Playing in Other Worlds – In Defence of Fan-fiction

assassins creed fanfiction

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.

world of warcraft roleplay

MMO games such as World of Warcraft, have dozens of writers creating stories, quests, descriptions, and dialogue to fill gaps in these universes.

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.

assassins creed iv black flag combat

I enjoy Ubisoft games, especially Assassin’s Creed, and the seeds of the story have been sitting in my head for a few months.

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.

Take a read through my take on an Assassin’s Creed TV miniseries pilot.

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.

There’s a lot more to say on the subject. Author and co-editor of Boing-boing, Cory Doctorow covers a lot of it in an article written for Locus Magazine. You can read that here.

Beyond personal preference, I suppose it all boils down to the pros and cons:

The Pros:

  • Practice makes perfect.
  • It’s an outlet for creativity.
  • Authors have started their careers writing fanfics.

The Cons:

  • 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.


About Lee Guille

Gamer, writer, marketer, husband, oppressed slave to cats. Follow me on twitter: Writeleewrite

Posted on May 25, 2013, in Nerd Explosion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I know the reasons why people look down upon fan fiction, they are exact reasons you give above, but still I don’t understand why people look down on it as a genre. If someone writes an awful book based on something they have come up with on their own, people will say that it is an awful book, not that the entire genre into which it fits is awful.

    I only really use it as something to practice my writing on, but that doesn’t mean that fan fiction can be great pieces of art. I guess it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. ‘Tales from Jabba’s Palace’ and ‘Tales of the Bounty Hunters’ are better constructed and better written then a lot of books you will find in the bestsellers list, in fact, several Star Wars novels have themselves become bestsellers. Would these be classed as fan fiction though? Why should it stop being fan fiction the moment it is published. Writers like Kevin J. Anderson and Karen Traviss are clearly still fans of Star Wars, right?

    • I’d say that when a writer is contracted to create a work in a franchise, they’re no longer writing fan fiction. However being a fan of the franchise definitely helps the writer create a better story as they’re more aware of the world they’re working in.

  2. I used to write fanfiction, but it was for Sailor Moon back when I was in high school. I agree that writing fanfiction does help the creative juices flowing and it’s a good way to explore alternative plot points or continue the adventures of your favorite characters. That is the purpose of fanfiction…they are stories written by fans. It’s all for the love of the characters and the world they live in.

    I miss my fanfiction writing days and I would never look upon fanfiction with disdain. It’s all in good fun anyway. It’s also interesting to know how professional authors were once fanfic writers. As much as I hate to admit this, that’s how the whole “50 Shades of Grey” craze started, since the author came up with the story based around Twilight fanfiction she wrote. Never read the series and I have no interest to ever do so, but it is one instance of a former fanfiction writer finding success as an author. Whether the work itself is good is a whole other story entirely.

  3. I am also a fanfiction writer and love to read more n more fanfiction script like horror, thriller and many more…..

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