50 Shades of Grey needs no introduction. It was Twilight fan-fic turned into original prose by changing minor and crucial details to avoid copyright issues, and to make the book publishable.
The fan-fiction discussion is all the rage on writer’s boards, because so many writers are, well, hacks, and others possess real talent. Both are huge enthusiasts for established, intellectual properties. Additionally, when you think about it, Hollywood’s huge propensity for reboots, remakes, prequels and “three-quels” means there might be a few writers and script doctors out there thinking like a fan-fic writer, in that said writer must do fan service, include special elements, and make specific team-ups or conflicts that make the script attractive to a potential audience.
So what do you do if say, you have an undying love for a trademarked property, and want to add your own tales outside its canon? What can you do to make what might be a good story your own, but nobody is knocking on your door to turn your fan-fic into the latest remake-a-palooza?
1. Kill your Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is a wish-fulfillment character. Sometimes they pollute “real” writing, like pulp novels, but fan-fic is especially rife with author surrogates that hook up with the lead heroine, outclass the main hero, and squash the main villain with ease. Try referring to my previous post, “Compounding Difficulties,” to see how your Mary Sue can gain some important characteristics, such as conflicts they can’t overcome with ease, to bring your wish-granter down to Earth. “Depower” your Mary Sue. Give her limitations, like making her good at judo but terrible at math. Figure her into a situation where she’s forced to use math, and judo won’t solve her problem. Make her average looking, even unattractive, or unconventionally attractive. It’s easy to make your protagonist godlike. It takes more work to make them human.
2. Take what’s weak about your cherished franchise, and make it strong. In “It’s in the Marble,” I talked about A Watcher in the Woods, a mediocre book with a core idea that’s good, and one I think is worth saving. What in your favorite franchise is weak, and what would you change about it, if given the pen? Is there some maligned narrative out there that needs the love and care needed to turn it into a great story? Taking your fan-fic and using it to generate a new take on an old idea is what makes that fiction yours. That’s you emerging from the story now, because you’re injecting your own personality and thoughts into it.
3. The names, places and things have been changed to protect the innocent. This is where the 50 Shades comparison factors in. The author, E.L. James, had to change key facts, like names and locations, to avoid lawsuits. That’s not the sole reason though. Removing the safe, established character names and locations forces you to come up with your own ideas, even if it is as simple as, “Well, Doctor Who rides in a TARDIS, but Professor Zenzic rides in an AMC Javelin!” Again this is about making your fan-fic your fic. Take your depowered Mary Sue, merge her with a canon character, give her a dickie and a bolero, and stuff her into the passenger side of that Javelin – or even better, the driver side (Who says Prof. Zenzic has to drive all the time?).