Alright, so you’re an author and you’ve just discovered: Horror of horrors! There are people out there WRITING FANFIC. They are borrowing YOUR world! Puppeting YOUR characters through plots you DO NOT condone! How very disrespectful, not to mention theftful. Is that a word? Theftful should be a word. We could totally convince the public that it’s a word.
Anyway, it probably feels like someone has rifled through your intimates drawer or sat in all your chairs or picked your kids up from school and taken them to the super cool theme park down the road for a day of awesome that you didn’t know existed.
Or maybe a week of awesome.
Wait, it’s been a year. ARE PEOPLE STILL DOING THIS TO MY BRAINCHILD???
Okay, let’s take some deep breaths here.
Whatever you’re thinking about these grabby-handed fanficcers, I guarantee you it’s been said before. There is so much negativity tied to fanfic already. So much. For the biggest naysayers, it’s all about destruction, violent deconstruction, and unlawful appropriation, not to mention lack of creativity. We’re just butting our heads over the same damn material again and again.
Therefore, authors, in the spirit of creation instead of demolition, I present you the following challenge (you like challenges, don’t you? You wouldn’t be writing if you didn’t…): Instead of blaming the ficcers (who exist whether you bitch about them or not), let’s tackle the only thing you actually can control: Yourself. Your mindset. The way you look at what’s being done with your work.
Because there is indeed a flipside to this grotty, devil-spawned sewer-dwelling coin you’ve been smacking repeatedly with a stick. (See note at the end for disclaimers.) THE MISSING SCENE
(aka, that time when you wrote about two characters who drove from Place A to Place B, and then someone went and actually wrote the conversation they had in the car! The one that you skipped! Because of Reasons!) Rude!
I left that conversation out because it wasn’t necessary. Everything that could be gleaned from it is implied later, duh. Fanficcers must be unobservant sots. But Wait...
They are observant as hell. In fact, they are so
observant that they needled through all your carefully placed clues and REVERSE MANUFACTURED how that conversation might have gone so that the characters ended up where they needed to. They cared enough about your writing to start analyzing it.
They cared enough about your story to poke at why and how you could have pushed a character through it.
(For the record? That bolded bit in there is the lesson I want you to take away from this.) A 'legitimized' Missing Scene fic: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard, aka, the missing (and slightly whacked) scenes of two side characters in Hamlet
Huh. That’s... kind of flattering. But wait, what about: THE SLASH FIC
(aka, that time when your characters were not banging each other and then someone went and wrote them banging each other! They are not gay! Straight! Pan! Whatever!) Rude!
Excuse me, my characters are NOT interested in each other like that. They are too busy having a plot. They are not focusing on sex. They don’t look each other that way! But Wait...
they look at each other that way? Author, my most hearty congratulations: your story officially has subtext.
Yes, I said subtext, that elusive underwater ripple that enriches every amazing plot ever. Your readers were so invested, so riveted in the interplay between your characters that they saw something there that deserved further exploration. They cared enough about your characters’ fates to wonder if they would ever walk down such a path. A 'legitimized' Slash Fic: A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes
, an anthology of stories exploring the possibilities of queer relationships between a multitude of Holmesian characters.
Well, okay, that’s pretty nice, people caring about my characters. But hang on, sometimes they add a completely new character: THE MARY SUE (or GARY STU)
(aka, that time when your characters met an awesome exchange student who is way too sweet and lovable and self-sacrificing and has all the answers and looks exactly like the fic writer and shows up just in time to kick ass, take names, and fall in love with the protagonist. What the hell, you have to fix my story by solving everything through a non-entity??) Rude!
Earth to Reader: if I wanted Poorly Concealed You in my story, I would have added Poorly Concealed You to the story, and cleared the copyright issues with Real You first. My characters can solve their own problems. They don’t need an interloper with perfect hair. But Wait...
Earth to Author: your reader loved your world so damn much that they wanted to live in it.
Serious compliment. A 'legitimized' Mary Sue/Gary Stu: Lost in Austen
, wherein Random Modern Girl switches places with Elizabeth Bennet, gets Darcy to jump in a lake, and finds out that Austen’s story is more complicated than she thought.
Alright. It still makes me roll my eyes, but I guess that makes sense. But wait a sec, what about: THE MODERNIZED AU
(that’s Alternate Universe, btw)
(aka, that time when your characters were snatched out of Regency England and plopped into 20th Century America with absolutely no explanation and given cell phones and driver’s permits and fashion computer programs and wait, that’s Clueless
, right?) Rude!
The reason I wrote this story in said time period is because this story takes place in said time period. You can’t just move everybody to a new era and call it a brand new story! The same shit’s going on to the same people, you haven’t created
anything. But Wait...
That’s because they adapted
Guess what? Your story has staying power. Your story is thematically sound in any time. Your story was so strong that even transposed into another era with other values and other daily occurrences, it still means something.
