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I've been juggling some ideas for NaNoWriMo and one of them is a Doctor Who story. Now I've not read a great deal of fan fiction but I've never read any that I'd say that compares to the original, and often I feel most fan fiction is a written exercise in Misery, with the fan fic author directing the characters, plot and theme over to their (often wildly different) point of view. Reading these back feels unnatural and clunky, as though the very act of trying to continue someone else's story ruin's your own.

How can I avoid the pitfalls of writing fan-fiction? Or should I avoid it entirely?

Edit:

For the purpose of this question 'dangerous' means that it will naturally lead to the things I mentioned above: characters becoming Mary Sue's, and plot veering wildly from the original theme, as the author forces the plot to work their way. In short is it possible to continue someone else's story gracefully?

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Can you please clarify what you mean by "dangerous"? Otherwise, this question is just accumulating opinons on FF as its answers, and we'll have to close this. –  Neil Fein Oct 29 '12 at 3:03
    
It should be fine as long as it's just for fun. Doctor Who, in particular, should provide a format that's fairly forgiving of you wishing to play with your own ideas. There are periods in the Doctor's history where he goes off a-wandering without his best known companions and all sorts of things could happen to him during those times. –  One Monkey Oct 29 '12 at 13:59
    
How are your concerns specific to fan fiction, aside from using the Mary Sue label? –  Neil Fein Oct 29 '12 at 17:49
    
@NeilFein because of what I've seen in fanfiction before. –  Pureferret Oct 29 '12 at 20:31
    
I'm concerned that the answers, while well-written, are really just people's opinions of FF. I'm not closing this - for now - but I have protected it. Am consulting with the other mods to see if this should remain open or not. –  Neil Fein Oct 29 '12 at 20:47
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4 Answers 4

Keep in mind that Doctor Who is not written by one man. The list of screenwriters is actually very, very long: List of Doctor Who writers. You might argue that, to a certain degree, most of them actually wrote fan fiction, since they were not the original creators of the series, but fan fiction that became canon once the episodes were filmed and aired ;) Actually, both "new series" Doctor Who writers Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat wrote fan fiction about the time lord earlier in their careers, before they became the main writers for the series! And I bet they're not the only ones.

But the trick to writing good fan fiction is to get to know the characters and the world they belong to extremely well, and then staying true to them. Most bad fan fiction, aside from those that are bad simply because of poor writing, grammar and such, is bad because the characters are out of character. They do things that original characters would never do. In worst cases, it's a completely different character that only wears the original character's name. For the truly worst example of it, check out the Internet's worst fan fic: My Immortal rehost. So if, for example, you'd have the Doctor sleep around with every female he comes across, be sure you'd get flamed by Doctor Who fans, because chasing skirts is simply not something that the Doctor does. It's just not in his nature. A good fan fic, IMHO, is the one that stays true to the characters (plus, of course, that the story itself is well written).

If you do, however, really really want to have our favourite time lord turn into a skirt chaser, you'd have to give it a believable reason that is possible in the universe he is in. For example, he could become infected by a weird alien virus that makes him horny. Or he got hit on the head and forgot who he is - not very imaginative examples, I know, but it's not as important for the reason to be imaginative as it is important for it to be possible according to the rules of his world. Just as long as there is a reason. Having a character do something out of character out of the blue is a bad thing even for original fiction, and it's especially bad for fan fiction. There's nothing more irritating in fiction from an inconsistent character.

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I read recently (I think in a review of CBS's Elementary) that technically every adaption of Sherlock Holmes after Conan Doyle is "fanfiction" in a sense, and it's easy to see that some are really excellent stories. (::cough::BBC Sherlock::cough::) Those movies and TV series may be "continuing someone else's story," but you can't argue that they aren't graceful or told with skill.

Original fiction can have Mary Sue characters and characters with informed characteristics (which means that the writer says "Jon was brave and intelligent, well-respected by his peers," but Jon actually does dumb things, doesn't confront bullies, and gets ignored by his co-workers), and fiction based on someone else's premise or universe can be brilliant.

