After a couple of recent Facebook conversations with friends on the topic, I’ve decided to lay down a few thoughts about fan fiction – although it’s quite difficult to write about something so huge, varied and frequently deranged within the confines of a single blog post. Fan fiction is generally little-seen by much of mainstream society, but use the lever of the Internet to lift the rock of the original work and you’ll find a writhing, teeming mass of fanfic creepy-crawlies beneath. Alternate universes, unlikely crossovers, flipped genders, male pregnancies… it’s all there. Quality also varies wildly, from eye-gougingly awful to actually really good (in some cases, superior to the original). Some things, however, are reassuringly predictable – as one of my friends put it, ‘I think I remember where 99% of these fanfics end up…’ ie, with some man-love. I’ve heard a few theories as to why ‘slash’ fiction* has become so popular – something to do with the lack of well-drawn female characters in many works, or women’s desire to write romantic pairings free of gender-based power dynamics, or teenage girls exploring their newfound feelings about BOYS in a safe context, blah blah. Personally I think it’s because guy-on-guy is hot, duh, but that’s just my opinion.
From the point of view of a writer, fanfic is an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, it’s a fun way to get started as a writer, and a while back I did actually start developing some Harry Potter fanfic into a fantasy novel. This book was subsequently abandoned and I’ve since written only wholly original stuff, but there have been some high-profile cases of books which started life as fan works eventually becoming published in their own right – ‘The Mortal Instruments’ series (Potter), ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (Twilight), and ‘Temeraire’ (the Aubrey-Maturin series). On the other hand, it must be a bit weird to see your beloved world and characters getting mashed around by some ham-fisted and possibly drunk amateur scribbler. Robin Hobb compares the experience to seeing a family picture photo-shopped to put everyone in compromising positions, and other writers have expressed their horror at discovering first-hand that Rule 34 (‘If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions’) does indeed have no exceptions. And in the worst case scenario, there can be legal wrangles which end up destroying part of the author’s copyright, as happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley. This is why most writers, even if they tolerate the existence of fan fiction, make a point of not reading any, especially if they’re writing an ongoing series – things can get very messy if a subsequent installment has a resemblance to a previously-published fan work.
What’s my attitude? Well, Patrick Rothfuss was completely delighted when he discovered some slash based on his books (and it’s pretty well written too, in fact), considering it proof that he had truly arrived as an author, and I think I’d agree with him. Fanfic, after all, is evidence that your story has affected someone. Even if they hated it. So they felt the need to bring your dead character back to life, hook him up in a three-way with Harry Styles and Wolverine, and then get him pregnant by both of them at once? Well, why not eh – in the happily delirious world of fan fiction, anything is possible.
Patrick Rothfuss’ blog, with his delight at finding some slash: http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2008/02/yes/
A summary of the Marion Zimmer Bradley case: http://jimhines.livejournal.com/507999.html
Robin Hobb’s blog, with an excellent summary of the case against from an author’s point of view: http://web.archive.org/web/20051124223715/www.robinhobb.com/rant.html
*the term ‘slash’ derives from writing the names of the couple with a / in the middle, as in ‘Kirk/Spock’. It has nothing to do with the guitarist from Guns ‘n’ Roses. Although, if you were wondering, yes, Slash slash is available. These days, many fandoms create cute portmanteau names for couples instead, like ‘Johnlock’ (very much not to be confused with John Locke) or ‘Merthur’. Or ‘Slaxl’.