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Sunday, July 08, 2012

 

Seriously, does anyone talk about 'daddy porn'?

No they don't. Or at least, not outside the actual porn industry, where it refers to the people in the porn, not the people consuming it. I googled it, you see, and that's what the early hits were: a lot of porn for gay men containing older performers. Or at least, that's what it seemed to be based on the titles: I didn't watch any of it, for you see, I am a mummy, and at the time of typing this, I am sharing the computer. I'm on blogger in one window, my son is watching Alphablocks in another. I have nothing against my son watching porn later in life, gay or not, but twenty-two months seems a bit young, so I confined myself to a basic search.

But you know what I get when I do a basic search on 'mummy porn'? A whole lot of articles about Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James's mega-selling sadomasochistic Twilight knockoff.

Now, I haven't actually read the book. I've heard it's badly-written, but I also have an ethical objection to buying it: it was derived (very closely indeed) from a long piece of Twilight fan fiction. While the fan fiction itself was evidently different enough from Stephenie Meyer's vampire blockbuster that, given a few name changes, it was legally publishable, it was written within the fan community - a community that explicitly relies on the principle that one does not make money from one's fan fiction to maintain a precarious legal status. In other words, James got a lot of solid support from a community that depends for its existence on being unable to sell its writing, and then turned around and sold hers - and now actually is what copyright laws exist to prevent derivative work from being, which is a competitor to the original author. I have no idea what Meyer thinks of this - it's perfectly possible she thinks, 'Hey, I'm rich enough' - but the precedent it sets is a very worrying one for writers like me who are not in the position to think, 'Hey, I'm rich enough.' In effect, James is establishing, both to aspiring knockers-off and to publishers, that there's gold in them thar hills - that it is both legal and profitable to take an original piece of published fiction, write a derivative work, change the license plates, and then sell it as a competitor to the original piece. Meyer might be able to absorb it, but not all writers of original fiction are in that position. Actually most of us aren't: writing is a notoriously precarious way to make a living. And there's reason to suspect that some publishers are taking the precedent seriously.

So I have a deep objection to the book: I'm no fan of fan fiction, but I think it violates fan community ethics, and it certainly seems like bad news for those of us writers who do not enjoy Meyer's wild commercial success.

But at the same time, I find myself instinctively defensive when I keep hearing it described as 'mummy porn'. And that's because, as much as I object to repurposed knockoffs, I object to sexism as well.

There is, it seems, something ludicrous about a work of fiction being tremendously popular with women. Ian Fleming is just a classic pulp author, despite the fact that if you're a woman he definitely ain't writing for you ... but when large numbers of women buy a book, its news, despite the fact that most novel-buying is generally done by women anyway. And - this is what gets me - there seems to be a need for categories.

The virgin-whore dichotomy is, alas, alive and well, so I can hardly dismiss it, but it at least has the merit of being a well-recognised stereotype. Say 'virgin-whore', and people will, if nothing else, know what you're talking about. But there's another stereotype against women that's equally virulent, but less recognised. I'm talking about the maiden-mother dichotomy.

To be clear: in this context, a 'maiden' does not necessarily mean a virgin. It's a division based on stages of life rather than sexual experience: the young or youngish woman who is not a parent, and the woman with children - or, in the case of a publishing phenomenon, a woman who is simply of the age where she might have had children, say, thirty-five upwards. You might say that a maiden is a woman at the beginning to middle of her most fertile years, and a mother is a woman at the upper end or beyond them. Motherhood is commonly used to demarcate - even with a book like Twilight, where it actually seems to be popular with women of all ages, not two distinct categories. There's some kind of compulsion to divide us into two camps.

Now, I'm the first to acknowledge that motherhood - actual motherhood, having a child to raise rather than just having one's thirty-fifth birthday - is a major experience, and that women who are mothers tend to see certain things differently from women who aren't. But the thing is, it seems that in popular culture there's something ridiculous about both options. Maidenhood is actually a superior state in the eyes of some feminists - not usually consciously, but because a maiden is free to pursue her career without having to make the bargains and choices that come with balancing the rights of the self against a society that still expects most childrearing work to be done by the woman, while doing little to change its basic models of work and life since the days when families could afford to live on one income and having a stay-at-home mother was a financial possibility. Mothers have to make compromises between the public and the private spheres that in a just society we would not have to make, and non-mother women can often look askance at us for them. But when it comes to buying books, we're only slightly more ludicrous than maidens.

There are basically two ways to be a woman consuming a popular media product. Under a certain age, you're a squealing fangirl, unselfconscious and unbridled and probably subject to bad influences ('What kind of lessons is this book teaching our daughters!?') Over that age, you're a mummy: nobody much cares what you read because nobody much cares what you think, and the idea that you might consume for erotic purposes is rather funny.

And is this applied to men? Not so much. Men's sexual interest is acknowledged, but it's treated less as a semi-funny, semi-threatening marvel and more as a market force that must be catered to. There is, for instance, the tradition of 'something for the dads' in children's television: the perky young female presenter with a pretty face and figure - but I wouldn't call it equivalent. Such a presenter doesn't get cast unless she's also a good children's entertainer, which is no mean skill, and the entire piece she's appearing in isn't defined by its sex appeal. That's a term that I'm actually inclined to see as giving women the short end of the stick again by reducing an actress's role to her visual charms. You could argue that the 'dads' are somewhat treated as deadbeats, in that it's expected that they need to see some crumpet if they're going to sit through a children's TV show with any degree of patience, but you could equally argue that it's implied that childcare is something dads deserve a sexual reward for while for mums it's a reward in itself, which is only true if you think men are entitled to be deadbeats and women aren't. Women, of course, are equally inclined to cast a glad eye over an attractive presenter, but when that gets discussed, it's less with an air of matter-of-fact industry requirements and more with a silly-season snigger. (Wow, women take a sexual interest when you cast handsome male performers! This must - and I'm quoting the article here - 'must end and end now.')

Apparently being a mummy makes your sexuality slightly ridiculous ... which suggests a certain naivete about what motherhood actually involves, because (Hon, you can't read this, right? Good. Look, it's Raa Raa the noisy lion!) the one thing you can say for almost certain about a mother is that she is a woman who has had sex. I mean, it's theoretically possible that a woman might adopt a child or conceive through artificial insemination without ever having had intercourse with anyone, and if she did there's no reason why she wouldn't be as good a mother as any, but really, the majority of of mummies are mummies because they shagged someone. Sit in an antenatal class sometime and you come up against an interesting reflection: a really significant proportion of human lives were created by accident - not just in brief relationships that result in single mothers toiling away under the opprobrium of society like the under-appreciated heroes they are, but in marriages and long-term partnerships that didn't quite expect this pregnancy: that are happy enough now it's here, but who really created it with nothing else on their minds than some lively, naked fun. And even the planned babies were probably not created in the spirit of dreary duty: a couple undergoing fertility treatment may be obliged to have sex at times convenient to their medical appointments rather than their desires, but the fact that they're trying to conceive a child at all suggests that sexual attraction to each other has been a major part of their relationship ... and in many couples the decision to conceive a child involves less temperature-taking and calendar-watching and more a spirit of, 'Whee, lots of sex ahoy!'

Motherhood and sexuality are not mutually exclusive, is all I'm saying; reality suggests the latter is a direct consequence of the former. Yet all this talk of 'mummy porn' seems to carry the assumption that the vagina is a kind of council property: once you've gotten the change-of-use license from an in-hole to an out-hole signed off, the public has the right to expect you'll stick to it.

Yet when men over thirty-five consume erotica, does anyone call it 'daddy porn'? No they bloody don't.

So speaking as a mummy who did not, in fact, get her child through a visit from the stork, the term 'mummy porn' really annoys me. I just wish I could defend a better book about it.

Comments:
Not that long ago I was in a used book store having one of those loving discussions one has in a used bookstore where other customers give one hints and advice to other customers. "If you like this writer you might find that writer interesting." Most of the customers were women and we ended up discussing books that fell into the category of "safe soft-core porn." As one of the women put it "if you were being honest about it most of the Bond books are just soft-core porn."

It was a rainy day, the customers were in a mood to hang out, and we ended up discussing books in terms of "books I like to read just for the fun of it" "books I think that my sexual partner should read just to get an idea of what I find fun" and "books I really enjoy and wouldn't mind my daughter/son reading but not for a few more years."

These customers (and I venture we were all the type of customer that book publishers would love to have since we all fell into the "buy more than 100 books a year" category) seem to be either derided or ignored in the standard discussions of book publishing.
 
It's a funny thing, isn't it? Clearly the industry is taking notice of them because they're a significant portion of the market and are profitable to cater to, but the discussions seem unable to keep a straight face about them.

I mean, I've hard that Fifty Shades of Grey is not, in most senses of the word, a good book. I suspect that a lot of the women buying it would be happy to buy better books if they pushed the same buttons. But calling it 'mummy porn' so dismissively is, I suspect, rather going to stand in the way of that: what talented writer is going to think 'Hey, I'll have a go at that!' when that's the prestige available?

(Yes, there's money available too, but nobody who writes a book because they think it's a profitable but stupid genre actually sells that book. Just ask Mills and Boon.)

The kind of writers likely to produce books of this kind are basically, I would think, the same writers who produce Mills and Boon material: women who genuinely share the fantasies of the target audience and have enough of a knack for writing them into stories and a motivation for doing so. And that's fine: writing a book that appeals to the fantasies of millions of women is no mean feat even if it isn't particularly well-written. But it's the motivation that bothers me: when you're treated like a ghettoised niche market even when you've written the fastest-selling book in publishing history, the only people who will feel motivated are people who are comfortable with being niched.

I don't think it's accidental, for instance, that this book came out of fan fiction subculture: that's a niche that provides a certain cosiness and a lot of acceptance for a female writer sharing her sexual fantasies - a much warmer corner of the world than the press is providing.

So should we assume that only fan-type women are interested in writing erotica? Sounds like a silly assumption to me. But for the women who don't have that safe enclave, and who see women's erotica mocked and minimised like this, are they going to try their hand at it? I bet not. Money is seldom a productive motivator when it comes to choosing what kind of book to write - 'I'll have to return my advance if I don't get this finished!' motivates you like anything, but that's another story - but prestige, reputation, identity ... these are intimately bound up with writing, because writers want to be like other writers that they admire.

And the thing is, the fan fiction enclave is a lovely place for some kinds of people, but for others, including a lot of aspiring writers, it's completely alien. To enjoy it, one has to accept the idea that a character can be written by more than one writer (or, with TV series, a designated and closely monitored team), and for some writers, that's just weird. For some female writers, I think, the support for writing erotica is not worth the entry price of accepting the ethos of 'anyone can write any character'. It just won't happen.