It's obviously easier to fall into the "crap trap" with fanfic; it just means that you have to be more on the lookout for it and work a little harder to avoid it. If someone else has defined Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, you have to decide if you're going to follow their established characteristics, backgrounds, and storylines, or if not, how far afield you're going to go. Is it reasonable to extrapolate a romance between them? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how you write them, what the setup of their romance is, how you present their thoughts and feelings, how they and the other characters react to the romance. (For example: a passionate, impulsive roll in the bunk after Spock survives the koon-ut-kal-if-fee in "Amok Time"? I'd believe that. Spock bringing Kirk flowers and snogging in the hallways? Not so much.)

I suppose it can be more obvious in fanfic when your story is not a "graceful" adaptation of the original, because the original is usually widely-known and easy to compare. That doesn't mean all fanfic is badly written or out of character in regards to the source material.

The things which make an adaptation or fanfic graceful are a lot of the things which make original fiction graceful: strong consistent characters, believable plots, and good writing. The main difference is that in fanfic, a lot of your story elements have been defined by someone else, but in original fiction, you get to decide all the parts on your own.

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Generally, the acceptability of fan fiction depends on the original story. As another post stated, some origianl authros are fine with it, while others are not. In the case of Dr. Who, apparently the producers are okay with it because I found at least a dozen different fan sites and such that contained hundreds of fan fiction articles, including one that had over 30,000!

The real issue isn't whether or not you can write it. The real issue is whether or not you can publish it. If you post it on a fan site where it is clearly labelled as fan fiction or it is presumed as such because of the content with which it is made available, then that is generally acceptable.

On the other hand, if you try to publish it as a stand-alone book using the same characters from the television show, then that becomes a problem. At that point, you are violating the copyright for the show in an effort to derive income, and I can guarantee the producers will NOT be okay with that.

As long as you are not attempting to make money off of it or trying to use any of the characters in a derivative work for publication, then you should be okay.

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Some writers will tell you that writing fan fiction is lazy, uncreative, a fruitless endeavor, and a waste of time.

Personally I don't think that's true.

Fan fiction is great practice for writing, learning how to plot, and learning how to characterize, etc. There are plenty of fan fic writers who are highly praised as "being better than the original", but I do draw the line there -- it's disrespectful, in my opinion. Nothing is better than the original, even if one disagrees with some of the original content of a story or series.

Some authors encourage fan fic (Mercedes Lackey); some do not (Orson Scott Card, Anne Rice, etc); some are bemused by it (J.K. Rowling).

Fan fic is allowed for NaNoWriMo, so I consider that to be encouragement to write it. As well, it brings legitimacy to the genre.

My guess is that you might get a lot of "Don't do it" answers to this question, but I think if you have a story to tell, tell it! Yes, even if it's in someone else's universe.

That's my $0.02 on fan fiction.

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I agree. I think it's great practice, and it's frankly a lot of fun. Just don't try to make any money off it and you'll be fine. –  Lauren Ipsum Oct 27 '12 at 16:13
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Disrespectful or not, especially in case of fanfic to works that are less than stellar, the fanfics can surpass the original. –  SF. Oct 27 '12 at 23:36
    
I'm not American. How much money is that? Is that a lot? Can I have your $0.02? –  Aerovistae Oct 31 '12 at 13:46
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@Slytherincess: No, but the author of the fanfic may still know the universe well enough, and have a better storytelling talent, a better grasp of plot devices and more rich imagination concerning conflicts. Using the same assets - universe, characters, develop a more captivating plot, told with more flair and skill, give a fantastic outcome, an incredible twist, and never contradict the canon nor go beyond it all that much. –  SF. Oct 31 '12 at 22:14
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@Slytherincess: You picked an excellent author who put a lot of thought into the work, making it very consistent and knows it to and through. Now what about an author who did not? Fforgot an essential piece from first chapter? Totally mixed up family relations, mistakenly turning a formerly elder sister into a mother? Who made some such gaping plot holes and such a mess that after finishing the reading we're forced to groan? The world may hold a lot of promise and it doesn't take a master to write a work far superior to original in such a setting. Disrespectful? Yes. Wrongly? No. –  SF. Nov 2 '12 at 1:51
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protected by Neil Fein Oct 29 '12 at 20:46

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