Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Good morning (or afternoon or evening, or whenever you're reading this) Dear Readers!

A few pieces of other business before we tackle today's blog topic. After my Pinterest related post last week there were some requests for me to make boards showcasing the images that inspired me when I was writing some of my published books, as well as the WIPs. Luckily I still had the files for Shadows on the Moon and FrostFire, so their boards are up there now if you're interested.

Also, a reminder that the Queen of Teen award nomination window is still open - but not for much longer! There's going to be a guest post and possibly a giveaway on the Undercover Reads Blog about this probably later this week, but please don't wait for that. Vote now!

And now onto the main point of this post: Fanfiction. My thoughts, let me show you them.

Lately there has been a big-bottom kerfuffle over a series of self-published books called 50 Shades of Grey (which I will not post a buy-link to, for reasons which will soon become clear). These books don't seem to be anything all that special - basically they're naughty romances with whips and chains and other titilating things. But they've become a huge success, to the extent that a publisher has paid between six and seven figures for the right to produce a hardcopy version, and high-profile production companies are battling it out to make a film. And most of that seems to be down to the fact that once upon a time, 50 Shades of Grey was a fanfic. More specifically, a Twilight fanfic.

There's been the usual misogynistic sneering over these silly bookeses that the silly wimminz read and all that, but the part of the debate which interests me is the one you see there on that link above, where people are asking: is this ethical? Is it right that a piece of fiction which originated from another author's work should now generate income for someone else? Is it OK to file off the serial numbers of a fanfic and sell it as original fiction?

A little over a month ago I would have shrugged my shoulders over this without thinking much about it either way (other than wondering if there's some sort of fairy glamour attached to Twilight which turns anything even tangenitally connected to it into a huge hit, and whose kidney I'd have to eat to get some of that for myself). I'd never written fanfic, never read it, and as far as I'm aware no one's ever written any for my books. So who cares, right?

But about a month ago I was checking out one of my favourite sites, Reasoning With Vampires, where a grammar-junkie dissects Twilight on a prose level and makes much pedantic hilarity of its awfulness, and she had a Q&A post where someone asked her, had she ever read any Twilight fanfic? She said that she didn't really enjoy fanfic much, so she'd only ever read one piece: The Movement of the Earth (don't click on that link if you're under the age of consent - there's language and adult stuff). This fanfic was, in her opinion, a rather brilliant piece of writing by a very talented author who attempted to re-write the story in a way that allowed for actual characterisation, plot, pacing and some degree of story logic while remaining within the 'Meyer Voice' (ie, making it look like she could barely string a coherent sentence together).

Fascinated, I hied hither and read The Movement of the Earth. And I found it good. So then I read all the author's other fics, which were dark and scary and beautiful and real, even though every single one of them was inspired by the work of other authors. And then I followed links from that writer's LJ to FanFiction.net where I found other authors writing Twilight fanfic and I, Twilight-hater-extraordinaire, FELL IN LOVE.

I read a million takes on Twilight. I read stories where authors took the characters and events of the story and remade them into something transcendent and wonderful which I could simply never have imagined. I read stories where characters I'd never imagined as a couple fell in love and I believed it. I read fics so diverse and brave and brilliant that, apart from the names, it would have been impossible for me to tell that there had ever been any connection to Stephenie Meyer's work in the first place. I read fics that made me giggle and snort like an otter with fish guts on its nose, and fics that made me snort and sob like an otter with fish guts on its nose.

I read a couple of pieces of writing so amazing that I desperately tried to figure out if it would be too presumptuous to email the authors, tell them I thought their work was grade-A, publication quality awesome, and beg them to do some serial number filing so they could submit to my agent (I haven't done this, by the way - I'm honestly not sure, given fanfic culture, if the writers would find that an insult).

Of course, I also waded through an awful lot of utter, complete, dreck. But how is that different from any visit to my local bookshop? Not at all, actually.

And as I was reading and laughing and crying and mentally composing (but not actually writing) begging emails to these fanfic writers, it occurred to me that actually, I *have* written fanfic in the past. I just never called it that, because I'd never heard the term when I was twelve. And I never had any kind of an outlet to share it; when I was a kid there was no online fandom and no FanFiction.net or anything of the sort.

