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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

What is Fan Fiction?

What is Fan Fiction?

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Cicero

It's been a long time since I prompted a debate by you folks.  I miss it.  So...


***

Recently I stumbled (don't ask how) onto an LJ page where someone was asking about "Alexander/Hephaistion Fan Fiction."  (For those of you who don't know, Hephaistion was the close friend, trusted lieutenant, and (many believe) lover of Alexander the Great.)  To my surprise, several people responded with links to specific stories.

Now I was utterly confused.  Personally I had always thought of fan fiction as "fiction using characters and/or settings originally created by other authors."  But since Alexander and Hephaistion were both historical persons rather than fictional characters, it seems to me that a slash story about them would be original [historical] fiction, not fan fic.  (Well, okay, some people may know of Hephaistion only through the novels of Mary Renault (I'm almost, but not quite, in that category myself) and consequently think of him as "her" fictional character, but surely that's an error.) 

Yet none of the readers of the post seemed to regard either the request or the responses as remarkable.

Add to this the question of whether certain published novels and plays using characters from earlier authors are to be categorized as "fan fiction."  Consider Travesties, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Wicked, Wide Sargasso Sea, etc., etc.  Many people seem to think these aren't fan fiction.

My tentative explanation was that some people think that "fan fiction" is fiction by amateurs -- by which, I guess, they mean people who aren't pulished.  By this definition the A/H slash stories are fan fiction because they're not written by "professional" authors, but Wide Sargasso Sea isn't, because it was.

So which is it, people, and why?  Or is there a third definition?  Go to it!

An interesting secondary question, by the way, would be whether, to someone whose only context with Hephaistion was through Renault's novels, he essentially is a fictional character, making stories about him fan fiction...

***
  • (no subject) - minisinoo
    • Hi, Min.

      I see that. (I'd forgotten about the movie for a moment.)

      It bugs me, though, because it seems to open up more questions. If I write a story about Henry V based only on what I see in Shakespeare, it's fanfic, but if I do research and write something like Fortune Made His Sword it's not?
      • (no subject) - minisinoo
        • I think the in-term is "transformative", these days.

          But curiouser and curiouser. My Hermione Granger isn't the same as JKR's. Some of the background facts are similar, true, but I don't know whether JKR's Hermione would do what mine does. In the areas we overlap, I'm derivative. In the areas we don't, I'm original.

          Now I write a story about David Belasco, a historical figure about wh0m (so far as I know) no fictional accounts exist. (He was in my undergraduate thesis, though, so I know a lot about him.) This must be original (historical) fiction.

          So Shakespeare writes Henry V. There are moments in that play that indisputably happened (the battle of Agincourt, for example, including the death of Henry's younger brother). Now assume that all I know about Henry V is from the play, but I write a story in which Henry is mourning the loss of his brother immediately after the battle of Agincourt. I'm writing based on the play, but all I'm taking from the play are historical facts (although I don't know this). Still fan fiction?

          • I'd say yes to the proposed scenario -- because you as the writer don't know what in the play is based on fact...and your sense of Henry's character is based on how he was written (and/or portrayed by Kenneth Brannagh or Lawrence Olivier or something). So the fiction has influenced your decision to write the story and how you portray the character (even if you stray from how the author would have portrayed him based on your own personal experiences with leadership and/or mourning).
  • I think I agree with your first definition of fanfic. But I think where it's become confused is that there is a genre of 'real person fanfic'. That is, people write stories about Paris Hilton or Daniel Radcliffe or other celebrities that are in no way factual. And because so much of our society has lost its grip on the difference between fact and fiction these stories, written by fans, get called fanfiction and get treated as if they are in the same genre as the fanfiction you and I write. So then, when you transfer this to the historical setting, it becomes natural to give it that same name.

    I also think that, although books like The Wide Sargasso Sea do technically fit within the fanfic definition, they are of a different genre from most internet fanfic. So, what if we drew the lines differently and said that fanfic consists of fiction published on the internet featuring one or more recognisable character or setting, without necessarily having coherent plot or consistent characterisation, written for the pleasure of the author and other fans, generally having little artistic creativity or merit. In which case the focus is not on the content of the material but its author and their reason for writing. The Alexander fic would probably fit nicely within this definition.

    That would, however, leave us without a suitable title for the kind of writing you do. Might I suggest 'derivative literary fiction'?
    • Hi, Ros. Interesting!

      If we use either the Internet or the quality of the writing (coherence of plot, consistentcy of character, creativity, merit) as part of the definition, then we run into a number of interesting problems. As to the Internet, as you know, the first artifacts that were self-consciously referred to as "fan fiction" (as well as the first self-conscious "slash") were on hardcopy -- the STOS fanzines of the 1970s. As to the quality, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with saying that my stories aren't fanfic because of their quality or style. By that metric neither Mary's nor David's nor Min's are, either. But then you'll wind up with stories that would seem to straddle the line, which employ a bit more depth of character, a bit more imaginative use of language, etc. I can think of several fan fiction stories which employ some wonderful literary devices and extended metaphors, but which (by their author's own emphatic testimony) are intended merely to celebrate the series.

