The latest flare up of discussion on issues of fanfic is this screed from Robin Hobb. I could post my own responses to the stuff that jumps out at me, but i’m just gonna go through the stuff i’ve read via metafandom.
rahirah points out that copyright depends upon modern conception of characters as individuals rather than archetypes.
And resonant8 states, "Characters are different from people in the same way that plots are different from real life."
minisinoo has thoughts on fanfic and ownership.
amanuensis1 is one of many arguing that author doesn’t control interpretation.
scott_lynch responded to RH’s comments (quotes from RH in bold):
To me, it is the fan fiction writer saying, “Look, the original author really screwed up the story, so I’m going to fix it. Here is how it should have gone.”
Hobb is being unduly harsh with her presumptions here; I don't think it's at all unreasonable to assume that a reader can simultaneously value the original story and wish to indulge in "what-if" games with it. Fanfic writers who have the Fellowship pause for a brief man-on-elf orgy before setting out from Rivendell aren't insisting that Tolkien fucked up his own work by not including such a scene-- they're just mixing the mental flavors of two things that appeal to them. Buying into Hobb's presumption here strikes me as akin to saying that writers of alternate history are dishonoring real historical events with their conjectures, a position that I believe any sensible person would dismiss as a bit daffy. There is a sort of needless absolutism in what Hobb says here; the strange idea that respect for a written text is a zero-sum game in a reader's head.
When I write, I want to tell my story directly to you. I want you to read it exactly as I wrote it. I labor long and hard to pick the exact words I want to use, and to present my story from the angles I choose. I want it to speak to you as an individual. It’s horribly frustrating to see all that work ignored and undone by someone else ‘fixing’ it
I concur with the desire to have the reader experience what I write in its undiluted form, as I intend it to be seen on the page, and while I understand every impulse behind this burr up Hobbs' posterior, I have to say-- I believe this paragraph reveals an idealized vision of the author/reader relationship that is pure fantasy.
No reader ever truly reads the book the author wrote; no reader ever visualizes exactly what the author visualized as he or she pounded the keys. The divergences may be trivial or they may be huge, but they're there and they're an intrinsic part of an interactive entertainment medium.
Readers aren't worshippers; they're paying customers of an entertainment product that depends on its interactivity for its power to compel and fascinate.
The only right way to read a book is one that suits the reader; the only right way to visualize a book's contents is the way that best gives the reader pleasure. The reader cannot experience the author's true vision; they can only experience their own interpretation of that vision, which will differ as much from the author's wishes as it does from the interpretations of every other reader in the entire world. My Frodo Baggins isn't your Frodo Baggins; my Locke Lamora will never be your Locke Lamora. Shared reading experiences are Venn diagram intersections at best, and authors have neither the right nor the power to insist otherwise.
Once more, just to emphasise: YOU CANNOT CONTROL HOW PEOPLE SEE YOUR WORK. When you try, you become Anne Rice. Besides, part of the fun of reading is having your own interpretation. When the author comes down from On High and says 'No, this is what I meant,' that spoils a large part of the experience for the reader. Are we really so conditioned from television and movie adaptations and having it all handed to us in easily digestible formats that reading for yourself is suddenly a bad thing? Disrespectful to the author? In the words of my generation, say what? Honestly, if this were the case, English professors the world over would be suddenly out of a job. (And while we're here—movie adaptations? Frequently SO much worse than fanfic. Apparently it's okay to butcher a story if you pay Hollywood money for the privilege.)
fairestcat posts these two quotations as epigraphs to a piece, “On Authorial Intent vs. Reader Interpretation”:
The book, if you like, is not the story but merely the blueprint of the story, like the architect's drawings of a house. The reader, then, is the contractor, the guy who does the actual sweat-work of building the dwelling. From the materials in his or her head, the ideas, the images, the previous knowledge, each one actively re-constructs the story-experience -- each according to his measure, knowledge, gifts. And charity.
-Lois McMaster Bujold, "The Unsung Collaborator", Dreamweaver's Dilemma
Books don't exist unless you read them. And it's a two way process - you write the book as you read it and you fill in the gaps. You discover it and you put the marks together and without you doing it they're just marks.
I write fanfic because the story writes itself in my head - I can't stop thinking about the characters, and what they do in canon, and what they might do in some imagined other scenario. But my own stories don't do that to me, and I can't write them until they do.
Hobb's analogy with cooking doesn't half state the point. Fanfiction isn't baking cake mixes - but it's following a recipe. The best fanfic writers are baking banana bread using the Moosewood Cookbook recipe and substituting yogurt for the coffee and adding cranberries and spices, and coming up with something that's moister and tastier than the original. But what original writers do is grab their own ingredients and invent their own recipe. Me, I just feel like I've got flour all over the counter and nothing in the oven for breakfast.
copperbadge talks about how “less creative” does not necessarily equal bad, how making porn is cheaper than buying it, and other things, and also says:
Now, I wouldn't precisely define Wicked as a continuation; it's more syncretic in its approach, appropriating the figures of the story in order to make a political point. The thing is, if it isn't fanfic, then neither is Stealing Harry; they're both AU interpretations, just in different ways (someone once identified the Three Standard Types of AU, which I need to talk about in some other post :D). Wicked is a very advanced version of a fanfic that attempts to retell the original canon in a new light. That's not to denigrate it; I haven't read it so I can't offer an opinion on its literary quality. But I would consider it fanfic, I think, since I believe that the original creator's canon is the benchmark, if only because it seems to be very difficult to replicate the quality of the original. Most writers can't manage it, even when they're bestselling novelists -- witness Caleb Carr's Holmes.
babyofthegroup talks about defining AU:
I'm saying something to the effect of: fuck authorial intent -- are you using the same facts in the same setup? Can this be seen plausibly from another perspective without changing those facts? Does your fiction contradict canon in any way without an explanation (i.e. prejudice on the part of the narrator of the original work, etc.)? If you answered "yes" to the first two questions and "no" to the third, I think it's probably not AU.
kattahj makes the interesting point that:
Without fanfic, vids, and other types of creative input, the desire to follow a story once it's not as much fun anymore drops rapidly. You can miss a few eps, skip a novel, pick up the habit once it looks fun again. Who cares if you don't know all the details?
And before you know it, the audience is all caught up in something else. So long franchise.
Most writers I've encountered who are vehemently opposed to fanfic actually have very little idea what it is, what it's like, why people write it, how communities form around it, etc. I have a hard time with people who hate something on gut reaction without taking the time to understand it.
I also think that opposition to fanfic is a pretty ego-centric thing. I can *understand* it, but I don't approve. What's more important, the sanctity of this one human being's untouchable/unchangeable work, or the ability of art to grow, expand, and to touch, inspire, and change many more people? It just seems massively short-sighted.
Anti-fic authors tend to see fic as "invading" their private creative space. But if they just looked at it from a slightly different perspective, perhaps they'd see that nothing they've done has been changed or invaded--it's just that something they created had the power to reach out and touch someone else's creativity, to inspire someone and expand the creative universe of the world.
It seems like Hobb says thinking about the source text is encouraged, but writing your own additions is not, so you can’t even turn your speculation about the source text (say, what happens after an ambiguous ending) into fiction of your own. Is part of the issue infringing upon territory? Like you can talk non-fiction about my fiction, but you can’t intrude upon the fictional world i created so far as to write more fiction of your own -- unless you’re inspired by me to create your own fictional world, but you can’t use mine.
As a light-hearted finale, paratti has a light-hearted discussion of the Mutant Enemy writers as fanficcers -- sparked by a comment from Jane Espenson.