Create a system – Work the system

Hi Gang! Craig with you today. I’m making notes on July 4th as I watch the Hobbit trilogy on television. I’m going to take the time to turn this into the post you’re reading today. I guess the topic has to be somewhat related to fan fiction.

There are a few sites, like Wattpad, that provide an outlet for fan fiction, and I think it’s a fine place to hone your skills. Since, I’m watching Smaug, what would you do if given permission to write in another author’s world?

Honing your skills is one thing, but continuing with existing characters is dangerous. I have no idea how someone thought up expanding The Hobbit into a trilogy, but it wasn’t a great idea. Profitable, no doubt, but not better than the original material. That helps focus the post. Anything along this line will be compared to the original.

There are copyright, and in some cases trademark, issues to consider, too. Let’s say you find a clever way around those, and your fedora wearing hero, Colorado Jones, gets to have new adventures. Those tales will always be compared to the source material.

We should take inspiration from everything that came before, but we need to create our own characters, environments, and adventures. This is hard. I’m the first one to admit it. I have multiple storyboards going on at any given time. Sometimes they take years to coalesce into a reasonable story. By having more of them, I increase my odds.

Balance this against the opposing idea that there’s nothing new under the sun. Conspiracies, government corruption, epic battles, and more have all been written. Where is the sweet spot that you can place a fresh story?

Pick apart those things you read and view. Make notes. What did you like about them? What fell flat? Not repeating errors is a good step to finding your way. Keep your notes, dwell upon them. When something else occurs to you, write it down. It could take years, and this is why I have so many partial projects mapped out.

Study history. There were incredible things that actually happened. One of those events might turn out to be your plot. Make notes. Things that happened in ancient China can be duplicated into a space opera. Maybe the European Refugee Crisis from 2015 would make a great kickoff to your epic fantasy.

Study the news. This may sound odd, but people don’t really change even though the times do. Some jerky politician might be perfect for your futuristic science fiction piece.

Those notes will come together. I promise. You might find a plot from history, a modern character or two, and something right from the headlines for technology. One day, you’ll look at it and find a story staring you in the face.

It takes time. It won’t happen tomorrow, but if you dedicate a few minutes to it every day, it will come together. What you’ll have will be your own creation and not some kind of fan fiction. Inspiration, not duplication, looks like the overall theme today. Took me a while to get here, but you have some worthy concepts.

Let me hear from you. Would you ever borrow the spirit of Molly Weasley to create your own character? Have her start a biker gang to drive invaders from her post-apocalyptic homeland? Perhaps follow the patterns of Joan of Arc to base your plot and locations? If so, you might have a good grasp of this process.

CS Boyack

55 thoughts on “Create a system – Work the system

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever even entertained the idea of “retelling” another (specific) story in a new way. Intentionally, at least. I do understand that there are only so many basic plots, but I haven’t deliberately or consciously looked to older stories or works as inspiration. And fan fiction is something I’ve never written or read. I tend to write stories about people I “know,” and places I’ve lived in most of my life. (Write what you know, right?) And while I’m sure nothing I’ve written is breaking new ground, I just try to pull readers into the story by telling it the best way I know how. But I’m a new writer, having only been at this 8 years, so I still have lots to learn in the next few years, before I hit that point where I need to “retire.”

    I’m interested in your approach, Craig, as it’s so very different from mine. To begin with, I can’t seem to wrap my brain around more than one story at a time, even when I get stuck in a WIP. I wish I could put it aside and work on another tale, but so far, that hasn’t worked for me. I really like your suggestions for finding new “plot lines,” though, and think those could be helpful, no matter the characters and locations of my stories. More to ponder!! Makes me wish I’d started writing years ago, so I’d have time to really perfect the craft. But then again, I believe everything happens for a reason and exactly when it’s supposed to, so I’ll try to encompass some of your suggestions in what I’m doing right now. Thanks for an inspiring post! Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think there’s any such thing as perfecting the craft. I look at it as a journey with no end. We develop and change over time. One important part of this is to take what works, but leave the rest. Don’t be afraid to discard things that don’t work for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good advice, Craig. And I agree that perfecting a craft like writing is probably always an effort in progress. I found several things in this post to “take,” and others that I can pass along, even if they aren’t for me. Thanks for that! 🙂

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  2. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – This Week on #StoryEmpire | The Write Stuff

  3. An interesting idea, Craig [as always]. I love reading and have many favourite books but I’ve never been tempted to borrow someone else’s characters. I have enough trouble with my own ones [smile]. Seriously, writing just doesn’t work like that for me and my characters come before the plot.

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  4. Ah yes, the Hobbit trilogy … a while back someone did an ‘edit’ of the three movies and whittled it down to a very presentable four hour beastie. I suspect it’s still rattling around the back rooms at YouTube. 🙂
    I collect snippets of dialogue from movies mostly, but books, documentaries, the usual suspects, 🙂 … and from those humble beginnings I construct entirely new beasties … call me ‘Dialogue Dr Frankenstein’! 😀

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  5. I borrowed ideas from CS Lewis, Cassandra Claire, and a few other authors and spun those ideas to create my series. My characters are all my own, but there are elements that I fell in love with and found a new way to use. I never got into fan fiction. I prefer original stories, even if the ideas are similar. Great post, Craig! 😊

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  6. Great post, Craig! For me, the crux of the matter is (as you so neatly say) ‘people don’t really change even though times do’. Pretty much anything in the past could be dusted down and given a fresh lick of paint! I hadn’t thought about jotting down ideas like this. My problem is that my butterfly brain is all too easily distracted. I already have two very different Works in Progress and it’d be too easy to ditch the current one when the writing becomes sludgy and veer off into something new. Though, now that you’ve mentioned it, there’s a couple of historical tales that could certainly work as a retelling…

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    • Glad it made you think. It’s a bit dangerous if you’re inclined to chase the fresh new story. I look at these as concepts that need work. When something occurs to me, I update my storyboard. One magical day, it becomes a pretty good outline that I can work with.

