Is There Such Thing as “Wrong” Fanfiction?

I’m asking because this Guardian headline suggests there is.

I suppose fanfic can be “wrong” if it gets things about the characters just completely wrong. And I know fanfic can be bad; there are tons of bad fics out there. But I wonder at the posing of the question of who should be “allowed” to write it.

Sure, if it’s going to be something “official,” then . . . Well, it’s no longer fan fiction, is it?

The Guardian author frets over who might be hired to write sequels to her favorite books or movies or whatever. But no one says she has to read them. I didn’t read Scarlett because I didn’t want to ruin Gone with the Wind for myself.

Lumping official sequels with fanfic is problematic. Fan fiction is, by definition, written by fans. For no money. (Amazon Worlds notwithstanding, I suppose.) Fanfic = fans who may or may not actually have an ability to write playing in the sandbox next to the fabulous sand castle that is “canon.” Anyone is allowed to do it. The beach isn’t closed. And maybe some people are crap at building sand castles or whatever, but that doesn’t mean we don’t allow them to try. We don’t go stomping on their efforts.

I got started as a fanfic author, and I think it was a great way to hone my skills. I’d say I had more fans when I wrote fan fiction than I do now because those worlds have built-in audiences. (But also because I was a guest fan author at cons, which built my fan base.)

Some authors get irritated when fans try to write their own stories about characters the authors have created. Those authors want ultimate control over their work, and I get that, too. Anne Rice has asked that people not write fics about her vampires. (I did it anyway, before I knew her stance. Then I stopped.) She can’t really keep people from doing it, but respecting authors’ and creators’ wishes just seems like the right thing to do if you really do love them and their work.

That said, if you want to write fic about any of my stuff, go for it.

I think any time there’s going to be a sequel to something, people have a certain amount of trepidation. There’s always the question of, “Will it suck?” And then we learn who’s doing the work: the writer, the director, the actors, whatever. And we either feel better or worse. And sometimes even the original author can suck at writing a sequel, so there’s no safe harbor. Sequels are inherently dangerous. They may always alter the original in ways we don’t like, no matter who is making them or writing them.

That’s the balance: we want more of what we love and are terrified of ruining that love at the same time.

Which is why fan fiction is so wonderful. You can love it or hate it, but it doesn’t count, so it doesn’t ruin the original work! Ta-da! You can decide to take or leave what you want with fan fiction. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, and when it’s bad, you laugh and walk away. No harm, no foul.

In short, I think the Guardian piece is misusing the term “fanfiction” (they make it all one word there). They’re talking about an official sequel and worrying over other possible franchises that could get “new” authors. Eh. Whatever. To go back to the sand castles, this kind of sequel is like letting someone build a new wing of a standing castle. It’ll either look awesome or look really bad, but if you walk around to another side of the sand castle, you won’t be able to see it at all. You can pretend it doesn’t exist.

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