It’s Thursday, so it’s time for some questions from the big damn writer question box!
Q: I believe you mentioned that you wrote “The Boss” series to show how a concept like “Fifty Shades of Grey” can be written correctly. However, have you ever read a novel/series where a central idea or theme was executed almost perfectly, but you still wanted to write your own spin on it? Do you think this can be done, or is it better to try and come up with another idea?
A: If I see something that I feel has been done great, but I want to put my own spin on it, that’s when I generally go to fanfic. A good example of this is Merlin. I loved that show, but there were just a couple of things in canon that I would have wanted to change. Enter my unfinished, unpublished rewrite of the entire series in fanfic form. The thing is, it’s too damn close to the characters, settings, and plot of the actual show, so mine wouldn’t be okay to publish professionally.
However, Jessica Jarman also loved the show and wanted to put her own spin on it, which led to her Albion’s Circle books. They’re inspired by her love of Merlin, but they’re not connected to the show in any way. The characters, settings, and plot have changed, and the only commonality might be that if a person who loved Merlin as much as Jess does pick up the books, they’ll really like reading them for the same reasons Jess likes writing them.
So, yeah, there’s always a way to take something awesome and put your own spin on it. It’s what you change that makes it your own.
Q: Hi Jenny, I’m re-reading Say goodbye to Hollywood again and wonder where is the line from “inspired by true events” and “everything is fiction and any resemblance with real stuff is coincidental”? I see real people in this work of fiction and I don’t think you’ve been coy about who/what inspired you so how does that work? Thanks in advance.
A: Good question! I had to look it up myself back when I was writing it and needed to see what disclaimer to use. I ultimately went with “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” And now you’re probably going, “But it’s not coincidental. You specifically wrote this about E.L. James!”
But I didn’t. And that’s where you absolutely have to throw a disclaimer on there.
Back in the day, MGM made a movie wherein the rape of a fictional Russian princess by the monk Rasputin is hinted at. An actual Russian princess thought it was pretty clear that the one in the movie was based on her and when she sued, the courts agreed. On top of what she was awarded in the civil suit, MGM settled with her for one million dollars out of court. In 1932. That would be like eighteen million in today cash. My assumption is that the princess feared people would think they were watching a true story about her when she’d never consented nor been consulted as to the veracity of events.
The main character of Say Goodbye To Hollywood is definitely inspired by E.L. James, but she’s not E.L. James. I don’t know E.L. James, so I can’t write a faithful portrayal of her. I wasn’t there for the production meetings that went off the rails; all I had were rumors and blind items to work from. On top of that, much of the terrible personality of “Lynn Baldwin” came from a different real-life author. So, I couldn’t hand this book to someone and say, “This is a book about E.L. James.” That would be libel because I would be claiming that this person did and said all the stuff that happened in the fictional events of my book. Putting the disclaimer on makes it clear that you’re writing a fictional account similar to something that really happened, but it protects both the person who could be mistaken for a fictional character and your own butt if someone thinks your Russian princess seems a little too close to their own story.
Bonus Question: What program do you use when you write your books?
A: Right now, I just write in Google Docs, a new document for each chapter and compiled into a Word file when it goes to edits. In the past, I’ve used Scrivener, which I really enjoyed, but there isn’t an online option and I don’t have a laptop, so it’s not very practical if I need to leave the house to write. Novlr is a good online solution to that, but I’m too cheap to pay for it. If any of you are out there despairing that you can’t write because you need better or special software, don’t worry about it. Words is words and Google Docs is free.
That’s all this week! Got a question for me? Put it in the box!