Thu
Mar 29 2012 10:00am
Is Fan Fiction Ready to Go Mainstream Thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey?

Fifty Shades of Grey and fan fictionWhat’s next for the beleaguered book publishing business? At a time when the industry is facing unprecedented upheaval, along comes the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James to make matters even more interesting. What lessons are we meant to learn from the success of Fifty Shades? Is it that sex still sells in conservative America, or that we can still be surprised by the power of ebooks to upset the market? Or is it that America may be ready for traditionally published works of fan fiction?

By now, Fifty Shades’ fan fiction origins are widely known. The books grew out of a work of Twilight fan fiction, originally titled “Master of the Universe.” The question of how closely Fifty Shades hewed to “Master” seems to have been put to rest by an analysis done by Jane Litte of Dear Author.com that compared the texts of the two works and found they were virtually identical.

The legal issues on this issue are considerable and far from clear-cut. Most of the current debate over whether James should be allowed to profit from her work points to the 1994 Campbell v. Acuff-Rose court case which allowed for use of copyrighted material in a parody. Whether the Supreme Court’s decision will apply to Fifty Shades is debatable, and in any case unless Stephenie Meyer sues James for infringement, we’ll never know.

If these legal and ethical issues can be overcome, one has to wonder if the success of Fifty Shades is evidence of a fundamental shift in public opinion of what can be considered original art. Fan fiction as a form of literature in its own right may have reached a watershed point, fueled in recent years by two factors: the seemingly bottomless devotion of fans of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, and technology.

Science fiction and fantasy have long been fertile sources for fan fiction and indeed, the boom in popularity of these genres may have something to do with mainstream acceptance of fan fiction. A quick check at Fan Fiction.net, one of the most popular online sites, confirms that the majority of book-inspired fan fiction is based on original works of science fiction and fantasy. Harry Potter reigns supreme in this world, as wonderfully documented in this article by Lev Grossman, and at the time of my own research at Fan Fiction.net, HP was the most referenced source material with well over a half million posts, Twilight came in second with nearly two hundred thousand.

Technology is the other half of the equation. While fan fiction has probably been around as long as books themselves, it wasn’t until online bulletin boards and forums appeared that devotees of fan fiction could organize. It’s the organizational aspect that gives the fan fiction community its strength today: James built up her following by workshopping “Master of the Universe” chapter-by-chapter with a legion of ready-made fans.

There’s a generational aspect, too. The current generation has grown up used to the idea of sampling — borrowing snippets of someone else’s original content, whether in music or art — to create something that transcends the artistic intent of the components. Sampling, and its close kin the mash-up, are only possible because of advances in technology. People born to previous generations are used to thinking of art as the original work of one person. Digitized media changed that: it became perfectly acceptable to use the work of another artist — to stand on their shoulders, so to speak — and change the artist’s intent in order to create something new. Where one generation sees misappropriation of someone else’s work, another generation sees a completely valid method of artistic expression.

Imagine what the book world would look like when fan fiction co-exists alongside the work that inspired it. While it is difficult to imagine another fan fiction-based book duplicating Fifty Shades’ heady success, it would be naïve to think that, given the validation that success bring, others won’t try to follow in James’ footsteps.

What does this tell us about the American reading public? Is this a natural outcome of a collaborative society where creative expression is valued over individual achievement? Or that fans will take matters into their own hands when a beloved franchise has run its commercial course? Or, as Grossman purports, that fan fiction is an audience’s way of providing diversity in an otherwise homogenized product, giving us the sex that a book leaves out? Should writers be content to create stories that are like paper dolls for the reader to take home and dress up as he sees fit?


Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster) and The Reckoning (coming June), dark novels of that combine history, love and fantasy. No fan fiction has been written based on them. Yet. 

