So you swoon over the characters, the story-lines are riveting, the settings are stunning, the jokes are timed perfectly, and you love the series. You want to write stories that use your favorite characters in their familiar settings but you don’t own them and there are copyrights in place. You are not sure you should do it, or you are not sure what you can do with it after you do. So is it okay to write fan fiction?
For those readers not familiar with fan fiction it is when the fan of a T.V series, book, movie, comic book, or other medium decides to write their own stories based on the character and world found in someone else’s work.
We have all seen it at the movies. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by federal law enforcement agencies and is “punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $250,000”. So is it okay to write fan fiction? Is it safe to write fan fiction? Will I go to prison?
In order to answer these questions you need to decide for yourself why it is that you want to make the effort. There may be many reasons why fan fiction gets written so let’s look at why you want to write it. What is your reason?
For gamers. Often your favorite series is turned into a game or can be played as a game. Most of the people who would play this game with you have seen all the episodes and they already know what happens. In order to make the experience fresh for all the players the game master will need to engage in writing fan fiction in order to provide new and exciting material for the players involved. Failure to do so would create predictable situations causing the experience to be ordinary at best.
For peace of mind. Game of Thrones fans are in a bit of an uproar about the final season as are some of the original fans of the original Walking Dead series over the losses of Glen and Rick. Fans do not like losing their favorite characters or have upheavals in the worlds they love so much. But, life as it is, actors burn out, get different jobs, or have issues with series production and leave the job. This often leaves writers in a position to write the character out of the series or change the series in some way that leaves a distasteful feeling for the fan.
For a job opportunity. There are those limited times where you have an opportunity to interview for a job working as part of the team of writers for a series. The interviewers may better understand your talents by looking at characters and situations they are familiar with. Writing fan fiction in this instance can be beneficial in capturing their attention or demonstrating your mastery of talents and skills.
To share your love. There are many web sites dedicated to fan fiction. You can join these web pages and meet people who share your passion for a program or book series. You can share your work with others, read what others have written, and talk about the ‘what ifs’ had something been done differently in the series. Fan fiction at these sites are divided by series name so if you are a fan of the CW show Supernatural you can move into the area dedicated to the show and share your work as well as read the work of others.
I asked my group of writer friends how they felt about fan fiction. Of those who responded none of them said they loved it and 20% said they hated it. The other 80% were somewhere in between but a few of them had written fan fiction in the past. When I asked them about their reasons for writing it they all responded it was done in an attempt to gain employment with series writing teams and none of them were successful in their endeavor although they did get close.
So if there is so much fan fiction, and copyright is an issue, how do people get away with it?
The old saying, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, comes to mind. The old message used by the movie companies used to go something like this, infringement without monetary gain is not protected, so when a fan wants to write about their favorite character as long as they do not attempt to write for profit they are okay to proceed. So if you are in love with your characters and the worlds they live in, as long as you do not intend to profit from the endeavor, you are okay to proceed. If you desire to have a career as a writer writing fan fiction is a way to gain experience as a writer but you will want to create your own world and characters as soon as you can so you can financially benefit from your work.