Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Imitation or Inspiration?

Those were the days...
Ruth de Jauregui

Folks who know me know that I have strong feelings about fan fiction (fanfic). Not that people write it, I'm OK with that. My issue is that some think that it's acceptable to share it on the author's own pages and even propose selling it.

I know Mom (she was quoting Charles Caleb Colton) said that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," but Oscar Wilde took it further, saying, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”


As a non-fiction writer, I'm acutely aware of plagiarism. Just the smell of the accusation can destroy your credibility with your client and audience. Quotes must be properly placed within quote marks and credited every – single – time. Even paraphrased statements must be attributed.

But before I completely upset everyone who's ever written a story based on a favorite character, yes, I know that you just love that character so much that you want to read more about him/her and that world. I understand. Writing little stories for yourself are good practice in plotting and building a story. I think a lot of writers have done it at one time or another.

The difference is, you don't publish it or post links to it on the author's own website or fan page or fan group. Or try to sell it. You just don't do that – it's rude. And yes, the author's characters ARE copyrighted and in some cases, such as Disney properties, trademarked. It can be an expensive lesson if the lawyers descend on you. (Note: Song lyrics are strictly off-limits unless you purchase the right to use them. No, you cannot just quote them. You CAN mention the song title and that's about it. Trust me.)

Yes, yes, I know that some very popular novels were allegedly based on fanfic. The difference is that the admiring author then took the fanfic story and rewrote it into a whole new story, with new and/or renamed characters and a different setting. While that story may have started out as imitation, the base tale became inspiration.

That's where the difference lies.

It's great fun to use your imagination to spin out a tale, even one based on another author's work. At some point, however, you can take it into a new dimension and build it into your own tale of love or adventure or suspense or outer space.

Most tales are inspired by other stories, legends, factual articles, songs, conversations and the world around us.

Isaac Newton said in a letter to Robert Hooke, ""If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."

But Newton's words were based on the earlier words of Bernard of Chartres as attributed by John of Salibury. "Bernard of Chartres used to say that we [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants."

When we build a new world, characters, a plot and story line, we too stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and inspired us with their own tales. As an example, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Andre Norton's Witch World series inspired much of modern fantasy.

Inspiration leads authors to create fabulous new worlds for the reader. Hopefully those new stories will then inspire other authors to create their own tales.

My own WIP character, Bitter, was inspired by a conversation with my author friend Neal Litherland. We were talking about bitterness and the harsh issues and attitudes that authors face as they forge forward in their careers.

My overactive imagination began putting together a detective, a woman, a woman of color, who had faced the bitterness of fighting every step of the way to become a successful homicide detective and boom, Bitter was born. Being awfully ornery (don't know where she gets that from [rolls eyes]), once she was conceived, she demanded that I stop working on my four book urban fantasy (inspired by Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson) and begin working on her stories.

You can stop by and read the short story that introduces Bitter at www.ruthdj.weebly.com. The first chapter of that urban fantasy is also posted on my sneak peek website.

As a designer, I had to do the cover
before I finished writing the book!

Quotes were taken from Brainy Quote https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/charlescal203963.html, Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/558084-imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery-that-mediocrity-can and Wikipedia https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_of_Chartres

#UrbanFantasy #Nonfiction #Fanfic #ASmallGangOfAuthors