Cross-posted over at Rooster and Pig’s blog
It’s no secret that many of us — especially fantasy writers like me — got our start by working in someone else’s established universe. For me, my first “real” creative work was from the Legend of Zelda when I was eight or nine years old. After that, it was the worlds of Dragonlance and the Death Gate Cycle when I was thirteen years old. I did also work in my own universe, though the concept (Atlantis) wasn’t terribly original (hey, cut me some slack, I was fifteen), and the execution was…well…adolescent to say the least (again, I was fifteen).
In time, I graduated to world-building while playing and writing campaigns and adventures for Dungeons and Dragons. I also developed a healthy dose of respect for cartographers, artists, and dungeon designers — not to mention architects! By the time I got into college, I was generally writing my own original works, mostly plays and short stories as I had not really developed the chops for novel-writing. I did, however, continue to write fanfics. I wrote several set in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe and one set in the world of Final Fantasy VIII. The fanfic that really got me convinced I could finally do a novel was Alayne’s Story. I spent the better part of five years writing that story, posting it on the World of Warcraft European forums every Friday. Even today, I still dabble in fanfics when I need to just build up my chops or let something original percolate so that I don’t over/underwrite it too badly.
The Internet, through services such as Fanfiction.net, have really given a good boost to remix writers. None of us ever think to try to profit from our works. After all, the characters and the settings are not “ours” in the ownership sense of the term. However, it is distressing to sit back and see just how many authors and corporate owners feel threatened by fanfic writers or feel as if having fanfics written with their property would somehow diminish the value of that property. This is a rather blinkered view, if you ask me. Yes, certainly, there are a lot of poorly-written fanfics out there. I’ve seen plenty of them where I wondered if the writer had any concept of grammar, spelling, or readability. There are some fanfics that, while earning passing marks for grammar, spelling, and formatting, fail because the story is unoriginal, the pacing is poor, or parts of it were too gratuitous. Granted, I’m sure all of us have written at least one or two scenes or treatments just for catharsis (and if you haven’t, you’re either not a writer, lying, or under the age of six). But, for the most part, we wouldn’t show those to anyone. There are many fanfics out there that cater to a specific audience or attempt to “fix” the story that the creator told because parts of it were unsatisfying. There are some, like mine, that delve into the “what if?” realm where we change events and then ride the ripple of that change throughout the universe (these are often called “alternate universe” or “AU” fanfics). There are some that attempt to tell the story of the characters in the days after the ending. And many of these are quite good. Many are very original. Many, in my opinion, rival the “canonical” or “licensed” works in quality.
For those authors and owners who either tolerate or, better still, embrace their fans and their fans’ written fanfics, these things can enrich and enhance the community — not only of that particular work, but the writing community in general. For those authors who try to stamp out fanfics using their works, who focus on exercising complete control over their works, the community of writers is left much poorer for their successful efforts.
After all, in the end, we’re all fanfic writers of one kind or another. All of us grew up hearing nursery rhymes and fairy tales and I’ll bet every last one of us, even the non-writers out there, would sometimes imagine “what if?” “What if Snow White didn’t eat the apple?” “What if the evil stepmother was actually nice to Cinderella instead?” “What happened during ‘happily ever after?'” “Why was the Wicked Witch…well, wicked? What made her like that?” From these questions and our imagination, new stories were born. And from practice in doing that, we began to build original tales with new characters, new roles, new monsters, new conflicts.
“There is nothing new under the sun.” By tolerating — nay, encouraging — fledgling writers to test their wings out with established characters, events, and universes, we enrich the literary universe and ourselves. At least, that’s what I think. And I will always be eternally grateful to Nintendo, Shigeru Miyamoto,* SquareSoft (now Square Enix), Blizzard, and the BBC for not suing the crap out of me whenever I, unlicensed and unauthorized writer that I am, decided to dabble in their universes for a little bit when I needed a break from my own.
Shigeru Miyamoto, Robert Jordan, and Brandon Sanderson are my Holy Trinity of Writers. They are served by the Archangels Russel T. Davies, Margaret Weis, Tracey Hickman, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Piers Anthony. Don’t you dare judge me.