Fan Fiction

Yesterday afternoon, after about six weeks of writing, including one major overhaul that was tiring, and a week or so of editing and formatting, I submitted a story to the 2012 Winkie Con Oz Fiction contest. I could have probably edited it for another month and never felt like it was quite ready. But, that is common for writers.

Not so common for me is writing fan fiction, which this is. Fan fiction being exactly what it sounds like-fiction taking place in worlds and/or involving characters from the work of someone else. It has been popular for decades, but like many “quasi-underground” endeavors the internet has increased its reach and impact considerably.

This recent piece in the Wall Street Journal does a better job than I could of exploring the history and scope of fan fiction, as well as providing some good links to fan fiction sites. Give it a read when you get the chance.

Here at TyUnglebower.com today I wanted to share some of my thoughts about this concept, seeing as how I have now in some ways officially embraced it.

Not that this Oz story was my very first venture into fan fiction. Years ago I was recruited by a friend, who’s mother owned a bookstore at the time, to write two brief skits involving the Harry Potter characters. She and her friends performed them during the crowded release of I believe the 5th book. I wasn’t able to attend, but I am told it went rather well.

Though I have contributed these “works” to the collection of fan fiction that seems to cover a third of the internet’s surface, I remain of two minds on it, somewhat.

On the one hand, the writer in me says that we should always strive to create our own worlds, characters, and plots. That it is our responsibility to do the extra work to be original in our creations. That perhaps relying on someone else’s imagination is a cheat, whether or not the characters are legally in the public domain.

Then another part of me says that just about anything ever written, including Harry Potter and other currently popular titles borrows aspects of previously published works. There is a difference between borrowing a concept and borrowing a character, name and all. This I will grant you. Still, all good stories share certain aspects, settings, time frames, events, etc. I don’t believe that there are only seven basic stories, but I do believe that most stories have certain things in common with stories that came before them.

So when I consider it that way, I soften a bit. After all, if exploring a story with someone else’s characters and settings helps to engage a would-be writer’s  imagination, it is difficult for me as a creative type to speak out against it. Fan fiction may not be the most creative, but it could spawn the most creative writing. And if story telling, as opposed to world building is our goal as writers, fan fiction is a valuable exercise.

As far as the intellectual property argument  for things not yet in the public domain, again I am of two minds.

I understand wanting to protect the characters and settings one has slaved so hard over. To keep your “children” out of the hands of those that don’t understand them and who had no part in their creation. And if someone else is turning a profit on characters I created, I do want that to stop. However if someone wants to write a 50 page story about characters I created, and posts it to a fan fiction site, why should I be bothered? If they are making no money from it, should it anger me? Truly I see why it bothers some, but I can’t quite get worked up about it.

And if 300,000 people end up reading it? I consider that in part to be a testament to the interest people have for characters I created.

It can get tricky though, deciding  just how much attention one deserves for moving my creations around in their own words. And perhaps when I am a well known author my views will change. Yet my instinct is that they will not, so long as nobody else makes any money from them, and so long as the world understands that I, and not fans, dictate the canon.

A few weeks ago someone in my writing group described fan fiction as “playing around in someone else’s sandbox for a while.” I think that’s an apt description. And while I wouldn’t want to spend all of my time in someone else’s sandbox, as a writer sometimes I just want to play around. And if I am not willing to play, or let others play with my toys sometimes, am I not doing a disservice to writing as a whole?

Your take on fan fiction?

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