Fanfiction: Creative Celebration or Cheap Theft?

In the digital age, writing and distributing fanfiction is easier now than it ever has been before. Once relegated to the fringes of nerd culture prior to the technology boom of the late 90s, fanfiction has now become so mainstream that there are massive fandoms built around the fanfiction for just about any popular series, rather than being built around the series itself. It’s not uncommon for a fan of a book, TV, film, or video game series to spend considerable amounts of time browsing fanfiction.net for fan-written stories about their favourite series.

For fanfiction written about books in particular, where does this leave authors? If anyone in the world can create content using your worlds and your characters and distribute them freely all around the world thanks to the magic of the Internet, does your work then become devalued? Has the act of fan reproduction somehow tarnished or cheapened the integrity of your original work? Even worse, is fanfiction stealing from you? Are people opting to read free fanfiction about your books online instead of shelling out the money you deserve for your work? George R.R. Martin has a strong opinion about fanfiction. He’s not only famous for his Game of Thrones series, but also for his intense dislike of fanfiction.

“Don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background.” – George R.R. Martin

To his credit, he was referring more to his belief that aspiring writers will never improve their craft if they just keep taking ideas from other writers when he said this and there is some truth to that. Writers do need to be able to develop their own characters and worlds in order to strengthen their skills, so writing fanfiction, while possibly a nice light exercise just to get the mind and the fingers working in sync, isn’t really doing much to help a writer hone her craft.

However, I think criticising fanfiction based on this argument misses the point of fanfiction entirely. Most fanfiction writers are not professional writers and have no plans to be. If they are professional writers, they do have their own characters and worlds that they spend time developing. They understand the importance of creating original work but they undertake fanfiction purely out of love for another writer’s work and a desire to contribute to the discussion about that work in a creative way. The purpose of fanfiction is not to make money or to become a great writer, but simply to celebrate the work of another writer in a way that can be easily shared with other fans.

As for the argument that fanfiction steals from authors, perhaps an argument could potentially be made for theft of intellectual property, but the idea that fanfiction is stealing tangible monetary profits from authors seems ludicrous to me. As previously mentioned, the purpose of fanfiction is not to make money. Fanfiction writers do what they do for sheer enjoyment and because of that, they want as many people to read their work as possible for free. The most popular fanfiction website, FanFiction.net, is a free fanfiction sharing website. The authors there make no money off their work and readers can browse, favourite, review, and download all fanfiction hosted on the site for free. No one is making a dime off of someone else’s ideas through FanFiction.net. Cases where fanfiction writers try to charge for their fanfiction have happened, but these are rare cases and those writers are looked down upon within the fanfiction community. They’re seen as having a lack of integrity and their reputations quickly deteriorate. The fact of the matter is that fanfiction writers have an immense amount of respect and reverence for the original authors and their work. No self-respecting fanfiction author is ever going to try and make money off their fanfiction out of respect for the original series she is writing about.

The concern that people may choose to read free fanfiction about your work rather than pay for your own original work is also unfounded and displays a lack of understanding about how the fanfiction community works. Fanfiction does not exist to replace original series. It exists to add to the series and to create new discussions about the series long after the original series has ended. It keeps the love of a series alive in the fans. Even if the series has finished, there will always be new material about the series to read on fanfiction websites. These fanfictions spark new conversations between fans about the series. Fanfiction is the philosopher’s stone of any original work. As long as the fanfiction for your series never dies, your series is immortal. This is probably the most valuable asset to an author that fanfiction can provide. It ensures that people never stop talking about your work. It stays fresh in the minds of your readers and draws in new readers who want to know what this fandom they keep seeing everywhere is all about. This means that rather than taking readers away from your work, fanfiction is always creating brand new readers of your work. Fanfiction is free advertising and someone else is doing all the work for you just because they love your books that much. That’s pretty incredible.

For myself, as an author, nothing would make me happier than to log onto FanFiction.net and see fan written stories about The Heaven Corporation being posted there. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like the writing. It doesn’t matter if the person has done something with my characters and world that I hate or I don’t think would ever work. None of that matters. All that matters is that someone has essentially made my book immortal by generating an online discussion about it. Having fan-made content about my books being circulated online is something that I dream about and aspire towards.

To me, fan content is the ultimate compliment. There is indeed flattery in imitation.


Copyright © 2017 A.A.Frias

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4 thoughts on “Fanfiction: Creative Celebration or Cheap Theft?

  1. For me fanfiction is a big pick and mix. You have the fanfiction writers who write AU’s and stuff that help build their own world and possibly go off and publish their own books, there’s the fanfiction writers who purely want to add little headcanon moments which if canon would add such heartwarming moments and that.

    But you also get the bad parts of fanfiction writers such as the “the author portrayed this character badly, i know better” or “i can write better stories than this person”. or even the wildly Out of Character fanfictions as well as the fanfics unrealistically glorifying characters (especially characters who are evil or abusive) to be the good people or angsty people with hearts of gold.

    And theres also the fanfiction writers who make “fanfictions” that only share like a few names or places when everything is completely different, i’ve seen fanfictions that completely changed the characters and places but they say it’s fanfiction just cause they share the names, like why not just call it your own work if it’s so unrecognisable.

    I think if you do acknowledge that what you write in your fanfiction isn’t canon and that although however good you may view YOUR headcanon of what happens, it isn’t actually true and is quite literally fan made work, then you are free to express your freedom in fanfic writing. Most fanfictions out there are poorly made or written grammatical messes, but it’s still great to see those few fanfics that shine through with their wonderful storytelling and heartfelt effort.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Completely agree on all these points. As a writer, I wouldn’t be bothered by someone “butchering” my characters and world because I understand that a fan work can be anything the fan would like it to be and that doesn’t change my original work in any way, but as a reader, it can be so frustrating to read a horrible fanfiction about your favourite series.

      Thanks for your input!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very interesting post. I have never written, or really read any fan fiction, but I’m obviously aware of it. As long as the author of the fanfic isn’t making any money off the work I don’t see much of a problem. There was one girl in a ComicCon facebook group that was selling short grables of fanfic in order to fund her next trip to ComicCon, that toes the line of intellectual property theft in my eyes.
    If you are an aspiring or indeed established author, then I see how using someone else’s world and characters can hinder your own creativity, but everyone needs a break once in a while, and as long as you’re still writing it can be a good way to flex your writing muscles and take a short break from your own immersive world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Making money off of fanfiction is wrong and I would certainly pursue legal action against anyone who was selling fanfiction about my books, but when shared and enjoyed freely for no profit, it can be a wonderful celebration of an original work.

      I agree about writers using fanfiction as a break. I dabble a little with writing fanfiction. My main focus is of course my original novels but sometimes it’s nice to indulge in someone else’s world once in a while just to take a breather while still keeping your mind and fingers busy at the keyboard.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

      Like

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