There is an issue that pops up now and again in the writing world. Why writing? Well, a lot of us get our start here.
But are fan creations a good thing or a blight on the face of creativity?
Well, it’s not that simple. When it comes to fan creations, there are a lot of things to be wary of. There are also a lot of things to be thankful for.
As a writer I strongly believe that my relationship with my readers goes well beyond the transaction where they give me money and I give them a bunch of words to hallucinate over for a couple hours. A reader and I are contributing 50/50 to a book. It doesn’t feel like it, trust me. As someone who has been on both sides of the fence, I can say that writing is SO MUCH HARDER than I thought.
But just because I put months of work into a project, and research and planning and tears of frustration, doesn’t mean that what I produce is a finished product. Words on a paper are just words on paper until a reader is willing to engage their mind and imagine with me. If I fail on my end, the readers “job” is much harder.
The hardest part of this whole thing is that I will never actually get to see the end product. But with fan art and fan fiction, we get to actually see how our readers have interpreted what we’ve written. How it’s come alive for them.
Even if we, the authors, never get to see or read that fan’s creation, the very fact that it exists proves that we’ve done our job and done it well enough that the story isn’t leaving our readers alone.
That, in and of itself, is incredible.
I’m of the opinion that reviews are for the reader not for the writer. I’m also of the opinion that fan-art and fan-fiction are for the reader, not for the writer.
It can be hard for an author to see someone take their art and say: “It’s not good enough. Here I fixed it.”. To alter the course of events in order to shove in self-inserts. To break down the carefully build romances or friendships to say “This isn’t what I want. Give me this.”
That being said, if an author runs across something like that in a reader-centered space, that’s when I would say they need to put on that extra thick skin and just pretend they weren’t there.
HOWEVER, there are some readers who take it on themselves to turn that piece of reader-centered art into projectiles to aim at the author.
You are entitled to your opinions and your expectations. But in the end, this is the author’s piece of art and if they are doing it right, your opinion should not impact their choices. So please, don’t aim your head-canons at the author.
There are some instances where it’s appropriate to charge for say: a fan art print at a convention. Or a candle inspired by your favorite characters. But if you attempt to use your favorite characters, or an established world from someone else’s copyrighted work in published material: expect an angry author on your hands.
That is not the only ugly thing I want to talk about. And it might be a bit contentious.
When you take someone else’s characters and eroticise them, put them in sexual situations, draw lewd pictures of them, it’s just plain disrespectful.
The characters I write are, in a lot of ways, my babies. The idea that someone might be taking those characters and acting out pornographic content with them makes me feel sick.
It’s hard to fully explain why this feels so rude to me. Possibly because it’s a piece of my own personality that slips its way into each of my characters (yes, even the villains) and the idea of someone taking something that I never meant to be sexual and twisting it is more than a little upsetting.
Far worse than fan art and fiction that puts fictional characters in a compromising position is fan art and fan fiction that does the same for actual living breathing human beings.
I don’t find it any more acceptable to draw a compromising picture of a celebrity that it might be to grab a woman’s butt on the street. It might come across pretty harsh, but I’m going to stand by it.
If you want to know more on how I feel about our treatment of celebrities in this matter in our culture, check out my review on Altered Carbon, where I talk about some relevant points.
Fan art and fan fiction are a part of our culture now. I don’t think they are going anywhere soon. And while we could discuss quality or the morality of using someone else’s characters and world in your art, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Art will always change with culture, and as long as it’s contributing to creativity and community, there is a lot to be celebrated about fan creations.
But it can be easy to shrug aside consequences when our only interactions are through a printed page or a screen it can be easy to forget that we are dealing with real human being behind the fictional ones. There is no reason to walk on eggshells, but let’s be careful to not let entertainment trump our respect of another person’s humanity.