What is Fan Fiction?

Been thinking about Fan Fiction lately and wanted to know what you all thought about it.

Way back in the day, I wrote a piece of fan-fic, just to try it out. I enjoyed it, but never thought much about it. I guess I didn’t like playing in someone else’s sandbox all that much. Well, right now I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, which has been a heck of a ride so far (if you’re interested in that little project, you can catch it here at lancelot.underwatersamurai.com). Every couple of days they send me an e-mail with some encouragement to keep going. The latest was from Mercedes Lackey who recommended new novelists do a little fanfic to get moving. That e-mail got me thinking, is writing an Arthurian novel fanfic? It is playing with characters that the writer didn’t invent in a world they didn’t create, so it meets the very definition, but then again…

For that matter, The Guard could be considered fanfic under certain perspectives. There are no other Guard stories out there, but there are a lot of similarities (superficially, at least) to The Green Lantern Corps, or the Lensmen on top of that, or even The Galactic Railways. I’m not going to lie, the Guard started out as a Green Lantern story that DC didn’t pick up. I decided to take that initial story concept, change a few things, alter some others, and then turn it upside down and the result was The Guard. But the germ of an idea sprang from what I would like to see in a GL book. So, is The Guard fan fiction? Where does the line get drawn between inspiration and plagiarism?

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

3 Responses to What is Fan Fiction?

  1. I am constantly submerged in the world of fan fiction, and I can truly say that The Guard is *not* fanfic. To truly be fanfic, you have to retain the exact same characters as the original source (and you should at least try to use their proper voice when writing them). Now, aside from that, you can do whatever you want with them. Several people will write what’s called AU fanfic, meaning they’ve taken their characters and placed them in either a different time period, location, or have changed the relationships between the characters. Personally, I’m not a fan of these – I think a true fanfic should try to stick as close to the original story realm as possible.

    As a writer and beta editor of fan fiction, I find that most others that share my hobby are very considerate to those that own the source material. There are often author’s notes in the beginning of the story that leave a little disclaimer giving credit to the original creators and copyright holders of the characters. No one claims the material as their own, both out of respect for the source and out of that fear of getting accused of plagiarism. Fan fiction writing is merely a means to create different story lines for the characters, or often to continue a story (particularly with television shows canceled before their time) that otherwise would be lost forever. They keep beloved characters alive in the minds of the fanfic writers as well as for the readers.

    On top of that, writing fan fiction is a great way to practice finding character voice. For me, who aspires to write scripts for TV shows, it has been as essential tool in discovering whether I can satisfy fans of the original material. I need that feedback from the readers from time to time; that assurance that I can, in fact, recreate the characters as they were meant to be. Any criticism I may wind up with just shows me where I need to make changes in my work.

    What you have down with Guard, however, is entirely different. Perhaps you started off with a fan fiction, but the story that you created with the characters was your own. Changing the key players and twisting the plot from that original fanfic makes it something new, entirely. There is nothing wrong with borrowing a few ideas from other sources – authors do it constantly. We often unconsciously mimic other writers that we have respect for, anyway. As long as the characters and story are original, it can’t be considered plagiarism. It just means some readers may find some of the content familiar, but not in a bad way by any means. You’ll have merely tapped into an audience that already has an appreciation for your story’s content.

  2. I don’t think the Guard is fanfiction. There are similarities between The Guard and the Green Lantern Corp, true. But the story and direction are yours not DC’s. I write a lot of fanfiction for Star Wars: The Old Republic. So I have studied a bit of what is and what is not fanfiction. Most authors get ideas from other authors. Every author I have spoken to has said that, people from Orson Scott Card (Who I will never talk to again) to Anne Mccaffrey, to David Weber and Mercedes Lackey. Very few ideas today have not been used SOMEWHERE else. The trick is to take the idea and make it your own by changing it around a bit.

    Maybe you got the initial inspiration from the Green Lanterns, but you took it in an entirely new direction. Like I did when I wrote my first novel, one I am still trying to get published. It started as a homage to ‘the Last Starfighter’, one of my favorite movies of all time. And now it has dragons who carry dragon sized assault rifles fighting an army that uses tanks and airplanes.

    Does it bear a resemblance to GL stories? Sure. Is it a GL story? No.

    I like what yo are doing here. Keep it up.

  3. Profile Cover Art

    Thanks, guys. I appreciate the responses and the points raised. The world of modern literature is pretty crazy right now, and fan-fic is one more element of the scene that is gaining real traction. Unfortunately, the issue of copyright and money is also becoming a hot topic. The tech world is awash with suits and counter-suits over different patents and ideas and I think that the world of intellectual property will soon become a similar battleground.

    Personally, I think fan-fic is awesome. From a marketing perspective, who can ask for more? The issue becomes when the sites that host fan-fic start making real money. I don’t know if any do or not, but once they do… A lot of IP owners will be looking for a slice of that pie. And if they don’t, their parent companies will. It’s always a danger. In comics, the prime example of that was DEFIANT, a comic company Jim Shooter set up way back in the day. It was doing very well, but then Marvel weighed in and crushed them with lawsuits citing infringement. It was total BS, but a big company can destroy a little one with a few simple sheets of paper. It was a big eye opener to the comics world. Since then, every little guy has had to walk a little more carefully.

    The best defense, in my opinion, is being public. So many want to try and hide their ideas behind massive firewalls and privacy programs. I always wondered why. Copyright comes into play when a work is public — if you hide it in your cellar, you can’t legally protect it nearly as well as saying “my story’s been up on my website for months — of course the idea is mine!”

    By the way, Kalenath, I loved the Last Starfighter, too! You should post that book on the web and start looking at Kindle/Nook/etc to self publish. I’ve been doing the math on that lately — I think self publishing now is a much better idea than it was a couple of years ago. I know I’ll probably self publish Lancelot when I’ve got it all cleaned up, and I’m definitely doing that with the comics we’re working on. The tech is there, might was well use it!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *