Media and Fan Relationships: Zones Of Creativity

A lot of us work in or want to produce media, including fiction.  For those of us writing fiction, or planning to film it, or whatever, there may be some concerns about how to deal with fanfic and the like.  Fans are why we're here and how we get paid, and their fanworks help promote our works and draw everyone into a community.  However fanworks can also accidentally "brand" your work, something creators don't always seek or like – as we've had discussed here by our own Rob Barba.

I'm pro-fanwork as long as there's mutual respect and understanding.  I also know some authors fear what happens when people begin "playing in their world," and it's not always irrational (i can immediately think of two series I avoided due to fanfic battles and fanwank that gave me the wrong impression).  For authors and creators who want the best of both worlds, I had an idea.

Fans want to play in an author's world – that's why they're fans and really that's how humans are.  Humans like to get involve, touch, customize, fantasize, and participate.  This participation is part of why fandom is so amazing, because it's hundreds to millions of people all sharing an interest – and in the cases of fanworks, a setting and its characters.

So if fans are going to make fanart, fanfic, role-playing games, etc. maybe authors shouldn't avoid it, fear it, or even just ignore it.  Maybe it's time to give people something to play IN so they get to have a lot of fun, and have room to work and explore.  With a sort of "zone" in your setting meant for fans, their own works may not "brand" yours as much, yet they get to participate.

To clarify this, let me give you some examples:

  • Creating lots of interesting, one-shot, background characters you'll never do anything with.  Fans will love to play with them and flesh them out – just look at Figwit from "Lord of the Rings" fandom, a guy who was on screen three seconds.  Boba Fett was popular despite having no backstory for years.  My Little Pony fandom practically lives to flesh out background characters.
  • Create areas "off the map."  Mention places, spots, stores, even states or countries or planets you don't intend to define.  Give epode places to write – with a few connections to your core work, they'll have a lot of fun.
  • History.  How many events, activities, wars, festivals, etc. can you mention and just leave them hanging?  Quite a lot I imagine.

So imagine this – going out of your way to set up "sandboxes" in your setting for ambitious and creative fans to go crazy with.  You may (or may not) even mention that these areas and characters you don't intend to use.  Let the fans fill it in and have fun – and get to appreciate your work and you.

Good relationships require both give-and-take and good boundaries.  This is a way to build both.

Steven Savage