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Folks have been talking more about fanfiction lately, partly in response to an incident that took place at a Sherlock Q&A session, in which Caitlin Moran brought up Sherlock fanfic, and pushed two actors to read an excerpt of what turned out to be sexually explicit fanfic. Without permission from the author. For what was presumably supposed to be a joke. Because fanfiction is funny, and tricking people into reading sexually explicit stories in front of an audience is funny, and so on.

Yeah, not so much. But it does highlight the disdain with which a lot of people view fanfiction, the idea that it’s “lesser” writing, that it’s all laughable, amateur crap, and so on.

I’ve talked about fanfiction before–

–but it’s never been something I chose to write myself … until last month, when I was listening to my kids watch Christmas special #1,826, and my brain wandered off to imagine what a Rudolph vs. Frosty throwdown (snowdown?) would look like. So I wrote up a quick, silly little introductory scene of Frosty killing an elf guard at the North Pole, because hey, that’s what writers do when something interesting burrows into our brains. I posted it on the blog because I enjoy sharing the things I write, and I thought people might get a kick out of it.

I didn’t expect to get so caught up in the story. The plot bunnies dug deeper, eventually setting up a nice, snowy colony in my temporal lobe. I ended up writing a ~6000 word story and posting each scene as I went — something completely foreign to my usual writing process, which involves multiple completed drafts and rewrites before I let anyone else see what I’ve written. (Click on the Crimson Frost cover if you’d like to read the finished story.)

While this isn’t likely to become a habit — I also have contracted fiction to write, and I really like being able to pay my mortgage — it was certainly educational and eye-opening. Not to mention a lot of fun.

Here are a few of the things I took away from the experience.

Writing good fanfic is just as challenging as writing good anything else. I’ve sold close to 50 pieces of short fiction in my time. That silly little Frosty story took as much work as any piece of professional fiction I’ve done. I struggled with plotting and characterization, I lay awake at night trying to work out the problems, I went back and did last-minute edits before each scene went live. Sure, it’s possible to write lousy, half-assed fanfiction, just like it’s possible to write lousy, half-assed anything else. But nothing about fanfiction makes it inherently easier to write than other kinds of fiction.

Instant feedback is dangerously addictive. I turned in the manuscript for UNBOUND a few months ago, but it will probably be close to a year before I start to hear from readers. Whereas I’d post a scene from Frosty, and people would be commenting and emailing within minutes. I like this whole instant gratification thing!

Fanfic can be freeing. As I wrote this story, I found myself playing in ways I don’t allow myself to do in professional fiction. I dropped a Jurassic Park reference into one scene. I amped up plot twists and cliffhangers. I took risks with things that could have been potentially were completely over-the-top. And it was awesome! (At least for me.)

I can do “realtime” writing. The scariest part of this thing was changing my writing process. I didn’t know how this story would end when I started writing. I would post one scene without knowing what would happen in the next. I was terrified that I’d get stuck and the story would die a miserable death, like a Bumble choking on a hairball. Or that I’d figure out that the story needed to go in another direction, but it would be too late. But I did it. There are some things I’d go back and change in revision — more foreshadowing of the importance of memory, for example — but the story worked. And for me, that’s a huge and exciting victory.

 A writer is someone who writes. I’ve never understood why some people jealously protect the coveted title of “Author” or “Writer.” The way I see it, if you write, you’re a writer. I don’t care if it’s 100,000 words of professionally published novel or 100,000 words of Star Trek fanfic. Having done both profic and fanfic, I don’t get it. Calling someone who does fanfic a writer or an author doesn’t in any way diminish or dilute me and my work. Why is this even an argument?

Like I said, I’m not planning to make a habit of this. And I won’t be changing my policy about not reading fanfiction of my own work. But writing this story was a fun, interesting, and eye-opening experience.

