Sunday, October 14, 2012

Plagiarism or a New Genre? Defining Fanfiction

The arrival of Internet has revolutionized the concept of fandom, and a manifestation of this revolution is the fan-generated literature known as “fanfiction.” Beyond homage or admiration, these written spinoffs of television, film and literary franchises could be cataloged as samples of personal prose and a good practice for more serious fictional writing. Nevertheless, well-known authors resent amateurs meddling with their work and view fanfiction as mere plagiarism.

The definition of “fanfiction” applies to a story inspired by an original work that either modifies or expands the actual text. Such yarns are non-profitable, exclusively on-line published (most of the contemporary fanfiction in English is gathered at and targets devotees of the inspiring piece. These transmedia texts are triggered off by several subjects: anime, films, TV series and books, especially sagas like Twilight, Harry Potter and George R.R. Martin´s A Song of Ice and Fire.

Fanfiction springs from four emotions:

Love: A loving fan would wish to enhance a favorite tale by using its universe and characters.

Deprivation:  After the word “The End” is reached, a feeling of hunger gnaws the fan’s vitals. The only way to appease it is to continue the story, to expand the boundaries and create sequels.

Impatience: It arises while waiting for another season of a TV show to roll by or by the incessant counting of months and years before a new book comes to the market (George R.R. Martin, hear our clamor!) What best way to beat that impatience than writing our own versions?

Frustration:  Many readers experiment with fanfiction to appease exasperation with an author who pairs off the heroine to the wrong partner, kills a favorite character or drags the plot into an undesired direction. Most aficionados understand those moods. How many of us want to push Martin to write faster, are angry that Bella didn’t choose Jacob, or, like me, feel that the doctors in “Grey´s Anatomy” never make the right amorous decision?

 Fanfiction is basically prose, although I have heard of poetry fics and fan song fiction. There is a form of fanfiction that is expressed in video structure, and you may find several samples in YouTube. FF or “fanfic” (as it is known) appears usually in the shape of short stories, but there is also the drabble, telling a tale in less than a hundred words. On the other hand, some fan-authors actually write full novels that are posted in a serialized fashion.

Fanfics are usually set in their canon universe, but some are located in alternative spaces. I have seen Game of Thrones characters turned into contemporary high school students. Crossover fanfiction is when characters mingle with other fictional individuals outside of their canon universe. An example would be people from “Glee” attending Hogwart, or the “Ron Solo” fics. Yes, that is indeed Ron Weasley ambling about the “Star Wars” cosmos. I have found some interesting crossover romances among YouTube videos and I leave you this one that pairs Jaime Lannister with Lucrezia Borgia (from “The Borgia” series.)

In terms of genre, fanfiction’s favorite category is Romance.  Love fanfic provides an extensive canvas upon which devotees can splash all the intensity of their lusty or platonic fantasies. There are romantic fics for every taste, from “fluff” or “feel-good” happy-ending stories, to “kink” (in Spanish we use the Japanese term "lemon") used to define erotic tales with extensive sexual content.  There is heterosexual fanfic as well as one targeting gay audiences. The latter is known as “Slash,” or “Femslash” if geared towards lesbians.  To continue the possibilities, now we have “twincest”, which was obviously prompted by the nefarious Lannister Twins’ escapades, but I found several fics that involved George and Fred Weasley!

A glance through the almost infinite variety of romantic merging proves the readers’ need for love stories in places where such emotions are not present. It also expresses the vastness of fan’s imagination when it comes to the engineering of these liaisons. Hermione Granger and Harry Potter sounds like a match made in heaven, but Hermione and Severus Snape CatelynStark and Jon Snow?  Jaime Lannister and Ned Stark? Jacob Black and Edward Cullen?

I love fanfiction, but I am not longer interested in writing it.  Way before the term existed, I was already scribbling it. It was a great method to rewrite poor and unsatisfactory endings. In my stories, Julien Sorel survived the guillotine; it was Brian of Bois Gilbert (not dull indecisive Ivanhoe) who rescued Rebecca from the stake; and Scarlett and Ashley flew together to Mexico leaving Melly behind to look after her rival’s brood and to comfort Rhett (in more than one way.) Curiously, years later I discovered the existence of a manga that had Rebecca and her Templar nemesis in love and together. Curiouser still, at a high-school workshop I had my students rewriting GWTW´s last chapter. Five of them had Melanie living happily ever Mrs. Rhett Butler!