I suddenly remembered filling a green school exercise book with my take on scenarios where Daine and Numair of Tamora Pierce's The Immortals Quartet finally admitted their feelings for each other and kissed for the first time. I re-wrote Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca with myself as the heroine (and I kicked Max DeWinter's butt, let me tell you). I wrote hundreds of poems that were directly inspired by situations I read about in other people's books.

And all this? Is the reason why I am the writer I am today.

Writing fanfiction is like...like a talented artist carefully imitating the work of Picasso or Monet or Leonardo deVinci in order to learn the skills that allowed those earlier artists to create such beauty. It's like me listening to a piece of music with a specific mood, over and over, to help me write a certain scene with that mood. It's taking a recipe which doesn't quite work for you and tweaking it, messing with it, taking certain ingredients out and putting new ones in until you've come up with something unique and different which has a little flavour of the original.

So my take on fanfiction is this: I'm all for it. I think it's a great testing ground for people who are often enormously talented in their own right to learn necessary skills in writing and taking and giving constructive criticism. If anyone ever wants to write any for my work I'll be astonished but pleased (although I'm not sure I'll be able to read it). And if someone offers you a publishing deal for a piece of work inspired by my writing, all you're going to need to do is make sure you file those serial numbers off really well, and I'll be delighted for you.

Have at it.


A Backwards Story said...

Great post!

I DO come from that culture. It's what made me the writer I've become as well. I learned how to critique constructively, how to beta, how to properly deal with feedback, etc.

I agree; some fanfic is BRILLIANT, other stuff, not so much.

Whether or not fanfic can be publishable is something that's been debated for years. In my fandom, there was one really popular author who planned to re-write everything and sell it, which made a lot of readers *not* like her and trash-talk her despite how popular her stuff was. To my knowledge, she never did transfer the books over, but she HAS published a couple of original novels.

THEN you have authors like Marissa Meyer, who originally had an idea that was going to be fanfic, but she twisted it into something original instead. Yes, if you read CINDER and know where the idea initially came from, you can see the similarities, but it's still 100% unique and all its own. It was only borrowing the world and characters. To me, that's always the best fanfic. If you know the characters well enough, you can envision them originally (which is the type of fanfic I wrote, too).

Then again, sometimes fanfic lets you know too much about an author. Best-selling author Cassandra Clare had a plagiarizing scandal that made a lot of people HATE her when she wrote as Cassandra Claire. (See the difference in the last name?) All of her fans asked that the publisher she had just signed with not be told about it so she could have a successful writing career, but the move--and the fact that her MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series was originally Harry Potter fanfic--caused a lot of people to absolutely hate her. I haven't read that series--and I won't because of everything that's happened--but I've heard that the characters still look very much like Ginny, Harry, and Draco. It hasn't detracted from how many books she sells, though!

Personally, I don't think most of what I've written would translate to a published novel well outside of its built-in world. Sometimes with fanfic, you don't need to develop introducing your characters to the audience in the same fashion you would in a novel, because they already know if two characters hate each other but are destined to wind up together, etc.

Granted, there is one fic I started writing once and thought it was great (Would I still? IDK!), and I STOPPED writing and posting it for in case I ever wanted to publish it for real. There was another idea I had where I actually DID write the first chapter (three days of NaNo!), and realized it would be HUGE and that it was so 100% original that if I was going to dedicate that much time to something, I should turn it original. The only thing that would have linked it to its source material would have been the two main characters (who were secondary characters in the series) and the color of the MC's hair! Nothing else. I still come back to that fantasy idea every once in a while and want to work on it again one day.

And that is the end of this crazy, epically long reply, lol!

Emma Pass said...

My early writing was what would now be considered fanfic, but as you say, the term didn't exist at the time. Heck, the internet barely existed back then!

When I was 13, I had vague ambitions to become a musician or an artist. Then I went to see the film Jurassic Park. Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about this abandoned tropical island, still teeming with dinosaurs. So I started to write a sequel, using the characters from the original booik/film, and after just a few days, I realised that this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I even finished the story, and still have it - all 175 hand-written (notebook) pages of it!

I wrote a lot of sequels and spinoffs over the next few years, as well as more original stories using people from my favourite films, bands and TV programmes as characters. These stories, while certainly not good (or original) enough to get published, taught me a huge amount about writing. Like you, Zoe, they're the reason I'm the writer I am today. Brilliant post!

E.K. Johnston said...

Oh, I always hold my breath when I'm reading blogs like this!