So the idea that there's something comical about women over thirty-five buying erotica, and something hand-wringingly worrying about young women buying, well, pretty much anything in large enough numbers ... is not going to encourage non-fannish and talented writers to have a try. (Which isn't to say that there aren't talented fannish writers, but it's only one way of looking at things and some of us would like to see others.)

Whereas nobody sniggers at, say, the endless T&A considered necessary to capture the attention of teenage male moviegoers. It's just considered a fact of life: this is something that will get this kind of person to spend money, therefore whether you like it or not politically, it's a rational choice financially speaking. It's considered offensive, perhaps, or crass, but ludicrous and mildly contemptible? Nope.
 
Well, erotica for women actually is already a huge huge market, all the way across the spectrum from "spicy romance" to blatant "stroke fiction."

Most of it is sold as e-books, which gives readers much more privacy; it takes a great deal of confidence to openly flash the a "clinch" or "man-titty" cover on public transportation, but if you're reading your Kindle, it could be anything from the financial news to Proust.

As to whether it's well written... well, I say it falls well with Clarke's Law, which is to say 90 percent of it is crap. But the stuff that isn't crap can be competently, even beautifully crafted. (Or so I think from the reviews and excerpts I have read. I'll confess that I'm not a big fan of erotica myself, but as a Fiction Librarian, I try to keep up on all genres.)

I think that what is driving the impulse to commercialize fanfiction is desperation on the part of the publishers to figure out how to market this stuff. Traditionally, publishers relied on their role as gatekeepers; for example, the various lines at Harlequin / Mills & Boon were specifically tailored to meet certain tastes (e.g., "Presents" for domineering Alpha heros and sweet virginal heroines, "Desire" for spicier, open-bedroom-door scenes, "Intrigue" for romantic suspense and hardbitten heros, and so forth).

And so it was with erotica; there were a small number of "name" publishers (e.g. Ellora's Cave, Dreamspinner) who served a gatekeeper function, where most customers knew to turn.

But with the advent of self-publishing (and there is no bigger category of self-publishing than erotica, except maybe religious works) many of these small presses have found that their "captive customers" are fleeing. If you're just looking for steamy, you're not likely to be quite so fussy about quality writing, especially if you got it dirt cheap or free.

So the publishers are looking for somebody who comes with an established audience -- and that's going to be in the fanfiction community. Many of these authors are Big Name Fans (seriously, that's how they're talked about) and bring an established, even fanatical following with them.

Which doesn't mean that they're necessarily bad writers. But it doesn't mean that they're necessarily good ones, either.

It *does* mean that they are likely to be PROFITABLE ones, however.

(And this comment ended up being longer than your post. Sorry!)
 
Hey, talk as long as you like! I'm interested.

So the publishers are looking for somebody who comes with an established audience -- and that's going to be in the fanfiction community.

Do you think that this is going to affect the law in future?

Thing is, as you say, the knock-offs are being published by more shoestring enterprises; the work likely to be knocked off is published by houses big, rich and prestigious enough to attract submissions from successful agencies, which in turn are the agencies that tend to attract the ambitious and savvy writers. The big houses have more to offer in terms of both money and prestige, which means they're likely to get the most attractive books...

...which means that those books are likely to attract fan fiction, which then can only be sold to small presses that need to drum up product somehow.

So in a case where the serial numbers weren't filed off quite carefully enough and the original publishers decided to sue, you'd be looking at a pretty unevenly matched conflict. And if it seemed to be happening enough, I can see the bigger houses deciding to make some examples.

Not actually out of malice, but because of the nature of the people. The owners of whatever conglomerate contains the publishing house are going to be opposed to anything that cuts into their profits, and the actual publishers - well, if you work in a place like that, it can only be because you're very, very serious about original fiction. The pay isn't that brilliant and the competition for jobs is intense: anyone who ends up working with the books is has got to be very smart and very dedicated indeed. (I know from experience that my publisher was pretty pissed off when we reported a case of probable biting. We all agreed there wasn't much we could do, but we all also really wished we could.)

So if these small presses go too far, you're going to be looking at some David and Goliath situations - except Goliath is going to be legitimately angry and David is going to be on some extremely shaky ground. And that could set some precedents.

You may disagree. I think that right now there are small companies pressing hard on the edges of the law, and the big companies may in time decide to press back. (And if they did, the small publishers' supporters would probably call it bullying, but I wouldn't agree.)
 
Oh, I agree absolutely that the big publishers are eventually going to press this in court. Or, more likely, some huge media conglomerate like Disney or RCA, since the most lively fanfic communities seem to grow around movies and television shows (for a lot of reasons). Either way, the small presses will lose.

Which is why I'm really ticked off about the trend. Not that I have a huge fondness for the publishing industry right now (I think the people at the top are making some very, very stupid and shortsighted decisions about where publishing is going), nor am I all that invested in fanfiction (I don't read much, and that which I have read was mainly because I was friends with the writer.)

But, well, I *am* friends with a lot of fanficcers -- and on the whole, I think it's a harmless hobby (although I am extremely sympathetic to original creators who find it creepy.)

But once the matter is settled in court, I don't see how it can come out in favor of the fan community. And that means there are going to be crackdowns -- even creators tolerant of (or with roots in!) the fan community are going to be forced to shut down such activity, in order to protect their rights. There are going to be lines drawn, sides taken; and what was once an amiable and collaborative community is going to become adversarial and hostile.

And this gets me very hot under the collar.
 
As I've encountered it - which is entirely from the outside - the 'fan communit'y isn't all that amiable and collaborative: it contains plenty of nice people, to be sure, but there's always some bugger who gets nasty at the first hint that someone doesn't think that it's a completely legal and artistically wonderful activity, and they are an integrated part of the community. Operating on the fringes of the law as it does, there's a fairly noticeable proportion of people who are pretty adversarial and hostile about it already.

What I wonder is which ways the fan community will crack up when the backlash starts. Placed where I am - though my attitude to copyright actually predates my position as an author, and is probably one reason why I wrote original fiction in the first place - I'm mostly inclined to blame the fans and publishers who tried to sell tweaked fan fiction. Copyright law is basically a good thing - it's been around so long that there are no Grub Street starving writers in living memory, so people take it for granted that authors can make a living without having to depend on powerful patrons, but it's only copyright that allows that to happen. It has been much abused by certain powerful interests, and there are certain laws that could do with some serious revision, but the basic 'Don't go trying to make money off somebody else's characters and situation' law remains a good one, and the gift-economy blind-eye position would probably hold steady if it wasn't for certain fans going over the line and certain publishers helping them over it.

The thing is, I can understand the psychology. (I may have mentioned this in another conversation, so forgive public repetition.) It's natural to believe we own the product of our labour - and it's very easy to forget whose labour precedes ours. I knit; people often suggest that I make a cottage industry out of selling what I make. But leaving aside the fact that it wouldn't be very profitable, the plain fact is that I mostly make things based on other people's patterns, things that I couldn't possibly make without those patterns, and in quite a few cases those people have explicitly stated that any sale of stuff made from those patterns must be for charity only.

So legally I'd have no right to, and I don't think I'd have the moral right either. But I can sometimes catch myself thinking, 'Hey, I wonder if I can sell these?' - and then remembering, no, I can't. But because all my focus has been on the knitting, sometimes the creator of the pattern just goes out of my mind.

And I suspect there's something similar going on with the kind of fan fiction that publisher I linked is inviting. People put in time and effort to create a piece of fan fiction, the author isn't around to remind them just how much they depended on the original work ... and so it seems fairly inevitable that some of them are going to think, 'Well hey, I put in all this work, why shouldn't I sell it?'

James is a somewhat different case, of course; from what I understand, the book is such that if you didn't know she'd started as a fan fiction author the most you could say is that she was probably influenced by Meyer. Which is why she's able to sell her work. Legally I think it's perfectly fair that she should be able to sell her work; it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it so much got its start from work she didn't have any legal rights over.
 
...continued...

But there have been cases of people trying to sell unpolished fan fiction - Lori Jareo trying to sell a Star Wars novel, somebody trying to sell a Twilight novel called 'Russet Noon' - because there's always going to be somebody who just loses sight of the original author. And stories like James's are, I think, going to make such cases a lot more common, and that's going to be, at best, a bleed of time and resources that could otherwise be spent on funding more original stuff, and an increased pressure on the basically-harmless hobbyists who are just trying to noodle away in their little corner and have no intention of cutting into anyone's living.

And while I think a decade ago, you'd have expected a lot of fans to take an unsympathetic line, on moral as well as practical grounds, with people who tried to sell their fan fictions - the case of James may, I suspect, give more of a sense of legitimacy/entitlement (different sides will use different words).

From what I can gather, there are some fans who are perfectly happy to remain fan fiction authors and others who hope to 'break into' writing and selling original fiction and think that fan fiction is the way to do it (some of them even seem to think it's the way everybody does it, which just ain't so), and cases like this seem likely to raise expectations of this being a natural career path and lower expectations of quite how original you need to be.

I don't think there's going to be a massive change in any direction, but I think the isolated individuals who do something silly are going to become more numerous, and I think that the number of grey-area repurposings are going to rise as well - and the more of them they are, the more likely it is that some stuff on the wrong side of the line will slip through. And that may lead to repercussions.

I doubt it's going to affect me very much personally because I'm not the kind of writer who produces - is 'ficcable' a word? - ficcable work. (Though it may change the marketplace and redirect some of people's finite disposable income, and if that's going to happen, well, if someone's going to choose between my book and a different one and goes with the different one, I'd really rather it was an original different one. I'd rather lose a sale to an original competitor.) But as I say, I do think I've been ripped off before, so no one's immune, and I'll be interested to see what happens - including, when the test cases come, where the fans will place the blame.
 
The thing about 50 Shades of Gray is that the fanfic it was repurposed from was the peculiar subgenre of fanfic known as AU (Alternate Universe) fic. It involves things taking known characters and giving them the same name, description and rough personality traits and then plunking them down in a completely different setting with a completely different backstory. I would make the cynical argument that it could serve as a way of tricking a fandom into reading one's original fiction by borrowing character names and descriptions from whatever work the fandom revolves around and then running off and doing something that has next to nothing to do with it. It certainly seemed to be what James was doing with this, and thus I doubt it will bring things to a legal head any time soon.

