F is for Fanfiction

FMy long, strange history with fanfic

I started writing fanfiction when I was eleven years old without the slightest idea of what it was. I kept writing it, on and off, for the next 10-12 years, for various fandoms—Star Wars, Final Fantasy, and Lord of the Rings primarily—and never published a single word.

I didn’t know there were communities where people wrote this stuff; I didn’t even know there was a term for it. I honestly thought I was the only one, and it felt like I was doing something wrong. I held this view for years, in a large part because I had no one else to talk to about it. When I did find out that fanfiction was a thing (and I found out what the actual term was), it was actually from this image. (As you can see, not the best resource, that.)

What little I learned about fanfic during high school and college was from sources outside the fanfic community, so I honestly thought all fanfic was something on the level of “My Immortal” with occasional forays into slash smut. As you can imagine, this did not do much to change my view that I was doing something “wrong,” and so I told absolutely no one that I wrote it.

It wasn’t until 2009, when I got more involved with NaNoWriMo, that I met people who were actively involved in fanfiction communities. For the first time in my life, I was talking to people who actually wrote fanfic, and weren’t coming to it with the biases of an outsider.

And over the next few years, I shed my own prejudices and came to realize a few things.

First, I hadn’t been doing anything wrong. Writing fanfiction was just one of the ways I chose to interact with the source material that I loved.

Second, I saw just how much of our media could be classified as fanfiction. Granted, you’ll see it called something like an “adaptation” or a “reimagining” or a “modern twist on a classic tale,” but it ultimately boils down to the same thing: taking someone else’s story or characters and expanding on it or giving it your own spin.

And third, I finally understood just how much I’d learned from writing fanfiction and how instrumental it had been in my development as a writer.

Fanfic lesson one: How to write in different voices.

As you saw above, I wrote fanfic in a number of different universes, which were all different kinds of science fiction and fantasy. What I wrote for LOTR, by necessity, had to sound completely different from what I wrote for Star Wars, which was different from Final Fantasy.

Not to mention with that many different characters, I had to learn how to make their voices sound unique and, just as importantly, in-character. Otherwise, the story just didn’t work.

Fanfic lesson two: Practicing story structure.

Structure was something I learned the basics of in college, but writing fanfiction was where I practiced and applied it. Since I wasn’t being graded and I wasn’t writing for publication, it didn’t have to be good. And because I didn’t have to come up with characters or a world or relationships or any of that, I just had to focus on getting the structure right.

Plus, by writing something to match, say, an episode of a television show, I learned where the beats of the story needed to fall, where to break with a cliffhanger, where to ratchet up the tension and where to ease off and let everyone breathe. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that gave me a pretty good foundation for the more advanced structure lessons I’d learn later.

Fanfic lesson three: How to finish.

Before I started writing fanfiction, the longest story I’d written had been less than a thousand words. I wanted to write novels, but I would just…never finish when I started them. The first long story (read: more than 20,000 words) I ever finished? Fanfiction. The second and third stories? Also fanfiction. It took me three years to do it all, but I finished.

And the year after that, I finished my first original novel.

Would I have learned all this eventually? Oh, yeah. I’m sure I would’ve. But I’m also sure that it would’ve taken me twice as long to learn some of these lessons if I hadn’t been writing fanfic. Fanfiction can be an extremely useful writing tool, and I’d encourage every writer to give it a go.

Have you written fanfic? What have you learned writing it?


25 thoughts on “F is for Fanfiction

  1. My story is very similar to yours. I started writing Star Wars fan fiction when I was in the seventh grade, though I had no idea that “fan fiction” was an actual thing…all I knew was that I had ideas for Luke Skywalker’s next adventure and desperately needed to write them down. I didn’t really discover that fan fiction was a common thing until college when my best friend introduced me to some Harry Potter fan fiction that she’d found online. That was when I first came across FanFiction.net and started posting my stuff there. It was a HUGE relief to know that this was actually something that lots of people did! lol

    • Yeah, it was kind of surreal to find out, since I’d spent YEARS thinking I was the only one. So strange to think you’re all alone, only to find out not only are you not alone, but this is actually a decades-old community you’ve accidentally tapped into.

