E.L. James is somewhat of an oddity: she appears to have “made it” as a novelist by writing fan fiction.
I started out by writing fan fiction. When I was in eighth grade, I wrote a sprawling, meandering “novel” (it was something like 50 handwritten loose leaf sheets of paper and it was divided in to four “books”, each shorter than the previous). It was first person, so of course the main character was a self-insert. The “love interest” was the girl I was crushing on at the time, and it was otherwise the plot of the TV series “Captain N: the Game Master.”
That never went anywhere, and I’ve lost the manuscript (thank God; I’m sure I would be mortified that I ever wrote anything like it). I’ve continued to write fan fiction, with my more recent endeavors here. But I’ve never made any money from it.
No one has.
Until E.L. James.
The 50 Shades trilogy by James began its life as Twilight fan fiction, which the writer then rewrote using a slightly different setting and her own original characters. I was starting to wonder if that might work for me, since a lot of my really great ideas are fan fiction and therefore unsaleable.
Case in point: yesterday, my son asked me when the “live action He-man movie” is coming out. It’s scheduled for 2019, but there are some serious problems. The project lost two directors, McG and David S. Goyer, in the last three months. More troubling to me, as a fan, is the rumor that the studio has declared that under no circumstances is Skeletor to make an appearance in the movie.
My son was furious. How can anyone have a Masters of the Universe movie without Skeletor?
The simple answer is that the studio doesn’t want this to be a Masters of the Universe movie. They want it to be a series. If I can coin a term, a “Masters of the Cinematic Universe.” And, I added to my son, I know exactly who I would use as the villain if Skeletor wasn’t allowed.
For those unfamiliar with the storyline after Filmation ceased to exist, Prince Keldor was the eldest son of King Miro, Adam’s grandfather. When Randor ascended to the throne (Randor, though younger, was the legitimate son, while Keldor was the product of an affair), Keldor took a place of honor at the right hand. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, Keldor was basically the Hand of the King, filling Ned Stark’s role.
But Keldor wasn’t happy with that. Instead, he wanted to sit on the throne his brother occupied. He felt that it was his birthright to do so.
(In case you hadn’t worked this out on your own, let me enlighten you: the brother of your father is your uncle. Keldor is brother to Randor, and therefore Adam’s uncle. That’s right, dear readers, this means that Skeletor is He-man’s uncle.)
In the ensuing battle, Keldor took a shot of potent acid to his face, melting it off. Near death, he made a deal with Hordak: extend his life, and he would free Hordak from the cold wastes of Despondos. Hordak agreed, merging Keldor with a demonic entity and naming the new being Skeletor. Keldor’s poise, long-range planning, and political tact were gone forever, replaced by the chaotic madness and child-like temper tantrums of Skeletor.
I have devised a bare-bones (pardon the expression) outline if I were miraculously asked to write the script for the movie. I pitched it to my kids and my wife, and all love the story. It’s doubtful that the actual live action movie will come up with anything like this, and it’s doubtful that I could get this published as a novel or a comic book series through a legitimate rights-holder.
So where does that leave me? With an idea I can write if I feel like, but I really can’t do anything with other than publish on Wattpad or FanFiction.net. At least my own family could enjoy it, I suppose. But I can’t make any money selling it.
Or can I do something with this after all? In my upcoming, hopelessly delayed novella The Ninja, one of the plot elements is that a hack writer named Noah Rogers stole the main villain’s story idea for a line of action figures called “Universal Man.” As I explain a little about Universal Man, it becomes obvious that it is a take off of Masters of the Universe:
Universal Man was a huge best seller when Rogers was eight years old. He had practically every single figure. There was a comic book that was just as popular with the adults of the day as with the kids, though the comic was ridiculoulsy cheesy. The comic had Universal Man traveling as a knight errant from place to place on his war-ravaged, desolate planet searching for the resources to keep his people alive.
Then came the TV series. That wretched TV series. It was a cartoon, produced by some now-defunct animation studio, that turned Universal Man from some Conan-inspired wandering knight into a superhero. He had a secret identity, some nobleman that acted like an ass, a veiled love interest, and a sidekick that screwed everything up. As bad as it was, that wasn’t the death of the toyline. In fact, the TV show boosted sales and actually rescued Universal Man from cancellation.
Rogers interlaced his fingers and stretched his arms across the desk. Crick. He wanted to eliminate all the camp from the TV series. No more bumbling sidekick. No secret identity. Superhero stuff is done to death nowadays and no one wants to read another stupid, repetitive superhero story. He needs to bring back the knight errant Universal Man. No thriving kingdoms, Universal Man needs to go back to the parched, ravaged landscape with scarce chances for survival.
I had thought, perhaps, of making a spin off comic book series for Universal Man. I wanted to do the storyline that Rogers stole from the villain, “The Death of Universal Man.” But why not take the origin story I’m coming up with for He-man and write it as a novel and tie-in to The Ninja?
So let that be a lesson, writers. Don’t give up so easily. If you don’t think you can use the idea as-is, re-purpose it. I may get a fantasy manuscript out of this idea before the month is out.