Spanked for Fanfic Rant

I raised the ire of the DorothyL moderator, Diane Kovacs, for the following exchange about fanfic which, as those of you who read my blog know, is one of my pet peeves. She sent me a warning saying she didn’t appreciate my comments and is now reviewing all my posts for appropriateness before deciding whether add them to the digest. Here are the exchanges that upset her (I’ve cobbled them together into one long post here). You be the judge. The first one, by the way, is a response to a comment of hers…

But, most of the fan fiction I’ve read is written for joy/practice/praise/ or because we want more of that author’s ideas.

How is appropriating an author’s characters “praising” his ideas? In fact, you’re doing the exact opposite… you’re showing your lack of respect for their ownership of their own creations by stealing them. Unless the author says you may use his characters, fanfic is indefensible.

I thought David Klass’s screenplay of James Patterson’s Kiss The Girls was much better than the novel. Stanley Kubrick made the Shining a classic movie even though Stephen King hated it and re-did it in 1997 which by all accounts was a ho-hum

As I’ve said before, there is a big difference between being hired to adapt an author’s work for another medium and stealing his characters for original “fanfic.” With an adaptation, the author is compensated for his work and has given his permission for its use in TV or film. There is no comparison between this and the odious practice of “fanfic.”

In the case of television, the way you get an assignment is to write a spec script… a sample episode of a series (We go into great detail about this in my book, Successful Television Writing… and what seperates a good spec from “fanfic”). Aspiring television writers (or should I say “pre-produced” ??)
need to write a spec episode because that’s how you audition. You have to show the writer/creator of a series that you can capture the voice of his characters and the tone of his show. The only people who sees these scripts are agents and producers.

Again, there is no comparison between this and “fanfic.” For one thing, they are entirely different mediums. And for another, you write a spec episodic script with the permission of the creators of the work for the sole purpose of obtaining an episodic assignment.

And exactly how many of Shakespeare’s plots were original?

Jim, you’re not REALLY comparing Shakespeare’s plays to “Babylon-5” fanfic are you??
You can’t possibily put “Buffy” and “Star Trek” fanfic on the same level with HAMLET. I wouldn’t put them on the same level as Hamburger Hamlet.

There’s good fanfic and there’s bad fan fic. Shakespeare’s stuff is often so good that we don’t even think of it as fanfic.

You know how much I respect you but…. there is no good fanfic. Yes, that’s a blanket statement and I stand by it.

Fanfic is the appropriation of someone else’s characters and using them in a story of your own without the permission of the author. Fanfic is also, by and large, hideous garbage… go to one of those fanfic websites and look at some of that slop, most of which involves characters who aren’t romanticall
involved in the TV series jumping each other’s bones (Spock & Capt. Kirk, Mulder & Scully, etc) or meeting characters from other TV shows and movies (Darth Vader vs the crew of the Enterprise).

Comparing this drivel, the appropriate of TV and movie characters in fan-written stories, to Shakespeare is nonsense.

Under the ground rules we’re discussing here, Laurie King’s wonderful Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels are fanfic. You can’t say they’re not fanfic just because they happen to be really good.

There’s also a big difference between fanfic and using characters that are in the public domain.
I don’t think we’d be having this discussion if it was about Elvis Cole, Inspector Rebus, or Kinsey Millhone fanfic… you would be as horrified by it as I am. But somehow, this intellectual property theft is okay if we’re talking about TV or movie characters.

There is no difference between Star Trek “fanfic” and Harry Bosch “fanfic.” They are equally wrong and indefensible, in my opinion.

What is happening now is that the fanfic is on the web, unedited and uncritiqued. You can find it easily enough via Google. There are a few conventions where fanfic is available in print format, but most of the venues where fanfic was distributed are gone… as are the fanzines. *sigh*

Good riddance… I wish the same would happen to online fanfic sites, which are disseminating fanfic far wider than fanzines ever did.

I remember, years ago, when I took some writer/producer friends of mine on “Beauty and the Beast” to a science fiction convention and showed them some of the abundant “B&B” fanfic fanzines. To say they were shocked, horrified… and sickened… is an understatement.

If your criterion for condemning fanfic is that it appropriates others’ ideas, then by reduction, that which appropriates others’ ideas is bad.

It’s not the ideas, my friend, it’s appropriating the actual characters, relationships and situations… that’s not just bad, it’s intellectual property theft and copyright infringement in the most blatant sense.

how is fanfic different from me writing #21 in my Brady Coyne series

How would you feel if somebody started writing Brady Coyne fanfic… maybe got him involved in an affair with Harry Bosch. Or decided he was into S&M… and disseminated their version of Brady Coyne on the Internet? I think in that situation, as the creator of Brady Coyne, you’d feel very differently about your comment:

and who’s to say what somebody should and should not write?

Before the exchanges above got Diane upset, a teacher posted that she encouraged her students to write fanfic. So I asked her what she thought her students could possibly learn from the experience:

Teaching them to walk before they can run? Teaching them how to work with a ready-made environment and ready-made characters that they are already familiar with so that they can concentrate on other aspects of technique, like how to write credible dialogue? Teaching them, above
all, the importance of consistency – that they have to be true to those characters?