      Min reveals that, in RL, she writes published novels; indeed she writes FF as sort of a break from writing novels. (Correct me if I'm wrong about that, Min.) But I think of the character, literary quality, etc. of her FF as quite high.

      The "real person fanfic" fascinates me too. If I write a story about a character I call "Paris Hilton," but who bears very little resemblence to the actual woman, aren't I essentially writing pure "original" fiction using the name recognition as a literary device? I have seen several pieces of work (especially on television) where real people appear as characters briefly (sometimes played by other actors, sometimes played by themselves). Larry King regularly often appears in movies as Larry King, pretending to be hosting his usual television show but in fact reading a script, to simulate news. (My favorite is the scene in Dave, where the guest is [real] Oliver Stone, who's trying to convince King that the U.S. President has been replaced by an imposter.) What on earth do we call that?

      On a similar note, in Michael Chabon's wonderful novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, several real persons (some currently living, some not) appear as walk-ons, doing things they never did and saying things they never said. These include Al Smith, Stan Lee and others. I once wrote a fragment of a short story in which Robert Kennedy appeared as a character, doing things I'm reasonably sure he never did. How do we characterize this?
      • Well, why does everything have to fit neatly into a category or have a name?

        Here's another possible criteria: fanfiction is that fiction which is inherently unpublishable. So that would include all derivative work (based on things still under copyright) and all work that is libellous (I'm guessing most Paris Hilton fic falls into this category) and all work that is just bad.
    • Obviously that should have been criterion. ;)
    • It may be (it's even likely) that these definitions won't ultimately matter. As academics, though (he said, drawing himself up to his full, yet unimpressive, height), I think it is our professional duty to discuss things that don't matter. ;)

      Yet there is a sense in which the definition does matter, and the last criterion you suggested hits the nail on the head. Literary genre (and sometimes medium) definitions are used as talismans for quality. They are used by the arbiters of taste, and by those who control the means of production, as bases for inclusion and exclusion.

      I have looked at some fiction contests (and also publishers) recently, and seen the notation, "Please no genre submissions" -- by which they mean: no science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery. These categories determine decisions of whether works will even be considered for publication, and, once they are, which shelf they'll be put on. Consumers in a bookstore who go to the "romance" shelf have to be aware that they are placing themselves in a certain category where other readers are concerned, especially those readers who exclusively go to the "general fiction", or worse, the "literature" shelf.

      Works that overtly cross the line between "literature" and "genre" -- Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Huxley's Brave New World, Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Piercy's He, She and It -- are inevitably viewed as anomalies, "serious" fiction that happened, on a whim, to employ one or two devices from science fiction or mystery. Wheras works from authors who are "established" to be within a particular genre -- Lord of the Rings (unquestionably one of the towering works of English prose, especially descriptive prose), LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Sayers's Gaudy Night -- are viewed as strange "sports" within a generally "hack" genre that have sprouted literary features, as if they were coming out in a rash.

      Min tells me that publishers even view "Best Seller" as a separate marketing category, and will use that category to promote a book before it is released -- it is something on which they spend more marketing money. John Irving left his original publisher after his first three novels because he felt that the publisher was underpromoting them. His fourth novel, promoted by the new publisher as a "Best Seller," actually became -- mirabale dictu! -- a best seller. Many people actually said that Irving had sold out, that his first three novels were literary while all those since have been popular trash. But if one reads those novels one sees a remarkable consistency of style and theme. All that was different was the publishing and promotion category.

      My point is that categories matter because of the way they are used.
      • Yes, okay, categories matter because of the way they are used. Which doesn't, as you point out, necessarily reflect content/genre/quality. So in terms of fanfic - perhaps some people use the label for things that aren't really derivative works (like the real person/historical stuff) in order to get readers who might not think they're interested in 'original' fiction.

        So what category would you like your work to be in?

        Me, I can't get excited about it, like anything else to do with publishing and/or self-promotion.
      • Ah, what category do I want my work to be in? That's the question.

        In one sense, I don't care -- I just want people to read it. (And in that vein, the fact that I've had so many readers in fanfic sort of makes me want to stay there, because I like the attention.) In another sense I think it would be nice to be able to make some money with writing, and to have a shot at a "wider" audience (fan fiction is a niche market if there ever was one, and if you try to make money doing it they sue you). In yet a third sense, my literary taste developed through science fiction -- first good plots with decidely nonliterary writing, then better writing and better characters, then the really amazing writers (but by then I was reading all sorts of stuff). And my best ideas always seem to come to me as speculative fiction of some variety. But I hate the idea of being in a ghetto.
      • Ros, I'm with you on the self-promotion thing. I think a healthy attitude for any well-adjusted adult to having written fan fiction should be faint embarrassment.

