author has declared them basically anti-canon material).
    What I cannot understand is how people can declare it to be completely uncreative, or somehow lazy. The only truly lazy fanfiction writers are the teenage brats or porn writers, who don’t give a damn about canon and care perhaps even less about their writing itself. Professional editors have been seen online calling “a slush pile”, and for good reason – like most original fiction, most fanfiction sucks. However, I find it bizarre that writers can automatically label all fanfiction writers “lazy”, when in truth, only about 95% of them are. That’s about the same odds you’d get with a slush pile of original fiction. I don’t think it’s the fact that they’re writing fanfiction that makes them lazy and bad writers; I think it’s the fact that they’re already lazy and bad writers who aren’t serious about the craft.
    I can understand writers giving an anti-fanfiction rant… if they support their arguments well and are reasonable. Saying “it’s all crappy porn!” is silly, because anyone who actually reads fanfiction can see that though a large percentage of it is, not *all* of it is (and once again, I’d like to point out that if bad fanfiction writers weren’t writing bad fanfiction, they’d most likely just be writing equally bad original fiction).
    Now, Mr. Goldberg, you have a hand in television production(s), do you not? And you write novels based on Diagnosis Murder, do you not? Then I’m sure you know that keeping someone else’s characters in-character is not always easy. Keeping one’s own characters in-character, while not always easy (I’ve found that it really depends on the character, and how off your game you are that day with your characterizations as a whole), is a hell of a lot easier most of the time than keeping another’s characters in-character. So in actual fact, in basic principle, writing *good* fanfiction is actually harder than writing good original fiction, simply because you’re working under tighter limitations on your characterizations.
    Also, fanfiction writers who actually try to write something good still have to write good prose and an interesting plot, both of which are by no means particularly easy for most writers – even good ones.
    So, you can see why I find the following part of Ms. Linholm/Hobb’s argument amusingly ridiculous:
    On the idea that fanfiction might possibly be a good tool to learn the general craft of writing:
    ” No. It isn’t. If this is true, then karaoke is the path to become a singer, coloring books produce great artists, and all great chefs have a shelf of cake mixes. Fan fiction is a good way to avoid learning how to be a writer. Fan fiction allows the writer to pretend to be creating a story, while using someone else’s world, characters, and plot. Coloring Barbie’s hair green in a coloring book is not a great act of creativity. Neither is putting lipstick on Ken. Fan fiction does exactly those kinds of things.”
    Ah, where to start? How about here:
    “If this is true, then karaoke is the path to become a singer”,
    A singer? Sure. It’s a great way to practice singing, and a good way to get over stage fright.
    Additional things wrong with this particular example that she gives? How about the fact that most singers these days don’t sing songs they themselves have written, or that a good number of singers have done covers of other’s songs and had them be just as good or successful, and what’s more, done this legally by buying the right to perform it from the copyright holder?
    Karaoke may not be a good thing for a songWRITER to practice their craft, but for a singer, it’s a fine way to start.
    Also, karaoke (in public, at least) isn’t a violation of copyright, to the best of my knowledge – owners of karaoke bars, in order to legally be able to allow people to perform others’ songs in their establishment, must purchase a license from the company or companies that manage the musicians’ music (usually ASCAP).
    The ruling on this example, then? Illogical. Karaoke cannot be compared to fanfiction unless we are comparing unlicensed karaoke bars to sites that allow “songfic” (a term for fanfiction that includes lyrics from a song interspersed with the prose) that uses lyrics that are neither public domain nor the writer of the fanfiction’s intellectual property. Seriously, that’s the only connection you could really make. And then it only works if you’re talking about karaoke bars that allow people to (or singers who) publicly perform songs without buying the license for them. Whereas of course, Ms. Lindholm’s argument is that writing fanfiction won’t make you a good or succesful writer in the same (nonexistant) way that karaoke won’t make you a good and succesful singer. The comparision is simply too flawed to be successful (if she’d said “songwriter”, it would have worked, but she didn’t, and singers and songwriters are two very different kinds of people).
    “…coloring books produce great artists,”
    Perhaps not, but that isn’t the purpose of coloring books, last I checked. See, last I checked? The purpose of coloring books was basically to keep kids from putting so much crayon on the walls. Coloring in a coloring book is not half as difficult as trying to keep someone else’s characters in-character, come up with a good plot, and write good prose. Writing, no matter how you use it, is hard if you actually care about it. Whereas coloring in Barbie’s hair is a simple task for anyone with a set of working hands.
    “and all great chefs have a shelf of cake mixes.”
    Here’s another spot where it gets really amusing. Why? Because pouring a little milk or vegetable oil and an egg into a cake mix (and that’s about as difficult as cake *mixes* get), stirring it up, and plopping it into a pan in the oven for an hour is, any way you look at it, a hell of a lot easier than writing a fanfiction piece if you care about the canon material and the quality of your writing.
    Additionally, food is a lot less creative than Ms. Lindholm is giving it credit for. See, you can’t just do whatever you want with food – you do that, it could end up inedible. Even famous chefs work off of established recipes and cooking concepts, and simply add their own flare to it. In fact, the main reason I find this part of Ms. Lindholm’s argument so *particularly* amusingly flawed is that when you really, *really* look at it… great chefs are the food world’s equivalent of the 5% or so of fanfiction writers that are actually good. They take something established, they mess around with it, and they come up with something that’s suprisingly good (but not neccesarily everyone’s cup of tea).
    ” Fan fiction is a good way to avoid learning how to be a writer.”
    Actually, *not writing anything at all* is a good way to *avoid* learning *how* to be a *writer*. Notice where I placed those emphasises?
    Writing fanfiction, since it is a form of writing (however controversial and usually crappy it may turn out to be), still makes you *a writer*. Thus, writing fanfiction, if you care about your writing, does help you become a writer. A writer who’s potentially better at handling others’ characters than their own, but someone who, nonetheless, still writes.
    Now, I do agree that in the end, the best way to learn the craft of writing *original fiction* is to write *original fiction*. I’m not arguing that it isn’t. But the way Ms. Lindholm’s argument was worded was rather amusing.
