In defence of fanfiction
Recently I came across Robin Hobb’s, a well renowned science fiction author, rant about fanfiction and why she doesn’t agree with it. And whilst I could at least partly see where she is coming from, in other ways I would personally suggest she’s missing the point of fanfiction almost entirely. I’ve long been a fan of reading and writing fanfiction, most often set in the world of Harry Potter, and whilst I will accept that it is a very lazy form of writing, it is also one of the most enjoyable. And I honestly don’t see the harm in it.
Fanfiction isn’t necessarily turning around and saying ‘Hey, look, the author really messed up this story – look, I can do it so much better.” Yes, in some cases writers of Fanfiction are saying exactly that but so much of fanfic is simply exploring what else could have happened. You take a pivotal moment in a story and wonder what would happen if that happened differently, how much of the story would be changed. It’s not saying the author made a mistake; it’s exploring the different possibilities within that world. So taking Harry Potter fanfic for example, what would have happened if Harry wasn’t left with the Dursley’s, what would have happened if the teaching staff had been more aware of what was going on, what if Sirius had been given a fair trial. All of these questions which can never be answered by the author because they never happened, they don’t exist within the canon world.
Of course there are changes, but the best fanfic writers are writing because they have a great love of whatever series they have picked up and want to be able to read more. The best fanfic writers put a lot of effort into ensuring that characters are kept in character and details are kept as per canon. Yes, it is to suit the foible of the writer, but it isn’t just saying that the author messed up. It’s exploring all of the niches and crevices that the author didn’t delve into deeply and therefore left possibilities and open ends for us to pick up on and explore. Back stories can be evolved and fleshed out, minor characters can be given voices that they never had in the original.
An example that Robin Hobb made was that everyone looks at the Mona Lisa and pictures a different reason behind her elusive smile, that doesn’t mean that they can draw eyebrows on her to make her look surprised. But that’s a faulty example. Because you can write about what you think that smile represents and share it with the world; you may not be right, others will have different opinions but you are still able to share it. And that is what fanfic is. Each and every reader has a different opinion on events that happened, motivations behind characters actions and the possibilities that never happened. That is fanfic.
Anyone reading fanfic knows that it isn’t the authors original work. You know you are reading someone else’s interpretations, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. And yes, some of the fanfic that I’ve read over the years is complete and utter dross, much of it has appalling grammar, a complete lack of punctuation and an inability to write in full sentences. That type of fanfic, I ignore. But some of the pieces I’ve read have been true masterpieces, with a few although far between actually managing to rise above the authors original work.
The best fanfic takes an author’s world, an author’s characters and story and builds on it. It steps into those characters shoes and writes them in different situations or with a slightly different spin on them. That’s not as easy to do as Robin Hobb would like you to believe. Or at least, it isn’t as easy to do well. You’re not turning around and condemning an author for something they have done wrong; you are exploring a full and vibrant world which has more than enough space for all of us to dabble our toes in and play with the characters.
I’ve read thousands of Harry Potter fanfics over the years and written a few myself. I know that the ones I’ve written have had thought, time and effort poured into them in an effort to keep them as close to canon as possible whilst deviating from a plotline. I still adore J. K. Rowling’s books and wouldn’t swap them for the world, that doesn’t stop me enjoying a well written fanfic. It doesn’t stop me enjoying writing it either.
And you know, if I ever manage to become a published author I’d enjoy reading the fanfic of my novel. I might even write some myself under whatever name I choose to use for the amusement factor of being able to wonder that magical question; ‘what if…’.
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