Fan Fiction Is an Act of Reading Not Writing

Terry Pratchett's The TruthI’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s The Truth each night in bed. And I love it. I still hold a certain romance for the news industry, even if it is reserved to fiction. And I love the two main characters in this novel. First there is William de Worde, the founder and publisher of The Ankh-Morpork Times. And then there is Sacharissa Cripslock, his star (and at this point only) reporter. And they work so well as a team, there just has got to be romance in the air. And that got me thinking of fan fiction.

According to online sources, the books were never explicit about this. But it was implied that the two of them eventually married. And then there was this tweet by Pratchett himself back in 2011, “Sacharissa Cripslock married William de Word but keeps her maiden name for professional purposes.” (Interesting: even though he is dead, he still have over 143,000 followers; I’m sure a lot of people just can’t let go.) This got me thinking that it’s too bad he didn’t write more about it. I can see a very good novel focusing on William and Sacharissa. And I could write that! And for the first time in my life, I understood the nature of fan fiction.

The impulse to fill in the details left by the unjust death of a beloved author is different. It is effectively an act of reading. And I don’t say that as a slight. Reading is an enormously creative activity.

One of my personal annoyances as a writer is having people give me ideas for stories and articles. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the ideas are actually rather good. But I’ve never known a writer who wasn’t overwhelmed by her own ideas. I’m the same way. There are too many things to work on. And the process of writing begets ideas for other things to write about. It’s only the would-be writer who struggles for ideas; actual writers struggle with the actual writing.

But the impulse to fill in the details left by the unjust death of a beloved author is different. It is effectively an act of reading. And I don’t say that as a slight. Reading is an enormously creative activity. Writing is necessarily incomplete. It is like a screenplay for your mind. It is only fully realized in the reader’s mind. And so I have my own clear image of William and Sacharissa and the little subtle things that indicate that they are meant for each other. So to write a story about their courtship would be a continuation of that. And it would clearly be quite different than anything that Pratchett ever imagined.

I feel much the same way about Moist von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart, even though they are such different characters with a far more (in my mind) colorful marriage. But obviously, I won’t be writing about either. Fan fiction doesn’t lead anywhere. And I’m sure there are writers of fan fiction who are far better than I would ever be. If some good writer has created a story about William and Sacharissa or Moist and Adora Belle, I’d definitely read it. But I’m not going to be writing it.

In my day job, I was recently working on something that went over different writers’ attitudes toward fan fiction. Some hate it and some love it. But one of them (I think it was Stephenie Meyer, the writer of the Twilight books) said that she thought it was a shame, because the best fan fiction writers were very good and they should be working on their own stuff. I obviously agree, because I think writers should get paid. But I do understand the impulse in a way I didn’t before.

9 thoughts on “Fan Fiction Is an Act of Reading Not Writing

  1. Have you heard of the 1632 series by Eric Flint? He created a universe for fans to create their own stories in since there are a lot of good writers who cannot build their own world but can become parasites onto the world already created. Or Robert Aspirin’s Thieves World series.
    It gives newbie writers an opportunity to write in a way that avoids having to come up with all of the requirements that the Rivan Codex talks about (for example.) And not all of it is 50 Shades of Awful, some of it is Timothy Zahn or Alan Dean Foster.

    If done right, I like other writers writing in an established creation because it is nice to hear about people the originator would not think of. Like how say I should write a series of stories about courts in places like the Honor Harrington universe. No one ever talks about the factories, the courts, the mundane details of the life supporting the adventurers.

    • Yeah. Again, we come back to our troubled IP laws. I’m sure that lots of great books could be written based upon Firefly. But no. Because some rich people can’t let a penny slip through their fingers.

      • I think that may be partly why Eric Flint created that series since he is a major anti-copy protection activist. It is why a lot of sci-fi is free via Baen publishing online as well.

        • Sci-fi has much more of a community ethos than other kinds of writing. It makes me wish I were more into it.

          • It would be good too-there has been such an explosion in it because of how mainstream the genre has become.

            • When I was dying in the hospital almost a decade ago, all I had to read was something like “The Best Science Fiction of 2003.” The work was excellent. But it’s also kind of exhausting to read. They are very clever. As a group, they don’t get enough respect.

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