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What is fanfic?

Dear Diana Gabaldon,

I wasn't going to weigh in on your screed against fanfic for a number of reasons, not least because a lot of people got there before me and did it better (in particular, I refer you here, here, and especially here), but on reflection, it turns out that I have something to say after all.

I'm a long-time fan of the Outlander series (especially of the first three books; and of the Lord John stories), but I've never written fic for them.

Or have I?

My first major story, the one I spent a year pouring my heart and soul into, is actually two parallel stories. One is set in the past and focuses on a man, a warrior, living his life and fighting for a cause he believes in; the other is set in the present, and the central character is the man's daughter, a young woman on a quest to learn about the father she never knew. Remind you of anything? It should; the structure of this story, including the ways in which I mixed first and limited-third person points of view, was heavily influenced by Dragonfly in Amber. I didn't fully realize the source of the inspiration until a friend pointed out, but on reflection it was rather obvious to me.

Does that make my story Outlander fanfiction? Not by any standard definition of the term, no. But is it a derivative work? Maybe so. At the very least, I think that argument could be fairly made.

So where does that fall? Am I "stealing", or am I pulling from a legitimate source of inspiration? Does it change things if the man was a character from a video game? On the other hand, his daughter was an original character (who shares very little with Brianna, beyond height and some of the circumstances of her birth), as were many of the other characters who populated the world of my story. Where do you draw the line between original and derivative, between inspiration and appropriation? Is it even possible to draw such a line, or is it a continuum, with different stories falling along different points on that line? Where do you put a story whose male lead was inspired by a character on Dr. Who, and that is populated by a cast of historical characters extrapolated far beyond what the canon tells us about them? Aren't those key aspects of a transformative work?

I don't pretend to have definitve answers to any of these questions, but I think they are well worth asking. One of the things I love most about fandom is that we consider creation to be part of a conversation. Opening myself to that conversation is one of the best things I ever did for myself as a writer, and I am proud to be a part of it.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 9th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
It seems Diana Gabaldon has taken down her post, but I'm guessing that it is similar to the Robin Hobb anti-fanfic screed a few years ago?

The link you provide to bookshop's response is amazing.
May. 10th, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's very much along the same lines, with bonus comparisons of fic writing to various sorts of violent crime. Fandom Wank has most of the relevant details, if you're interested, and a few screencaps.

I love bookshop's response, especially her near-comprehensive list of derivative works. This has been going on for a very, very long time. Have you ever read "The Democratic Genre" by Pough? (I might not have that name spelled right.) It's a book that looks at fanfiction/derivative fiction from a literary perspective, and it's really thought provoking. I've been meaning to re-read it and do a write up for awhile now; maybe this is a good opportunity.
May. 10th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC)
The ""The Democratic Genre" looks interesting, and it's now on my summer reading list. \o/

Historically, we can find a very long tradition of story transforming prior story. When authors have moments of anti-fanfic ranting, I often wonder if they slept through their (history of) literature class. :/

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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