Sally Nicholls and fanfiction

I just read this little bit on UKYA by Sally Nicholls about fanfiction and it started off a massive brainstorm in me. I love opinion pieces like these, they can turn around your whole way of thinking on a matter.

Now, I know fanfiction divides a lot of people, authors included. I can understand their point of view. I mean, you go to all that effort to create a whole world, a whole set of characters, a whole plot, it finally gets published/filmed, and then some nitwit trots up online and basically steals your idea to base their own writing on. It’s a wee bit like cheating really, isn’t it? Hardly fair and all. Certainly, I know some authors have really come down hard on fanfiction writers, even prosecuting some of them. And like I said, I can see where they’re coming from, their work has, in a way, been used without their consent.

That said though, I do read a fair amount of it. And no, I’m not going to tell you what fandoms I follow, mainly because they’re hugely uncool and I want to preserve what little coolness I have after admitting I read fanfiction.

So yes, I read fanfiction and yes, some of it does deserve the reputation it has. A lot of it is absolute drivel. There, I’ve said it, a lot of fanfiction really needs to go through a spellchecker, or at least be read over before it’s poured on to the Web for all to see. My thinking is, if you’re going to publish it on the web so that others can read it, if you’re going to even invite comments on it, at least do your readers a favour and run it through a spellcheck first. Or edit the damn thing. Have some respect for the work you’ve drawn on, for pity’s sake. There’s an awful lot of dross out there (I’m looking at you OMG! I Wake Up One Day and I’m at Hogwarts! type stories).

That said though, fanfiction is what gave us the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey, which, regardless of what you may think of it, was easily the best selling book of last Summer and smashed records left, right and centre. For those thousands of women who bought and loved the triology, fanfiction was a way of getting into reading again. The numbers of women who said that they could settle down with those books for a bit when normally they’d struggle to squeeze regular fiction into their schedules was noticeable. Alternatively, look at the numbers of kids who will read licensed published fanfiction in the form of Star Wars-related or Doctor Who books, even though regular fiction doesn’t get quite the same attention from them. Of course, it’d be nice if they read published fiction too, but my opinion is stuck on ‘At least they’re reading – it’s a start!’ – which is a whole other debate.

What I’m trying to say is, that fanfiction while admittedly walking a dubious line can have it’s less murky side to it. Which is where Sally Nicholls comes in and why I’ve randomnly started this post at gone 1 in the morning.

Sally Nicholls makes this point, which is the one that really grabbed me in the UKYA post;

Fan fiction was appealing because so much of the work had already been done for me. I didn’t have to come up with something which interested me. I didn’t have to invent a character, or a world. Although actually, I did used to end up inventing a lot of characters, because one thing I was really interested in was back story – what was this character like as a child? What was this bit of story which I haven’t seen because I wasn’t watching the soap at that point like? So I did end up inventing a lot of mothers and fathers and siblings. That’s one thing fan fiction made me realise – how much of the process of inventing characters comes from necessity. You can start with Interesting Tragic Hero, but eventually he’s going to need some parents, and a friend, and a girlfriend, and …

She makes the point that fanfiction writing is still creative writing. Yes the characters are set up and the general idea is there but ultimately, fanfiction writers, the really good ones, write stories that explore an author’s creation, rather than just paraphrase it. They develop their own skills in writing by mimicing the framework of their favourite film/tv show/book. And there are quite a few authors who started out in the world of fanfiction too before making it through to Official Original Fiction (Google and you’ll see, although always double check your sources!), so obviously some skills could be said to be being honed if they’re making it all the way to Published as a result.

Of course, no one should make any money or get any reward for this work when it’s clearly based on someone else’s. That’s not in dispute at all – that really is stealing and I don’t agree with that at all. But it finally struck me after reading the UKYA post – there can be a good side to fanfiction after all. There can be a point to it beyond the author being a little bit overly fond of a character. Of course, an author is entirely within their rights to disagree with fanfiction – people are playing with their own, personal creations after all, and not always nicely and some things I’ve accidently come across I would be really annoyed about if I were that author, the material has been used so carelessly – but at last I’ve found a notch on the side for fanfiction too. As Nicholls goes on,

There’s no way you could – or should – make any money out of these worlds (unless you get very lucky and are asked to write tie-in novels or something) and so your interaction with them is always strictly about fun.

And that’s the best sort of writing there is.

I think that right there is a lovely attitude to have – to ultimately have fun playing with writing, developing your skills, not profiting from someone else’s. If her books weren’t already on my to read list, they’d be going on (I am SO looking forward to Close Your Pretty Eyes), just for having such a nice outlook on something that she’d be quite right to object to.

Go and check out the rest of Sally Nicholls’ post here


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