Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On 50 Shades of Gray and Fan Fiction

I've been quite amused by the popularity of 50 Shades of Gray and the conversations around it recently.   Erotic fiction is certainly not new, but the level of discourse around it has changed recently, in that people are so willing to admit they're reading British author EL James Fifty Shades trilogy.  Not surprisingly, it's a top-selling ebook, for those who don't like to bare their book covers.

I haven't actually read the book, except for some excerpts I read online - but, I never let a little thing like actual experience get in the way of sharing my thoughts.  What's surprising is how few people seem to know that Fifty Shades is fanfiction of the Twilight series, and, not only that, but I've discovered quite a few friends don't know what fanfic is, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to explain.  Fanfic is a type of story written in the style or with a continuation of characters or stories from a piece of literature.  It varies wildly in quality - some is quite excellent, like Wide Sargasso Sea or March, and some is really awful, like 90% of the stuff you'll find on fanfiction.net.  Harry Potter and Twilight are the most popular kinds of fan fiction; it's not all erotic, there are many represented genres.  (BTW, if you're just reading about this for the first time, and you're anything like me, you'll spend the next straight 24 hours mindlessly reading one story after another until you never want to ready anything ever again.)

You can sort stories on fanfiction.net by type of story, "rating", language, number of words, characters, complete or in-progress and inspiration via movie or book.  So, a short, finished, mature, sexy story about Bella and Esme would have a search the one below...
and three results would appear, one with this description: "Bella, still a virgin at 20 & perpetually horny and snarky, has a heart too big to worry about herself. Turns out being forced to work on Valentine's Day because she's single may not be such a bad thing. Especially when her client is Esme Platt."  

A few years ago, a similar search for Bella and Edward resulted in a series called "Master of the Universe" by SnowQueen IceDragon, which is now Fifty Shades of Grey.  They've since removed "Master" from fanfiction.net, but I did find an excerpt.  EL James's publishers claim that "Master" and Fifty Shades are separate works of fiction, but some enterprising sleuths discovered the books are 89% identical.  So, apparently the guy character, based on Edward, is rich and possessive and secretive (although not a vampire), and the girl is a horny clumsy virgin (sound familiar?).  I hear there's also a Jacob character, and possibly an Alice?  Anywho, as far as I know, Stephanie Meyer hasn't made any accusations of infringement, and even if she did, who knows what would happen?    I'm no copyright expert, but I wonder what the legal implications are or will be, assuming more and more publishers go trolling the fanfic databases for the next best-seller.  By the way, it's not unusual to see authors write "I do not own these characters" at the beginning of their stories, as if absolving themselves of any dubious copyright infraction they may have committed.  

The copyright thing is strange ... what if I just wrote an erotic novel about a daring orphaned boy and his brave red-headed girlfriend, who happened to be the sister of his best friend?  (Wait, what IF I DID???)  I mean, can we just do that?  

Check these out:
3 Grannies critique
Gilbert Gorrfreid reads
50 Shades of Grey Pinterest board
Increase in rope sales?
Ellen reads

No comments: