I Hate Fanfic

I tried googling the phrase “I hate fanfic” in hopes of finding somebody with a similar annoyance to one I have.  Sometimes it’s fun to see a hateful rant that echoes your prejudices.  But there were zero good results on the first page when I tried this.  The closest to the exact phrase and intent was from somebody that seemed to hate it because their own fic was not well received – that ain’t me, chief.

I don’t actually have time to get into depth about this right now, just wasting a precious minute due to the naggings of that imp of the perverse.  But I will likely elaborate if pressed, or if I’m feeling similarly irresponsible at some point later in the next few days.  I feel safe in making this declaration here because nobody in my writers group – which includes many ficcers – reads my blog.

Let this somehow rise through the google ranks like a phoenix and spark a conversation that doesn’t center either the demented opinions of ficcers, or the needlessly hateful opinions of people who are just legit misogynists or elitists.


  1. says

    Beginning the convo in another brief moment, let me say my main complaint tonight is that at this point in history fanfic is a massive drain on the creation of original stories. With entertainment monopolies draining all the worth from what we’re allowed to see in mainstream venues, it’s important to see creatively vital original content coming from *somewhere*. Where fanfic isn’t just taking another potential author off the table, it’s warping the skill of the people who do manage to escape that well and write original content. Books are coming out that are worse now because they are importing bizarre fanfic conventions that just don’t work outside of that culture and context, or are just even more thinly veiled ripoffs of successful properties than the ones we were already getting from mainstream publishers.

  2. says

    I’d say insisting people should for some “Service To The Art” high and mighty reason feel bad about writing the stuff that makes them happy ain’t it, chief.

  3. aquietvoice says

    Ahhhh, so you hate what fanfic pressures are doing to the writing community, That makes more sense.

    To criticise that though, I have to ask: would removing the fanfic really make more space for new stories and authors, or would it cement the sequel-based nature of modern entertainment, where safer bets are more valued? Isn’t fanfic just filling a vacuum left by the aversion to new stories that already exists, rather than creating that aversion?

    I’m not sure it really is taking away space – at least, not more space than it makes by increasing the number of people who can make their work by writing.

    @abbeycadabra, #2:
    Yes? And no. Or rather, fanfic is a tool – it’s great for writing for pleasure, which is a genuinely important use of writing. If we’re just talking about the pressures internal to writing as a business, though, I can see why you’d be against it, or unhappy about its prominence. (Even though I’m not, I’m a more-the-merrier kind of person, fanfic and new stories alike)

  4. says

    Sturgeon’s Law (“90% of everything is shit”) applies to fanfic just as much as to any other form of artistic expression. IMAO, the best of fanfic is as good as any other art. Also IMAO, your implicit assertion that writers are either fanfic generators or Real Authors™ is a false dichotomy, in large part cuz a bunch of people who most anyone would agree are Real Authors™ got their start committing acts of fanfic.

  5. rejiquar says

    Me! me! me! Oh, pick *me*! Waves excitedly, a la Hermione Granger, whose milieu might be the go-to example of fanfic when my kids were growing up. Or hey, if you’re my age, Star Trek (TOS). Or Sherlockiana (even *before* all the modern series & riffs). There’s a big list, somewhere, of all the classic lit-tra-choor that’s actually fanfic, that I couldn’t find, but this essay from Tor (a publisher of that `real’ stuff you want) that will do:


    I’ll set aside the whole feminist argument, that fanfic, like novels before it, was a mostly despised `new’ medium that women therefore colonized, and just as they were apostrophized for reading (& writing!) novels back then, so they are for read (& writing!) fanfic now. Others have promulgated that line of reasoning far better than I ever could and their arguments are not hard to find.
    Quite apart from another commenter said about letting people do what *they* like, instead of what *you* feel they ought to do, quite apart from the fact that my favourite author’s favourite series started out as a `let’s put my MarySue red-headed captain with a Klingon captain’ love story and then went on to win 4 hugos for same (plus other series), quite apart from the fact that another favourite author, Naomi Novik, not only was a founding member of AO3 and *still* writes fanfic despite being a bestselling author…
    The best thing I ever wrote was a piece of fanfic that I wrote after the economically and personally difficult times after the 08 crash; re-reading one’s own work is almost as tacky as writing fanfic, but as a coping strategy for post covid depression, it’s got to be better than drinking, no? (IOW, how fscking *dare* you deny me this? Life’s hard enough as it is, for not-christ’s sake…)
    My apa-mates—why yes, I’m old enough to have participated in an old fashioned print-on-paper Amateur Publishing Association—said the same thing: you’re good enough to write “real” books, why don’t you? Well, I did. It took years. All the flaws and holes in the fanfic universe I was critiquing I couldn’t figure out how to fix in my own fantasy universe because world-building is haaaaaaard.
    That is, I was *exactly* one of those people you would say, `Why don’t you write real stuff?’ —Well, mebbe. If I had the need to write like I have to make art. But, despite fanfic being excellent training for learning how get words down on a page, it’s not the same as actually creating one’s own universe, and frankly, it’s fun to play in others’ sandboxes, especially with friends. What, are you going to critique musicians for playing other people’s music, too?
    Fanfic only became a thing with the advent of copyright, and our copyright laws are a mess. Again, leaving that argument aside, I don’t think your problem is with fanfic.
    It’s with the commercial model creatives must navigate.
    The go-to example are `big studios’ only producing superhero films, or other worked-to-death dreck instead of new, quirky, enjoyable-to-you pieces. You’re confusing the cart for the horse—fanfic is, above all, a medium in which that `discussion in genre’ takes place—that is, a community; and because the tentpole films are so widely seen, more people are familiar with them, and thus more fanfic is written for them. Harry Potter fanfic really took off after the movies starting coming out.
    Even if we had UBI and people could merrily create `original’ content to their hearts’ content, there would still be your dreaded fanfic because the *readers* like having that touchpoint of familiarity of beloved characters. Despite all the poverty and unfairness in the world, nevertheless people’s *attention*, not cash, is becoming the scarcest resource, and I can see authors preferring to write fanfic because they’ll get feedback; and most artists, myself included, even if we don’t make any money at it, do at least want to know we’re being heard. (That would be why I’m wasting precious cool-sunny-quite-early morning hours writing this essay, instead or working in the garden.)
    Were our copyright laws more sane, I think there would be a great deal more room for intermediate (alternate-universe, in fanfic parlance). Sherlock Holmes as an asexual female angel accompanied by
    (massive spoiler for Kathleen Addison’s _Angel of Crows_ …)
    a lesbian female hellhound Watson in an alternate universe filled with vampires, golems and the like may not be to *your* taste—but it’s certainly mine, and, lucky for me, Sarah Monette’s as well, because inbetween writing her award winning _Goblin Emperor_ and a sequel, she wrote—and published—just such a fanfic, for which I gladly paid $15USD.
    It has *always* been a problem for people to get genuinely new work out there. I don’t know how true the story that the CIA supported the Abstract Expressionists is, but it would surely make sense as to why that movement gained steam. Somewhere or other out on the internets is an argument that the 90s produced hella quirky (i.e. original) films because of a (brief) confluence of *economic* factors that made it profitable and reasonable for studios to take those risks. Getting people to try new things is *hard*. Now a beloved franchise, the Sookie Stackhouse stories collected a mountain of rejections, because no publisher wanted to take a risk on Harris’ `southern vampire Gothic’. I’m not a fan of Dune, but it’s highly regarded, and it too collected a *lot* of rejection slips before getting published.
    That’s just two examples off the top of my head.
    My spouse, long before the Open Source movement gained the steam it has today, used to say that the thing to do was release the software for free, but publish well-written manuals on really nice (& coloured) paper, so the users would pay the creators, rather than the pirates. I’ve read that publishers, instead of DRMing everything, should instead act sort of the way IG influencers do: find the cool content, and charge for their *filtering* services. When I was actively reading sf&f, you bet I had a subscription to _Locus_ magazine—mostly for the reviews.
    I don’t, ultimately, know how we’re to promote fresh and original content in our current world without entirely dismantling capitalist society and its profit motive. But I do know dunking on fanfic isn’t going to solve your problem. That’s like saying you can’t have properly creative metalsmithed adornments because I’m over here stringing beads, because silverwork is “real” jewelry and beadwork is not.
    Which, as a lampworker, bead-stringer & sometime silversmith, is bullsh*t.
    Respectfully submitted (I most sincerely hope)

  6. brucegee1962 says

    I certainly wouldn’t say I “hate” fanfic; although it has no appeal to me, it is also easy for me to avoid. Too bad that your writers’ group forces you to put up with it — find a better group?