    Also, that said… if you plan to write for television or do “based on” movies or novelizations, I’d have to say that writing fanfiction, if you work hard on it, can actually help you in that department, because if you’re writing adaptations or episodes of a TV show or novels based on a TV show (such as Buffy or Star Trek), you’re going to need to learn to work with somebody else’s characters.
    Obviously, I’m not saying that one should write fanfiction based on the work of writers who’ve declared that they dislike the idea of fanfiction or don’t want fanfiction done of their work. That’s copyright infringement, and that’s also going specifically against the wishes of the creator. However, fanfiction is not a completely useless tool for writers. Perhaps if you wanted only to write original fiction, but why limit yourself? I’d love to co-write (because they usually do co-write their scripts) an episode of Stargate some day. If you’re like me and would like to write TV episodes or adaptations, or novels based on series, it’s not all that useless in principle to learn how to characterize another person’s character.
    That said… usually people just write fanfiction for fun anyway. It’s a hobby, not an attempt to steal profits from the author(s) of the canon material. Like I said, I can still understand people not wanting anybody “elaborating” or experimenting on their work, or people who just want tighter control over their copyrights, but some people really just don’t seem to grasp the idea that it’s a fan activity, a hobby – a thing they usually just do for *fun*.
    Also, once again… learning to write *prose* or come up with an interesting, enthralling, or entertaining plot, can be just as easily learned in fanfiction as original fiction. As for characterizing your own characters? You can still learn that in a fanfiction work. Just create an OC (the term for a character created by the fanfiction writer, not the original author).
    The one and only thing that it is virtually impossible to learn in fanfiction is world-building. And if you’re more into writing realistic fiction than fantasy or science fiction, even that need not be something you have to pick up (though I tend to prefer fantasy and SF, myself, when it comes to writing; still, if you’ve got no interest in SF or fantasy of any kind, whatsoever, there’s really not any use you’d find for world-building. The people that enjoy world-building, however, probably already world-build in their spare time to begin with, so it’s a bit of a moot point, really).
    “Fan fiction allows the writer to pretend to be creating a story, while using someone else’s world, characters, and plot.”
    Actually, they may in fact use only one of the above (and with some of the poorer-quality works, it’s debateable that they’re really using any of them at all); that said, if you’ve got a plot that wasn’t done in canon, and hasn’t been done by a million other fanfiction writers, you aren’t “pretending” to create a story, you *are* creating one. One that may technically be in violation of copyright depending on the canon in question (fiction based on Greek myth, for instance, isn’t violating any copyrights at all, and Sherlock Holmes will soon be in the public domain), or the author’s attitude towards unauthorized derivitive works (Japanese writers, for instance, even allow small runs of “doujinshi”, fanzines or independant publications that are usually made up of fanfiction in comic-book format, to be sold for a slight profit; and Terry Pratchett’s fine with fanfiction so long as he’s not seeing it – he’s said so himself – and writers such as JK Rowling and Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, actually approve of it in most cases and generally encourage it – save for Ms. Rowling’s understandable disapproval of child pornography, of course)… but it is a story nonetheless.
    Want more proof that this was a flawed way to argue her point, which was itself flawed? How about this, from Encyclopedia Britannica’s 2004 CD-Rom edition?:
    “Main Entry: 1sto£ry
    Pronunciation: ‚st‹r-‡, ‚st•r-
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form: plural stories
    Etymology: Middle English storie, from Old French estorie, from Latin historia— more at history
    Date: 13th century
    1 archaic : history 1, 3
    2 a : an account of incidents or events b : a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question c : anecdote; especially : an amusing one
    3 a : a *fictional narrative shorter than a novel*; specifically : short story b : *the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work*
    4 : a widely circulated rumor
    5 : *lie, falsehood*
    6 : legend, romance
    7 : a news article or broadcast
    8 : matter, situation”
    Hence, even if you hate fanfiction, you can call them “stories” – after all, it can even be a derogetory term! This is why the way she worded that was so absolutely amusing. If she considers all fanfiction to be basically anti-canon, than at least one definition (“[a] lie, [or a] falsehood”) still fits.
    For a professional writer (and one who from what I have seen is not normally too bad at the craft), Ms. Lindholm’s not too good of wordsmith in that rant.
    Folks, this is exactly why one should not post *rants* on their site, unless they want to turn people off. Elaborating on why you do or do not allow something is one thing; giving poor and increasingly silly, not to mention badly-worded, examples to back it up is another. I may not neccesarily have been turned off of reading Ms. Lindholm/Hobb’s work, but I’ve spoken to and seen posts made by a number of people who *have* been. And most of these same people, I can assure you, would probably still have read her work if she simply had stated that she didn’t allow fanfiction because of the copyright infringement aspect, and because of the fact that she wanted only the canon to be out there, wanted no one messing around with it. If she had left it at that, most of the people I’ve seen and spoken to about it would have been fine with it and would probably have someday still read her books. As it stands, though, she is turning off people who originally would have respected her or even *did* once respect her, due to this little text that began as a coherent explanation of why she didn’t allow fanfiction, and eventually degrades into a badly-worded and childish rant.
    Oh, and on an amusing note:
    ” [not creative]…Neither is putting lipstick on Ken. Fan fiction does exactly those kinds of things.”
    Dressing Ken in drag could be considered a form of concept art, actually. I wasn’t aware that fanfiction was concept art.
    (As a matter of fact, some people do actually take dolls and make them into one-of-a-kind art pieces, with hair, clothing, and makeup redone. I’ve even -surprise! – heard of male dolls in drag being done as humorous pieces. Contrary to what usually holds true in regards to fanfiction, these pieces are considered to be original art pieces, and so long as they aren’t called “_____ Ken” or “_____ Barbie”, Mattel has no problem with it and people are legally allowed to profit from their sale. In fact, the more talented doll artists have been known to reap several hundred dollars per piece from these one-of-a-kind, tinkered-with dolls).

