As some of you may have heard, there was a recent eruption of authors vs. fans on the interwebs. Diana Gabaldon wrote about how she really felt about fan fic. Fan fic writers responded, most somewhat unpleasantly and others downright troll-ish. Other authors joined in on both sides. Gabaldon wrote a measured response, and another, and then poof! took down the posts and comments.
For a good recap, check out Fan Wank’s roundup.
I’m neither a writer nor a regular reader of fan fic. I’ve never read her works, though a friend of mine had recommended the Outlander series to me just last month. I do deal with copyright and fair use on a daily basis and often curse the estates of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein who do not want anyone to appropriate their images even though those artists appropriated them from elsewhere.
And yet, I do want to respond in my little corner room on the interwebs. I know that no one will read this post, but I feel the need to shout into the universe. Note that I will not be discussing copyrights, trademarks, IP law, or money. No, I want to talk about emotional and ownership.
Watch the writer poke the snake pit! The first post took great issue with the amount of sex in the fan fic, especially the slash fic. Tee hee. I admit that most fan fic I read is slash fic. Because it’s fun. And according to my friend as well as many commenters, her novels are full of graphic sex.
In her second post, Gabaldon said that she was shocked – shocked! – to find out that people wrote fan fic out of love. That pissed me off, partly because I believe that most fan fic writers do it because they love the story/characters/universe. Sometimes they love it so much, they come up with satisfying alternatives to lousy plotlines (yes JMS, I am talking about the last season of B5.) Really, who hasn’t played with the idea of recasting a character or having one writer take over the universe of another.
What spurred me to actually write this post, however, was reading the cached page of her third post:
Characters—good characters, “real” characters—derive their reality from the person who created them. They _are_ the person who created them, refracted through the lens of that writer’s experience, imagination, love, fear, and craft. Another writer seeking to duplicate that character might equal—or conceivably surpass–the craft; they can’t touch the essence.
When you mess with my stuff, you’re not messing with my characters—you’re messing with _me_.
Wow, she really subscribes to the idea of the lone artist genius. What bullshit. Glad to know that so many collaborative writing projects, e.g. most television shows, and collaborative universes, e.g. the Star Wars books, are doomed to fail. Authors such as Michael Moorcock who are willing to share their characters must be hacks. If only one writer in the entire history of the world can get to the essence of a character, then who has done the perfect and definitive Faust. Or Queen Elizabeth I – surely no author can touch the essence of a real, live person historical person. Balderdash.
And then she goes on about how here characters are part of her. That can be a valuable way to interpret dreams, but she identifies so much with her characters that it seems quite narcissistic, enough to warrant therapy. And it raises the hackles of my inner literary critic.
Attention all writers, artists and creators. Sharing your art with other people is scary. As much as you try, you cannot absolutely control how another person will experience, feel, or interpret your work. In fact, they might find stuff there that you were not consciously or even subconsciously aware of. You may mightily disagree with your fans and how they reference your work. As the creator, know that your intentions and interpretations are privileged, but those of your readers, watchers, listeners are also valuable. And fan fic is a valid response. Get over yourself.
I know, you’ve put a lot of yourself into your work. Once you put your creation out into the world, though, let it find its way in the world. Don’t keep it in a walled garden where only people who agree with you may visit. The more people it comes into contact with it, the more it will mature, gain insight, become beloved. Relax and enjoy how your work moves people and moves through people. This process may spark new ideas and directions for your next work. Take a deep breath and keep on, keep on creatin’.