Going Pro 101: The Slasher’s Guide To Converting Fanfic To Original Fiction or Origifying FanFiction (OFF)
This article was originally written in 2007, but given the popularity of “Twlight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” that began life as fanfic, I thought I’d make it available once again. I’ve done a cursory “update,” but most of the steps are still relevant. Good luck.
Going Pro 101: The Slasher’s Guide To Converting Fanfic To Original Fiction or Origifying FanFiction (OFF)
This article will give you a starting point only. You must make sure your to-be-published story is completely different from its fanfic inspiration. It’s not just copyright infringement a publisher is concerned with, but also that a free version of the story is available on the net.
This is not a how-to-write post. In order to get published you will need to know how to write, including, but not limited to:
a) original stories, both long and short, may to be structured differently than your fanfiction;
b) short stories are structured differently than novels, e.g., more vs. less character development and the need for greater vs. lesser amounts of backstory.
Writing links are welcome in the comments, as are, well, comments.
GRAND OPINING EVENT
So you’re reading something off the NY Times’ Best Seller list or Oprah’s Book Club or Heather’s Picks, and you find yourself struggling to finish the third chapter. “This is utter crap!” you say. “I can write better than this!”
The room gets a little brighter as the [energy efficient, ecologically friendly] light bulb appears over your head. “I can write better than this,” you repeat. “And I already have.”
You do a little wild book tossing as you go through your shelves and realize some of the books that are big sellers (or published at all) aren’t as good as those stories you and your friends are writing and posting online. In fact, the only difference between those books and yours is that the published ones, by and large, don’t feature characters named Ronon, Methos, Aeryn, or Willow. That and the fact that those authors are getting paid for their hard work, while you? Are not!
This is your epiphany moment. You suddenly realize you want to see your name in print (quit your day job, win the Man Booker prize, have Angelina Jolie play you in the movie of your life). So you start to think about becoming a published writer.
The best thing to do at this early stage is look into it a bit more to see if you actually want to do this. Remember, being a successfully published writer is hard work, loss of control and more hard work. Right now, you write what you like, when you feel like it, have control over where it goes and who reads it, and get lots of shiny feedback. On the other hand, with the advent of self-publishing, you’re pretty much in control once again.
Professional writing involves lots of hard work. Did I mention the hard work? The work itself is comprised of three major components: The writing, the publishing (including the dreaded contract, and also? The Rejections!), and the marketing. Don’t imagine you can skimp on any one of these time-consuming areas. Don’t think you’ll just write the book and someone will magically publish it. Or market it. Each component requires a different skill set. Even Stephen King goes on book and media tours. Neil Gaiman blogs daily. And these guys have agents and publicists.
Read about the publishing market. I like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published. I only read the chapters that are relevant to the step as I come to it. Subscribe to the weekly newsletter from “Publishers Weekly”. Subscribe to various publishers’ and agents’ blogs. Get a feel for the marketplace. Decide where you want to be.
Talk to writers, read Stephen King’s On Writing, (or Writing Down the Bones, or Bird by Bird). Read my livejournal and the posts of my friends. Join some lists, lj or Facebook communities, whatever. Do the due diligence. Then, should you decide you’re up to the challenge, I have a seven simple steps that will help you along that path.
The Significant Seven: A Twelve-Step Program Minus Five
Step 1. Metaphors Be With You
You’ve decided to go pro. You think a lot about writing a big new novel or some original short stories. And that’s great. Go, you. But it’s slow going. A bit discouraging, perhaps. Maybe you find the blank page intimidating. Suddenly, you remember you have an entire website full of excellent stories (all those LoCs can’t be wrong!) So why reinvent the wheel? You already have a body of work, you just need to file off the serial numbers so you don’t get sued for copyright infringement and get your agent and publisher fired, be hounded by the press and crucified by the fans and… well, first you need to figure out if your stories will convert. Then you need to do it.
Welcome to Stormy’s quick and easy way to figure out if you can turn that fanfiction into original fiction.
You’ve slaved over your fanfiction stories to make them so accurate; very show-specific; the characters spot-on. You can’t imagine that they’ll stand alone without all the canon behind them. And you may be right. Or you might not be.
Do you think you’re objective about your own writing? Raise your hand. Hmmm. Can’t type with your arm up like that. Let’s put that opinion to the test.