31 comments
Alan Orloff
1. Alan Orloff
Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I'd never considered the generational differences with regard to sampling and "appropriation" of another person's work.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
2. EllenMCM
Huge online archives of fan fiction are exciting for a lot of reasons. They're fun. They document reactions to a work that were previously inaccessible to most of the reading public. But what James did in Fifty Shades of Grey is unique only in that it was published as fan fiction online first, then republished through more conventional routes with the names changed. I have Star Trek novels that were NYT bestsellers that are qualitatively indistinguishable from fan-fiction (the two-book series in which Spock's time-travelling, unicorn-riding, psychic son mind melds with the Guardian of Forever is much on my mind this week). We already live in a world where fan fiction exists alongside the works that inspired it. We have since Virgil read Homer and thought those epics might be more interesting if the hero was Roman.

It is pretty darn cool that a lot of works are now accessible online for free and anyone can read or contribute to the archive.
Aeria Lynn
3. aeria_lynn
I don't understand why this issue is a big deal, tbh. Once the fanfic was scrubbed of Meyer's universe, it became an original work, no matter the origins of the work. Most of what Jane Litte is tagging is prose. Yes, the prose remains 89% the same as before. Yes, the characters are renamed, yet follow classic archetypes (just like Meyer's did). Those things are actually irrelevant to issues of fan fiction and copyright. It's the expression of an idea, not an idea that is copyrightable, and using another author's universe is where I've always seen the line drawn. (Copying prose directly with minor changes is the other big no-no. That's outright plaigiarism, though. Different issue with what's being debated.)

This flap reminds me of Kaavya Viswanathan's railroading by people who have no idea what constitutes plaigiarism. (I taught college English composition, so I have a pretty good idea.) Similarities in thematic composition does not equal plaigiarism. Two different works, two different outcomes, even if they are following similar plot, character, and thematic arcs. I read the so-called proof offered in that situation about how Viswanathan's story "copied" the other one. Totally disagreed with the accusation. The scenes I saw had thematic similarities, but very different plot, character, and setting, set-ups.

What this to-do about E.L. James really reminds me of is when John Fogerty was sued for plaigiarizing himself. *snort* Yeah, the jury wasn't convinced, either. Good for them.
Aeria Lynn
4. aeria_lynn
One other thing: derivative works such as James' are usually called homages. Good word; really needs to be reintroduced into the language of book analysis.
Seamus Cooper
5. Seamuscooper
I haven't seen much controversy over 50 Shades of Gray, except controversy over whether it's really hot or even more creepy and anti-feminist than Twilight. (Haven't read it. Can't take a side. But I suspect the latter. There, I said it.)

I too am an English teacher who knows about plagiarism, and Viswanathan was not railroaded. She was found out. This article sums up the similarities pretty well.

Fan fiction is interesting to me. People are constantly reworking old texts and appropriating the characters and situations. I think there's a case to be made that Holinshed's Chronicles has inspired more fan fiction than even Harry Potter. It seems like people don't mind taking it seriously as long as the original work is old. I wonder why this distinction is important.
Patti Taylor
6. sapience14
In the most technical sense, Milton's Paradise Lost (and Paradise Regained) is Bible fan fiction. So is Dryden's Absalom and Achitaphel, and Moore's Lamb. Most of Shakespeare's plays are plagiarized in terms of plot. King Lear, for example, is a mash-up of the anonymous Elizabethan play King Leir and a brief story from Philip Sidney's Arcadia. What's historical fiction but RP (real person) fan fiction?

Basically, there are two things that distinguish fan fiction from "real" literature: copyright and quality.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
7. EllenMCM
Sapience14, I have read a number of high quality works of fan fiction. And some published crap. I think you have to take quality out of your list of distinguising features. Fan fiction generally can't be copyrighted. But just like traditionally published literature, some of it is great and some of it isn't.
Alan Orloff
8. Kappi
For me this seems similiar, or at least touches on issues like Hunger Games / Battle Royale. I've never read Battle Royale, but I plan to pick it up some day. Fan fiction is very obviously derived from other material (character names, terminology, etc.), but how do you distinguish accidental idea collision (two or more people arriving at the same or similiar ideas through totally separate though processes) from intentional plagiarism? Why is one form of an idea more "valid" than others simply because it arrived first? The concept of "First!" also gets more complicated (for me anyways) when you consider processes like publishing or patenting. Maybe someone just got through the relevant bureaucracy first.

