Theft, especially creative theft is not a good thing. But it happens. The problem is, where is the line between inspiration and a copycat?
Looking back at my grade school story attempts you can pretty much draw out a time line with what my favorite show or movie was.
You can clearly see the resurgence of my Hook phase, and there is obviously a heavy dose of Dark Angel when I reach more into high school. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without my Anne Rice drama knock off either.
The point is these were all blatant copycats, aside from a few minor changes they are the same characters in the same basic story. But that wasn’t a bad thing.
I mean, yeah if you were to go and try to publish it and claim it’s your original work it’s not so good. You could get sued, or be seen as a useless hack.
What I’m saying is imitation serves an important purpose to a writer. By identifying what story elements you love, messing around with a world and character types you’re familiar and comfortable with, and experimenting you are growing into your own writer.
For the meek author it provides a safe place to develop your voice, and for the braver it can just be fun to take over a world and make it your own.
A word of caution, there are several authors out there who are not flattered by the prospect of fan fiction. Diana Gabaldon for instance has explicitly asked that her fans leave the story to her. Approach this with the utmost respect if you decide to share your work in any capacity.
It sounds selfish and cold, but as someone who is building her own world tonight during NaNoWriMo I can see where she is coming from. While I would love to have fans enjoy my work so much that they want to add to it, it’s my world and nobody knows it better than me.
To have my hard bastard of a man turned into a sappy book boyfriend of a romance novel would piss me off, because I have worked hard building his entire life and being. If you presume to know him enough to reduce him to a Fabio than write your own damn character!
So there are two sides of this, and both are valid. Best advice, whatever you do keep it to yourself!
Good luck and Happy NaNos Eve!
Post script: After looking around online for more authors thoughts on fan fiction I came across this blog post by Gail Carriger, which goes into another avenue than I had not thought of.
If you are serious about becoming an author this has some harsh but important facts.