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  7. I’ve written fan fiction — twice — and you’re right, it’s not easy. In my case the author of the World invited me to participate so there wasn’t a copyright issue. And I only minimally used their characters. Enough so my story fit into their World, but my Mayhem Series characters carried the overall plot. I get my rights back in August, which causes a different problem. Once the ROR is in effect, there will be copyright issues. So, I need to change their characters into new characters to republish the novellas. Ah, well, I’ll deal with it then.

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  8. I’ve done fanfiction, and I still do as a hobby. However, one of the main characters in an original universe escaped from a video from er, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away, and his universe and story are still quite original (with a side of Schindler’s List–nobody will ever suspect he’s the one involved in stopping the slave trade, though when his network takes over for him during an unplanned absence, the people who did suspect him say ‘eh, no, barking up the wrong tree’). But very few people would recognize the video character who was his template.

    And I have a huge amount of notes, including the Ultimate Spreadsheet of Doom, so I know how old everyone is and what they’re up to when they meet each other.

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  9. This is an intriguing post, Craig. Thank you for all the helpful suggestions. I’ve never tried a storyboard, but it sounds like a very useful process. Maybe someday…

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  10. I keep a notebook of story ideas. Whenever I get a new one, in it goes.
    Those ideas come from everywhere. I’m basically a walking sponge soaking up everything I can as potential story fodder.

    Speaking of The Hobbit, I need to set aside the time to rewatch the LOTR movies. They’ve been calling my name lately.

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  11. I remember the old ‘Forgotten Realms’ books, which were by different authors in the same world. Some characters carried over. So, the concept doesn’t seem so farfetched and I tend to differentiate it from fan fiction. The latter to me has always been a person writing a story with most of the characters and world of an author for their own entertainment. Usually without permission or the intention of making money. The other is more of a compilation or some term that I’ve long forgotten, but the author is allowed to create and publish the work. I think it does require a lot of respect and understanding for the source material. An author is letting you play in their sandbox, so you shouldn’t go around breaking things. Otherwise, your story gets knocked out of canon or the entire world is left in ruin because the author can’t continue what they were doing. For example, I was told once that there was a rule in comics where borrowing a villain from one series and putting it in your own meant that you can’t do anything to forever change that character. It’s borrowing instead of taking, so you have to give it back. Then, one author borrowed a Spidey villain (Mysterio) and killed him in a Daredevil comic. This was met with a lot of anger because it meant this long-standing villain was no longer viable and the death wasn’t even done within the context of his original hero/villain dynamic. So, you really have to think before you mess with stuff.

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  12. What a thought-provoking post, Craig. I am always intrigued by your storyboard process and how it works. I haven’t ever tried to write like anyone else. I wouldn’t have a clue how to start. But I have learned from some of the greatest writers in the business. I’ve always been a huge John Steinbeck fan and still am, even though most of his books are now banned. But I wouldn’t attempt to write like him. This gives me much to ponder. Maybe one day I’ll try a fan fiction piece just for the experience. Thank you for sharing!

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  13. I haven’t really tried fan fiction except once I entered a write like Kurt Vonnegut contest. This was where you had to write an original story in the Kurt Vonnegut style. I took first place, which to me was lovely since Kurt has been my inspiration since College. I get a lot of ideas from history. It seems the past can direct us to the future. Excellent post, Craig.

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  14. The (insert whatever adjective you’d like) Fifty Shades series began as fan fic for the (insert whatever adjective you’d like) Twilight series. Love them or hate them, they were both wildly successful. When an agent or editor or publisher discovered Fifty Shades, they just changed the character names and were off, no copyright issues. (Life’s rarely that simple.)

    I’ve written in worlds owned by other people and had good and bad experiences doing so. Not sure I’d do it again.

    At the end of the day, I say take inspiration where you find it. Just be careful how you use it.

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  15. Several years ago I attended a writer’s conference where the speaker said there are no new stories, just different ways of writing them. He pointed out some famous books and movies that had some surprising beginnings. I do keep notes and jot down things that interest me as well as using personal experiences in my stories.

    Kudos for watching The Hobbit. I saw each film once, but they were so off base from the book, that was one too many times for me.

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  16. Great ideas, Craig. I have a folder where I keep news stories that catch my attention. If done well, I enjoy fan fiction. Hugh Howey once opened up his Silo series for other writers, and some really good stuff came out of that. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  17. An excellent post, Craig. And good advice about fan fiction. I’m not a fan( pun not intended) of this type of writing, and don’t do it myself, but the ideas you suggest are definitely worth considering. Molly. Weasly, ( or her spirit) as the leader of a biker gang is a great idea.
    I did use the parable of the prodigal son as the inspiration for a short story set in modern times.

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  18. Good post, Craig 🙂 I do pay attention to what I do like and don’t when reading or watching movies. It is a good idea to pay attention to current events, and ask what if.

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  19. I have done this. Before I’d ever heard of fan fiction, I created a whole life story for H. P. Lovecraft’s character Herbert West and turned it into a four-book series. Discovering the existence of the Re-Animator movies was a bit of a shock, but I decided there was room in the fictional universe for multiple versions of this somewhat less than successful revivifier of corpses.
    I love your idea of being aware of what’s going on in the real world and making notes of particularly engaging events or people and storing them up for future fictional use.

    Liked by 2 people

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