And for the record, anyone who’s ever thought about who would win in a fight between the U. S. S. Enterprise and an Imperial Star Destroyer, or whether or not a kryptonite-powered lightsaber could kill Superman, or if Marcie and Peppermint Patty were gay, or whether or not Ferb was actually a Time Lord, or if Tron survived his fall in Tron: Legacy and if so what happened next … y’all might want to shore up your glass houses before you start hurling stones at fanfic and the people who write it.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2014 02:48 pm (UTC)
You win the Internet, sir.

I've written fanfiction for years. Mind, just once i would love to get some publishable story ideas, but never once have I seen myself as not a writer. Thank you for this.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 02:57 pm (UTC)
From someone who writes and loves fanfiction, thank you.

There is bad stuff out there, of course. But I've also read better fics than some published works. And it is fun, a lot of fun.

And I adored your Frosty fic. It was awesome. Thank you for sharing it with us!
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:08 pm (UTC)
There's a lot of bad *anything* out there. No particular genre or style of writing has exclusivity on crap.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 02:58 pm (UTC)
A writer is someone who writes.

Thank you for this post. I've never understood what authors get out of belittling the efforts of people who choose to write fanfic.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
I can understand, though I don't necessarily agree with, some of the discomfort certain authors express when it comes to fanfic. But the outright belittling or mockery? Yeah, I don't get it either.
(no subject) - aulus_poliutos - Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aulus_poliutos - Jan. 2nd, 2014 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 3rd, 2014 01:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathellisen - Jan. 2nd, 2014 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kalimac - Jan. 2nd, 2014 08:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Jan. 2nd, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:02 pm (UTC)
yeah...nothing many of us haven't known for years. :-)
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
Hey, some of us are slower than others!
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:29 pm (UTC)
I miss the instant gratification. In my days at the Sugar Quill, I was a rock star. In the end, I decided I couldn't play covers for the rest of my life. :)

Besides, my fan fiction was thinly disguised original fiction, so there's that.

I did do an academic paper on fan fiction as a good training ground for newbie writers who wanted to have some of the ground work laid. At the beginning stages, any writing will do, methinks.

But, while the stigma of fan fiction baffles, and the quality of it varies crazily, writing fan fiction is no way to learn to write for publication. Which is why I gave it up. I miss it in the same way I miss teaching high school. It was a piece of my life that I loved, although there were both ups and downs, and it will never come again.

At any rate, it's always good to experiment, init?

Edited at 2014-01-02 03:31 pm (UTC)
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
There are certainly some skills you can learn that would carry over. It's not a complete training ground for writing professional work for publication, but that's like saying writing hard SF isn't a complete training ground for writing professional romance novels. There's overlap, but the best training for a particular type of writing is to do that type of writing.
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 2nd, 2014 04:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Jan. 2nd, 2014 04:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - babsbybend - Jan. 2nd, 2014 10:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, good fanfic isn't easy. OK, I'll let out that dirty little secret of mine, lol. Before I got serious about my historical fiction I was an editor for a - now defunct - LOTR fanfic site and also wrote some pieces for it. We had a proper submission process and all, to avoid the crap stuff that is unfortunately also around (and my own submissions got edited by someone else). It was actually a pretty good learning tool, but I soon felt that I had my own stories to tell as well, and I was not the only member of that place who moved to original fiction.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 03:48 pm (UTC)
Some argue that fanfiction is "lesser" because you don't create original characters (as main characters) but it can be educational in writing a character consistent with the one we see in the original work. This forces the writer to understand character development. Some paid writers don't get it right.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
See, I always find that argument hilarious because I write stacks of fanfic, and by and large I don't write any characters but my own. My use of fanfic cheat codes is to avoid setting exposition. Character creation is EASY. It's elegantly weaving in explanations of how the hell some complicated magical power works, complete with its limitations and costs, that drives me up the wall. So instead I write fanfic for RPG settings, where I can do anything I want with plots and characters, but don't have to try to gracefully exposit cost/duration/distance/effects of whatever interesting supernatural power I wanted to use while keeping the pacing going.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 04:12 pm (UTC)
Have you considered posting it on ao3 ?