An interesting thought I read in a technical book recently: People like to say "don't reinvent the wheel", when in actuality the wheel is probably the most re-invented idea in history. It keeps on getting re-invented to meet new purposes. If it didn't, we'd be driving "cars" on granite wheels.
Alan Orloff
9. Hope Tarr
Intriguing post, particularly the remarks on mash-ups and sampling possibly blurring the lines between copyright infringement and original work.

And yes, I have always adored the word "homage." :)
Sean Arthur
10. wsean
It's an interesting problem. Obviously the story itself and all of the words are new, even if the characters and setting aren't. So once she's filed off the serial numbers, there shouldn't be a problem.

But then, since it was originally published as fanfic, and the borrowed Twilight fandom is what made it popular enough to succeed on its own... well, it becomes a little stickier.

I suppose if Meyer doesn't care, then even that doesn't matter much. But it does feel a little off.

@7- not at all, quality absolutely is a distinguishing feature. Because there are no gatekeepers for fanfic, the signal/noise ratio is much, much lower. Though of course you're completely correct that that doesn't prevent some fanfics from being awesome (Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality!), and some published works from being terrible.
Risha Jorgensen
11. RishaBree
@10 - Of course, this varies considerably by location and fandom. The Teen Wolf category on Fanfiction.net has a far higher drek percentage than, say, an Adam Lambert livejournal community. (Not to insult Teen Wolf fans on FF.net - I read there on occasion.) There are plenty of fandoms that are consistantly on par with the quality levels of the source material.
Melanie S
12. starryharlequin
I'm not sure I agree with the paragraph about the generational differences. I don't think it's remix technology that changed things so much as it was the VCR, the tape recorder, and merchandising. That tech wasn't good enough to make your own remixes without a lot of effort, but it was more than sufficient to ensure you could always be surrounded by high-quality professional media. Kids of my generation and younger grew up surrounded not by character archetypes but by specific characters, not by interpretable sheet music but by specific recordings, and I'm not surprised that the reaction was our imaginations learning to play with specific characters and worlds and versions of songs.

@6,@7,@10,@11--it matters if you're talking about average quality or peak quality. Peak quality is the same (in my experience) in fanfic and published fiction; average quality is much lower because there's not a cutoff at the low-quality end of fanfic.

I actually disagree that copyright and possibly quality are the only distinguishing characteristics of fanfic, though. In particular, there are two differences I'm aware of. One, the close relationship between reader and writer combined with the short lag time between writing and publication means there are weird, quickly-spreading stylistic memes (the phrase "huffed a laugh" has appeared in more fics I've read lately than not; asyndeton is also unaccountably popular). Two, the culture of fanfic allows or encourages an absence of shame, which means that certain kinds of plotting and character development are permissible (and common!) that wouldn't appear in the same way in published fiction. The Id Vortex theory covers a lot of the second point. So there's writing that just tastes like fanfic to me: it's there in the level of description and what it chooses to describe, in the pacing of scenes, in the types of character interaction that the narrative pays attention to.

Obviously not everyone who writes and reads fanfic takes part in that culture; Twilight, like Harry Potter before it, has its own cultures because it's a popular entry point to fandom and so lacks some of the institutional memory. I haven't read any Twilight fanfic, so I have no idea if this kind of stuff applies to Fifty Shades of Grey. But I think you miss some of the reasons people read fanfic vs original fiction if you only talk about the copyright and internet-free-for-all differences, and you also might miss the some of the reasons so many people are attracted to this book in particular.
Alan Orloff
13. Copper
As a fanfic writer myself, hearing the "origin story" of 50 Shades of Grey brings to mind a lot of the things that I've pondered over, ranted about, and even considered. What's to say I can't take a fanfic I've done, change the names, and turn it into a published work? So long as the concept/plot is not taken wholly from the source material, is it copyright infringement, especially if, without knowing where it came from, the source material cannot be identified?

It's also moments like this when I think about doujinshi, the Japanese "comics" that are very prevalient in their home country but would get people sued like crazy here in the States. They're the equivalent of fanfiction and yet they're embraced over there (some authors even do doujinshi of their own work for their fans) but to try and do something like that over here...there's no way. Yet at the same time, we have things like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies that sweep various media (book, graphic novel, soon to be movie) and at the core, that's fanfic, too. So how is what PP&Z (and all the later clones) done, which is taken an existing book and added their own twist, any different than what James, or any fanfic writer, has done with theirs?

