All right how-to readers, I'm an idiot. Someone pointed out how atrocious my comments on fanfiction were in the Original vs. Fanfiction chapter. I just went back and reread it and ... wow I'm embarrassed. My derogatory comments toward fanfiction were totally uncalled for and WRONG.
Serious apologies to anyone that chapter may have discouraged from working on their fanfictions. I suck eggs... I'm so sorry guys. My views on it have since changed, so here's an updated chapter, and I've deleted the old one.
A discussion of fanfiction.
Fanfiction is a story written using characters/storylines/settings from an established work of fiction (or real life people... which I don't agree with and find creepy, but I won't open that can of worms today).
Writing fanfiction is great for beginning writers and seasoned writers alike. It tends to get a bad rep because a lot of people new to writing start with fanfiction, so obviously the quality of many fanfictions will reflect that. However, in the hands of a seasoned writer, fanfiction can be phenomenal (go read my review of Doctor Who: The Drosten's Curse).
Fanfiction is a great entry into writing because the characters and settings are, for the most part, already established, so all the person has to do is come up with a plot (and maybe a few OCs). It's a fantastic learning tool to transition a new writer into the flow of writing and giving them a bit of a template to get them started. It's also a hella fun putting your own spin on established characters/stories you love. Maybe there was something offscreen that was just hinted at, and you want to explore it further, and thus, you create your fanfiction. Or there's just some premise you want to put your own spin on, or you just LOVE a character and want to put them in a completely new situation and explore what they'd be like.
But you can't publish fanfiction, UNLESS the owner of the thing commissions you to write books for their universe, such as the Doctor Who novels, Star Wars novels, Star Trek novels, etc. Or you do some... erm... switching of names and places to make yours "original" from the thing you wrote the fanfiction on (50 Shades is a prominent example, though I don't condone doing this yourself). But if you just wake up one day and write a Harry Potter fanfic, you can't just go and publish that.
If your goal is to just to write for fun, then by all means keep hashing out that fanfic! Have a blast. :)
If your goal is to become a published author someday, I encourage you to try spreading out and work on some original fiction, too. Try to come up with your own original idea so awesome that other people will want to write fanfiction on it. :)
But bottom line is fanfiction can be a great creative outlet for fans and really fun learning tools for the novice writer and seasoned writer alike. It takes great skill to weave a new story out of things like Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. and get hardcore fans to enjoy them.
So if anyone tells you fanfiction isn't for serious writers (like I previously did... I really apologize for that), shove some published fanfiction in their face (not 50 shades please).
The fine line between inspiration and plagiarism.
Copying someone's plot or characters and mixing them up is not original fiction. It's plagiarism. Finding something you like, trying to imitate it, and calling it your own work is plagiarism.
But it's not always that easy to discern if you're blatantly copying something, or it inspired you. Look at the movie, Avatar. The entire plot was exactly the same as Pocahontas (and there are a ton more stories with that exact same plot). Was it plagiarism? I'd say yes, but countless others would argue against that.
We all find inspiration from books and movies but at what point does it turn from inspiration to stealing ideas? It's impossible to find exactly where you cross that line, but I'll offer tips on how to be as far away from that line as possible.
How to come up with a unique idea.
Here's my advice on how to not copy something. For example my novel, SuperHero, pulled inspiration from the movie V for Vendetta. Inspiration should be taking the feel of the inspiration rather than the exact element itself. In my case, I loved the idea for V's mask being a symbol for the people rather than just a way to hide his identity, so I gave my superhero a mask even though everyone already knew who he was. I also designed the mask so it looked completely different from the Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta. Still, I had a short monologue spoken by the hero about the mask being a symbol, but I didn't copy V's monologue. I listened to V's speech, and a few days later, I wrote that scene in my novel. That gave room for my brain to insert its own ideas into V's speech and rephrase the words in a way that fit my character.
If you watch a movie and find something they did or said was awesome and want to use that idea in your story, take a few days off from writing before you start on that scene. That will help you morph the idea into your own. The heart and organs lie at the core, but the outfits and skin are different.
Don't try to copy and ENTIRE storyline. Take bits and pieces from a ton of sources. If one movie inspired your story, great! Now find similar movies or tv shows or books and mix them together. A story is just a mixture of ideas pulled from a ton of places. We see those Twilight-rip-offs all over the YA section these days, but why do we call them rip-offs? Because it seems like Twilight was the ONLY inspiration. They didn't have any other material to pull ideas from, so it turned into a carbon-copy story.
So back to my novel as an example, I pulled inspiration from the Holocaust, V for Vendetta, the song Hero by Skillet, the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dragonball Z, Iron Man--and those are just the big ones. The wider the variety of places you pull inspiration from, the more unique your idea will be. It's not WHAT you take from another source, but HOW you put all that information together that makes your story unique. Each story is just one rehash of the 26 letters of the alphabet strung together in different combinations. Don't let your story have the same combination as another.
There is no such thing as an original idea. Every single idea we have comes from someplace else—we make the male and female leads fall in love, there's a villain to defeat, the hero will set out on a journey to complete a task. What makes the idea "original" is piecing together all those influences and ideas in a new combination.
Let's look at the elements of this story and tell me if you can figure out what story this is:
-orphan boy living with aunt and uncle
-gets told he's the chosen one
-he's taken away on an adventure
-he's taught to use his powers
-but there's an evil threat trying to take over the world
-he makes new friends and goes on adventures
-with the help of said friends, he defeats the villain and gets glory
So, what's the name of this story? Harry Potter? Star Wars? Eragon?
Three of the most cherished stories of our time all have the exact same plot. But why do we consider them "original?" It's not the core, but the execution. All the little details are different. Harry is a wizard and uses magic. Luke is a Jedi Knight and uses the Force. Eragon is a Dragon Rider and uses Saphira. The subplots of each story are completely different with a different mix of characterizations and moods of the settings. The authors used the same 26 letters, but the combinations were different. They pulled inspiration from very different sources, so even though the overarching plot is the same, each story is fully distinguishable in our minds.
What do you feel when you think of the Harry Potter books? Do you get that same feeling when you think of Star Wars or Eragon? No. With your writing, you have to make it feel different from anything ever written, and that's what will make it original and unique and creative.
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