Another (published) author has come out against “fan fiction”: Diana Gabaldon publicly declared her disgust, disdain, and delusion that fanfic is illegal in a series of posts on her blog. Those posts have since been deleted, but copies can be found on Fandom Wank here or in Google cache here.
It is becoming a perennial thing here on the Heretic Loremaster to declare that fan fiction is fiction. As in the fact that fan fiction is the same as regular fiction (if there is such a thing), only it goes under a different and derogatory name. And as in the fact that treating “fan fiction” and “fiction” as separate is itself a fiction.
I must confess a growing weariness of pointing out to people smart enough to know better (like Ms. Gabaldon) that fan fiction is fiction. Until relatively recently, what would today be termed “fan fiction” was the norm, not the exception. In the Middle Ages, for example, it was more common than not to lift ideas, characters, and whole stories from existing, often contemporaneous, works. This doesn’t even begin to touch on how many stories are derived from myths. In fact, if you think back to the root of creating fiction, there is a knot of people gathered around a fire as one tells a story … or I should say, retells a story. The art was as much–if not more–in selecting, recasting, and expanding upon existing details as it was in adding original changes. I believe that it is a human drive to respond creatively to what moves us the most.
So what happened? When did “storytelling” become “fan fiction”? Ms. Gabaldon’s posts get to the heart of this: when we began to commodify creativity, when we began to draw boundaries (in the interest of making money) around my ideas, my characters, my stories. Interestingly, Ms. Gabaldon–like notorious “fanfic” detractor Robin Hobb Lee Goldberg*–used to make her living writing other people’s characters. Watching her justify that in the face of her ignorant stereotypes of fan writers as oversexed, lazy, bad writers too stupid to create their own fiction is unsightly. You see, like Robin Hobb Lee Goldberg, she wrote her own version of fan fiction for those who “owned” those characters already. There was money to be made for someone, so that made it okay.
* I originally–and mistakenly–identified Robin Hobb as the author who had tried some rhetorical gymnastics in justifying a career spent writing other people’s characters (Monk and Diagnosis Murder) alongside an utter despise of “fanfic.” A blog post discussing this can be found here. Lee Goldberg and Cathy Young have a very interesting (and more than a little wankish!) back-an-forth across multiple posts. Anyway. I misidentified Robin Hobb and apologize to her and to my readers here for being lazy and relying on my memory rather than digging up links to back myself up. Robin Hobb’s original rant against fanfic, via the Wayback Machine (having gone the way of Ms. Gabaldon’s anti-fanfic posts) can be found here. Thanks to Mervi for asking the questions that turned up my mistake!
Now, I will pause to say that I do not oppose in any way a creator’s right to make money on her or his creation. In fact, contrary to many citizens of the Internet and many members of my own generation, I believe strongly that if you like an artist’s work enough to want her or him to create more of it, then you owe that person a fair payment for that work.
But this is a different issue. No one is arguing Ms. Gabaldon’s right to make money on her books, and no one is trying to cash in on her creations; people are responding as people have responded to creative work since the first group of people crouched around a fire to swap hunting tales. That intelligent, creative people fail to understand the need to respond creatively to the stories of others is astounding. That intelligent, creative people make the sorts of slanders against those who respond in such a way–as Ms. Gabaldon makes against “fanficcers”–is disgusting.
In her essay What Fanfic Is (and Isn’t) to Me, Dreamflower points out the difference in how most people respond to creative work and how artists (which includes writers) respond:
You can pick up a book or turn on the TV, and you can sit there and consume what you have been given, and then close the book or turn off the TV and forget about it. Or you can interact with the book or the show, by imagining new scenarios or new ways of looking at what you’ve been presented with.
Most people consume the creativity of others. They buy books and pay for music downloads and sit through television programs that are 25% advertisements and maybe talk at the water cooler the next day about what they’ve read/heard/seen but, otherwise, never move much beyond consumption. Ms. Gabaldon herself points out that creative people find inspiration anywhere. For pity’s sake, I find stories in the swirls of fake marble on my bathroom wall. I can’t help but to lift an eyebrow at the notion that, in Ms. Gabaldon’s perfect world, we would legally and morally be able to respond only as consumers to the creative work of others.
Responding creatively is in us. And, culturally, I believe that we remain a species whose very nature assures that creation will, in part, be a collective act. Until fairly recently, that was just creating; we didn’t need any special or derogatory names for retelling another person’s story. When creators and the companies that profited from them realized that they could inscribe tight boundaries and claim “ownership” of stories that, in fact, are the product of the thousands of collectively derived myths, stories, and archetypes that define our culture did we end up with the sneering term “fan fiction,” the heart of which is fanatic, implying instability, obsession, hysteria (the latter particularly interesting given that “fanfic” writers are predominantly female). In reality it is, and will always be, just fiction.