The Problem with Fanfic
There’s a lot of talk going on about fanfic lately. In fact, I think more people suddenly know what fanfic is than ever before. Sadly though, it’s because a series of Twilight fanfic stories have been published and despite how awful the writing is (and the fact that it’s fanfic) it’s selling like crazy. Yes, I’m talking about 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
I will start this rant by saying that no, I haven’t read the books in their entirety. Frankly, I don’t plan to read them because the bits of the books I have seen make me want to vomit. I’m all for people getting published… I really am. Just like any writer I want to have bestselling books that inspire movies. I want people talking about my books all over the world on talk shows. But I have a serious problem with the 50 Shades book and its subsequent spawn, and it’s not because I’m jealous.
Let me also say that I write fanfic. I’ve been writing fanfic for over a decade now and without it I wouldn’t have fallen in love with writing like I have. Without fanfic I wouldn’t have groupies readers all over the planet who have read my books. I love fanfic and I love being a fanfic author. My distaste of the success of James is not because I’m a stodgy jerk who doesn’t understand the world of fanfic.
There are different types of fanfic though and I feel like with all of this new media coverage of fanfic people don’t understand the difference. One kind fanfic could possibly be turned into a standalone book without seeming like a total fucking rip off, and another kind walks the line of plagiarism, stealing, shadiness and just wrongness.
The fanfic that I write consists of using a person who exists in real life as a character in a fictional story. For example taking oh… let’s say a Backstreet Boy and throwing him into all sorts of drama (and hopefully lots of hot sex) in the form of a novel or short story. This is the kind of fanfic that in my humble opinion could be turned into publishable work. Names can be changed and although you might be able to draw similarities, it’s still fiction. In other words, it’s original. The characters are mine and as I see it, these stars are just the actors in my book. I have a book (which ironically is named Shades of Gray) that if I were to go through and take out the references to actual people and perhaps do a little tweaking of certain details, it would stand alone as a book about a chick who falls in love with a guy in a band.
Then there’s fanfic like 50 Shades. Fanfic that is written using fictional characters that someone else created. People have been writing this kind of fanfic forever. Don’t like the way a book, movie, or television series ends? Write your own ending and share it with other fans! Prefer for Spike and Angel to hook up instead of Spike and Buffy? Write some slash! It’s cool, it’s creative, it’s fun… but I don’t think it should be published without the consent of the original author.
What this E.L. James person did was write Twilight fanfic and then change the names and published it as original fiction. She didn’t change the story up so that it didn’t feel like it was still about Bella and Edward, she just changed the names.
If you read these books you can tell that they are written about Bella and Edward. It doesn’t matter that it’s an AU (Alternate Universe) fanfic where Bella and Edward aren’t in Forks anymore but Edward is this billionaire business guy, it is still Twilight fanfic! James describes the characters exactly as we know them from the Twilight books and movies, gives them the same creepy characteristics from Twilight (Edward is still a stalker and Bella still thinks it’s soooo romantic), and even steals from the Twilight plots with little tweaks. Like for example, Ana (Bella) doesn’t almost get hit with a van and then saved by Christian (Edward), instead she almost gets hit by a bike and is saved by him. *insert eye roll*
Don’t even get me started on the fact that the writing in these books is awful. If I’m reading fanfic online I can expect to have to groan my way through some shitty writing and poor punctuation… because it’s just for fun and not for profit. I still reread my own old fanfic and groan over some of the god awful mistakes I made (I used to have this habit of typing the word message instead of massage and not one of my beta readers ever said, “Hey… you’re using the wrong damn word!” Yeah, awful!). But if you’re going to publish your shit and it’s going to be read all over the damn world and gushed over like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, it shouldn’t be full of errors. And damn it, why are so many readers willing to overlook shitty writing? That blows my mind.
I’m not even going to go into the fact that James is clearly confusing BDSM with domestic violence. The fact that her heroine wants anything to do with Edward/Christian after he’s tracked her freaking cell phone and stalked her is not okay. But yeah, I could go off on Stephanie Meyer for that shit too and it’ll take a long time.
So by now if you haven’t read these books you’re probably curious. I don’t blame you. I honestly think that part of the reason these books are so popular is because someone like me goes on and on about how awful the books are and then curiosity is peaked. However, before you go and spend any money, I urge you to travel over to my girl Jennifer Armintrout’s blog.
Jennifer is an author. A published, bestselling author of original fiction, that is. If you haven’t read her Blood Ties series, shame on you! Read them! (But only after you’re done here…) She rocks even harder because she’s from Michigan and because she’s quite possibly the snarkiest person I know. She’s also taken it upon herself on top of writing awesome books that I and others gush over to read 50 Shades and then each day post a recap of a chapter on her blog. She is a saint.
She’s up to chapter seven right now and even if you’re a fan of 50 Shades I honestly don’t think you can deny that these recaps are one of the funniest things you’ll ever read. Each day I look forward to the next recap because I know that by the end of it I’ll have a goofy grin on my face and quite possibly tears running down my face from laughing so hard.
I suppose I should say that if you like the 50 Shades book and or series, I’m not trying to hate on you. I may question your desire to support poorly edited books that walk the line of plagiarism, but like I said… I’m a fan of fanfic so I know the fun that can come from reading it. I just really wish that in this case the author would have taken the effort to turn her fanfic into something a little more original before publishing it instead of just changing the names.
I’ve heard that quote (and forget who said it) that there are no original ideas when it comes to writing. That everyone who writes something is basically rewriting a story that someone else already wrote. I agree with that wholeheartedly. But come on… use some creativity instead of just changing the names and a few plotlines!