Ask A Writer – Fan Fiction

19 Jul

I’ve had a number of questions after my first Ask A Writer post, which I will try to answer – one by one – when I get a moment. However, this one caught my eye.

“I tried sending you a question but yahoo keeps saying your email address is invalid, so here is my question. Sorry if it’s already addressed below. I did a search and saw you have previously discussed your works published under the Creative Commons license, but what about other works?

How do you, specifically, feel about fans writing and disseminating (AKA publishing) fan fiction set in a world that you created and involving one or more characters that you created? Which works are published under which types of licenses, and what are the implications of those licenses specifically for fan fiction? More generally, is there a right way and a wrong way to go about writing and publishing fan fiction?”

To answer the first point, I normally write ‘AT’ instead of ‘@’ because that keeps spammers from harvesting my email address and sending me junk. (I like to make them work for it.)

Back to the rest of the question … well, I’m not qualified to talk about the precise types of licences, so I’ll stick to generalities.

The short answer is that fan fiction has the potential, at least, to cause significant problems for the author. If a fan writes a story that mirrors the author’s future works, that fan might try to claim that the author stole their work. It may not be easy to actually make such a case, but no smart author wants to have to go to court and fight it.

For example, it was easy for David Weber fans – like me – to make educated guesses on what would happen as the Manticore-Haven War developed. Weber scattered clues to the tech tree throughout the early books, allowing us to see the logical development of pod missiles, LACs and FTL communicators. This rewarded his long-time fans, who engaged in discussions about how this or that plot point would be resolved. But it also ran the risk of someone taking a planned future development and turning it into a fan fiction.

I remember discussions about how the Honor-White Haven-Emily love triangle would play out. Us fans predicted a Grayson-style poly-marriage, with all three of them united in marital bliss, long before it actually happened. And if someone had turned that into a fan fiction … well, it could have caused problems for David.

There actually was an incident involving Marion Zimmer Bradley – before she became infamous for something far worse – where an attempt to pay a fan for an idea led to legal threats and the ultimate closure of most fan-works. (Links – here, here.) I don’t know precisely what happened – my personal read is that Bradley (or her ghost writers) wanted to use more than just an idea – but the fallout did a great deal of damage to fan fiction. Writers do not want to waste time with legal wrangling. Many writers drew the conclusion that it was better not to allow fan fiction, full stop.

Realistically, the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to publish fan fiction rests very much on the author him/herself. David Weber forbids fan fiction and I believe that his wishes should be honoured. JK Rowling was much more permissive – the sheer number of fan fiction writers in the Harry Potter universe clearly shocked Warner Brothers – but even she had some reservations. And rightly so. I do not recall any pre-Half Blood Prince fan fictions that featured You-Know-Who splitting his soul into seven Artefacts of Doom, but I think I recall some that deduced that Harry had picked up a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul. Could this have caused problems for Rowling? I think she would prefer not to find out the hard way.

For me, personally?

I wouldn’t object to fan fiction set in my universes if the writer in question put a formal note at the start disclaiming all rights, even to Original Characters (OCs). Obviously, some fan fiction writers will think this is unduly restrictive, but I don’t want to get involved in an argument over who had a particular idea first. Proving that I got their first would be difficult, particularly as so much of my future plans exist only in my head or in vaguely scribbled notes I’d have problems trying to date. I would try to avoid reading fan fiction set in my universes – certainly if I didn’t know the author personally – if only because I’d have problems proving that I wasn’t influenced by it.

I’d be very proud if something of mine kicked off a fan fiction craze as big – or even a tenth as big – as Harry Potter. Getting people reading and writing is no small achievement. JKR has earned her place in heaven. But I’d also be wary of the potential implications.

I would object, very strongly, to someone actually charging money for their fan fiction (even if it isn’t based in one of my universes.) That’s something you really shouldn’t do without explicit permission from the author. (And probably from his publishers too, as just who owns the rights can be a little hard to determine from the outside.) In my opinion, that is stepping beyond writing for fun.