Because fanfic is totally the reasons I'm a writer. It's where my ENTIRE SUPPORT group comes from (how I learned to query, how I learned to revise, how I learned to string together story elements), and it's also how I learned to write. And yes, my early stuff is just dreadful. And yes, my later stuff kind of rocks. (And no, I've never written Twilight, but I have friends who do, and I hope they're on your "rock" list!)

In my opinion, the best thing about fanfic is the open critique system. I've read a lot of "How To Write" advice that recommend practice, but then BURYING your early work. My early work is on the internet, where people read it and offered suggestions and encouragement, and that's how I went from terrible CSI song!fic to three (semi) completed manuscripts.

As with anything, there are pitfalls. And I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about Fifty Shades of Grey. But at the same time, every time one of "us" makes it big, I get a little thrill of hope. :)

Valerie Meachum said...

In answer to what you're wondering: It wouldn't be presumptuous, and certainly wouldn't be insulting. Many fanfic authors aspire to mainstream writing careers, and they would certainly take it as valuable encouragement.

And -- incomprehensible as it often is to writers! :-) -- many don't, for a variety of reasons that generally boil down to choosing to direct elsewhere in their lives the time and energy that would be required for worldbuilding, querying, and the hundred other challenges on the road to publication. (My canned response -- and I'm far from the only person to have one -- is "I already have a career that requires relentless self-marketing. I'm not looking for another." *wry g*)

Fic writers are "paid" in feedback, like any hobby artist/crafter. And feedback that says one could make the leap to the professional world if on chose is the exact opposite of insulting. :-)

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. I write fanfiction and for me it's writing practice. I take characters I love from books I love and build on their story in hopes of improving my writing. I don't think I'd ever adapt my story to sell. I'd rather do something original. But kudos to you for this beautiful blog post and for being so open to fanfiction.

James Bow said...

(sigh) Has somebody been dissing fan fiction again? That hobby never gets any respect, and yet so many people writing professionally today came up from the fan fic ranks. Doctor Who's Steven Moffatt and Russell T. Davies were both Doctor Who fans who wrote Doctor Who fiction. Peter David is a professional comic writer who got his start in fan fiction. Meg Cabot wrote Star Wars fan fiction. The list is endless.

I have my own interest in this, of course, since I myself started writing through fan fiction (Doctor Who - I wrote and produced Doctor Who fanzines before the Internet was a household word), and your reasons for why fan fiction helps writers is spot on. And I'll add one more aspect: the fan fiction community. The fact that I was able to send out my writing to people who weren't my immediate friends and family helped greatly when I got feedback on how my writing was received. Not only was the constructive criticism helpful, it was invigorating. IT definitely led me to write more.

So, I penned a lengthy defence of fan fiction two years ago. You're welcome to have a look, and see how much we're in sync: http://bowjamesbow.ca/2010/05/07/in-defence-of-f.shtml

James Bow said...

P.S. "Fan Fiction" is an old term, whose use predates the Internet by at least two decades. The franchise that, IMO, can be credited for launching fan fiction as a cultural phenomenon is, in fact, Star Trek. The television series ended prematurely, two years short of its five year mission, and many fans simply were not ready to let go. So they started writing. Fan fiction magazines started to get produced. The official Star Trek publisher encouraged this process along by running a writing contest and publishing the best fan-written Star Trek stories they received.

Soon, other television science fiction fandoms got in the act. Doctor Who used to have loads of fan fiction magazines out there. When I came on the scene, producing "Trenchcoat" and editing "Myth Makers", I was on the tail end of it, but the fandom was hot, and Virgin Books kept the fandom stoked with their own officially licensed tie-in novels that continued the story beyond the end of the television series.

Fan fiction magazines in those days were as fun to make as they were to write. Without the Internet providing a ready-to-publish venue for fan fiction, we had to print things. There were such things as fan fiction magazine editors. We hacked out our stories on typewriters or early model computers, printed pages on dot-matrix printers, made use of the first photocopiers. Some of what we produced was basically sheets of paper stapled together, but by golly, we were proud of them.

The Internet certainly made fan fiction publishing easier, but it was Harry Potter that caused fan fiction to really explode. For me, previously, fan fiction had been a fan appendage to television shows or movies. I'd never seen works that shared the same medium as the creations they were honouring, or who were helmed by a single gatekeeper (in this case J.K. Rowling). I was shocked by the mere existence of Harry Potter fan fiction, and by the sheer amount of it (outnumbering Doctor Who & Star Trek fan fiction COMBINED 10-1!). I had to try it out.

