The ‘F’ Word

Which particular ‘F’ word?


Spurred on by a post that m’colleague Jonathan Green made earlier today – although it might be yesterday by the time I finish writing this post – (see here), I just wanted to put a few of my mad, fleeting thoughts on this matter down. Capture those little bits of thought and cram them all together on a page. Much better than being left to breed inside the confines of my incubator-like mind.

Jon posted in response to an article in the Guardian by Mathilda Gregory (see here) in which she points out that not all fanfiction is about OMG LOVE AND SEXYTIMES for people’s favourite fandoms. It’s not all about the Mary Sue or Gary Stu. It’s not all about the badly written, poorly spelled monstrosities that have earned fanfiction the bad name it has earned. Jon’s point – and indeed, question – was simply ‘what is the difference between fanfiction and tie-in fiction’. If you have thoughts on that particular debate, please post them on his blog. It’s a topic which I think is worthy of having conversation about. But I feel particularly strongly about the subject of snobbery when it comes to fanfiction and so I’m going to rant a bit about it.

Let me elaborate.

I don’t dispute that there is a lot of godawful dross out there in fanfiction land. But there are also a lot of excellent tales. Some short, some long. And to dismiss fanfiction is to do it something of a disservice, I think. It appears that I am in direct opposition to the viewpoint of the illustrious Mr. George R. R. Martin, who states in a post here:-

“I also think that doing fan fiction is bad training for any aspiring writer. With the world and the background all provided, the writer does not learn to create these things for himself. Fan fiction is to fiction as paint-by-numbers kits are to painting.”

(‘Doing’ fan fiction?)

I think, with the greatest respect, that Mr. Martin is way out of touch here. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will ever have to write about people or places they have enjoyed reading about. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will have of securing themselves an audience of people who share their enthusiasm. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will have of finding an avenue of creativity. How can ‘doing fanfiction’, which gives a lot of pleasure to writer and reader alike be something wrong?

And as for it being a poor training ground… I totally agree with the ‘doesn’t teach an aspiring writer about how to develop their own world’ bit, but it can teach an aspiring writer how to write. It can teach them how to plot, how to develop a story, how to employ characterisation, how to maintain a ‘feel’ to a piece.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a big supporter of fanfiction and in particular, fanfiction communities that help and nurture people’s burgeoning talents. The Black Library Bolthole was originally created with this sense of community very much in mind. Many of the people who write W40K and WHF fiction over there are extremely good at what they do. They are also extremely good at supporting each other – and at the end of the day, all writers want to hear is ‘hey, I enjoyed your story. It was really good.’

The Sugarquill (a Harry Potter community) was also exceptionally good at this in its day. The team used to set challenges and themes which could extract the best out of people.

And when it comes down to it, just because we (as individuals) can look at a piece of fanfiction and sneer condescendingly at its poor grammar, its appalling spelling, its flimsy story line and its almost painfully Mary Sue-esque Sparklypoo house main character, who is a half-elf, orphaned Muggle born with eyes that vary in colour or shade depending on their mood and who will be able to turn the hardest of  hearts… someone somewhere was exceptionally proud of themselves for writing a story that they made up.

The state of literacy in this country is frequently touted as being dreadful. If a child is engaged by a world and can concentrate long enough to write a story about the characters who live within its boundaries, shouldn’t this be considered a good thing? The grammar/spelling etc… they are things that can come with time. But surely we should be encouraging people of the world to express their creativity in whichever way they see fit? This should carry through to adulthood, when without lessons, people stop writing creatively.

OK, there are the horrors of slashfic, which I really don’t understand at all… but that’s again my personal choice. I don’t go looking for such things.

Parodies, the other side of fanfiction… well, these can be hit and miss. Sometimes, someone hits the nail right on the head and a good parody is sometimes even more true to form and affectionate than a beautifully written vignette by someone else.

