Someone asked me about filing the serial numbers from fan fiction.
The subject is not exhaustive, but it does bear, perhaps, walking through.
“Filing the Serial Numbers” is something you do when you just wrote something set in someone else’s (or even one of your own’s – I’ll explain later) universe, and can’t legally (or don’t want to) publish it as part of that universe.
I first heard the expression when our entire group was trying to get into the Strange New World’s contest. When we actually met Dean Wesley Smith at a workshop, we told him the only bad thing was that the non-placing stories couldn’t be sold. He looked at us, puzzled, and said “Well, why don’t you file the serial numbers and send it out?”
So, let’s start with a Star Trek story. Let’s say you just wrote some star trek fanfic, for decompression or whatever, and then realize you can never publish it, and you really want to.
The first phase of filing serial numbers is what I call “spatter mud over the numbers.”
In some cases it might be enough.
Say what you have is a landing party with the captain, the doctor and half a dozen no-names. Easy enough to change the names, make the Federation the “Aliance of worlds” and make the doctor a woman who doesn’t say “he’s dead Jim.”
Observant readers will still catch it, but most people won’t bother, and you’re okay with the law.
But suppose instead that you have Spok, with his boatload of issues, interacting with Kirk? This requires a more careful transformation, you’ll have to make the character a different type of alien, and will have to figure out from the issues how to make the issues persist and his be something completely different (for one, unless you’re writing futuristic erotic romance, the alien can’t be half human. In real science fiction that won’t fly, unless he was bioengineered that way. You can, however, have him bioengineered that way and truly caught between worlds. Or you can have him be a wolf-child raised by aliens.)
But suppose that this is not a landing party story, but a story that completely revolves around Vulcan characteristics and culture. Do you have to scrape the story?
Well, no, but it might be a lot of trouble to salvage. You’ll have to create a culture that resembles the Vulcans in ALL the aspects that impact the story, but is WILDLY different in everything else (to throw off the scent, see) and you have to make it … well, logical. Say you have to make the Vulcan character very logical – do so, but have him be one of a small caste that is logical, the rest of the culture being a sort of orgiastic mess… You know what I mean. I can’t advise you in particulars because, of course, every case will be wildly different. Just make a list of the characteristics you must have, the ones you can fudge, and find a story to link them.
Of course, some of the fanfic you can write is set in worlds so generic – a lot of the fantasy ones. Also, romance ones – that you just have to change the names and the plot a little. I swear 80% of the regency romances on the market are disguised Georgette Heyer fanfic, with the names and ranks changed, a lot more sex, and things happening differently, so he proposes earlier or something.
Now, say I wanted to – no, no, I don’t. But I have friends who have been caught in this – write erotic fiction set in my shifter’s universe. Yeah, I can hear you go “ew”. So, how to go about it?
Well, to begin with, make the shifting magical and have there be vampires too. That will throw enough dust into everything. Then reverse their roles – make the girl a dragon and the guy a panther. Instead of have them run a diner, have her be a millionaire and he’s her secretary – but keep their personalities substantially the same, by giving them both a difficult family life. Voila. (Take in account that in an erotic story this would amount to changing maybe five or six sentences that gave their background, since the focus would be quite different.)
I am right now in the middle of filing serial numbers of something that is far more complex – it’s a novel and it was supposed to be a collaboration (not that one) so it’s in someone else’s universe. However, I wrote it, it wasn’t accepted, and I’m tired of it’s sitting in the drawer.
So I’m taking the parts of it that are mine and my characters (about two thirds) and replacing the entire mythos and how magic works. The main character might also incidentally end up straight. (He wasn’t for reasons of this universe – not mine.) Not that I have anything against gay characters, but because this is frankly YA and the character ends up involved with a very old entity, to have him be gay gives an unpleasant feeling of pedophilia. If the elder entity is instead a woman known for not having sex (Diana. Remember what she did to guys who even saw her naked?) that’s removed, and the emotional impact remains.
Anyway – that’s in general how to change a story so you can use it. The most important part is to remove any names/characters/tech/magic world building that belongs to someone else. After that, you can get as simple or elaborate as you wish – because after that it’s your story and you’re the judge.