Fanfiction: Is Too A Proper Art Form! *Pokes Tongue Out*
When you delve into the Star Wars fan community for anything more than a passing jaunt, then the chances are very high that you’ve come across some fanfiction. It seems to be intrinsic to the fan community – indeed, all fan communities (though I believe slightly more so in our Star Wars one, but I may be a bit biased), and it’s a part than cannot be removed, should you want to. Fanfiction is, for those who aren’t too familiar with the concept, an outlet of ideas and thoughts, related to a media universe – TV series, film, comics or books – and set in that universe, written by, well, people – professional and non-professional authors alike. Fanfiction (sometimes called ‘fanon’) can be anything from stories to poems, songs and short films (or even long films). Technically, and I was quite surprised to learn this, even cosplay (the act of dressing up like your favourite characters from said universe) is a type of fanfiction. However, of course, it is less fanfiction-y than the others.
Fanfiction tends to be viewed negatively from, it seems sometimes, all sides. When I peruse my usual forum haunts, I’ll sometimes read about a book coming out, and if it’s a particularly bad one, I’ll most likely read the comment ‘it reads like fanfiction’. There’s an unconscious habit society has developed where they believe that fanfiction is, by default, less than actual fiction (things written by professional authors). But is that accurate?
Well, no. Heck, no. Since 2012 started, I’ve read, perhaps, ten stories. Seven of those stories were absolutely rubbish, and I was glad to see the back of them (and in one case, glad to see it fly out the window). That’s 70% of what I’d read. But I wasn’t reading fanfiction. I was reading professionally written, physical books. Yet, in May, I visited a Star Wars fanfiction website, www.fanfic.theforce.net, and read the same number of stories, chosen randomly, in a close approximation of a blind study. Only five of the stories I read were bad. The others were actually pretty good, and I wouldn’t have minded paying £6 for a hard copy. Now, this is only a very small percentage of the stories out there floating on the ‘net, and wasn’t a full study (Something I’m not even in a position to do in the first place. Mainly because I haven’t got a white lab-coat. The lab-coat bestows many powers to people that mere mortals don’t have.), so the findings cannot be applied to fanfiction as a whole. I should also point out that my findings on professional fiction cannot be applied to fiction as a whole. I doubt 70% of all books are rubbish (it’s probably closer to 90%!), I merely include this anecdote to highlight that, sometimes, professional fiction isn’t very good, either.
On a slightly unrelated tangent (woven semi-expertly back into the topic), that ‘seedy underbelly’ of the internet, porn, is well-known to be everywhere on the internet. You can’t do a simple search without finding more risque links, and so it’s probably accurate to say that about 90% of the internet is about porn. Right? Well, no, actually. It makes up a grand total of … 1%. Yep. An entire one per cent. This is because tags and other forms of search media are used to promote it, making it seem like it’s everywhere – and that’s what I believe is happening with fanfiction. People, I theorise, may have read one or two badly written stories (Eye Of Argon, anyone?) sent in to literary magazines or websites and made the (il)logical leap that all fanfiction was like this. It very well may be. Or it may not be. 70% of it could be bad. But is it bad because it’s fanfiction, or because it’s a piece of drivel, irrelevant of its tie-in leanings? Eye Of Argon, I should point out, was not tie-in fanfiction.
Why people don’t like fanfiction
One of the most common arguments that I’ve read against fanfiction and its writers is that it’s not ‘real’ or ‘proper’ writing, or writers. It’s the belief that fanfiction is the sole domain of sloppy characterization, where the writers prefer to ‘god-mod’ (the practice of making their characters super powerful and super amazing) characters. Thus sacrificing the story and changing the nature of the characters in the process, making them do things they wouldn’t normally do, act in certain ways that they wouldn’t (Crystal Star, Legacy of the Force, Oh, wait. Those aren’t fanfics. Oops). Another argument is that fanfic writers tend to write fanfiction solely so that they can live out fantasies – for instance, I know one or two stories where Mara Jade Skywalker doesn’t die, but goes on to live happily with her husband, Luke, and son, Ben. In expansion to that, some argue that people just write fanfic to play out cool ideas, and don’t care about (again) characterisation, plot, grammar etc.
Another argument I’ve heard is that fanfiction writers should write their own stories, and not write tie-in fanfiction, because it’s wrong to steal characters that others have worked so hard on, and so fanfic writers should do the same, and to do otherwise is ‘cheating and lazy’. (Remember, fanfiction is fan-created fiction based primarily on tie-in media.) Another is that fanfiction stories take stories intended for younger audiences and write more adult stories – that ‘fanfiction is just dirty smut written by bored housewives’ (from squidoo.com). There are other objections, of course, but these are the more frequent ones so I don’t feel that I need to expound on them, or the topic, further.
Why they’re poodoo heads
Fanfiction is not the sole domain of bad characterization, bad story, bad spelling, punctuation and grammar. True, it is more noticeable and, dare I say, more common. But that isn’t so much because it’s fanfiction. Normal, ‘proper’ authors are capable of the exact same thing. The only difference is that, while ‘proper’ authors go through months of editing by a staff of editors, fanfic authors don’t normally have that. From what I gather from one or two friends who are fanfic writers, they finish a chapter, or sizeable segment, and hand it to others to proofread, before it’s posted on a site for all to see. However, even then the editing process isn’t finished. Readers can, and are on some websites, encouraged, to provide feedback on various issues like scenes that need re-edits or contain incorrect grammar. Yes, god-modding and the twisting of characters that we supposedly love does happen, and that is considered bad fanfic, yes – but there’s good fanfic, too; and, as I’ve stated above, these things aren’t limited to fanfiction authors. This isn’t a bad fanfic thing. This is a bad writing thing. Fanfiction, much like regular old writing, is quite neutral. It is not inherently bad.
And yes, there are stories which are written like they’re there solely to live out fantasies. And, yes, they’re sometimes not that well thought out, or executed, but sometimes there are good ones, too. I recall one story where Luke ends up going bad in Return of the Jedi, and that’s hailed as one of the better stories in the fanfiction community.
I shall expand more on this specific point later. As for the argument that fanfic writers should write their own, because it’s wrong, and/or lazy, to steal characters others have worked so hard on, this. is. Star Wars! If there was a big hole in the ground, I’d kick it in there with my sandalled foot (I don’t have sandals, but I’d buy some just for that). There are hundreds of stories – in whichever form, books, comics, games, and young reader novels – which include characters that weren’t and aren’t created by the writers who write them, who go on to be written about in later stories by other writers. (Just ask Timothy Zahn.) That’s the nature of tie-in media. Characters and settings are the intellectual property of, in this case, Lucasfilm, Lucasbooks and Del Rey, not the authors. Why should it be any different for fans? They’re not being paid, they’re not making money out of it. Indeed, according to one ClubJade article, the first rule of fanfiction is ‘thou shalt not make money off of it’. (I presume the second one, and the fourth one is ‘thou shalt not talk about fanfiction club’.)
Now let’s look at the last argument against it that I’ve brought up – that Star Wars is intended for younger audiences, and that fanfiction twists it into something seedy and ‘adult’. Well, the Star Wars films are presented in quite a black and white way that is intended for younger audiences, yes, but it also presents audiences with bodies burned to a crisp, a planet blowing up, a Wampa getting its arm cut off, someone cut in half (Don’t worry, kids! He survived so it’s not like it shows him dying or anything. They save that for Qui Gon.), zombies and scenes of violence that far outstrip the PG ratings it’s (I’m thinking more along the lines of the animated cartoons, here.) given. However, they’re talking about a type of fanfic known as ‘smut’ fanfiction. Of course that exists, but websites do have ratings for stories (in the TFN fanfic site, it can be seen right next to the title, for instance), so if parents are worried about such things, then they can easily check the rating before a kid reads it and so protect them from reading such things. To do otherwise demonstrates a certain paucity in parental supervisory skills.
As an aside, there is an article by Aaron Allston (It brings up a lot of the same points that I do. I like to think that he knew my awesome was imminent, and so he did that in ode to it. Either that, or it’s because we’re talking about the same subject. Yeah. Definitely the first!) that is also in favor of fanfiction. If I could have got away with simply quoting mass amounts of text from that article, I would have – it’s definitely worth a read.
When writing fan fiction, there is a fine line. Some authors have a rather firm stance, and don’t want others interfering with their work. However, as Joss Whedon once said: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet – it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” And that’s exactly right. Great fiction becomes more than just what the author has written. It lives on in the minds of its fans and grows into other stories, stories these fans want to capture. Trying to stop people from writing fanfiction is almost impossible. (Though some have certainly tried and, in one or two cases, succeeded.) It most often only becomes a problem when people try to make money off of it. The most recent one being Fifty Shades Of Grey. If you haven’t heard of it, then, lucky you! It was originally a Twilight fanfic called Master Of The Universe, but the author then decided to remove that, change a few words (no, really) and publish it as an original story. As was discussed by ClubJade, a while ago, this definitely toes the line. This is, again, because of the ‘no-payment’ rule – to do so is copyright infringement. Yet Vintage, a division of Random House, and the publishing company that has the rights to publish this series of books, has stated that they are ‘two distinctly different pieces of work’ – which should be okay, and not copyright infringement, but dearauthor.com (whom I’ve just quoted above) states otherwise. They ran both Fifty Shades Of Grey and Master Of The Universe through three different comparison engines, and it was discovered that there is an 89% similarity between the two. The link provides excerpts of both stories, and show that, in a lot of cases, only names were changed, and a few minor changes to sentences. This is an alarming degree of similarity, and I believe – though I am not a lawyer, so I may be entirely wrong – that this is a case of copyright infringement.