Were Melanie and Rhett meant for each other?

One of the most rewarding aspects of fanfiction is learning than others feel just like you do, that they also envision perfect couples that no author cares to create.  It gives you a sense that you are not a freak because you want Sansa Stark to fall in love with Sandor Clegane, or because you wish Sirius Black to resurrect, and that you are not alone in giving the Hermione-Ron combination a jaundiced eye.

Around the turn of the century, I had my first ran into official fanfiction. It happened at a website devoted to “Big Valley,” a 60’s television western. I never thought “Big Valley” had such a large following, especially thirty years after its cancellation. But there it was, an Internet page with some juicy fanfiction as bonus.

Big Valley’s major hook were its protagonists, The Barkley Brothers played by Richard Long, Peter Breck and Lee Majors (in his pre-Farrah days). Most BV’s followers had a thing for Jared Barkley (R. Long) or his half-brother Heath (Majors). It surprised me to discover, through the said fanfiction, that grumpy Nick (P. Breck) also had a major fandom. For decades, I had thought I was the only soul on the planet to have a crush on him. This showed me that fan interaction is the phenomenon´s major attractive. Fanfiction brings together likeminded people, even if their taste in common is just a mundane fantasy.
Peter Breck as Nick Barkley

Inventive and daring as the internet version may be, fanfiction is not a new art form. Back in the early XVII century, readers demanding a follow-up to the adventures of Don Quixote saw their dreams come true when Spanish bookstores presented the desire book. The only problem is that this Quixote was a fanfic written by Alonso de Avellaneda. Since Miguel de Cervantes had no way to sue Avellaneda (Golden Age Spain was not a litigious society), he had no other choice but to write a sequel to the quests of his mad knight.

 In our own times, we find novels that could be defined as fanfiction. Examples are parody novels such as Seth Grahame-Sennett’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Alice Randal’s Wind Done Told, a retelling of Gone with the Wind seen from the point of view of Scarlett´s mulatto half-sister. Parallel novels like Geraldine Brooks’ March (reviewing the experiences of the father of Little Women in the Civil War) and Jean Rhyss’ Wide Sargasso Sea (the story of Jane Eyre’s “Madwoman of the Attic”) also qualify as fanfic.
Even sequel novels that have not been written by the author of the source material are nothing but glorified plagiarism (aka “fanfiction.”) Just think of P.D.James Death Comes to Pemberley, (sequel to Pride and Prejudice) Susan Hill’s Mrs. De Winter (sequel to Rebecca) and Alexandra Ripley´s infamous Scarlett.  But nobody would accuse those respectable writers of being anti-original. Why not? Is it because their skills place them above a bunch of dilettantes?

The level of writing skills in fanfiction varies from author to author. There are some whose style is definitely amateurish, whereas others show much literary promise. A couple of years ago, my countrywoman Francisca Sola wrote a fanfiction novel called El Ocaso de los Altos Elfos (The Twilight of the High Elves.) It was her response to a major disappointment with Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix. El Ocaso was so booming that it was translated to English and Italian, and was not bought by Random House only because of copyright conflicts with J. K. Rowling. Since then, Francisca has became a novelist in her own right, having published two books and being one of the few Chilean authors to dabble in paranormal fiction.

Francisca Solar, a fanfiction success story

 Francisca Solar is not the only success story in the fanfiction universe. E.L. James has achieved fame and fortune thanks to the rewriting of her Twilight erotic fanfic. For those who still don´t know it, the fic had its rebirth in the market as the notorious 50 Shades of Grey. Naomi Novick, creator of the Temeraire series, has confessed to have written fanfiction in the past. But despite these precedents, the new genre is still reviled and even fought by established authors who rail against the bootlegging of their works.

The United States Supreme Court has been emphatic about it, as long as fanfiction is described as such and as long as the authors do not profit from it, fan-generated literature is perfectly legal. The Guardian may define fanfiction as “crass” and “celebrity-obsessed,” but many critics and reviewers (such as Teresa Nielsen Haydn, editor of Tor Books) are embracing it as a new subgenre. Yet writers are still raising their voices against the trend.

While Stephanie Meyer encourages fanfiction based on her characters, Anne Rice has formally demanded that stories centered on her work be removed from Fanfiction.Net.  She wrote an open letter to her readers denouncing fanfic:  “I do not allow fan fiction,” she wrote. “The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes."  Some fanfic authors, who did not abide with Ms. Rice´s wishes, claim to have been victims of further harassment from her part.

George R.R. Martin does not reach those extremes, but perceives fanfiction as an infraction of his copyrights. He resents the distortion of his literary universe and believes that plagiarizing his work is a bad exercise for novice writers.  J.K Rowling is much more tolerant, she claims to be flattered by the Harry Potter inspired stories, but draws the line at excessive sexual content.

How do you feel about this issue?  Have you ever been inclined to write about characters that were not your own? Or do you see it as a useless exercise of your writing skills? Do you feel that derivative tales are never up to the original’s excellence or are you one of fanfiction’s secret “junkies”?


  1. I have never read or written fanfic, so this was fascinating to me, Violante! I can see it as a useful pastime for a writer who is stuck, or who is playing, or who is just looking for a writing exercise. Anne Rice's position seems a little extreme, doesn't it? I mean, I can't really see how it would hurt her own vast sales. Maybe it's more an issue of one's image or "brand" being out of one's control, being subject to someone else's whims. Is fanfic big enough to do that? I know people who are into it are *really* into it, but are there enough of them (both the creators and consumers of fanfic) to really change an author's image?

    1. Thanks Sister Stephanie,
      No, fanfiction is not big enough to affect book’s sales or an author’s image…yet. I can’t fathom why Rice is against it. If anything, fanfiction is a tribute to the writer´s work. What I love about it is how it lets you interact with other fans who also share literary interests. As I said, I no longer write FF, but I love reading it. There´s plenty of misconceptions about it, such that it is all about sex, or that it lampoons the original text. On the contrary, the bulk of it consists of very romantic, poignant love stories, several of which include erotic (seldom pornographic) content that totally surpasses the 50 Shades in quality and steam. I also have to applaud the imagination of the fanfic authors when it comes to create romantic partnerships. I have just read a great story about Rhett Butler and Jo March! Sure, they were contemporaries so why shouldn’t they meet and fall in love?

    2. Rhett and Jo? Now that's an explosive combination!! Where did you read this? It sounds interesting.

      I think I'm in the minority who wanted Rhett to forgive Scarlett. My only experience with fanfiction was precisely a blog contest where we were supposed to write a sequel to GWTW (just the synopsis), which, I won. Yay!

      You can read my version here:

    3. I can't find the romantic tale I mentioned (always save links! Fanfics move or are erased constantly), but here is another merging of both characters.
      Although it´s not a romantic pairing, it shows how the idea of those two together does exist in reader´s imagination.

      I also found Scarlett and Laurie!

  2. I think it's fascinating to see the different perspectives authors have on this issue. Honestly, I don't know how I would react if I was in that situation, flattered or plagiarized. Maybe a little bit of both? Ha!

    I would like to read that version of Twilight where Bella picks Jacob. (I liked Edward in Twilight, but he gets lost in the subsequent books, whereas Jacob becomes the more interesting/complex character.) Of course, we always knew she would end up with Edward (just like the thousands of soap operas which play with these fake romantic indecision). I wish more writers would surprise the audience and pick someone that is not the leading man for the protagonist.

    1. Ohh, there are too many to ee counted, so I´ll give you the link to the BElla &Jacob list

      Here is the list for the Archive Frum fics*s*Bella%20Swan/works

    2. When I first read about Rice´s reaction I thought her to be selfish and paranoid, but then I reflected upon the sort of fanfic she may have encountered. There is some weird stuff going on in FF that hovers between bad taste and perversion. Some can be excessively graphic. Back in May, Fanfiction.Net conducted a major purge of offensive material, but there is still a lot of WTF stories online. You know how I always complain about authors hurting characters? Fanfic authors also do it. It’s shocking to see what they do with characters they pretend to love. They subject them to all forms of violence from torture to sexual humiliation, so I could see how an author could be disturbed to see fandom mistreating their characters or forcing them to act out of context.