Personally, I see it as a bit of inspriation mixed with caution. If James can do it, what's to say the rest of us fanfic writers out there can't either, so long as we aren't blatantly plagerizing someone elses work? If a story/movie/game can give me an idea, is it plagerizing if I build my work off of that idea? As the article hints, this could bring about a new breed of writer (or should I say, published author) or even be the opening of a door to a new way of thinking what can and can't be published.

(Okay, I'm off the soap box now. Apologies, but this article does really get you thinking. Also, @11 - Is it bad I forgot about the new show and when you said "Teen Wolf" all I thought of was the old 80's movie? *showing my age*)
George Brell
14. gbrell
There’s a generational aspect, too. The current generation has grown up used to the idea of sampling — borrowing snippets of someone else’s original content, whether in music or art — to create something that transcends the artistic intent of the components. Sampling, and its close kin the mash-up, are only possible because of advances in technology. ...

As pointed out by an earlier poster, sampling and mash-up and homage have occurred throughout history. A brief look at the greats of classical music makes it clear that they were constantly taking from one another (often blatantly). Jazz artists have always appropriated each others' work, it's a fairly central tenet to the discipline. What you are alluding to is the ease of creating these works now thanks to technology.

@8.Kappi:

I'd also point out that both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games appear to be appropriating heavily from The Long Walk, one of Stephen King's early novels. Or the mythology of the Minotaur and Greeks sacrificing tributes to Crete. Battle Royale was not created in a vacuum and there are elements of The Hunger Games that are different and original in relation to it, but neither is a truly novel novel.

@13.Copper:

So how is what PP&Z (and all the later clones) done, which is taken an existing book and added their own twist, any different than what James, or any fanfic writer, has done with theirs?

Well, for one, Pride and Prejudice isn't under copyright.
Alan Orloff
15. xenization
Basically, there are two things that distinguish fan fiction from "real" literature: copyright and quality.

While I think copyright definitely has a role in whether or not something is fan fiction (for the genral public), I would (like EllenMCM) disagree that quality is a distinguishing feature of fan fic. If 95% of everything is crap--I'm not saying that's true, but if it is--then there's *more* bad fan fic by the sheer numbers, but not by proportion. And there's good fan fic, as well as bad "real" fiction.

I myself take the more inclusive view of fan fic so that, yes, Virgil's filing off Homer's serial numbers, Milton is riffing on the Bible, and even every fairy tale retelling is a piece of fan fiction. But we really should clarify what we mean when we talk about fan fiction specifically because if the term covers everything, it stops being useful. I think starryharlequin's points get at this--fan fic is as much defined by the culture it exists in as the content. (I don't think this is universally true; I started writing fan fic long before I knew there was a community who did likewise, and have continued to write without knowledge of 'fanon' or any feedback beyond selected first readers.)

It's only within the past, what, few hundred years that we started looking at artistic productions as the creation of a single individual talent. The Romantic movement and the esteeming of personal genius. Plus, the notion of copyright--we can trace who wrote what and when, whereas before, writers shared the well of Story. (I also wonder if the lack of mass literacy had a hand in this state of affairs.) The Internet has, of course, made global communication on a widespread scale possible so that fan fic, previously a *very* niche thing, exploded, letting people find a lot of others with the same bent and at no cost, whereas 'zines were an investment of time and money.

I guess that goes back to the ease of all this remix and appropriation in today's culture. In the past you may have needed a network of like-minded people and more intimate knowledge to slap things together, but with a wide variety of tools--and the ability to find/pick the brains of the experts who make/use those tools--a lot more people can play in the sandbox. Also, there definitely seems to be a more lax attitude toward taking other's work without credit--how many times do you see people take Facebook photos from other albums without credit or post artwork without attribution? I'm not sure what's to blame in this scenario. It seems very chicken-and-egg to me.

