In defence of fanfic

Goodness me! Fifty Shades of Grey sells squillions of copies and suddenly everyone is talking about fan fiction. Is it creative or is it unimaginative? Is it completely derivative or can it display some originality? Is it a waste of time or can it be a worthwhile pursuit? It seems like every Tom, Dick and Harriett is coming out of the woodwork to slam people who write it.

“It may seem like a joke, but for many the rise of fanfic is “the end of the world”. Fanfic is seen as the lowest point we’ve reached in the history of culture – it’s crass, sycophantic, celebrity-obsessed, naive, badly written, derivative, consumerist, unoriginal – anti-original. From this perspective it’s a disaster when a work of fanfic becomes the world’s number one bestseller and kickstarts a global trend.”
This little nugget is from a recent article in The Gaurdian.

The hugely popular book, Fifty Shades of Grey, had its genesis in a piece of Twilight fanfic… And now it’s a multi-million dollar phenomenon. But is this the downfall of civilization, as we know it? Or is it a storm in a teacup?

I’m voting for ‘storm in a teacup’. Yes, publishers are now looking in the fanfic communities for the next bestseller, instead of in their slush piles. But how long will that last? It’s a phase. Every time you get a huge bestseller, there is a flow-on effect, with copycat publications. But it doesn’t last. A new bestseller will pop up out of the blue and start a new tend soon enough… and fanfic will again be forgotten by mainstream publishers.

But what about the fanfic itself? Does any of it have merit? Or should we dismiss all of it?

As a science fiction fanboy who used to write fanfic and who even edited a fanzine for a while, I’m of the opinion that it does indeed have merit… sometimes. Because it is written and published on an amateur basis there is a higher ratio of crap to gold than in mainstream publishing. But believe me, I have read some fanfic which is infinitely better than some professionally published material.

When I was younger, I used to write and read lots of science fiction fanfic — primarily Doctor Who and Star Trek. Yes, much of it was badly written, including my own stuff, but some of it was pretty good. And it was often very entertaining.

At the time, writing fanfic was fun. It was a way of engaging with my favourite TV shows in a creative way. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that fanfic provided a good training ground. My stories were guaranteed an audience, and I was often provided with feedback.

I eventually moved on from fanfic, preferring to write my own original material… stuff that I could sell and have professionally published. And many other professionally published authors have some fanfic floating around in the dark distant past.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to write a Doctor Who short story, “Machine Time”, for an officially licensed Doctor Who anthology, Short Trips: Defining Patterns (now sadly out of print). Because it was licensed and professionally published, that story is not considered fanfic. But at its core, it is. I wrote it because I am a Doctor Who fan. So why is my story any more acceptable than a piece of fanfic?

What about all the tie-in books that are published each year based of a plethora of TV shows and films? You’ll find that a great many of the authors are fans of the franchise they are writing for. Sean Williams is a Star Wars fan as well as an author — and he writes Star Wars tie-in books as well as his own best-selling original novels. What about Michael Moorcock? He wrote a Doctor Who novel. Do you think any less of them as authors because they have written for a franchise? After all, tie-in books are the professional equivalent of fanfic.

So why all the hoo-ha about amateur writers who choose to write about their favourite obsessions? Why is it acceptable to write original material as an amateur, when writing fanfic opens you up to ridicule? It’s a bit unfair, really.

Catch ya later,  George

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George Ivanoff

LITERARY CLUTTER: Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff. George is the author of the YOU CHOOSE books, the GAMERS trilogy of teen novels, and the YA short story collection LIFE, DEATH AND DETENTION.