Filing the Serial Numbers

In something of a departure, I’m not going to rant today, at least, not much. Instead, there’s a snippet later and a bit of stuff about the process of filing the serial numbers to turn fanfic into something original.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fanfic (I’ve committed fanfic in three universes I’m prepared to admit to), but unless said fanfic is of something like Jane Austen where everything is safely in the public domain, you can’t sell it without going through the process of filing off the serial numbers and adding your own special touches to make it not recognizably derivative of any particular piece. If you can do that you can do quite well – the infamous Fifty Shades of Gray started life as Twilight fanfic, after all.

My first pass is usually pretty straight: change the names, tweak the dialog, and modify the world-building, so that what’s kept is the plot (which could be my original plot but might not be), my characters and my interpretation of the original characters (which is usually original to me anyway) albeit with changes to the more obvious characteristics. Second pass is often a complete rewrite that aims to keep the flavor of the original fanfic, the – sometimes renamed multiple times – characters and their interactions but builds in its own plot around the general feel and concepts of the original piece and/or original fanfic (depending on whether or not the plot follows the original closely).

Each time I’ve done it, the second pass has unleashed the Mad Writing Skillz (otherwise known as temporary insanity due to going deep into writer-land – somewhat awkward when it happens while I’m at work) and generated mega extra backstory that was never in the original piece as well as deepened the world building.

Yes, this the YA piece where dogs rule and humans are the very much despised minority. The second pass is about 45k words in and powering along, building a complex back story and universe as it goes. No, I’m not going to say here what it started as fanfic of, although those of you who know me well enough can guess (those of you who already know, shut up already). It’s different enough now that the original source is really only an inspirational seed with a bit of tribute thrown in.

Also, as a second level joke (I may have been overtired when this happened, but I ran with it anyway) all the nation names except one are inspired by Baen authors. Sometimes they’re the actual author’s name, sometimes they’re a derivation or a nickname. And one or two (or more) Barfly names crept in for characters. Most of the rest of the names – as befits a piece that’s more or less Golden Age of Piracy with magic – come from known pirates and sometimes with a nod and wink to fictional representations of them.

Oh, and he’s not in this snip, but when the Dread Kitten Westley shows up, I may have been excessively cute.

The docks of Whaler’s Rest were busy at all hours. Whaling ships of all sizes, trade sloops and galleons, the occasional frigate from one or another of the navies who claimed the lands around the Gold Sea, all made port in Whaler’s Rest before chancing their lives and fortunes passing through Cutthroat Neck.

The shouts of the sea dogs rang across the docks, and dogs of all ages from youngsters barely old enough to take to the seas to weathered old salts with grizzled fur scurried to finish their duties. There were even a few humans to be found, furless shabby things with bony limbs and sharp, hungry faces. Most of them wore heavy iron collars with the mark of their owner stamped on the metal, and they labored at the hardest, most menial of tasks.

Two young humans watched the controlled chaos from behind stacked crates. To those familiar with human ages, this pair couldn’t have more than fourteen years to their credit, but their hunger-tight faces and hardened eyes told of experiences no pup should have seen. One of the two carried an old, notched saber on his belt, the other had two knives.

“Looks like Cap’n Willard’s made land,” the one with the saber said in a low voice. He flicked a finger towards a galleon with more guns than a trader ought rightly to have. “Best ye collect that trinket Black Jack be after.”

The other pup nodded. “Aye. Ye’ll be gettin’ th’ goods for the Pack, then?”

“Aye, Kat, that I will.” He studied the docks through a gap between crates, gray eyes narrowed. “You be careful, now,” he added. “Black Jack’s been givin’ ye some odd looks of late. He may have figured ye for female.”

Kat growled low in her throat. “Kit, brother mine, I’m always careful.” She didn’t say the obvious: that some things couldn’t be escaped no matter how careful you were. “That skummin’ skeeve tries aught, I’ll slit ‘im from weasand to gizzard.”

Kit clasped her hands briefly. “I’ll meet ye at Jack’s once t’ goods is safe stowed.”

“Aye. Watch yer back, Kit. I ain’t the only one as has enemies.” Kat slipped back out of the hidden corner, into the shadows between the dockside buildings and the cliffs separating the docks from Whaler’s Rest proper.

She emerged from the shadows well away from where her brother lurked, waiting for his chance to get to the Pack’s courier without attracting too much attention. Even a male human had to be careful: too many dogs figured a human pup an easy target for a collar and some easy silver.