        However, far be it from me to state the obvious *pauses for chorus of "When's it ever stopped you before?"* ... don't people who write real person fic call it fanfic because it's fiction and it's written by - um - fans?

        I want people to call my stories fanfic because I didn't write the Harry Potter books. Until I pull them from the internet, which may be quite soon *pauses for chorus of "No, don't! Oh, go on then"*

        I think this definition of fan fiction from the incomparable fandom wank wiki is a good enough place to riff off from as far as definitions go...

        Fanfic (short for fan fiction) refers to any and all fiction written for the purpose of fandom. Fanfic stories can be about movies, TV shows, cartoons, comic books, book books, video games, real people, other people's fan fiction, and much much more. If you're a fan, and you can write, you can write fanfic. (The second condition is optional.)
        Fanfic is typically written to tell stories that can't or wouldn't be officially told in the fandom's canon (or in the case of RPF, real life). It is often used to expand upon (or invent) romantic relationships between characters or to create an unofficial canon. By definition fan fiction lacks the structure found in its source material, leading to wank within a fandom about the types and quality of stories.
        "Fanfic" may be further truncated to just "fic," as seen in more specific terms like "slashfic," "genfic," "badfic", etc.
        Most fanfic can qualify as porn. Well, according to Lee Goldberg, anyway. For more variations, please check Every Fanfic Ever Written.
        • Hi, Jo! I knew this discussion would lure you out.

          Lee Goldberg on fan fiction *shakes head* -- That's like getting a definition of progressive politics from Ann Coulter!

          Interesting that you and I apparently arrived at the same conclusion about fifteen minutes apart. Except you got there without going in sixteen spirals first.
        • No!! *wails* Why? *is properly curious too*

          Okay, I've got over the shock announcement just slipped in the middle of that comment.

          Yup, fanfiction - fiction written by/for/with fans. Works for me.

          I actually feel the same about my original fiction as my fanfic as regards the self-promotion thing. I harbour dreams of someone after my death discovering my (as yet, non-existent) masterpiece and it being published to great critical and popular acclaim. But I'd hate it to happen now.
        • I want people to call my stories fanfic because I didn't write the Harry Potter books. Until I pull them from the internet, which may be quite soon *pauses for chorus of "No, don't! Oh, go on then"*

          "No, don't!" Unless it's really important to you to do so and then "Oh, go on then."

          And the same goes for you Ken. If the writers of good fanfic pull their stories then what are we left with?

          *Backs away from the debate because I just like reading (some) fanfic and don't care about the definition. It's like art, I know it when I see it.*
        • What? You're pulling all your stories off the net? Why would you want to do that? And if you do - I want a CD with'em all. XP

          *hugs*
  • I am way out of my league for a debate -- but I can sympathize with your sentiment. A while back, after renting The Core and being disappointed with the UST (or lack thereof) between Hillary Swank and...the male lead, I searched for fanfic from that movie to see if anybody tried to punch that relationship up a bit.

    By this time you're thinking "The Core" was fictional...what are you talking about.

    OK -- so, I found that there is so little fanfic on The Core that fanfiction.net doesn't even have it in the "Movie" section, but there were a couple fanfics in subsection "Misc Movies" there were a couple (not that had what I was looking for) and I was astonished to also see more Miracle fanfics than anything else. Miracle which was about the actual 1980 US Hockey team.

    I know what happened (probably) -- someone was so enamored with the characters as portrayed in the movie that they wanted to write a story about them -- and totally disregarded the reality of their lives. It doesn't matter what Jim Craig actually did -- just what the fanfic author wants. Not having read any of these fics, I will refrain from speculating further about teenage girls and crushes on Eddie Cahill. Talk about AU.

    I think that if someone sees it in a movie (in particular) or reads about it in a fictional book, there is a tendency to think of it as available for "fanfic."

    The Admiral recently read a trilogy about a group of military people who time-traveled back to the WWII era. Prince Harry was one of them -- in the books he saves Winston Churchill from an assasination attempt and speaks with his Grandmother (who at the time is younger than he is or something). This isn't so much fanfiction as taking liberty with a real person's life. I suppose this author might have had to get permission of some sort (though I can't be sure).

    I once called Star Trek novels "glorified fanfic" or "Fanfic for money" on a thread somewhere and got taken to task for it a bit. I think the difference for that is that there is a (as I understand it) strict approval process that goes into it and you have to get permission from the franchise to publish.

