I have been seeing some conversations online about the explosion of “Fan Fiction”, especially since the runaway success of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Most people seem to agree her books have similarities to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, and the cause of the controversy is -how much similarity? Does it cross into plagiarism or is it an homage to the popular novels and movies of Twilight fame?
First of all, I must confess that I have never read fan fiction, nor have I read any of the “Twilight” books. I did read the first book in the Shades of Grey trilogy, and when I read it, I had no familiarity with the fan fiction work it was derived from (“Master of the Universe”, by E. L. James), or the Twilight books, other than what I had heard in the media and conversations with friends who had read them. Therefore, I was pretty much an unbiased reader. I picked it up because of the viral excitement surrounding the novels, and the idea of BDSM Romance going mainstream was intriguing.
I am not going to review or critique the book here, as countless others have already done. What interested me was the fact that the general consensus among those who were thoroughly familiar with the Twilight series pointed out numerous strong similarities between the two series, in setting, characters, plot lines, and other details. Enough so that many are wondering why Stephanie Meyer has not been at the very least, disgruntled, if not outright suing for copyright infringement.
What prompted me to research the subject of similarity between the two series was a conversation I saw on Facebook, where two women were discussing Shades of Grey fan fiction. They were excited to read more “episodes” about Christian and Ana, because they “could not wait” for the next book in the series! So instead of waiting for the “real” author’s next book, they were happily reading what anyone and everyone had posted online.
While I applaud writers for trying any method (including fan fiction) that gets them writing, practicing their craft, and putting it out there for review, I find it ironic that there are now tons of “knock-offs” of a novel that has been criticized for being a “knock-off”. Like one of those funhouse mirrors that seem to stretch into infinity, there are now endless variations of Christian and Ana, as children, as teens, and dealing with their own children, to name just a few.
Many have said that fan fiction was a sincere form of flattery, as fans were so enamored of the characters, they created stories as a way of paying tribute to the world the author had created. But the game has changed, with the extreme success of Shades of Grey. Now it has ‘gone viral’, with millions of dollars made. What was once fun and games has become big business. New American Library, an imprint of Penguin, has just signed Tara Sue Me’s The Submissive Trilogy, so the frenzy continues with what may be the next “Shades of Grey” type fan-fiction based series.
The music industry has been similarly affected. Years ago, lyrics or melodies similar to another artist’s song frequently ended in a lawsuit. Now, familiar melodies are used as “samples” in contemporary music. YOU TUBE has tons of videos of artists (and non-professionals) rendering their version of any song they choose (such as Gangam Style and Call Me Maybe). And Reality TV– OY! Don’t get me started. It seems we now get see how pretty much EVERYONE does their job (as long as they include plenty of relationship drama). Endless Pawn Shops and Real Housewives of Pretty Much Every City on the Planet.
It appears from the profusion of “everyday people” creating entertainment (written works, music, videos, TV shows, etc) that there is plenty of opportunity for everyone to jump on the bandwagon and express themselves. Which, in itself, is a good thing. The challenge arises when those attempting to enjoy the “entertainment” have to wade through tons of material to find the few quality pieces that are worth their limited time and money.
And what about the artists? The authors, musicians, and actors that have spent time, money and in many cases, years of effort honing their craft? Is it fair for others to cash in by copying and/or imitating their work? Or is it a good thing to have publicity, no matter the source? Who decides where the line is? When does it cease being free expression and cross over into stealing someone’s work?
No doubt, these are awesome, unprecedented times for creative expression! What do YOU think?