There is a category waiting... ( I think )

Jan. 3rd, 2014 01:29 am (UTC)
I hadn't, but I may have to look into that...
Jan. 2nd, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Jim!
Jan. 4th, 2014 05:33 am (UTC)
Thanks for linking to this, it's heartwarming and good :)

Regarding the legal issues surrounding fanfic, I've been thinking for some time that someone should say "I own all rights to derivative works, including fanfiction - it is my intent to allow people to create fanfiction provided that conditions here]. I retain full ownership of the fanfiction that is derived from my work, and if you don't like this, then don't write things based on my stuff. However, if you're OK with that, then I'll let you know if I need you to change what you're doing with the fanfiction you've written."
Jan. 2nd, 2014 09:17 pm (UTC)
Great post. As someone who has been writing original fiction practically all my life and fan fiction for about fifteen years, I completely agree with you.

Also, I friended you. Hi! Nice to meet you. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2014 01:27 am (UTC)
Hi, and welcome!

::Waves hello::
Jan. 2nd, 2014 09:30 pm (UTC)
I've written a little fanfiction, and yes, it's not easier, and yes, it is real writing.

And fun fun fun. The fanfiction writing community rocks. It always has. I have seen fanfiction hundreds of years old.

The only reason I haven't done more is that there is no money in it if you use still-in-copyright characters. The only reason. But there are lots of out-of-copyright works....
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 3rd, 2014 12:02 am (UTC)
Hell, Jim.

The stigma isn't only for fan-ficcers.

I started out doing Media Tie-in Writing. I was at a convention doing a reading from one of my licensed short stories when a SF author came in and started setting up the room right in the middle of my reading.

I paused for a second and then asked him what he was doing?

"Well, I saw you were doing some damn story about a comic-book character, so I figured I'd get the room ready for a real author to do a reading when you're done."

I know the guy. I really didn't want to point out that my advance for the short story was probably more than he'd made selling to the literary SF magazines that year. That would have been tacky.

Needless to say, I haven't done that convention again.
Jan. 3rd, 2014 01:26 am (UTC)
I've heard that about tie-in writing, though I've not experienced it first hand. At least not yet.

As for the other other, that's utterly inexcusable. What an ass. Though I'm not sure it's fair to blame the convention for the pissy behavior of one guest.
(no subject) - nightwolfwriter - Jan. 3rd, 2014 03:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 3rd, 2014 12:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 3rd, 2014 12:46 am (UTC)
I love this post! As a longtime fanfic writer (started writing at 14 before the internet was a thing and I had never heard of the term "fanfic") I've always felt like a real writer. And I look at it as a chance to improve my writing skills. I have no plans of being a professional published author but it gives me a chance to just WRITE. And I love it.
Jan. 3rd, 2014 03:11 am (UTC)
The realtime writing was the part that impressed me most. That would terrify me. While I've been known to put an excerpt up on my blog, most are several drafts in. And those that aren't? -- I couldn't if I had the size of audience you have on your blog. I can reliably trust that those will be read by about three people, with about two others saying, "Oh, I'll try to get to it when I have a moment."

As for the difficulty writing fanfic? I learned that same lesson when I got bit by a fanfic bug last winter, and produced two in a row - after decades of "I read and appreciate fanfic but I don't write it". The one I posted last Boxing day was one of the hardest short stories I've had to craft.

The research is not only necessary - if fun - it's different enough from standard research. It's closer to literary analysis.

Trying to shape the work so it's both clearly connected to, and takes into account as many words as possible of, the source text, while making an original contribution to the world; that's a trick to pull off and a headache and a half.

And heck, of my published short fiction, one was based on a ballad, which is arguably fanfic from a copyright-acceptable source. And now I think of it, that was a peculiarly tricky stunt writing thing, too.

Fanfic, not as hard? I'm laughing.
Jan. 3rd, 2014 09:54 am (UTC)
I do find the question of where the edges of fanfic lie interesting.

