writing stories with other people’s characters

by Parker Dupris


clearly, I enjoy pics like this one

I enjoy writing, but when I’m not banging out the odd story for sale I keep my talent sharp by participating in co/writing, or online roleplaying.

I’m also occasionally active in forums that discuss such things, and the other day an interesting conversation came up:

Is it okay to use other people’s ideas when you roleplay?

By “roleplay” I mean written story development, never for sale and hopefully for enjoyment, either public of private. You’re never claiming to be the creator of these famous characters or settings – if you did, no one would believe you anyway. People having good clean dirty fun, sometimes with settings, characters, scenarios not of their own creation.

Fanfiction, that is, fiction written by fans of a certain setting ( called a “fandom” ) falls into this same conversation, I think.

Trivia – “50 Shades of Grey” started out as “Twilight” fanfiction. But I digress.


First principles

It’s not okay to profit from someone else’s work. It’s not okay to take someone’s creations and somehow make money from them, either by plagiarizing the work wholesale, taking some clear elements and reworking them, or by passing yourself off as the creator. Not cool. “Mixing” is an interesting topic, in music and potentially in the written word. Here I’m more comfortable getting the original creator(s) permission for use.


But in roleplay… 

in not-for-profit writing where you are certainly not claiming to be the creator, I think using fandoms, characters, scenarios is just fine. As a writer, coming at this from the other side if people used my creations to drive fanfiction or roleplay stories…  I’d see it as an extension of my brand, not a co-opting of it.

Another interesting wrinkle in all of this is the idea of prompts – in roleplay forums a “prompt” is a sort of online classified:

“Hey, here’s my idea: I want to play this kind of character in this kind of setting, and I’m looking for someone to play opposite me as such and such…”

Some prompts are pretty mechanical and straightforward, tho some are works of naughty art themselves. In one forum I participate in “stealing” someone’s prompt, copying it and posting it under your own name, presumably to play it yourself with someone, is a stoning offense. Even coming close.

I also disagree with this point. If you like a prompt, use it. It’d be cool if you gave credit, but if not…  eh. If it ever came down to having ( for some tedious reason ) to prove who originated an idea, that’s a simple matter of comparing timestamps.


Thoughts on any of this? I’m curious.