The Time Has Come to Talk of Many Things: Genre, The Internet & Stories
So, Diana Gabaldon has said she really hates fanfiction. Diana Gabaldon is the author of two serieses of books which I have read, one series about a time-travelling lady called Claire who meets a handsome Scotsman and has excellent adventures she gets through via her medical expertise and true love, and one series about an English gentleman soldier called Lord John who keeps stumbling into mysteries and espionage and has to solve them with his stubborn sense of honour and occasional lapses from being polite into berserker rage. (PS Lord John is gay, always nice to see a main character who just is without that being the central point of the narrative, sometimes. Because people just are.) I like both serieses very much.
Having explained Diana Gabaldon, I will now explain fanfiction! I see I have already handily explained it in my FAQ section on my website.
Q: What do you think of fanfiction (stories on the internet which are based on your books)? Can I write some if I want?
A: I think fanfiction is very cool. It’s a way to have fun, be imaginative and practise your writing. And if you want to write some based on my books, I’ll be very flattered and pleased: you have my permission to go right ahead. I can’t read it, because that can get writers into nasty legal situations, and you’re not allowed make money off it. Otherwise go right ahead!
So, stories on the internet that are based on people's books. (Or movies. Or TV shows. I don't have either of those things, though.) Apparently I would be so pleased to have fanfiction of my stuff that I said 'go right ahead' twice.
Stories about other people's stories. Well, I've written those. Lots of people who love stories have, I think: it's a really natural thing to do, out of our emotional response of love for that work.
When I read Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outers and Dog, the tale of four nice normal British children, a Scotty dog, and Fatty, the mad genius kid who at first alienates and irritates the others, then through a process to do with solving many crimes together becomes their poetry-writing cross-dressing lord king, I wrote down stories where Fatty came back from his posh boarding school amazingly good-looking and the two ladies fought for his love.
When I read King Lear in school, I loved the evil brother who was plotting to take down his father, brother and seduce the king's evil daughters. I thought to myself 'If Edmund had just been wounded and not killed, everyone else who survives is so dumb, I bet Edmund would end up ruling England from his sickbed and they could not execute him because who would run the country then? Also, if Cordelia had lived, Edmund could snag all three sisters.'
I blame Edmund from King Lear and Edmund from Narnia for my life-long appreciation for evil brothers. I really do. Curse you, evil Edmunds.
After exams in school also, I used to have a lot of time because I can write pretty fast, so I would write joke X Files scripts where Mulder and Scully met mad scientists or Dracula, and after exams were done all my friends would read them and laugh. It was a good time, aside from times when people would ask me for the next script and I would say I didn't have one, and they would say 'What were you doing all that time' and I would say 'My exam.' I had a demanding fanbase! Of like six people.
I also wrote fanfiction and put it on the internet from when I was seventeen, because I found Harry Potter fanfiction and I thought it looked like fun, so I decided to write it too. I wrote about my favourite character (Draco Malfoy, see above re: the Edmunds, I can't help myself) and what-if scenarios and turning into rats and fighting crime and any number of romantic entanglements. It was fun: I had fun doing it for many a year. And I made friends who I still love now. Near the end it wasn't much fun because I wanted the time to do other stuff, so I finished up the stories and did other stuff. I also took down the stories, because I wanted to keep this journal and having fanfiction up is a legal grey area, and because the thought of unedited stuff I wrote when I was seventeen floating around forever was a bit horrifying.
Now keeping the same journal and being pretty open about what I used to write has worked out fairly badly for me, all things considered: I get daily hatemail from people telling me how much I suck, how much my book sucks or how much they will never read it. More hate response than fan response. Imagine, if you will, how much it sucks to be told, every day, by strangers, that you suck. For a writer with her very first book hoping kind of tremblingly that people will like it and already completely on edge with nerves, this? A horrorshow to live through, and it made me feel really ambivalent about the stories I wrote.
But that doesn't mean fanfiction is bad, it means that being a professional writer and a writer of fan stuff is complicated. Just because I got knocked over by a car doesn't mean everybody else has to stop crossing the street.
Fanfiction being a legal grey area is something I don't know much about, not being much versed in law. Here is a more knowledgeable opinion about it. But my feeling is this. Doesn't matter, if nobody makes any money and nobody means any harm!
And as I said, it's just something a lot of people who like stories do in response to stories. And not just any stories: stories they love. Not being able to get a story out of your head and playing around with it in said head is fun: it's a loving response.
Diana Gabaldon is obviously icked out by seeing other people play with characters she thinks of as hers. That's an emotional response, and it is hers. No way to control it, any more than my baby sister can control being afraid of spiders and becoming a six foot two blurred tower of blond terror whenever she sees them. And since fanfiction is a loving response, knowing the creator of what you love would be bothered by you doing something? I think it's best to respect it bothers her, and not do it. (Note: these are my personal feelings on the topic, and not the ultimate guide for proper behaviour!) And I think - because as I said, it's a loving response - that's what will happen.
I am sad thinking that a writer I like thinks something I did was manky, but a) maybe she will change her mind, she's already re-considering since a ton of people have pointed out it is a loving response and b) even if she still thinks it's a horrible terrible no-good very bad thing forever, well, that's okay. People disagree all the time.
I have seen some people in response to her go 'Oh well, your story had inspirations! Or your story's bad because it is too sexy! Or because it's romance! Or because it's fantasy!'
I don't think fanfiction is bad. I don't think any particular genre is bad.
I think it's always kind of sketch to say to someone 'This is bad, because.' Anyone in the world can say 'I didn't enjoy this, because.' Or even just "I didn't enjoy this" - emotional responses are valid! But why tell someone that something they love, something they enjoy doing, is bad?
Unless they're hurting someone, it's not.
I had a contest for advance copies of my second book, and people wrote me stories, and drew me art, and it was excellent. Talented, enthusiastic people liking something I made, and having fun with it, and me, and each other? Well, I'm not sure this essay has a conclusion other than 'People have emotional responses and that's okay! Don't put each other down though!' But okay: my emotional response was that made me really happy, and I thought it was awesome.
Next up: my post on why I think genres like fantasy are extremely awesome too.