Is fanfiction a cheat?

My husband and I were discussing fanfiction the other day, and he (the literature/movie snob that he is) thinks that fanfiction is a cheat. He especially feels that it is a cheat if it varies from the parameters laid out by the original author/movie - less of a cheat if it takes up where the original story left off and goes on from there.

I am not so sure about this. These are fictional characters we’re talking about here; taking some characters and doing other things with them is totally fair ball, in my opinion, as long as you stay true to the spirit of the characters (if you leave the original characters too far behind, you might as well just write some fiction from scratch). I think it’s a fascinating idea, to have other writers take characters and fictional worlds and work out alternate stories for them.

What do all y’all think?

To be perfectly honest, I’m really not sure of what you mean by “a cheat”.

What’s fanfiction?

It’s a cheat in the sense that a good chunk of a work of notably well-done fiction – the background, setting(s), culture, character motivations, character descriptions, chracter interactions, relationship dynamics and fictional themes have all largely been thought up. But various other new characters, plots, ideas, dialogue, interests, new motivations and conflicts are still readily available for the fanfic author to play with. So fanfiction gets something of a leg up writing stories within an established fictional world, but not all the work is done for them.

Fanfiction isn’t all that different from ANY ongoing serial fiction, or writing scripts for TV. The people writing the upcoming season of ER are dealing with a completely different milieu than when Michael Crichton started the series.

I can vaguely imagine “cheat” if no effort is made to have the characters conform to their established “official” personae, if in fact the character behave in ways exactly opposite to their established norms (i.e. the vast vast VAST majority of sexual-themes fanfics). At the very least, it’s lazy writing, with an author preferring a fantasy situation above characterization.
By the way, I like writing fanfics that conform as closely as possibly to canon, and could conceivably fit in between official episodes without contradicting any of them (or at least to a lesser degree than the official episodes routinely contradict each other).

It’s what happens when the fans get so impatient waiting for the witer/producer of a particular series/show to come out with more stories that they write their own.

Most commonly occurs among SF fans.

By the way, did anyone else ever produce anything for the Spidey/Superman crossover? :wink:

My visceral reaction is to agree with the OP’s husband, for two (emotionally based reasons):

  1. When an author states up front that (s)he took liberties with the characters, I recoil. My thoughts are “what, you were too lazy?” and “if the canon wasn’t good enough for you, what’s the point of writing a piece of FANfiction?” Stating up front it’s an alternate universe only somewhat alleviates this.

  2. Most original “contributions” are of the type I abhor (e.g. most original characters).

Bryan. I’d defend slash as not being inherently lazy writing, just that the conceit of a secret gay/lesbian/bisexual sexual relationship existing among two or more characters is simply the foundation to the (sub?)genre that supercedes the canonical continuity.

**CandidGamera. ** We really ought to do something about “Swap!”

Leaper. I dunno. I think it depends on how successfully an author pulls off the liberties they take. I mean, I once read a terrific fanfic seven years ago or so where Captain Picard accidentally finds his way to a different kind of Mirror Universe Earth where he meets the cast of the hit TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, that eeriely imitates his life. He was bumping into doors because the sets don’t really work and Gates McFadden was coolly distant with him and Brent Spiner was revealed to be a huge prima donna. Funny stuff! I only regret not making a copy because I never found that internet site again.

I have an unfortunate confession to make.

I used to write TrekFic on under the name Vedek Weyoun…

NEVER slash, NEVER hetero slash. I tried to be true to the characters and the premise. Usually very short scenarios., actually. :smack:

I don’t understand what you mean by “supercedes”. It might be possible to write a sexual fanfic that doesn’t contradict the “canonical continuity” (i.e. a brief liaison between characters that has no lasting emotional effect, conforming to their demonstrated sexual preferences or coming up with a very good reason why those demonstrated preferences are inaccurate - hopefully not involving magic or mind control, which to me epitomizes lazy writing), but if canon is something to be gleefully disregarded, why write a fanfic at all, as opposed to completely original fiction?

I really hate it that SLASH fiction always rears its inbred head into discussions of fanfiction. That’s just me though.

Bryan Eckers. Because it’s more fun to speculate on established characters’ possible hidden sexual secrets. To the audience receptive to this kind of writing, lengthy painstaking explanations about why a character is suddenly gay, bisexual or whatever may not matter much. All canon is not necessarily disregarded. But in slash, the idea that what we see onscreen, or read in the original author’s books about the characters sexuality is the final immutable word – ? That’s ignored.

Push You Down. Slash turns up in fanfic dicussions because it has been a part of it since Star Trek spurred the Kirk/Spock phenomenon in the 1970s.

Wiki article on Slash.

Didn’t we just do this?

I don’t get fan-fiction

I do think it’s a cheat, since you already have most of the hard work done for you. But it’s a fairly benign cheat in that people just seem to want to play in a world that appeals to them. Or it serves people who want or need a set of training wheels, if you will, for their writing. At best, a fanfic author is learning to dance to another author’s tune. That’s not inherently bad, but it is inherently limited, and inherently cheaty.

The OP’s point about staying true to the characters is a good one, and I have to say that, from my admittedly limited statistical sampling, the vast majority of fanfic simply does not do this. Most people seem to pick up the most superficial, obvious, or easy traits of the characters and make two-dimensional plot vehicles out of them. I don’t know if this is caused by bad reading, bad writing, or bad imagination. But since no one’s asking me, I have a bit more time to consider it.

Featherlou , ask your husband if he considers historical novels such as “Fire From Heaven” or books like “The Once and Future King” to be a cheat. What’s the difference between T. H. White’s reworking of Malory or Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great novels and a piece of fanfiction (apart from the literary talents of the writers in question)? Neither author invented either the characters or the setting, after all. They just based their derivative stories on material that’s in the public domain.

And I think such fiction is bad because of that willful disregard. Of course, I’m not the intended audience for fiction that delves into “hidden sexual secrets”.

By way of disclosure, when I wrote fanfics that involved Star Trek:TNG characters (with two forming a sexual relationship that lasted for several months in the background of the early seventh season), I went to some effort to make sure there were no obvious “immutable words” that I would have to willfully ignore. That would be, I guess, “cheating”.

Naw. Pastiche is a pretty valid literary technique.

Before there was Star Trek fan fiction and the Internet, before there was slash, there was Sherlock Holmes.

Even before Doyle had stopped writing — beginning, I believe, while Holmes was “dead” at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls — other authors had begun to take an interest in writing Holmes as a character. Many, many established authors have themselves penned a Sherlock Holmes story, from J.M. Barrie to Stephen King.

And before Holmes, there was… Electra.

Yeah, I’m talking about the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Sophocles wrote his trilogy of plays based on Electra and her brother, Orestes. And Eurypides did a play on it. And Aeschylus.

And before Electra, there was … more slash.

It’s my belief that the basis of Greek mythos was an urge toward collective story-telling. The gods had affairs of all kinds with each other, and with seemingly every mortal on the Pelopenisian peninsula, there’s only the vaguest of timelines of what happened with which god, when, to whom; and there’s seemingly an endless supply of it. Sounds like fan-fic to me.

One might argue the same of many of the Biblical stories as well, that some real thing happened, that King Blug the Ugly made a wise decision — but it sells so much better if it’s King Solomon that said it. (This is just a hunch of mine, based on the way people tend to think and act; I’m not a Biblical scholar so if you care to object to this idea, I’m not going to defend it too strenuously.)