So I’ve decided to start blogging and they’ve (the mysterious and undefinable they) told me that if you’re going to endeavour to write pages and pages about a topic it should be about something that you love. So, for me, that would be fan fiction, literature, good writing and the theories about story construction. ‘Cause I’m special like that. So I thought I might concentrate on the elements of good writing and story construction with special respect to fan fiction.
Why fan fiction?
Because for many aspiring writers, fan fiction is the first time they’ve ever written for an audience wider than their close friends and family. It’s the first time they’ve received feedback from people who don’t know or care about them. For many it’s even their first time putting together a narrative in general (totally guilty of that). These are all really important milestones and yet there’s no real guide that takes into account the important role that fan fiction can play in the life of beginner writers.
In my own experience, writing fan fiction gave me the first inkling that I might actually be good at writing. Before I was simply an avid reader (and I say that using the loosest of definition of simple. There’s nothing simple about reading. Maybe I’ll write something about that later). Fan fiction gave me the confidence to create and write my own stories. It gave me my start in what I believe will be a lifelong love of the technical aspects of storytelling.
But there seems to be no real guide about how to use these technical aspects for beginners. There’s no guide about how to keep your characters in character. There’s no guide about how to accept your first lot of criticism or to give a well balanced review. There’s no guide about using Original Characters or Alternate Universes effectively. There’s also no guide that is specifically geared towards fan fiction that deals with broader literary challenges and topics— Planning, Foreshadowing, Pacing, Psychology. Nothing.
There’s no guide for people who are just beginning writing and taking their first stabs at it through fan fiction. Instead, they’re left trying to work out how to produce the best piece of work they can with no guidance apart from their own reading and their understanding of the characters. And, as someone who’s learned most things through trial and error, that’s hard. Like… really hard.
Before I started writing fan fiction I didn’t realise that telling a story wasn’t a matter of simply sitting down at a keyboard and vomiting up words into a Word document. As a reader I only ever saw stories as complete things rather than as the individual components that make up the story. I didn’t see the little bits and pieces that all work together to form something that is greater than the whole. But it’s those little bits and pieces that make up great fiction and it’s those bits and pieces that authors need to understand in order to create great fiction.
Fan fiction’s actually a great way for beginner writers to learn. With fan fiction there’s no need to create new characters or to invent new settings. The focus, instead, is on plot and exploring and understanding the pre-existing characters better. Being able to practice these two things before getting into the messy process of creating your own believable characters can be invaluable to beginner writers. It means that instead of getting bogged down with details like whether your OC has sandy or dirty blonde hair and jump straight into pulling apart a character’s psychology and relationships and trying to explain them. It means that beginner writers can learn to create a compelling plot while being guaranteed an interested audience.
Mostly, however, it’s a great place to learn how to write because your critics know that you’re still learning. Fan fiction is as much about community and sharing as it is about the story. The people who read fan fiction not only are automatically an interested audience (there’s a reason they’re reading fan fiction, after all) but are also interested in seeing writers improve. They want writers to evolve and become better writers if only because that means they will then get to read better fiction. It’s a cycle that can only lead to a beneficial environment for beginners.
There’s also not much literature that takes fan fiction seriously (one notable exception can be found in Sheenagh Pugh’s The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Also check out Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins for a brilliant overview of fan culture). I think this is a shame because some of the best writing I’ve ever seen is from fan fiction. Some authors show so much incredible potential that they simply can’t tap into because no one has taught them or shown them how. That’s inexperience, not incompetence and certainly not a sign that fan fiction should be dismissed as a genre.
So I thought that I might write a blog. One that talks about the common pitfalls many inexperienced writers fall into. One that looks at the elements of a great story and how to weave them into your own stories. One that shows that fan fiction is an amazing genre of fiction that can produce some fantastic stories and even more fantastic writers.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m learning alongside you. Check out my backlog of fanfic (plug plug) that ignores practically every piece of advice that I’m going to give in this blog (neg plug? I’m not sure how that works). But there’s some things that I’ve learned along the way that are invaluable to me now and I wish I knew back when I started writing.
Besides, they say that one of the best ways to learn is teach, right? Right?
In Summary (The TL;DR Version)
For many, fan fiction is their first taste of writing fiction. But there’s no real guide to how to make your fan fiction the best it can be or the elements of a good story with respect to fan fiction. Or, at least, none that I’ve found. I’m going to try and go through these things because… well… I love it.