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
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
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.
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.