The Merits and Dangers of Writing Fan Fiction

As previously stated in a fairly recent blog entry, fan fiction is a curious phenomenon – when written well and handled correctly it can be an homage to established character(s), earning praise and admiration from the character’s fans; conversely, if the handling of such beloved (and sometimes revered) is mismanaged, then the wrath of fans can be quite brutal. Of course, whether or not fan fiction is good or bad is subjective, based on personal preference and essentially one’s opinion of the quality of the fan fiction story. Rarely is there a unified consensus of what is considered to be good fan fiction and bad fan fiction, which can be also said of the source material – everyone is bound to have a positive, negative or indifferent opinion of a story. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and while one may (or may not) agree with it, in the end, it’s just an opinion.

What prompted this revisit on the topic of fan fiction (as opposed to the entry regarding I intended to write about how to pace a novel’s narrative, which will probably be a future blog entry) was the recent announcement that the Agatha Christie Estate has commissioned crime writer Sophie Hannah to write a new Hercule Poirot story, to be released late 2014. From the details gleamed from an article from UK newspaper The Independent , the story is to be set in the early part of Poirot’s career (without sidekick Captain Hastings or Chief Inspector Japp), so that it is to fit within the canon as opposed to being a story set in modern-day.

I am an avid fan of Agatha Christie’s novels (I count her as one of my heroines and an author who influenced me to take up writing mysteries), and have read all of her Poirot stories; I have also watched the many film and television adaptations that were made, and watched Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and David Suchet (who, in my opinion, is the best of the three) inhabit the persona of that little Belgian detective. As the ITV series of Poirot comes to a close (as David Suchet has successfully, and for the first time, I believe, portrayed Poirot in every story in the Christie canon), it probably seemed logical that there be something new for Poirot fans to enjoy. The general reaction, as far as I’ve read on message boards and social media, has been negative, but I for one will reserve judgement until the novel is released or until more details about the narrative is revealed. Who knows? It might be good.

I’m actually surprised that there hadn’t been an official (or even unofficial) fan-written novel or short story with Poirot published already (aside from various online fan fiction stories), considering his popularity among fictional detectives. After all, there have been scores of short stories and novels featuring Sherlock Holmes (possibly the only fictional detective that is as popular and revered as Hercule Poirot) over the years, of varying styles and genre mash-ups. Then again, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never successfully killed off Holmes (though he had once, in the short story “The Final Problem” but was pressured to resurrect him due to popular demand at the time), so in the Holmes canon as Conan Doyle left it, Holmes retired to the country to study bees. In contrast in the Poirot canon as Christie left it [SPOILER ALERT], Poirot died at the end of Christie’s final published novel Curtain (a novel at which I tear up every time I read it, even though I know the outcome). So there’s that finality for Poirot that is absent with Holmes; but given this new novel is to be set years before his death, that hurdle is removed. Sorta.

All of this brings me (in a very long-winded and roundabout manner) to this blog entry’s title of the merits and dangers of writing fan fiction – I’m not familiar with the works of Sophie Hannah, though I’m sure to receive approval from the Christie Estate, what she submitted must have been good enough (by whatever standards set by the Christie Estate).  There have been many writers (established and emerging) that have tried their hand at writing continuing or expository tales using established, popular characters, to varying degrees of success. Again, the degrees of success is subjective, though sales figures are a quasi-objective measure of success of failure.

As I’m embarking on writing a fan fiction novel (though using characters not as popular as the aforementioned characters), there’s that balance of staying true to the characters as they have been established in the official canon, and the creative injection of adding different facets to the character, based on inferences gleamed from the established canon. The author can be praised or vilified for the addition (or liberties, depending on how you look at it) made to the canon.

Maybe I’m repeating what I had written a fortnight ago, but it does bear repeating (I suppose). The creative inferences I’m making in my fan fiction novel Carpe Noctem, are most likely different from what (little) is established in the source material, and I do hope (when I finish writing it) I can gain approval from those who hold the rights to the characters and story and publish that novel.

Time will tell if this new Poirot novel is accepted and how it will be perceived within the canon.


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