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One of my favorite authors ranted a bit on her blog last night about not liking fan fiction. What she got in return was a firestorm from fanfic writers. It seems to me ranting on the net always leads to more rants, but somehow I couldn’t tear myself away from this particular train wreck because it had to do with fair use and derivative works, things that I have a strong interest in. (I don’t actually read or write fan fiction, but was mesmerized nonetheless). Diana Gabaldon says on her blog that she doesn’t want people to write fan fiction about her work. I think she has every right to say so, and to work to keep such derivative works off the internet. Unfortunately, she was inflammatory instead of circumspect in how she said it, and offended a lot of people. Even though I think she has the right to discourage fan fiction, I think she’s probably wrong to do so. Here’s what I wrote in my comment on her post:

I find it interesting that you encourage some artists to create derivative work (the family tree you spoke of, the wedding ring, the Outlander-themed videos that you’ve favorited on YouTube), but other art (i.e. writing) you find repugnant. What if someone wanted to write a song inspired by your series? Would you feel flattered or would you find it immoral? Perhaps a Creative Commons non-commercial licensing scheme that allowed specific types of derivative work could clarify what you do and don’t sanction.

Ultimately, your post made me a little sad. I think legally, you have the right to pursue writers who create fan fiction based on your work, but it may not be in your best interest to do so. Those writers and readers of fan fiction based on your work are probably some of your most devoted fans and while they may not bring new readers to your work (I doubt they would because only someone who’s already read your books would seek out fan fiction based on them), I think discouraging them may create a feeling of ill will in that part of your fan community.

On the other hand, if others creating stories with your characters in them makes you feel bad as it obviously does, then it’s good you let your fans know. I’m guessing that none of us would want to consciously offend you.

(As a side note I would love to hear your thoughts on the difference between creating stories based on public domain fictional characters–which you said find distasteful, and creating fiction based on deceased historical figures–which you must not despise because you do it so delightfully in your books.)

Today Gabaldon posted again on the subject, and it seems she’s reconsidering yesterday’s harsh stance. I doubt she will ever encourage fan fiction, but it’s nice to see that she’s open to hearing from her fans and wading through all the nasty comments she received to find some good in what people were saying.

05/05/10 – ETA: A new commenter has posted a link today to a Cory Doctorow piece “In Praise of FanFic.”  Cory is famously supportive of fair use and derivative work. He states his case brilliantly in this article. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Each person who retold Pygmalion did something both original — no two tellings are just alike — and derivative, for there are no new ideas under the sun. Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. That’s why writers don’t really get excited when they’re approached by people with great ideas for novels. We’ve all got more ideas than we can use — what we lack is the cohesive whole.

The biggest lesson I got from reading these posts and the responses to them is one that I seem to relearn periodically throughout my life communicating with people online: if you’re mad, don’t press “send” or “publish.” Just wait, because reasoned discussion will be more effective and efficient for all involved.

“Someone is wrong on the Internet”

6 thoughts on ““Someone is wrong on the Internet”

  • May 5, 2010 at 1:09 am

    I haven't read her books yet. Honestly after reading the posts on her blog I'm not sure if I will or not.
    There are authors who do not allow fan fiction. Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris to name two. However, they are nice about it. Fan Fiction writers and readers respect their wishes and life moves on.
    Someone who is that rude and hateful about her fans… I'm just not sure I could bring myself to read her books.
    A disclaimer.. I do read Twilight fan fiction. Never thought I would, until a internet buddy on Ravelry started writing one. I read hers and was hooked. Now like the blog post said, the stories I read you could easily change the names in and they wouldn't have anything to do with Twilight. But they are free, well written and fun.
    Stephanie Meyer even wrote some fan fiction and entered it in a contest for Twilight fan fiction.

    My long winded point is just that kindness gets you a lot farther in life then being rude. 🙂

  • May 5, 2010 at 5:35 am

    I agree with you about the kindness thing. I didn't know about Charlaine
    Harris–but I can see why these writers who have long series where their
    characters are still being developed *by them* would not want others to go
    developing the same characters in different or even the same directions.
    Like I said before, I don't have a problem with Diana's opinion… and now,
    I think even she is rethinking how she first stated it. I wouldn't at all
    discourage you from reading the Outlander series. I don't think we need to
    love the personality of an author to like her work, but even so, for the
    most part, I've found Diana Gabaldon to be engaging and kind to her fans in
    almost every other encounter I've read about.

  • May 5, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Oh I totally understand why authors would have issue with it. I'm honestly more surprised by authors who seem to encourage it. I can't imagine being okay with some taking characters I created and making them do things I would never have them do.
    I'll try and keep an open mind about her books and maybe get around to reading them one day. I am one of those people who have problems keeping the author separate from their work. My views on authors tend to color the way I read their stories.
    For that reason I tend to shy away from their blogs unless I have already read their books. I'm just odd that way.
    I don't take issue with her not wanting people to write fan fiction involving her characters though. It's all with the way she delivered her opinion. I think it was a little harsh especially directed at people who I would assume are some of her biggest fans.
    You have to think and rethink things before you post them on the internet. It's a lesson I need to learn too. So I also think it's great that she might be rethinking the delivery of her thoughts.

  • May 9, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Apparently even fanfic-friendly writers have to be careful about copyright issues with regard to fanfic; here's what Lois McMaster Bujold has said about fanfic (at http://www.dendarii.co.uk/FanFic/):
    In a posting to the Lois-Bujold mailing list on 16 Oct 97 with the subject “Fanfic speculation, and Star Trek” Lois McMaster Bujold said:

    Yes, I am a fan-ac friendly author; I did indeed write fan-fic in my teens. Recent legal concerns in genre fiction have rather thrown a wrench in the deal. In general, it's considered safer for a writer not to view fan fic centered on their work, so lately, and most reluctantly, I've taken to avoiding it. Feel free to write amongst yourselves, though.

    And this was further clarified on list on 30 Nov 01 with the subject “natural copyright OT:” when she said:

    I ignore the existence of fanfic based on my universe. Don't ask, don't tell, and don't bring it to my attention.
    In a saner world, I would prefer to be fanfic friendly. But until I have saved up enough money to retire on (and I have a long way to go to that goal), there are apparently legal pitfalls here that could cost me a great deal. I am, with the greatest reluctance and distaste, gradually being forced to become more cautious.
    Ta, Lois.

    Anyway, I thought a very different perspective from what another author is on record as saying might be interesting to add to your post.

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