The move from fan fiction magazines to the Internet has removed the gatekeepers. Fan fiction editors seem few and far between in this new landscape, but they are out there. Just as there are gems among the dreck, I think you'll find that the gems have been edited really well (although the current term for them, I believe, is "beta-read").

Anonymous said...

I am delighted to hear that you would be comfortable with fanfiction based on your books, because I think it needs that. Fanfiction loses its joy if it's done under the radar of an unhappy author, all the time waiting for the takedown notice.

I would never have dared put pen to paper without that initial kick, the desire to play in a universe that gripped me so much, all the books the author could write would never been enough. If you respect the author and the original works, it's a wonderful thing; training wheels with wings on them.

That said, I am uncomfortable with the idea of filing off the serial numbers sometimes. I have known a lot of people want to do it, but personally I prefer to leave my fanfiction as part of my learning curve and say, I had a ton of fun writing this. I hope you enjoy it too. No money involved, and isn't the original author amazing?

Oh, and I always, always had a beta reader. Never wanted people to claw out their eyes while reading my stories.

Anonymous said...

Fanfic as writing practice seems fine w/ permissions from the authors. Making money off something obviously a fanfic is a little skeevy, though. I won't do fanfic based on books, but from games/shows that give permission, ok. I'm on ch. 21 of a second book of mine based around an mmorpg, and its fee free on my site, just for practice and fun.

SisterSpooky said...

*high fives*

I was always big into fanfic because it felt like an extension to a fandom verse that I loved and there were some REALLY talented people writing there. Of course there was the crap too but it was a way for fans to express their love for something through their form of art: writing.

Phoenixgirl said...

I often do bits of fanfic for my favorite books - sometimes just little snippets describing a scene from another character's point of view or something that happens offstage, sometimes longer scenes with the existing characters in a plot of my own invention. Most of it, for some reason, is related to the Chrestomanci books. I write some of it down, but with the little snippets (and some of the longer things), I tend to just make them up in my head.

Zoë Marriott said...

Ach! For some reason email alerts for comments here went into my spam folder, so I didn't realise anyone was commenting. And now I feel a bit too behind to catch up, especially with so many lovely, long, thoughtful remarks. But I've read them all and I really do appreciate them. Thanks everyone!

A.J. Mullarky said...

That is such a good attitude. I totally agree. But I hate that tumblr. I don't like when people say Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling are bad writers. They just aren't. I'm no fan of Twilight any more but I remember how enchanted I was on the first reading and popular criticism isn't going to erase that.

Isabel said...

I'd never really thought about fan fiction this way before, but I love your take on it! I'm of the opinion that if Twilight had just been thought out more and developed more in different ways, it could have been way more promising. The original idea of it doesn't seem very special now that so many books like it have come out, but it was actually not bad. Seeing people's different takes on the idea - on any idea for a story - could be very interesting to read, regardless on whether the writing is good or bad.

Zoë Marriott said...

Alex: Well, on a purely technical, objective level, Stephenie Meyer *is* a bad writer. Or, more accurately, the Twilight books are badly written, although they do steadily improve, and her standalone book, The Host, is pretty good. I'm not talking about issues with themes or characters, here. I'm talking the basics - grammar, coherency, correct punctuation and word usage. Meyer falls down there, badly. I've always been a bit bamboozled that she has an English degree. It's even more puzzling that the books were professionally edited by a reputable publisher without these issues being fixed. However, the fact that the story captivated so many people *despite* the lack of clarity in the prose is obvious evidence that the writer has...something. My writing group and I like to call this 'specialsauce' - the unquantifiable magic ingredient that makes bestsellers :) Oh, BTW, I sent you a Pinterest invite, I hope you got it?

Isabel: That's exactly right. Quite often as I'm reading these fanfics I'm thinking to myself 'Why didn't Smeyer do this? WHY?' It takes so little to make secondary characters like Rosalie, Quil and Charlie literally spring off the page, to make them people instead of simple 2D cutouts. The template was there, but for some reason Smeyer never fully fleshed it out. And it's not just the secondaries. I've read fics which honestly made me want to *weep* for Edward, which made me love and admire Bella. If these writers, who are mostly unpublished and raw, can do this, why couldn't Smeyer? Eugh! So frustrating!

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