If my daughter’s teacher used “fanfic” as an approach to teaching creative writing, I’d be enraged… and would not only talk to the teacher about it, but the principal as well. Teaching kids to write by having them use characters from a TV show or a movie doesn’t “teach them to walk before they can run,” it teaches them how to take short cuts, how to devalue another artists’ work, and how not to apply themselves creatively to a project. The “consistency” I want to teach my children doesn’t begin with using someone else’s work… it begins with having faith in your own powers of imagination.

A lot of the people who write fan-fiction scarely get round to reading books

I think that’s obvious… not only from how they write, but what they write. The last thing I would do as a teacher is encourage “fanfic” in any way, shape or form.

9 thoughts on “Spanked for Fanfic Rant”

  1. I thought the whole discussion of “fanfic” on Dorothyl was fascinating, both your original comments and the replies you were getting back. I’m sorry to hear that you were “set to review” by the moderators–it seems like any time a subject threatens to break through and really provide some food for thought, this is the end result. Also, just thought I’d say I’ve been reading your posts for some time and, for some reason, I expected your photo to show someone much older–I was surprised by how young you are (or appear to be). You really have had some success with your writing!

  2. I do agree with you, Lee. Except on the teacher front, I think. I think that in teaching kids to write, you first have to get them to want to write. I don’t think as teachers we’d want to REQUIRE them to write about characters that aren’t their own, but, I remember being in 8th grade and writing a Batman story. I remember in 4th grade publishing my own Sherlock Holmes story in the school literary magazine. I didn’t, at the time, know about copyright infringement, or the value of hurting other’s characters. No one really saw the Batman one besides the teacher, my peer reviewers and myself. The Holmes one a lot more people saw because my father went nuts, photocopied the story 1,000 times and gave it to everyone he knew. However, I learned valuable lessons from each of these projects, most importantly it spurred me to want to write, which, ultimately, is a huge challenge with today’s youth. If I hadn’t been given this freedom to write about “who” I wanted and not making it public consumption on a high level (say, the internet), I wouldn’t have started creating my own characters as a senior in high school and throughout college. And I wouldn’t be working on my own novel, with my own characters, today.

  3. The new issue of ROMANTIC TIMES also tackles the fanfic issues…from their table of contents:
    For some book lovers, happily ever after just isn’t enough. Meet the devoted fans who write their own stories about favorite characters—and some authors are anything but flattered.”

  4. I’m not a moderator, but I don’t see anything in your tone or substance that is offensive. You have strong opinions, expressed strongly, that’s all. No big deal. I’m not in complete agreement with you or, I think you take fanfic a little too seriously, but I don’t see why your opinions should be dangerous to the health of a list.

  5. I remember in elementary school, or even high school, teachers would have us write an additional scene/chapter from a book. In my university English class, the prof had us rewrite the story from the point of view of another character. All of these seem to be legitimate exercises that demonstrate understanding of the themes of the story.

  6. I think one of the big differences is that these exercises are one-offs, not intended for public dissemination. The issue about fan fiction is basically that it’s published on the Net without the copyright holders’ permission. An exercise written in a class, that no one but your classmates will see, is not in the same league.
    More importantly, from what you say, these were classes in understanding literature from a critical perspective. That’s very different from a creative writing class. In a writing class, you’re supposed to be learning how to write original fiction, not fan fiction. Teaching the latter when you’re getting paid to teach the former is like teaching kids how to shout ‘Come on, get the ball!’ at the television when you’re supposed to be teaching a sports class. It’s not what people signed up to learn, and if they’re too inexperienced to know the difference, it’s the educator’s duty to teach them otherwise.

  7. Dear Lee,
    You were not set to review and I never even warned you. Only the first statement in your page is from me. The rest are all from another Dorothyl subscriber. You only have to search the archives to see.Date: Sun, 3 Oct 2004 09:30:39 -0700
    Reply-To: James Lincoln Warren
    Sender: Mystery Literature E-conference
    From: James Lincoln Warren
    Subject: Re: DOROTHYL Digest – 2 Oct 2004 to 3 Oct 2004 – Special issue
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
    David Montgomery writes: Adp> You’re right, James: fanfic is the equal of Adp> Shakespeare and thus your reasoning wins out. Adp> I stand, humbly, corrected. Don’t be humble! But if you insist, at least do it for the right reason. Of course fanfic is not the equal of Shakespeare. That is precisely the point. If your criterion for condemning fanfic is that it appropriates others’ ideas, then by reduction, that which appropriates others’ ideas is bad. The class of literature of works based on other people’s ideas categorically includes Shakespeare. Therefore Shakespeare is bad, too. It’s a simple syllogism of the reductio ad absurdum variety. Since Shakespeare is not in fact bad, then the premise that appropriating ideas is bad in itself collapses. You’ll have to find another reason to sneer at fanfic. Personally, I don’t read it because much of it is just qualitatively poorly written or salacious or deals with characters I don’t really care about. Plus, the only reading I do from a computer screen is email and my word processor. My friend Lee writes: Adp> Jim, you’re not REALLY comparing Shakespeare’s plays to “Babylon-5” fanfic Adp> are you?? Adp> You can’t possibily put “Buffy” and “Star Trek” fanfic on the same level Adp> with HAMLET. I wouldn’t put them on the same level as Hamburger Hamlet. Of course not. See the above. Geez. I didn’t ever expect to have to explain rhetoric to youse guys. JLW Visit “The Sword & The Quill” at …


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