The only other example I can remotely think of for a known BNF who has ascended to the ranks of the published would be the writer known as Cassandra Claire/Clare who wrote a number of popular fics that were apparently rife with plagiarized material. The stuff she's doing now appears to be her own work, but interestingly there are segments that are self-plagiarized, for lack of a better term, from her fanfic work. (Which she's perfectly within her rights to do, of course, but it does seem a bit odd to me that the tragic backstory she wrote for Draco Malfoy could be so easily repurposed for an original character.)
 
Sheila O'Shea: The thing about 50 Shades of Gray is that the fanfic it was repurposed from was the peculiar subgenre of fanfic known as AU (Alternate Universe) fic. It involves things taking known characters and giving them the same name, description and rough personality traits and then plunking them down in a completely different setting with a completely different backstory. I would make the cynical argument that it could serve as a way of tricking a fandom into reading one's original fiction by borrowing character names and descriptions from whatever work the fandom revolves around and then running off and doing something that has next to nothing to do with it

The interesting thing is that I think that AU fic is often actually less original (and more damaging to a writer) then more canon-based fic.

I am thinking of the newest book by another BNF (which I will not identify) that was, apparently, completely original work. But as I read it, I kept feeling like ... not that I didn't understand the characters and why they were doing things, but that I *shouldn't* understand them, there wasn't anything in the text to *help* me understand them, and yet I did, how could that be?

And then I realized because I was subconsciously supplying these characters with the personalities of various HP characters -- and not just their canon characters, but popular FF elaborations and backstories -- in order to make things work.

As my daughter (who read the same book and observed the same phenomenon) put it: "It's like there's these huge holes in the story, but you don't notice it, because these holes are precisely Voldemort-, Bellatrix-, and Malfoy-shaped that you automatically plug them in."

In other words, the author *thought* she was producing original fic; but was actually writing HP fanfic.

Do I think this would be legally actionable? Of course not. But I respect her as an author enough to think that she will be horribly, horribly embarrassed if she realizes it.
 
It certainly seemed to be what James was doing with this, and thus I doubt it will bring things to a legal head any time soon.

If people continue in James's vein, probably not, though if I were Meyer I'd still be pretty ticked. I was more speculating about the kind of thing the romance publisher I linked was soliciting: fan fiction that's more closely based on the original with less changed about it. James isn't in that category, but I think she's a big financial incentive to publishers to try to slip other works that are in that category under the wire.

--

Out of interest, hapax, was this book a published one, or was it online?

Legally: shrug. Artistically: AAAAGGGHHH!
 
It's interesting, because having read 50 Shades, even if I changed the names back to Edward and Bella, I wouldn't recognize the characters. I don't really understand how it was fan-fic, because to me, it must have been terrible fan-fic because the characters are unrecognizable.

For me personally, I felt that it was so far from the Twilight series that it was okay to publish it.
 
I haven't read it, but I always assumed it must be a reasonably different work otherwise there's no way it would have been published in the first place.

My objection to it is not that it's too similar to Twilight; it's that it goes after the benefits of two very different options without taking on the responsibilities of either. It goes for the pre-established audience of fan fiction without the commitment to non-profit, and the fame and fortune of professional publication without the commitment to originality.

And that, I simply can't respect. I normally avoid criticising colleagues on this blog because I consider it unprofessional, but that is just not paying your dues.
 
What is your view on--just as examples not written by someone you know personally--Robin McKinley's Beauty, Rose Daughter, Spindle's End, and Deerskin?

(Respectively, retellings of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and the Beast (again), Sleeping Beauty, and Donkeyskin.)
 
I have no problem with reworking fairytales. There's no copyright issue, for a start, but it's also about audiences: it's not as if there's a massive 'fairytale community' who operate on the edges of the law and could get into a lot of trouble if the law looked at them more sharply, nor are there authors of original fairytales whose livelihoods may be being undermined.

After all, I've published two books based on reworking old folk myths. The Bloody Chamber is a great book. And come to that, Twilight itself is a repurposing of an old folk monster, and heavily influenced by certain other books in its turn. No harm, no foul.

Thing is - I got curious enough to go and read the first chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey on Amazon preview. And you know, I was pleasantly surprised: it was a bit better than I was expecting, and frankly struck me as warmer and more likeable than the Twilight books. If James had simply written it on her own time, maybe appealed to the Twilight fans with an Ana-and-Grey novel by saying, 'Hey, if you like Twilight you may like this!', and had never relied upon fan fiction status to giver her her start, then I'd have nothing at all against it. Like I say, I only read the first chapter, but it looked quite nice.

It's not the content of the book that troubles me; it's the line it treads in terms of promotion that sticks in my throat. A book heavily influenced by certain dynamics in Twilight? Why not? People get influenced by books every day. But when you get your boost from a community created around somebody else's copyrighted work, and then make your fortune ignoring that community's non-profit ethic ... well, I just think that's not very good.
 
So your problem with the book is not that it originated as Twilight fanfic, or even that the author didn't change enough, but that she used "originated as Twilight fanfic!" as advertising?

(Two of this may show up; I think, however, that I missed the captcha the first time and the comment disappeared into the ether.)
 
No, because that's not what the advertising is saying, round my way anyway. It's that it used 'Actually is Twilight fanfic' as long as that served its interests, and then switched to 'Actually isn't Twilight fanfic!' when that became the more profitable options. Without changing, if the link I found is to be believed, more than eleven per cent of the content - which isn't a rewrite, it's just a polish.

And I find that rather - well, let's say 'opportunistic'.

But also, as I've said, it blurs of the lines in a way that is, I believe, liable to be exploited by the unscrupulous at all levels: lazy individuals trying to get the status of writers with as little effort spent on originality as possible; small presses trying to raise their sales by publishing knock-offs as close to the profitable originals as they can get away with - you read that link? - and big conglomerates cracking down on non-profit fandoms in an attempt to scare off competition.

And that's liable to impact most on the most vulnerable. Amateur fans, for instance, and mid-list authors of original fiction. hapax can speak with more knowledge of the fan side, so I'll gowith the writer side.

Looking it up, I see that Meyer herself* has nothing more to say about it than 'Good on her - she's doing well.' So that's fine as far as it goes. But publishing is a business, most writers are not mega-sellers, and it's not good for us to be squeezed by market pressures that favour the knock-off over the original work.

You know how a big proportion of the pharmaceutical industry's budget is spent on 'research and development' of drugs that are actually a very slightly tweaked version of a drug that already exists because that's a reliable way to make a profit, rather than spending the money on developing medicines to treat diseases that don't yet have cures? I am concerned that cases like James's will push the publishing industry in the same direction. And that's not good for us middle-sized authors, who live a precarious existence at the best of times.

Or look at how few Hollywood movies these days are not some kind of remake, sequel, prequel or other me-too product. The result is that the money is being spent much less on original works, and that's a loss. I do not want to see the publishing industry go the same way.
 
Are you suggesting that writers who make a reputation in the fan community should not make the jump to professional writing and bring a built-in fanbase with them? Because I can't agree with that.

Are you saying that writers should not take their own writing and repurpose it for a different market? I can't agree with that, either.

I just can't agree with the indignation over 50 Shades. It seems to be agreed that it was all the author's original work--not like he or she nicked it from someone else and changed the byline--so they're well within their rights to rewrite it and sell it to whomever. Not like it's the first time... I remember at least one scifi novel from back when I was in college that was well-known to be a Star Trek tie-in novel that failed to get a contract and was rewritten with the serial numbers filed off and published. It's also happened more than once that fanfiction got picked up and published in "shared world" anthologies for that fandom's universe. (One of Star Trek's earliest fanfic writer teams went on to write professional Star Trek tie-in novels, and then moved on to TSR tie-in novels, IIRC). I don't seen anything wrong with that; indeed, I consider it a "you go, girl!" moment. Good for them for learning to write well enough doing fanfic to get published, and good for them if they can repurpose some of that "first million words of practice" into saleable material.

*tried to use OpenID, but it hated me with errors*
 
Are you suggesting that writers who make a reputation in the fan community should not make the jump to professional writing and bring a built-in fanbase with them?

No.

Are you saying that writers should not take their own writing and repurpose it for a different market?

There are far too many assumptions in that sentence for me to give it a yes or no answer. Since they wrote it using characters they do not own, whether or not own can call it 'their own work' as if that's all their was to is is a big oversimplification. So is the assumption that it's 'a different market' - you've just said that such a writer is bringing their fanbase with them, and if that were the case, it'd mean it's the same market, just now a paying one. There are many ways to 'repurpose', and a lot depends on exactly how thoroughly the repurposing is. And so on. I just can't answer that: you've set it up as more or less a rhetorical question, but there are a lot of implicit assertions in it that I don't think cover the complexities.

And it seems like people keep asking me 'Are you saying...?' And - well, look. I've said what I think several times as clearly as I can. I think it's a complicated issue, I think that in this case James is on the right side of the line legally but ethically I think there's some dodginess going on, I think there are signs that knock-offs are exerting pressure on the publishing industry in a way that I do not think will benefit it, and James is just one example. She herself may be a very nice person, for all I know. I just think that the implications of what she's done go beyond her.

But when people keep asking 'Are you saying ... are you saying...' it feels like they're trying to corner me into a yay-or-nay statement that they can then attack me for.

I think it's a complicated issue. I don't think it can be discussed productively with simple yes-or-no questions.
 
Dragoness Eclectic

One could look at this another way and suggest that what has gone on is the monetization of the fan community. Instead of an author making the leap into the unknown of writing and book, flogging it through the traditional means, being picked by a publishing house, being edited and then marketed -- what we have here is an author who brought with them a a community that provided her with buzz, reviews and a fairly guaranteed audience. All at no cost to the corporate entity that is publishing the books.

If nothing else I would worry that some such entities would now being expecting many/most of their aspiring authors to bring with them a similar fan base.

Since such fan bases tend to form mostly around certain types of media/books this process will make it even more difficult for people who do not write for that audience to get published.

Further, I suspect that it will bring out the big guns as corporations who have been tolerating fan communities who skirted the legal limits of copyright see those same communities monetized for the benefit of other other corporation. Which will lead, not to a freer environment for fans but one in which corporations have even more incentive to tighten the screws.

Meanwhile more and more pressure is being put on authors. Not too long ago authors still dropped off hand written copies of their works with their agents. Then the cost of typing the [sic] manuscripts was shifted to the author. Now the task of building an audience and buzz is being transferred.

For the (rare) rich author the fact that someone else is able to monetize the second-hand buzz generated by someone in their slipstream may be annoying but not consequential -- for most authors is runs the risk of being monetarily and creatively stifling.
 
