Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Remix, Fan-Fiction, Authorship

Right now the big tempest in the fictional world tea-pot swirls around the "art" of fan-fiction. An emerging set of writers who focus on writing stories with already-established characters or established settings and conflicts. These established characters, settings, etc range from Star Trek to Harry Potter to Twilight. On one hand, one can say that the original writer of these stories created such a well-loved, well-made world with such real characters that readers can imagine other/parallel adventures  -- and why shouldn't a reader indulge her own creative skills by writing her own tale based on these characters? Writers such a J K Rowlings have been honored to see fan-fiction based on their stories all over the internet.

But now, fan-fictioners are actually calling themselves "true writers" and many are making money publshing their fan-fiction. One fan-fiction writer who went so far as to write a fan story on real people -- Harry Styles and One Direction-- now has a movie deal. 

I find this problematic.  Not only because some of these folks have remixed the "lives" of real people --and basically created a written record of their relationship fantasy of a real living person-- but because they have leeched off the hardwork and success of other writers. One is allowed to do anything with historical characters if one wishes. Historical fiction is a fun, honorable, and valuable genre. But remixing the lives of living people? No. Tell me, Regular Joe, how creepy would it feel to read a book where someone makes you the object of her sexual stalking juvenile fantasy?

But moving in another direction from One Direction to fan-fiction in general.

Even if the writer of the fan-fic is a good writer (which is rare), even if the fan-fiction writer perfectly imitates/mimics the writing style, wit, and skill of the orginal author, fan fiction just feels lazy and parasitic to me, especially when it's done without the permission of the original creator. At least in the case of "works-for-hire", the original creator or rights owner has entered into a legal contract with the person who is expanding on the original world or using an establshed character.

It seems to me that the original novelists -- J K Rowling, for instance-- spent years suffering in poverty creating their story, their worldbuilding, and their characters. They did all the work.  It takes a lot of hard work, drafting, and re-drafting, to create a world, beloved characters, and an influential book. Why should someone else make money from a writer's hard work? 

Of course, Rowling is famous so it will always be clear to all when her work is being "remixed" and she will always be recognized and given credit whenever a fan fiction is based on her writing. But there are writers who do not get credit. Either because another writer has tweaked the original work  -- changing names, places, etc-- in a kind of imitation. Or because another writer has plain and simply stolen a piece of writing. 

When it comes to "imitation," sometimes it is really the "sincerest form of flattery" but sometimes it is simply plagiarism, intellectual laziness, and greed. I've met writers who think they are being creative or following a trope when they are merely copying another story down to characters, setting, plot. In my work of reviewing, editing, and critiquing, I've seen so many retreads of Lord of the Rings, Twilight, and Harry Potter that if I see one more fellowship, werewolf-beautiful teen human-vampire love triangle, or wizard school I'll scream.

As for plagiarism. . .I have no patience with it. I once judged a writing contest. Imagne my surprise when I found that many of the supposedly original stories sent to me could be found online -- written by other people. I had to shake my head at the lack of ethics.  There is nothing more annoying than seeing one's words under someone else's byline.   And as for me. . .I once found someone had taken one of my stories -- and although they had given me credit-- they had uploaded it for anyone to download.
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