Fandoms, Evolution, and Creative Collaboration

| Friday, April 26, 2013

Today's Tune: Graveyard's Full

I've been thinking about fandoms.

I've written about fandoms a lot in the past, but today I've been thinking about collaboration and art. I'm one of those sort of writers who feels like we have a responsibility over what we write as far as telling a good story and doing it responsibly and taking the heat for our own mistakes and missteps, but I also feel that once you release your story into the public, it's not 100% yours anymore.

That doesn't mean I believe in plagiarism or anything. It means that I think literature is malleable and that readers can pull different things from it, and authors who insist on telling people they're reading a story wrong and stating blow-by-blow that you HAVE TO READ IT THIS WAY are being... kind of dickish. I mean, if someone reads a subcontext of you blessing a secret society of lizard people to take over planet Earth and enslave humanity when you were mostly writing about people being cool to one another, that's weird and unfortunate. However, the human experience is varied, and people might see things in your writing that you never intended, but has meaning for them.

This can be a good thing, in the sense that they found a profound connection to your work. It can also be hard, like when they point out your blind spots and indicate that you're upholding a stereotype you never meant to convey. But that doesn't make them wrong.

This is where the collaboration of fandom comes in, and why I'm personally not opposed to fanfiction and fan communities. Because when a work resonates with an extensive community of people, it becomes a living thing. Those people add to it, breathe life into it, and make it so much more than it could ever be in the hands of one person alone.

Fandoms explore the strengths of the things they love, adding new insight to relationships and worldbuilding that a single author could likely never imagine alone. Likewise, they discuss the shortcomings at length and even create alternate universes where those shortcomings are explored and developed into something so much more. The collective fandom creates elaborate discourse about the economics of Harry Potter or the geography of The Hunger Games' Panem. They fill in gaps, elaborate on character motivation, and tell the backstory that didn't fit into the primary narrative. And that's pretty dang cool.

When an author creates a story that resonates with people for whatever reason, their creation becomes separate from them. It twines its way into the minds of readers and continues to grow. As in the real world, it has its strengths and its pitfalls, and people discuss both at length. The story continues to grow and change as the world does.

I think that's nothing short of amazing.

It's one more indicator that art and literature are ever-changing and evolving. One person may plant the seed of an incredible new world and begin to build it, but it doesn't end with them. More people take up the mantle and help it grow. Into new eras, new frames of thought, new universes. How incredible is that?

Unsanctioned collaboration, perhaps, but collaboration nonetheless. I'd be branded a liar if I didn't admit that some of the deepest and most insightful commentary about some of my favorite fandoms came not from the author, but from the readers who reacted to the story.

Stories are organic. They grow, and age, and change. And it's cool to be cool with that.

How do you guys think fandoms affect original work? For good or bad?


{ Stephanie Lorée } at: April 26, 2013 at 5:35 AM said...

I'm a fan of fandoms, both as an author and participant. It's part of loving something so much that people want to extrapolate on another's work. So long as fans aren't using it for commercial gain without permission, I don't see a reason for authors to be anything but flattered.

{ Rachel } at: April 26, 2013 at 9:07 AM said...

I've been a member of fandom since 1997 (I was 8!). Like Stephanie above me, as long as fans aren't using it for commercial gain - I say go for it. I write fan fiction and it has helped me grow as a writer immensely. In addition, reading fan fiction and the discussion with fandom about certain aspects of the book has made me a better 'thinker' and helped me gain knowledge about so many subjects :)

{ Janna } at: April 26, 2013 at 9:59 AM said...

This fascinates me so much. Although fandoms predate the internet (looking at you, original Sherlockians), the recent rise of fandom and the intersection of author, character, and reader is such an interesting place. I know some writers early in this phenomenon balked (Anne McCaffrey, Anne Rice), but newer writers seem to be embracing the creative communities that grow around their work.

{ Janna } at: April 26, 2013 at 11:37 AM said...

And...just saw this:

Who counts as the "creator" here? Very thought-provoking.

{ JeffO } at: April 28, 2013 at 4:36 AM said...

@Janna, my daughter just linked that today on Facebook. She's very excited over it.

Regarding the whole fandom thing, as an unpublished writer, I look at is as a high form of flattery. Someone is passionate enough about your characters, your story, your world, to want to keep it going. That's a great thing! And you can't stop it, so why fight it? I know Hugh Howey is encouraging his fans to write--and even sell--Wool fan fiction. I wonder if that's a wise decision. I think an author takes some risks when he gets too cozy with his fans on this level.

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