The Particulars and Perils of Writing (and Reading) Fan Fiction

Fan fiction: A story written by a fan based upon the work or life of the author they are fanatical about. (Example: Pride and Prejudice retold from Mr. Darcy’s point of view or Pride and Prejudice set in modern day.)

Are you a fan of fan fiction? I have to say, I’ve fallen in love with many books from this sub-genre and dabble here and there in writing it. But after reading a stack of fan fiction books, there are some particular pointers that I have picked up, as both a writer and a reader.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!
It’s all well and dandy to want to write a book based on your favorite author, but before you start to plot, check on the copyrights. Even some classics are not yet considered public domain. For instance, all but 10 Sherlock Holmes stories are public domain. So make sure you’re not rewriting one of those 10!

DON’T JUST REWRITE THE STORY
This problem occurs in the case of changing the point of view or moving the story to a different era. If you are retelling a story from another character’s POV, don’t just tell the story exactly the same, event by event, with a little change in the emotional response. Give your reader new events, new details and new characters mixed in with the classics. For instances, in Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman Trilogy, we get to know everything Darcy did when he wasn’t showing up next to Elizabeth as well as some additional historical details.
The same applies for changing the setting for a novel. So you’ve moved Cinderella into a dystopia setting. Great. It doesn’t necessarily follow that you should still have a pumpkin turn into a carriage or even a literal glass slipper. In fact, you might want to forget literal all together. Reimagine each event in the story to suit the actual setting.

READ WHAT YOU WRITE
At the very least, be aware of the other types of fan fiction in your genre on the market. Don’t just automatically ignore the fact that someone might have already come up with your idea. Find a way to make yours different.

PLEASE, DON’T DESTORY IT (The Reader’s POV)
A new twist on an old story? Great. The true story behind the story? Love it. Turning a classic novel into an steamy erotic book or a nasty horror show?…You’re kidding me, right?
This is me, as a reader, speaking to both writers and readers new to this scene who might not know how far some people take it. As I lover of Jane Austen, who was obviously a moralist, I don’t want read about the Darcy’s sex lives or contemplate chopping Ms. Lucas’s head off. I also don’t like it when writers take real people who from historical account were good, for instance Jane’s brothers, and turn them into adulterers and murders just to make her life into a cool mystery novel.
In other words, dear readers, always read the reviews.

That’s my take on fan fiction. What’s yours? Any you can recommend to me?

If you want some good stories to start with, definitely try the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman Trilogy, Debra White Smith’s Austen Series (modernization), or Anthony Horowitz’s new Sherlock, The House of Silk (it gets a little lost in the middle, but it begins and ends with a true Sherlockian style).

5 thoughts on “The Particulars and Perils of Writing (and Reading) Fan Fiction

  1. Honestly, I don’t normally enjoy Jane Austen fanfiction. All the ones I read were very boring, completely lacking in humor, which is what I enjoyed most about the originals. I’ve heard of tackier remakes (like S&S and Sea Monsters), but felt I certainly had better things to notice.

    To sum up: By the time I’m done with MP, mine will probably be super-inferior to the original and I’ll be less judgmental of other fanfiction!

    1. There is lots of really bad fan fiction out there for sure! I think everyone who writes starts by, either intentionally or not, emulating their favorite authors or stories. In consequence, a lot of the work is actually underdeveloped. But there are some worthy ones out there. You just have to really work for it. Since I know you’re more than just a first timer, I’m willing to bet your MP has much more promise. lol

  2. Someday maybe fanfiction will get nailed down a little better legally but for now, I’d say the biggest interest lies in copyrighted works which makes things tough. (I found this article fascinating: http://www.business2community.com/entertainment/copyright-myths-from-the-world-of-fan-fiction-0588594 – interesting that 50 shades was fan fiction and now she pursues those who use “her” work.)

    There’s so much poor-quality fanfiction out there, too. I’ve only written two – StarTrek TOS and Road to Avonlea. I like fanfiction that provides a peek into the world that the book didn’t give, or a very unique spin. Someone I know is blending Harry Potter and Hana Yori Dango and it’s very well done.

    But you do have to be careful to read the reviews and tags to make sure you don’t wander into some of that destoried stuff.

    1. Both of your points actually connect well to reality. The Conan-Doyle estate just went through a major law-suit in an attempt to get royalties off of the success of many popular spin offs, but lost that bid. Agatha Christie’s family has also gone after fictionalized versions of her life as defamation, again, losing that argument. The fact of the matter is we are inspired by other people’s art, so it seems natural. And I totally agree about your point of practicing writing through fan fiction, because I do just that! I have a fan fiction manuscript that I have been writing for years now, but I mostly use it as a way to explore writing styles. I say more power to the fan fiction writers, even if so many of them aren’t very good. It might just be their beginning.

  3. I’ve heard it said fanfiction can be good practice for writing because some of the work – the establishment of characters and a setting – have already been done. I can see that point from a “it’s good practice” stand point.

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