Taking a concept from another fanwriter and writing your own story

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Title: Taking a concept from another fanwriter and writing your own story
Creator: Flamingo
Date(s): September 30, 2003
Medium: post to a mailing list
Fandom: has a focus of Starsky & Hutch
External Links:
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Taking a concept from another fanwriter and writing your own story is a 2003 essay by Flamingo.

It was posted to VenicePlace, a Starsky & Hutch mailing list on September 30, 2003 and is quoted here on Fanlore with Flamingo's permission.

In 1999, Flamingo wrote a related essay about fans allowing other fans to expand upon their fics. See Letting others use your characters and plot lines.

Some Topics Discussed

The Essay

[a fan asked]: How many of us have read a particular story and just loved the idea and wished the author had either expanded on it, gone in a slightly different direction, a different ending, slash instead of gen?... In a different case, and the reason I am posing a question: a new and unique idea appears in a story and though it is a good story and enjoyed, your imagination takes flight in an entirely different direction. Perhaps you wrote to the author and told him/her of your wishes but they cannot/will not write your story desire. Does this writer 'own' that idea? Do that story preclude any other writer from taking the concept and reworking the one basic idea into an entirely new story?

Interesting question, especially in fandom, where ideas are traded, bandied back and forth, taken from one fandom and put in another, not to mention strikingly similar story ideas appear at about the same time from two different writers in two different locals, neither of whom could know about the other.

When you talk about "ideas," especially when you mention "new and unique ideas" I have to stop there first. While I have come across stories, and recently, too, that I've never read in *this* fandom -- which, to me, makes them "new and unique" to me and to this fandom, I know enough about writing to know that in some other fandom this idea has been used before, perhaps many times. I know there wasn't a single original idea in Total Eclipse, and I'd have to say none of my stuff contains any original, new, or unique ideas. I think my strength as a story teller might be in infusing characters and stories with a lot of emotion -- but all of it has been done before.

The minute you take "an idea" and take it "in a slightly different direction," with a different writer, I'd be willing to bet the entire story will have little resemblance to whatever sparked the idea. Most of us develop ideas from reading other stuff, watching shows, talking to one another, bouncing ideas around. Ideas are a dime a dozen. No one publishes *ideas* -- no professional publisher buys *ideas* (we're not talking TV or movies here. There they buy "ideas." If they could go directly to buying neurons, they'd do it.) People publish, and pro houses buy completed stories. If you take a single idea and hand it to 5 writers and tell them to go forth and write, you will get 5 different stories which may have a similar theme or setting. The theme or setting might be the core "idea", but the stories will all be different.

I mean, in this fandom alone, we've got entire "genres" of ideas -- the immediate post-Sweet-Revenge-love-scene-in-the-hospital story, the explain-away-the-Kira-episode story, the "unrequited" Hutch stories, the "unrequited" Starsky stories -- rarer, but still there, the Hutch-is-secretly-gay stories, the Starsky-is-secretly-gay stories (rarer, but still there). There are tons of 'em. And a really good writer can take these well-worn ideas and make them sparkle and live again. But then again, those "ideas" are archetypal in this fandom, so it's not like you're taking them from anyone.

The writer of the Vermont Ave/Homecoming stories spun off that universe from Teri White's gen series [which begins with Copkiller]. She was a friend of Teri and she had Teri's blessing. Teri wasn't interested in writing in that universe anymore. When Suzan Lovett fell in love with the gen novel "Decorated for Death" she very much wanted to write a sequel and slash it. She even produced 5 pieces of art for it. But when she asked the authors about it, they said they weren't done working in that universe, and said no. That was 20 years ago. Now, the authors could care less. If I can ever find the time (it's on the to-do list), I'd like to dredge Suzan's brain for her plot and write it with some input from her. She'd like that, too. But those two examples were in the paper-only days. Nowadays, with the expansive proliferation of internet fic, I think it might be really really hard to figure out how "new" or "unique" an idea is in the first place (who's to say the idea you're reading wasn't first read in some other fandom or by some other author?). When I was approached by a fan with the fact that someone had plagiarized a story of mine that was on the net and put it into another fandom, I wasn't really sure that was what happened. The fan insisted on it, said whole paragraphs were lifted. Well, I didn't have the original story with me, and if you think I can remember whole paragraphs from my own stuff, fuhgedaboudit. The idea itself was hackneyed. I stole it from the show. (S&H traveling around in the semi during Set Up, and screwing in it.) There was nothing unique and new about it that another writer couldn't have come up with a similar scenario, a big truck, two horny guys, and how different would the stories be?

