Fanfic is in the news again, as an offshoot of the curious court battle between fantasy authors Cassandra Clare and Sherrilyn Kenyon over who has the right to a certain set of tropes. Clare, it is said, is getting an unmitigated kicking purely because she trod on a couple of toes in the hugely unforgiving zone of fanfic obsessives several years ago.
This is, of course, great fun for the mainstream media, who get to laugh at fantasy authors, fanfic writers and silly women. But there are a couple of important points highlighted here.
The first one is that you can’t copyright a concept, because most concepts have been around forever. Shakespeare drew on the work of Plautus, who drew on the work of the ancient Greek dramatists: all fantasy writers use whatever bits and pieces of folklore and mythology suit their plots.
The second one is that fanfic is where every writer starts. It might not always have been called that, and it might not always be as blatant as writing a version of your favourite childhood novel/TV show with a thinly-disguised version of you being the one to win all the things and save the day, but we all start to tell our first stories against a background of pre-existing stories. This is particularly true of erotica writers, many of whom would have found themselves speculating about the sexual habits of their favourite fictional characters. Whether that was a matter of inserting themselves into an imaginary world with a storyline that enabled them to get busy with the hero/heroine/villain/second lead/naughty dragon, or whether they wanted to throw two pre-existing (and usually of a different sexual orientation) characters onto each other’s bodies, sex was always a motivating force. It’s not remotely surprising that the two most famous fanfic stories are All About The Sexy.
EL James started her 50 Shades stories as a dirty rewrite of the (equally fucking appalling, sorry) Twilight books. It’s not unreasonable to consider the likelihood that she was initially writing a version of Twilight that catered to her own personal preferences. It’s certainly likely – and presents as such – that the author of My Immortal was focussing on her own romantic and erotic fantasies as she wrote,and that’s what gives her story a lingering resonance despite its atrocious prose and spectacular departure from the source material.
There isn’t actually anything wrong with taking a concept, archetype or plot twist from something else to fuel your erotic writing. Lifting paragraphs word for word is obviously Not On, but reinventing something someone else had a go at or, in your opinion, made a mess of, is no bad thing.
And if you want to write a kinky mashup which features Donald Duck getting an anal pounding from Luke Skywalker while Professor Sprout sucks his dick, then be my guest.