Table Talk: Fan fiction

I guess it’s time to broach another controversial topic in the land of entertainment: fan fiction. Truth be told, I’m ambivalent about fan fiction. I don’t have any loyalty to a particular fan fiction and, really, I don’t read fan fiction at all, but I used to read fan fiction back in my wonder years. And I’ve dabbled with a story or two, but that has officially been torn up and no trace of it can be found (so don’t ask). I will say that it wasn’t based on any particular fictional world either, and I’ll leave it at that.

With fan fiction, I understand the fun in writing and the reasons people do it. At least, the reasons I feel that writers of fan fiction, the serious writers of fan fiction, are because the love the world or the possibilities of it. For instance, if you don’t like how the author ended a story you can always continue the story in this fan fiction world. It takes the quote “if you want a happy ending, that depends of course, on where you stop the story (which I first heard from Mozzie in White Collar but then found out it is credited to Orson Welles)” quite literally. Another instance is if you want something to happen between “real life” people i.e. your favorite actors or a favorite band, you can make it happen in the world of fan fiction (though I find this kinda creepy since, you know, it’s real people). So I understand wanting to continue the fantasy. I tend to do that in my head. If I am disappointed with the end of a story I really love *coughs: Sookie Stackhouse*, like really disappointed, I close my eyes and rewrite the ending in my head. It doesn’t take away the sting of disappointment entirely, but it helps.

As much as I understand all that, I understand the flip side. I understand that certain fan fiction can borderline plagiarism. For those that need a refresher, plagiarism means “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing it off as one’s own.” I know this is a real gray area. At least, I see it as a massively huge gray area. The reason is, if the author of said fan fiction has mentioned that the characters belong to another author or that if their writing is based on the works of such-and-such, is that plagiarism? There is a disclaimer and they are crediting the characters and such as property of another so are they really passing off someone else’s work and/or ideas as their own when they do that? Another reason I see this as a gray area, I tend to view fan fiction as a hobby or a side gig. The fans do it because they love that world and I cannot see them, ever, as making a profit off their writing. They do it for pure enjoyment.

Which is why I find it hard, at times, to side with authors who hate fan fiction because they feel it is taking away from their livelihood. I mean, fan fiction will generally be enjoyed by other fans, right? And as long as the author of the fan fiction doesn’t make a profit off of them, is there really harm being done? Perhaps it comes in the quality and value, in which fan fiction degrades the value of an authors work. Even here, I sympathize with the argument, but can’t quite see how it does that. Again, fans know the characters belong to someone else. The cannon has already been written so I can’t see how a particular fan fiction takes away from that value.

And perhaps it’s because I’m not an author. Of course there is always that loop hole in the argument. I have never written a bestseller, nor do I think I ever will, so I cannot relate. That is a good point, however, I tend to agree with Joss Whedon on this one: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” Fan fiction, even though it’s borrowing from someone’s world, is art. Literature is art. If we held the standard that all interpretations of a said fictional world created by one author is off limits, where an author can penalize another person for using their world differently, then what can we say for works who are based on Shakespeare or Jane Austin? Not only that, most authors have borrowed an idea from someone else and/or have spawned their own idea from a story of another. I remember learning in my English class that there are typically three tensions a story can tell. The first being man versus man. The second being man versus nature. The third being man versus …, okay. I forget the third, but it was something like man versus things. If conflicts boil down to a few concepts and ideas, considering the amount of stories floating around out there, everyone has borrowed from everyone.

Which is why I’m ambivalent about fan fiction. Although, all things considered, it sounds like I’m pro-fan fiction. I would like to amend that though. I am pro-fan fiction to the point that it helps you with your own writing. If writing fan fiction helps you exercise your creativity as a writer, than do it. But let that evolve into your own voice, your own work, your own ideas. Don’t limit yourself to a particular world. As writers, we use experience to color our stories and ideas. We use life. Fan fiction is a part of that live so why not use that to create your own world and your own characters. Let fan fiction be the foundation in which you build your writing on. Let it be the first steps onto a new path, not the only steps.


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