The Ethics of Reworking Fanfiction: An editor's opinion

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Commentary
Title: The Ethics of Reworking Fanfiction: An editor's opinion
Commentator: Julianne Bentley
Date(s): January 17, 2012
Medium: online
Fandom: fanfic
External Links: Chicks & Dicks: The Ethics of Reworking Fanfiction: An editor’s opinion, Archived version
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The Ethics of Reworking Fanfiction: An editor's opinion is a blog pot by Julianne Bently. It was posted at the website "Chicks & Dicks" on January 17, 2012. It is about Filing Off The Serial Numbers.

Comments were closed after this blog post was linked at Dear Author and a post there about Fifty Shades of Grey.

The author addressed copyright, changing your characters' names and settings, and other practical details for someone who wants to file the serial numbers off their fanfic.

Addendum

The author added an addendum to clarify some points and to emphasize she was speaking for herself and not Dreamspinner Press.

An excerpt:
Due to the amount of confusion that has stemmed from the blog post below, as well as the mischaracterizations of the opinions expressed within it, I have decided to include this addendum. My hope in writing the article was to simply encourage writers of fanfiction to find creative ways to turn fanfiction into original fiction. Unfortunately the article has now been quoted out of context and misconstrued on several other blogs. Also, some of my opinions have been attributed directly to Dreamspinner Press. Dreamspinner Press did not endorse the article or the opinions expressed therein, as the article expressly states. Any attempt by others to directly attribute my opinions stated within the article to Dreamspinner Press is simply another mischaracterization.

Excerpts

One of the many quirky and interesting things about Dreamspinner Press’s staff is that many of us first discovered m/m romance through the world of slash fanfiction – “Harry Potter,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Supernatural,” and many many others. In general, if a work submitted for publication was originally fanfiction, we’ll notice unless the author has done an outstanding job of removing every single little detail. Now, don’t let that make you fret; we don’t discriminate. A good story is a good story, and what a publisher cares about is whether the story can stand on its own, out of the fanfiction-universe context, and also have original enough characters and setting that no one gets in legal trouble.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the “ethics” of fanfiction, and while I can only speak for myself on this matter, I think that it boils down to ownership of creative materials. A writer can’t steal/borrow obviously unique characters or worlds, but they can make their own; after all, there’s nothing outstandingly unique about tropes like an orphaned boy who stumbles into an exciting new world, a compassionate vampire, or a fantasy-world elf. The key is to change enough of the details so that a non-obsessive fan won’t recognize it. (An obsessive fan will recognize anything – even if sometimes they get it wrong. I once read a submission and would have sworn that it was Arthur/Eames from “Inception,” except that it was a novel-length story that was submitted less than a month after the movie was released, making it highly unlikely that someone would have seen the movie, thought about the pairing, and written a novel over 60k words so quickly.)

So yes, I think that it’s fine to cannibalize/rework your fanfiction and send it into a publisher. Many of our authors work like that, and why not? As long as you’re not infringing on anyone else’s creative material, use whatever tools you have to inspire you. Tolkien and Shakespeare both borrowed from real historical events and folk tales; I think I once read an interview where Anne Rice said her character Lestat was modeled on the actor Rutger Hauer. If they can do it, why can’t you?
Just in case I’ve given you a complex and made you feel insecure, let me take this opportunity to reveal that several of Dreamspinner Press’s stories started out their lives as fanfiction. Some even by our best-selling authors. I’d never “out” anyone by name, but rest assured that the author used someone else’s characters/world/personalities as the foundation for telling their own story. That’s okay - the more alive a character or world is in the mind of the writer, the more alive and real it becomes for the reader. It’s not a shortcut, and it’s not a sin. It’s more common that you think, so go for it – polish up your old fanfiction stories, tweak and revise and make the details your own, and send them in!

References