The best thing about this little seven-step program is that:
a) It’s a very small investment of time and effort, so if it reveals that your story will not convert successfully*, you haven’t lost much; and
b) Should it turn out that your story is convertible, most of the work is already done.
So let’s get to it. Find the first story you are thinking of. DO NOT READ IT!!! Save a new copy; heck, let’s save it as “Bestseller1.doc”. Can’t hurt to be positive, eh?
*Your brilliant fanfiction writing is still not wasted. If the story as a whole doesn’t convert, do not hesitate to plagiarize yourself, re-cycling that great plotline, that wonderful dialogue, that hot sex scene.
Step 2. Let’s Get Ready To Grumble
Now, think of some great character names, because we’re going to do search-and-replace. Yes, we are. Bear in mind you can change them any time.
Character names are important, especially when writing romance when your characters must be called Sapphire Jet or Montana St. Mystique, Drake Fortune or Hayden Van Mussel. But the importance of character names is a writing topic, so it won’t be dealt with here. Just remember, that if the name needs various diminutives, that you’ll need to expand your search-and-replace to include them. For example, when converting Sentinel stories, I chose to keep the James / Jim / Jimmy / Jimbo thing, so I picked Cameron / Cam for one story and Daniel / Dan/ Danny /Danny-boy for another. Now you use your word processor’s search-and-replace function: James to Daniel, Jim to Dan, etc. Now do it for all your characters. Keep a list at the top of the page. Here’s mine for my shapeshifter (formerly Sentinel) novel:
Det. James Ellison, Army Ranger = Captain Thomas Ferrell, US Marine
Blair Sandberg, anthropologist = Adrian Thorneapple, photojournalist
Simon Banks = John Warren
Darryl Banks = Terrance Warren
Kurt Riescher = Basil Deerborne
Chopec Tribe = Perquas (not a real tribe)
Incacha = Yuyaychaj (Quechua for “counselor”)
Enqueri = Qollpa (Quechua for “salty”)
Guide = Yanapaj (Quechua for “helper”)
Peru = Colombia (Cuz I’ve actually been there)
“But wait!” you cry. “When I write a character, it’s true to the show. You can’t just do search-and-replace!” < /affrontedness>
Well, yes. That may well be true, but a lot of the time, what our show’s writers are drawing on when they create their characters are archetypes and tropes. For instance, Sentinel and Stargate: Atlantis use the soldier/scholar dynamic. Some mix it up a bit. Due South is a mixture since Fraser is both the soldier and the scholar, and Ray (pick a Ray, any Ray) is a scholar of the streets. Their main character dynamic is more “fish out of water,” as is Keen Eddie or Life on Mars. Or more recently, Sleepy Hollow.
Check out the rest of the archetypal cast. Is Methos not your consummate Trickster? How ‘bout Stark on both FarScape and Eureka? Are Clark and Lex not variations on the Good vs. Evil theme (well written in that each has an element of the other). Redemption, vengeance, temptation: all classic themes containing classic characters. Okay, so I’m not an academic. I’ve barely cracked my copy of The Power of Myth. Someone with classical training should jump into the comments and make sure I’m getting my point across with some degree of accuracy.
So you’ve changed your character names, now change your place names. Think about why you used Cascade / Port Columbia / Seacouver / Smallville. What aspects of these places do you need to keep for your plotline? The weather? The harbour? The rolling Rockies of Kansas? Most of our genre shows are set in the Pacific Northwest because Vancouver has relatively cheap labour and since the Rockies are in the background, might as well say it’s the Cascades. I’ve turned Chicago back into Toronto for no good reason and Cascade into San Francisco because I needed it to be rainy but mild. Had I needed mountains, I could have used Seattle.
Since I originally wrote this article, the male/male and female/female and various permutations thereof have taken off.
If you wish to convert a m/m story (slash) to m/f, you’ll need to gender-swap somebody into the female half of the pairing. This will really distance you from the TV show, not to mention avoiding copyright infringement lawsuits. If you are writing romance or erotica, many publishers still insist on a female protagonist, although personally, I would think twice before working with one of those just on principle. Check the submission guidelines of places you would like to write for.
I’ve converted a book, then chosen to change it back. I’d established myself as a m/m author by then so elected not to lose that audience. But it would have worked, with the female taking the Jim Ellison military tough-guy role.
