Lately I have been reading a truly copious quantity of fanfic, and not many actual books. Mind you, plenty of fanfic winds up book-length, or even series-length, so that’s not what distinguishes it from “actual” books. Quotes point to my internal debate over whether or not to write about fanfic here, which I’ve been having for a while now. Well, I say I’ve been having a debate – I’ve been waffling about it mentally without ever pinning down and organizing my thoughts. Really, what it comes down to is the little voice in my brain listing off reasons why fanfic doesn’t count versus the rest of my brain saying those reasons don’t actually hold up.
- Fanfic isn’t published. Well, not traditionally, no, but what counts as “publishing” is expanding and growing more flexible all the time. Loads of people have begun self-publishing e-books, and entire books have even been posted online in serialized form before going to print in more traditional format. Once upon a time, before the internet, books used to be published chapter by chapter in magazines and the like, which people today would probably consider a bit weird. So the fact that fanfic isn’t published in a particular way doesn’t seem like a good reason to brush it off.
- Fanfic isn’t book-length. Touched on this one already, and no, a lot of it isn’t – but then, some of it is. Also, other stories aren’t required to attain a certain word-length before anyone pays attention to them; that’s where the words “flash fiction,” “short story,” “novelette,” and “novella” come from.
- Fanfic isn’t creative; it just re-uses other people’s characters, settings, etc. Sure, but so does basically everything else ever written. I’ve never heard of an author saying, “I create all my works in a vacuum, without any influence or inspiration from anything or anyone else that makes its way into my stories, ever.” Most of them say the exact opposite. And sure, the little voice in my head can pitch a fit about how fanfic is more directly and obviously derivative than most of literature, and I suppose that’s probably true, in general. But not entirely. I have read more works than I can readily name which are deliberate retellings of someone else’s characters and stories. I just finished reading a whole anthology of short stories called Rags and Bones in which the entire point was for authors to take a story that they loved or that deeply impacted them, boil it down to its essence, and then re-write it. It can even be done from, and become, what the canon has elevated to “great literature” – Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, anyone? No one tells those authors their works don’t count because they drew on another author’s work to create them.
- Fanfic is just bad! This is the last (least rational) redoubt of the little voice in my head. Frankly, I think it’s just an urban legend, a la “D&D will turn your kids freaky and evil.” I mean, I’m sure there’s terrible fanfic out there. But there’s also really good fanfic out there. And the fact that absolutely terrible works exist in the world of traditionally-published books does not, again, render all other works in that world worthless. I mean, wow, there are some absolutely terrible books out there, and I question how they ever managed to get published, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the other books out there. Fanfic doesn’t have to be universally good to be worth talking about.
So maybe, at some point, I will write about fanfic here. Hm, maybe Luminosity…