SASHA EISENMAN for In Style December, 2008

So, two stories now, that originated as Twilight fan fiction, have become actual books. With names changed and seven figure deals. The whole idea of it raises, I think, problematic and interesting questions.

Obviously, at some level, all works of fiction play on central, common themes. Authors retell fairy tales and ancient mythology and rework Shakespeare and nobody thinks of crying foul. Even works no more than 200 years old, like Jane Austen, are considered fair game for reworking, rewriting, and making your own. Because any copyrights have lapsed long ago.

And the thing about using public domain works is that each author brings their own style to it, so that even if it’s a reused story it’s considered a unique work of literature.

Technically, the same thing could be said of fan fiction, in that the author’s personal style and ideas create a unique work. But there’s something distasteful about borrowing so heavily from a still copyrighted work, and even more so profiting from it.

If these books had never been published as fan fiction, had simply come into the world as they are now with the names changed, they’d stand on their own without any controversy. They’d like be called derivative, like Hush, Hush. But there wouldn’t be this nose wrinkling sort of you’re-not-really-a-book disdain. And the gray area of copyright wouldn’t be on anyone’s mind.

Well, it’s on mine. Not that any of this matters to me, since I’m neither the original author or the fan fiction author. So, from my detached point of view, it seems like a musician covering a song. Yes, it’s obviously generated from someone else’s work. But I like their song, I just want to do it my way. Covers are very common in the music industry and though I’m not a professional in that arena, I assume there’s some sort of compensation for the original author when a cover goes up for sale.

And that’s a comparison I’m comfortable with. Fan fiction as a cover. As long as it stays on the internet and is passed from fan to fan it’s like being a cover band playing in your garage or for your friends. When fan fiction gets legitimized and published the original author should get a piece of the profits, or paid a licensing fee in the same way the original musician is paid for their work, I assume.

But the real question no one is asking is, why are these published fan fictions crap? I’ve always thought that Twilight is actually a good story, just badly written. So, if everyone is rewriting Twilight their own way, why isn’t someone cleaning up everything Stephenie Meyer did wrong and writing a good novel?

I get that letting not-Edward and not-Bella actually have sex is salacious. And sex sells in every other area of media so I’m not entirely surprised that the romance is being turned into sex. But these pseudo-authors* are keeping the worst part of Bella’s personality in her victimization and passivity; the atrocious aspects of Edward’s control. Why amplify everything that’s wrong with Twilight?

Also, turning the romance into nothing but sex undermines what makes Twilight work. It was bewitching because there was no sex; because that forced the characters to interact in a realm full of desire in a world obsessed with gratification. You can argue morally or sociologically all you want with that, but it worked for these books, dramatically.

That’s the part that really bothers me. Especially when there are kernels of interesting themes and character dynamics at play in these stories. Why isn’t someone digging into those and writing a better book, now that it seems to be fair game to do Twilight all over again your own way.

*Until they publish an original work of their own and prove they have the talent to actually write and not just to thrill I will not acknowledge them as actual authors.

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3 responses to “fan fiction-ing

  1. Fan fiction does not require good writing, it gives people the illusion that if you know an existing character well you can write to the story.

    Fan Fiction websites were recommended in a writing course I took at UCLA. I see some points to this. They are chalked full of contests and encourage the novice writer to submit something that can be judged by peers. Yes this sounds elitist and no I don’t care, but it is perfect for writers who don’t have original thoughts and unable to craft their own mythology.

    Essentially it’s the puppy mill of writing.

  2. Truthfully, I hadn’t thought much about it until now. I have never read a fan fiction novel… that I know of. Clearly if it isn’t illegal then knock yourself out, but I agree it does not make you a credible author. No more than winning your state softball championship makes you capable of playing left field for the Dodgers. (my context 🙂 ) The stories that shape the world are reflective of that which is common to human nature, not just retelling of someone else’s exact story. And if you aren’t interested in shaping the world with your words, keep them in your diary.

  3. N. Snow

    I’m ashamed of any Twilight fan who read 50 Shades of Grey. If I were Stephenie Meyer I would black list E.L. James from anything and everything Twilight. And shame on you Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti for turning it into a movie and anyone who becomes involved in it. What a great way to show America’s youth how well plagiarism pays $$$$ Not only should Stephenie Meyer get a cut of EVERYTHING she should also get a personal apology from E.L. James on national television.

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