@Kit -- the book in question is to be published, but hasn't yet. I read it in ARC form.

I am currently trying to think if there is an appropriate, tactful way to let the author now privately what I saw, so she could rethink her approach in the sequel (I have had some professional correspondence with her, but no personal connection.)

Alas, I don't think so.

If nothing else I would worry that some such entities would now being expecting many/most of their aspiring authors to bring with them a similar fan base

In fact, this is happening.

I read a lot of author blogs, especially in the genres -- romance, sf, fantasy -- that tend to be associated with ff.

And if they are to be trusted. agents and editors are asking less about their writing and their ideas, and more about their social media presence, their hit rate, their twitter followers, etc.

It isn't a pretty prospect.
 
...Yeah. As a writer, that is very, very frightening.

And it's pretty discouraging as a reader, too. It means, in effect, that a certain subsection of the readership is becoming so dominant in guiding publisher choices. A book published out of nowhere can take its chances and be read by whoever comes across it and likes it, but if publication becomes dependent on fan fiction followers, well, that means that fan fiction tastes are going to set the order of the day. And that may be great for them, but for people with different tastes?

No reason why they won't get squeezed out. Women used to be the majority of film audiences; now Hollywood caters to teenage boys and the adult female audience has dropped off. People can just stop consuming an art form when it caters too rigidly to a demographic whose tastes they don't share.

And it's not all James's doing, of course, but the phrase 'fastest-selling book in publishing history' is one that's gonna get publishers' attention.
 
Publishers and agents liking authors that bring a pre-existing audience to the table is a different issue from "Did the author of '50 Shades' do something wrong by re-writing her fanfiction into something saleable?"

(My personal opinion is that the answer to the latter is a firm 'No', as I've already stated.)

The former issue is not new, but it is greatly exacerbated by the Internet. Pre-Internet, any well-known newspaper columnist, politician, celebrity, or TV personality brought a built-in audience with them when they wrote (or had ghost-written) a book. A best-selling author has a built-in audience for his next book, yet smart publishers know they can't only buy books from best-selling authors; you have to nurture new talent because sooner or later, the old ones go away.
 
(My personal opinion is that the answer to the latter is a firm 'No', as I've already stated.)

So the point of restating it is ... what? To persuade me by repetition? You haven't addressed any of the points I made the first time you stated it.


Publishers and agents liking authors that bring a pre-existing audience to the table is a different issue from "Did the author of '50 Shades' do something wrong by re-writing her fanfiction into something saleable?"

Only if you assume that an aspiring writer's sole responsibility is to their own advancement, not to the art form or the industry they aspire to join - or even, in the case of the art form, to serve.

And that, I don't agree with.



Pre-Internet, any well-known newspaper columnist, politician, celebrity, or TV personality brought a built-in audience with them when they wrote (or had ghost-written) a book.

That still holds true. But you'll notice that such people do not actually become bestsellers of fiction - celebrity biographies are a different market, and at certain times of the year a significant proportion of it - unless there's something to recommend their books besides the name on the cover. Stephen Fry and Carrie Fisher are successful novelists; their names probably helped them get publishers' attention, but their books keep selling because people actually read them. Ghost-written novels, on the other hand, are not an especially big part of the market, and bad celeb-branded novels fizzle out leaving little trace - anyone remember Naomi Cambell's novel? These are not game-changers.

A subculture built around pressing on the edges of copyright law, emerging companies basing their business model on monetising that industry, and record-breaking sales? Those are game-changers.
 
yet smart publishers know they can't only buy books from best-selling authors; you have to nurture new talent because sooner or later, the old ones go away.

But that's just the problem. In James's case, they're NOT "nurturing new talent" -- they're slapping a fresh coat of paint onto *borrowed* talent.

Maybe James has some excellent original fiction in her. You couldn't sell it to me, judging by the "original" content in 50SoG, but I don't constitute the entirety of the book-reading public. But we'll never know (and *she* will never know) if she isn't encouraged to write without the crutch of pre-existing plot and characters. (And no, a search-and-replace on the character names does not constitute "re-writing").

The author I mentioned above, who came out of the ff community with a built in audience, also came with a fresh and original YA fantasy that wasn't based in the slightest on her or anybody else's ff. She has since written two pretty good novels, co-authored one that relies heavily on fan-snark, and is set to publish the one I talked about, which is (to borrow Kit's excellent phrase) "hyper-genre" and re-processed HP fanfiction.

All of this in less than five years.

That's not "nurturing new talent." That's "beating your cash cow until in exhaustion it starts producing regurgitated milk."

Maybe that's what you find fresh and exciting in literature. But some of us are hoping for something better.
 
Dragoness: "Did the author of '50 Shades' do something wrong by re-writing her fanfiction into something saleable?"

(see if this goes through this time -- it got eated last time)

I think the author of 50sog did something that hurt the fanfiction community by acting in such as way as to shake the shaky entente between the large publishing corporations and the fan community. As long as the fan community made no money they had at least much of public opinion (if not the law) on their side. Now they have broken that informal pack and I fear that the fan community will pay the price.
 
I've known a lot of fanfiction writers. I've written some myself. What the author of Fifty Shades did could be something a lot like what's happened to me in some of my writing. Specifically, something that started out as fanfiction ends up being something with entirely different characters.

I am doing one roleplay at the moment. I really like the characters in it. Hypothetically, it's based off of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. At the same time, due to the nature of it and its development, I could no longer really consider the characters to be... Well... Them. If I tried to put this thing out as a fanfiction, I would feel I was doing a disservice to the fanfiction community. The character called Gilda is not recognizably anything like Gilda. The character called Elusive (the male version of Rarity) can no longer be honestly said to resemble Rarity or Elusive in any substantial way.

I don't have a problem with someone who got big in fanfiction publishing their works. And if these characters are as, well, DIFFERENT from what they are in the original as my Gilda and Lucy have turned out, 'filing off the serial numbers' as you put it wouldn't bother me.

What does bother me is "Hey, this is based off a Twilight fanfiction! But it's not Twilight fanfiction!" It either is or isn't. You can change some things, but then you really shouldn't be coming out saying "Hey, this was originally Twilight fic!"

When you do that, you really ARE getting rich off someone else's work. If you write fanfic, that's fine by me. Because it's, well, it's non-profit. If you then go on to write original fiction, that I don't mind either. And if you bring your sort of built-in fanbase from the fanfics... What's the alternative? Just pretend that you're NOT writing original fiction? Or should you instead pretend you've never written fanfics?

I've written things which, as I said, started out as fanfics but are unrecognizable. Or in another case, the situation is sufficiently divorced from the original story that I don't think that my changing it around to publish as short fiction would be an ethical violation. In fact, once I finished writing it, my first thought was "I wish I didn't write that as a fanfic..." It felt to me like the characters were more crammed into the original setting than the other way around...

That said, if I did that, I wouldn't advertise it as "Former fanfiction."

BEcause by doing that, I do think that's an ethical violation. Similarly I think using an author's characters when he or she has said 'no fanfiction' is an ethical violation. I think you can sell it on its quality as original fiction. But if you don't think you could sell it if it WASN'T originally a fanfic then you have to ask yourself if it's worth selling.

In conclusion, sometimes your fanfic changes enough from the source material that it's cool if you want to publish it. But don't publish it AS FANFICTION. I don't mind if you take a shot at publishing it, but don't go around telling everyone how it USED TO BE A FANFIC.

Something is fanfiction or it isn't fanfiction. Maybe it used to be fanfiction but you changed your mind on that. Your story was sufficiently different and it didn't feel natural for these characters to pretend to be someone they weren't. Well, that's fine. But then it ISN'T FANFICTION. So don't go around selling it as fanfic.
 
BEcause by doing that, I do think that's an ethical violation. Similarly I think using an author's characters when he or she has said 'no fanfiction' is an ethical violation. I think you can sell it on its quality as original fiction. But if you don't think you could sell it if it WASN'T originally a fanfic then you have to ask yourself if it's worth selling.

Exactly.

Because it's not as if you have to try to sell everything you write. Case in point: I'm near finishing a second draft of my third book - except it would be more accurate to say 'a first draft of my fourth book.' Because the first time I wrote it, it was bad. I could have tried to tweak and polish it, but that went against my principles; it just wasn't up to the standard I hold myself to. To fix it, I had to get rid of almost all the characters, bring in major new ones, change most of the plot and rewrite it from the ground up. Meaning I lost a year's work - meaning lost earning time. And the second draft lost still more earning time because I had a baby in the middle of it, and all in all it has had quite a lot of disadvantages in terms of keeping myself visible. And you know what? I'd do it again. Because I care about quality and there was no way I was going to try to pass off something I didn't think deserved to sell. If you respect the business and the art, then if you write something that for whatever reason won't do, you throw it out and start again.

If somebody first tries their hand at writing, say, Twilight fan fiction, then decides to try original fiction, well, fair enough. It's not how I work, nor how my favourite authors tend to work, but not everyone has to be like me. The important thing, though: readers will have read such a person's first fan fiction because of Stephenie Meyer's work, not their own. The only reason somebody clicks on the link to an that then-unknown fan writer is because they want to read about Bella and Edward - characters created by Meyer's efforts.

When somebody first picks up a published work of original fiction, you can guarantee that its author has done plenty of work that impressed an agent, then a publisher, then a bookseller, then a bookshop: simply getting into a bookshop represents a book whose qualities have powered through a lot of stages to reach that point. But a work of fan fiction is initially clicked on because the original work powered through all those stages into the status of a book with a fandom, which represents a huge amount. Now there's somebody's fan story online, and the only stage between it and the Internet was the 'post' button. If people click on it, it's because of Meyer.

Now, suppose somebody writes a bunch of fan stories and they get popular, and they then say, 'Hey guys, I've written a piece of original fiction, read that!' Probably some of their readers will not follow it up because they just want to read about Edward and Bella. In other words, that person has now reached a stage where they can no longer rely on Meyer's momentum to get people to their pages. Now if people follow up and read their original fiction, it's because of elements in their work that don't have to do with Meyer: their own writing style, humour, sense of plot and pacing, sexiness or whatever else makes their stuff attractive. Now whatever gets their work read is something that Meyer didn't create.
 
And at that point, yes, you go, girl. You're not sailing on borrowed wind any more, and you are the one who's going.

But a slightly tweaked work of fan fiction has never made that disconnection.

If James had started a work of Twilight fan fiction, thought, 'Hey, this actually feels more like original fiction,' taken it down, written it as original fiction (and I don't think that 'eleven per cent different' really covers that, especially since the changes seem to be sentence-level rather than plot-level) and then put it up saying, 'Hey guys, this sort of started as Twilight fan fiction and turned into something else, give it a try?' ... then I don't think anyone would care.