I could keep blathering about this because I find it such a fascinating topic. Thank you for the article and for generating some thoughtful discussion.
Jonah Feldman
16. relogical
Even going beyond the old "Virgil was fanfiction" idea, writing past copyright isn't new either. Douglas Adams did it; Dirk Gently and Life, The Universe, and Everything started out as Doctor Who scripts. In that case, the writer was actually employed by the show, but he was in effect doing the same thing to circumvent copyrights.
Allana Schneidmuller
17. blutnocheinmal
@16 I can't wait to re-read the Dirk Gently books knowing that it was originally the Doctor.

And on the topic as a whole, it's a slippery slope, to be sure. CGPGrey on youtube has a great video on copyright:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk862BbjWx4
which says things a lot better than I can.

Mostly, I'm on the Star Trek novels /Star Wars extended universe/ doujinshi side of the fence. I've read some bad, some decent fanfictions and a handful of devestatingly great ones.
Though I suppose aspiring authors should only use fanfiction to hone their skills and write original work for profit, "everything is a remix".
Alan Orloff
18. hng23
A number of fanficcers have, over the years, taken down their stories, changed the characters' names & then published the stories professionally (I can think of at least three off the top of my head) --mostly as online paranormal erotica. I suppose in this case the difference is that this is a bestseller.
Jonah Feldman
19. relogical
The thing that concerns me is that this will alienate the writers who have embraced fanfiction of their work. They were okay with it with the understanding that it was just for fun and not for profit. What happens if something E.L. James writes predicts some plot development in future Twilight books? Then Stephanie Meyer potentially loses the right to her own idea, and that's what authors are terrified of in the modern age.
Alan Orloff
20. Copper
@14.gbrell - That thought did cross my mind when I was discussing this post with a friend last night. Given the fact that it's not under copyright, to me, just gives them leave to use it without all the legal snarls that are bouncing around about FSoG. It still doesn't change the fact that they took an already published work and went "Hey, let's add zombies." I know it's not a word-for-word re-creation of the original novel, but instead of coming up with a book that is an amusing period piece about prim and proper undead slayers, they took the setting, characters, and general flow of the original and made it their own, which is what fanfiction does 90% of the time and, as such, is how I will continue to view books like that. More just a personal opinion than anything else, but looking at that genre as a whole, you can lump it in there.
Alan Orloff
21. Lsana
Honestly, I don't see the big deal here. "Fanfic" in one form or another has been being published forever. The examples I can come up with off the top of my head:

1. There was, I believe it was called The Sundering by Jaqueline Carey, where she changed the names but it was pretty obviously Lord of the Rings from the perspective of the Nazgul.

2. There's the Inheritence series where the first two books at least might as well be titled "Star Wars with Dragons."

3. There's not only Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, as many people mentioned above, but the entire subgenre it spawned.

4. All the sequels to established books. Cosette for Les Miserables, Scarlette for Gone With the Wind, at least two different ones for Pride and Prejudice.

5. Countless Shakespeare retellings (ex. A Thousand Acres for King Lear, West Side Story for Romeo and Juliet).

And that isn't even counting Bible/Fairy Tale/Mythology retellings, LOTR/Harry Potter/Twilight/Insert-hot-trend-here imitators, not to mention all the authors who were inspired by something we don't even know about. Given all that, color me skeptical that this particular novel represents some kind of game changer. The idea that "this would only be possible with all the technological changes brought about by the internet" strikes me as rather short-sighted.
Andrew Mason
22. AnotherAndrew
It's worth pointing out that this is Alternate Universe fanfiction, that is, it doesn't take over settings from the original; there are no vampires in it. So once the names have been changed it has no real connection with Twilight except that the characters are inspired by characters from that work - which may be true of any number of books. I don't think this is likely to raise copyright issues.

To add to the examples that many people have given - Bible fanfic goes back a very long way, both Jewish (Joseph and Asenath) and Christian (The Acts of Paul and Thecla). But presumably the authors of these works thought the characters really existed, which perhaps makes it a rather different thing. Mythic and legendary works have, of course, always used existing characters and settings, but there the relation is to a tradition that than to a particular text.

