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Writing Fan-Fiction
by Tina Morgan

This past holiday season brought fantasy lovers two special treats: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Lord of the Rings. These movies are sure to inspire a lot of writers to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. However, there are potential problems with finding inspiration in such popular stories.

The first problem arises if you place your story to firmly in either Mr. Tolkien's or Ms. Rowling's worlds. These worlds are copyrighted. Using the characters or settings is illegal.

Fan fiction is a popular form of entertainment. In the majority of cases, fan-fiction is written when a reader doesn't want to leave the characters or the world they enjoyed so much, and the temptation to continue the story becomes overwhelming. But it's against the law to publish your fan fiction stories without explicit consent from the author/publisher, even if you only post them to your own website.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't write fan fiction for your own enjoyment but you need to consider the risks before you post it on the web. While some authors will turn a blind eye, other authors are more vigilant about prosecuting fan fiction writers than others. What you need to consider is how serious you are about pursuing a writing career? Do you wish to risk tarnishing your potential career with a copyright or trademark infringement suit?

It is possible to publish fan fiction if you are working with a series that allows outside writers to submit their work. Star Trek, Star Wars, Dragonlance and several other ongoing series do permit writers to submit their work for possible acceptance, but all of these series are closely guarded. If you are considering writing a novel for one of these series, then you should check with the publisher about their guidelines. Some publishers will only consider previously published authors.

Legalities Aside:

There are other concerns to working with pre-existing worlds and settings. Some readers will be offended if you try to copy their favorite authors. Every reader or viewer brings their own unique perspective to a book or movie. Their interpretation may be different than yours but that does not make it wrong. What it does mean is that if you write a character in a manner they feel is inconsistent with the author's original rendition, they may boycott your work and encourage their friends and families to do the same.

You might think that's not necessarily a bad thing for a new writer copying someone else's intellectual property. After all, you are going to go on and write your own blockbuster best-sellers, right? How about the effect this type of 'boycott' reaction would have with the original author of the series you are emulating?

A writer cannot ignore the power of word of mouth advertising. In a market where it falls to the writer to do a great deal of his/her own promotions, having a negative image with readers can be disastrous.


Fantasy readers have been enjoying Tolkien's Middle Earth for several decades now. His world continues to sell and be a favorite, but that does not imply that a new world won't sell just as well. It also does not mean that a new story set in Middle Earth will sell at all. The same is true for any existing work.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Using elves can be a creative and fun experience. Using Tolkien's elves can be trite and boring - one of the last things you want to have said about your work. One of the beauties of writing fantasy is the versatility of the genre. Don't allow yourself to be bogged down in the same old worlds, creatures and plots.

Take the time to really discover your own new exciting characters , rather than studying someone else's familiar old cast. Surround your hero with a worthy cast of original people, not the same jaded old dwarves your readers met in another book, written by another author.

Creating your own new world and inhabiting it with creatures/people of your own imagination can be a daunting task, but ultimately it is the most satisfying test of your own creativity you could experience. Using an existing world can get you into legal trouble as well as risking being ignored by the publishing industry. Nor does using a pre-existing setting make marketing your book to publishers any easier. Marketing it to the public might sound like a good idea, after all, the fan base is already there, but you have to find a publisher willing to print work set in a realm which is copyrighted by another author first.

Copyright 2002 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved.


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