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In defense of fan fiction

November 8, 2012

As you probably know by now, a total hack named EL James wrote a piece of fan fiction (that is to say, a steaming pile of doody) based on Twilight, then got luckier than Hugh Hefner on a good day and made a steaming pile of money. Not only was it a steaming pile of doody, it was a rip-off, using someone else’s premise and characters. Why, it’s just…just…awful, this steamy colony of doody called fan fiction, isn’t it?

Bookriot raised this question recently. It asked whether fan fiction is evil and derivative, whether it’s effectively theft–or at least heavy borrowing–of someone else’s property.

Really, Chris, I must say, your ideas for Robin Masters are most intriguing. I shan’t stand in your way if you choose to pursue them.

When Magnum, PI went off the air back when the dinosaurs roamed the land, I was peeved because they never really settled the question of whether Higgins was really Robin Masters. Sure, it was an invention late in the series’ history that was contradicted by some early episodes, but it was never resolved.

So I resolved it. Higgins was sort of Robin Masters, but not really. In reality, Robin Masters was an invention of British intelligence, and  the British government really owned the estate and employed Higgins. They hired Magnum as part of an agreement with the US government to keep an eye on Magnum, who had a lot of secrets in his head, and needed tending after left the Navy. He was, after all, a POW for several years, and lived through the supposed death of his wife Michelle. Life with Higgins was a perfect way to keep an eye on his while not appearing to do so.

I even had a plot worked out for the story. If I were so-inclined, I’d write it and post it to a fan fiction site someplace because…what else would I do with it?

When EL James wrote her original stories, she wasn’t looking to publish mommy porn. She was writing another story about characters she really liked. She wasn’t looking to make money off the thing. She just wanted to fill a need. After all, characters–when created well–are like friends. And you miss them when they’re gone.

She wasn’t stealing anything, because she wasn’t didn’t intend to make money on it. Nor would I be, if I wrote the Magnum story. I just like and know the characters.

And therein lies the benefit of fan fiction. I don’t need to create Magnum, Higgins, Rick, TC, or any of the other characters from scratch. I know them. I can make them do things and include the little ticks that make them genuine because I’ve already met them–for eight seasons.

In short, I can use the training wheels that Glen A. Larson, Donald P. Bellisario, and Tom Selleck gave me. No one’s going to care, except the people who are looking for a new Magnum story anyway. And as I become more skilled and confidence, I can remove those wheels and write my own characters with their own stories.

If you want to write that first novel and you don’t exactly know how, there are worse ways to start than by cutting your teeth on your favorite TV or movie characters.

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