    I think of it as writing with training wheels, allowing baby writers to concentrate on stuff like dialogue and setting without having to worry about other parts of writing like character and world generation. But since those are the most fun parts of writing to me, I’m very uninterested.

    Now, I do remember one time in my life when I got adjacent to fanfic. When our kids were little, we would make up stories as a family on long car rides. One of us would start a story, then hand it off to someone else to continue. Great fun, leading to one of my favorite quotes from my son’s childhood: “But mom, what if Darth Vader landed on the island of Sodor?”

  7. says

    In my opinion, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality was much more interesting than Rowling’s books. I actually finished reading this fanfic, but I never finished Rowling’s book series (even before she came out as a TERF).

    I also like Pokemon: The Origin of Species.

    There certainly is a lot of poorly written fanfic (or simply fanfic that I personally don’t perceive as enjoyable), but the same statement is also true about other types of literature and art in general.

    Whether some artist chooses to create original content or fan content does not depend on how skilled this creator is but on how they intend to sell/monetize their work. Thus professional authors are motivated to abstain from creating fan works, because those cannot be sold as easily. Or, on the contrary, I also know some fan artists who earn money via Patreon donations and create only fan art, because that’s what their patrons like to see.

  8. says

    You might be interested in an essay written by my bloggy buddy, critical of the “One True Fandom” framework, where fandom is assumed to be primarily about fanfic, and fanfic is thought to be a singularly progressive form of media.

    The [One True Fandom] framework that I’m talking about here can be identified by four main attributes:

    1) speaking of “fandom” through a certain (homogenizing) lens, where

    2) everybody loves fanfiction, because

    3) fanfiction is good, within a framework that emphasizes

    4) the subversive potential of “transformative” works over all other kinds of fan activity.

    As I observed in the comments, fandom is weighted towards the most popular media, like TV and movies, which in my view are some of the least progressive media around. So fanficcers get to feel progressive by comparing themselves to the work that their fics are based on, but I suspect they could do better by releasing their anchors to popular media.

  9. says

    That’s a conversation alright! I’ll read this within a few days.

    Hey a little more meat for the wolves in the meantime: Another problem with fanfic is that while ficcers make some ostentatious claims about it being just as good and legitimate of art as anything in the literary canon when leaping to its defense, it rings a bit weird when their entire intellectual output is contingent on an original writer establishing a canon.

    Ficcers are engaged in mass worship of original fiction while simultaneously excluding themselves from the possibility of ever moving human imaginations in the same way as original fiction writers. The enjoyment people get from fanfic is always contingent on the preexistence of something original and fanfic writers will never be able to *provide* that part of the experience while they labor in writing communities so orthogonal to the discipline of original writing.

    It’s not a problem if a ficcer’s ambitions are just that low. I’m professionally unambitious myself. But as an artistically ambitious person, watching the vast majority of the world’s creative writing happening at that pitiful level is very depressing. It means less competition for me when I start putting my stuff out there, but it feels like a mountain of wasted potential.

  10. says

    Back in 1928, a bloke name of August Derleth, upon learning that Arthur Conan Doyle wasn’t going to write any more stories of Sherlock Holmes, decided to start writing about a detective named Solar Pons who had a sidekick/narrator/chronicler named Dr. Lyndon Parker. Basically, Derleth wrote Holmes fanfic with the serial numbers filed off and a fresh coat of paint. Would you say that Derleth was lesser in any way for having written his Holmes fanfic?

    And what about all the stories involving the actual Doyle characters that have been written in the decades since Doyle died? Just plain fanfic, hence lesser?

    Where does the Cthulhu Mythos, created by H.P. Lovecraft and with plenty of stories contributed by other writers, fit into your thinking? Shall all the non-Lovecraft contributors to the Cthulhu Mythos be dismissed as lowly fanfic writers, rather than real authors?

  11. brucegee1962 says

    @10 cubist
    Since the birth of the modern publishing industry, there have been various gates and gatekeepers that exist, among other things, as a first hurdle of quality. Not everything that gets published is quality, of course, but 9 times out of 10, if a work cannot pass the low hurdle of making it into print, it’s a safe bet that it isn’t very good.

