George R. R. Martin reportedly said this week that he wouldn’t license his fantasy world.
He also apparently told fan fiction writers he’d prefer they didn’t borrow his world.
Both points are interesting, and I basically agree. I won’t get a chance to ask him about that in person – he’s in Wellington late next week, signing books, but I won’t be in town to queue up, alas.
Still, it’s something to discuss. What do you think? To me, fan fiction is a product of the emotional response of a reader. They want to extend and explore that emotion by writing more of it themselves – the exercise is one of validation, of satisfaction, of happiness.
The problem is that much fan fiction is deeply personal and means little to anybody other than the author. At worst what emerges is the classic ‘Mary Sue’ story in which the author inserts an idealised version of themselves into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, there to out-think Spock and win the heart of Kirk.
The other issue I have with fan fiction is that it’s not original. Even if copyright infringement issues are averted by altering names and settings, the work is still derived. The author hasn’t put in the hard yards (and they are hard) to make up their own setting.
I draw a distinction here between ‘fan fiction’ works triggered by a popular novel or movie, and novels extrapolated from old literature. There have been some interesting works written on the back of out-of-copyright concepts – Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Percent Solution, Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tapes, and George McDonald Fraser’s astounding Flashman series among them. However, in each case, the author has re-invented, re-cast and re-originated so much about their version of the story that they have made something new.
That to me is the secret to writing. It’s better to invent your own ideas – to think up a world of your own and devise your own characters. To create an emotional response that is uniquely yours – and then share it with your readers.
Hey, maybe they’ll start writing fan fiction about your world.
What are your thoughts? I think it’s an important issue that runs to the heart of writing. And I’d love to hear from you about it.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Next week – why authors license their stuff (or not). But before then, more writing tips, more humour, more – well, you’ll see. Watch this space.