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Have you ever heard the quote, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”? It has been attributed to both T.S. Eliot and Pablo Picasso, maybe one of them stole it from the other; they were contemporaries. Something about the quote rings very true in the current literature market as the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy still tops best sellers lists, but where and how do we draw the line of distinction between “stealing” and the more appropriate term: inspiration?

Sitting Woman by Picasso

Sitting Woman by Pablo Picasso

A while back I wrote a tongue-in-cheek review of 50 Shades of Grey. I was admittedly flippant, because if you’re going to be number 1, I personally have certain expectations. If you want my sentiments on that subject, read the Author + Entrepreneur – The Product: Editing and Refining. I’ve since cooled from my original reaction, but I won’t apologize because I preface my reviews with the fact that it’s a personal reaction. Almost all of the women I’ve asked about it love it; gobble the stuff up like it’s the fountain of youth (which it may be for some people *winky face). I don’t really get the appeal, but hey, if that’s what you like, that’s what you like. Everyone has different tastes, which is a good thing and what enables independent authors to achieve self-publishing success these days. I’m sure most people would find my library boring anyway: business books, nonfiction biographies, literary classics. It’s a snooze fest to most, but I promise I’m expanding my horizons with all kinds of independent authors. But seriously, props to E.L. James! If, I could do what she did and make a bajillion bucks so I could be sitting pretty in my sailboat off Split, you better believe I sure would try. But wait a tick, I can try.

The 50 Shades of Grey series began as fan fiction for the Twilight series. In the original manuscript, Master of the Universe, the names even remained Edward and Bella. So basically E. L. James read Twilight, became inspired, and then decided she wanted to have her innermost midlife crisis yearnings splayed on the pages of a twisted erotic novel played out through young adult characters. Cool. I digress. My point is, use her success as an example. If you are a writer, or ever wanted to be a writer take a stab at fan fiction. It’s nothing new, and in my opinion it seems like as good a place as any to start if you want to write. Visit fanfiction.net, to get your feet wet and to see what else is out there.

The ethics of the situation and the rightness and wrongness are fiercely debated, but where would we be if not inspired by the works of others in some way or another. Writers and artists alike have been borrowing from the works of those they admire since there were works to be admired. This is nothing new. It’s how we progress as artists and as a society. Very rarely is something completely new created. More often than not, we take something that has already been created and we tweak it, we make it our own, we push the boundaries in new ways to make it work the best for us. In a nutshell, this is a form of literary innovation. If you want to see other examples of fan fiction from the past, I think this article in the Wall Street journal does a great job of demonstrating other works of literature that have been spun off from a different original story.

So here’s my advice: Read a book (watch a movie, listen to a song). Use the characters and the plot line as your inspiration. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE, I repeat, DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. No one likes a copyright infringer, and it’s illegal, but use the characters and settings, just to see where the story leads you. You might be pleasantly surprised at where you end up. FSoG only got 3 hours driving distance from Forks, WA to Seattle, WA (tourism in the Pacific Northwest must really be a-booming!). Consider it your jumping off point. Cook up a good story get it all down. One of the hardest parts about writing is actually staying committed and sticking with a story to the end. Once you have it down, then go back and make it your own, people have been doing it for centuries. And finally, take your fan fiction inspired masterpiece, and publish it on Kbuuk. Then maybe you too will be rolling in the dough and optioning the movie rights to your work before you know it.

If you have any comments or thoughts you would like to add to the discussion, please feel free to do so in the comments. How do you feel about fan fiction, stealing, and inspiration?

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