I’ve been thinking a lot about fanfiction of late. A post linked through a Facebook group that I follow pointed out some of the hazards of writers of fanfiction transitioning into the realm of Original Fiction and it’s caused something of a crisis in my mind and conscience.
You see, I write fanfiction.
I used to write more of it, to be honest. When I discovered that it was, in fact, a Thing, I dove into writing fanfiction and offering it up on the Internet as fast as I could write. Of course, I was in college at the time and the Internet was a very different thing back in the mid to late 90’s. In point of fact, for the role playing game Changeling: the Dreaming, by White Wolf (this was the original version, not the later one), if a site was hosting fanfiction for the game, chances were, my story “Account of a Chrysalis” was on their list of works hosted.
I like to think that “Account of a Chrysalis” was the most popular fanfiction piece on the Internet at the time. I may or may not be biased in that belief since not much remains of that early Internet.
The issue comes in when I make the transition to Original Fiction.
See, fanfiction, obviously, isn’t marketable in the same way that Original Fiction is. It’s not valued the same way even though the very same skills are needed in order to write it. Fanfiction is derivative and suspect, though that might be related to the fact that it’s been largely the writing form of women in the past decades instead of the, more respected, forms of fanfiction that were common long ago. Let’s just say that Shakespeare could never find an original plot to save his life and the sheer mass of Biblical fanart floating around as the work of the Masters is astounding.
Still, a lot of my storytelling has its origin in fanfiction and that worries me. I worry about the line between “inspired by” and “derived from”. “Account of a Chrysalis” has yet to make the transition, but it’s sequel, “Cityscape” does, in fact, exist within the Grizzyverse under the name FaerieEarth: Ever Faithful and I hope one day to finish the edits on it so that I can make it publicly available and maybe sell some books.
Castellan Dreams, currently being made available here, also has it’s origin in fanfiction, though in the case of Castellan Dreams, it’s a much different situation. Taking “Cityscape” into the realm of Original Fiction was a matter of reconfiguring the world on which it was set, the foundations for magic (which is something I still haven’t completed), and just rewriting to add a lot of detail and development. The plot and the characters were already my own due to the nature of being formed from a role playing game. The source material for Castellan Dreams, though, was a fanfiction tale called “A Traveler in a Strange World“, which was my retelling of Final Fantasy XII, with the addition of an original character, an old Mary Sue I’d had in the back of my mind since I was nineteen, Goldeneyes Dreamsail.
Taking that story into the realm of Original Fiction is a much bigger project.
In my own defense, though, I should note that the original text of “A Traveler in a Strange World” covered all the current material of Castellan Dreams, at least so far, within the first chapter and a half, maybe the first two or three chapters. And the whole of the material I’m having to rework from the manuscript of 2007 to 2009 comprises maybe the first half dozen or so chapters. And I wasn’t even halfway through my original outline when I set it aside.
In taking the tale into the realm of Original Fiction I had to rename and reconfigure the world and map, revise all the races, and rework the characters. I also started to go into a LOT more detail of the development of the various threats. It is now to the point that the relationship between Castellan Dreams and “A Traveler in a Strange World” is the same as the relationship between Final Fantasy XII and Star Wars. (Seriously. Balthier = Han, Vaan = Luke, Basch = Obi Wan, Bahamut = Death Star, etc; just try and tell me that I’m wrong.)
I believe in fanfiction. I love the feel of audience participation, the idea that a work can so affect someone that they feel the drive to be part of it, somehow. I respect the fact that writing fanfiction, especially writing it well, involves all the skills of writing Original Fiction and then some, because some aspects are not of the fan writer’s creation. Thus is the nature of the artform.
But I do worry about weaving in enough original development in altering a story. Perhaps it is enough to realize that I worry because I care about the integrity of the craft. And integrity matters to me.