Many people by now have heard of the piece of fanfiction turned bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, and I know that currently many people are hating on E.L.James, either for her success, the fact that her writing is terrible, or that she got successful by using someone else’s characters.
I want to touch upon the last point actually. To begin with, there should be no shame in writing fanfiction. I know it receives a lot of negativity, but there’s nothing wrong with writing these stories. As long as the original author’s wishes are respected, there should be no legal issue. A number of famous writers (Cassandra Claire, for example) wrote fanfiction at one point; it’s a great tool that helps you develop your writing skills and receive feedback from people. I often reflect upon my earliest fanfics and compare them with my writing style now, and I feel proud that I’ve managed to come so far.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about some fanfiction ethics. Just because we’re using characters that do not belong to us doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong. Fanfiction writers always include disclaimers at the beginning of their stories/chapters saying that the characters do not belong to them. They all acknowledge that in no way are they allowed to use their fanfics to generate profit. It’s all done for fun.
Recently, one author broke this code of ethics by taking down her Twilight fanfic, simply changing the names and a few details, and publishing it under the title of Fifty Shades of Grey. While it can’t be denied that this book had garnered a lot of attention and acquired a huge fan base, it still made the majority of the fanfiction community quite angry, because E.L.James broke the unspoken code of ethics. I haven’t read the book myself and I don’t plan to, but I read enough snippets and comparisons to see how this might be considered a ripoff.
Personally I see legal issues here, but it’s not my place to speak. I’m no lawyer, and I guess Stephenie Meyer’s lawyers would sue the living daylights out of E.L.James had they found any copyright infringement, but I still don’t think what this author did was right.
When I still wrote fanfiction, I would occasionally get someone telling me to change the names in my stories and publish them under my own name. Sure, I could do that, but I wouldn’t feel right about it. The stories were written with certain fandom characters in mind, so a simple find and replace would not do the trick. I’d still be borrowing characters that aren’t mine, and I’d be crossing the ethical line.
However, I do think one can simply take the general idea of a fanfiction they wrote and employ it in a new, completely rewritten plot of their own. Even if the characters don’t belong to them, they still do own the plot, and I see nothing wrong with using a fanfiction plot to create a fully developed novel. I’ve seen many writers out there who created fanfiction that could easily pass as a great and engaging novel, and I would definitely encourage them to start working on their own stories.
Personally I’m not sure I would do it. My head is already buzzing with new plots, and I think some stories are best suited to be fanfiction. Though maybe if the plot well dries up, I might consider it, haha.
What about you? What’s your take on this whole fanfiction conversion?