    I referred above to fan-fictioneers as “baby writers,” and I was wondering if anyone would take issue with that. But basically, if you aren’t getting paid, then you probably aren’t a real writer — that’s kind of the cutoff. Fanfic writers use the internet to find readers, sure, but they are forbidden from making a living doing it — that’s copyright for you. Lovecraft is out of copyright, so he is fair game for real writers. So is Sherlock Holmes, now — but he wasn’t when Derleth wrote, which is why he had to come up with his own characters. Also, Derleth was a terrible writer who ended up setting up his own publishing house because he was so bad, so he isn’t a great example.

  12. ionopachys says

    Cubist is exactly right. We can spend all night listing famous authors and “great” works that built upon older material. In fact, that list would include almost every famous premodern author in the West. The idea that “real” artists must create new stories with new characters and settings is relatively new. The art isn’t in creating something completely new, but in crafting a well written and entertaining work.

    Then there’s the fact that fanfiction sometimes improves upon the original. A lot of fanfiction writers are motivated by frustration. How many programs and movies can you think of that have an interesting setting, premise, or characters but messes it up somehow, or fails to develop certain themes or elements? Fanfiction can sometimes take a boring or disappointing franchise and create a really entertaining or fascinating story.

  13. says

    sez brucegee1962: “Lovecraft is out of copyright, so he is fair game for real writers.”

    Fun fact: Lovecraft was essentially giving permission to other people to write Cthulhu stuff while he was still alive. So I don’t think the copyright thing is entirely relevant here.

  14. rejiquar says

    brucegee1962 says: I was wondering if anyone would take issue with that. But basically, if you aren’t getting paid, then you probably aren’t a real writer — that’s kind of the cutoff.
    Raises hand: not terribly fond of the `baby writer’ appellation. People learn to write by writing. I wrote up our D&D campaigns; some people learn writing fanfic; Sir Pterry learned by writing novels that he sold, and for this reason most people don’t recommend starting Discworld with _The Colour of Magic_.
    Not getting paid: um, no. I am an artist because I make art and it’s an important part of my identity. I am a professional because I get paid, though nowadays only occasionally. People are writers if they work at it and say they are. They’re *good* writers if enough readers with socially-acceptable cred say so, and that’s orthogonal to whether they get paid, or even make their livings from it (what a lot of people use the term `professional’ to mean.)
    Siggy & the one true fandom: I’m sure this sort of infighting goes on, but speaking as someone on the fringes of this discussion, it strikes me as somewhat similar to discussions of cancel culture and circular firing squads. Sure, there’s infighting on the left over this sort of purity-policing, but it strikes me as far more a seized-upon issue/club by the right; when I dig into these accusations, more often than not things are a good deal more nuanced.

  15. says

    @rejiquar #14,
    Infighting? Circular firing squads? Where did you get that from? The “one true fandom” framework is not, like, some ongoing flame war that fans are arguing about all the time. It’s an unspoken set of assumptions that center fanfic.

    @GAS #9,
    The more I think about it, the more I hard disagree that originality has anything to do with it. Hardly anything is truly original, and I think what most people do is take old parts and synthesize them in new ways. Which is just as much within the reach of fanfic as any other kind of fiction.

    Personally, I’m not close enough to fanfic to “hate” it. I just haven’t really liked the bits I’ve seen. I think a lot of it’s low quality. There are some irritating tropes related to how cis women write about gay men. A lot of it is based on popular media that I don’t care about. Some fans treat it like the ultimate expression of fandom, but I prefer some good media criticism instead.

  16. rejiquar says

    Siggy: I was trying to avoid writing another 1000+ word essay, but (not at all, siiiigh) briefly, your friend’s argument seemed to me to be:

    1. fanficcers promote a very particular view of fandom, a `One true fandom’, analogous to OTP (one true pairings, the practise of putting canon characters in non-canon relationships,) and which is shorthand for saying this *and only this* relationship is `correct’, i.e. true.
    2. Not deep into fandom, but my experience, such as it was, is there’s room for everybody, including, as specifically referenced in the essay, people who do fandom by writing fic, others who do background research, not to mention a lot who do *both*—my favourite fan authors certainly did, for example.