But what actually seems to have happened* is that James moved it from a fan site because of the 'racy nature of the material' - nothing to do with originality - then set up her own website using movie stills from Twilight and headed 'Snowqueens Icedragon: Author of Twilight FanFiction' and describing her work as 'fics' on the 'About' page. She also made handy use of the fan fic community's tradition of feedback. Both in terms of getting an audience and getting editorial help, she was making full and savvy use of fandom.

Then she changed the names and published a 'welcome to my new home' post, describing her work as 'the adult romance Fifty Shades trilogy' and referring to 'the positive response to my story from readers the world over' - that is, using the fan community's readership to promote herself without acknowledging that what they were actually reading was explicitly a fan fiction.

You think that's fair?

If she'd realised it'd work as original fiction, written and promoted it as such, then the fan fiction origins would be nothing more than an influence. And yes, it would have been harder to sell her work that way. So what? Self-advancement is not a civic duty and publication is not a civil right. You pays your dues and you takes your chances. After all, Meyer herself is solid proof one can become a megastar without using fan fiction to boost oneself up; if her own account** is to be believed, she was just a stay-at-home mum writing with a baby in her lap (and whatever I think about her books, that is a level of focus I have to salute). J.K. Rowling, according to Wikipedia began with an advance of £1500 - pin money in publishing terms; I've made more from writing gift books under pen names - and a print run of a thousand copies. They took their chances, and they paid off wildly.

It can be done. But using the fan community as a royal road to publication while scamping on originality is showing too little respect for both.
 
(And looking on Amazon, even James's 'Acknowledgements' section says nothing more than 'To the original bunker babes - thank you for your friendship and constant support', which is hardly a public shout-out, and there isn't a single person in her list identified by more than a first name or initials. Another personal counter-example: the idea for my first novel originally came out of a conversation with a friend of mine. So I put him in the acknowledgements with his full name, Joel Jessup - Joel Jessup, folks - and the statement that he 'inspired me with the original idea'. My second book, I mentioned the idea on my blog and asked for nitpicks to help me fix any holes, and in the acknowledgements I list every single name or pseudonym that anybody gave me. When people help you out, you acknowledge them publicly. That's just manners.)

If someone writes fan fiction, impresses people with their smarts, writes an original piece and their followers like that too, then hey, good luck to 'em. If something starts as a fan fiction, gets thoroughly reworked and then promoted as original fiction, good luck to that too. But if something is written as fan fiction, promoted as fan fiction as long as that's useful, then very slightly tweaked and promoted as original fiction ... well, it's clearly legal, but I can't say I'm rooting for it.


*http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/fifty-shades-of-grey-wayback-machine_b49124

**http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1734838,00.html
 
Oh, and:

'filing off the serial numbers' as you put it

On the subject of credit where it's due (smile), I should acknowledge that this is not my original phrase. I'm not sure who first came up with it; it seems to be a fairly common way to describe minimal rewrites of fan fiction. If anyone does know whose phase it is, hey, let's give him/her credit!
 
Hm, having a look at the 'Lost History' (http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/fifty-shades-of-grey-wayback-machine_b49124) link, this comment jumped out at me:

I only bought the book because I did real MOTU [Master of the Universe, the name of the work when it was fan fiction] when it was original. I paid to buy Fifty because I felt I was supporting a fanfiction 'friend.' She didnt "force" me to buy her book, as you put it. But, I am disappointed that she didn't somehow acknowledge her fellow fanfictioners in the Fifty acknowledgement. I understand she couldn't call us 'Twilighters' in her acknowledgements. But she could have snuck in 'fellow online friends' or something.

Here's the thing. She's a writer. As she was writting the fanfic...people were reviewing it. That's why her publishing company paid attention to her. There were so many reviews on the story already. She was getting alot of positive feedback on something so racy. As she posted a new chapter every week. We reviewed every week. As much as she fed us, we fed her with our comments AND suggestions in how far she could or couldn't take the story.

So although I have and can if I wanted too read it for free. I choose not to, but I still feel entitled to be disappointed in her because she let some of us down.


I'm far from an unquestioned supporter of fan fiction - I think that legally, morally and artistically it's an extremely complicated question, and that it needs to be understood as complicated if it's going to be understood at all - but I feel genuinely sorry for that commenter. It's one thing to decide you want to write as a community project; it's quite another to hang an 'all my own work' sign on the result.
 
I read part of the 50 Shades book (it's essentially one story cut into three), and if I hadn't known it was once Twilight fanfiction, I wouldn't have caught it. In part this is because I didn't like or finish Twilight (though I got through 3 books), but in part because "rich older man, sort of an asshole" and "young innocent girl, no discernible personality so you can imagine yourself as her" aren't unique to Twilight, except in that Twilight's the biggest name that has done it lately. The Mortal Instruments books, on the other hand, were so obviously responses to Harry Potter (you could easily identify all the characters as HP characters, where the author was trying to respond to some of the problems that people had with the books), that I can't see how 50 Shades is getting more objections. Wicked and its sequels (and the musical) are Oz (out of copyright, as far as I know) fanfiction, all those Jane Austen books with zombies or unicorns or murders are fanfiction, etc -- fanfiction itself is not the problem, the intersection of fanfiction and currently copyrighted works (and the problem with copyright length) is a problem.

It sounds like EL James crowdsourced (some of) the editing when it seemed like it would be a free fanfic that she never got paid for. Once it moved to her getting paid for it -- well, okay, some fanfic writers do move to having their not-fanfic published, but they usually acknowledge fanfiction in general, and the people who read it over for errors specifically.

(I say all this as someone who doesn't much read fanfic except when I am told to read one in particular.)
 
@Kit:
If someone writes fan fiction, impresses people with their smarts, writes an original piece and their followers like that too, then hey, good luck to 'em. If something starts as a fan fiction, gets thoroughly reworked and then promoted as original fiction, good luck to that too. But if something is written as fan fiction, promoted as fan fiction as long as that's useful, then very slightly tweaked and promoted as original fiction ... well, it's clearly legal, but I can't say I'm rooting for it.

See, not having read '50 Shades' or the original fanfiction, or even 'Twilight' for that matter, I can't comment on originality, quality of writing, etc. I can only discuss general concepts here. In this case, I find the difference between 'okay' and 'not okay' actions to be enough of a matter of personal interpretation that I really can't see a clear difference. I don't think there's a definite lesson to be drawn from this.

I don't know exactly where 'filing off the serial numbers' comes from, but we were using it in the 1980s, when I was in college. It's old. The metaphor refers to filing the serial numbers off of a stolen object to keep it from being identified, but that's all I know.

I am a firm supporter of fanfiction; as far as I am concerned, it's complicated legally, but not morally and artistically. Humans have always told stories, and they have always modified stories they have heard or invented new stories about characters from older stories and passed them around. That is part of storytelling. Storytelling is fundamental to being human; it is one of the ur-arts, if you will.

(why does Blogger force me to type in such a tiny text box? Also, this CAPCHA hates me. So does the OpenID thing.)
 
In this case, I find the difference between 'okay' and 'not okay' actions to be enough of a matter of personal interpretation that I really can't see a clear difference. I don't think there's a definite lesson to be drawn from this.

Okay, but some of us do. Some of us think there are several definite or indefinite lessons. Are you saying we not entitled to consider them?


I am a firm supporter of fanfiction; as far as I am concerned, it's complicated legally, but not morally and artistically.

Well, you can state that as many times as you like, but you are not going to convince me by repetition.


Humans have always told stories

This human who tells stories would thank that human not to lecture her as if she is not a human who tells stories and needs human storytelling explained to her. It is not polite.

Nor is it an argument, because you're ignoring all the details of the conversation we're having here. When livelihoods are dependent upon laws, legality and morality cannot easily be separated, especially when the law is being subjected to some strong market forces. The issue of credit is not a morally simple one either, as witness the plaintive comment I quoted. And if you really think that the issue of influence versus derivation is not a complicated artistic issue, well, I really can't think of anything to say that isn't some variant of 'If you don't see it it's probably because you're looking wrong' - and if you seriously see a lack of complexity and nuance as something to be advanced for the benefit of art, then I throw up my hands.

And on the subject of being polite: you're not actually engaging with any of the points anybody has made; you're just contradicting them without addressing the specific content. Which is discourteous. I don't mind hearing the other side of the argument, but flat assertions are not constructive engagement.

If you wanted to come here and raise a flag for fan fiction in this case, fine, you've done that. But if you've got nothing else to say except 'I personally don't see a problem with that' - well, you really are repeating yourself, and it doesn't help.
 
See, not having read '50 Shades' or the original fanfiction, or even 'Twilight' for that matter, I can't comment on originality, quality of writing, etc. I can only discuss general concepts here. In this case, I find the difference between 'okay' and 'not okay' actions to be enough of a matter of personal interpretation that I really can't see a clear difference.

Well, perhaps you should read the things being commented on before thinking that this is a matter open to "personal interpretation."

fanfiction; as far as I am concerned, it's complicated legally, but not morally and artistically. Humans have always told stories, and they have always modified stories they have heard or invented new stories about characters from older stories and passed them around. That is part of storytelling. Storytelling is fundamental to being human; it is one of the ur-arts, if you will.

We have some sketchy ideas of how human societies ran (and there has been a wide variety of societies so one should be wary of any generalization) but your blanket statement fanfiction; as far as I am concerned, it's complicated legally, but not morally and artistically. may indeed be true as far as you are concerned but it is very much a matter of debate among many people who study/teach the history of writing and storytelling. And who study and teach 1st amendment law. And who study and teach communication ethics.

Storytelling has sometimes been invested with religious meaning. In some societies and under certain circumstances only a subset of people were allowed to tell certain types of stories. At times one could imprisoned and even executed for telling the wrong sort of story.

One might reasonably make the argument that storytellers, for the last several decades, have been freer of the strictures of the powers that be and less vulnerable to the vagaries of public opprobrium that at any time (in "the west") in the last 1000 years.

why does Blogger force me to type in such a tiny text box? Also, this CAPCHA hates m

Blogger (to anthropomorphize an entire platform) is designed to make it difficult for spammers. The small text box and the annoying CAPCHA are all attempts to dissuade them. When I am making long comments I find it best to write them up in text program and cut and paste them into the box.
 
Storytelling has sometimes been invested with religious meaning. In some societies and under certain circumstances only a subset of people were allowed to tell certain types of stories. At times one could imprisoned and even executed for telling the wrong sort of story.

