Playing in someone else’s sandpit

Jo asked yesterday what I think of fanfic, or people who write stories set in another writer’s world usually without permission. It’s actually a complex question when you get into it.

My knee jerk reaction to such people is: Don’t you dare!
But then, this is followed by a second knee jerk which is: Wow, am I that popular? Great!

On one level, I think it is a good exercise for a beginning writer who can practice in someone else’s creation, with characters already extant, so they can just concentrate on telling a good story. Nothing wrong with that. If a writer doesn’t then move on to their own creation, well…hmm.

Books set in some worlds, of course, are created by more than one writer. Star Wars books, for example, have many different authors, each commissioned and paid to write a book by those who hold the rights to the world and characters. That’s a commercial agreement, absolutely legal and very successful. Nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes the estate of a deceased writer, or an aging writer her/himself, will agree to have their stories continued by another. Once again, a commercial agreement, absolutely legal and possibly successful. Nothing wrong with that, either.

So when would it start to upset me, assuming that someone some day will use one of my worlds and my characters?

Fanfic writers swop their stories. Sometimes they take your characters down roads they were not intended to travel – some write porn, or change the sexuality of people in your books, or who sleeps with whom, or make other major changes. That’s where I would be upset if these tales were open to anyone who happened that way. If they stayed on egroups, newsgroups and mailing lists and such, I wouldn’t worry too much.

I doubt that I would actually do anything about it, but I wouldn’t like it. Why not? Because I love my characters and my worlds. I expended a great deal of effort to make them what they are, and it would hurt to see them used this way.

Why then would I not do something? Not worth the trouble. Every creative person has to shrug and accept that their creation – when it be music or an artwork, or a play, or a designer dress or whatever – may end up being treated in a way they don’t like. Comes with the territory. Live with it. At least they presumably bought your books and read you avidly enough to mess around in your world!

When would I take action? Well, my publishers and I would be most unhappy if someone took my creation, used it as background to their own work, and flogged it to make money for themselves. Now that would make me really, really mad.

I am no lawyer. This post is purely about my personal reaction, and why. If anyone wants to know just what is legal and what is not, try this site.


Playing in someone else’s sandpit — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks for your comprehensive answer Glenda. I was basically thinking of recognised authors borrowing your worlds presumably with your permission. I never thought of anyone who might be a pirate. I was thinking more of something like The Witch World series where all kinds of different writers set novels in that world.

  2. Thanks to the internet, fanfic is here to stay in more and more perverted incarnations. Seriously, you don't want to go digging too deeply. When it's just fans taking the work and going to town on it, there's no point trying to fight it. Ignorance is easiest. But when a fan (and it's usually a deranged fan) crosses the line, as with a Star Wars fan and more recently the whole Twilight debacle, where fans wrote fanfic and then tried to sell it commercially to make money and justified their actions with such gems as 'She never illustrated her work so there is no copyright attached', then you go in all guns blazing because that's theft.

  3. I think you are right, Karen. I don't want to know and I will never go looking. But if it impinges on my public persona as a writer – that's a different story.

  4. For a somewhat different view take Naomi Novik, author of His Majesty's Dragon. She got her start doing fanfic, and she has put together the Organization for Transformative Works, dedicated to supporting fanfic and similar efforts in their various forms.

    The best one can hope for is that one's creations are treated with respect, and that the new tales are well written. Lovecraft encouraged people to use elements from his stories, because he wanted others to share in the joke. His friends reciprocated, and so the Mythos was born. Eric Flint found people writing about the world of his novel 1632 and it became the shared world it is today. Eric did not intend his one-off tale would go on as it had, or in the way that it has; but it has and he has embraced it.

    How you handle the matter is your business, I just thought I'd let you know about a couple of different ways of approaching the subject.

    So Glenda, were people to approach you about doing stories in the Isles of Glory universe under your direction, how would you handle such a project?

    And Karen, there's a ton of stories to be told of Dexterity Jones. Who would you like to see telling them?

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