The interwebs are packed with fan fiction, from vast repositories like fanfiction.net to blogs and even forums. Some tales are brilliant gems to be treasured; some are amusing slash; and yet more are best forgotten.
But what of the authors who wrote the Man-Kzin wars? Or the dozens of books published by White Wolf to prop up its role playing games? Or the hundreds of novels set in the Star Trek universe?
Does Jerry Pournelle write fan fiction?
I’m not certain if fan fiction is a wholly separate category from writing in a borrowed universe (BU), or if one is a subset of the other. However, there’s no question that the two differ. And I don’t mean because one is good while the other is not.
Is it BU fiction because these authors were asked to write in this universe? Or that they got permission first?
Getting permission first before writing in someone else’s universe is always a good idea, but that’s not the only difference. Try flipping through stories from a fandom that you don’t currently follow. You’re liable to find gems such as the following:
“A kunai shot past Sakumo’s head, but Konoha ignored the Iwa nin and hurled a shuriken. . . .”
What does that mean? I haven’t the foggiest. I tried reading some Naruto fanfic once so that I could learn about its massive appeal, but I got tired of having to Google details from every sentence. And that’s when it dawned on me: what differentiates fanfic from BU fiction is that fanfic authors don’t bother explaining the universe. They don’t tell you the limitations of magic, or the history of the conflict, or even the characters’ backgrounds.
A fan fiction writer merely needs to say that Hermione Grainger waved her wand and pronounced the spell with perfect inflection, or that Bella stared lovingly at Edward, or that the lightsaber sliced through the robotic troops without slowing. If we’re in that fandom, then we already get it. We don’t need all the setup, and the author can jump right into the bit that he or she really wants to write.
But is that the sort of tale that you want to write?
BU fiction, on the other hand, stands alone despite its origins in someone else’s universe. These tales don’t typically reuse the original author’s characters or even their settings. They share the history, the larger conflicts, and the rules that the original author set down. They don’t add faster-than-light travel to a universe in which it is impossible or make vampires invulnerable to sunlight when the original author made it lethal.
But they do give you a chance to explore how the world would impact other stories. Perhaps the original author focused on the machinations of royalty in a magical society, but what would life be like for a pauper hero? Perhaps the original author focused on a single character, while you could tell the tale of the wider-ranging conflict.
I strongly encourage you to try writing your own story in someone else’s universe. Take a world that sparked your imagination, discard the characters, and come up with a whole new tale. Don’t skimp on the introduction or the explanations. Add your own color and depth in places that lacked them in the original universe. Write the whole story as if it was your own.
When writing BU fiction, you should feel free to tweak the details of how things work, but try to stay faithful to the bigger framework. Fans of this world will expect a lot, but if you write an enjoyable tale, they’ll forgive the little changes you choose to make.
Yes, you will find it hard or even impossible to sell your work to a publisher. Instead of having hundreds of publishers that you can submit it to, you may find only one. But if you’re not trying to sell your work, then you will find it infinitely easier to find readers with a borrowed universe tale.
The readers are out there, and they always want more than the original author can produce. Writing in a borrowed universe (or even fanfic) is a great way to build a following and lead them to your original fiction.
Perhaps one of these new fans will want to borrow your universe. Encourage them to do so!
* * *
Gre7g Luterman is the author of Skeleton Crew. You can read this BU tale and others on his website at: http://gre7g.com/.