Since one of my irons in the fire (more on that later) is now a fan fiction project, I thought I’d revisit my thoughts on the subject.
That little piece I wrote yesterday for Chuck’s latest challenge is fan fiction. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with fan fiction, per se, and I’ve discussed it in the past. I think there’s something wrong with it, though, when it’s done badly.
I know that fan fiction can carry a bit of a stigma. For some, there’s a stereotype attached to it, which I will address. However, we’ve already established that writers are dirty thieves. Fan fiction is work that simply admits to said thievery. It makes no bones about being built around an established IP. And it takes a lot of the grunt work out of writing especially in speculative fiction. The setting, mood, nuances and themes are already established, all the writer has to do is give the characters motivation and voices.
There’s a market for it, as well. You don’t even have to change the names or locations or structure of the established world, as Ben Croshaw did for Mogworld. Timothy Zahn, Peter David, Michael Stackpole, R.A. Salvatore, Weis & Hickman, Diane Duane – these are all authors who have published incredibly successful novels that are, for all intents and purposes, fan fiction. The fact that they have been sanctioned by the creators or even worked into established canon must only be icing on the cake for those authors. It’s why I feel we shouldn’t be ashamed to consider such works as viable forms of fiction.
This doesn’t mean that all fan fiction is good, though. Not by a long shot. The stereotype I alluded to is that of a lonely amateur writer dashing out a story in an established universe where a previously unknown character comes along, changes everything and escapes any sort of repercussions for actions that normally would have them dragged in front of military tribunals. The dreaded Mary Sue phenomenon can make people afraid to even touch fan fiction for fear of being associated with such blatant and odious authorial crutches. Most of the time, if someone is doing this to an IP, they’re doing so while also making full-on assaults on grammar and even spelling. It’s why some people will turn their nose up at the mere mention of the words “fan fiction.”
The thing is, though, nothing is automatically good or automatically bad just because of its associations. Oskar Schindler was associated with the Nazi party but was a good man. The Fantastic Four are associated with the same brand bringing us The Avengers but those movies were pretty bad. By the same token, there’s no need to blanketly declare that fan fiction is evil or even bad. Bad writing is bad writing no matter what it’s based upon, and as long as the criticism is focused on that and not its basis, I say fire away. Just take things on a case by case basis. Start making blanket statements, and the next thing you know, you’re running for public office.