How Writers Write Fiction is a free online writing course open to anybody who wants to learn the techniques of effective fiction writing.
The six-week course, sponsored by the University of Iowa’s “Open Courses” initiative at WritingUniversity.org, will be taught and led by both Christopher Merrill, WP Director and University of Iowa Professor of English, and Angela Flournoy, author of the critically-acclaimed novel The Turner House and an instructor of creative writing at the University of Iowa and Trinity Washington University.
The first thing that I want to do whenever I finish a series is to start writing fanfiction for it.
The series could be perfect, full of perfect plot twists and characters that I want to curl up with, but I’ll still feel like cracking open a Word doc and penning a little something for it.
That’s just how my mind works. For me, the best way to show off that I read and enjoyed a series is to write about it. I don’t have that many followers on my little blog where I do the occasional review, but plenty of people read my fanfiction.
So for me (and for many writers I know), writing fanfiction is a compliment that we’re paying to the source. We’re saying that the canon is fantastic or that it’s got promise. We’re saying that your characters and your world are fun enough that we want to get our hands dirty. We’re saying that you’ve created something that we want to touch and mold with our two hands.
That’s why, when professional authors shut down fanfiction as a legitimate and positive form of fan expression, I get so steamed. So many authors I’ve seen treat is as this scuzzy cesspool full of lazy writers who aren’t imaginative enough to create their own characters and worlds. They’re dismissive. They’re rude. They’re everywhere.
And I don’t get it.
People keep trying to come up and talk to me about intellectual property and the murky nature of fanfiction and I get it, I do, but that doesn’t actually excuse or explain the horrible things many professional authors have said (and continue to say) about fanfiction writers.
It’s a lot and it’s not cool.
They take it as a personal affront to them and their IP, treating fanfiction writers as a whole as a cadre of thieves taking their hard work and turning it into something horrible. Several authors have responded as if fanfiction writers take the bread out of their mouths by writing fanfiction, even if that fanfiction is for charity or just for themselves.
It’s so distressing as a writer because I’ve been writing fanfiction practically since I could read. (And I’ve been able to read since I was a toddler so…). Fanfiction is a part of my soul. It’s a part of my life.
Within fandom, most people feel the same way about it. It’s something we’ve done to show how much we love the source material and yet, from several professional authors and reporters tee-heeing in the stacks, we’re seen as interlopers.
We’re seen as hyenas coming to cash in on the prey that the author-lions have taken down.
Do you know how many people actually make billions from fanfiction? Do you actually know how many MZB-style “I can’t write this idea because I read it in a story somewhere” incidents have gone down? Do you know how many professional authors lose money because someone else’s fanfiction is super popular – even in the rare cases that a story with/out the serial numbers of canon filed off winds up going big and raking in the dough like the 1D After series or 50SoG.
These things don’t happen as often as authors would have you think.
What does happen (even to authors that dislike fanfiction and are vocal about it) is that some writers send in unsolicited story or plot ideas. Others send in their entire stories as if the author will read them and suddenly decide to what – publish their stories? (I’ve never understood that unless it was coming from a kid/new writer with no knowledge of fan fiction works…)
But here’s the thing: Those are flukes.
The majority of people writing fanfiction don’t want professional authors reading it because it’s not for them.
Despite the fact that I post my totally smoking Grayson fanfiction to twitter, I’d be mortified if Tom King and/or Tim Seeley read any of it. There’s a difference between authors knowing how much you love their writing and them knowing how much you want the characters to fuck.
For the most part, I don’t think that fanfiction is for the creators. We’re largely not writing for the professional authors to see, even in cases where we snark or spork their works. It’s not about them. Sometimes, it’s not even about the source material. It’s about us. How we as writers and readers fit into this world or that world and how we interpret these fictional worlds.
Many of these authors get all bent out of shape because they’re so worried about their IP. They see what fanfiction writers are doing as copyright-infringing and – in some cases – akin to plagiarism. I get how murky the ground surrounding fanfiction is, but there’s such a huge difference between fanfiction and plagiarism.
Sure, the two sometimes meet, but when they do?
We handle our own. It’s one of the few instances where the collective fan-community can get their act together and go “Hey, this thing is not right, stop it.”
There are issues with fan fiction that professional authors can and should address.
There’s a predisposition towards stories and tropes that lack clear and open consent between adults, too many stories where a May-December romance has a hefty age difference and unchecked power imbalance. Throw in issues of racism, villainizing/erasure of women and characters of color, and a focus on white male characters and fanfiction definitely becomes a thing that you should be critiquing as a professional author or just as an aware person. (And I say this as someone who is loath to connect their AO3 account to anything that they do professionally because I wrote many of those things/fell for many of these harmful tropes in my fannish writing and I don’t know how to come to terms with that!!)
But to drag fanfiction writers because they seem lazy or uninspired enough to want to write in your world?
That’s not a good enough excuse.
If you’re a professional author and you don’t like fanfiction written for your work, okay. Sure. I can’t change the way that you feel. However, I do think that you should look at thewhy behind it all. Are you blanket banning all fanworks for your source material that uses text (including comics and memes)? Are you disinterested in fanfiction until you can monetize it and turn it to your advantage? Is it an arbitrary reaction that comes up because you personally don’t have experience with fanfiction as a writer or a reader?
No one (not even me) is telling you that you need to be reading fanfiction of any kind, much less for your own series. I understand the dark depths of copyright infringement and the fear that something will happen to threaten the stability of your intellectual property rights. So don’t risk it. However, I do think that a lot of the stigma surrounding fanfiction writing comes from misunderstanding what fanfiction is and what its authors do.
Some writers do think the way you fear. Some of them write the fanfiction you find utterly loathsome. But for the most part?
Yeah, no. We’re not trying to steal your thunder or to gross you out. We’re writing because your world is fun or interesting and we want to play in it for a little while.
If you’re interested in learning more about fanfiction and why it’s so awesome, I’d say head on over to the Organization for Transformative Works and its archive for fanfiction Archive of Our Own. The OTW one of the few groups trying to change the stigma against fanfiction while defining what parts of fandom are covered under fair use. While some of the content on the archive definitely falls under the things I think need to be discussed when we talk about fanfiction, the archive as a whole showcases how talented fandom as a whole can be and what they’re capable of putting out on regular basis.
The above statement is of course biased because I’ve been an AO3 member since 2009/10 and I donate to OTW every year, but I don’t think it lacks merit. The Archive is a huge website and it’s easy to figure out how to use and how to avoid the ick for the most part.
If you have any links of your own about fanfiction/fandom or any comments (as a professional writer, fanfic author, both of the previous, or a bystander in fandom) please feel free to jump in the comments section. And of course, if you feel as if I’ve erred in some way in this post, tell me how to fix it and I will do my best!