Obviously, other writers might disagree.

10 Responses to “Ask A Writer – Fan Fiction”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard July 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

    One comment on David Weber’s policy on Fan-Fiction.

    Chris is correct that he doesn’t like it for reasons that Chris mentions but David Weber’s policy is “Don’t post Fan-Fiction where I (DW) can see it”.

    IE David Weber doesn’t mind if you write/post Fan-Fiction as long as he can’t see it. He’s made it clear that if a site contains Fan-Fiction set in his worlds, he’ll stop visiting it.

  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard July 19, 2017 at 4:47 pm #

    Another comment on Fan-Fiction.

    One author has said that she dislikes it because “she knows her world and Fan-Fiction writers always mess up when writing in her world”.

    The author knows more about his/her fictional world than we the readers can know.

    If we try writing in that fictional world, we run the risk of creating a story that the author knows aren’t possible or “isn’t how that character would act”.

  3. Pyo July 19, 2017 at 5:59 pm #

    I don’t really read much fanfiction – usually it’s just plain not very good, so why would I? Well, of course if the “fan” part outshines the “I want to read something good” part.
    (Or if the main series gets so bad I can only hope that fans write something better. And that comment is totally not inspired by one of the authors mentioned in the blog post, heh)

    Which is also not saying that there aren’t very good ones. This is particularly true for – well. Xena-fiction. If you look around novels with lesbian protagonists I kid you not that even among the professionally published ones a very significant portion started out as Xena fanfiction. 1 in 10 or so maybe? Hard to be precise, but whatever the actual number its “loads of them”..

    Of course, they aren’t set in the same world, the character names are changed etc. So, legally, authors probably can’t do anything about it, or at the very least it’d be incredibly hard to prove any copyright problems.

    I’ve lately seen a bunch of novels published under CC licenses (and some cases where specifically the setting is open-licensed, but not the book, which I found was an interesting idea) and although so far I haven’t come across any fiction written for those I hope that trend continues. Lots of great “open-source” stuff out there, no reason it can’t be successfully done for novels, too.

  4. Muah'dib July 19, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

    Fan fiction is a great thing, it’s free advertising. Look at Star Wars, all the FF has served to make it all the more popular. Sure it’s not canon, but everybody knows that. Sometimes Lucasfilm (or now Disney I guess) will fold some “expanded universe” elements into the canon too, e.g. the name of the capitol planet “Coruscant”

    Check this out, it’s fan fiction made using action figures as actors, it’s pretty cool, has good dialogue and special effects too:

  5. Ihas July 19, 2017 at 6:15 pm #

    Thanks for the reply. I realized after I hit “post” that I needed to change the “AT” to an “@.” So I felt pretty silly. 🙂

  6. lamparty July 19, 2017 at 9:24 pm #

    The only case of Fan Fiction done right that I can think of right off hand, is the Grantville Gazette. This is set in Eric Flint’s “Ring of Fire”, “1632”, Universe, is vetted and endorsed by Eric and Published by Baen Publishing the publisher of the books in the series! Many an aspiring author has got there start writing for it, and getting paid for their work to boot!

  7. tommalufe July 26, 2017 at 8:30 am #

    I’ve had a ongoing fan fiction story playing out in my head that takes place in the SIM world, but 100 years before Emily arrives. It features Void and how he started out in magic, how he grew in power and chose a path that sets him apart from the rest of the magical community. I really enjoy dreaming about it, but I’ve never written down a single word.

    Should you ever decide to write a little side story yourself, THAT would be a pretty cool one

    • chrishanger July 28, 2017 at 4:12 pm #

      I do have a backstory for him, but it would come out later

      If you want to write it, add a solid disclaimer or don’t put it anywhere i might see.


  8. Larry Howell December 23, 2017 at 5:19 am #

    I believe The Empire’s Corps series is published in paperback for books 1 – 9, are there any plans to publish the remaining books in the series in paperback?

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