If you’re gonna gripe about fanfic, get your terms right.

Posted: 28th June 2013 by Kendall McKenna in Writing
Tags: , ,

Sue Brown’s blog post here, got me thinking about some things I’ve wanted to say for quite awhile. I’m not aware of anyone saying anything specific about fanfic recently, but these things have been on my mind for months. 

I think everyone needs to read the LJ post Sue links to here. It’s been up for years and was written by an OTW member. What’s OTW you ask? Organization for Transformative Works. Because fanfiction is not plagiarism. It has been legally defined by lawyers and recognized by the Library of Congress. TRANSFORMATIVE WORK. Fanvids fall under this definition, too. And I see a lot of people trashing fanfic, that turn around and praise fanvids. That’s hypocritical. Fanvids are no more music piracy, then fanfic is plagarism. Sony’s lawyers had their asses handed to them on that argument. 

Now, here’s what gets my hackles up. Fandom and the exchange of fanfiction is a predominantly female activity. It provides a sense of community and has given rise to its own barter based economy (i.e. donating to disaster relief funds in return for your favorite fic author writing you a custom fic). I kept a friend from being evicted and starving to death with this type of bartered exchange.

Then along come the men who do the same thing, only the NY presses PAY THEM a lot of MONEY, as does Hollywood. A man writes Wicked and Son of a Witch and no one says he’s plagarizing Wizard of Oz. Instead, he gets a book deal and an awarding winning musical adaptation. Men write movie scripts based on Stan Lee’s comic book characters and no one accuses them of anything (except bad writing), and instead pay them obscene amounts of money.

JJ Abrams, anybody? He literally wrote a Star Trek AR fanfic (alternate reality) and got rich doing it. Everyone hails him a genius.

Now Amazon wants to appropriate, and make money from, a female-driven activity. Give me a fucking break.

This is NOT the point at which someone should say, ‘yeah, but it’s different cause they all wrote that stuff with permission, and were sanctioned by the original creator.’ Gene Roddenberry has been dead for years. PARAMOUNT PICTURES owns Star Trek. And the Wizard of Oz is in public domain. Don’t make me bring up Spartacus. BESIDES, that’s not what people say when they denigrate women writing fanfic, they all say that fic writers are talentless hacks who can’t come up with their own characters or plots. You don’t get to fall back on the economic argument when your original argument is a lack of talent.

You’d be surprised how often fandom gets in an uproar because fanfic writers post AU fanfic that bears NO RESEMBLANCE to the source material at all. (There is an Inception fic that in no way resembles Inception, except to have Arthur’s and Eames’ names in it, and it’s SUCH A GOOD FUCKING STORY!) So the dislike goes both ways. Fangirls don’t like quite a few pro-fic writers because of their attitudes toward fandom, or because they’ve BETRAYED THE COMMUNITY by going pro. Both sides are up on their high horses, despite having more in common than they do in difference.

Anne Rice wrote Servant of the Bones as an Antonio Banderas RPF. Truman Capote based all of his books on real life crimes. That’s RPF. I’ve already pointed out that Avatar is Dances With Wolves AU fanfic, and they nominated James Cameron for an Oscar for that shit. It’s been going on for absolutely ever. The internet has just made everyone more aware of it.

Plagiarism is the word for word copying of someone else’s narrative, in whole or in part. And that, we can all agree, is unacceptable. THAT is where the true creativity lies. Putting the words together in such a way as to be enjoyable to read, so that the characters are well developed, and that the plot makes sense. A bad writer can borrow all the characters and themes they want, but if they can’t construct a decent narrative, no one will like the borrowed material as much as the source material. It takes talent and skill to make readers FEEL something. You can borrow Kirk and Spock all day long, but if your words read like an Ikea instruction sheet, who’s gonna read it? The talent lies in the words themselves.

Anyway, rather than plagiarism, I believe the term everyone is looking for is copyright infringement. Possibly trademark infringement. Either way, referring to fanfic as plagiarism is inaccurate and incorrect. Be consistent. If you’re going to call me a talentless hack, then don’t go see Star Trek or Man of Steel, either.

