Monday, March 3, 2014

Let's talk Fanfiction: A Strongly Worded Response

Today I read two blog posts, on by Sarah Rees Brennan and one by Cassandra Claire, and these posts made me very angry.

Not at the authors of course. I love both of them and their work and I'm so glad that they decided to speak out about the accusations and bullying they have endured because of their hobbies. I am mad at the very people who gave them cause to write such an article and I wish with all my heart that they never had to endure this. If you haven't read the articles, read them here, I reccomend it. They're both long but I think its important.

Sarah Rees Brennan's Post:

Response from Cassandra Claire:

I've read Demon's Lexicon and the Mortal Instruments series and I did not, at the time, know that either of these two authors wrote fanfiction. I was actually quite excited when I found out. I thought, "Really? These two published and super awesome authors used to write fanfiction just like me? That's so cool!" And when I found out Cassandra Claire's books were loosely based off of her Harry Potter fanfiction, I applauded her because I had no idea while reading the books. I didn't make any connections between the characters or the magic system until someone told me about it, and even then they had to outline the similarities for me. (Them: Clary has red hair and Ginny has red hair so they're the SAME. Me:...Kay?)

Apparently, however, I seem to be one of the few people in this camp of "fanfiction is cool and good writers can write fanfiction and still become successful authors". Because the cyberbullying and accusations these two authors have gone through is not only bad but absolutely, unacceptably, nasty. It makes me want to flip tables. So in this post, I'm going to flip all the metaphorical tables as I defend fanfiction writers, what they do and why the righteous fandom members should back off. I apologize in advance if I seem a bit angry because I am and I will not attempt to restrict that. This is a rant by numbers, so you know I'm pissed.

1. The Merits of Fanfiction

People write fanfiction because they like a book/movie/show/other form of media and they want to expand upon it. They want to make up an alternate ending or add a scene or put two characters in a situation and see what happens. The write fanfiction because, in most cases, they respect and enjoy the original property. I've read a lot of fanfiction and there are a lot of very good writers there. They further develop characters and make me reconsider relationships the way I've never seen them before. They also offer a chance to see something you love through another perspective. Writers can also add other characters into the mix to create an entirely new story line.

Fanfiction also offers writers a chance to practice. Because when anyone first starts writing, they aren't very good at it. A teenager doesn't put their pen to paper one day and start writing sonnets. Skills have to be built up over time and fanfiction offers a great place to practice this and receive feedback from readers.

So perhaps it is mine boggling to me that people look down their nose at fanfiction writers. What they want to expand and explore something they love. They consider non-canon possibilities? How UNORIGINAL of them. If they REALLY wanted to be writers they would start writing REAL books. Oh wait, you've switched to REAL books? CLEARLY this is influenced by your fanfiction. You wrote fanfiction once and that means you are incapable of thinking for yourself or writing a single decent word. Fanfiction as ruined you. Throw your computer in the garbage and give up.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

Fanfiction is not a weird hobby. One of the reasons I loved 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell so much was because the main character wrote fanfiction and that was cool. I'd never read a book where the main character wrote fanfiction. But to most people it seems fanfiction is the cess pool of writers who will never be. Teenage girls shouldn't be writing fanfiction. They should be writing Faulkner and Fitzgerald by the time they hit puberty. But not exactly, because paying homage to them would be plagiarism. Anything that seems derivative of anything at all should be locked up in a box and never let out into the world. Seriously, you thought you got to practice writing for something you love in an online community when you were young? You should be shunned.

This is what stuns me about all the flack Sarah has gotten. So she wrote fanfiction when she was 17? And she should be ridiculed for it? She improved herself as a writer and published a really good book. I'm happy for her. Its not like we'd ridicule her for lying to her parents that one time when she was eight or cheating on a test or something. Why is fanfiction, a harmless hobby, something to be ridiculed for?

The answer is, its not.

