We’re All Fans Here

Over at Making Light the discussion of the horrible exercise in copyright violation and common sense has diverged into a discussion about how all literature is fanfic, whoopee!

I’m just a tad cynical about authors who rage against fanfic. Their own work may be original to them, but even if their writing is so outre that it’s barely readable, they’ll still be using tropes and techniques and conventions they picked up from other writers. We have a system that counts some borrowings as legitimate, others as illegitimate. They stick with the legit sort, but they’re still writing out of and into the shared web of literature. They’re not so different as all that.

There’s quite a difference between using standard tropes and techniques and writing fanfic. One is purely derivative by definition, the other is making use of the basic stock storytelling elements of our language and psychology to tell a story. I’m not dismissing fanfic altogether, it serves a vital role in the creative ecosystem. So do termites and roaches. One makes compost, the other provides communities that serve as a proving ground for learning the basic mechanics of story telling. Everything plays a part. And then you grow up and have an original idea or at least an original take on a pre-established concept that provides fresh incite. Fanfic does not provide fresh incite (certainly none of the fanfic I’ve ever seen) it just fiddles with the details and adds noise to the background. Which is fun and a good laugh. So long as you don’t try to publish it. Because we don’t live in antiquity, where every variation on the Hercules story is a valid expression of creativity. We live in the modern world where companies with deep pockets and mean lawyers protect their entertaining property.