In defense of fan fiction
On fan fiction
I don’t write fan fiction, or publish fiction that existed at another time as fan fiction. I also don’t read fan fiction. To the best of my knowledge nothing I have written has spawned any manner of fan fiction out there, but it’s entirely possible I’m wrong because (again) I don’t read fan fiction.
But I think I kind of understand fan fiction.
Not so long ago
This was not always true. I recall saying not very long ago– to my publisher, actually, while in a taxi cab going to a TV studio in Los Angeles— that I didn’t understand why anybody would take someone else’s character, plot, or constructed universe, and write within it rather than create something of their own.
I’ve always done my own creating, and I’m not saying that because I’m being snobbish about it. Literally, I have no interest in exploring someone else’s ideas when my own are still unexplored. And I couldn’t understand why anyone would.
Not, again, that there’s anything wrong with doing that, necessarily. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Creative writing assignments
It later occurred to me that some of my earliest efforts in creative writing were, essentially, fan fiction, and then it made a little bit more sense. When I was very young I tried writing doggerel that approximated Shel Silverstein, and in eighth grade I began writing a novel that would have been difficult to distinguish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In ninth grade I wrote a dystopic science fiction short story that was clearly riffing on Ray Bradbury.
And in English classes I was given creative writing assignments that resulted in a lost last chapter to Ethan Frome and an imitation of Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown called “Young Freshman Brown”. I even wrote about Godzilla destroying Tokyo from the perspective of a confused Godzilla that was just trying to be friendly.
In other words, I learned how to write by imitating other writers, and by borrowing other authors’ creations. And in a lot of cases I was completing an assignment.
So the part where someone might want to take someone else’s thing and write about it themselves for a while, I’m sort of on board with. But that’s only half of the issue. The other half is money.
There are a lot of people who are very angry at certain writers, writers that began their career with fan fiction, and then turned that thing they wrote into something else and made money off of it. Some of these angry people have gone so far as to put stickers on books identifying them as products that began their lives as fanfic.
This strikes me as a failure to understand what writing is, or rather what the hard part of writing is.
Creating characters, developing plot and building worlds are all important, but not hard.
Okay, not easy either, but how many times have you thought of a cool idea for a story but found yourself unable to write it? Or maybe you didn’t even try to write it because you don’t think of yourself as a writer?
Everyone has stories. What is hard is figuring out how to assemble words for your story in a way that is interesting to other people. This is the thing I had to learn how to do when I was a kid writing silly poems or satirical space operas or trying to come up with a less shitty ending to Ethan Frome. It’s what people who started off writing fan fiction learned how to do, and the good ones ended up with something original enough to stand on its own.
Anyway, I’m probably jumping into this debate about two years too late, but I don’t see anything wrong with that.
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