From the little I know, for instance, I understand that the bardic tradition could not only involve some extremely stringent entry requirements, but by its nature as a caste required something that's completely opposite to fan fiction: one could not be self-appointed. You didn't get to call yourself a bard unless the existing bards, as it were, signed off on you - in many cases, because you were a member of a bardic family, because being a bard was often hereditary. Even if you don't accept the all-night-under-a-waterfall theory, it was very definitely an in-group.

The past is never a simple place, and seldom a romantic one.
 
I understand that the bardic tradition could not only involve some extremely stringent entry requirements, but by its nature as a caste required something that's completely opposite to fan fiction: one could not be self-appointed.

In Ireland, for instance, bards were not only part of caste (hereditary,) they were expected to have mastered particular forms of poetic expression and were a (professional) part of the court of a king or a chieftain.

Minstrels (middle ages, Europe) had a professional organization recognized by contemporary law.

Skalds (Scandanavia/Iceland) were also highly trained. Much of their output was praise of (or stories about) the kings/chieftains and quite a few of the Skalds themselves belonged to that class.

Rhapsodes (the storytellers/singers of ancient Greece) were also viewed as group of professionals. They were usually itinerant professionals. Which means, given the status of women and slaves at the time, that only free men could be Rhapsodes.

In Mali the skill/ability of Griots was seen as hereditary. Most kings had families of griots who travelled with them in order to record their exploits (as well as to enteratain by telling of the exploits of others.) Villages in Mali often had their own professional griot they hired to keep the history of the village.

In all of these societies I have no doubt that women told stories to their children--but those stories were either appropriated by men of professional storytelling status or they were lost.
 
read part of the 50 Shades book (it's essentially one story cut into three), and if I hadn't known it was once Twilight fanfiction, I wouldn't have caught it. In part this is because I didn't like or finish Twilight (though I got through 3 books), but in part because "rich older man, sort of an asshole" and "young innocent girl, no discernible personality so you can imagine yourself as her" aren't unique to Twilight, except in that Twilight's the biggest name that has done it lately.

Well, I *did* read all of the TWILIGHT books (I actually liked them, although possibly not for the reasons the author intended), did read the first installment of MotU and skimmed the rest, skimmed enough of 50SoG to realize that the only differences were names, hair and eye color, and punctuation, and saw the first two TWILIGHT movies.

And yes, MotU / 50SoG are quite obviously Twilight fanfiction. More specifically, they are fanfiction of the Twilight *movies*. It isn't so much plot details or character arcs -- as you say, those are common enough tropes -- but the characterization, the motivations, down to tiny details make no sense unless you are picturing Stewart and Pattinson in their respective roles.

The Mortal Instruments books, on the other hand, were so obviously responses to Harry Potter

I can't speak to the Mortal Instruments series specifically -- I don't read plagiarists, even when they're not plagiarizing -- but I would say that there is a distinct difference between a "response" to a piece of existing fiction and a "fanfiction" of it. (One that is recognized legally in the US, in fact, in the "parody" and "critique" exclusions of copyright law.)

While Oz is out of copyright, Maguire's work clearly falls under the "response /critique" heading, much as Randall's WIND DONE GONE. (I would note that there is plenty of ff which I do think falls under this heading as well; MotU is NOT in this category)

The mash-up genre of Jane Austen + Zombies et al is another category altogether, which is quite obviously a "joke." Like most jokes, people can differ on whether it is funny (I found the first one mildly amusing); like most jokes, the more often it is repeated, the quicker it falls under No-Longer-Funny, Cliche, Painful, and finally Dear-God-Won't-You-Shut-Up-Already.
 
Oh, and I should add that Lev Grossman's MAGICIANS and sequel(s?) are also quite clearly "responses" (ripostes, if you like) to both the Harry Potter books and the Narnia books, all of which are quite clearly in copyright.

Pullman has also stated that HIS DARK MATERIALS is a response to the Narnia books, although the connection is much less explicit there.

The questions as to whether or not I liked those books, or thought the responses were successful, are quite separate from whether or not I thought them artistically legitimate (which is in turn totally separate from whether or not they were copyright infringements).
 
The questions as to whether or not I liked those books, or thought the responses were successful, are quite separate from whether or not I thought them artistically legitimate (which is in turn totally separate from whether or not they were copyright infringements).

One of the ways (although by no means the only way) one can approach that question is to ask whether the responses stand on their own as works of art/books. Steven Brust's The Phoenix Guards is quite openly and clearly a response to/reflection on Dumas' The Three Musketeers yet Brust can be enjoyed thoroughly without ever having read (or even heard of) Dumas. Similarly Pullman's work stands on its own without the reader having to even have knowledge of the existence of the Narnia books.
 
One of the ways (although by no means the only way) one can approach that question is to ask whether the responses stand on their own as works of art/books.

It sounds like a good rule of thumb, but I suspect that actually it gets less applicable the more artistic merit a response has.

For instance: I'm not sure Wide Sargasso Sea stands entirely on its own - the ending, at least, would be mysterious if you hadn't read Jane Eyre - and it's a genuine work of art. It has beauty and merit and interest that have nothing to do with Bronte, but its beauties and its plot are not equally free-standing.

If you're talking about Young Adult or straight genre books, then plot is on of the primary focus points when it comes to quality. In those cases, it makes sense to ask how independent the plot is. But in the case of Jean Rhys - well, her plots are fine, but style, interaction and voice (both individual and cultural voices) are more important. Judging Wide Sargasso Sea based on whether it can be fully understood or enjoyed without reading Jane Eyre is, I would argue, somewhat missing the point of it.

It's an unusual case, of course, because few writers of any kind of books have Jean Rhys's gifts, but I do think that past a certain level of artistic merit, the merit starts to change normal rules. That's kind of what artistic merit is for.

Starting another hare running...

It's interesting that it should be Jane Eyre that gets this unusual example, because writers like Meyer and James are heavily influenced by it - by the Brontean tradition in general, but the Jane-Rochester dynamic is second only to the Darcy-Elizabeth dynamic in serving as a model for popular romances. I've argued before* that the Brontes are authors who tend to get misremembered in the popular tradition that follows them, but certainly you could say that 50 Shades has some structural similarities with Jane Eyre - young powerless girl meets powerful man under professional circumstances, is drawn in, falls in love, finds he has a dark secret - and they have the same 'strong man mastered through love' dynamic as well, although Jane Eyre herself tends to resist the suggestion that she rules Rochester's heart because she views it as a fantasy, recognises that fantasies do not respect their object, and knows that Rochester behaves badly to women he disrespects. The dynamic of Jane Eyre is really 'control and disrespect averted, whereas its descendants tend to go with 'control justified' or 'disrespect compensated for by Love'.

None of which is a copyright issue, of course, just an artistic one. I'm inclined to believe that artistic quality is a moral question - we can't choose how much talent we have, but we are morally obliged to make the best use of what we do - but that's another conversation.

I think one might be able to learn a tremendous amount about the complexities of influence and imitation just by looking at the legacy of Jane Eyre.


*http://kitwhitfield.blogspot.co.uk/2008/12/misremembering-brontes.html
 
Out of interest, hapax, what did you enjoy about the Twilight series?
 
Oh, I thought that Meyer did an excellent job of conveying the sort of all-consuming passion and transcendent self-preoccupation of adolescence.

It was fun to revisit a time when everything was felt so INTENSELY and the entire universe -- down to the tiniest details -- revolved around ME. It was even more pleasant to realize that I was a grownup now, and didn't have to feel like that anymore.

Also -- and I know that I am in a minority here -- I found the fourth book to be rather well-written. The sections in Jacob's voice were witty and affecting, the descriptions of the horrors of pregnancy were cathartic, and I thought the final confrontation (which most people described as "deflating" and "a letdown") to be a rather clever subversion of narrative expectations.
 
Question hapax--do you have any suggestions as to why so many of my students hated (and I am not using that word idly) Twilight?

I first read Twilight because a number of my students (19 to 21 years of age) asked me not "what do you think of them" but "why are these books that absolutely suck so popular?" And that is exactly as they would phrase it.

These students had all grown up with Harry Potter and, I notices, saw Twilight as something either their young siblings read or something that people who had never like Potter read -- so they may have been judging the readers not the thing read.

The other group I knew of who enthused about Twilight seemed to be mainly comprised of woman who were past the age of being girls/teenagers and seemed to find Twilight a way back into reliving the emotional surges of that time. Indeed most of the woman I knew who were into Twilight had children themselves, but the children were very young (2-5 let us say) and I wondered if Twilight brought them back to the time when love was about lust and excitement not the mundanity of diaper changes (and all of the women I am thinking of here had PhDs and some have written good academic papers on the bookss.)
 
I suspect the reason Twilight is popular among teenage girls and married women is that they're both groups of people who are more limited in the options of what they can do with their lives, and thus are drawn to stories with wish-fulfillment characters who get everything they want with a minimum of actual effort.
 
Speaking as the mother of a nearly-two-year-old ... I don't think it's quite that. I'm not particularly fond of Twilight, but from what I can see of the appeal, it's not the lack of effort, exactly. It's more the lack of responsibility: Bella has nothing to do with her time except romance away (and if you have small children, time to think about your own feelings is limited), plus Edward sorts out every problem, including, ultimately, providing baby care, and making her young, beautiful and rich for ever - youth, beauty and financial security all being things that childbearing in reality takes a bite out of.

In effect, Bella does indeed get everything she wants, but I don't think it's the lack of effort, exactly. She 'earns' them by feeling deeply. Raising a child involves controlling your feelings, not indulging them - I mean, if what you're feeling is love for the child you can express that,but if what you're feeling is exhaustion,frustration and you-spill-your-milk-one-more-time-and-I'm-gonna-lose-it, you can't actually lose it, you have to get hold of yourself and remember that your own feelings are not the only thing in the world that matters.

Bella, on the other hand, acts as if her feelings are all that matters, and everybody loves her for it.

Also, of course, the Twilight books are about SEX. Capital letters, because it's incredibly important to them. And while, as I said in the article, having small kids is a pretty reliable indicator that sex matters to you, time, energy and privacy are all reduced. Between the desire and the spasm falls the Playtime and the Feeding and the Cleaning Up and the Is He Asleep Yet?, so while you may still be having sex, the clean run of anticipation to consummation is full of distractions. Bella's desires, on the other hand, get whole books's worth of focus with nothing that requires her to think about unrelated subjects.