  21. Tipping my hat to Jamie, the voice of reason.
    I’d heard of Robin Hobb’s books, but wasn’t too interested in them. Then I found a piece of fanfiction on an LJ I’ve friended and thought, “Wow! That sounds interesting! I should get the books.”
    Of course, now, after RH’s idiotic rant, I won’t. Why further an author who despises me? After all it’s my money to spend or withhold. And I’m not the ony reader lost to Miss Hobb.

  22. Well Jamie appears to have completely set the high standard for all replies that follow that long and extremely thoughtful discussion. I don’t think I can follow.
    Clearly thre are a lot of writer’s who have a problem with fanfiction – nothing wrong with that. If you’ve worked extremely hard on the creation of a world and characters and theme, it can be a little hurtful to have people rewriting your story to effectively tell you that you did it wrong as she’s suggesting they do. But I really don’t think that’s what Fanfic writers intentions are. A lot of them are just aksing “what if” – what if things had been differently for so and so. What if Gandalf hadn’t died in the fellowship of the ring?
    There’s one big thing which Robin Hobb seems to miss, I think. And that’s that once she’s sent her characters out into the world, it’s not the same as when they were just down on paper. I mean I could draw on Donny Osmond with this argument (yeah yeah, I know, that’s about as good an example as the cake mix comparison, but I’ll give it a shot all the same.) There was a point in Mr Osmonds career, or so he said on a TV show he hosted, when he grew tired of the teenage-girls-main crush and sweet little kid face the media had plastered him with. He went way out to change his image. Nothing wrong with that, right? People change their images all the time. Sometimes for themselves, sometimes for public approval, but either way you can’t complain about it, right?
    Well no, you can’t. But he also made a big show of dissing all the songs he used to sing. Puppy Love became a popular joke for him and he quite literally put on the appearance of having despised those songs and scorning those who had loved them in childhood. Until one day he was approached by a fan – one of the teenage girls who’d had his poster stuck up on her wall and all those songs in her brain since she was thirteen. She confronted him and said something along the lines of “How dare you?” – These were the songs she grew up to. The songs she loved, part of an innocent childhood she didn’t have anymore, and here he was acting as if her childhoodentertainment had all been a sham? This was the point at which Mr Osmond realised – they weren’t just his songs. They were everyone’s songs, and while he no longer liked them, he didn’t exactly have a right to scorn those who did.
    I know it’s not really the same issue, but that was what I thought of when I read this – Yes Hobb has a legal right to her characters and plots. Yes if someone tries to claim money from HER work, they should be shown that that’s not on. It’s also not on if someone decides to create fiction from another’s work if they don’t want it done. But innocent kids and adults writing Fanfic because they love her characters? How is it fair to strike out against them?
    They’re not JUST her characters anymore – they belong to the readers and the fans as much as they do her. We love the characters in the stories we write Fanfic for – so how dare anyone say that our sole purpose is to discredit the author? And I don’t exactly see the Harry Potter industry suffering from the over a million stories currently in its section on, do you?
    So as you can probably tell, I’m not against Fanfic in the majority. It’s a way to learn, and it’s dealing with things that are a part of our lives. They just happen to have been created by someone else, that’s all.

