The recent wildfire popularity of 50 Shades of Grey has had a number of repercussions, not least of which is bringing the term “fanfiction” into the vocabulary of the public at large. Long the domain of geeks and more recently teenaged girls, fanfiction is seen by some as a great writing practice tool and others as blatant plagiarism. Anne Rice outright forbids fanfiction of her work and J.K. Rowling has given it a cautious blessing. Here are three very different approaches taken by popular fantasy writers towards the subject.
George R. R. Martin
Like Rice, Martin is staunchly anti-fanfiction and has stated explicitly that he does not wish it to be written about his work. He took to his blog to defend his position in 2010:
Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that’s fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that… well, I think their wishes should be respected.
That’s a fair statement to make, though of course not all fans comply, as a quick Google search for “A Song of Ice and Fire fanfiction” will demonstrate. Martin has stated that he does not like the idea of others playing with his “children”—at least, not when it is in a format he cannot control or profit from:
…the RPGs are fully licensed products. I was paid for them, I review the content, and if I hadn’t wanted to do ‘em, I could just have said, “no, thanks.” Fan fiction does not allow the original creator the option of saying “no, thanks.” For me, that’s the difference.
The author of the His Mortal Instruments trilogy is known primarily in the Harry Potter fandom for the Draco trilogy, a legendary work of fanfiction that spanned years, spawned legions of Draco-in-Leather-Pants fangirls, and was eventually banned on Fanfiction.net for illegal use of a lot of other people’s copyrighted material. Clare got her big break when YA author Holly Black read her fanfic and recommended her to an agent, and the rest is history: no less than three trilogies set in the same world on their way to completion, a fourth in the works, and a big-name cast lined up to star in the film version of her first published novel, City of Bones.
Clare’s career as a fanfiction author was fraught with controversy, as the removal of Draco from Fanfiction.net can attest, and she seems to be trying to put that part of her life far behind her. The Draco trilogy is now internet contraband, and perhaps for good reason: anyone who has read both Draco and The Mortal Instruments can pick out uncanny similarities between the two. As far as I understand, Clare has never made a public statement about her opinion of fanfiction since crossing over to the “other side,” but it would be extremely interesting to see what she’d have to say if she did.
Westerfeld, creator of the Uglies and Leviathan series, is one author that digs right in and gets his hands dirty when it comes to interacting with his fans. His blog features a regular Fan Art Friday, and his official website’s forum includes boards devoted especially to fanfiction. Best of all, shortly after the publication of Goliath last year, he released what he calls his own fanfiction: a bonus chapter based on a fan-requested illustration by the series’ official illustrator.
Well, it’s really more fan fic than a long-lost chapter. It’s full of fan service and cross-dressing and all sorts of shippy stuff. And yet: By my authorial authority, I DECLARE IT CANONICAL.
Strictly forbidden, staying mum, or gleefully encouraged: as a reader and a fan, I have to say that it’s Westerfeld’s approach to fanfiction that appeals to me.