Now search-and-replace to change as many gender pronouns as possible, still without reading the story! (Don’t worry about the sex scenes; they get their own section.)
Go ahead, make me gay
Don’t want to change your story to het? No problem. You’ve still got choices. If you are a very fine writer, a general publisher will no doubt want your novel. There’s always a market for good fiction; a well-written, queer-themed story will find a home. Also, There are a number of gay-only publishers out there. And more and more publishers are opening their imprints to same-sex and menage stories.
There’s a big demand for erotica, including gay erotica, and there are dozens of e-publishers out there looking for a continual stream of novels. The advantage of e-publishers is that they will take shorter works, right down to short stories. You don’t need an agent and many are adding traditional hard copy books to their business model, so if your e-book sells well, it may end up in book stores, after all.
BTW, if you are writing horror–many places consider vampires and werewolves horror–and your story is in first person, you may want to change to third person. Horror publishers have been overwhelmed with first person stories and some even have it right in their submission guidelines. That’s another job for search-and-replace.
I’ve decided to call this process “Origifying FanFiction” or “OFF”. I think that’s pretty memorable, since we’re all filing the serial numbers OFF our fanfiction!
Step 3. Hostile Makeover
Now, you haven’t read your story in a while. What are the key points you recall about the plot? You might even want to write down a brief plot outline at this point. Of these major plot points, what show-specific things do you need to drive the plot? Does the character need super-strength? Enhanced hearing? The ability to come back from the dead? Remember, an idea cannot be copyrighted, so you’re probably safe with super-powers, they’ve been part of our culture so long no one can lay claim to super-strength or X-ray vision. But a character with all five senses heightened like The Sentinel, hmmm. Better not. Do you need all five to make your story work? Is the enhanced hearing scene really necessary to the plot at all or is it just about the hero/heroine getting information? Why can’t she just use a sophisticated listening device? Or have a stool-pigeon squeal the evil plan?
Need your love interest to come back to life? Why not turn your Highlander into a vampire? (Vampire novels are still hot!) Or invent your own mythos: be-spelled, cursed, touched the wrong alien device, born a genetic mutant or member of a secret long-lived race.
Some shows make use of pretty similar plots. How many shows feature demon hunters? Soul collectors? Characters in need of redemption? You could probably have an eclectic group of alien hunters working out of an underground lab/bunker as long as you set it somewhere other than Cardiff.
Why couldn’t you have an American astronaut sucked into a wormhole and send him off to meet a bunch of archetypal aliens? And speaking of traveling via wormholes to a variety of planets? Why not? If you can’t copyright an idea, you most certainly can’t copyright physics.
Mix your shows (steal from a broad universe). In my brothel story, I needed a reason why Jim Ellison had been arrested, then released into his mother’s care. I couldn’t use “zone-outs due to over-stimulated senses”, so I borrowed Rodney McKay’s citrus allergy and had him attacked by an over-zealous perfume boy that resulted in a store being partially destroyed.
These kinds of changes are a little harder to work using search-and-replace, although “wizard’s wand” to “hockey stick” would be fairly easy. If you can, just go in and rewrite those show-specific (read: copyright infringing) scenes, still without reading the story.
Better yet, get a friend to go through and straighten out some of the rough spots for you. Or even do this entire process for you. I just did one for a friend and she was surprised at how well her story converted. (She also thought I’d done a whole lot of work. Shhh! Don’t tell her how easy it is.)
I think you might be ready to read your story now. Remaining rough spots and gender issues aside, how’s it read? Huh. Well, we already established that many of us are not objective when it comes to our own writing, so give it to someone else to read, preferably someone outside the fandom, or outside of fandom altogether but reads within the genre. (Don’t ask your mother to read a BDSM alien mpreg story. Okay, then, just don’t ask mine.)
So you’ve read it. Your friends have read it. What do they think? Does it work for them as a stand-alone short story/novel? If not, why not? Is it something you can fix? If they’re asking questions about specific things, that could be good. If it’s real life things like “what’s string theory?” then you can just write in some exposition. If it’s more show-specific, like “what’s ‘the Game’?”, then you need to decide if immortals going around chopping each others’ heads off is integral to the plot. Can you replace it with something else, like an ancient curse or a vengeful enemy? Can you cut it altogether and still have your story make sense? Much of what we write is referential, sometimes just for the sake of invoking canon. Can we lose the fact that Sam Tyler our hero is in a coma and just have him step through a wardrobe instead?