2. Completely Original Ideas... Aren't a Thing Anymore

Its not the ideas that are original. Its the combinations of ideas and situations that give a piece of media a fresh new look. We don't call ET a rip off of The Day the Earth Stood Still because they both involve a friendly alien, do we? No, we call it a fresh new take on it. We don't call Disney Movies rips offs of their original fairy tails. They just change the story around and present it in a new way. We don't call Harry a ripoff of Aragorn because they both have brown hair. Jack Sparrow isn't a ripoff of Jack Dawson because they have the same first name. These are the stupidest little details. Why is this a thing? There are a limited number of relationships, appearances, plot devices and characters in this world. Heck, according to Vladamir Propp in 'Morphology of the Folktale' all stories are inherently made up of different combinations of the SAME 32 mythemes.

What does this mean, critics? It means you don't get to call "plagiarism" every time you see a slightly similar sentence or character trait in a book that you saw in another book. You especially don't get to do that solely because the author once wrote fanfiction and must therefore be a plagiarist. If I see that happen again, I might have to start flipping the metaphorical beds as well. Don't make me flip the metaphorical beds.

3. Fanfiction and gender.

The majority of fanfiction writers are female. The majority of authors accused of plagiarism are female. In fact usually, whenever someone accuses a male author of 'ripping off' another book, they call it 'derivative'. Funny enough, I'm not the biggest fan of the Inheritance Cycle because I found its world way too similar to that of Middle Earth and other previously written fantasy novels (certainly more derivative of Middle Earth than I think the Mortal Instruments universe is derivative of Harry Potter's universe). But most people seem to accept this as homage to old fantasy stories. Which is fine. I dislike the books because find them a bit boring and cliche but that's my personal opinion.

I wonder if Christopher Paolini would have met with quite the same reaction if he was a teenage girl (a demographic which gets a bad rep by virtue of their age and gender). It does seem that Stephen King and Neil Gaiman can get away with making references and paying tribute to their favorite books whereas several female authors cannot. This is nothing against Mr. King or Mr. Gaiman as I like their work. I just wish female authors received the same treatment.

4. Regardless... This Treatment is not Okay

Even if all the claims were true and these authors were plagiarists who never had an original thought, even if all these horrible accusations had evidence and grounding, the treatment of these authors is still not okay. It is not okay to call names. It is not okay to 'kick people out of a fandom' (You know... as if it belongs to you or something). It is not okay to make threats on their lives or the lives of their families. Cyber-bullying is NEVER okay, especially when it makes someone genuinely afraid for their lives. And in the end, why do you do it? Is it because you take pride and upsetting people? Is it because you want a reaction out of them to heighten your sense of self worth? Every time I try to analyze these types of people, my heart hurts for humanity. What part of basic human morality makes ANYONE think these threats are okay?

These authors are human beings who are published and whether you like their books or not they do not OWE you a PERSONAL apology because maybe their characters have the same hair color as a character in your favorite book.

The thing is, I am a fanfiction writer. I'm also hoping to be a published writer one day. Guess what? I'm not ashamed of either. I do not regret writing fanfiction and I will defend its merits to the grave. And for all the metaphorical tables and beds I've flipped, in the end I'm not just angry. I'm sad. I'm sad that authors have to go through this kind of abuse. I'm sad that there are people out there who feel the need to enrich themselves by breaking down others. It is not right. It should not be considered right. It should not be allowed.

This is not just an issue of fanfiction or misogyny. Its an issue of human dignity. Grow up, realize that, and respect your fellow writers no matter what they've written in the past.

And if you can't do that, keep your mouth shut.


  1. I agree, and while this is a trite thing to say, haters gonna hate. No, seriously There will always be these people that say smart aleck stupid one liners that make fun and demean people who fanfic, and or, write books which to the naysayers are stupid, and not real literature. The best revenge is for writers and fanfic-ers, and anyone else who wants to write what THEY WANT TO WRITE, to write it and love it and own it, and for us readers that love it, to buy it and or, read it. The world can be an ugly place, but it can be beautiful too... cheers!

  2. I completely agree with you. Fan fiction is great! I've never read it myself, but what do people think retellings of fairytales are? They're basically sophisticated fan-fiction. If I ever have a book published and people like it enough to write fan-fiction of it, I would be SO honoured. Great post! :)