When I took my first dive into the online writing community, I discovered two grains of thought – those who love to write fan fiction (stories based on popular films, television shows or books), and those who look down on those who wrote them. I wrote fan fiction before I even knew that’s what it’s called. To be more specific, I wrote Star Trek shorts and scripts. When I started college in 2005, Supernatural became the object of my imagination. Cue swooning over Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins. Writing make believe fell to the wayside, replaced with term papers and studying for final exams.
Writing fan fiction never left my mind. I used to post stories on several sites (their domain names no longer live in my brain), and I even joined the online Twitter fandom for Supernatural. Unfortunately, as with any fandom, things fell apart and people began to chastise one another for how they supported the show.
So I left. And, for a long time after that, I wrote hardly a thing. For four or five years after I graduated college, I didn’t want to. A story was never finished, a character never fully developed, and even reading lost its charm. The flame reignited in 2016, when my original idea for Project Firedamp hit me like a ton of bricks. I still don’t have a finished story or a fully developed character, but I’ve fallen back in love with reading. Why? Because, even though I’d lost faith in a fandom I’d invested so much time in, I realized that my love for writing as a child was still within me. And all those stories I wrote taught me lessons I didn’t figure out till just now.
Now. It’s time to share them.
Why Fan Fiction Soothes the Soul
Ever come across a show with an ending that didn’t satisfy you? Not in the least? One that comes to mind is Firefly. Granted, Firefly got its movie, Serenity. But if you’re a fan of that little ditty, I know you feel just as cheated as I do about it. If you’re a Star Trek fan, then what about all those loose ends in Star Trek Voyager? What happened to the crew after seven seasons? The Maquis? Those from the Equinox who were decommissioned into crewmen? Or-?
Writing fan fiction can help fill in those holes. It provides an outlet to let out frustrations over incomplete stories. Not only that, the characters are already there, and all you have to do is let your imagination run rampant.
And Why Fan Fiction Teaches the Art of Writing
Learning is subjective. Everyone discovers life in different ways. That’s why there’s really not a true curriculum out there on writing itself. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of “how to write” books, workbooks, and even semester college courses out there that explore different methods. Eventually, each writer has to find for themselves what works best. Here are three things writing fan fiction has taught me about the art of writing itself.
1. Start small, and have at least one or two main characters to help ground the plot.
Especially if you’re just dipping your toes into novel writing, you don’t need a cast as large as, say, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or The Hunger Games. Some can jump right in and see plot lines way into the future. For others, it takes time to masterfully weave everything together. It’s better to slowly reveal everything than get it all out at once with long sections of backstory or full character descriptions. I suggest starting out with KM Weiland’s “character interviews” to get a feel for your story’s voice and tone. The great thing about this list is you can tailor it to fit the narrative.
Starting small keeps you thirsty for more. Remember that writing is a learning process. Which leads us into point two:
2. Take your time. You don’t need to crank out a novel in a month, especially if it’s your first time.
“But there’s that contest!” you interject. “I absolutely have to be query ready in TWO WEEKS!” Stop. Tap the breaks, because that’s a warning sign right there. Please, for your mental health, don’t think you have to enter every writing contest offered up on Twitter, or query every agent because they’ll not be accepting inquiries for two months.
Take the time to build your characters up even more. Did you remember a detail you forgot to add three weeks ago? Add, adjust, and revisit places where that detail might make or break the story.
They say it can take ten or more years to write your first book. Don’t let that scare you! It just means that, for first time attempts, there’s a lot to learn. Don’t let someone else’s writing journey grow a little green monster of jealousy inside you. Take your time. Go back to a fan fiction to free your mind for a while from a work in progress, or read. Don’t forget to read and hone your craft.
3. Have a plan. Or, if the opposite is true, write without one.
Why did I never finish a story in the past? I didn’t have a plan. As it turns out, I needed to learn about outlining, structure, and plot arcs once I got started. This circles back to the last statement from Tip 2: “Don’t forget to read and hone your craft.” I’ll admit that I was lost for a while. In 2018, even though I was writing every day, I didn’t understand how to connect scenes. Or how to subtly introduce a character that may have a huge impact in the climax. Or how to outline beforehand (or tweak the outline during).
Are you a visual learner? Many of my fellow writers have shared their processes online. Beware the research rabbit hole; don’t let that distract you from your goals (this comes from a historical adventure writer. Unfortunately, research rabbit holes create much ire, especially when all I wanted was a tidbit of info about a historical figure). But I digress.
Find a plan that works for you and stick with it. Write a little each day, and you’ll surely finish.
Or get an idea for yet another story.
Whichever comes first.
Remember. Everyone starts somewhere. And, if you’ve no publishing aspirations and just love writing fan fiction, these tips can help you, too. Because even fan fiction needs help once in a while.