Forward to next post: Open thread 64
Teresa says what needs to be said about “fanfic,” but buries it in the comments here. She can’t possibly promote it to the front page. Fortunately, I have no such compunctions.
Storytelling is basic to our species. It’s one of the ways we parse our experience of the universe. Whatever moves us or matters to us will show up in the stories we tell, whether or not we have a socially approved outlet for those stories. It might surprise you to find out how many writers have works of personal erotica tucked away in their unpublished-or-unpublishable manuscript trunks. There’s no good way to get those published, but they write them anyway, because they’re writers, and eroticism is an important part of our lives.
Good fiction gets under our skin. It can change the way we see the world. But whatever its effect, it’s a significant experience. It would be a bizarre thing—unnatural, even—for writers to not engage with that experience. They always have. I could show you stuff centuries old—heck, some of it’s millennia old—that’s fanfic by any modern definition.
Of course, it would have to be a modern definition. In a purely literary sense, fanfic doesn’t exist. There is only fiction. Fanfic is a legal category created by the modern system of trademarks and copyrights. Putting that label on a work of fiction says nothing about its quality, its creativity, or the intent of the writer who created it.
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year went to March, a novel by Geraldine Brooks, published by Viking. It’s a re-imagining of the life of the father of the four March girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Can you see a particle of difference between that and a work of declared fanfiction? I can’t. I can only see two differences: first, Louisa May Alcott is out of copyright; and second, Louisa May Alcott, Geraldine Brooks, and Viking are dreadfully respectable.
I’m just a tad cynical about authors who rage against fanfic. Their own work may be original to them, but even if their writing is so outre that it’s barely readable, they’ll still be using tropes and techniques and conventions they picked up from other writers. We have a system that counts some borrowings as legitimate, others as illegitimate. They stick with the legit sort, but they’re still writing out of and into the shared web of literature. They’re not so different as all that.
Fanfic means someone cares about what you wrote.
Personally, I’m convinced that the legends of the Holy Grail are fanfic about the Eucharist.
This really is a basic impulse.
In the comment thread, WillA posts in response to “Their own work may be original to them, but even if their writing is so outre that it’s barely readable, they’ll still be using tropes and techniques and conventions they picked up from other writers” :
I’ve got a joke to back up this particular point:There was once a conjurer who boasted that he had become god-like. One god happened to overhear, and challenged him to a contest.Props to any writer who can make a story fly. None of us use our own dirt.
“Can you do this?” the god asked, scooping up a handful of dirt and making it into a bird. They watched the bird fly away.
“Sure,” said the conjure-man, and reached down for a handful of raw material.
“Hey,” said god. “Use your own dirt.”