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It seems like talk of fan fiction has been in the air recently. As someone who successfully made the transition from writing fan fic to writing original fiction, I thought today we could talk about the structural differences between fan fic and original fic, and how to make the change.
First, a little bit about fan fiction and why it’s good for you to write it:
(Before I begin this article I want to preface it by saying that I know there are legal concerns to writing fan fiction. This article isn’t about that; I just want to show how writing fan fiction may help young writers develop, and give a guide to current fan fic writers looking to move into original fiction).
FAN FICTION: TRAINING WHEELS FOR WRITERS
I’m a huge fan of fan fiction (:P). I remember back in seventh grade when I got so frustrated by a lack of romantic consummation between Rachel and Tobias in the Animorphs series that I just decided to write it myself. I’d never heard of ‘fan fic’ before, and so of course I thought that what I was doing was very original and groundbreaking (side note: does it seem to you that every writer thinks their younger self was a total dork?). That’s the beauty of fan fic; you can modify a pre-existing story to make it turn out however you felt it should have.
Emotional satisfaction aside, there are other benefits to young writers working with fan fiction. Here are some of them:
Pre-Existing World/Characters: Fan Fiction takes all the hard work out of establishing your own unique characters and world, and lets you borrow existing ones. This is beneficial to young writers because you already get to start with a wonderful plot/characters, and all you have to worry about is the craft of writing itself.
Length: Many works of fan fiction are quite short. Others are sprawling. Both teach the writer about story arcs; no matter the length of the fic, it has to have an introduction, some sort of middle action or revelation, then the denoument. I’ve seen some truly heart-breaking one-page fics, and some fabulous, wish-it-never-ended, 200-chapter fics.
To focus primarily on the short fics, works of such emotional saturation would have a hard time existing outside of fan fiction. Where else can your craft be judged based on one page, except in a universe where the readers already know your characters/world, and moreover are INTERESTED in them. The great thing about posting to fan fic sites is that your audience is already salivating and ready to read.
Craft: The medium of fan fiction is prime territory for using that infamous beginner’s tool -exposition. In fact, fan fic practically requires a lot of exposition (in the beginning chapters). Since young writers are naturally drawn to exposition, fan fic gives them a place where this device, normally seen as a faux paus, is actually perfectly normal.
Versatility: Fan fic also allows writers to explore different genres and scenarios they wouldn’t otherwise get to explore if they dedicated themselves to writing a novel. Writers of fan fic can take the same two characters, in the same setting, and create a hundred varying outcomes, from romance to comedy to outright fist-fighting. Fan fic encourages imagination, and really exploring the depths of the characters at hand.
I made the leap from fan fic writer to regular writer when I had my first original idea (Antebellum). Finally I had a unique world of my own to explore, though in the beginning I wasn’t used to creating my own characters, so I borrowed some and gave them different names (don’t worry, they later evolved into their own unique beings).
I’ve heard several young writers express fears of devoting too much time to fan fiction, and harboring the vague but powerful worry that they really should be writing something ‘real’ instead of continuing their epic Harry/Ginny romance. While I can’t say it’s perfectly okay to continue to write fan fic forever, I can say that you should realize that you’re actually learning very valuable writing lessons, and your experience in fan fic will actually help your ‘real’ writing.
Fan fic writers become masters of emotion, and plot intrigue. These are skills that don’t go away. I learned lots of great tricks on how to write good action and climax scenes through reading fan fiction, then sitting down to write my own.
That said, there are a few bad habits that can bleed over from fan fiction into original fiction. When making the leap, here’s what you should watch out for:
Exposition: You. Yes, I mean YOU. You cannot write five pages of background on your world and/or characters before the story begins. I’m serious. This DOES apply to YOU. While it’s great in fan fic to get all of that history out of the way so you can get on to the good stuff, in original fiction that does not fly. Just start at the good stuff! Weave your backstory into one-sentence narrative explanations and hints from dialogue. If there is one thing you take away from this article, it must be this: don’t begin with too much exposition!
(Also, don’t think that just because your characters are walking around and doing stuff that it isn’t exposition. If they’re having a mindless conversation just to establish their characters while you comment after their every sentence explaining their history together, that’s exposition. No conversation should ever be there ‘just because’. No ‘Wow I hate math class.’ ‘Yeah me, too.’ for an entire first chapter. Dialogue needs to advance the plot. Always.)
Fluff/Ego Stroking: This one’s gonna be tough, because fan fictors love them some fluff. I know, I do, too. But while it’s okay to include self-indulgent extras in fan fiction, it is NOT okay to do that in original fiction.
For example: an entire chapter devoted to hair-stroking, nuzzling, and gentle kissing. In fan fic readers lap that up. In original fiction, we do want to see your main couple in an ‘aww’ moment, but we also want to see your plot advance. 3,000 words of lovey dovey fluff will turn readers off.
As for ego stroking, in fan fiction it’s okay for your character to go off on a diatribe about why they hate a particular brand, or food, or political party. Or, rather, it’s more okay than in original fiction. Because it’s definitely NOT okay in original fic. We call those sort of non-essential asides ‘indulgences’, or, if you make an entire character based on them, a ‘Mary Sue’. You know about Mary Sue. Don’t even pretend you don’t. In original fic, ‘asides’ get you an eye-roll from a reader, and a big, fat, red strikethrough from a CP. Don’t do it.
Pacing: When you’re writing a decent-length fan fiction, particularly of the romance genre, and if you have a few dedicated readers who beg for your next chapter, it’s very easy to just throw up something entertaining but plotless, and call it a day. Your readers demand updates, and you need some time to pass in your story, so your characters take a chapter to go to the park, cook a meal together, play chess, go shopping, etc. It’s the character bathroom break of writing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if it’s not necessary, it needs to get cut. If you want to show time has elapses, say ‘the next day’ or something.
Well, I guess that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
If you want to hear more about what I have to say on the basic craft of writing, click here. Otherwise, I’m going to open the floor for questions. Do you write fan fic? What’s your favorite ship? How did you successfully transition out of fan fiction into original fiction? See you in the comments!
Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is http://www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.
Apparently Mercedes Lacky concurs! Read her inspirational article on encouraging writers to write fan fiction here.