      And then, like you, I was kind of relieved! 🙂

      • You know, the biggest surprise was finding out that fan fiction was something that REAL authors did. I don’t know how it never crossed my mind before finding the online communities, but I would read all these “expanded universe” Star Wars books written by any number of different authors, and it never once occurred to me that, “Hey, dumbass…this stuff is FAN FICTION”. lol

  2. As one of the people who brought you over to the ‘dark side’ of fanfiction, Michelle, I am so very proud of you. So much so that I feel like a happy mama bear right now. *giggles*

    Fanfiction taught me ‘how to finish’ as well. I’d attempted NaNo a few times with original stories, and just couldn’t get past the 5-10k mark. Then I sat down one day and I’d written a little over 40k words on a fanfiction I’d been posting on a LOTR site (with very helpful people who were gentle and firm in their constructive criticism), and I knew I just needed to finish it.

    So I sat down and wrote – longhand – nearly 15k in two days to finish that monster.

    And when I typed it all up and realized I’d actually passed the 50k mark, I knew then that I could DO NaNo, and win. I just needed to practice at getting it down faster!

    • Hahaha, I take it you read it, then? 🙂

      I do encourage you to give it a go, if you want to, if only because I think it is a very good writing tool that just isn’t discussed that much.

  3. Hello – never written one, never read one… I haven’t lived! But I guess the first struggling attempts at poetry in another’s style might count!

    I should think that this breakdown of ‘story’ and style is a wonderful teaching tool, though.

    I’m doing my A-Z on animal facts with poems, and info about my assistance dog, Lola! http://www.lizbrownleepoet.com

  4. Fanfiction is fantastic tool for writers to explore for all the reasons listed above and more. Also, from a writer’s perspective, I like fanfiction because I know what it means to be a fan. And fans are INSATIABLE. I know I’ll never be able to create new content as quickly as the fans want to consume it. If fanfiction helps relieve that pressure, who am I to deny it?

    I’m glad you’re in the know, M. 😉

  5. tizzypotts says:

    I used to write Star Trek and Harry Potter fan fiction just to amuse myself and to write about things I wanted to see happen in the series. I think it’s a great way to learn more about writing in different styles and you can learn such a lot from it.

    • Writing in different styles/character voices was definitely one of the biggest skills I learned. I had a teacher comment on it once, but it wasn’t until probably 3-4 years later that I realized it was most likely because of fanfic.

  6. Fanfiction is brilliant – I will not have a word said against it. I’ve been writing fanfic online since 1995 and I, like you, was writing it in notebooks way before that when I was at school. Fanfiction has been such a help and it can be such a great confidence boost. I have had so many people give me advice and feedback and everything has helped me become a better writer. I still write fanfiction whenever I have the time because I love it. At the moment I’m really into Teen Wolf.
    Tasha’s Thinkings – AtoZ (Vampires)
    FB3X – AtoZ (Erotic Drabbles)

    • I am most certainly not into Teen Wolf, no ma’am. I did not binge-watch seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix last summer. I was not overly invested in whether Scott and Allison would get back together. I do not cuddle a pillow and make noises like a wounded animal every time Stiles and his dad have a Family Moment. I did not spend the last 3 months squeaking at my TV every time Kira was onscreen because she was so adorable with her earnestness and Avengers leggings and sudden master swordsman skills.

      I absolutely do not have a soft spot the size of Canada for a grumpy leather-wearing werewolf who’s kind of a jerk and a failwolf but who never stops trying, no matter how many times he’s been beaten down. And I certainly do not have a thing for the failwolf and the sarcastic boy who always comes back for him. I have not had my heart ripped out by what was supposed to be a stupid show about teenage werewolves.

      Nope, I am not into Teen Wolf at all.

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