Fanfiction are stories created by fans about their favorite shows, movies, books, and the like. I discovered it when I was a teenager. I read people’s ideas for how the Legend of Zelda might have continued on after the game was beat and explorations of subjects that were never fully explored in my favorite animes. That is most often what you find in fanfiction, peoples thoughts and feelings on subjects that were never fully fleshed out or what might have been. It is also common to find stories of what people think will happen as they wait for the next chapter to be revealed.
I found it inspiring to see that anyone could write a story and put it out there for everyone to read. Being a writer had seemed like such a far away idea, but in the internet forums, anyone could become an author. Not everyone was good of course, but it was understood to be amature hour. It is something shared in a community of people dedicated to a love of a particular subject. It took a while, but eventually, I gave it a try. I had written short fiction before. This was different though. I was putting something out there to be shared and read with the masses. Fanfiction is what made me think, I can do this. I can be a real author.
Among the more “professional authors,” fanfiction can be a controversial topics. Some see it as an infringement on their intellectual property. Anne Rice has been aggressive in fighting fanfiction based on her stories and even asked that it be removed from websites. Others seem to be just dismissive of the writing style in general. Are they wrong? In the question of copyright, that is a tough call. In the case of the quality of the writing of fanfiction, I would say unequivocally yes.
I am going to address the writing quality issue first. I think that is a miss conception, plane and simple. There are of course some very bad pieces of fanfiction. It is by its nature an amature art. That said though, there are also very good works. Some are even better than what the original creators come up with. After all, if you have a thousand people coming up with ideas, sooner or later, someone will hit on gold. As to the idea that fanfiction writers are unoriginal, just playing off of someone else’s ideas, that is ridiculous. No one calls Timothy Zhan or Michael Stackpole’s works in the Star Wars EU unoriginal. They were simply creating stories within a shared universe. Ultimately, that is what fanfiction is, an unofficial shared universe.
Copyright can be a touchy subject for authors. If that is your profession, then someone violating a copyright is practically robbing you. As well, most writers feel strongly about the characters and worlds they create. They do not want to see them violated or misused. George R. R. Martin likes to point to an instance where an author scrapped a novel when a fanfic writer threatened to sue concerning similarities with a story he made based off of her work. I wholeheartedly agree that the fanfic writer was in the wrong on this. Martin also likes to compare Edgar Rice Burrow and H.P. Lovecraft. ERB held tight control of his characters and creations, and made good money off of them. HPL sadly died in poverty, which Martin attributes to HPL not keeping tight control of his property. I feel this comparison is a bit of an oversimplification. As well, HPL’s Cthulhu Mythos has more in common with a shared world than a fanfiction community.
Now, I will not pretend to be an expert on copyright, creative commons, or the what falls into the public domain. Perhaps my thoughts on the issue will change as I learn more on the subject, but for now, here is my thoughts on how it relates to fanfiction. So long as the fanfiction author credits the source material and does not try to profit from it, I do not see any real harm. The idea that the original author is the only one who has any right to the characters seems a bit stretched in this area. Everyone that reads their work will naturally come up with their own ideas of “what if,” or “I think this will happen,” and play it through their heads. Fanfiction is just taking that idea and writing it down.
There are some times when I do feel a bit more control is appropriate. My own works for example. I would be rather flattered if someone liked one of my stories enough that they wanted to play around with it. However, at this point, that would make it harder to maintain control of my characters. I would be open to someone doing a shared world based off of my works, but I would need to maintain tight control to retain my rights to the property. Now, if I sell a book or two and a few fans want to put up a few stories, at that point, I would be quite fine with it. Heck, I would love to see that. George Lucas does not have to worry about losing control of Star Wars to a few fanfiction writers, but a small novice like myself cannot afford to have his works taken over.
Those are my personal thoughts on fanfiction. I still love to read it now and then. Sometimes I even think of writing some. However, I have moved on to creating my own original works. I had thought of throwing some of my old fanfiction works up on The Word Crafter’s Lair. I decided against that though, wanting it to be a place to showcase my own creations. If you are interested, though, my works can still be found on my fanfiction.net profile.