May 25, 2011

Publishing and your Original idea

This week, Amy Sundberg challenged me to be up front, non-concilitory. I accepted.

I don't often bring it up in these blog posts, but I am a writer of FanFiction, specifically for Twilight. I have nearly given up all writing of this type, though plot bunnies do hop by once in a while as my contacts tell me of new contests. Nearly all my FanFiction, as opposed to the vast majority of the authors I converse with in fandom, is canon or alternate universe.

When I started my first fanfic, it was an extrapolation of a story told by one of the characters, Alice and Jasper's first meeting. It had been a while since I'd done any real writing, and it shows in this piece, but the imagery in my head was so clear that I went ahead. From there I went past the end of the published books, back into other memories told in brief, elaborating them, or twisting events to create spin off stories.

The majority of Twilight FanFiction is All-Human. I have told a few AH stories, usually at a prompt of some sort, where I fit 'pseudo' versions of the characters to a plot idea fitting a contest. I always resist and try to find places in the actual plot line that I could deviate instead. As soon as I turn the vampires and werewolves human, I hit the creative problem of: why does she have to be a brunette named Bella? Why can't I make her an East Indian named Padma? I have never written more than a few chapters of a story for FanFiction that wasn't based directly on the books.

Many fandom authors have a story idea, often romantic, and use the Twilight characters to tell it. They often are filled with warnings that this character or that character are OOC (out of character) or they change the period, the ages, the location... anything goes it seems. When they've invested time and effort into creating these 'pseudo' characters, they feel a sense of ownership in them that I can understand. They are often nothing like the original characters any longer. However, they were still based on them. The secondary and tertiary characters were pulled from names and descriptions in the book, usually used in the form in the book (keeping siblings related, married couples appearing together, etc.) that really pay homage to the series the story is borrowing from.

When an author decides to publish one of these stories as 'original' fiction, I cringe. The plot the author created was, in all likelihood, original. Many of the characters have personalities altered enough to be considered independent. However, they still used the framework provided by Stephenie Meyer. Worse, they've offered this fiction freely and are now choosing to rescind that offering, requiring payment for it. I cannot stand behind the decision.

Instead, I want to tell these authors, there is your first novel. Almost any published author will tell you, that first manuscript, it's practice. You can try to clean it up and make it pretty and get it sold, but more often, what you need to do is start fresh. You had a great idea for that story, surely you have another idea. Post excerpts of the new manuscript to your readership to garner interest. Choose some from their number to be pre-readers and beta readers. Use what you have, but start fresh with all new characters, all new situations. When you need a tertiary character, don't grab from the bag you have used, make them new and different. These are the things that will separate your story from fan-fiction into original fiction. In this way you won't be narrowly skirting proprietary or moral issues - you will be free and clear in conscience.

This doesn't mean you can't borrow an idea. *grin* Let's face it, everyone does it. This book is just Cinderella in the 1800s. That's just Great Expectations in present day. They say there are no new ideas, and they might be right. However, using the kernel of an idea is not the same as stealing the idea. I can have a story about a new girl coming to town, being 'adopted' by the other new kids and wackiness ensue without trampling on Twilight's toes. I can tell a story about a wizarding school that isn't an obvious homage to J.K. Rowling. Writing Excuses had an excellent podcast on this: How to Steal for Fun and Profit. The point was to make it your own, to make it original.

The Fanfiction author looking to publish their story will plead, "But that's what I did!" Except you did it after 'publishing.' Publishing literally means: to make public. You've already done that by posting to an open website. In that forum you have admitted that you didn't just pay homage to characters created by someone else, you used them. You probably included a disclaimer, pointing to the fact that this idea was NOT your own.

I've tweeted this point before and gotten pats on the back for it. It's what I did. You wrote a great fanfiction 'novel.' That's great! Wonderful! You have readers and reviewers ready and eager for your next work. Don't just give them redressed left-overs. Put that practice piece aside. Give it the place it deserves as a lesson learned and start your new and completely original idea. If you're worried about losing those fans in the meantime, tell them what you're doing. You might redress 'left-overs' in the form of out-takes from your completed story to keep them checking your page. Tack on a teaser from your Work-In-Progress to whet their appetites, and then, give them what they really want - something original.

Alright, let the flaming begin. *cringes for the onslaught*


  1. hmmmm you are not the first person I've heard about the first ms being practice actually.

    And it seem to make sense for Fiction writers but I wonder if it applies to NF as well.

    Sometimes I feel like Im the long wolf in writing NF so I have to sort of bob & weave through the advice and see what is applicable to me.

    Great post ... no flaming here. :)

  2. I think the rules are different with NF. It's much easier to take the same information and change the packaging as the 'facts' in an NF book haven't changed. However, when you try to 'repack' fiction, you can often lose the story completely, or find it doesn't fit its new form at all. This makes the 'restart' a much more viable option.
    (Also, and most authors will never admit this, their first idea wasn't very good ;)

  3. I wish more authors would cotton on to this one. Especially because of the first novel thing. I *wish* I had written my first novels as fanfiction! It would've been so much fun to get feedback and reviews for them! But I did the old-fashioned thing where I wrote three trunk novels before hitting an idea worth pursuing publication (and frankly, having the skill to hold forth for 70,000 words of well-written, well-paced work).

    Writers write, and if fanfic writers really want to "prove" that they're real writers (which frankly, you're a real writer the second you post a fic, but, for the sake of argument), the way to do that is to write the next novel and get *that* published. You'll have to have the next novel up your sleeve for the rest of your career, so why not start now?

  4. I know that my first novel, while not fanfic, ended up being trunked because there was just so much I didn't know when writing it, and by the time I finished revising it I knew I could do better. And indeed, my second novel was a definite improvement.

    I also agree that publishing fan fiction as original fiction seems like a bit of a contradiction of terms.

    Darn it, I'm not doing a good job at disagreeing with you at all! :)