Luckily, however, Lucasfilm is a supporter of fanfiction, and freely condones it, as long as no one makes money off of it, but it is unrecognised by them and is thus non-canon. So have at it!
Fanfiction is actually good! Who knew?
Fanfiction, at its heart, is merely a demonstration of the love and dedication that the author has for the media, for the fictional universe. As such, I believe, it is one of the greatest displays. As a kid, I used to dream of Star Wars. I used to daydream of being Luke Skywalker, fighting against Darth Vader, during my dreary school assemblies. I would dream of making my own lightsaber (And in one instance, actually attempted to do so.), and when Episode I came out my friends and I did a little playground production of it before we’d even seen the movie! And, because I was rather good at voices, I had to play half the cast (Jar Jar and Obi Wan were my best). Star Wars excites the imagination, so that we want more, and so we should. I firmly believe that our imagination is one of our best assets. Fanfiction is just the act of capturing these dreams, these ideas. Why, just last night I dreamed of a group of rogue-ish pilots up against a superior, distinctly imperial-like force, and my mind automatically set it in the Star Wars universe. Why? Because Star Wars is large enough and versatile enough to support many, many stories. I may even write a story on it.
So if I were, or if you were, then I’d simply go to a fanfic website and publish my story there. Now, I don’t write fanfic purely because, if I let myself, I’d never get anything done! I need to draw a line. But every now and then I allow myself to dream, allow my fingers to write these stories, and whenever I’ve published, the fanfiction community has been incredibly supportive. This is the side of fandom that we should be promoting. Not the vitriolic haters who proclaim that ‘Lucas raped my childhood’, but the majority of us who are kind, respectful (yet free to respectfully complain when something is wrong) and helpful. The people who helped baby Princess Leah, who donated their money, time and effort, and the writers who offer critiques of others’ work, advice and tips of how they can become better writers. Those who lend support for the hesitant writer. Sure, there are those who troll and who are generally unhelpful, but the good I’ve seen far outweighs that. And that is another thing about fanfiction – it was said above that fanfiction writers should write their own stories. Fanfiction can be thought of as a trial run, a way to hone literary skills that otherwise wouldn’t be used. And I believe that those dreams should be encouraged. You can be sure that you’re not the only one that’s been yearning for a Padme story, or more Mara Jade, or more Anakin Solo. Someone else has, too. Writing down these dreams, these What If ideas fills a need that the official works can’t.
Not only that, but fanfiction gives us the freedom to explore different scenarios and situations – and even different literary techniques and different formats, that are often off-limits to normal tie-in fiction (as long as characterisation, spelling and grammar are correct). Again, as a kid, I’d written a crossover story with Star Wars and Star Trek. (You heard me right. I like Star Trek. Worf is my homeboy.) Spock found Midichlorians to be highly illogical, while Han Solo didn’t take kindly to Kirk making gooey eyes at Leia and promptly shot him (first, I might add). I know, it wasn’t a great idea, but it’s ideas like that that fanfiction has the freedom to explore. Tie-in fiction often doesn’t have that flexibility. Tie-ins can, and often do, explore different genres – such as Red Harvest (horror), Darth Plagueis (political thriller), Courtship of Princess Leia (romance), Crystal Star (whole different kind of horror) and those are just a few examples, but even then, Star Wars books tend to stay within the action-adventure pallet. Fanfics are in the same vein, but they are free to be more diverse. Whereas Courtship can, it is argued, only tentatively be called a romance, fanfics can go full-hog and be a proper romance.
To briefly step away from the Star Wars universe, before I end this article: fanfiction is not new. It did not arise with fanzines in the latter half of the 20th century, and later become popular with the internet. It started over a thousand years in the past. The likes of Chaucer, when he wrote The Knight’s Tale, for example, was merely copying a story written by Giovanni Boccaccio, with a changing of focus, embellishment, and scenes were expanded or shortened. It was fanfiction. Chretien de Troyes, when he wrote of King Arthur and his knights, was merely embellishing an earlier story, heavily romanticizing it, adding Lancelot and Guinevere and adding all the hallmarks that we know today of that story (though the Holy Grail was added some time later by another writer) – and was later interpreted by countless other writers. What is that, if not fanfiction? It is nothing new.
My slightly kiddish title and subtitles aside, I definitely feel that fanfiction is an art form all on its own. It’s not merely that I feel it’s one of the purest forms of fan activity, purest forms of writing. It’s that it’s a structured medium for artistic, and fan, expression. Yes. It is sometimes rubbish. It is sometimes good. It is sometimes abysmal. It is sometimes absolutely brilliant. So is any other art form. At least, it can be considered a sub-sect of literary art, but valid as any other.