For a lot of teenage girls, prolonged yearning is a burden and a torment, and it's appealing to read a story where you know it'll be satisfied at some point. For a mother with a husband but seldom time for more than a quickie, the prolonged yearning is the luxury. The girl lacks a true love, the woman lacks the time to enjoy him. Bella has both. For both girl and woman, delayed gratification has its charms; I think it's just that for girls, the focus is on the gratification and for mums it's on the delay.
 
Reading back over the thread, I was also interested in hapax's comment:

In other words, the author *thought* she was producing original fic; but was actually writing HP fanfic.

Which raises another question.

One of the things fan writers often say is that fan fiction is good for them because it helps them learn how to write. Now, obviously if that's their experience that's their experience, but I've often felt a nagging scepticism. This is partly just because if somebody says 'This has made me a better writer' I have only their word for it, and I've read enough slush piles to know that people are not, in many cases, good judges of their own work - in many cases, people are terrible judges of their own work. But the other thing is that fan fiction by its nature allows you to do without some of the most difficult elements of writing - creating a setting, creating characters and (I'd argue most importantly) building up narrative capital in their stories - and it always sounded to me as if that kind of writing was as likely to encourage bad habits as teach good ones.

The example you give suggests an author who didn't necessarily transport those bad habits into everything she wrote, but did create a kind of blind spot where bad habits could develop.

None of which is to say that someone writing fan fiction as a hobby with nothing else in mind than writing some more fan fiction in the future has a problem. I'm just talking about the idea that fan fiction is a good nursery slope for aspiring professionals, which I've heard fans assert repeatedly and which I've always suspected to be, well, a more complicated question than that.

But what's your view on the good teaching tool/bad habit creator issue?


(Note: I'd be interested to hear different opinions on this, but I'd appreciate it if people didn't use their own writing as an example. That requires me to accept on faith that a stranger has completely accurate judgement when it comes to their own work: I know from experience that some people do and some people don't, and if I don't know you I don't know which you are. But if I say that to any one individual I'll just cause offence, so please don't put me in that position.)
 
(In regard to the original post title: I think it may simply be assumed that "porn", unqualified, is for men unless stated otherwise.)

It seems to me that writing fan fiction - by which I mean the conventional sort, taking canon characters and setup - teaches one to be half a writer. (Assuming one gets feedback and learns from it, that is.) One can learn to produce distinctive voices and write decent prose, but one isn't likely to pick up much about world-building or the development of original characters. Even if there's some of that in the story, the audience is used to ignoring it in favour of the stuff that isn't normally just part of the background. I don't believe it's impossible that some people will learn to write well in that way, but it's not a way that suits me.

(To me, world-building is the fun bit! I enjoy setting up worlds and deciding on background details much more than I enjoy the close-up stuff.)

I'm not a fanfic writer; I occasionally read the stuff, but I usually stick pretty close to known authors and personal recommendations. I think that very many writers are not learning from the feedback they get; the standard advice, "write", is only part of the story, and I think "remember that you are writing for an audience, not just for yourself" is something that fanfic writers should bear more in mind if they want to expand their audiences either in the fanfic world or outside it.

Sailing a bit close to what Kit asked us not to do: I am a published writer of role-playing games, and I believe I have learned vastly more from the feedback that's part of professional editing than from comments on the stuff I've put up on my own web site. I may of course be entirely wrong.
 
I think "remember that you are writing for an audience, not just for yourself" is something that fanfic writers should bear more in mind if they want to expand their audiences either in the fanfic world or outside it.

Actually that's not advice I'd give a writer of any sort: thinking about the audience takes your attention off what you're writing. I'm inclined to believe one should write for the story. The audience is a later part of the process: when you're sitting at the desk it's just you and the work, and trying to second-guess a notional reader is a distraction.

I'm also rather sceptical about the primacy of feedback as a learning tool. It can help improve a particular piece, of course - everyone sometimes needs telling, 'Hey, you've used that word twice in the same paragraph' - but as a way of improving one's writing in general ... Well, writing involves having an instinct for what works and what doesn't. With feedback, I tend to think of the saying 'If you can distinguish between good advice and bad advice, you don't need advice.'

I've just been to a lot of writing classes, and I've never seen feedback make more than a moderate amount of difference to anyone's quality of writing, except in cases where writers took bad advice and their writing got worse.

I sort of see it like a singing voice: the quality of your work is going to have a natural range. With practice and teaching I might add a few notes to the top of my range, but I'm never going to be a coloratura or a bass. Or perhaps like drawing: you can tell me about perspective and colour and line all day, and probably I'll even understand you, but my hand is not going to obey the knowledge in my head.

Of course, I'm of the view that writing works best when it has some kind of line to the subconscious, and reliance on feedback keeps you very much in the conscious. But it's just one of those things I see talked about a lot, and really I find it more of an orthodoxy than a truth.
 
You may well have a point. For myself, when I'm writing with sale in mind I always keep a model of the target audience in the back of my head, and I find that useful in keeping focus.

I think that both practice and feedback are important in improving as a writer (simply enough, if I don't get responses from people other than me, I won't get any external perspective, and I've found that very valuable). There's always more in my head than makes it onto the page, and quite often I find I've explained either too little or too much.

I listen to the voices of the characters as well (a common visualisation for paying attention to the subconscious). For me -- again, I really don't want to appear as though I'm giving advice that should be followed by everyone -- the work people seem to like best is produced when I'm keeping a balance between that and the outside world.
 
Regarding: fanfiction and good/bad habit learning.

As someone who primarily writes fanfiction, I don't actually think that worldbuilding and character development are the key problem areas for "learning to write via fanfiction". Everything depends on what an individual chooses to write, but plenty of fanfiction takes cardboard characters or the thin skeleton of a fictional world and really fleshes them out or delves deeply into developing them. (And original fiction doesn't guarantee worldbuilding practice -- plenty of original fiction set in Author's Hometown, Author's Present Day, or features exactly the same cast of characters as the previous book by the author, except with the names and hair colors changed.)

The problem is that fanfiction doesn't teach you how to introduce characters, how to communicate their starting personality traits that you know well to the reader. Fanfiction lets you skip early-story establishment of characters (and sometimes of the basic gist of the world) to focus on moving the plot or character changes forward. What Hapax said about the book s/he read not having in-text support or establishment of character motivations is, IMO, the weakness of learning to write via fanfiction. (That the author in question also used fanon characterizations from HP is an additional problem, but that's not the essential-to-fanfiction-problem, since plenty of fanfic writers are multi-fandom.)
 
I think it's interesting that you draw a distinction between creating and introducing characters. The thing is, from my perspective one never stops creating a character: everything they do is more bricks in the edifice. Fan fiction seems to assume that characters 'exist' in some Platonic form, which is not something you can afford to believe when writing original fiction because they only exist in what you write down - they only exist in motion.

But then there are writers of serials, say the Sherlock Holmes stories, who have to keep starting stories anew, and I don't think you would exactly say that Holmes is 'introduced' over and over. He's just written consistently, and situations are set up that demonstrate character. Again, it's creation in motion.

I'm interested you left out narrative capital from your list too, which as I said may be the most important element. I'm no fan writer, but I suspect that's a big appeal: you get to use dramatic tension, stakes and build-up that someone else created, and those are all demanding things to write.

Going back to 50 Shades for a minute, it's notable that Ana is obsessively fascinated by the end of the first chapter and begins the second wondering why. And after one brief meeting, that's actually a good question. The answer, really, is that they're based on characters with a massive amount of sexual tension built up between them - Meyer spends chapter after chapter ramping up the anticipation - and with that to rest on, James gives only the briefest period of time to her own build-up before hurrying on to the good stuff. In effect, she's relying on narrative capital Meyer built up: if you don't in some way depend on it, Ana's infatuation seems implausibly sudden.

So in that case it's not exactly that she doesn't introduce her characters. She does, and actually in terms of voice they're different from Meyer's, and this is established early on. It's more that their reaction to each other doesn't really make sense unless they're Edward and Bella in different hats - or at least, unless you're highly aware that these are branded characters whom you're already expecting to have a big romance. It's not introducing character that's her problem, it's flow and build-up.
 
Coming in late and probably well off where the topic has gotten to. (I suspect I think more slowly than most people.) It occurs to me that the final comment in the original post, "I just wish I could defend a better book about it," contains an important point.

"Mummy porn" isn't just porn for women. It seems to me to be a title given to porn that is by definition both popular beyond expectation and trashy. Anne Rice's work published under the name "Anne Rampling" isn't, as far as I know, called "mommy porn" (to use the U.S. variant). I suspect that is because (a) it isn't an overwhelmingly popular pop-culture phenomenon, and (b) Rice is generally thought of as a good writer.
 
I suspect a major element is that Rice's erotica doesn't pretend to be anything other than erotica. It's not a 'romance' as such, or at least the Beauty series isn't; she has relationships, but that's clearly not what powers the story - the story is driven by the need to ring the changes as far as sexual experiences go.

James, on the other hand, is technically writing a romance: structurally speaking, the central question is whether and how the two romantic leads are going to end up together. That's a more conventional story - hence, I suspect, the 'mummy porn' label, because it's a book one could pretend to be reading for the story rather than the sex scenes. Or rather, it's a book where you can say that the sex scenes enhance the story, while reading it so that the story enhances the sex scenes.

'Mummy porn', to my mind, implies that it's porn one can pretend to be reading as something other than porn.

There's an article in the most recent London Review of Books that points out that Fifty Shades has some solid predecessors in the sex-and-shopping novels of the eighties, in that wealth and leisure are as important as looks and charm. (It doesn't mention the fan fiction history, which I think misses something important if you're going to talk about the book's antecedents, but it still makes a good point.) The thing is, if you look back at, say, Jilly Cooper's 'bonkbusters', they did have a fair amount of shagging and it described the sex rather than fading out from it, but those were books that really were driven by the plots. Characters had it off at intervals (with a dreary and puzzlingly universal fondness for making silly puns while they were at it), but they also pursued sporting careers, had feuds, got married and divorced, got the orchestra back on track, did stuff. The sex scenes were really just the chocolates on the pillow of a very functional roomful of drama.

But while I haven't read the James books - I am not about to put any money their way - from what I can gather in reviews and summaries, the sex scenes are very much the point, and the drama doesn't stray much beyond whether and how the leads are going to Do It. The plot exists to serve the sex scenes more than is usual in supposedly mainstream fiction.

So I'm inclined to believe that the 'mummy porn' label is an attempt to point out the incongruity: it's a book about sex that gets put on the romance shelves rather than the erotica ones. 'Mummy' sounds decorous, 'porn' sounds naughty, so the term itself carries the air of incongruity - if you subscribe to the maiden-mother dichotomy, of course.
 
