What do you think of fanfiction? In general—do you think it’s a fun thing or a trespass on an author/producer’s world? And of course, obviously specific authors have very firm and very differing opinions about this, yet it’s getting more popular and more mainstream all the time. Do you ever read or write it yourself?
Basically, I think it gets unfair criticism. Except when it’s about real people because that gets gross and disrespectful fast, but for the purposes of this post, we’re talking about fanfiction dealing with solely fictional works.
Technically, I have both read and written it, but I only read a little Harry Potter fanfiction that I think Sarah suggested years ago. I’m not particularly interested in it. And I wrote a little because I kept thinking about possible alternate outcomes, so I wrote it down to get it out of my head–a pretty good summary of most of my writing, at least early on.
But I think those hypotheticals are what fanfiction was born out of, and I think it’s fine. The only difference between a fan saying, “But what if this happened instead?” and a fanfiction writer is the writer explores that alternative at length, especially when the canon isn’t satisfactory. So in that sense, I can understand why some original creators don’t like it–their word is gospel, although when you put something out into the world, you have to expect
But at the same time, readers and fanfiction writers often have very good reasons for being displeased with the way a work turned out. Just based on snippets from my Tumblr dashboard, Dr. Who fans often don’t like the way things are handled, and there was lots of talk from Once Upon a Time fans–from what I can gather without having watched the show and gotten too involved for that reason–about what they perceived to be lots of obvious, intentional homoerotic tension that was literally laughed off by show creators when fans addressed it and wrote about it. After Paul and I were really disappointed by Prometheus, he joked about writing fanfiction exploring its strengths and cutting out what we felt was super predictable, messy filler.
A big factor in this, too, is when continuity and characterization are ignored. Fanfiction writers might not necessarily be better, smarter, or more well-equipped to write a story, but readers/viewers are smart and attentive, and if they’re thrown off by characterization and continuity, then you have a problem. Whenever Paul and I talk about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, especially the last movie, we almost always mention that the characters acted completely differently in that film than they did the previous two, and as a fan and viewer it made the movie confusing and unsatisfactory. Similarly, I’ve been watching the show Lie to Me on Netflix, and one of my biggest complaints about it–especially since I’m watching it in the span of a few weeks as opposed to spread out over the three-ish years it was on the air–is that it ignores previous characterization and continuity. What should be major plot points are glossed over or ignored with little to no effect on later events. Characters’ previous actions and statements are similarly ignored, leading to other statements and actions that don’t make any sense within the context of what we already know about them. This obviously isn’t an isolated problem in books and TV, so it’s no wonder readers speculate about alternatives and write about them. If you’re going to be careless with the world you create, don’t be surprised when others invite themselves in to clean it up.
That said, I think it’s mostly harmless where writers are playing around, not something that could be considered trespassing or undermining, unless, of course, the writer openly does it for the reasons above. And unless that’s the case, the original creators should be flattered that someone was taken enough with their creation that someone else played with it.
I think it has other advantages, too–good writing exercise in general, good for writing within a certain world and with certain characters, good general exercise in creativity.