Thursday, July 23, 2015
Aw, It's AU
I'm liable to get crucified for this, but I'm going to say it anyway: I just don't get some fan fiction.
Before you start hefting that brick, let me clarify. I love to read fanfic. Those Star Trek and Star Wars novels glutting the bookstore shelves? Authorized fanfic. My definition of fan fiction: stories set in a specific universe that aren't written by the original creator. So yeah, I say media tie-in novels and comic book continuations count. The only difference is, those writers get paid. We'll get back to that in a minute.
The stuff produced by actual fans, available for free on sites like FanFiction.net and Archive of Our Own, ain't all that bad either. Sure, some of it sucks, but according to Sturgeon's Law 90% of everything sucks. In the ten percent that doesn't suck you'll find the bestselling authors of tomorrow, honing their skills in their favorite universe. I'm surprised some of them aren't writing professionally already. Maybe some of them are. Pro writers do write fanfic. Why not? It's fun.
I've written my share of fanfic in my time. Back in high school I wrote a whole series starring the X-Men. None of it saw print, thank God, but some concepts I developed in those stories later made their way into my first professional SF story sale. I also discovered I had a taste for writing M/M, long before I knew it even existed as a genre. My book Temptation and Tights was my M/M tribute to those old superhero stories.
Two of my fanfic stories that did see print (actual print; this was pre-Internet) were set in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe. One was a crossover with Alien; the other featured Q because I love Q. Put him in a scene with Data and the story writes itself.
A couple years back I discovered Supernatural and became obsessed with Cas, Sam and Dean, in that order. Again, none of my fanfic scribblings saw print and again, thank God.
Or did they?
I haven't made any secret that most of my recent books wouldn't have existed without Supernatural's influence. Belonging was a tribute to Wincest. Jessalina's Pets was inspired by the Season 9 publicity photos of Sam and Dean in cages. Just last week I sold a story to an ebook publisher; it's Destiel in all its glory, and I have a couple others in the works. The question is, are these fan fiction?
Fanfic writers, get ready to hurl those bricks. Here's where we diverge.
I say they're not, and not just because I want to avoid plagiarism charges. The stories mentioned above and the others I've written/am writing/hope to write do not take place in the Supernatural universe, and do not star Sam, Dean and Castiel. The plots do not involve two brothers hunting monsters. The closest I've come in that regard so far was Belonging, where the "Dean" character was a vampire slayer. These stories take place in different milieus, with different characters who have different personalities. They just happen to look like the actors, if only in my head.
When fanfic writers do this, it's called alternate universe, or AU. If you know anything about the genesis of 50 Shades of Grey, then you're familiar with this. 50 Shades was originally a fanfic story starring Bella and Edward and all the sex they never had in the Twilight series. E. L. James took the characters and put them in a different world and different situations and let them go to town. Later she changed their names to Ana and Christian and got the book published, and the rest is history.
Personally, I don't see the point of AU. In my mind, fanfic is stories written by fans using their favorite characters and set in the milieu of the book or TV show or whatever. It's stories that take place between books or broadcast episodes, the untold stories, the "good stuff" we're not getting from the official product, or "canon." Like Destiel. C'mon, you guys. Dean and Cas belong together. Everybody knows it. So what if Jensen and Misha are two straight married guys? Too bad. The fans want to see it, if the tons of Destiel fanfic out there are any indication. You're actors and you're under contract. Suck it up.
Stories that explore things like this I don't mind at all. It's when you start switching things around, moving characters out of their universe and changing everything but the names that I question it. You want Bella and Edward to have a BDSM relationship? Go for it. But change them into a businessman and his assistant with nary a vampire in sight? Why? Or Dean and Castiel getting it on? I'm all for it. Oh wait, they're both in high school now, and Castiel's not an angel. It's not Twilight or Supernatural any more so really, why even bother?
I guess it's because you love these characters and you want to play with them in different situations. I can dig it. Playing with a fascinating character is what makes writing fun. What I can't dig is changing everything about the characters and the universe that pulled you into that particular fandom in the first place. If you're going to do that, why not just write an original story with original characters, and imagine your favorite actors playing these new roles?
Which is what I'm doing, for a practical reason: I want to get paid but not sued. I have bills. I have expenses. I need to work for a living. I'd like to make a living as a writer. I don't have time to write free stuff. (I had a day job when I wrote the ST:TNG stories, so I didn't mind giving them away.) If I was writing real Supernatural fanfic, it would be with those characters as defined on the show, set in that particular universe. And it would have to be for free, because I don't own the copyrights. "Free" doesn't fill up my gas tank or pay my utility bills.
That's why it's Christian and Ana and not Edward and Bella doing kinky stuff for three novels. That's why it's not Ginny Weasley getting snuggly with Draco Malfoy in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. And that's why those two guys in the pic up there aren't Dean and Castiel. When I write that story they'll be two different people, living in a world far different from the Supernatural universe. Or at least different enough to keep me out of court.
There will not be a fan fiction version. My stories are not repurposed fanfic. I skipped that step in the progression and went right for the legal, saleable stuff. I also skipped the fanbase, and therefore the sales, James and Clare built up with their original fanfic stories. It's a tradeoff.
Meanwhile, I'm keeping a close eye on Amazon's Kindle Worlds program. Amazon's got the tie-in rights to a number of properties, like Vampire Diaries and the Valiant Comics characters. Fans can write their own stories in these selected universes and earn royalties for them. Yes, you can get paid for writing certain fanfic. If they ever get the rights to Supernatural, I'm gonna be all over that so fast your head will spin. I've already got a couple stories in mind—stories set in that particular universe, starring those particular characters. The AU stuff I save for my original fiction. Those are concepts I own. If one of my "AU" books takes off, I'm in the catbird seat.
I leave you with this bit of irony: I hear 50 Shades has its own fan fiction. Wrap your head around that one, folks, and happy reading!