  23. The apparent inability by some people to fulfil the simple ‘live and let live’ concept never ceases to astonish and disturb me.
    As Elaine said, it’s absurd to imply regular writing doesn’t help people’s writing in some way. Now let me say this. Some fanfiction out there is EXCELLENT ~ but why should that be a basis for an argument? It shouldn’t HAVE to be. Some writers are dyslexic, or have mental disabilities. Some are very young, as young as 7 or 8. Why shouldn’t they be able to write fanfic? EVEN IF IT HAS NO EDUCATIONAL VALUE WHATSOEVER- so what? Neither does watching tv, or playing vid games, but they are HOBBIES. Fanfiction just HAPPENS to have an educational bonus, but it’s not about that, and never has been.
    As has been said- fanfic is not about ‘correcting’ the author- at all! If i read something rubbish, i would no way bother to “correct” it. however, if i saw an ep of Diagnosis Murder – say, Murder 1 and Murder 2 and wanted to know more about how Jesse felt when he was in prison, what happened to Jesse as a child, how he became the person he is today- then i’d write or read fanfic on it. how is this a criticism of the author/writer? Simply looking at it from a different angle shouldn’t be criticised.
    I have yet to see a compelling argument as to why people shouldn’t do this. Though naturally, if an author doesn’t like it, most fanfic writers will respect that.
    And yes, some people write porn. So what? There are people who draw porn…should drawing be banned? There are people who film, and photograph porn. Out with all photography and movies? you get those kind of people in EVERYTHING, they are frankly neither here nor there.
    I do not write fanfic to become a better writer. I have no interest in that, i wanna be a computer nerd when i’m older. I read and write fanfic because, I enjoy it, and it explores aspects that I WOULDN’T EXPECT the tv show to explore.
    And lastly, if you don’t like it, why are you reading it? Or if you haven’t read any, well you can’t really comment from an informed position. And don’t pick whatever you see first, lord knows I don’t- i go through several summaries to find one i’m interested in.

  24. I write fanfiction because, quite simply, I haven’t seen enough of the characters yet.
    [… it explores aspects that I WOULDN’T EXPECT the tv show to explore.]
    Well said. I agree completely. When you research any topic, you don’t just find arguments for one side only, do you? Well, you -could-, but it would be an awfully boring and unconvincing paper you’d put together.
    In the same way, fanfiction allows each reader to express their own interpretations of any particular event. And it’s actually -enjoyable-, looking at the characters from another person’s point of view. And while many fanfics are event-based, rather than introspective, it’s interesting, getting to see them in different settings.
    The author may already know the characters she/he created, right down to the last detail and nuance of their personalities. Readers, don’t. Therefore, when we read a novel, we tinker with them, in our own minds. There’s a -reason- why the magic bullet theory got shot down.
    In other words, when fanfiction writers write fanfiction, they aren’t mutating the characters. They’re simply reinterpreting them. If the author dislikes us telling his/her characters the way we see them, we respect his/her feelings, of course.
    Above all, please keep in mind that we do this for the pure FUN of it, and we don’t give a twit whether or not we become better commercial writers. We -hope- that our works bring enjoyment to others who haven’t gotten enough of the novel, and that’s the only reason why we strive to write better.