Step 4. The Ego Has Landed
If you’re writing a short story, then that whole “in media res” thing applies and you may find the story works without a lot of context around it. But if you’re writing a novel, then you’ll want to do some world-building and/or character backstory. I find character charts useful: helps me get to know the new guys and obtain emotional distance from my OTP.
So now you need to write some backstory. Depending on the setup of your story, you may need to write a few introductory chapters that stand in for five seasons’ worth of character history, or you might want to weave the character’s backstory throughout your story, revealing only the bits needed to move the plot along. (Helps you make minimum word count, too.) Remember, these are your characters now– just because Blair Sandberg didn’t know martial arts doesn’t mean Adrian Thornapple can’t. Being a writer is like playing God; you can just assign characteristics, possessions, and skills wherever your story needs them. Sometimes I envision myself dealing talents out like cards to the waiting minions. Pretty cool, eh?
Step 5. An Embarrassment Of Bitches
We’ve had three, five, seven years of a show. (A lot more than that if you’re writing Doctor Who.) We’ve virtually ingested the text, context, and subtext. We dream about the characters: they’re our friends, allies, enemies, lovers. So a fanfiction story might feature everyone who ever worked at the Oswald State Correctional Facility, CI5, MI5, MIB, or UNCLE, or every companion The Doctor ever had. No problem. Your fanfiction readers are as familiar with the text as you are.
Now, in employing the OFF process, you’ve changed all their names and possibly their jobs. And you find, that 17 secondary characters is very confusing.
Let’s go back to our friend search-and-replace. Go through and change Officer Meagan to Officer Fred, then change Officer Joel to Officer Fred. Then change Officer Henry to Officer Fred. This will take some judgment. (Can Fred be in two places at once? Can Fred have that many skills? Why does Fred sometimes talk like an Aussie and sometimes like a Southerner?) More smoothing required. You probably need not more than two secondary characters unless they are defined roles, and then, it’s probably clearer for the tiny amount of time they put in an appearance, to just call them by their roles. In addition to Officer Fred, the Hero might also require a boss (who gives two orders but is referred to only as “Captain,” a bomb squad guy who rushes through, and a helpful file clerk. Do these people really need names? Can’t any exposition they offer be given by their role? “While visiting the morgue, the coroner explained…” Readers of original fiction don’t care about secondary characters; secondary roles are mostly there for exposition and to advance the plot. If you must fall in love with Dr. Radek Zelenka, or Richie Ryan, give them their own story, but they’re not the stars of this one.
Step 6. Lust in Translation: From Chest To Breast In Three Simple Letters
If you’ve decided to leave your slash story as gay or to make it gen, read this anyway. Why not? I spent time writing it. But if you’ve decided to make your slash story het and you’ve one or more sex scenes, they going to read very funny now: “She grabbed her penis while simultaneously stimulating her prostate.” Uh, yeah. Well, there’s some good genderfuck stories out there like that, but this probably isn’t one of them.
You’ve heard this before: sex scenes aren’t about sex, they’re about other things, a large part of which is what’s going on in the character’s mind. I was quite surprised to find how little rewriting needed to be done to convert a sex scene. After all, everyone has nipples, and there’s at least one penis or pussy here already so you’re only changing 50% of the stuff anyway. A het couple is probably less likely to rub off and more likely to go for penetration, but everybody moans, sighs, and hates a condom regardless of gender. Don’t believe me? Go grab a sex scene from anyone’s story and do a search-and-replace for one of the partner’s names. Then fix the pronouns. And oh, boy, is it ever easier to write a sex scene with partners of different genders; you don’t have to put the name on ever line. In most cases, if it was decently written sex scene in the first place, it’ll convert easily. Sex is between two people, regardless of gender.
I grabbed one of fandom’s truly great writers of prOn. I did a quick search and replace and voila! Because it was all about feelings and actions without naming a lot of body parts, I found the only words I had to “file off” to smooth out the origification and convert it to het were “his cot at the consulate.” Huh. Now you try.
Step 7: A Band in all Hope
Now rewrite your story until it’s the best original story it can be. Start thinking about where you’d like to submit it or self-publish it.