I have written fanfiction. I have learned a huge amount about how to write a story through doing so. I have also partaken in any number of online forum-based roleplay games in worlds as diverse as the Stargate universe, the Marvel comics universe and even an Earth 2 board which was my introduction to the very concept of fanfiction. I am one of the lucky ones. I have made the leap from fanfiction writer to published author – and I’m grateful to all those websites and people who helped me on my way.
I thus firmly believe that fanfiction has its place amongst the internet (which as we all know is made of cats) and as a tool for that most important of things… having fun and being happy. Whilst I was writing on an X-Men Evolution board, many moons ago now, I learned lots about how to portray characters. One of the things that’s frequently coming back to me now is that characterisation is one of my writing strengths. So it works, y’know?
Also, that board was brilliant. There were nights when I laughed so hard I could hardly breathe. I miss those guys.
So in essence, the basic summary is this… you don’t like fanfiction? Don’t read or write it. Problem solved. In my Very Humble Opinion [tm], I just don’t think it gives you the right to be superior or snooty towards those who do.

9 thoughts on “The ‘F’ Word

  1. Here, here, Sarah! I have a similar opinion on most things: if you don’t like it, don’t read it (or watch it, or join it, or whatever).

    Earlier this week I wrote a post about voice and what I learned from copying other writers:

    I grew up before FF was discussed and promoted as much as it is now (and the class assignment mentioned in my blog was much closer to plagiarism than FF), but I absolutely agree that it’s useful and interesting.

    Happy writing,


    • Hi there! Thanks for commenting.

      I read your post – very well put. Who hasn’t been given an English exercise where they have to imitate the style of the author they are studying?

      How can anybody learn if not by mimicking what they see? Even children learn to speak by copying their elders. Or the cat, or whatever.



  3. Great piece, by the way. 😉

  4. AJ says:

    Agreed very much, Pyro. I am rather apalled that Martin would have such an antagonistic view of Fanfiction. As I pointed out at Jonathan’s blog, I see fan fiction as an homage to the original creator. Sure, some writers may well not like fan fiction and they are welcome to their views of course, but why stifle the creativity of your fans and their enthusiasm for your world(s) by telling them off in such a way?

    That article you linked to definitely does not do the fan fiction community any justice. It is harping on about cliches and making blanket statements without bothering to justify any of its own views. It is simply a dismissive take on fan fiction. A lot of the comments also are just like that.

    Fan fiction is the best place to train and nurture your creativity. Once a writer is able to work in a controlled setting and they are good at it, then when they get out into the larger writing world, they are much better off for it.

    I write fan fiction myself, and I am proud of my work because it actually gives me a creative outlet in absence of my lack of being published. I dabble with different ideas, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but I am learning at a decent enough pace for myself. I am taking the things I learned from writing BL fanfic and applying them to my own original fantasy novel. I definitely approve of fanfic, whether it is good or bad. When it is good, I try to point it out. When it is bad, I try to point that out too, whether or not the writer takes it into account is their own affair because after all, it is their work and they are free to take my criticism as they like.

  5. Vivia says:

    Whenever I see authors harp about the evils of fan fiction, I get the feeling they don’t understand fan fics and deeper yet, they don’t seem to understand internet communities at large. This could be a generation gap, I’m not sure.
    It always goes the same way; they completely dismiss the value of fan fiction as a training ground for amateur writers and everyone who dares to write fics are bad writers in general.
    There are terrible stories written, I know, I’m fan of the Transformers and they’ve their share of god-awful fan fics and slash-fics, yes, and I gave up reading them.

    One of the great things about fan fiction is that no one needs to write in a lone corner only for themselves, you can share it online with other fans and get feedback. Sometimes you’re happy fan fiction is for fun and not for work.
    “OMG LOVE AND SEXYTIMES”, that made me laugh because you know, a lot of the stories are just this.

    A few links to comms who review fan fics and exposes the clichés and stereotypes:
    Prepare to cry with laughter. Sometimes the writers of the stories respond and they take it very well.

  6. Kodanshi says:

    The problem with fanfiction is trying to find the good stuff out of all the countless, erupting geysers of bullshit that flood the internet. Gah.

    Also, by Jonathan Green do you refer to the chap who wrote magnificent Fighting Fantasy books like Bloodbones and Howl of the Werewolf?

    • The very same Mr. Green, yes. 🙂

    • inshallowwater says:

      It really isn’t that hard to find the good stuff. You don’t even need to be involved with the community at all (though it can help, because then you can get recs for things that are relevant to your interests). I wish people would stop harping on that. I know there’s a lot of unfortunate stuff out there, but there are also a million and 5 avenues for finding things worth reading.

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