The creations of fans of various media have gained more and more exposure and recognition – both good and bad – over the last several years. It isn't uncommon to see an author or other creator bemoaning the fanfics written by various fans, or even threatening legal action to stop said fanworks from being spread.
Here I'm going to talk about fanfic, mostly, but touch on some of the other fan-produced material, giving my view on it as both a long-time fan of many things and as a published creator of such things – an author of several books. At the end of this two-part essay, I'll include my own personal policy on fanworks (which I'll find a more permanent location to post later). First, I'm going to just go over my own history with respect to fanworks, and then discuss fanworks in more general terms before ending with my own policies.
My Own Experiences
In a sense, I started writing fanfiction of a sort when I was very young – 8 or so. I drew hundreds of pages of a space adventure comic which was heavily inspired by Doc Smith and John Campbell, with other things getting mixed in as time went on; this went on for several years; I think I finally stopped around the age of 14. I don't know where those comics went, eventually; what I can remember of them is pretty standard Mary-Sue adventure with some attempts at characterization, drama, and longer-term plots (and youthful inability to recognize some of the implications of the events I depicted).
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, or who use a different definition of the term: "Mary-Sue" refers, in my usage and my experience, to a wish-fulfillment Self Insert character – that is, one can have a wish-fulfillment character that is not a Mary-Sue, by having said character be fairly obviously NOT based in some way on the writer, or have a self-insert that's not a Mary-Sue because while based on the writer it isn't an obvious vehicle for the author's wish-fulfillment. Various elements of other people's stuff showed up in those crude comics, ranging from Doc Smith's Lenses to Middle-Earth, but the universe was mostly mine, and despite its execrable overall quality, some of the core characters and elements of my current universe had their genesis in that early work.
However, I started writing stories of significant length, focused on SF/F themes, by the time I was 11. It wasn't until I entered high school, though, that I really started writing fanfiction of specific fandoms. The first fanfics I wrote were Star Trek adventures (and, naturally, featured a very Mary-Sue original character) and a Battlestar Galactica/Trek crossover. I later branched out into comics, writing a couple Marvel-universe adventures, and also rewrote some stories that annoyed me to be more palatable (a habit I continued for many years; one way to get the taste of a bad story out of my mental mouth was to rewrite it).
Eventually, though, I became more interested in writing my own stories, about the time my GMing (in multiple RPGs) really started to take off. I had no aversion to running games using adventures published by other people, but I had to fit those adventures into my own world, and so by default I ended up doing a lot of writing just to make sense of what was going on in the world.
It wasn't until many years later – in the 1990s, in fact – that I ran into fanfiction again, this time online (on rec.arts.anime) and with my new girlfriend (and later wife) Kathleen. I admit to rarely reading fanfic; most of it is, and was, pretty abysmal. There were a few worth reading that I recall, most clearly Ryan Mathews' Dirty Pair fics (which were written as scripts) including The Ballad of Lord Robin and Steven Tsai's Bishoujou Senshi Sailor Ranma, but most of my time was spent writing our Saint Seiya-verse fanfic.
Our Saint Seiya fanverse was an epic-scale production, which was well over a million words before we stopped writing in it (and would probably have been three million or so if we'd completed all the stories thought of or projected. The stories completed or at least reasonably begun in the universe were:
- Resurrection – itself comprised of:
o Requiem (Shun)
o Ghosts (Hyoga)
o Rebirth (Ikki)
o Awakening (Shiryu)
o Meteor (Seiya)
- Fallen Angel
- Cry Wolf!
- Windlash (Origin story for character Erik Nygard)
- Wild Card (Intro of Erik to the Saints)
- Snow Queen
- The Key
- Starpower (Introduced the Samurai Troopers into the universe); preceded by the Troopers stories:
o First Kiss
o Several other fragments
- Soul of a Hero
- Werewolves of London
- Wolf's Dominion
- Wolf Hunt
- The Trial
- Brave New World (Introduced Son Goku and the Zed team to the world)
As can be seen, there was a LOT of writing done by Kathleen and me during this process. I learned a lot about writing characters throughout the work of writing all these stories – developing them from what we could figure out from the non-subtitled, non-dubbed anime for which we had a couple of rough fan-made episode guides and nothing else. Looked at coldly, the fics show the roughness of our skills and while we developed consistent characters, they weren't all very close to the actual original characters in the anime; interpretation and the fact that, in a very real sense, the fanfiction was also our own way of developing our relationship obviously affected the interpretation of the characters. Still, I learned a massive amount about the basics of writing from those million words or so.
Not only did it teach me a lot about HOW to write, but also it had some specific and far-reaching effects on my real writing. It was during Cry Wolf that I finally figured out what Virigar really was, and how that affected everything else I was planning on writing. Other aspects of Virigar's future history also were originally outlined in the other Wolf-related stories, and while a lot of that has to change, obviously, in my original work, the basic concepts emerged from those fics. Several of the other fics included plotlines or concepts which are, or will become, very important in my own work.
I will thus always remember these stories very fondly, even though they're not that good by comparison with what I do now, and I'd write them very differently were I to attempt it now.
During the same time, and up through about 1996, I also produced seven installments of a gamefic, An American Gamer in Gondor, which was pretty much What It Says On The Tin, based on an RPG campaign I had been in for several years.
As I had more responsibilities, and less time, my fanfic output dwindled; the only material of significance in that arena I produced in the later years were a few short pieces on Usenet, and a few that I helped Kathleen with in specific areas, such as her Fullmetal Alchemist-CSI:Miami fic and a Doctor Who/Torchwood/FMA fic.
My wife, and some of her friends, also had some involvement with other fanworks; Kathleen is an artist of some skill, and produced an extensive number of fan pieces of Saint Seiya, Samurai Troopers, Dragonball Z, Gundam, and others over the years, as did several people of her acquaintance. Naturally, we also knew some people who produced anime fan videos, and we participated in fandom to the extent of being involved in conventions and cosplay for several years.
And then I became a published author myself, and this ended up exposing me to the general fanfiction community – and the debates that raged around it.
Next: Fanfiction/Fanworks and Creators