It might seem a little strange that I’m a proponent of fan-fiction. Aren’t professional writers supposed to look down on it? It’s amateurish, right? It’s derivative and unoriginal, right? It’s all porn, right?
I say “lighten up, you pretentious dickweeds.” Fan fic isn’t just a legitimate form of expression, it’s a great way for the beginning authors to develop their skills.
My late partner Valerie wrote fan fiction for fun, even though she was a very accomplished professional writer. Her stuff was popular enough that she has an entry on the Fanlore wiki. I’ve written fan fiction for fun (my veiled Batman fan fic, Masked Man Works at Shop-Rite, was published in 2012 by Bewildering Stories. I sometimes read fan fiction. I sometimes even read erotic fan fiction. Some of it is very, very good. Others is 50 Shades of Awful. Either way, the writer put their heart into it, and they deserve respect for that.
I know that I would be very flattered if anyone wrote fan fic based on my stories, and I would read the hell out of it (and possibly promote it). It may be my creation, but once I finish it, it belongs to everyone.
…Begins with one step
I think that all writers start out writing fan fiction in one form or another. I remember telling stories with my GI Joes or He-Man dolls. I acted out The A-Team or Spider-Man, or whatever captured my imagination. I played cops and robbers, I played Star-Wars. I even played with Muppets. You get the idea.
But Craig, that’s not the same as writing.
You’re right, but it’s the beginning. Storytelling is the heart of writing. Without story, we’re just rambling like a 7 year old after eating a Pixie Stick (the big one, not the pathetic small one). It’s not a stretch to consider child’s play a form of theater. They’re acting things out on their own stage. The only thing missing is ink and paper.
I play a lot of D&D. It’s a love bordering on (no, crossing that border) obsession. D&D is a form of fan fiction. You are creating stories in someone else’s world, using modules (pre-made adventures) that other people wrote. You bring your creativity to the game, and you create something different, and usually more satisfying, than the original. This goes for any RPG, even video games (you’re interacting with other players in a designer’s world). WoW and Skyrim players, take notice: you’re part of a world-wide fan fic.
I’m just getting this across to lessen the stigma against fan fic. But what I really want to get into is how it will make you a better writer.
The Diving Board
Imagine standing at the edge of a 10 foot high diving board for the first time. It’s exhilarating. It’s terrifying. You’re scared to take that plunge into the icy, chlorine-tainted water below. Don’t you wish that there was someone or something to help you? Something to ease you into it? That’s what fan fiction is for.
Writing is hard. There are a lot of moving parts to a story, and when just starting out it can be overwhelming. Character, setting, plot, voice, even merely stringing words together in a sentence can be tough. By taking a pre-made world, or characters, you’re giving yourself training wheels. You don’t have to worry about world-building. The world is already there. You don’t have to worry about creating interesting characters. The characters are there. All you have to worry about is putting the right words down. It’s great practice.
So here’s how you make it work as writing practice:
If you are using a pre-made world, but your own characters (what I recommend to begin with): Focus on plot and characterization. Outline your story, and make sure that the plot points fit character motivation. Find what POV works best for the story, and embrace it. The world should come easily, but make sure you don’t make any obvious mistakes.
If you are using a pre-made world with pre-made characters: Focus on POV, plot and sentence flow. Make the words matter. Find your voice within someone else’s. In addition, make sure that you write the characters as they should be written. Readers become very attached to characters, and if you write them wrong, they will be…unhappy. For example, I once read a Harry Potter erotica where Hermione blows Harry in a hallway. I put it down, not because I’m anti-blowjob, but because Hermione would never do that. She would use the Room of Requirement or an alcove of the library.
If you are using pre-made characters in a made up world: You are brave, and I salute you. Focus on building the world around the characters. There will be a natural disbelief there, so don’t be afraid to go with humor. One of my favorites of Val’s was a story where the band Rancid gets transported to the Downton Abbey world. It’s called “Downton Anarchy”
If you are using the plot from something else, but your own characters and world: Congratulations, you’re a writer. Since the world and characters are your own, the plot will naturally bend to fit them. Look up The Hero’s Journey and you’ll see what I mean.
Most of all, however pieces you want to use and how many you want to make up, KEEP WRITING!
(Also, if you write some Watchmage or Song of Simon fan fiction, please let me know. I would love to read it.)
Oh yeah, buy my books *shameless plug*