Fan Fiction: Right or Wrong?

Fan Fiction is a very controversial issue in the book industry at the moment. Fan fiction is where fans of a book or series write their own stories set in that universe. This is something that has been going on forever. I’m sure many people out there wrote their own Famous Five stories or Superman adventures or version of their favourite book. I can remember trying to write my own version of Roald Dahl stories when I was a kid. The difference of course now is the internet and fan fiction stories are being published for everyone to read and some authors are making money from their fan fiction.

Two high-profile authors used it to launch their careers, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey evolved directly out of Twilight fan fiction she wrote. Cassandra Claire, author of the Mortal Instruments series, wrote Harry Potter fan fiction that she published online but has taken it all down since publishing her own series of books (which have no similarity to Harry Potter in any way).

Some high-profile authors like George R.R. Martin and Diana Gabaldon believe fan fiction is morally and legally wrong and have spoken out against it.

Where does plagiarism begin and fandom end?

Can an author legitimately use characters from other literature?

Jasper Fforde has a series about a literary detective who travels in and out of the classics such as Jane Eyre. Is that fan fiction or postmodern fiction? And what about all the Pride & Prejudice sequels?

Most stories are derivative in one way or another. From Stars Wars to Harry Potter new stories can’t help being influenced by the stories that preceded them. This is famously demonstrated by The Hero’s Journey or Monomyth which shows that there is a basic pattern found in many narratives around the world.

But Fan Fiction does cross a line. Fan Fiction takes characters and worlds that another writer has imagined and created. I think if fans want to write their own stories and share them with their friends, that is all part of loving a great book or series. But to turn that fan fiction into something that is sold, then I think you entering the world of plagiarism and you aren’t just borrowing someone else’s idea, you are stealing it.

5 thoughts on “Fan Fiction: Right or Wrong?

  1. I agree there is definitely a fine line between appreciating someone else’s art and wanting to show your love of it through fan fiction, and using it for your own professional or commercial gain. You’re right, the internet has definitely blurred the lines here. I think most fan fiction writers are not out there to get commercial recognition for their work but it was interesting that you cited the Pride and Prejudice and Jasper Forde examples as I hadn’t thought of them in that way before. If I was a novelist I would probably be a bit miffed if other people used my work in that way but who knows, it could just be very flattering!

  2. So I have a few thoughts about this…

    If you lift other people’s words (or very lightly paraphrase) and pass them off as your own, I think that’s very clearly a problem, whether or not it infringes on copyright.

    If you write fan fiction away from the Internet, change the names and settings to remove traces of the original work, then publish that under your name, would you say it’s still fan fiction and would you consider it ethically suspect? How would anyone even know?

    If you create fan fiction and build a following online around that work, then you replace names and settings and publish it under your name, how is it different from the scenario above and do we have to think of different ethical considerations? (For example, building a reader base around the original work.)

    I didn’t follow the Cassandra Clare case closely, but my understanding is that the problem with what she did is that she plagiarised actual words from other people’s work, TV shows, etc. t the extent that she was banned from the fan fiction community she was in. (I think, though, that by the time her work was published by a traditional publisher, the plagiarised bits had been taken out and the story reworked.) This, to me, is not exactly the same as EL James’s work, which used Twilight as a starting point to create a story. But in both cases, there’s still the question of their readers (and, I guess, the original hype for their work) coming from a fan base that is a direct result of someone else’s work.

    1. Thanks Kat. Was very hard to get an understanding of what happened with Cassandra Clare as a lot of stuff has been taken down and there is a lot of very hateful stuff posted about her too which is ridiculous.

      Directly lifting word for word is definitely plagiarism no matter how you dress it up

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