  3. I personally feel it's a futile effort to write fanfiction. If a writer is serious about being seriously published one day, he/she will not want some tasteless form of his/her writing floating around on the internet. I understand that the whole idea is for fun, but I've never been interested in writing it. I have so many vivid characters of my own floating around in my head with their own stories that I wouldn't even entertain the thought of rewriting someone else's book.

    That said, I have read the "sequels" to Gone with the Wind and, quite honestly, I thought neither one (Scarlett and Rhett Butler's People) was any good. The problem with fanfiction is that it truly misses the mark of the original author's take on his/her characters. Only that author knows how those characters think, feel, and interact with all other characters in the book. Someone stepping in and adding to or rewriting just doesn't have the same feel as the original author's work has.

    I understand Rice's adamant refusal to let someone rewrite her work. If there's a lot of weird kinky stuff floating about that directly points back to my novel, I'd be offended as well. But, in the U.S., we have the freedom to write stuff like this. Just out of curiosity, unless a work is in the public domain, then money can not be made off of a recreation of said work. How is E.L. James getting away with it when Twilight is obviously not in the public domain? Is it because she dramatically changes the characters and plot? And if it's because of this reason, how are her books anything like Twilight and not just labeled as her own creation?

    Fascinating subject, Malena!

    1. Aha, juicy comment demands juicy answer.

      I´m not going to defend fanfiction because I am not sure where I stand on that issue. I enjoy some fics, I´m glad fanfiction exists as long as it’s for fun, but I resent tasteless kinks.

      When it comes to phony sequels, mishmash and parodies, I stand with you Sister. It angers me that such novels are seen as literary works by the same people who condemn fanfiction. For example, “True Blood” has moved so far away from the Charlene Harris serie
      s that you could say it became HBO and Alan Ball’s fanfic.
      Indeed, only authors knows their “babies,” how they think, what moves them, but I always remember what a professor of mine used to say before starting a literature course. “We won´t be reading one book in this class. We´ll be reading 25 (or 30, or 40 depending on the number of students in the classroom) books.” He meant that each reader has its own way to perceive, explore and manipulate the text.

      Ultimately, fanfiction is not about writing but about reading, not so much about literature as to how fans interact with the text. Many followers who disagree with the way a plot turns, or are frustrated by the protagonist’s choices find solace in rewriting the story or (like Yours Truly) in reading alternate versions. I have found some pieces inspired by Game of Thrones that have moved me to tears because they do exactly what I want Martin to do with his characters.

      I confess not to have read the original Twilight FF (it´s around somewhere), but I imagine, since E.L. James is so vocal about it, that it is legal to expand your fic into a novel, shift the plot away from the original context (anyway the story dealt with Bella being an adult and living in an urban setting) change character´s names, and then make millions of bucks out of it.

  4. I guess for me, it still begs the question -- Isn't what E.L. James eventually published so off the beaten path from Twilight that it has really nothing to do with the original story? If she was inspired to write 50 Shades because of the characters in Twilight, I could understand that more. As writers, we are always taking bits and pieces from other authors' characters and creating our own versions. Here's what I think -- Because her story started out as fanfic, even though it goes into the whole erotic arena, she has maintained the fanfic label of Twilight-inspired work BECAUSE it's a selling point. She's able to interest readers, thus compelling them to buy and read the work. James is working off of a fanbase already in place, but boy oh boy! I bet some of those Twihards got a bit of a shock when they realized 50 Shades was really nothing like Twilight!

    1. Absolutely.It´s a great (but false) marketing hook. I wonder if she´ll set a precedent.

  5. I was a writter on FF my self, sometimes I still do for a little fun. I guess that was a goood place for me to practice a writer being younger. I also read some and love it. I'm pretty sure it's great for fun. I enjoy things like Pride, Predjudice and zombies as a funny thing, but I belive expandin "serious" material like GWTW is quite wrong. I guess I'd be glad to have FF written on my works, yet I understand Anne Rice's -and every writters- right to ban FF from their universes. It's complicated,I guess.

