I've been reading a fanfiction lately that honestly has a good plot, though the writing is subpar—grammar and punctuation errors, lack of descriptive detail, bad formatting, etc. I've been thinking that it might be a good exercise to rewrite the whole thing in my own style, using most if not all of the plot points in the original work. I struggle to plot novels, which is why—though I consider myself a fairly strong writer in other ways—I have never written a story longer than a few thousand words. I figure that, until I can overcome writers' block and actually outline a novel of my own, it would be good practice to just write using others' ideas.

The problem is, I'm not sure how I feel about wholly rewriting someone else's work (especially since, given how many errors there are, I'd have to change almost every line). I obviously wouldn't publish it anywhere and take credit for the story (I doubt I'd manage to finish it anyway; it's a bit of a beast at nearly 200,000 words and 50 chapters), but the idea still feels a little "wrong."

So, is it wrong to rewrite someone's work as a personal exercise? Should I seek the permission of the author or forget the idea altogether, or is it acceptable to just go ahead and start writing?

  • Do you mean to publish / distribute or just for your own private use?
    – komodosp
    Feb 16 at 12:33
  • @komodosp Just for my own private use.
    – cadence13
    Feb 21 at 17:12
  • You could rewrite it and remove the specific details (character names, other stuff the author made up). This has been done in the past with works like 50 Shades of Grey. It's unclear what you mean by rewriting - just editing to keep the same form but slightly better, or what. Also whether it's your long-term goal to have something for publication or you're happy writing for yourself; in the latter case absolutely go for it.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 26 at 15:14
  • How could it be wrong to rewrite anything as a writing exercise? If it's anything other than a writing exercise you might be sued for everything you have and so what? Mar 2 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


Since it's just an exercise for yourself, then it's really down to your own judgement, that is, if you're asking if it's "morally" wrong.

If you're looking for an objective answer on this, then the question to consider is:

Who will be harmed by you doing this?

There's no one going to feel aggrieved, no one going to lose sales, you won't be damaging anyone's reputation, or taking credit for someone else's work, etc. So I say, just go ahead.

or is it acceptable to just go ahead and start writing?

Acceptable to who? There's no one to have to accept it!

Now if you're wondering if it's actually a good exercise, that's another question, (which I think Ben is trying to address) but given your talk about permission, I don't think that's what you're getting at.

I doubt there's a successful writer or even person in any field out there who hasn't "stood on the shoulders of giants" in some way or another.


Legally you are already infringing on the author's copyright by rewriting their work, even if you don't publish it. You don't say which jurisdiction applies in your case, but for example 17 U.S. Code § 106 (2) says that the copyright owner has the right to authorise "to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work". That is, distribution or publication of a derivative work is not necessary, the creation of the derivative work already breaks the law. Other jurisdictions may have similar laws.

From the viewpoint of learning to write and overcoming your difficulties, you should rather practise what you struggle with instead of working around it. Rewriting another's work will not teach you how to plot.

The best way to learn how to plot novels is by attempting it, analysing what went wrong, and trying to do better next time.

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