Messing About With Words
Last week novelist Cait Miller outed me on Twitter as someone she used to write FanFiction with at the age of 18. The internet was in its infancy back then, so there was no Facebook, Wattpad, or Archive of Our Own. We just wrote collaborative stories about the X-Files, which at the time was the hottest show around. We’re both now working authors. (At least Cait is. I just have a little blue card from the Society of Authors which makes me feel as though I’m doing something).
Mortal embarrassment aside, I have no problem with Fan Fiction, and prefer to call it transformative work. Other writers, most notably the Speculative Fiction writer George RR Martin, do not want transformative work made from their characters. Others comment that writers of fan fiction are lazy, and do not have enough originality or imagination to created ‘original’ stories and characters of their own.
I’m stoical about this. If I’m ever lucky enough to have any fans for my Castlemaine series, while inwardly cringing at the thought of the inevitable Rule 34 plundering, —characters are like children. You give birth to them and then they grow up and have sex with people you don’t approve of—then my fans will promote my work for me. They’re joy in my stories create the marketing buzz we all want as authors. Rather than ranting about ‘unoriginality’ and ‘copyright theft’, as authors, and publishers, we should embrace the marketing potential that fan fiction and transformative work offers for the original stories that inspired it.
Assertions that Fan Fiction writers are ‘lazy’ and ‘copyright thieves’ isn’t very respectful. In fact I get pretty distressed when I see the sorts of bullying rants in writers forums against the creators of transformative work. As with any other genre, transformative work has superbly written submissions, such as the Star Trek novel A Million Sherds by Milo Owen, which deals with hard themes of PSTD, child abuse and trauma through this speculative universe, through to absolutely horrible Twilight Fan Fiction, which, nevertheless, is hugely entertaining.
Those who ‘dis’ the writers of transformative fiction (sorry George, but you’ve missed the point) have failed to recognise something important about the way in which human beings have told stories through art and literature—and before that, through the oral tradition—since our Cro-magnon days. All creative work is derivative. It builds on what came before:
As writers we create myths. We take them and put new spins on them, and the point of doing it is to tell a story. The point is STORYTELLING. The point is writing.
Was Homer lazy when he took Hesiod’s presentation of Greek myth and put his own spin on them?
Was Ovid lazy when he retold Classical myth in his own transformative work—heck,l it’s even called The Metamorphoses, for crying out loud. The poetry’s title screams that it is transformative work.
Or what about Shakespeare, who went after Scots history and Danish legends in a major way?
Snarking fan fiction writers ignores the fundemental way we have told stories ever since our Cro-Magnon days. Transformative work does not involve just ‘changing the wallpaper’, it involves transformation, metamorphoses.
There is nothing efficient about retelling the shopping scene from Pretty Woman as an Elizabeathan Comedy in iambic pentameter, or indeed imagining the Death of Jar Jar Binks as a Shakespearian Revenge Tragedy. I did it because parody and satire are transformative work, that references the material culture that birthed us as writers and artists.
I have to admit I’m still learning. What I wrote still wasn’t as good as Will Shakespeare’s Three Little Pigs.