I started writing a short story that involved demonic possession. The nature of the possession is symbolic. The story is an allegory. When I shared the initial draft among some friends, I had feedback that included some questions about which plane the demon came from, and some criticisms about the mechanics of the possession.

The demons and mechanics of demon magic are based on the symbolism I want the story to use, not any particular mythology. I know that not everyone will love my writing, and some people won't get the allegory, but how can I help the reader understand at the beginning of the story that I am not writing fanfic?

I don't include other fantasy elements and I'm not riffing on any particular construct. The allegory is about how we allow our desires to possess us, only in this case, the desires are 'personified'.

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    "Fanfic" means "fiction written about an existing creative property (movie/TV show/book etc.) by a fan." Is that what you mean? What creative property are you riffing on here? Writing something about an existing mythology -- Greco-Roman, Norse, Judeo-Christian, Egyptian -- isn't fanfic. It's just more mythology. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 1:21
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    If they're asking about planes then maybe you're setting the rest of your story too close to an existing IP, like D&D. Other than demons what other familiar features are using? (such as dwarves and elves and such like)
    – CLockeWork
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 9:26

3 Answers 3


how can I help the reader understand at the beginning of the story that I am not writing fanfic?

Unless it's published on a fan-fiction website or otherwise marked as a fanfic, I would generally assume that a work put before me was 'original'. I think this is the case for most people.

The problem is likely down to one of two things: either your friends are very primed to see things through a Dungeons and Dragons (or other similar game) lens (do they play tabletop RPGs? Although I myself am a fantasy and mythology nerd, many people who play those games don't explore any deeper than the D&D manuals, and assume that those are the definitive versions of the monsters etc.); or (as @CLockWork suggests in a comment) your work is so derivative of D&D (or whatever) that is breaks past the initial assumption of originality and makes people think 'Drows? Prismatic Dragons? Oh, this must be a fanfiction'.

I think your best bet is to show it to some people outside of your immediate friendship group. From judging their reactions you should be able to narrow down which of these things is the cause of your problem.

  • I would be very surprised if anyone thought it was derivative of D&D. I should say, it might be obvious from my question that I am surprised that my readers are associating it with D&D. Having my non-geek friends take a look at it is a good idea though. Maybe it is reader bias and not the writing in this case.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 16:17

In a situation like this, I'd probably use what's often called a "lampshade," which is where you make an unusual or strange event more acceptable to your audience by pointing it out. For example, if a character with money problems suddenly wins the lottery, it seems like lazy writing; but if a character with money problems suddenly wins the lottery and then their best friend says "That is the craziest, most perfectly timed thing I've ever seen in my life," it becomes funny and much more acceptable in the story.

In this case, the way you do it will depend on the style of your writing and your story. Lampshades often are easier in comedy, which may not work for you. But for example, you could easily have someone say something like "That's not like any possession I've ever heard of..." and then have another character agree. That would not only let the reader know that this is an unusual case, it might also open them up to examining more abstract and allegorical meanings behind the possession, which sounds like what you're going for.

Also remember: be sure that your INTERNAL mechanics remain consistent. If a demon can only enter you when you're angry, you'll confuse your reader if a person gets possessed when they're sad. You don't need to adhere to the rules of any pre-existing religion or published work, but your own rules need to be well-thought-out and consistent in order to be acceptable to your audience.

  • I see what you are getting at, and I am sure this would work in some stories, but I feel it would be terribly ham-fisted for me to write "Gosh, that demon that possesses you is behaving like the personification of some kind of desire, rather than like the supernatural creatures from the Christian mythos or something that Gary Gygax put together."
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 17:53
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    @Kit: I don't think Alexander means for you to spell it out quite as explicitly.
    – Stephan B
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 6:09

Alexander has a good point. Another possible approach is to get back to basics. The original meaning of the word demon was 'functionary spirit', that is a minor spirit that performed a single particular task e.g. guarding someone's hearth in their home.

Some joker who knew this etymological tidbit at the dawning of the email protocol decided to call the relay programmes that shuttle email on to its destination 'mailer-daemons'. You can still occasionally see this term in undeliverable bouncebacks something along the lines of: 'The mailer daemon at domain whatever returned code whatever'.

As time went on the followers of the devil, and evil spirits were referred to as demons because the pejorative was intended to connote their relative lack of power. Eventually this notion was lost and demon became synonymous with 'evil spirit'.

Anyway, apart from being a neat bit of trivia, finding some way to communicate that you are going back to the roots of the idea in the story will tell the audience that you are intending to re-make the mythology to some degree. It's a trick people do all the time with more common monsters such as vampires and werewolves.

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