    3. IOW, it seemed to me your buddy was setting up a somewhat simplified (& artificial!) divide, between the ficcers, and everyone else, *and* I think? making the argument that the ficcers claimed theirs was the only true way.

    4. To which my immediate response was, bwuh? That’s like saying the libs are solely about wokeness and cancel culture, and out to get everybody who don’t exactly toe their line (the circular firing squad) when in fact the arguments are far more nuanced than their critics (i.e. many on the right) pretend, an example with which I figured FTB readers would be familiar. —Which is not to say there aren’t arguments to be had, only that I found this one (as I understood it!) unpersuasive and unfair.

    5. Now, were I virtuous, I would carefully re-read your friend’s essay, go over it point by point, etc etc., because I did notice their stance seemed to soften by the end of the essay—in fact, I got the sense they were working out their feelings. But I gots things to do, and figured that discussion could wait till the next blog post.

  17. says

    @rejiquar #16,
    Thanks for clarifying. I’ll ping Coyote in case they want to reply.

    I liked the essay because it spoke to a certain impression I’ve formed, as someone totally outside fandom. Some fans talk like ficcing is the primary, and best form of fan engagement. Sometimes it’s a joke, and well it’s a joke that isn’t funny. Then there’s talk about the curative/transformative dichotomy, which has weird gender associations, and leaves out entire categories of fan engagement. I mean, the reason I say I’m totally outside fandom is arguably because social consensus does not recognize any of my own varieties of fan engagement as “fandom”.

    I’m sure some fans have more enlightened attitudes about it, and in fact Coyote provided a bunch of examples of that. It’s about identifying some good and some bad attitudes, and saying, less bad more good please.

  18. Cutty Snark says

    Apologies for the rambling, but I think there are a number of ways I might disagree with the OP. By exploring this a little in my comment, I hope to offer some insight into, what I think may be, a reasonable difference of opinion. So, here are a jumble of some thoughts, in no particular order:

    1. “my main complaint tonight is that at this point in history fanfic is a massive drain on the creation of original stories.”

    If fanfiction provokes complaint that it is a drain on the creation of original stories, how much worse must those of us who do not write at all be? After all, surely even some of the worst fanfiction (unless it is a word-for-word replication) must result in at least some original content – whereas those of us who do not write fiction produce zero. Presumably we deserve infinitely more contempt?

    Setting that aside, I’m not sure it follows that fanfiction must necessarily be a drain on the creation of original stories, unless one assumes that every fanfiction comes at the expense of an original story. And would people be equally motivated to write in the absence of fanfiction? Would everyone who has written fanfiction still write a story if they had no framework to start from? I am unconvinced.

    2. “their entire intellectual output is contingent on an original writer establishing a canon”

    This is tempting a Ship of Theseus analogy, no? If one is writing (picking a popular franchise at random) Star Wars fanfiction in that setting, then this would seem to be true (to an extent). But what if someone is writing Star Wars fanfiction where they have taken the characters they like and transposed them into a different setting? I lack creativity myself, but even I could imagine Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker becoming Don and Luke Smith in a coming-of-age story where an estranged father suddenly reunites with his son, and they slowly learn to adjust to each other; or Sensei Kenobi, master of the Ji’Di, leading this secret order of martial artists to overthrow the corrupt Shogun. How would those fanfictions be necessarily contingent on the original writer establishing a canon?

    Even when something is still set in the cannon, I’m not sure it necessarily follows that it would be entirely contingent per se. Imagine a comedy drama where the Galactic Empire over-leveraged their financing to pay for the Death Star(s?), and a plucky team of Rebellion economists and financiers just have to publish their financial report and refinancing scheme to the holonet to bring it down… This would be set in the Star Wars universe, but that seems to be (at least to me) more set dressing than anything else – if it was written well, one could likely simply tweak this fanfiction (e.g. replace speeders with motorbike, The Empire with Generic EvilCorp, the Death Star with Corporate Boondoggle, etc.) and it would be transferable to many other completely different settings. Consequently, the contingency would seem to be rather tenuous to say the least. After all, while the use of Star Wars might make for a convenient setting due to reader familiarity, if you transposed it to the modern world that would still be true (many people don’t need the modern world setting explained to them…) but I don’t think it would still be contingent an original author’s cannon.

    In short, I am not convinced by this point at all.

