Saturday, April 26, 2014

Last Post on Fanfiction: OCs That Add to Narrative

Happy belated Easter, everyone! I'm so sorry for not updating recently. The past few months haven't been that busy, although Alban Lake accepted one of my short stories for publication, and my real reason for not posting is that I didn't have decent topics, what with writing fiction for anthologies and such.

A while  back, Matt Anderson wrote a blog entry on Revamping established works through photo manipulations, fanfiction, and television show gags. Essentially, these works served as a springboard for new ideas and interpretations, whether they involve the Super Sentai becoming an American phenomenon as the Power Rangers or Harry Potter having rationalist foster parents. New stories emerged, new possibilities. Matt is even writing a wonderful serial called Duke Forever, in which a black Time Lord explores various worlds with an elevator-shaped time-ship and Stargates.

There comes one question, however: if you change so much about the established work, then why not make it your own story, with an original setting and all?

My argument is that the fine line relies on the established world. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, changed the world of slasher film genres and vampire lore by mandating a chosen girl to stake vampires and protect humans from evil creatures, rather than mandating that monsters and serials go for the cheerleaders first. Joss Whedon changed the role for pretty girls in the horror genre, giving them a reason to fight monsters rather than to run. He rewrote the role to the point that when Buffy meets Dracula, the original famous vampire, she squeals over meeting him rather than running for her life, and learns about her Slayer legacy from him.
Image source:

With other established worlds, however, we find it much harder to build new settings for different characters. We liked Harry Potter not just because of the title character, but also because of the fascinating Wizarding World behind the Leaky Cauldron; they even built a theme park around the concept of visiting Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. We want to participate in that world despite the abuse of Memory Charms, prejudice against house elves and Muggleborn wizards, and Dolores Umbridge. We want to buy wands that choose the wizard, and to deliver notes via owl post. It's not a perfect world or a perfect story, but it's close enough and vibrant to the reader.

Image source:

World-building is hard work for a writer, especially for one inspired by a complicated world. If we derive too much from the established work, then we run into the risk of plagiarism. One author, Dmitri Yemets, found that out the hard way when he wrote a book called Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass, which he claimed was a parody of Harry Potter. He faced a legal dispute from J.K. Rowling on releasing the book in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, though he managed to keep publishing in Russian, and later on in Dutch. Yemets maintains that Tanya Grotter was a parody, and even wrote a book depicting the legal battle in this different fantasy world, taking a cheap shot to vent his anger.

I've recently encountered this interesting situation while writing original fiction based on How to Train Your Dragon. These stories don't feature dragons or Vikings, but they feature a nugget from the original book series that stuck with me. In one case, I changed the setting completely and wrote the story like a Criminal Minds episode, so that it's completely different from the original source. It blossomed into an emotional narrative and took a life of its own, all while I was writing dramatic fanfiction at the same time.  

The world has the last word, because setting defines the story as much as characters and plot do. If you want to write about scientists encountering magic wands in Harry Potter and avoid the lawsuits from J.K. Rowling, then transplant your characters in a new setting, finding that springboard of inspiration. Turn a genre cliche on its head, and allow the cheerleader to stake her vampires.

Good luck, fellow writers. A little bit of inspiration is full of surprises. 

1 comment:

Matt Anderson said...

The Harry Potter theme park thing is a fascinating example of fanfiction. I mean, it's almost like they're actively encouraging people to roleplay in that world. Asking people to dress up as their Original Character and buy some Every-Flavour Beans for themselves.
Never mind how interesting the idea of Live Action RolePlay Fanfiction [Not RPF] would be, the stories and franchise are ACTIVELY ENCOURAGING YOU to live out your own fantasies within that world. Who could possibly resist?