Should I use my Fan Fiction to Write an Original Story?

We live in the age of fan fiction. With the relentless march of progress with the internet and such like, there is no shortage of sites online dedicated to stories written about established characters and franchises. From NCIS to Sherlock Holmes, from Buffy to Twilight; the internet is brimming with stories that take these characters in new and exciting directions, written by authors who’s grasp of storytelling neatly matches their passion for these existing concepts.

But what happens when an author takes the important step of turning their fan fiction story into an original concept in its own right?

It had always been something that I wondered about for a while and on several occasions I even began drafting posts on the subject – but none of them ever saw the light of day…

That is until I saw this question on a writer’s forum….

Question: I’ve been an active, busy fan fiction writer for almost two, three years now. And I’m wondering if I can rewrite one of my fan fictions as an original story. It’s a complete work of around 50,000 words. The story didn’t get the reception I hoped and I’m wondering if I could reach a greater audience by making it original. Any thoughts, suggestions?

First and foremost, it is entirely possible for a fan fiction writer to turn a piece based on someone else’s characters into an original concept. More to the point, it is possible that such a story would then sell.

Just look at E. L. James and the Fifty Shades franchise.

Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that I am in to the Fifty Shades franchise; in fact I have never felt the compunction to even pick up one of the books, let alone read it. However, on this occasion, it is a perfect example of how a fan fiction writer took their work, made it original and are now happily successful. More impressive still is the fact that James’ original story was received somewhat badly by the fan fiction community and yet still managed to become a global success.

Which brings me to my first point about this post – a terrible piece of fan fiction could end up being a brilliant/successful original story.

The points that make a piece of fan fiction bad are not necessarily going to translate if the piece is made more original. Readers may have taken offence to the type of story you’ve written, or what you’ve done with the characters, or maybe the style isn’t consistent with what has happened before. Maybe you’ve messed with the established canon too much or contradicted a story that is well-liked within the fan fiction community. Regardless of which it may be, these are all problems with your story as a piece of fan fiction, not as a story in it’s own right.

Whether or not a writer should take that step and convert their fan fiction in to an original concept is a slightly trickier question to approach.

The most basic answer anyone can give you is that if you want to take that step, then go for it. There is no one stopping you and if you think it is worth putting the time and effort in then why the hell not?

However, for those of you who are eager to succeed, the answer may be a little more complex.

Yes, you get success stories of fan fiction that were changed to be original stories but that doesn’t mean it’s a given. The thing about fan fiction is that you are writing something for a specific group of people whereas writing something original in the same genre is likely to expose you to a larger cross-section of the readership. It could be argued that that is a good thing.

However, the question ultimately depends entirely on the type of feedback you got in the first place. Did people have issues with a story you created using established characters, or did they just not like the story? Answering this question may not be as easy as reading your reviews (or maybe the problem is that no-one reviewed at all) but it is important to work out for yourself what type of criticism the work has received before you try to take it forward.

If people just didn’t like what you had done with an established story, then turning it into an original story may well be the sensible approach. However, if they generally like whatever is written about those characters, but didn’t like your story, the problem might be with your actual storyline. If this is the case, I’m afraid turning it into an original story is not going to solve the problem and you may find you receive a similar sort of reception.

Remember, a good house built on a poor foundation is just as likely to collapse as a poor house built on a good foundation.

Every week I will be scouring the internet for writers’ questions to try to answer in my posts. If you have a specific question that you would like my opinion on, please leave it in the comments section and I will address it in a future post. 

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