Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday Rant: Why I Hate Fanfiction

It's Tuesday. I'm giving up believing in weather forecasters. Part of me thinks we were more accurate before the days of Doppler 55,000 or whatever it is these days. Back in the days where shepherds used to tell the weather from the sunsets, when people relied on their bones to tell 'em it was going to rain....what's the difference really? Those shepherds probably got the weather right as often as the modern weatherforecasters. This morning, we were supposed to get an inch of snow. It's raining. Yes, I know that meteorologists can't tell the future but....you'd think they'd be a little more accurate once in a while.

Anyway, today feels like one of those days where I need a good rant to get me kickstarted since it's a soggy Tuesday morning, it's not light outside yet and my brain is still waking up. So, lucky readers, todays rant is all about Fan Fiction.

Are you familiar with fan fiction? I wasn't really until recently. It's one of those things I knew existed but I had no interest in it so I ignored it completely. Lately though, it's been crossing my path as I surf the web and I finally decided to figure out what it was all about.

Frankly, I'm slightly appalled at the amount of it out there. In short, fan fiction is written about already existing characters usually from TV shows, books, even theatre. It can be innocent fiction that basically fulfills someone's fantasies, allows unsuccessful writers to change their shows/books/movies/theatre storylines in the way THEY would do if THEY wrote for TV or it fulfills some rather twisted fantasies on the part of the writer.

I'm sure there's more to it than that. What I have figured out is that fanfiction writers have to honour the canon of the original material; they can't change what's happened already on the show, in the book, in the movie, or whatever. They can't change the personalities of the characters they write about just to suit their needs. They have to respect the parameters of the worlds that the real writers who created them have set up.

Some of it is fairly silly. Some fanfiction writers focus on what is called 'shipping. That is to say they take an existing romance on a tv show and write about those two characters. They also take two opposite sex characters who are not romantically involved and write romance between them. There's also alternate universe in which they find ways to change the history of the tv show/book or whatever and write a different version of events.

The one that disturbs me a little is slash fiction. I had no idea what this was until I looked it up on Wikipedia. This particular brand of fan fiction takes two same-sex characters and gets them romantically or sexually involved, regardless of whether they're gay or not. Usually, they're not. The more I read about it, the more disturbed I got. One of the most popular themes is Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Seriously, what is wrong with these people? Harry Potter started as a children's book. Yes, it got darker as the series progressed but it was still aimed at children. Nowhere in the book is there any scene with Harry and Draco having a romantic or sexual moment.

Here's the part where I give the obligatory "I'm not homophobic" explanation. I'm not. We can't help who we love and are attracted to. We can fight it but, ultimately, it's in our genetic makeup to be sexually attracted to someone, whether the same sex or the opposite one. I know that being gay is a lifestyle and all but in my mind, it still boils down to who's in your bed at the end of the day. I'm British with stereotypical reserve: Whatever someone does is up to them but don't make a fuss about it. It doesn't bother me who the heck someone sleeps with. I've never understood the need for gay people to "confess" or "come out". It's not like I'm running around saying "I'M STRAIGHT! I ADMIT IT!" It should just be something we are. Yes, I'm an idealist. Knowing is half the battle as my character, John King, would quote.

Anyway, enough of that. What I'm trying to say is that if J.K. Rowling had made Draco and Harry a couple, it would be different. It would definitely be a different sort of book but given J.K's genius, it would still be very readible, I'm sure. But she didn't. She wrote a book about a boy wizard who grows up, vanquishes the evil villain and falls in love with Ginny Weasley. There's plenty of fan fiction about Ginny and Harry too, by the way.

It's the same with TV shows. I love Grey's Anatomy even if I think it's on crack at the moment. But Meredith and Christina are NOT a couple. They are friends. Derek and Mark Sloan are also JUST friends.

You can tell, slash fiction bothers me. I think of it as a form of porn. I actually have no problem with porn, as it happens. It fills a need, some people consider it art. It's there if you want it.

Which makes me question why I'm so bothered by slash fiction. It's probably because it's out there for anyone to see. They do have a rating system so readers can make sure it's suitable. Yet it's out there. The best reason I can come up with is that becasue I am a writer. I find it offensive. I have a series of books, as I've mentioned, that have three teenage boys who are good friends. I know if it were ever to get published and get popular, slash fiction would be born and I'd be horrified. Those are MY characters- get your nasty fanfiction hands off them.

Yes, I'm a selfish writer. I have a moral beef with stealing other people's ideas. It's the same reason I refuse to read "sequels" to books like Pride and Prejudice or Gone with the Wind. Unless a sequel is written by the originating author, it's not really a sequel. It's fan fiction, regardless of the cover price, publisher or level of prestige that goes with it. There is NO way to know what a deceased author would have written about their character in a sequel and so it's not fair for another writer to assume they do.

I apply this logic to everything, even books I despise. There are 'alternate versions' of Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn floating around, books that were written by angry fans who hated the way she wrote the ending of the Twilight series. As I've mentioned, I hated Breaking Dawn and thought it one of the worst books I've read in several years. Yet that doesn't mean that I have the right to change it. It's Stephanie Meyer's baby, her creation. Even if it is a self-indulgent, twisted piece of anti-feminist rubbish, that's the way she wrote it. End of story. Unless she decides that it is, indeed, absolute crap, recalls every copy she published and issues a better version, that's the way the series ends. No amount of fanfiction is going to change it.

I can hear the opposing arguments: At least fanfiction writers are writing, using their imaginations, finding ways to get through bad times in life. It's an outlet, a way to inspire creativity. Sure, that's fine, I suppose. Some of them are actually quite good writers and I can't help but wonder if, maybe, they applied the same energy to original stories with their own characters, we'd have less Breaking Dawns and more Harry Potter type novels.

I know that writing fanfiction is almost like a drug; a way to escape into a world that is more interesting than the real one around us. It's a way to 'talk' to characters that are loved, adored, hated, admired. It's a way to crawl inside those characters head's, to be a part of that world we've read about or watched. It's a way to be a part of it, to wrap ourselves up in the lives of the people we've only ever observed before, voyeuristically or otherwise.

So I get it. I do. I still hate it. I still hate the violation of an original idea. I still think the fanfiction writers should step outside of fantasy and project that creativity into the real world around them but, like any vice, I don't suppose they can help it, not really. I really have no right to condemn them and, really, I'm not. I'm just stating the fact that I, as a writer, and as Captain Monkeypants, do not really understand why there is so much fanfiction out there and why it's tolerated. I suppose imitation is the highest form of flattery which is why some of the "canon" writers don't mind but I can safely say, it would bother me if someone took my characters and used them for virtual sexual gratification. Whatever reason the fanfiction writers do it, I still don't like it. I suppose it's like shrimp; you either love it or you hate it. I, personally, hate shrimp. The taste is ok but the texture and feel in my mouth is vile. Fan fiction is like shrimp. I like the canon but I feel dirty when reading the fan fiction, like I'm commiting a violatation against the original writer.

I'm sure I'll offend with this post and I do, honestly, apologize. It's just my opinion. I have friends who like fanfiction, who even write it. Maybe there's more to it than I've ranted about here. Maybe there is something I don't get about it. If so, tell me because, as I said before, knowing is half the battle.

Happy Tuesday

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