  25. She sounds like a bitch.
    To answer her first point, if she chooses to be insulted then that’s her prerogative. But no fanfic author intends it to be an insult. If it were so, if they were saying you screwed up and now I have to rewrite it the way it should go, then no fanfic writer would have anymore than one story. I know authors who have 20+ stories, all completely different versions. That completely goes against that venom she’s spewing in that first ‘answer’.
    To respond to the second, yes it does help people practice. In order to write, do you not need feedback. Do you not get advise on things you need to improve and look back on later. And does it not help you as a writer. Some authors have original stories but they don’t want to post them on the public forum on the chance that it might be stolen by someone else before they have a chance to attempt at getting it published. And so fanfic is the way to go if you want to know how a large number of people react to your style of writing and whether you should change certain things. You can’t tell me, whoever this author is didn’t find people to give her feedback. Didn’t improve between the first and last thing she wrote, based on comments she got on her writing. She’s just spewing based on ignorant stereotypes she obviously decided to latch on to, likely because she’s ‘made it’

  26. “Some authors have original stories but they don’t want to post them on the public forum on the chance that it might be stolen by someone else before they have a chance to attempt at getting it published.”
    Stealing work is extremely unlikely from a novice. In fact, it’s the mark of a novice as this comment illustrates. The problem, aside from the elephant in the room, which is publishable writing, is that publishing on the Internet is technically publishing: you’ve thrown away first rights. Excerpts are fine but not whole works. Of course, works containing copyrighted characters and universes can’t be pirated any other way can they? There’s your ultimate answer.

  27. “Stealing work is extremely unlikely from a novice.”
    You obviously don’t know much about the world of fan fiction because stealing work is quite common. I’ve actually reported several incidents myself.

  28. So you are upset about fans stealing your fanfiction but you have no problem stealing the work of authors. You don’t see a contradiction there?!

  29. I strongly disagree with Hobb although I can understand that she feels insulted by fanfictions writers.
    I write fanfiction and I think that when a book or a film is released, it no longer belongs to its author, at least not entirely. When a book is read, it enters the fabulous world of popculture where everything is shared and nothing belongs to anybody.
    And since no fanfictions writers would allow himself to make money on someone else’s work, there’s no point in acting like a six-year old girl whose candies have just been ripped off.
    By the way, I think karaoke is a great way to learn how to sing.

  30. Lee:
    Fanfic writers (generally) credit the original authors for the world and characters that inhabit their writing.
    Fanfic thieves sometiems credit the original authors, and claim that they’ve written the piece that they cut and pasted from someone’s live journal, or other posted online account.
    See the difference here?
    One is derivitive, the other is plagarism.

  31. First of all, I do write fanfic. Second of all, I do love Robin’s books, and while I am disappointed that she doesn’t want fanfic based on her works, I do respect it. It’s certainly her right to say, “It’s my world and I don’t want you to play in it.” However, I’m not disappointed because I wanted to write fanfic based in her worlds, but because I wanted to read some.
    I do want to address the “Does fanfic make you a better writer?” point, because I have been writing original stuff for as long as I can remember. I’ve only been writing fanfic for a few years. Some day, I do hope to get my own original works published.
    And writing fanfic has helped enormously with that.
    Writing fanfic has forced me to learn discipline, to go ahead and keep writing and working, because now I have an audience to disappoint if I don’t post the next chapter. Writing fanfic has forced my style to grow up. I go back now and reread old (original) stuff from a few years back, and, remembering how awesome I thought it was at the time, I can’t believe what overwrought, cliched tripe some of it was. Good ideas in there, but the style was hackneyed. Wouldn’t have figured that out without wading through so much fanfic of varying quality. Writing fanfic has allowed me to stretch as an author, and tackle genres and subjects that I would never have even considered on my own. Ends up that I’m pretty good at wry humour. But I’d never have figured that out without my fanfic communities issuing challenges, nor their support. It’s harder to not take that leap when everyone else is already splashing about in the pool. 😉
    And while, okay, I’m not making up the world or the characters, etc, writing believable dialogue, decent descriptions, handling pacing and POVs and everything else that goes into writing a story is just as much work as it is in original stuff. In fact, in some ways, writing fanfic is harder, because it’s being read by so many other people who are so familiar with the characters already. If I’m writing an original character, then anything I write IS, by definition, in character, and in canon. In fanfic, it doesn’t matter how well-written or original a story is; if it’s out of character it won’t fly.
    Writing fanfic inspires me and keeps my hand in, and helps improve my writing. To say that only writing original works will do that is like saying that jamming around someone else’s songs has no value. It’s not original, it’s not mine, but it doesn’t mean that the talent displayed in the performance is any less.
    There is truly a deplorable amount of poorly-written trash that would have been better left on personal blogs (or in notebooks) for friends to enjoy, and the rest of us to avoid, but at least these people are trying. Something has inspired them to write, something their teachers may have had a helluva time doing, and if it’s fanfic, so what? It lets them practice their storytelling skills.
    When I tell my little boy a fairytale, he isn’t listening as much to what the story is as he is the manner in which I tell it. That’s the entertaining part, and that’s what writing fanfic lets me practice.

