I’ve made no secret of my involvement in the fanfiction community. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words in the past and happily shared them within the community, and I can honestly say I worked every bit as hard on those stories as I did on any of my published work. Writing is hard.
Re-working fanfiction(scrubbing, filing, editing…whatever you choose to call it) is nothing new in Publishing. However, recently it has been drawing much more attention due to the particular success of one book series and questions are being asked by people outside and inside fandoms regarding the ethics and morals of fanfiction writers choosing this path. There are other questions too, what constitutes fanfiction? Is it when the writer labels it as such or are there required elements of the specific source required? Who owns the new original storyline and prose contained within a fanfiction, the writer of the source or the writer who came up with them? As a published author, how would I feel if someone wrote a fanfic of my work? How would I feel if that person then went on to publish that work?
These are some of the questions I’ve asked myself and this is what I’ve come up with.
As a reader:
As for what constitutes written fanfiction. My personal view is there has to be substantial elements of the source book, tv series, movie, or whatever the fic is based on. By substantial, I mean it’s not enough to use names and to me, the vast majority of fanfiction I’ve personally read isn’t fanfiction at all. To have the characters completely different in personality, background, behaviour and reactions, to set them in a new location, new time, new universe where they are now a different species sets them too far apart to be fanfiction. A character and world built so intricately from the ground up isn’t even an interpretation of the source(I’ll get back to this). It’s original. Having said that, if people want to call their story fanfiction, even if I believe it isn’t, I don’t care. It’s not my call. I can choose to read it or not. Often I choose to, but I don’t read it as an extension of the source. When it’s so far removed from the source, I see it as more of an original story in it’s own right than fanfiction.
For me, true fanfiction is where a strong interpretation or imitation of a unique source character is placed in a new situation within the same universe. Basically, I suppose I’m a puritan when it comes to reading fanfiction of other author’s work.
So, who owns the prose of a fanfiction. Well if it’s original prose that was never in the source and is created entirely from the mind of the fanfiction writer, I don’t believe the source author should be able to claim ownership outside of any copyrightable elements. Many in the fanfiction community disagree with this, they believe once something is labelled fanfiction, it belongs to the source author in its entirety. Likewise with a storyline. If a fanfiction writer comes up with an original storyline unrelated to the storyline in the source material, I see it as the intellectual property of the fanfiction writer.
As an author:
Every author has the right to an opinion on their work and fanfiction of their copyrighted material. Knowing how much time, tears, blood, and energy goes into creating. I believe each individual’s perspective on their creations should be respected. This is my personal perspective only.
How would I feel if someone wrote a fanfiction of my work? Of course I would be honoured to think my characters and the universe I created would inspire someone to write their interpretation. Even better, to think they enjoined the universe so much that they don’t want to leave it. I don’t feel I would be in a position to read it. I've been caught in situations where I'm writing something I think is completely unique and individual, only to find out someone has done it or is doing it. I wouldn't want a ficcer coming forward saying a book I published is similar to some fanfic I never read.
How would I feel if they then decided to publish? Obviously this would have to be a question looked at on a case by case basis. Like I said, I’m a puritan. A few times in the past I’ve seen fic writers claim their fanfiction better explores the universe and delves deeper into the characters than the source author. I simply don’t believe that’s possible. They can explore their interpretation of the universe and delve deeper into their interpretation of the characters. However, no matter how much an author writes or how deeply they explore the complexities of a storyline and characters, the reader will never be completely inside the mind of an author. This isn’t to say the source author was lacking in some way or the reader turned fanfiction writer doesn’t understand what the author was putting across.
Let me give an example. The character, Jennifer, from Shades of Atlantis, was bitten by a dog when she was seven. This left a small scar on her arm. This piece of information is just one tiny piece that isn’t included anywhere in the book because it isn’t relevant to the story, but I know it because I created the character. If someone were to write a fanfiction where Jennifer ran a dog grooming shop or became a vet, I would know Jennifer would never do this because I know Jennifer is still wary around dogs. I would even say she is afraid of them.
From the point of view of an author, I would never feel the fanfic characters are my characters. Basically, the only person who can truly write my characters is me. No one else knows positively how my characters would react in any given situation but me. They can estimate or guess, but they can't know 100% for sure it’s correct. Likewise with the universe, there are things as yet unrevealed that would have significant impact on the correctness of any fanfiction created in that world. Any fanfiction would be another writer's interpretation of my characters, how they would react based on what that writer knows of them. They can never know the character like I do, all the little things I don't write because they aren't necessary but that I know. I am far more intimate with the universe and every single one of my characters than any fanfiction writer could possibly be because they are mine.
In conclusion, if someone wants to write fanfiction of their interpretation of my universe and characters then provide it free in a fanfiction community, I'm all for it.
In some cases the story ends up unique in its own right and so removed from the source information in the source work that it can stand alone.
I would have no issue with a fanfiction writer re-working and publishing a work inspired by mine if the characters, universe and storyline in it’s final published form are not recognizable as a fanfiction of my work, it doesn't contain any passages of my writing, or infringe on my copyright of the work.