I recently read a blog post where an author wrote about his disdain for fanfiction (I’m not going to link the post because I don’t want any trouble, man). He really, really dislikes it, and not just because some of it is really, really bad. Granted, he meant fan created stories based on novels like like Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. His perspective is understandable, given that some authors don’t want their work fanfic’d (I heard, for example, that a particular romance author will string you up by your fingernails and I don’t know about you but a) I’d never fanfic one of their novels and b) I need my fingernails to type!). If I was a published author, I wouldn’t want a “bad”writer messing with my characters, either.
He said (paraphrasing) that it was lazy and and unimaginative to borrow a world and put those characters in different situations than the author intended– and frankly that is why I never did a REMIX, where people take your stories and do exactly that: put your characters in different situations, with your permission, even changing the story line and outcome. If I wanted it written that way, I would have done that!
So how can I feel that way about my stories but still write fan fiction? Well, for one there is a difference between ficcing a fantasy story in which the author has worked hard to create an alternate universe, such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, etc and RPF. RPF (or Real Person Fiction) borrows the public image of a person and writes them in fictional situations.
I’m trying to make that sound the least creeptastic as possible. Trust me, it was hard.
Since the persona is public and writers try very hard to maintain the “us & them” (i.e. there are some things we just don’t touch) wall, there really isn’t a ‘world’ to borrow, except the one they ‘work’ in. If they’re an actor, a singer, or have some other public job, that tends to carry over into stories because that is what is familiar to fans.
I read his post and nodded along and sure, I understand his point. He also admitted to never writing any fan fiction and except for a few bad apples, never really explored the fan fic world. Of course, down here in the amatuer ranks, there are good writers and there are “Uhmmm, I don’t understand the point of the story, and have you ever heard of punctuation” writers. I remember when I discovered fiction based on my favorite member of a music group and feeling like it was pretty creepy and I refused to even entertain the notion. Then I wanted to see if I could do it. Three years later, I am still writing.
Why? Because it taught me some things about writing.
That post about an author’s
hate dislike of fan fiction brought to mind the bad fic I’ve read and how I’ve tried to avoid being that writer that people avoid. It also spawned an idea —Writing Lessons Taught by Fan Fiction.
A simple Google search will net you authors who got their start in fan fiction. It’s great practice to hone your skills, to cut your teeth on something you’re really interested in. The more you write, the more you learn about writing, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve asked a few of my fellow writers at various story archives to weigh in on this topic with any lessons they’ve learned along the way. At the end of the week I’ll compile and post them as, hopefully, a long list of things that writers can look forward to learning from writing fan fiction.
Lesson #1: Fan Fiction is real writing.
We create original characters, backstory, an effective arc, plot, setting, dialogue… the whole bit. There is no script to mimic. Typically, stories carry a character in name and a few recognizable characteristics. The rest is invented and whether the story is 1,000, 10,000 or 100,000 words, it is a new creation. Words appear on paper and from beginning to end, tell a story. That’s writing.
And that isn’t fake.
Fan Fic writers don’t write for publication or money or notoriety. We’re not trying to sell a book or hook an agent or find out how to get published. We write purely for fun, for recognition, and to be part of a community. And, if you have talent and can weave a great story, you can achieve a small following of people who read and respect your work and offer honest feedback and criticism. It’s a built-in critique group and, over time, this singular focus on writing alone is what builds better writers.
Stay tuned this week for more lessons from Fan Fiction’s Knee. If you are or know a Fan fic writer, I hope you’ll pass along this week’s posts!