In a media conference for Supanova, Game of Thrones author George R.R Martin, who is appearing at the Brisbane show this weekend discussed the topic of fan fiction. George said he would rather that writers of fan fiction “make up their own characters and their own stories.”
Fan fiction is a contentious topic at most author appearances and Q&A sessions. There is always the question on how to get published, and always the question on why certain authors won’t “allow” fan-fiction. The author generally comes off worse for wear with fan-fiction enthusiasts. The Brisbane times reports under a Hands off My Characters headline (did he actually say that?) that George stated
“It’s a lazy way to go when you’re just taking my characters. I recognise that it’s an act of love … I would rather they make up their own characters and their own stories and not just borrow my world.”
Another two of my favourite authors, Robin Hobb and Raymond E. Feist have expressed similar sentiments on fan-fiction. When I saw Robin Hobb at the last Supanova she attended she ended a rather long answer to the fan-fiction question, saying that fan-fiction could actually be damaging to an aspiring writers growth, and spending too much time in another person’s world could really stunt the progress of your own creation.
George R.R. Martin agrees. “Tackle the big thing and you’ll be a better writer at the end of it,” he said.
Raymond E. Feist was a little less gentle. When we attended his author talk for Robinson’s Bookshop, he got the two “usual” questions over and done with, wrapping up writing advice and fan-fiction in his first segment, saying that fan-fiction infringed his creation. He told us two stories, one on Chelsea Quinn-Yarbro that ended in litigation, and a rather sad story about Marion Zimmer Bradley. Marion always allowed fan-fiction and kept in close contact with her fans. When she asked a fan-fiction writer if she wouldn’t mind Marion using one of the characters created in the fan-fiction piece in her next book, the woman demanded co-authorship and 50% royalties. Marion had to scrap the entire book in fear of litigation.
Fan-fiction is not really as harmless as some claim. It is long past the days of aspiring writers scribbling in their notebooks in the privacy of their bedroom, fan-fiction is now published on the internet. And a lot of it is dreadful. I once ventured onto a Harry Potter fan-fiction website and was not only underwhelmed but disgusted. I have never been back to read any, anywhere, but apparently these days a Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy romance is all the rage. Is it actually harmless to take another person’s creation, their character, and make them behave in ways the author never intended them to?
“These characters are real to me, I’ve been living with them since 1991,” George said. “I know what they would do and what they can’t do, and some fan writers take over them and make them do things to my mind that are wildly out of character.”
If an author does not allow fan-fiction then it is the unauthorised use of another person’s intellectual copyright. It’s time to stop giving authors a pasting because they want to protect their creation. They have that right. Maybe some fans should respect the author’s wishes and not want to change the story to suit their own fantasies.