Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Fan-Fiction and Writing

This was indeed the banner for my epic Newsies website
If you were a fan between 1998 and 2002, you probably visited it once or twice

Last Saturday, I fulfilled about 8 million childhood dreams when I went with my husband to see the Newsies musical at the Papermill Playhouse.* It was a great show (Broadway bound? Let's hope), and as we were walking out afterward, I told my husband** that as bizarre as it sounds, I doubt there's any movie, book, newspaper that's had a more profound impact on my life than Newsies.

Thanks to that silly little movie, I decided to start a Newsies website, where I learned how to write html and code. Five years later I was designing the website for my high school. I wanted to make cool photos and graphics for my website, so I got Adobe Fireworks and Photoshop. Now I'm a freelance designer. And I was so in love with the story that my little imagination began churning out epic fan-fics, all the way up to a trilogy that ended with a 55,000-word story.

It was the first time I was writing something that other people, strangers, were reading, and it was the first time that I set out to write a full, complete near-novel-length story. Even now, when I have moments of struggle with my writing, I think of those little stories and remind myself, "If I could do it when I was 13..."

Fan-fiction can be a touchy subject, for both writers and readers. Especially for authors still writing series, fan-fiction can seem like an invasion of their own imaginations, like all those rabid fans are actually "stealing" their characters. Anne Rice (of Interview with a Vampire) formally asked to remove all stories with her characters and Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game) wrote on his website, "The time to write fan-fiction is 'never,'" (however, that hasn't stopped hundreds of stories from cropping up).

There are other writers and creators on the opposite side, who, far from opposing or criticizing fan-fic, welcome additions to their universe. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, says he "loves" fan-fic, even going so far as to encourage fans to read and create fan-fic when Buffy was ultimately canceled.

Even the author of one of the biggest fan-fic sources, Harry Potter, has read and enjoyed fan-fic. J.K. Rowling called it "very flattering," and has done nothing to invoke the copyright gods. Stephenie Myer, however, is a little more reserved about writers. "I think it's sad to spend so much energy on something you can't own," she said in an interview with

So why do people write fan-fics, if you can't control the characters or the worlds, if it makes some authors queasy?

For the 12-year-old me, the draw was living inside a world I desperately loved and wanted to be a part of. By creating a character that was uniquely mine and putting her inside this world, it gave me an opportunity to have my own experiences with characters I admired and extend certain parts of the story I wanted to know more about.

So why not just change the characters and have my own story? This is something my husband asked on the drive home from Newsies, when I was telling him (what I could remember) about my fan-fics.*** It's not that simple, though. Fan-fics rely on their sources: the characters, the settings, the rules. As a pre-teen, I don't think I had the imagination or the grounding to create an entire world or huge cast of characters from scratch. It was immensely helpful to be able to just stick a character in or use a reference and know that my readers would get it, no explanation necessary. And from that base, I could let my imagination grow.

I mostly stopped writing fan-fiction by the time I got into high school, and by that time, what I was writing had very little in relation to anything in the original story. What started out as a girl meeting a boy turned into a hundred-page epic dealing with growing up, understanding your parents, understanding yourself, love, loss, death, and responsibility. They were--and are--themes I find intensely captivating, but I doubt I would have gotten there without a jumping-off point.

And yet, I can understand the perspective of the original authors as well. They know these characters more intimately than anyone in the world, and the idea that they're being used or inserted into strange scenarios by complete strangers can feel like a violation rather than a homage.

I'm not sure what the balance is, if there's a way to respect both the author's ownership of the original source material as well as the creative reinterpretations in fan-fiction. For me, I've often struggled over who owns the story--is it the author, who creates it, or the audience, who ultimately interprets it? What's more important, intention or reception? But I think it's a bit of both. In creating something, even if from a deeply personal space, you're placing it in the world to be consumed, admired, hated, trashed, or loved. There's an inevitable loss of control in publishing, and for many authors, I think that's very difficult. At the same time, a fan-fic writer will never be able to truly own their work; they will always owe some debt to the original source, and that's another very difficult thing to come to terms with.

Ultimately, I would hope fan-fiction reaches a place of mutual respect, both for the original writers, who put so much labor and love into their stories, and for the fan-fic writers, who expand and reinterpret these stories as a means of acknowledging their own unique love for and interpretation of the work.

What do you think? What role does fan-fiction play in publishing, writing? How do you think authors should respond to fan-fiction?

*Let me just get it out of the way here, in the footnotes, rather than the actual blog post. Ahem. OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!!!! IT WAS THE BEST EVRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!      Ok. Thanks.
**Apologies for the multiple "husband" drops. We are newlyweds and it's still sooooo weird and fun to say.
***Thanks to the magic of the internet, my stories do in fact still live online, despite my website dying in the great Geocities massacre of '09. I have absolutely no memory of posting them here, but apparently here they are. They were good fun to read again, and if you don't believe me, check out this review from a reader: "AWESOME JOBS! YOU'VE GOT SOME SERIOUS TALENT!" I swear even if I win the Nobel it will get no better than this.


  1. I <3 Newsies. I blog about Christian Bale more often than I should.

  2. What's your blog? I'd love to check it out!