    3. “Books are coming out that”[…]” are just even more thinly veiled ripoffs of successful properties than the ones we were already getting from mainstream publishers.”

    IIRC, Mills and Boon published Anne Vinton’s medical romance, The Hospital In Buwambo, in 1957. In 1958 they published 16 titles, all Doctor-Nurse romances. And, while I wish absolutely no disrespect to those who write or read such work (personally I am uncomfortable judging such pleasures), I think even the more ardent fans of Mills and Boon would agree that there is frequently a certain degree of thematic overlap between books. Yet these would seem to fit the description of original fiction (in the sense of contrasting against fanfiction).

    So I suppose my question would be, are there more thinly veiled ripoffs than before (e.g. as a percentage of books being published)? And is this due to fanfiction, or because publishers are increasingly comfortable with publishing derivative work?

    4. “Ficcers are engaged in mass worship of original fiction while simultaneously excluding themselves from the possibility of ever moving human imaginations in the same way as original fiction writers. The enjoyment people get from fanfic is always contingent on the preexistence of something original and fanfic writers will never be able to *provide* that part of the experience while they labor in writing communities so orthogonal to the discipline of original writing.”

    I think I’ve already briefly covered some of this in point 2. I am currently unconvinced that the enjoyment of fanfiction must *always* be contingent on original work (though it certainly can be the case, I am not sure this is universally true). For example. the setting may exploit completely new world-building – and even characters may be altered considerably in terms of personality. Thus, I would question that fanfiction must necessarily be orthogonal to the discipline of original writing. It would seem to me that if creating your own setting and characters, even if you borrow elements from other settings, is not without some degree of originality.

    Moreover, I would also question the assumption that setting originality must necessarily be a desirable characteristic. Jan Needle’s Wild Wood is retelling of the classic “Wind in the Willows”, but instead focuses on why the Wild Wooders revolted – and uses this to inject a socialist commentary and make a political satire while still being, at its heart, something which can be enjoyed as a children’s book on the face of it. I don’t know that one requires an understanding of the cannon in order to enjoy it – the setting “our world, but anthropomorphic animals too” seems to have gone unexplained in the original work and the Wild Woods, and so it may well be, I believe, sufficiently simple as to not require pre-existing knowledge. However, I would argue that by using the “popular children’s book setting” of TWitW it actually becomes more impactful – it holds a magnifying glass up to the relatively unexamined setting and shows that things a reader might gloss over (Toad is not just a selfish and extravagant character, but rather a symptom of the unjust system which enables and is complicit with such selfishness in the first place) and, by so doing, perhaps invites a reader to do the same with our society too. In short, I would argue that Wild Wood is a better book for being in the TWitW setting (as opposed to a worse one), and by retelling the story not from the comfortably bourgeois perspectives of Mole et al but instead the (in the Wild Wood, if not TWitW) more proletariat Wild Wooders the book still provides an original story, and is capable of moving human imagination – perhaps, arguably, even to a greater extent than the original.

    I also find “Ficcers are engaged in mass worship of original fiction” a rather problematic statement. Setting aside the potential issue with making sweeping pronouncements about a diverse group of people, the idea that one must “worship” the original fiction to write a fanfiction seems obviously faulty even without too much further examination. I am by no means a particularly avid consumer of fanfiction (I have read a little here and there over my life, but not regularly or copiously), but it seems to me even a cursory look shows that people write fanfiction for many reasons – for example, some seem to write because they like (but not necessarily revere) the cannon, some because they wish to expand on the cannon in new ways, and some specifically because they have problems with the cannon. If someone writes a fanfiction aiming to “fix” something, surely the implication is that they do not see the original as something requiring reverence but more something they enjoy but see problems with? If, for example, if someone feels the original is queerbaiting with two major characters, becomes frustrated by this, and then decides to rewrite the story to include (perhaps focus on) an explicit developing relationship, surely this is not so much an act of reverence but an intentional act of contradiction? If someone likes the idea of Wizard school, but develops their own hard-magic system because they find the “here is a spell, it does X” approach lacking, is this not a demonstration that they see an area where they find the original lacking?

    5. “watching the vast majority of the world’s creative writing happening at that pitiful level is very depressing”

    I suspect that the vast majority of any of the world’s creative endeavors happens at, what appears to be characterised as, a pitiful level. Not every musician composes original work, not every chef creates original dishes, not every painter develops a unique style…Sturgeon’s law, as others have noted, also seems to be worth highlighting.

