Copycat vs Copyright

enola holmes poster

For this week’s creative writing prompt I’m dipping into a style of writing I have no personal experience of, but which is a concept I find intriguing:

Fan Fiction

Join me in having a go at writing a short story or screenplay based on characters from an existing book or film.

I was prompted to delve deeper into this genre after watching a new Netflix film, ‘Enola Holmes’, a light drama based on the books by American author Nancy Springer. She took a popular fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, and wrote about his siblings, in particular his teenage sister. No, I didn’t know Sherlock had a younger sister, although I’m not enough of a fan to know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did either. I quite enjoyed the film though.

At this point, let me just say I have some misgivings about writers taking someone else’s character/plot/story/world for further publication. There are copyright issues, and a moral dilemma – at what point is a writer’s idea no longer theirs but someone else’s they can do what they like with?

So for this exercise, I’m recommending you write for your own enjoyment, to mimic a style of writing perhaps, or to delve deeper into characters you already like. Not for publication this time then, but an exercise to develop your writing skills.

There’s a whole rabbit hole for you to fall into if you are new to Fan Fiction – just  let your 22 year-old friend *Google take you to any number of dedicated websites  where thousands and thousands of people publish extra chapters of their favourite novels or imaginary episodes of their beloved TV shows. Some are truly awful (and that’s coming from someone with a very high tolerance for the efforts of amateur scribes), but some are good.

While modern Fan Fiction has boomed thanks to self-publishing opportunities and the internet, there have been some significant mainstream publishing successes which started out this way. I’m not going to comment on the content or writing style, but EL James wrote the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ books as fan fiction inspired by the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. The Fifty Shades books have subsequently sold more than 125 million copies worldwide, making her one of the most successful authors of  recent times.

Fan Fiction  is nothing new though, despite the hype. There are lots and lots of examples. One that springs to mind is Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, a story from 1966 which follows the early fortunes of  Edward Rochester from ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte, first published in 1847.

*I know, right? Can you believe Google has already been in our lives for 22 years? And while we’re talking numbers, this is the 64th new creative writing prompt in a series which began as a Lockdown project for my creative writing groups. Every Wednesday afternoon at 5pm (Dublin time) I post a new one and suggest a way in which you can use it to write new material, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, memoir or creative non-fiction, your choice. Originally, I created 42 daily prompts and exercises, with a nod to Life, the Universe and Everything in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It began here.