Playing in Other Worlds – In Defence of Fan-fiction
I hereby give readers license to point at me, laugh, and yell “NERD!” in public.
In the last couple years I’ve made a massive leap into geekdom. Part of this comes from exploring potential markets and different ways to get words down on a page. The scary admission is as someone who’s attempting to build a career writing fiction, I’ll admit I’ve dumped a fair chunk of time writing fan-fiction.
Now I’ve heard fellow creative writing, journalism, and English lit students and grads sneer at the practice of writing fan fiction. And in some ways they’re right to sneer. Fan-fiction is often poorly written, full of Mary-Sue-dom, and derivative of the work on which it is based. However, there are some professional applications. Keep in mind I’m not delving into crossovers or slash-fic. Those are entirely different cans of worms.
In written fiction we have shared world anthologies: books of short stories set in a pre-established universe where each story can share setting and characters but explore different aspects of the world. Examples of these would be Robert Asprin’s Thieves’ World series, George R. R. Martin’s recently restarted Wild Cards, and some of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar anthologies.
MMO games such as World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars have dozens of writers creating stories, quests, descriptions, and dialogue to fill gaps in these universes. These writers, often fans themselves, are hired to produce copyrighted content that if produced outside of their employment would be fanfic.
In television, when applying to write for a series, writers are often required to write and submit at least one script for that program. If the script is bought and produced, fantastic! It’s canon. If otherwise published, it serves a sample to get other work.
So it’s possible to legitimately write, without the expectation of pay, in another author’s world without it being fan fiction. The key here, is permission or at least not overstepping boundaries.
Writers seem to be of two minds about the whole deal. Fantasy authors Niomi Novak, known for her Temeraire series, and fantasy legend Mercedes Lackey both reportedly got their starts writing fanfiction. Twilight‘s Stephenie Meyer links to fanfic sites on her webpage. Patrick Rothfuss, bestselling author of Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear, has admitted on his blog to writing Dr. Horrible fanfic.
On the flip side, authors such as Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey, and Raymond Feist have asked fanfiction sites to remove content based on their work.
Now, getting back to my foray into fanfic. The first time I had gone this route was to write a story as an entry into the 2010 Blizzard Global Writing Contest. The potential pay off got me started; the prizes were cool, there was a potential to have it published and a shot at talking to the Blizzard writing staff about employment. Also, since the owner of the content was running the contest, it felt legitimate. In the end, even though I hadn’t won any prizes, I felt it was time well spent. The project broke a stagnant writing period, I explored a different type of story and I had fun.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve found myself with another piece of fan-fiction on my hands, this time with no contest or other reward prompting its completion. Why did I do it? I enjoy Ubisoft games, especially Assassin’s Creed, and the seeds of the story have been sitting in my head for a few months. It’s also possible that at some point I may apply to a writing position that calls for a sample this story could fit. But really, the best case scenario is that someone at Ubisoft may read it and remember my name when my resume comes knocking.
I had a blast writing about events set just after Assassin’s Creed 3 and at some point I may even expand on it. What I can’t do is devote a significant amount of time expanding on it as there is no way that I can monetize it without the say-so of the franchise’s owner, Ubisoft, and I’d rather work on original pieces.
Beyond personal preference, I suppose it all boils down to the pros and cons:
- Practice makes perfect.
- It’s an outlet for creativity.
- Authors have started their careers writing fanfics.
- Legal issues! Know your rights before you write!
- You don’t own the rights to what you’re writing. You won’t get paid and cannot publish. Posting fanfic on the net does not make you a professional.
- Other writers and editors may be less likely to take your work seriously.
- Time you spend with fan fiction is time you could be writing something of your own.
- A limited scope with what you can do with characters and still hold true to who they are.
Am I saying don’t write fan-fiction? Hells no! If that’s what gets your creative juices going, go for it. Just remember you’re in someone else’s sandbox. Play nice.