The lessons it contains still hold water. Readers still identify with your characters. YOUR STORY IS STILL RELEVANT. Yowsers, that’s like, Shakespeare or Homer or Marquez or Conrad or Gibran or Hughes or Achebe or Austen or Tolstoy or Bronte. 'Legitimized' Modernized AU fic: Sherlock
(TV series, Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle), Bride and Prejudice
(Bollywood movie, Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen), Gankutsuou
(anime, The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas), West Side Story
(Romeo and Juliet
by Shakespeare)… Look, just Google “modern adaptations of classics.”
Wow. I really do want my work to have staying power. But come on, why do they have to write: THE POV SWITCH
(aka, that time when you wrote a story from one character’s POV and then someone wrote the same story from the other character’s POV instead.) Rude!
Hello. I chose that specific perspective for a reason. If I wanted to write multiple POVs, I would have. You got everything you need for the plot from listening to the one character. You don’t need to rehash it through the other one’s eyes. But Wait...
But what if they were struck so hard by that scene that they had to re-imagine it? What if they get that all confrontations are multi-sided and they respected your characterizations so much that they wanted to give the other person a chance to speak? What if they were curious about your other character? What if they just wanted to explore what that person might have thought while speaking whatever was spoken? Your character motivations are dense, layered, mysterious, and engaging to your reader. A 'legitimized' POV Switch fic: The Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys (aka, what happened to Rochester’s first wife)
Yeah, okay, but that’s not what they do. Sometimes they change the entire conversation! THE REMIX
(aka, that time when you wrote your characters starting and finishing a conversation and then someone wrote them starting the same conversation and ending up in outer space) Rude!
This is the only way this conversation with these characters could have gone. They each have a fatal flaw that leads them here. You are changing who they are. But Wait... Your characters are well-developed, ergo they are layered, ergo they make choices, ergo they have complex personalities.
Ergo, what if they’d said this instead? How might the entire plot have re-spindled off of this one pivotal moment that YOU came up with? Trust me, if someone is remixing your work, they are complimenting its depth and potential. 'Legitimized' Remix fic:
Pretty much all of Penny Dreadful
. Also, every time any anti-hero or antagonist ever got to tell the other side of the story.
Well, I definitely like knowing that my characters have depth and potential worth exploring. But seriously, do they have to write: THE BACKSTORY FIC
(aka, that time you wrote a character at age thirty and then someone else wrote that character at age thirteen.) Rude!
I already know their backstory! I cut it out because the real story doesn’t start until much later! When they’ve grown! When they already have all their fatal flaws! When they are actually interesting! But Wait…
What about your character’s formative years do you not think is interesting? Maybe not marketable. Maybe even not important. But interesting? Hell, ficcers wouldn’t be fanficcing the backstory if they weren’t interested! Your ficcers are treating your characters like real people, exploring their agency and motivations. Why? Because you have already written the important story and in so doing, you gave consumers someone they could relate to. A 'legitimized' Backstory fic: Wicked
by Gregory Maguire (how the Wicked Witch of the West ended up taking the ultimate fall)
Fine! Whatever. I guess it doesn’t hurt, since they got some of it right anyway. But that’s no excuse for: THE FUTUREFIC
(aka, that time you ended a story and then someone picked it up again when everyone was thirty years older.) Rude!
DO I EVEN NEED TO ADDRESS THIS? I ENDED THE STORY BECAUSE IT WAS THE END. But Wait…
Even you know that life doesn’t just end at the culmination of a character arc. Unless that character arc ends with the falling of an axe or the explosion of the planet or some other nonexistence-inducing situation, people still go on to live the rest of their lives after they marry/defeat the baddie/meet their parents/come back from war/etc. Again with the character love: your readers want to watch these people grow old together! 'Legitimized' Futurefic: Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James (Elizabeth Bennet actually has a life after she and Darcy get married! Who would have ever suspected!) or Hook
(Peter Pan actually grew up!)
I could go on.
My point, author, is that fanfic exists and remains popular (and will remain popular no matter who jumps up and down on a grouch pogo and shouts down the mountains) because it allows its creators to further engage with, interpret, and celebrate the original works they love. Even more important, it allows these beloved works to be resurrected for modern readers, in whichever year “modern” happens to be.
There is no binary here. Fanfic exists alongside
original canon. It does not change
original canon. Your beloved baby still lives on in its pure form, to be discovered and rediscovered by still more consumers, who will want to engage with and celebrate it themselves and make it mean something to them, too.
Therefore, instead of expending so much energy on the negative, adopt the positive:
try recognizing and accepting all the compliments fanfiction pays you and your canon every day.
Trust me, you'll be happier and less stressed.(For some help with 'legitimized' titles, much love and thanks go to bookshop for her wonderful post: I'm done explaining why fanfic is okay. I put legitimized in quotes to indicate that it has been made legitimate by publication or other 'socially acceptable' recognition. In my opinion, fanfic is legitimate, full stop.)