    But for things like ( I believe) Sherlock Holmes -- I don't know what the difference is between me writing a Holmes fanfic (I haven't dared, this is hypothetical) and Laurie R King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice or any other non Conan Doyle Holmes story -- other than they got a publisher to put it in bound copy and promote and sell it to people.

    So maybe I agree with the fanfiction is "unpublishable" definition, without the discussion of the quality of the fic. It is unpublishable because the author chose not to pursue it, the originial creator of the characters (and/or the real person on whom it's based or their respective estate) will not approve the publication of the fic.

    Did any of that make sense? I'm sort of writing while stewing about something else to distract myself -- it's not working well.
    • Hi, Amy. Congrats on Commander Admiral!

      C'mon, you're not out of your league, where's the fun in saying that?

      I regret to say that I've seen neither The Core nor Miracle. We don't get out to movies much.

      But you know, I think your bringing the Star Trek novels into it gives me another idea about the definition, although it's more of a question of origin and intent. Perhaps "fan fiction" is fiction that one writes in one's role as a fan. That is, one writes fan fiction because one can't get enough of the characters, wants to see more of them, doesn't want to wait around until the next book or episode or installment, wants to honor them and do homage. "Fan fiction" would then be an expression of enthusiasm -- of "fanatacism," which is, after all, what "fan" stands for.

      If that's the definition, then a fanboy's story about Paris Hilton, even though she's real (sort of) would be "fan fiction" because it comes from that fanatacism or enthusiasm morn than from other impulses.

      Whereas, if you have an idea all your own and you want to use the canon as a "backbeat" for your idea, because the two seem to fit, but your main goal is to make whatever point or achieve whatever effect your own idea is -- then it's original work rather than fan fiction.

      • "fan fiction" is fiction that one writes in one's role as a fan. That is, one writes fan fiction because one can't get enough of the characters, wants to see more of them..."

        That is exactly how I thought of fan fiction. You just get hooked on something like a terrior dog, and reluctamt to let go after it's over. I only heard the term of fan ficiton just over a year ago. Technically, the first fan fiction I read was a published sequel to Pride & Prejudice I purchased off Amazon. In this case because of lack of copyright, the author cashed in on it.
  • I definitely consider Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Jane Yolen's Tough Alice and Lost Girls, and Neil Gaiman's The Problem of Susan, to be fan fiction. To me, the distinction is that they're stories that reflect off another story rather than standing purely in their own light. There may be some of that in any story, of course, but the kick to these stories comes from their interaction with the previous characters and canon of the same story.

    I'm not so sure about the various modern retellings and twists on fold tales and fairy tales; I think that's something different, because those stories were always alive in that way already. But fan fiction takes someone's creation, previously frozen behind glass, and breathes life into it, turning it into a folk tale. Real person slash may also be turning something that wasn't a folk tale into one, but from a different direction.
  • Ah, defining genres. My favorite exercise. ;-)

    The problem with any definition of fanfiction is that writers having been stealing from paying homage to earlier storytellers for as long as there have been writing implements. You could make the argument that just about any story worth telling has roots that go back to Homer, the Mahabharata or the Bible, and you could argue just as persuasively that those and other primary works all harken back to even earlier myths and tales....

    Sorry. Letting my Campbell roots show. ;-)

    Still, it is funny; there's a distinction that gets bandied around somewhat that combines your two definitions. According to this schema those of us write derivative works for the fun of it are writing fanfiction; authors of works such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and The Wind Done Gone are writing "profic". I'm not sure that the distinction is particularly informative.

    (There's also so-called RPS fic—"real person sex". There are huge fandoms out there—so I am told—that write slash and het fics about the members of various boy bands, TV casts and such; the current high squee factor over Supernatural often falls into this category. The only version of this that I've actually read was a highly disturbing though very well written Olson twins fic by a wonderful, thoughtful young woman on my flist; the two girls became symbols of a kind of schizoid disfunction in American women in general... and then they had incestuous sex. o.O In my opinion, this isn't fic. It's sex fantasy or psychodrama. If I started writing Jodie Foster/Julianne Moore erotica, I doubt anyone would think I was being artistic. They'd think it was creepy, as would I. But youth has its privileges!)

    T. S. Eliot called our culture a terminal moraine—a vast mass of the ground-up bits of earlier works, beliefs and ideas. He seems to have been rather depressed by this, though he was without a doubt a past master of mining that mass. I find it reassuring, or even inspiring. Not to get too Hegelian, but culture is a constant dialogue between varied ideas, and re-imagining others' views, looking at them from different perspectives, seems to me a very healthy way for a culture to grow and change. Fanfiction—and one could argue that most fiction falls into this category by one definition or another—is a wonderfully democratic tool for that cultural dialogue.

    Oh. Damn. Got all quasi-intellectual again. Sorry. XD
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