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The merits of fanfic

I need to stop stumbling across official-sounding articles/editorials/blog posts/etc. in which the notion of "fan fiction" is decried for being illegal, unethical, immoral, and generally a huge waste of time, done by poor saps who are too unimaginative to create their own characters and so must "steal" others'. 

They always come with at least a few dozen comments, 90% of which agree with the author, and I end up reading way too many of them before I can make myself stop.  It's highly depressing, and puts me into almost as much of a slump as getting criticism from a teacher on one of my assignments.  I feel utterly deflated. 

I mean, on the one hand, the first thing that ALWAYS comes up are the people who write slash, PWP, or graphically violent rape/torture/murder scenes.  They immediately ask, "If you as an author see your characters being used in situations like these, aren't you going to be upset?" My answer would be yes.  These are the people who give fanfic a bad name.

HOWEVER - I have, of course, written original stories.  They are generally of the more childish variety, and I'll never write a novel because I can't handle the kind of criticism and rejection I'd get from editors and publishers, but if someone wanted to write stories about my characters, I don't think I'd have a problem with it.  I mean, if people liked my characters enough to want to imagine and write down other stories about them, I would be generally flattered.  If my characters speak to people like that, it means I did a good job of making them realistic and relatable.  THIS IS A COMPLIMENT.  Provided, of course, you at least attempt to stay within the realm of possibility.  My general motto would be "use, don't abuse."  Do not make my characters unnaturally violent, do not make them gay if they’re not (learn the concept of “close friendship” and accept it), do not do dirty things with them to satisfy your sexual fantasies.  Otherwise, have at it.  Out-of-character is only all right when it is being specifically made fun of in order to write off-the-wall humor.  (that's my justification for the Interview Lady series.  *nods*)

The next major argument is usually about why people aren't writing original fiction.  Well, firstly, most people do write at least some original work in addition to their fanfic.  It's not about a lack of ability to imagine characters, it's a specific desire to imagine these particular characters in certain situations, based upon what they have observed from the specific medium.  Then, of course, comes the inevitable "But you're stealing someone else's work.  THEY put the time and energy into creating these characters; they have a right not to let anyone else use them. And your little disclaimers don't mean anything."

Firstly, the disclaimers serve mostly as a means of acknowledging that I'm glad someone else created the characters that bring me such joy.  Secondly, I don't see how it's stealing. I'm not preventing you from continuing to write about them.  Nothing I write about them is considered canon in any way.  You still get the ultimate say.  Besides, characters *aren't* just invented by one person - editors make suggestions, demand changes made to the original character.  Actors bring their own sense of how to interpret their character, and on film, there are entire writing *staffs* who join in.  (From this point forward I'm sticking to TV shows, as that is the only fandom I have any real experience with.  I left the world of fanfiction-based-on-books because...seriously, how are you going to do a better job than an AUTHOR?)

One of the greatest merits of fanfic is that it explores things show simply cannot do, and never will be able to.  CSI, by virtue of its title, is required to focus each episode around the solving of a crime.  95% of the episode must be devoted to working the job.  It can create romantic storylines, but must leave them in the background and mostly confine them offscreen, devoting at most a minute-long scene or two per episode.  Stories let us follow them offscreen. 

"But you idiots," cries the other camp, "why do you have to put them ONLINE? It's fine if you want to imagine what happens afterwards, or even write it down in order to practice your writing skills, but the results should be kept private."  I don't know.  I guess it's kind of like talking to a friend.  As only my friends online like the same shows I do, the internet is my medium to reach them – as well as anyone else who happens along and likes the scenarios I’ve invented.  I want to make other people happy.   Oh, a brief addendum to the paragraph above: then there are the kind of stories I like – the drabbles, brief character studies, etc.  They don’t have a plot, they’re mere reflections.  There’s no way such a thing could be filmed; the words cannot be translated into any kind of action.  They exist only in writing. 

“Alternate endings” or “what if” scenarios do not necessarily imply that the creator got it “wrong.” I wish people would stop bringing up J.K. Rowling's name in the fanfic debate.  Especially phrases like "Rowling is SUCH a Ron/Hermione shipper, ugh."  Which...huh?  Yeah, weird how she created these characters and decided which ones she wanted to go together.  Rule #1, never imply that the creator's choice is "wrong."  I mean, you can SAY they're wrong, if they don't do what you were hoping they were, but you shouldn't act morally outraged.  No matter what I say about Josh Schwartz and the O.C., no matter how disappointed I get or the extensive comments I make about the characters being "ruined", I acknowledge that they wouldn't exist if not for the writing staff, and so whatever they say goes.  I just might happen to want to explore a different version.  Other people might agree with me.

Fan fiction is a hobby; it’s fun.  Sometimes I just want to explore more about the characters I’ve come to know and love, rather than an entire new novel.  And I’m not even going to get into the whole “official/published fan fiction” debate because it’s been my experience that that stuff is duller than the actual show.  It has to stay within such tight definitions of canon that the quality suffers as a result.  Hmm…am tiring myself out now.  Energy…fading…must reserve remaining energy for long papers due Monday and Tuesday.     

Just one last query – dagnabit!  Why is it NOW that I come up with all these great ideas for opinion speeches? I had to give tons of them in high school, and I always struggled for a topic, and usually came up with something related to animal rights (which, incidentally, nobody else seemed to care about one way or the other) just because I wasn’t that opinionated back then.  But this is like the third idea for such a speech I’ve had in the last six months.  And no, this post by itself isn’t supposed to be a great example of debate.  It’s not researched or painstakingly backed up with facts; it’s nothing more than my rant.  I actually feel a little better now.  I’ll feel even better after I go bask in the glow of my story binder and remind myself why good fanfic = ambrosia.  

*Okay, one last mumble.  I wish people would stop referring to fanfiction.net as 'The Pit of Voles.' Yes, there are indescribably huge amounts of bad writing and snippy 12-year-olds on it, but the fact remains that it is the easiest place to find and archive stories from the widest possible selection of fandoms, and that is why I use it.  There are also great numbers of good stories on there, and I've never found it that difficult to find pieces of art.  Maybe I just pick better categories than most people who visit.

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