Interesting! I hadn't thought of "50 Shades" as being marketed as anything but fairly overt soft porn. But then, I am not as knowledgeable about the book business in general as you are. And I'm in a different country, and most of the people I know who are likely to read the book are college students and their agemates.

But I am very interested in categories and how they develop.

I recall, by the way, from my far-distant youth, that the "mommy porn" of the time was a non-fiction book called The Sensuous Woman. What I don't remember is whether we directly referred to it by the term "mommy porn" at the time. But it is the first thing that came to mind when the term came up again.

By the way, and speaking of the maiden-mother dichotomy, I'm curious about the (re-)emergence as a prominent persona in popular culture of the third member, the crone, as not the nice little old grandmother but the subversive, experienced, anything-but-demure older woman: the "Auntie Mame" type. I thought of this in connection with your "mommy porn" comments because Gloria Vanderbilt, who cultivates that persona, recently wrote a book that was overtly erotic, and there was some discussion about what her son thought about his mother (his mother of all things--clutch the pearls!!) writing erotica. Her son being newsman and celebrity Anderson Cooper, he was mostly amused at everyone else's reactions.
 
Thank you for a very interesting and respectful discussion of fanfiction, which is a rare thing on the internet. (Says an avid fanfic reader, and a fanfic writer.)

Like Dash, I'm thinking about the crone. The "mommy porn" category is traditionally called "tantsnusk" in Swedish, combining the word for smut with the word for old lady or aunt. (Tante in French.) I've never really thought about the way that term makes fun of the supposedly asexual old/postmenopausal women and their desires. (But I don't use it myself, because I've always felt it was disrespectful.)
 
Forgive my late response -- I had to think quite a bit on what you said.

First I think maybe I should add another thing to my list: the trouble with learning to write in a fandom community is that the community often develops its own terminology that differs from the accepted terminology used by academics and industry, and fandom terminology does not always have a corresponding term for every academic/industry term. This can really complicate conversations between fanfic-trained writers and people with academic/industry experience. Yes, both groups use the same terms for things like "viewpoint character" and third person -- all of those terms that are taught in a USian middle school English class if we're privileged enough to go to a decent school, but, eg, "narrative capital" is not a phrase that I have seen used enough for it to be part of my working vocabulary.)

So that's one reason I left narrative capital off the list. But it's not the only reason -- the reason is that I do not think it is a problem central or specific to fanfiction.

I actually read a fair amount of fanfiction from source material I do not know - things written by friends, and things recommended by friends. Granted, this stuff is mostly in the 10% allocated by Sturgeon's Law, so it's not representative, but still my friends usually need to give me a quite castlist and "last episode..." summary, as it were. So this has me really paying attention to the level of accessibility of a fanfic. Ditto my conversations with friends who teach creative writing classes, who have been trying to find ways to allow fanfiction (which some students are really passionate about) without having the workshopping devolve into "Why is this significant?" "You'd understand why if you watched the show".

So this is why I say that The Big Problem is communicating to the audience the "ground state" or starting place of the cast, their relationships, and the setting so that we can see how Things Happening affects that. Chapter 1. Act 1 Scene 1. The pilot episode. Introducing the characters. Setting the stage. However you want to say it. Once I get over the hump of "who's Bob and what's the Sword of Doom?", the good fanfic writers rarely have trouble with building up tension and expectation and getting the reader invested in the characters.

(apparently my comment is too long; I'm splitting it in half).
 
Can people write fanfiction without creating their own narrative capital? Absolutely. Romance and erotica fanfic often start assuming a certain level of reader expectation. Sometimes that expectation comes from established tension in the source material (eg Bella/Edward), sometimes it comes from assuming the audience ships the pairing even if there's no tension in canon (eg Harry/Hermione or Remus from HP/Angua from DW), and sometimes it comes from assuming the audience wants to be turned on (Porn Without Plot and Porn With Minimal Plot.) So, honestly, if you want to pinpoint a problem related to narrative capital (and lack thereof) in fanfiction, I would argue that it's more specifically a matter of over-reliance on reader expectation than on relying on the source material building up the romantic tension for you.

And as someone noted above, original erotica often also has the problem of relying on reader expectation rather than doing the difficult work of chapters 2-5 or the rest of Act 1 or whatever metaphor you prefer. (Cosmo's monthly smutty prose feature is a good example.)

Hopefully my differentiation between "introducing the characters" and "developing/creating the characters" makes more sense in light of what I've said above? But the notion that characters exist or have traits beyond those illustrated in the main text is not a paradigm unique to fandom, nor is "a characters only exist in what you write down" the universal paradigm for all successful writers of original fiction. Sure, it's a very useful paradigm for literary criticism -- but again, not the only one. There's legitimate debate over when and to what degree analysis should take into consideration Word of God statements (eg, Dumbledore is gay, there are no lesbians on Pern, Princess Elestra wasn't there when Mel was visiting because she was afraid Mel would be to much like her father) when analyzing a work. That authors _can_ and _do_ answer extra-text questions is evidence of that.

(still too long, apparently...)
 
When I work with my original characters, there's tons of "author knowledge" that I have about them that will never make it into the story. Not factual statements like "Jane is a gentle person" (I'm sure LaHaye and Jenkins have lots of statements like "Buck is brave and considerate of others" as their author-knowledge, directly contradicted by the text), but things like "Jane uses live mousetraps and catches bugs in her home and takes them outside so she doesn't have to kill them. In the winter she puts them in the garden shed and hopes." That may not ever become important to the story, and so I may never share it with readers, but it's part of my understanding of Jane's character and I can't just make myself pretend I don't know that about her. I cannot function that way as a writer, pretending that the only things about a character that are true are those things that the audience of my story will see, the only things written down in narrative. So as I write and structure I know that I need to keep in mind that my audience is working from less information than I am, and make sure that along the way I provide them with enough to get invested in the characters and understand why they are doing things. That's why creating/developing a character is, for me, separate from introducing them for the first time. (Also, I read a lot of YA, where it's very common for the first chapter to be very clearly about Introducing The Protagonist.)

Fanfic writers may also be more prone to distinguishing between creating/developing and introducing a character because there's a fair amount of fanfic that's about taking a character who in the source material is little more than a cardboard cutout, and fleshing them out. Or even taking a partially-developed character and digging really deeply. Also because one of the most common criticisms we hear (second only to "fanfiction is all porn") is "writing fanfiction means you don't need any ideas of your own."

(Okay, that should be all of it. Sorry to take up so much space.)
 
"narrative capital" is not a phrase that I have seen used enough for it to be part of my working vocabulary

That's because it's a phrase my husband invented. :-) I felt it was accurate and expressive enough to promote; the definition on this site is:

What the writer accrues by setting up situations, tensions, threats and other build-ups. If the author decides on a shocking climax that blows everything wide open, they will be spending the Narrative Capital they've saved - having the warring couple suddenly acknowledge their love, for instance. The more capital saved, the better the climax - but you can't spend the same capital twice, and if you try to have a climax bigger than your capital can buy, the audience feels robbed.

--

Fanfic writers may also be more prone to distinguishing between creating/developing and introducing a character because there's a fair amount of fanfic that's about taking a character who in the source material is little more than a cardboard cutout, and fleshing them out. Or even taking a partially-developed character and digging really deeply. Also because one of the most common criticisms we hear (second only to "fanfiction is all porn") is "writing fanfiction means you don't need any ideas of your own."


My experience of fan fiction is extremely limited, as I've said, so I should be cautious in generalising. That said, while I think that 'you don't need any ideas of your own' is an overstatement - well, I think it's worth adding the complication that a lot depends on how you define the word 'idea'.

I've tried writing fan fiction once. Off the public Net, as I think it would be a serious breach of professional ethics for me to do anything public; I'd been discussing the subject with a friend who's more fannish than me, she wrote something to amuse me, I read it, laughed and sent something back - something of my own, and some elaborations on her piece.

And compared with writing original fiction, it was unbelievably easy.

(to be continued...)
 
I've had the same experience with commissioned books I wrote for money, and with copywriting, and with essays. What all of these things have in common with fan fiction is that there is, somewhere, a foothold. There's something to get you started, something you can build on - dig, or develop, or elaborate, or something. And for me, that's a completely different order of writing.

A quotation that always struck me, from the musical City of Angels, runs thus:

Jesus, where the hell is everybody when they first deliver the typing paper? Where are all the 'helpers' when those boxes full of silence come in? Blank. Both sides. No clue, no instructions on how to take just twenty-six letters and endlessly rearrange them so that you can turn them into a mirror of a part of our lives. Try it sometime. Try doing what I do before I do it.

The character in this instance is complaining about a studio imposing clumsy rewrites on a script he's adapting from one of his novels, so it's not a direct comparison, but it has a ring of familiarity to me. Nothing I've ever written - and I write all the time, be it fiction, posts, letters, anything; I write like artists doodle - has that absolute, blank, 'boxes full of silence' quality except original fiction. WIth nothing to bounce off except your own thoughts, it's trackless and demanding in a unique way.

So while I'm sure a lot of fan fiction does involve 'ideas' for a common-sense definition of the word 'idea', it does - at least in my very limited experience - provide the same kinds of toeholds as every kind of writing except original fiction. An 'idea' for a novel is, compared with an idea for an essay about something, or a fan skit on something, or a pitch for something, something enormous.

Not that there's anything wrong with the smaller kind of 'idea' that goes into an essay or a commissioned book or anything of that kind. I've written a lot along those lines and taken pride in doing it to the best of my ability. But from my own experience, I simply can't put it in the same class as writing fiction. It's the difference between rock-climbing in a gym - stimulating, demanding and skilled, but fundamentally safe - and climbing a sheer cliff face with no harness or companions.

I'm glad you feel I've spoken of fan fiction with respect; like any other human pastime, it's a complex and various thing and any overgeneralisation is probably fifty shades of unfair. And as I say, the fact that something is not as difficult as the most incredibly difficult kind of writing is not a sign that it's completely brainless; far from it. There's more than one kind of thinking. But it has been my - as I say, limited - experience that fan fiction has more in common with every other kind of writing I've done that it has with original fiction.

I simply see a difference in original fiction, even if that fiction is not, in the colloquial sense of the word, particularly original. Even a mediocre novel was written on boxes full of silence, and it's a different and, I do believe, a more difficult, more demanding, more frightening feat.
 
Oh, and a general comment: nobody should feel bad for taking up lots of space. It would be the rankest hypocrisy for me to object to that, and I like long comments. I blog rather than Twitter for a reason. :-)
 
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