  32. Fanfiction is definitely a hot button topic. I think there should be some differentiation between the various types of fanfiction. First there are those stories based on television series or movies. Then there are stories based on books. Even within that sub-group, there are fan written stories and pastiches, such as done for Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe, among others.
    Robin Hobb hates fan stories based on her books? That’s her perogative. Can she stop them? Not a chance. Yes, she can make a stink about it, she can use the lawyers to issue cease and desist orders. All that will do is push the fandom back underground.
    I am old enough to remember those times, when fanzines were sold from under the table. As time passed, it became more open, particularly in science fiction fandom. Fanfiction was a time-honored tradition in science fiction fandom, but once it went public, it began attracting the wrong attention.
    Yes, 95% of fanfiction is garbage. I’d have to say that is true of professionally published novels as well.
    The biggest complaint that I have is her lack of respect for the very act of writing. Whether you begin with totally original stories, and there are no original ideas left in the world, only their application, or with fanfiction, the very act of writing is a learning process. You learn language and sentence structure, you develop a voice, you gain confidence. Practice is good, no matter what form it takes. If Ms. Hobb didn’t go through that phase during her youth, she is a rarity.
    My disclaimer is that I do write fanfiction, although none based on her books or anyone else’s novels. My writing is a labor of love, a way of filling in those missing moments that didn’t make the cut in the editing room floor, to extend the life of the universe that I love. I don’t find that necessary with the written word as a writer can usually provide all those wonderful little bits.

  33. How can anyone say that fanficcers are not being creative? I have read some of these most fantastically creative and new stories. Yes the fanfic world is full of a lot of badly written, poorly though through stories, but every now and again you come across a real gem. There are sites that rec the best stories, making the dross easily avoided.
    I know that using other people’s characters do limit the fanfic writer to an extent, but please remember that the average fanfic writer, especially the ones with talent, are just ordinary people, with limited free time. Fanfiction is sometimes our only way to get across our feelings and emotions.
    I had never heard of Robin whatsherface before I heard of her rant. I will now never purchase a book of hers. In fact I’ve told several of my friends to avoid her works in future. I know this is not a large threat, for there’s only a few of us, but she had shit on something I hold very dear.
    Also as a matter of fact, I searched on google and found a truly awesome fanfiction of her story. If I head read this fanfic story, and not heard Robin’s rant I would have bought her books in an instant.

  34. I don’t really know whether or not I agree or disagree with what Lindholm says. I mean, I write FF, but I don’t make things all crazy (I stick with cannon and don’t change genders, and I NEVER change the ending of an episode). I do it for fun. I don’t actually think that I’m going to become some amazing writer from writing a story based off of someone else’s work. And a lot of people I know don’t actually write there because they think that it’s going to make them the next Fitzgerald or whoever they aspire to be, but I agree that people changing pairings, genders, altering episodes, and thinking that FF is going to make them some famous author are deluding themselves into a fantasy that is going to be a big let down when it never happens.
    I guess I more support FanFiction than not (though only those who do it for pure fun and don’t mess with what the original author worked very hard on), but I do acknowledge that Megan Lindholm makes a very respectable argument and that she knows what she’s talking about.
    Oh. As a little end note, I would like to say that, while FF doesn’t exactly get my creative juices flowing, all the reviews and messages that I’ve received as response to my stories have really helped with my grammar and writing style.


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