Fanfiction or Twist?

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So I’m driving to work this morning, listening to the radio, and I hear them announcing some new TV or movie called “Wonderland” taking yet another spin off of Alice in Wonderland, making Alice the bad guy as she’s grown up. A thought struck me, thinking of this and of other spin offs I’ve seen advertised lately, including the new movie “Oz” and the recent Snow White twists. Are these twists? Or could you also label them as fanfiction?

Wikipedia has the definition of Fanfiction as “a broadly-defined fan labor term for stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.”

If you take this definition at it’s heart, then all the recent stories using Grimm fairy tales, Lewis Carrol’s book, Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, etc. etc. are all at their heart fanfiction. And they’re selling very very well to the public’s appetite.

Of course what we typically consider fanfiction are stories set in other writers’ worlds where the writer still owns the copyrights to the book/movie/etc. Like Harry Potter, for example. Thus fanfiction writers can’t profit from their stories, no matter how good they might be. Their only option is to completely change the world and characters enough that it becomes their own. I understand that “Fifty Shades of Gray” was originally a Twilight fanfiction. I’d bet that there are others.

So what do we as writers take away from this?

Personally my take is this. Everything that we create as writers comes from somewhere. It may come from our life experiences, current world events, things we’ve read, things we’ve seen. Most writers pull from at least some literary source for at least part of their stories. It’s what we do with all these borrowed images and ideas that makes it unique. And let’s face it–sometimes it’s fun to play in a world that’s already been created for us, to play around with the characters left behind. I don’t see anything wrong with this. One just has to be careful in deciding if you’ll be able to claim it enough to be able to sell it to others. There do exist some franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars where you can be hired as a ghost writer to write entire books and profit with them. Dean Westley Smith certainly built a nice career doing this.

So call it a twist on an old classic, or call it ‘fanfiction’. Borrowed worlds do have their place.

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