In a previous post, I talked about fan fiction as a modern, secular version of the Jewish tradition of Midrash, or sacred storytelling. This focused on the idea of the practice of telling the missing stories, the stories the original didn't have the time or space to tell. Sort of fixing plots holes, or answering questions the author didn't get around to.
However there's a Kickstarter project I came across recently that has an even more interesting take on fan fiction.
In the description for the Massive Fiction Project, the creator talks about fan fiction as a teaching tool. The point to the project is to create, through a series of novels and short stories by a number of professional writers, an open-ended fictional universe and release it through creative commons attribution. The frees people to write all the fan fiction they want, but to legally own their work.
Now the purpose for the project intrigued me. Why seek to allow for legal fan fiction? Their argument is that fan fiction gives the writer a scaffold to work from. They already have characters, a world, rules, language and so on. They even have story frameworks if they stick to the original.
This allows the writer to focus on small picture issues: dialogue, description, pacing, conflict and so on. Since you don't need to worry about the broad strokes, you can practice the details. Also, you can even pit your writing against someone you admire-- can you tell an alternate version of the story that works as well as the original?
Of course this open source concept isn't unique. There was another Kickstarter fairly recently called Symbiosis. This one created an art book (by Steven Sanders, an artist for Marvel and Image comics) of a fictional universe (a sort of biopunk future). But again, it was released to creative commons so people could create anything based on this world: stories, art, graphic novels, RPGs, games, movies, whatever. The biggest difference was that the Massive Fiction is free even for commercial use. With Symbiosis, commercial use requires separate licensing.
But the shared idea of creating a fictional world in which writers or artists can play and create is an interesting one. I really like the idea-- sort of crowd-sourced storytelling. I will probably look these worlds over when I get the chance and see if they inspire any story ideas.
All of this looks to also have some interesting implications about views on copyright, but I'll leave that for another post.