Last time, I shared about my fourth grade writing project and how I wanted to write a He-Man and She-Ra fanfiction. I wasn’t able to because my idea became so complicated that I wouldn’t be able to finish it in time. Instead, I wrote a fanfiction about the Berenstain Bears. My sister was at the right age to enjoy those books. She loved them, and I still read them, so it was great fun for me to write and illustrate my own Berenstain Bears book. This was also how I learned about copyright and some of the problems that fanfiction writers would face in the Internet age.
My mom explained to me that, while my story was fine to share with my family, the Berenstains owned the Bears, and they were the only people who were allowed to sell books and toys with those characters. My teacher added that my story was a lot like the myths and folklore that we sometimes read in class. I had taken some characters that a lot of people were already familiar with, looked at the way the stories were usually told, and added my own ideas to give the characters (and audience) a new experience. In the old days, she said, a story like that might become popular and be re-told and added to as well. That sounded pretty cool to me, but in modern times, obviously, there are intellectual property laws and issues of authors’ livelihoods that need to be considered.
I’m assuming that most readers of Science-Fiction, Transmedia, and Fandom are aware of the history of fanfiction and how it started in fan-published magazines. Today of course, it’s much more widespread and there are a couple of huge archive sites on the internet. There are a lot of similarities between today’s fanfiction and ancient oral traditions. There are differences as well, and I’ll be blogging about them in another post. I’m not sure that my fourth grade teacher had ever heard the term “fanfiction,” but I’m grateful to her because she was able to frame what I was writing in a context that encouraged me and allowed me to see a connection between what I was writing and a larger body of storytelling. That connection is missing or even actively dismissed by a lot of writers today who only see value in the limited view of “originality” that says a story belongs exclusively to its creator and must never look too much like what has come before it.
There’s no point in simply retelling the same story over and over, and of course I want to see new worlds and new characters. It still strikes me as elitist and stupid to deny the legitimacy of fanworks. I’ll always be thankful that my teacher accepted what I was doing rather than chastise me for not having written my “own story.” I got a lot of those reactions later, and they had a serious negative impact on my perception of myself as a writer. Fortunately, as I got older, I regained my confidence, and I was able to hold on to the understanding of story and its value that I found in fourth grade.
Rose B. Fischer is an avid fan of foxes, Stargate: SG-1, and Star Trek. She would rather be on the Enterprise right now. Since she can’t be a Starfleet Officer, she became a speculative fiction author whose stories feature women who defy cultural stereotypes.In her fictional worlds, gender is often fluid, sexuality exists on a spectrum, and “disability” does not define an individual. She publishes science fiction, science fantasy, horror, and biographical essays. To find out more, visit her website or her Amazon Author page.