Saturday, February 20, 2010

On fanfiction

Recently, I fell back into a habit I thought I had long since discarded.

Yes, you have that right. I went looking for fanfiction.

There's a book I am quite fond of, called Sunshine. Robin McKinley's books are all favorites of mine, and I've read most of them twice, three- sometimes five times or more- but Sunshine is the one I read over and over and over again, at least twice a year. If I didn't have so many other things to read for school right now, I'd probably read it more often. I'm a cursedly fast reader. It has less to do with my actual reading speed and more to do with my intensity as a reader. When I'm into a book, I read it at all times. In fact, I may as well admit that I would long ago have looked into a car loan if not for the pleasure of reading on the bus.

The thing that makes me long for- not even a sequel, but more- is that Sunshine is a brief window of time in a fascinating world. Rae Seddon, the narrator, can be petulant at times, as many real people are, and the surrounding characters flesh out the novel wonderfully.

There is nothing wrong with open endings. At the end of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, I speculated, as many did, I'm sure, about what happened. I had a lot of fun speculating, as a matter of fact. However, I did not miss Jimmy, or any of the other characters. What happens next in that book is anyone's guess, but the story is done. It's been told.

So has Sunshine/Rae's, of course, but McKinley does such a fine job of setting up the day to day existence of these characters and their lives that I longed to see more- to visit with them at work and eat one of the cinnamon rolls as big as your head that Sunshine gets up at 4 AM to bake; to ask her mysterious landlady more questions about her past. I wanted to watch Mel work on motorcycles. I wanted to rub his tattoos (hey- I'm a perv). I wanted to spy on Jesse and Pat, and go to the library and visit Aimil. I was curious to know what kind of creature that sweet old woman who maintains the flowers outside Charlie's place is a were of. I wanted to know more about the war.

One of the problems of making such well-fleshed out characters and making them so real you could expect to walk out the door and bump into them (vamps aside, of course) is that readers get attached. Those characters become your friends, and when they tell you about their lives, it's like you're talking over coffee. You MISS them. You want to talk to them. You want to know how their lives are. Except, being fictional, you can't exactly check up on their facebook statuses every now and then when you wonder how that whole double life thing is going.

A lot of my favorite authors state very clearly that they do not like fanfiction, and I totally understand. Fandom is a wide and variable place, and you can find well written noir-esque Ranma 1/2 fanfiction in the same place that you'll find slavering accounts of the time that Pikachu and Misty got stuck in an elevator *shudder* (I really hope I'm making that last one up, by the way). There are also some very understandable reasons to avoid a legal pickle. Jasper Fforde explains, on his FAQ, that:

My thoughts on Fan Fiction are pretty much this:
That it seems strange to want to copy or 'augment' someone else's workwhen you could expend just as much energy and have a lot more fun making up your own. I feel, and I think with good reason, very proprietorial about Thursday and all her escapades; clearly I can't stop you writing and playing what you want in private, and am very flattered that you wish to do so. But anything published in any form whatsoever - and that specifically includes the internet - I cannot encourage, nor approve of.

This is a little bit less forbidding than Robin McKinley who writes here that:

My personal feeling is that while using other people's worlds and characters as practise and inspiration is not only good but recommended — I did it myself, and you can learn a lot about the craft of writing by copying/plagiarising/borrowing/spinning off from books and writers you admire — and showing stuff you've written from these origins to your immediate circle of friends, family, teachers, creative writing group, whatever, as an exercise to improve your skills is also fine. And this would as far as I'm concerned (although if I get any queries about this I'd have to check with my agent) include any private, password-protected, invitation-only groups on the net. But using other people's work should only be an exercise in getting yourself going into your own work. (Or a private fantasy. What you do at your own computer, so long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses, is your own business.) And I feel that if you're going to display/hang/offer something for strangers, for anyone and everyone, to read — as on the fanfic sites — it should be your own work. Yes, sources, catalysts and retellings are always with us — but mostly it's pretty obvious where the line runs, and fanfic is by definition on the wrong side of the line.

On the same faq, Ms. Mckinley also has a post called There is no sequel to sunshine ...AND THERE PROBABLY NEVER WILL BE.

I totally get that, by the way. It has got to be terrifically annoying having people bugging you to write a sequel to a book when you're not inspired to do so. Of course, it might make more sense to say something like, "I'm not the story council if you want a sequel to Sunshine you need to write it yourself. also, if you try and make money off of it, I'll sue your pants off so don't even try.

Jasper Fforde follows up his no fanfic answer with a wry claim that someone accused him of lifting a plot from a Thursday Next fanfiction website that he didn't even know existed! Now that is plainly ridiculous. Any fan who would do that is a giant, no holds barred, jerk. The problem I have with writing off all fans as just waiting to sue the author is- well- in my experience as a reader and writer of fanfiction, I've just not seen a lot of that. Mostly, fanworks are prefaced with something like this:

Disclaimer: I don't own Flatland. (yes, that is from a Flatland fanfiction, which is both cool and weird to think about).

Disclaimer: I don’t own Buffy, if I did, I’d be writing scripts, not fanfics."

Because I can't figure out how to edit the actual story, here's the disclaimer. As you all well know, I don't own the characters of YuGiOh. They're Kazuki Takahashi's. I also make no money.

I remember writing my own disclaimers when I also wrote fanfiction.

There are some wonderful writers with their own fiction empires who started out writing, basically, fanfiction, in published form. Diane Duane is one of them. Viewing her Bibliography, one can see that she has written quite a few Star Trek books, among others. And what, exactly is Scarlett, if not an officially licensed fanfiction?

Sometimes people need closure. Sometimes they want to try whatifs. Sometimes they just fall in love with a character and want to watch that character grow up. Authors are not coin-operated. It is not their job to give us the ending we want, or not kill off a character, or tell us the answer when we finish reading a book and wonder what happened next.

That is what fanfiction is for.

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