Fan Fiction (Fanfic) is basically a fan creating an original story based on an established work, a simple concept, however, thanks to the ease of the internet and Sturgeon’s law (“90% of everything is garbage”) in effect, the expression Fanfic is associated with misspelled sexual scenes and immature or overly sensitive authors (be it on the side of the original or the fan).
But are they intrinsically bad? We are talking about a concept that is as old as humanity. In the eras where stories were passed through oral tradition it was not difficult for someone to adapt the story to their taste and this became popular, in fact, if we see it that way it is not difficult to say that any work based on a figure of the public domain (like Dracula) is to some extent a Fanfic. Many children’s books are also based off of existing works and storylines but spun into a kid-friendly format. Many picture books, Disney movies, and fables are all based on existing works or public domain stories.
Neil Gaiman once said “You could say that any Batman fan writing a Batman comic is doing fan fiction” (Gaiman was the one who wrote the great “Batman: Whatever happened to the caped crusader?”).
There are authors who are decidedly against the practice of making Fan Fiction. George R. R. Martin (Author of Song of Ice and Fire, AKA Game of Thrones) compared the practice of an aspiring writer making Fan Fiction to an aspiring painter using one of those “Paint by Numbers” books, the logic behind this statement is that he is not creating his own characters and worlds, but copying at convenience and modifying the existing ones (Curiously, Martin has no problem with Fanart because it is interpreting words into images).
This statement is somewhat confusing at first glance, as it is well known that one of the ways artists develop is by copying; a musician learns to play themes he likes from other musicians while learning to make his own, illustrators draw their favorite characters or try to emulate the style of other artists as part of their learning, and writers make common practice of copying a narrative style or adapting characters and settings of their preference. In fact, many story templates and archetypes can even be considered borrowing of some sort. Many stories follow these basic styles. However, Martin’s statement is not without reason; if you seek to develop as a writer you cannot borrow someone’s work for long.
Of course, there’s no shortage of Fan Fics that develop to a point where the work I was paying tribute to simply didn’t measure up anymore. One of the most infamous cases is 50 Shades of Grey, which actually started out as a Twilight Fanfic.
The curious thing is that if we go to the technical, the only thing that separates crossovers like Super Robot Wars from being Fanfics is the fact that they are licensed, and even then the presence of characters suspiciously similar to other series between the originals becomes suspicious (Masaki Andoh and Cybuster were created when Banpresto did not get the rights of Aura Battler Dunbine).
However, Super Robot Wars seeks to frame all the stories within its own original setting, these settings have evolved over time, moving from the excuse plots of games like MX or J to the plots worthy of its own game like Alpha or Z. In fact, SRW has accumulated so many originals over time that it could create its own game by bringing them together in Original Generations.
The problem is that fanfics are a more complex beast than you think at first glance. It is not strange to hear of fanfics not about fictitious works, but about PEOPLE in real life.
This together with other works that seem to exist only to bring shock value or for the author to ventilate thoughts or frustrations, constitute the primordial contemporary problem with the Fanfics, more specifically the one that in its majority is composed of adolescent fantasies. Many fans will create stories around more obscure fantasies and shows too like Siska.
The expression Mary Sue was born in the realm of fanfics for good reason, it is a common scenario to place an original character that ends up taking all those already established ahead.
On the other side of the spectrum, it’s not difficult to see fanfics that could well be original stories but for some reason they strive to stay in a borrowed universe or with elements obviously taken from another context.
I remember years ago when it occurred to me to read Sailor Nothing as my only problem back then with the story was that no matter how different it ended up, it remained under the shadow of Sailor Moon even in the name (more separate from the material it ended up being).
Of course, there are authors who have nothing against fanfics or fanworks in general, for many to see that people liked their work so much that they want to honor it by making illustrations, reimagining scenes or imagining their character having sex is a great form of flattery. Japan has a whole industry based on this as they see it more as free advertising than as a problem to be solved. Commaful, for example, has a huge following for its One Piece fanfiction. Many renowned authors actually started in the industry in this field (Azuma Kiyohiko from Yotsuba& for example) and some still return to that field (Ume Aoki from Hidamari Sketch for example).
There are even those who ask for something (usually sensible) not to keep in such Fanworks. ZUN for example has said that the only thing it asks for the fanarts of Touhou is that they are not spoilers of the end of the games (Not “Final” as in “The final result”, but “Final” as in “The specific end of each character”).
With everything on the table, there is no correct answer to the question proposed in the title. In fact, personally I don’t mind the idea of doing something and seeing fanworks of it, however if I have two objective problems regarding fanfics (or fanworks in general), these are:
When the author resolutely opposes them. There are more sensitive points that I prefer not to get involved in as in the idea of fans selling products based on your intellectual property, but other than that, if someone takes the trouble to do something based on your work because they liked it, I don’t see why you’d want to refuse it, as I mentioned earlier is basically free advertising.
However, there are foolish authors because there are even more foolish fans, and the worst kind of fans there can be are those who start working on something based on another property and using the same characters but then feel the right to declare themselves superior to the original author.
The idea of fanfic superior to the original work is not only subjective and somewhat oxymoronic (If you’re so good, why not make your own story instead of taking someone else’s?), it’s also often a malicious insult to the author.
The point is that the latter is not just a matter of fanarts or fanfics, there are exponents of this subject in other fields such as videogame modeo (My only problem with Project M is precisely how the vocal part of the community preaches to be superior rather than simply saying that they adapt the game to their needs).
At the end of the day there is no right answer to the question. For every person in favor there is someone against, for every good fanfic there are 5 bad ones and “Good” or “Bad” is a completely subjective concept. There is no right answer except Pizza, Pizza is always the right answer.