    1. It depends on how faithful is the fanfic author to the original characters and canon. I have read Jaime-Brienne fics that sound like written by Martin himself, but I have read some San-San where Sansa doesn´t sound at all like herself.
      I recall reading your riginal pieces (it´s what led me to request your Beta services) but I don´t remember reading your fanfic. What were the subjects?

    2. I do believe FF must be faithful to the original characters to be good. I hate it when characters sound like someone else. My FF subjects are in my answer to Lorena ;)

      I just recall a FF I made a long time ago of the Dark Shadows revival ended up being a original story of mine. I kept the name of Victoria for my leading lady, and my leading men has some resemblance with Barnabas. I also played de brothers love triangle a bit as the little girls ghost. But that'a about it, any way never went much further with it sacred me to be making a lot of plagiarism on that one. Its still few more than a Sketch, don't know if I'll ever write it totally :P Don't see E.L. James as ashamed and worried as I am by the fact of making an original out of a FF though ;D

    3. Ahh now I see why you were so vocal at my blog when talking about Severus’ love for Lily.

      I think FF writing is good exercise for those who have trouble with style (it lets you focus on it) and bad for those who have trouble with characterization and plot building.

      I gave up on FF creation when I was in my early 20’s. At the time my work centered on Harry Callahan (a Clint Eastwood character) and Hawkeye Pierce, protagonist of the MASH series. One day, I tried taking them out of their canon universe and found they didn´t work on alternative surroundings. I had t made a choice whether to give up on my experiments or start writing about different characters that look like Clint Eastwood and Alan Alda, but moved on different settings and behaved according to personalities I had granted them.

      I guess that is the turning point between being a fanfic writer and attempting to become a novelist.

      Girl, if I was E.L. James, I wouldn’t be ashamed at all! I would be sunning myself on a Dalmatian beach and thinking what to do with my billions. Maybe we should stop being ashamed and dare to be more audacious with what we do with our writing. That´s her lesson (if any.)

  6. Scarlett, out of curiosity, did you write your fanfiction in English or Spanish? Which were the original pieces?

    1. I wrote them mainly in Spanish. I had some based in Harry Potter like one that talked about Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy competition to please the Dark Lord in their early days as young death-eaters. Also an alternate universe where Lily had stayed with Severus. There were a lot based on some anime couples I loved and one of original charaters -based on me and my boyfriend- in the Starwars Universe.

      I know it may seem like a bit a waste of time for a serious writer that should be using her/his skills on original works, but I think FF is a great school. Learning about other characters motivations helps you to learn how to understand you own. ;D (it is also fun)

  7. I didn't know much about the FF community till I wrote a book which I now realize is fan fiction. I was amazed to discover a whole world devoted to this genre. To inspire that kind of passion and devotion in readers is something all writer's dream about. I think fan fiction is a great thing because it gets people analyzing and creating stories, and I can't understand why some writers don't embrace this.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. May I ask what was the inspiration behind your fanfic? Fanfiction is so broad a canvas, you find all sorts of stories painted there. But by and large, it´s chiefly about passion and devotion (as you said.) Most writers who disparage fanfic don’t really know it, have read one particular bad piece, or let misconceptions cloud their judgment. Explore the subgenre and you´ll find a fantastic global writing exercise, a tremendous display of imagination and a lot of love for somebody else´s work. In fact, it gives you a glimpse of a contented grateful audience, not the opposite. I look forward to the day fanfiction acquires respectability.

  8. There is a massive amount of plagiarism and copyright infringement in virtual world universes such as Second life where whole sims (simulators) are dedicated to capturing these themes especially Game of Thrones. The sims are named Kings landing and Winterfell and there are the families created by GRM existing in these sims falling short of using canon characters though. Whilst to writing aspect (role-play) free there is a lot of people making money from dressing avatars in attire and using the GoT symbols and emblems and there are commercial enterprises set up on these sims to take advantage of the 'fame' of GRM's works. To me it is slightly worrying because the 'owners ' of these sims behave in a way that could perhaps reflect badly on the authors.


Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are the sole responsibility of each sister and do not reflect the opinions of the entire sisterhood.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.