Monday, November 29, 2010

Reader question: Should I write Fan-Fiction under a fake name?

Jordan's got a fairly unique question:

In my spare time when I'm not doing original work, I like to work on fan-fiction. While I'll drop this when I receive my first professional gig, one major plus is I am doing it in script format to hone my craft. It's mainly for fun during down-time, plus I don't have the pressure of original specs. The style isn't anything I can really submit for writing samples, although I am working on a number of specs in various genres to show my writing capabilities.

I would like to post these online to entertain fellow fans, but considering I want to be a screenwriter, would it be wise to write under an alias? I would like to go for a job on a currently running show, but would I be less likely to get an assignment if the Producers see I write fan-fiction based on the show? Would a future employer frown on me if they found out that I previously wrote fan-fiction? Can any good come of posting it under my real name? I mean, I take pride in my work and I want people to know I created these scripts. By the same token, however, I can understand the other side of the argument.

I know it sounds like a stupid question, but I'm genuinely curious on protocol.

I think the most relevant question you ask is "Can any good come from posting it under my real name?" My gut answer is, "Not really." There's an excellent chance that this won't do you any harm either. My hunch is that most employers won't really care, but then I recall hearing stories of Star Trek fans who were lucky enough to get pitch meetings on the various TV-series feeling that it was best to not advertise their fan-fiction pasts when meeting with producers.

Most of the time, the people creating your favorite shows are simply too busy to pay much attention to things like fan fiction and those online sites. Plenty of writers might lurk on fan boards to see the reaction to a particular episode or to gauge what show elements are connection with viewers and which ones aren't, but if anything, they'll avoid fan fiction like the plague in order to avoid any chance of being sued for stealing ideas.

That said, suppose you write it under your real name. Then somehow you manage to get a meeting with one of the story editors and his Google search of your name sends him to several fan fiction postings. First, he's probably not going to read it (again, legal reasons), but he might make some assumptions based on that.

So it might be a big deal, it might not be. But why take that chance? If it was me, I'd just choose a nom de plume and post under that.

Anyone else have a different perspective?

And keep the questions coming, folks. I like that I'm getting some that are "off the beaten path" this time.


  1. If there's a risk it'll come back to haunt you...use the fake name...

    That's why hundereds of less-than-desirable barflies wake up next to a thank you note signed by "Lance Manion" & "Shirley Ushest".

  2. I'm a published novelist and short fiction writer, and am now working on screenplays. Apart from very occasional short excerpts, I don't post anything online that hasn't already been professionally published. If I were in your situation, Jordan, I would use an alternate name -- not because Fanfic is A Bad Thing (it's absolutely not) but because it opens you up to other people's perception that you are an amateur rather than a professional.

    You always have the option to come back and tie your professional name to your fanfic, anytime you choose. Since you have that control, why not use it when you are completely confident that it's a win for you, as opposed to being vaguely worried about how it might land?

  3. Another idea is - why spend time writing fanfiction when you can write a spec of a show you love? Specs are basically professional-level fanfiction.

  4. A number of writers involved in the current series of Doctor Who started off as fan writers back in the 90s. I also have a friend, Una McCormack, who got noticed for her (remarkably good) fan fiction, and has now published several novels in the Star Trek and Doctor Who tie-in lines.

    I have never heard a specific example of someone failing to get a writing job because of their fan fiction.

    So I wouldn't sweat it. Probably no one will care: and if they do, and your writing is good, then it might even be helpful.

    The only way it will do harm is if your fan fiction is crap. So don't write crap, and you should be OK.

  5. I've read some fanfiction over the years on various TV-shows, and it struck me, that there is actually a fairly big number of good writers out there. But I think not many of them go on to write original fiction. And I was actually curious why that happens? Being a journalist I've actually contacted some of the authors to find out. After talking to some of the writers, I came to the conclusion that some of them actually get stuck on the characters they write about, and they'd love to write original fiction, but they actually find it hard to come up with anything of their own. Some just don't believe that they can do it: fanfiction is easy, writing original fiction is scary even to attempt. And the rest just don't have the time/interest/motivation. But the main thing I thought about: for a professional (or wannabe professional) is it a good thing to write fanfiction? Doesn't it actually seem like an easy way to go? You don't really have to make up new characters, you just use something that was written by someone else. And how hard can it get, to actually stop & start doing an original thing? Because you may trick yourself into actually thinking that you're doing something good for your writing, because you're simply writing. But I think, that writing anything just for the sake of writing is not a good idea. I have to agree with Amanda: "Why spend time writing fanfiction when you can write a spec of a show you love? Specs are basically professional-level fanfiction."

  6. I'd like to read Jordan's side of fanfiction vs. spec. What exactly is different about the fanfaction that it doesn't quality as a spec? And why even do it if you could write a spec? Just curious.

  7. Iain - I'd read Una's novel HOLLOW MEN, but had no idea she'd gotten her start in fan fiction. Interesting, as that novel "filled in" a few gaps in DS9 continuity.