Kat eeled her way through the crowds, keeping her head down so none of the dogs could claim she was ‘disrespecting her betters’. No few of those dogs lost their coin pouches in her wake: their fault for leaving them on their belt for easy lifting. There wouldn’t be much, not from dock laborers and traders, but a handful of copper was the difference between buying stew at one of the inns and scavenging the middens or hunting rats in the sewers.

Willard had docked at the long pier, where he could have men swinging loads the full length of his ship. That meant Kat had to get past the men guarding the pier to keep thieves and gawkers at bay.

Both of them frowned at her approach. She recognized both: a grizzled old gray terrier mix known only as Snagtooth and a burly mostly-black mongrel with the unlikely name of Christopher French. Both bared their teeth as she drew near.

“Git out of it, pup,” Snagtooth growled. “Ye’ve no business here.”

“An’ a fine day to ye fine gents, too.” Kat kept her voice cheerful, relaxed. “If’n ye wants t’ argue me business, ye’d best take it wi’ Black Jack. Cap’n’s got a special fer him.”

French snarled. “So the Slicers is doin’ th’ rat king’s errands now?”

“An’ I’ll let ‘im know ye said un, French.” Kat smiled when the dog flinched. Black Jack might rule half Whaler’s Rest’s sewers, but the man that called him a rat dog was asking to die. “Course, if’n ye lets me through an’ quits yer fuss, I c’n forget.”

French growled, but relaxed a bit when Snagtooth rested a hand on his shoulder. “Leave be, French. It ain’t worth a fight wi’ Black Jack.” The old dog gave Kat a hard glare. “One o’these days ye’ll trip yerself, boy.”

Kat only shrugged. “Aye, that be true. But today I got a delivery t’make.” She offered a mock bow. “Thankee kindly f’r the warnin’.” As she walked out onto the pier, she heard French mutter, “Damn Slicer pups. Think they’re good as a dog.”

“They’s quick t’ th’ blade an’ don’t care who they feed t’ th’ rats,” Snagtooth said. “That makes ’em good as any dog, until sommat takes ’em down.”

32 comments

  1. Kit … and Kat? (wilts slightly)

    What’s the female equivalent of an admiring, “you have balls” ? Not to mention mad writing skillz indeed.

  2. Hmmm. *looks at files, rereads Kate’s post* Sounds like I need some more background stories and more of the alternate history timeline before I’m ready to hit “publish.” Because I can’t change the setting (British military) and species (human for the most part) without having to completely gut and rewrite 50 short stories and novellas. Which I had kinda suspected might happen anyway. Siiiiiiiiigh.

  3. Ms. Paulk, please DO let us know when this is published.

    And ‘filing the numbers off’ of a fanfic to turn it into something original enough to be sold? Thank you so much for suggesting that idea! I’m thinking of some fanfics I’ve done (MLP:FiM meets John the Balladeer — don’t hit me!) and I may be able to take some ideas from here and there in them.

    1. Thank you! I plan to.

      A good story is a good story, whether it’s a fanfic or totally original. If the appeal can survive a serial number filing, then go for it – and heck, if Twilight fanfic with serial numbers filed can make mega $$$, there’s nothing wrong with your fanfic quirks!

      (For MLP fanfics? It might be worth trying to keep the furry aspect and aim YA. There are all sorts of places you can go with anthropomorphic that would get you thrown out of a window if you were using humans… Like my entire background with humans as the despised unwanted minority…)

      1. I’d have to see if I could write YA. Can you recommend any good YA writers who don’t dive into the endless despair and nihilism I’ve heard criticized so much so I can see what’s being done, and how?

        And odd to hear praise of the anthropomorphic angle! For years I’ve been warned that ‘anthro’ was the kiss of death. Never mind that writers as varying as Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, and the Horseclans author did very well with more or less humanlike animals.

        1. (coughRedwallcough) On the anthro side, there Brian Jacques with the Redwall books (which in turn hark back to a LONG Brit history of similar kinds of stories) – those aren’t marketed as YA but they’re definitely YA-appropriate. There’s also Cedar Sanderson’s first novel for general YA.

          Anything of Terry Pratchett in the YA section is a good choice, too.

          1. Thanks for those recommendations! I knew about Redwall, though I felt the plots got a bit repetitive after a while (and heck, I liked the vermin species more than the good guys at times). But again, thanks.

            1. Well, yes. I enjoyed the first few Redwall books I read. After that it was obvious they all had more or less the same plot – but they *do* do the anthro thing well.

  4. You know that we’re all just dying to know what it started as now.

    And I add my admiration and “must have that” when it’s done to everyone elses.

    The only fan-fic I’ve sort-of committed was Highlander based but it wasn’t all about how Duncan Macleod fell in love with this awesome person named Synthia Nova, it was a TV show idea with two new Macleod immortals and it sort of kills me because, dangit, it would be awesome.

    I’ve wondered how I’d go about filing the serial numbers off… the fun was always that it was playing in that story world. And I realize that a big part of *that* is that all the audience pretty much already knows the rules… so maybe it’s sort of lazy, too. OTOH, bringing it all from the 1990s to the full blown information age and a thoroughly modern immortal who’s reaction to “the rules” is “says who?” well, the well known rules are sort of the point.

    I can definitely see how creating a new history ends up being a really big thing.

    1. The question is “are the rules that the Immortals follow ones they chose to follow or are the rules are “mandated” by some power? What happened in the series if the rules were violated?

      1. The rules really weren’t violated in the series. There’s one mention of two immortals battling on holy ground which resulted in the destruction of Pompeii. (The movies are a weird mish-mash of course.) It’s never explained how any immortal learns the rules other than that they meet some other immortal who tells them about it. I think that the quickening probably conveys information as well, since it conveys power and essence. A man born 400 years ago might not question it. So what was fun for me is, how would a man born now react to being told that he’s supposed to go around and kill everyone like himself in preparation for the Gathering? He’s going to say, “Excuse me? WTF?” A young Duncan Macleod might have wailed, “Where do I come from?” but the fellow today has adoption records and can check his genetics and can investigate in a real way. When he asks “where do I come from?” he’ll be asking an entirely different question.

        I’m sort of a whiny baby. I don’t want to file off the serial numbers, I want someone to make my bleeping television show. 😛

    2. Heheheh… Thank you.

      For something like Highlander, you’d really need a backstory that produced immortals – one that didn’t require cutting the heads off rival immortals would be necessary.

      A good chunk of “the rules” are actually fairly generic tropes – which does make it possible to mix and match a bit and keep the stuff you think would be awesome that didn’t make it into the original while ditching the stuff you’re not so keen on (and kudos for NOT Mary-Sueing yourself).

      The new history tends to grow. Odd things happen here and there and the next thing you know you’ve got a whole culture on your hands that you never realized was implied by the thing.

      1. Yes, cutting off the heads is distinctly recognizable as Highlander. So I think about what “there can be only one” (no matter how you kill the immortal) accomplishes… it gives an ongoing, constant, reason for battles to the death. A new one every week. Someone new is always out to get you. Always. You’re being hunted. Always.

        Vampires are immortal.

        What does immortality give you? The need to hide your immortality from mundanes. A different sense of History or future planning. The need to deal with constant and eternal loss.

        Captain Jack Harkness is immortal.

        What is the Quickening? What is the Gathering? Of course it was always some vague unexplained mystic thing. The winner absorbs the life force of the loser and becomes more powerful, this goes on and on until there is only one immortal left who shows up to the Gathering with the power from all of them and…

        It’s either a tragic accidental joke, or… intelligent design. A big part of my idea was the created turning on their creators. That’s already not any sort of Highlander canon, I don’t think. But in order for it to work it has to have the *harvesting* element intact.

        In the end just analyzing what each different element does, its story function, is sort of interesting.

        1. Actually beheading seems to be the standard method of killing Immortals, whatever flavor of immortal they may happen to be.

          1. Or you can chain them to a stone and have… Is it an eagle? Chew on their liver forever. I will grant that this is not killing, but it certainly is punishing the Immortal.

          2. I vaguely recall that there were headhunters, I want to say Irish, with myths of decapitated heads which were also immortal.

  5. Any references to Julius Caesar or One Piece?

    I’ve seen and enjoyed other stories converted from fanfic to original story.

    As an aside, can you tell me if Australians think of dust storms as common or rare? I understand that a continent is a big place. I somehow have the impression that the ground cover is generally sound enough to prevent dust bowl like conditions.

    1. I suspect by the time I’m done the answer will be “yes”.

      Dust storms, it depends on where you are in Australia. Small dust storms are pretty common in the outback. The huge ones aren’t, and they’re generally quite rare in the coastal areas (which is where most people live).

  6. There’s also the silver eggheads. In case you want to keep your favorite authors writing…

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