The oldest piece of fanfic for a particular work I know is Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid, which begins with an explicit reference to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Then later we have Fielding's Joseph Andrews, inspired by Richardson's Pamela, and Thackeray's Rowena and Rebecca, inspired by Scott's Ivanhoe.

More recently, because of copyright law, people have not been able to do it quite so freely; they have had to get permission from the copyright holders (numerous TV tie-in writers), file the serial numbers off (Dennis McKiernan, Donald Kingswood), or use public domain works (Jean Rhys, George Macdonald Fraser, Laurie King - and an infinite number of other Sherlock Holmes writers).

I wonder if, in fact, this seems more surprising now than it would have a while ago, because the idea has grown up that this is a special kind of fiction which flourishes in a special milieu, and the internet has made that perception more widespread.
Alan Orloff
23. Copper
@21Lsana - Not to mention all the Mr. Darcy stories that were pretty popular there for a while (and could possibly still be.) Worked in a book store, so I got to see a lot of that sort of stuff come through.

@22AnotherAndrew - I think that last paragraph is the kicker, personally. We're so much more "wired in" to things and we can get information with the flick of a fingertip now, it's getting harder and harder to keep things personal and in a niche, so to speak. Can work for us and can work against us.
Alan Orloff
24. Juanito
Interesting article. Though what up with that glib assessment of America's views on sex? I mean... have you WATCHED television lately? Every blessed drama on TV assumes that "abstinence" is the exception to romantic relationships. Videogames rated anything but E have at least have 25 frames of semi-revealed breasts every second (bps, it's an industry term now). "Conservative America" might exist somewhere, but I've never found it in the entertainment industry.
Alan Orloff
25. wingracer
Interesting article. Even though "50 Shades" is not my usual kind of thing, I just finished reading it just to see what all the fuss was about. My thoughts as follows:

1. I can certainly see many ethical and legal issues arise from the for profit publishing of fanfic. Obviously it is not a problem to do so with public domain material but a current, copywrighted and popular work? Definitely a gray area (no pun intended) and possibly a very slippery slope. But...

2. This work is so radically different from Twilight, I'm not sure there is any problem. I can certainly see many similarities but nothing that could really be called plagiarism. I would have to say that legally, it's ok. Ethically, well maybe not but that is a more individual issue. Personally, I'm ok with it.
Alan Orloff
26. Jenr
The problem isn't just the fact that the author wrote a fanfic and made money off of it (Something the ENTIRE fanfiction community knows you just cannot do). The fact of the matter is she published it on a website, did a search and replace on the names, and re-published it somewhere else.

When I was in college, I was told I couldn't use any of my completed research papers I had written for other classes to write any new research papers. It's called self-plagiorism. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous (I had two papers I totally could have used for more than one class!) but I stuck to the rules anyway and didn't use any of my old material.

What the author did was ethically wrong. Even if she didn't use the same premise or universe, she still based her story on someone else's characters. To me, characters are the crux of any fictional work. I could forgive almost any ridiculous plotting if great characters are involved, but I couldn't watch a greatly plotted film if the characters were sucky. Taking Meyer's characters is still using her intellectual property.

I'm no fan of Meyer - I think my 10 year old has better writing skills than her - but it is her work, and it's wrong. James has managed to not only plagiorize Meyer's characters, but she's also plagiorized herself as well.

And for this she makes 7 figures? Legally - who knows if this is ok. But it's certainly not ethically.
Alan Orloff
27. RiceVermicelli
Jenr @ 26 - There's a very big difference between submitting the same academic work twice, for credit in class, and revising a piece that you published once on a website and selling it to a willing buyer, who is aware of the revision history. Professionally, it is perfectly ethical to re-use your writing and research, and plenty of writers do so, in both fiction and non-fiction. For example, I'm aware of an author who recently published an essay in The Atlantic that was a minor revision of part of his soon-to-be-released book. Not an ethical problem for anyone. The surprise is that I'm so little-read that I'm aware of only one.