I don’t care that 50 Shades is fanfic with the serial numbers filed off, I care that it’s a shitty series of books.

I’ve noticed some reviewers have attempted to shame me by mentioning my fandom past. It’s not a past, it’s alive and well. And you can’t use it to shame me, because I’m not ashamed. It might be time to stop beating that horse cause it ain’t getting any deader.

And now, I have once again spent time NOT writing an original story, that I am apparently supposed to be ashamed of making money from.

  1. SheriV says:

    I enjoy fanfic. In fact the first erotic story I read was a fanfic where Rogue and Gambit have sex. It involved a full body stocking…and I loved it. lol Of course then came Harry Potter fanfics and some of those just disturbed my innocent *snerk* brain. So write what you enjoy!

    • LOL! I once wrote a Generation Kill/Marvel Comics fusion fic! I had so much fun making Iceman jokes and theorizing about popsicle penises!

      I still love fic, but my time is taken up with writing the pro-fic. But fandom is still near and dear to my heart. My RL friends almost all come from one fandom or other.

  2. Kazza says:

    I got news for people, there is nothing new under the sun. I’ve been around long enough to know that.
    And, KM, if your books are a result of fanfic writing ventures/skills then more people need to be writing fanfic. I say bring on more of your books, because I haven’t read a bad one yet.

    • I got news for people, there is nothing new under the sun.

      Absolutely! That’s an entire blog post on its own. Take mystery novels for example…all 6 types of mystery story structure were originated by Edgar Allen Poe. No matter what the plot or theme, they all fall into one of the six types that he pioneered.

      And yes, writing fic can be the most beneficial training ground for learning to write well. But it’s like anything else, you have to put the work in and you have to want to improve. I actively sought out good writers and very, very good beta readers and made them push me hard. Yes, writing fic for practice is a good thing, but each time I plateaued, I had to find someone at a higher level to work with so I could keep improving.

  3. Excellent post, Kendall!

    I think part of the problem here with labeling fanfiction as plagiarism is that one of the last ones to be outed did use a fanfic site to post completely plagiarized chapters from a Lorelei James novel and passed them off as One Tree Hill fanfic.

    Of course this one idiot should not gave all fanfiction a bad name, but the fact remains that it’s way too easy for people to do this sort of thing on ANY site and now that Amazon is going to make money off of some fanfiction, it’s just going to bring out these trolls who feel they can take someone else’s work, change the names to those needed to meet the particular fanfiction guidelines and then publish it under their own name.

    E. L. James did Twilight fanfic but she didn’t take the story scene for scene and just change names. She created another world entirely inspired by Edward and Bella and their relationship. It’s probably not the way most folks would go with what started out as a vampire love story, but what the hell! LOL

    I don’t see anything wrong with being inspired by what you read to create another world of your own. Inspiration is not plagiarism. The majority of fanfic is just that, inspired by the original.

    • Yes, I agree that lifting parts directly from a novel and passing it off as your own fanfic is an atrocious thing to do. You could make a case that that’s a crossover or a fusion fic, but ONLY if the narrative is 100% original. I have a reader who writes fanfic of my books and I am so fine with that, but if ever I come across something where my WORDS have been lifted, I’m going to lose my shit.

      And yes, fandom is looked down on as it is, then 1 person behaves badly and we ALL get painted with the brush. I shudder to think at the type of Amazon troll that’s going to come out of the woodwork now.

      And my issue with E.L. James is not the fanfic issue, but that it was a very bad example of fanfic. That irks me because again, it paints the entire concept with one ugly brush. But from a general standpoint, it’s a prime example of how fanfic isn’t theft, and fic writers aren’t unimaginative. She STARTED with Twilight characters and concepts, and she took it in a different direction, using HER OWN WORDS. She transformed the source material into her own piece of ‘art’. My gripe is quality, not concept.

      And you are so right, source materials INSPIRE us to create our own works. We borrow from each other, and that’s actually very complimentary. But the words themselves, the phrases, the dialog, those things must always be our own and not copied verbatim from someone else (unless it’s a quote that’s properly attributed). Otherwise, it IS theft.