Until I started reading fanfic, I had not realised how original some of it was. I thought it was taking characters from canon and writing 'what if's or else writing parody. I don't care much for parody, so I didn't read it.

Then I stumbled into reading more of it, and realised that there were people taking canon characters, giving them a new gender and sending them into space. Or the Bronze Age. Or making them all work in a coffee shop.

I prefer reading the 'what-if' sort if I'm going looking for stories on the whole, but if some writer is writing Jip the Goblin as a little old lady goblin who solves crimes in sixteenth century France *and can make me, the reader nod my head and go 'yup, that is SO Jip the Goblin!'* Well. You have to applaud the skill that goes into that. And you start to wonder: how far is Middle-Earth, Beowulf fanfic? What about Thirteenth Warrior? Did CS Lewis write New Testament fanfic...? Where does this stop!

* this is an example. So far as I know, there is as yet no old-lady-crime-fighting-French-goblin-fic. But give it time.

Jan. 3rd, 2014 12:46 pm (UTC)
"...Jip the Goblin as a little old lady goblin who solves crimes in sixteenth century France..."

But where does Smudge the fire-spider fit in???
(no subject) - ethelmay - Jan. 5th, 2014 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 4th, 2014 02:56 am (UTC)
I asked my husband about writing a King Arthur story, and he said, "I don't write fanfic." Which I thought was very interesting, because he's right, King Arthur stories are, by most definitions, fan fiction. Which means the Matter of Britain is...fan fiction. (Take that, English departments.)
Jan. 4th, 2014 08:32 am (UTC)
Hmmmm. I read your Frosty story and loved it. To me it was webfic or serialfic but, as a brit, I did not realise that it was fanfic. What was it fanfic *of*?
Jan. 4th, 2014 02:53 pm (UTC)
I was working with the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, particularly their Frosty the Snowman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frosty_the_Snowman#1969_Rankin-Bass_television_special). Though I obviously took lots of liberties.
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 4th, 2014 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 6th, 2014 08:14 am (UTC)
This post is Made of Win. :) *bookmarks this post* I don't write fan fiction often, but it was nice and freeing to receive instant feedback!

I've found writing fanfic can be more challenging than creating original stories. Mainly because you have to keep the characters in character. :)

One thing I found ironic is how some people who love TV shows or film adaptations of books look down on fan fiction...when the film/TV show is fanfic (in a way).
Jan. 6th, 2014 02:09 pm (UTC)

It seems to me that there's a whole continuum of "originality," everything from parody to fairy tale retellings to fanfic to adaptations from one medium to another. Trying to say that Story A is "original" (and therefore Good) while Story B is "derivative" (and therefore Bad) just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Jan. 8th, 2014 01:36 am (UTC)
my first ex boyfriend tried to tell me I wasn't a writer, not really, because I don't outline before I write. And him a musician. You'd think he'd understand a seat-of-the-pants method better than the English Comp teacher...
Jan. 8th, 2014 02:54 am (UTC)
Yeah, there's an impressive amount of WTF packed into his assumption there...
Jan. 18th, 2014 03:17 pm (UTC)
Without reading any of the comments (yet), I just want to mention that fan fiction writers, in my observations, cover the spectrum. I have seen the prima dona, whose every misplaced character, every mischaracterization, is sacred. I have seen authors struggle with stories and request beta readers for every stage. I have seen authors in it strictly for reasons of parody.

Then, I have seen miracles. I have seen the rare fanfic author, not interested in professional publication, but who had such a strong grasp of the characters involved, in the story they envisioned, that I have been completely blown away (and later regretted not noting the author, or the story title).

I have mostly fallen away from reading fanfic the last few years, though I am proud to note that I do actually follow a couple of my favorite fanfic authors, one of whom had a story in a recent anthology.

It's that you never know what idea will strike, when, and the ravenous fanfic bug can bite anyone, at any time, for any reason. I even wrote a Zuko one last year, romantically pairing him with a slice of chocolate cake.
( 51 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines

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