There are lots of writers who have started with another writer's characters, changed some details, and headed off in a new direction. When "Christian" ceased to be a vampire named Edward, he also ceased to be Stephanie Meyer's intellectual property. That's not even considering whatever other differences may exist between the two.
Alan Orloff
28. Feng Yue
I'd also like to add that James isn't the only fan fiction writer rising to prominence. Before James, there was Naomi Novik, who wrote fan fiction for ten years before penning and publishing "His Majesty's Dragon" and its sequels. Now, her series has been optioned as a movie/TV series by Peter Jackson, who directed "The Lord of the Rings".

Novik has also since founded an organization defending the intellectual and creative rights of fan fiction writers and teamed up with other authors. What riles me are those who claim that fan fiction isn't "real literature" because it draws off another person't copyrighted idea; James and Novik, along with many other modern authors, got, and continue to get, their start in fan fiction and pen and paper role playing.

Like James, I created and posted a Twilight fan fiction, "Blue Moon", which became popular (over three hundred reviews for fifteen chapters) and I took down eventually. The main character, who I created entirely on my own, was featured on another website, where her profile won an award. I hope to one day rewrite "Blue Moon" to make it my own "original" novel, but just because it got its inspiration from Twilight, should it be devalued like James' "Shades of Grey"? Absolutely not!

James had her own, original story and plot to tell. I ultimately empathize with James, because I'm in her shoes. For example, I created my own, original characters, lore, mythology, wrote my own content, and more for "Blue Moon" that are copyrighted to me, not Stephenie Meyer, and if/when I finish and publish "Blue Moon", it should be recognized that the work is my intellectual property.

I'd also like to agree with the other posters here: fan fiction has been around since the dawn of literature. In fact, some shows and companies deliberately hire or commission fan fiction writers, including Lucasfilms (Star Wars expanded universe) and the BBC (Doctor Who). In some cases, fan fiction greatly improves or is better than the source material; in other cases, not, usually resulting from Mary-Sues, author egotism and pride, etc. (I count Moffat and the creator of Mara Jade to be among such authors/writers who fell to these pitfalls.)
daphne dangerlove
29. daphnedangerlove
A number of Xena Fan Fiction authors self published their "uber" fan fiction years ago--simply changing the names of the characters, and placing them in different times in history. Some of the books were better than most mainstream novels that I've read--you wouldn't know they were fan fiction unless someone told you.

Fan Fiction has long filled a void in the erotica market--the most popular stories often take the charactesr to places that the shows just don't go. I think the success of Fifty Shades of Grey was just a matter of time with the huge rise of digital Self-Publsihing.

The attractive thing about fan fiction is that it draws people together around a shared experience, and they support each other. It's a really great way to learn how to write fiction in general--you can play in someone else's world until you are ready to build your own. I think a lot of people are going to be getting some big ideas based on Fifty Shades of Grey...which is both good and bad.
Rhys Chrystie
30. ryzer1
Okay, okay. We do realize that fan-fiction is generally porno's written about peoples favorite characters? That or romances, which still usually still include eroge. However, if everybodys writing these days, (which they are, I plead guilty), than why the hell shouldn't we get stuff published? I bet there're plenty of great versions, spin offs, and follow ups to great stories. I think it's time these are published. If we can just drop the standards in books, and really get into the gay storylines, the racism...you know, all the taboo's, we could really find our gold here. And fan-fiction is just a more in depth look at our favorite characters.I say go!
Alan Orloff
31. Irrevenoid
I'm surprised it took 'til comment #22 to point out that MoTU is Alternate Universe fanfiction. When you take as your premise "What if Edward Cullen were a BDSM-obsessed billionaire rather than a sparkly vampire?" then it's questionable to what extent you've copied the original and to what extent you have a basically new character and setting with the old names.

re: the more general issue of FanFiction, it's a great way for writers of varying professionalism and skill to practice their craft. Coming up with an intriguing concept is one thing, but to my mind 90% of what makes a novel work is in the implemetation. This doesn't even necessarily mean a "well written" novel, as critically evaluated - neither 50 Shades or the original Twilight meet that standard. But it has to express something that people want to read in a way in which they want to read it.

Playing in other peoples' sandbox is a great way to hone those skills.

My personal opinion: If you write a story that's set in someone else's setting, so long as you completely remove their setting from your work before you publish it, then you've done nothing wrong. Everything else is your own creative work.

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