Fan fiction vs. inspiration

I’ll admit, I really don’t know enough about fan fiction to have a solid opinion on this, but it seems to me that there have been some very negative views taken of a few literary deals because they supposedly started off as fan fiction.

Which got me to thinking, what is fan fiction really?  Because I think maybe the term is being used too broadly to just stir up some shit.

Although this damages my street cred as a potential author, I admit that I read Twilight and enjoyed it and read 50 Shades of Grey and enjoyed it (although felt no need to read the rest of the series).

(Do I get any street cred back for also reading and enjoying Tolstoy or Kahlil Gibran or Pablo Neruda?  No?  Fine.  Be that way.)

Now there’s news of Abigail Gibbs, an eighteen year old who signed a six figure book deal for her vampire novel.  She’s quoted as saying that she read Twilight but it wasn’t bloody or edgy enough for her, so she set out to write her own novels.

And in discussion of her deal the words “fan fiction” have been thrown around.

But it seems to me that if you read a book and think, “huh, interesting premise, but I could do it better” and set out to write your own unique story that you’re not writing fan fiction.  If you read a story and think, “I wonder what happens to Jack and Suzanne next?  I think I’ll turn my idea of what happens into a story,” then I think you are writing fan fiction.

And I’m sure the lines quickly blur between fan fiction and fiction inspired by another’s work.  I never read the original “fan fiction” version of 50 Shades of Grey, but I’ve heard that the original used the same character names as Twilight.

What I know, though, is that the story I did read didn’t even have vampires.  Sure, it had some common elements with Twilight: clutzy girl, mysterious guy with lots of money who takes an interest in her, semi-non-existent love triangle because the other guy pales in comparison, absent mother, nice but ineffectual father.  And I can definitely see that Twilight may have been the launch point for the novel, but the final novel wasn’t even in the same “world” as Twilight.  And it’s not like those common elements are very unique.

I haven’t read Abigail Gibbs at all, but it sounds to me like she read Twilight and thought “I can do better vampires than that” and set out to prove it.  From what I can tell it has a love triangle, too, but, again, TONS of stories do.

So, to me, and this is just based upon reading a few news articles, so take it for what it’s worth (nothing), Abigail Gibbs did not write fan fiction.  She was inspired by something she read to write her own story.  (And how many of us haven’t been in some way or other.  Think to yourself, why do I write these stories?)  And E.L. James may have started closer to fan fiction, but the story I ultimately read was very much her own story in her own world.

Like I said, I’m not an expert on fan fiction, so this post was a bit of thinking out loud for me.  But it seems to me that it really doesn’t matter where you get your ideas as long as you can make the final story your own.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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2 Responses to Fan fiction vs. inspiration

  1. There is a big difference between being inspired by someone’s work and creating fanfiction from it. I used to write fanfiction. Mostly Harry Potter, but also Piers Anthony series…can’t remember what it is called now…Anne Rice’s vampire series, Xmen. Fanfiction doesn’t always use characters from the books, but the world/universe is the same. The point of fanfiction is to mimic an author so well that the casual fan could mistake the fanfiction for a companion novel to the book(s). Most fans don’t intend on ever being published. Their ultimate goal, if any, is to have the original author read and approve their writing.

    When you are inspired by someone, you take a piece of the author’s creation and mold it into your own idea. If the end result mimics the original author than you have failed as a writer.

    Hope that helps!

    • mhleewriter says:

      Lizzy – That does help. Like I said, I’ve never really been involved with fan fiction. The closest I ever came was reading one of the MZB Darkover anthologies that was all fan stories.

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