Presuming that there are truly no new ideas, the question to ask yourself is: how different can I make this core idea? What part of the idea appeals to me that makes me want to rework it? If the core idea that appeals to you cannot be changed significantly enough to make the story a whole separate idea...well, then, you might want to ask permission just for etiquette's sake. If the writer didn't give you what you wanted doesn't mean she didn't do her best. But another consideration is: how old is this story? Is this person still in this fandom? Is this person still in fandom? Suzan's easy to get a hold of. I wouldn't consider writing something in one of her universes without asking her. HOWEVER, when an internet fan did just that, wrote some sequel scenes to the end of one of Suzan's novels, and everyone got on the new writer's case, and the new writer felt terrible because she didn't know that wasn't considered fan etiquette (I mean, we're blatantly stealing from the show!) -- Suzan couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. As she said to the fan, "I didn't ask William Blinn's permission to write in his universe. I'm not sure why you should need permission to write in mine." And, of course, the novel was years and years old and Suzan had no interest in going there again. So time and distance may have something to do with the issue. I don't really think Terri Beckett and Chris Power are going to care if internet readers feel like writing "sequels" to the end of their trilogy. I don't think that anyone who wants to write missing scenes or sequels to Total Eclipse are, in any way, harming that story, or even affecting it.

But, I'll tell you, I don't feel that way about my pro stuff.

Clearly, this is not a black and white issue. If the writer is current, and the work is current, I would say it would be the better part of sense to ask permission (and not be surprised if you're turned down). I think the bad feelings you might incur by just doing as you want to do might not be worth it. But the main issue is, does this new story *really* reflect the original material, or was it just a jumping off point for you to go somewhere else with. Somewhere very different.

When Gloria sent me her story "Talk Dirty To Me" because she was afraid it wasn't very good, I fell in love with it. It was a very short PWP kind of story, told with the guys in two different cities on the phone. It was sweet and sexy and kind of innocent in a fun way and it really touched me. I loved it so much I begged her to let me write "Hutch's" part, and she said yes. Now I was starting this story from the very last line of her brand-new story, so there was no mistaking the source material. When I wrote the much longer, more complicated story, I sent it to her for her approval. She wasn't happy with one part of the conflict, so I changed it. It was her idea, and her universe. I was definitely on her territory. If the example you're talking about is that dependent on the original idea...then you need to find out what the original writer feels about this.

If *I* were the original writer, I think I'd just put it down to imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. But I'm not that possessive about my fannish stuff since I feel I'm stealing it from its creators, so who am I to quibble? But that's *me*. Other people in fandom are probably not going to feel that way.

I know in Sentinel fandom one writer wrote a story that many people felt did not end well, and a well-known writer essentially took that idea and wrote a sequel "putting things to right" -- which is a fairly common fandom phenomena. That sequel, I believe, is well-known. I'd be curious as to what Sentinel fans thought of the way things transpired. I'm not at all positive, but I don't believe the second writer asked for or got "permission" to write that sequel, especially since, in effect, she was trying to counteract the original idea and "improve" it. Sentinel folks, care to comment?

If I posted a vampire story that began in a certain entirely unique way and a second writer took that beginning and reworked it a bit and then went somewhere else entirely with it - is she stealing.

Well, again, it's really hard for me to believe that any vampire story -- a genre that people have been writing in for hundreds of years -- could begin in a "certain entirely unique way" but then without the specifics, it's a little hard to say. And when you say "reworked it a bit" -- does that take out the "certain entirely unique way"? or just alter it a little but no so that the well-read reader wouldn't recognize it. I guess I need more specific examples.

On a wider stage this, I am sure, would not be a problem. But what about in a tiny fandom like S&H where almost everyone will have read the first story and it will be impossible not to make comparisons?

Actually, that may have been true 10 years ago, but I'm not sure it is now. Is the first story on-line? Then there's a better chance it's been read by others. But if it's only in a zine, then that may not be the case. (Even if it's on line that may not be the case. I'm *way* behind in my internet reading, just because it's not as convenient to read internet stuff as it is to read zines. Zines can go into the bathroom. Computers can't.)