    It seems to me originality is not exactly a binary divide. Is a fanfiction which plays with characters (modifying personalities, relationships, etc.) in a setting the writer has built themselves (e.g. what if Harry Potter were a freshly minted detective in a roaring 20s style setting, driven by his desire to bring Don Volddorni to justice?) somehow less original than “I’m going to write an original fantasy story, pass me the trope bucket…”? Is it reasonable to say “well, yes the characters are different, you’ve worldbuilt your own setting, and you’ve written an entirely new plot…but this is fanfiction so you are still creatively mediocre?” If one starts iteratively modifying a fanfiction, would it not be possible to arrive at something completely new? As I say, originality seems to me me to come in degrees…

    6. “It means less competition for me when I start putting my stuff out there, but it feels like a mountain of wasted potential.”

    It seems to me characterising something as wasted potential is frequently somewhat problematic. If someone writes something because it gives them pleasure to do so, or if they are attempting to hone one particular aspect of their technique (dialogue rather than worldbuilding, for example), why must that be a waste of potential? I can’t help but feel this treads a little to close for comfort to the quasi-utilitarian arguments some less broad minded people express (for example “why study performing arts instead of engineering – this is just wasting your potential), and risks leading to some very restrictive visions of “worth”.

    I also think what matters to me is a bit less “has someone their entire cannon and characters from new?” and more “is reading this story enjoyable?”. Perhaps this will engender contempt (we are judging people for enjoying things which give them pleasure, after all) but I would rather read something “less original but told well about characters I invest in” than something “more original but told poorly about characters I find myself indifferent to”. Perhaps that makes me a terrible person to be regarded with pity, but I think compelling characters and a good plot are key to me – not “is the author’s dieselpunk setting actually rooted in inspiration derived from Japanese mythology”. Certainly originality is worthy of merit, but I’m not sure it is supreme to other considerations. After all, I rather enjoyed reading the Divine Comedy, despite it being pretty much author self-insertion fanfiction…

    7. General thought

    Were someone to say “I don’t enjoy reading fanfiction”, that seems fair enough to me (preferences are fine, after all!). Were someone to say “I have no interest reading through badly written fanfiction to find something I enjoy”, I think it a perfectly reasonable sentiment (I personally don’t enjoy the whiskeys I have tried – and while it is possible there is one I might enjoy out there somewhere, why sift through things I don’t like to determine that when I already enjoy wine?). But I think when someone insists that *all* fanfiction by its very nature must be unoriginal, creatively bankrupt dreck, and that the writers are engaged in mass worship, these are claims which could do with something more of a convincing argument in support to show that this is a fair characterisation. Personally, I would be wary of such a generatlisation.

    To briefly borrow from the conversations between Siggy and rejiquar – there are, I would say, many things about fandoms in general one can point to as objectionable. But (it seems to me) these things are not necessarily universal within a fandom, nor are they necessarily specific to fandoms in general.

    People writing fanfiction can certainly behave poorly. But so can any group of individuals (see the recent ructions arising amongst original writers in Sci-Fi and Romance genres, for example). Indeed, I once saw a 3 page all caps screaming match (complete with doxing and death threads) over what brand of mayonnaise is better. The sort of objections raised seem to be less describing fanfiction writers, so much as an aspect of humanity in general.

    Are there people writing fanfiction who present work which is imaginative, well considered, and well written, and are there communities of fanfiction writers who are supportive, generous, and able to offer constructive criticism when needed? It seems to me there are (by no means universally, but some do seem to exist).

    Given that some of the specific complaints seem – in my purely personal opinion – by no means universally applicable, I do wonder if the OP hates fanfiction, or hates a specific form of fanfiction? Do they have complaints regarding fanfiction writers, or specific types of fanfiction writers? There is, I would suggest, something of an important distinction there…

    I am by no means an expert, and I offer this only tentatively, but I hope this is of some interest at least. If anyone does manage to read all this rambling, you have both my gratitude and my respect!

  19. says

    My attitude is…let other people enjoy their things.

    I also see “fanfic” as a kind of pejorative term. To pick one example, Dumas’s The Three Musketeers: how many versions of that have been translated into movies and comic books and novels? Are they all called “fanfic”? Is the awful 2011 version with airships ever labeled “fanfic”? Or does the fact that $75 million was spent on it move it out of that ghetto?

