May 09 2010

It’s all derivative, and it’s all fanfic.

Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, had quite the furor over on her blog last weekend. The posts in question, along with their comments, are gone now, which is too bad, but I honestly don’t blame her for deleting them in the end.

The initial post called out fanfic writers. Ms Gabaldon used comparisons that caused a huge uproar in the fandoms. She could have used a little bit of tact, and she was incorrect in her statement that fanfic is illegal, but I do believe her point was valid. The point of the initial post? She doesn’t want people to write fanfic about her characters and post it online.

For the uninitiated, fanfic is a genre(?) of writing wherein the author takes characters or elements of someone else’s work (be it television, movies, or books) and uses those characters or elements to create a new story. It’s gotten rather a bad rap in many circles due to the tendency of these stories to include eroticism – or just plain smut – that often pairs two characters who were never paired in such a manner in the original work. There is, in fact, a lot of what is called “slash” – that is, homoerotic fiction that (usually) pairs two male characters who are canonically heterosexual – written in the fanfic genre.

I, myself, do not read fanfic very often. Occasionally I will read a Combat! fanfic story that my mother has written (somehow Combat! fans manage to stay away from slash), but in general I don’t seek it out and don’t click on links to fanfic that I come across during my usual perusal of my friends page on LiveJournal. It stands to reason that I also do not write fanfic.

Something that I have noticed, which I very much appreciate about the fanfic I have come across (whether I read it or not) is the way the story is introduced. There is typically a header to the post that offers the reader a rating (similar to that used for rating movies), a list of warnings (e.g., sexuality, violence, language), the fandom (or fandoms if it is a cross-fandom story) being explored, and a disclaimer that notes who originally created the world and/or characters and states outright that the author of the story is just playing with them. Sometimes, a fanfic author will create a whole alternative universe, and when that happens, the header will note that this has occurred. Sometimes other authors will become so taken with this alternative universe that they start writing stories in this new continuity themselves, and they note that they are writing something in so-and-so’s continuity.

All in all, fanfic seems to have a lot of pretty clear rules about how things are to be done, and one of those rules is that if an author states that they do not condone fanfic, then there will be no fanfic of that author’s work.

Now that I’ve said all of that, what’s up with my post title this week?

Just what it says: it’s all derivative, and it’s all fanfic.

There are a limited number of stories in the world. I think somebody else said that first, but I have no idea who it was – just that it was said. I think it is important to realize that we, as authors, don’t write in a vacuum. We watch TV, or we watch movies, or (at the very least) we read books (and we’d better be reading, else what business have we to try to write). All of this media influences our writing. We like certain aspects of the things we read or watch, and we choose to include them in our own work. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it is, I think, important that we recognize that it does happen. There is no truly original work in the world: it’s all derivative. What makes each new work original is the spin put on it, the twists and turns the author takes as he works to tell the story that has planted itself so firmly in his mind, and the author’s voice (assuming he has developed a unique one and is not simply imitating someone else’s).

I think “it’s all fanfic” is also a valid statement. High fantasy (sword and sorcerer type stories) hail back to Tolkein, Dungeons & Dragons, and other similar works. One of my favourite twentieth-century Christian fantasists, John White, made no bones of the fact that he based many aspects of his Anthropos books on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series (e.g., children from our world go there; there are talking animals that help them defeat evil; there is an allegorical slant to the story, complete with a poorly-disguised Christ-figure and a crucifixion scene). So-called science fiction that doesn’t include a whole lot of actual science? That’s probably got a lot to do with Star Wars and Star Trek. And you can’t tell me that people who write romance novels (of the ripped/heaving bodices type) aren’t simply writing the types of stories they like reading in the genre. (Okay, yes, I realize that some of the people who write them don’t read them. But enough of them do, I think, to make it a valid statement.)

I will share some examples from my own writing.

  1. Ballk is a children’s fantasy novel that is based loosely around John White’s Anthropos books. There is a girl who travels to another world and must defeat the evil queen to restore order to the place she finds herself.  It’s not so well-developed an imitation that there are talking animals or a Christ-figure, but the overarching plot elements are there.
  2. Beast is a retelling of the fairy tale Beauty & the Beast. Immediately you know it’s fanfic, derivative, whatever else you want to call it. What’s different about my take on the story is that I’m telling it from the point-of-view of the Beast.
  3. I write stories based on the Bible. By which I mean, I take a story from the Bible and choose a point-of-view and write it, with more detail, from that point-of-view. So far, I have written the creation story from Genesis, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (from the point-of-view of Sarah, Isaac’s mother), and a couple of other stories. This is definitely fanfic.

What about you? Can you see your influences? What fandom do you write for? From what do your stories derive?

You know you do it.

1 Comment

  • By Matthew, May 16, 2010 @ 6.54 pm

    My Nicene Sketches are, predictably, based on the history and traditions surrounding the Council of Nicaea, seeing that they’re historical fiction.

    And my NaNoWriMo novel (I’m almost actually done the actual rough draft) has many elements derived from all over the place, from Greek myth, Star Wars, the Wizard of Oz, Celtic myth, and who knows where else.

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