Diana Peterfreund on Fan-fiction vs. Retellings

Here's the first post in my series of posts on authors on fan-fiction vs. retelling. The first author is the amazing Diana Peterfreund!

What do you consider fan-fiction?

Fanfiction is unlicensed derivative work. Derivative work is a legal term, which is why you get workarounds like "filing the serial numbers off" something that might have once been fanfic and then selling it. So that's the legal POV. Here's the personal one. I used to read and write fanfiction when I was a teenager, and to me, the essence of fanfic was sending established characters in established worlds out on new adventures that the creators didn't or wouldn't or hadn't or had only hinted at. The important part of the term is it's being produced by "fans", for fun.

There are currently things being called "fanfic" and posted on fanfic sites that I personally wouldn't consider fanfic. For instance: someone who types up the words of a published novel and then changes the names of the characters in that novel into the names of the characters in the "fandom" -- that is not fanfiction. That is not "crossover fanfic." That's not "AU fanfic." That's just plagiarism. (It's happened to me and it's just baffling -- they're missing the whole point!)

I suppose there were genuine "AU" (alternate universe) fanfics around when I read and wrote them, but they never interested me at all. I was in that fandom for those characters and that story. Why would I want something totally different with the same names? Like why would i want to read Buffy fanfic where Buffy wasn't a vampire slayer, but just a high school student named Buffy? I'm not sure why people would even call it fanfic, except they want the established fandom. I've read that's how 50 Shades started. Had I not been told that, I probably would not have seen the connection between the stories. There is almost no similarity in plot and only vague and generic similarity in characters. (this is how they got away with publishing it with the names changed).

Finally, I wouldn't call the people writing fantasies about meeting and dating rockstars or other real people fanfiction either. They are fans, and it's fiction, but that doesn't make it fanfic.

Do you consider your book to be fan-fiction? If not, what sets it apart from your definition?

It is not unlicensed derivative work because there is no license. All of Jane Austen's works are out of copyright. But beyond the legal perspective, I think it's different because of the "essence" I talked about above. When I personally think of Jane Austen "fanfic", I actually think of books like Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife or Lost in Austen any of the other sequels or books that feature the actual Jane Austen characters in the actual Jane Austen stories and put them on new or different adventures. But I think we all have a lot in common, in the sense that we are all fans writing fiction inspired by Austen's works. So you can call it fanfic if you want. I don't have any moral feelings about that term. I'm in the same boat as "fanfic" like West Side Story... and that's a very happy place to be!

Based on your definition, should fan-fiction ever be published?

It's not a "should" question. If one attempts to publish and profit from unlicensed derivative work, the owners have the right to come down on you. But it's important to recognize that there is plenty of LICENSED derivative work going on. When you see a Star Wars novel, it's because Lucas (or I guess, Disney now) has hired someone to write it. (Just like Lucas hired someone to write the scripts of the original Star Wars movies.) When you have something like a movie or TV show, there are dozens of creators who have already gone into that production, and novelists working with Lucas to bring forth a particular vision (I know a few Star Wars novelists) are doing the same thing a scriptwriter or a production designer are.

Same thing with the new Bane Chronicles where other writers are writing in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series.

All review content © Enna Isilee, Squeaky Books 2007-2012

1 comment:

  1. "They are fans, and it's fiction, but that doesn't make it fanfic."


    Very interesting and enlightening perspective! She has a much tighter definition of fanfic than we do, but it's good food for thought. Technically we think she is correct... but at this point, the umbrella keeps widening, so the term may be shifting from its original definition, you know? (OR, maybe like "Mary Sue," it's just getting thrown around too much.)


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