    It also seems to be a product of the widespread ability to freely publish whatever by anyone on the internet. Once upon a time, before there was LiveJournal even, popular stories about known characters got published in books and magazines, instead. See, for instance, all the authors writing stories about Conan who weren’t Robert E Howard, or writing in the Cthulhu mythos who aren’t HP Lovecraft.

  20. Owlmirror says

    quite apart from the fact that my favourite author’s favourite series started out as a `let’s put my MarySue red-headed captain with a Klingon captain’ love story and then went on to win 4 hugos for same (plus other series)

    You don’t give her name, but this sure looks like you mean Lois McMaster Bujold. I think she got more Hugo wins than that – even discounting the non-Vorkosiverse books.

    Checking the Hugo stats:

    1989: Nominated: Falling Free
    1990: Won: The Mountains of Mourning
    1991: Won: The Vor Game
    1992: Won: Barrayar
    1995: Won: Mirror Dance
    1997: Nominated: Memory
    2000: Nominated: A Civil Campaign
    2002: Nominated: The Curse of Chalion
    2004: Won: Paladin of Souls
    2005: Nominated: Winterfair Gifts
    2011: Nominated: Cryoburn
    2013: Nominated: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance
    2016: Nominated: Penric’s Demon
    2017: Nominated: Penric and the Shaman
    2017: Won: The Vorkosigan Saga
    2018: Won: World of the Five Gods

    OK, so 4 wins for the Vorkosiverse books/stories (Mountains is a novella), and 1 win for the series as a whole (and 7 wins total — the other wins are not Vorkosiverse, for those unfamiliar with her work).

    However, a couple of years ago, I found out that she deeply resented having people think that “Shards of Honor”, the first-written book of the series, was originally a fanfic.


    Now, this Star Trek thing. This is going to be the third time I have knocked it on the head this year [NB: 1997]. It’s getting profoundly irritating. [Shards of Honor] is not now, and has never been, a Star Trek story. Six years before I started writing it, to entertain myself driving to work, I had worked out a vaguely ST-universe two enemies-lost-on-planetside scenario. You have only my word for this, by the way, as I am reporting on my private thoughts here. Nothing was ever written. When I did sit down in 1982 to write my original novel, I used some elements from this scenario in the opening chapters, while also drawing on not less than my whole life and everything I’d learned in it. By the time the first word hit paper, I wanted to write my own books, thank you very much. And I did.

        While I do not wish to gratuitously insult Trek fans — I consider them a potential market for character-centered action-adventure stories with something of the same economic lust that early 20th Century industrialists used to look on the population of China, if only I could push my product across their mental barriers — the suggestion that one is incapable of making up one’s own stories is perhaps the most deadly insult you can level at a writer. Please refrain from doing so. And when you encounter this Star Trek rumor again — and it seems to be everywhere — kindly disabuse the perpetrators for me. I don’t seem to be able to catch up with them all.

  21. Owlmirror says

    The point which I find very hard to understand, is the complaint that fanfic is somehow like retelling or pastiche. I mean, if Bujold had written a story, similar to “Shards of Honor”, set in the Star Trek universe, where a Klingon captain and a Federation captain were both on the same planet, and needed each other’s help to survive, that would still have been an original story. All And even a retelling or a pastiche can have some originality.

    It is very difficult to have anything like true originality, actually. Tolkien famously drew on Western European languages for his conlangs, and Western European mythology for parts of his stories. Bujold drew on common science-fiction tropes for her stories, like wormhole networks, militaristic societies, vehicles that can travel from space to planetside and back to space (shuttles), and so on. Her other main series (the “Five Gods” one in the Hugo list) is based partially on Western Europe (especially Spain) (and to a lesser extent, North Africa) in the 15th-16th centuries, with her own add-ons and changes rung (different history, reflected geography, different names for the countries and rulers, different religions, etc). Everything builds on everything else.

  22. ExAuthor says

    “a massive drain on the creation of original stories”

    I wrote a book once. Even went so far as to get it published. Wouldn’t do it again; effort is extensive, reward is near-nonexistent, and the inherited peer-group is packed to the gills with pretentious (**censored by mod**).

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