The Importance of Fan Fiction

Writing has always been a big part of my life. I’ve been writing stories since I was old enough to type coherent sentences. I love creating worlds and characters and relationships and plot lines all of my own that could one day be published work. Working on original pieces is exhilarating and gratifying and so, so exhausting.

I have been writing for pretty much my whole life and yet I maintain that I really started to learn how to write by writing fan fiction.

I started writing fan fiction on a site called Quizilla that (thank god) does not exist anymore when I was about twelve or thirteen. I wrote some truly horrible Harry Potter fan fiction mostly based around original characters (OCs) of mine that fell in love with one of the characters. Could you call these OCs self-insert characters? In most cases, yes.

I’m the first to admit that I’ve committed some, if not most, of the cardinal sins of fan fiction writing. However, by committing these sins, you get really good crash courses in certain aspects of writing one at a time. If you throw one OC into your work? BAM. There’s a character that’s all you, all your creation, that has to be just as real as these well-developed characters from an established work of fiction.

If you throw all the established characters into an alternate universe? World-building 101. You need a world real enough and vast enough to contain all these dynamic characters. Not to mention all those little things that have changed because the universe is different. How have those things changed the characters? Can you make these changes and still keep them in character? Are you writing 100% canon compliant, no OCs added fic? You think you’re going to get nothing out of that? It is hard to imitate other people’s writing. Dialogue is huge. Think you can capture all those diverse voices? Can you capture the essence of every character? Can you do justice to a world that’s already been created?

All of that sounds terrifying I’m sure. But, as every good fan fiction author knows, you have to start as a terrible fan fiction author. And people will forgive you for it. People will still read your work. People will compliment you and ask you for more work and follow your writing religiously even if it’s really, really bad. Because fan fiction comes from a love of characters that are already loved and there are people in the world who will read anything about their favourite character or their favourite ship.

Now, after dedicating most of my junior high school years to writing fan fiction, I stopped writing for all of high school. I got sick of it. I dedicated a ton of time to characters and worlds that weren’t mine and barely worked on anything original that wasn’t for school. While fan fiction taught me a ton about writing, it also took me away from my own work for a really long time. So I gave it up.

For all of high school, I worked on my own novels and on school assignments and that was it. It was enough.

Enter first year of university. I’m swamped in homework and half of that homework is trying to perfect pieces of writing that I really don’t care about. I’m trying to keep up with my original work and work on novel ideas but there simply isn’t any time. The Writing department expects publishable work and, quite frankly, my work is not there yet. It was one of the most stressful times of my life because I was no longer writing for fun and I was no longer writing what I wanted to write.

So I’ve told you how fan fiction taught me how to write, now I’ll teach you how it saved my writing. End of first term of my first year, during exam period, I watched all (at the time) four seasons of Shameless US and fell head-over-heels for Ian and Mickey. For the first time in years, I felt like I needed to write fan fiction for something. I felt like these characters needed me and I wanted them to live on and I wanted to write for them. So I started to write what I could, which wasn’t full one-shots or multi-chap fics, but short drabbles that I released throughout the week while season five was airing.

For April Nano (Nano is National Novel Writing Month, which occurs in November, but there are also two camp sessions in April and July. I’ve written more about it here.), I wrote my first multi-chap fic in years. I put my heart and soul into it, and after editing, I posted it on Tumblr. It was by no means a huge success, but I was suddenly getting feedback on my writing again. Positive feedback. I knew there were people out there who wanted to read what I wanted to write and I no longer felt so helpless about my writing career. I knew I was good at what I wanted to do.

Now, you’re all probably thinking, okay, but didn’t this make you forget your original work again? Wasn’t it really hard to juggle school work and fan fiction and original novels? And you’re right. But here’s the thing: fan fiction is supposed to be no pressure. Sure, often it isn’t, but if you figure out how to make it work for you, you can find a no stress way to update your fics at your own pace and get feedback you need and still keep on top of everything else. (My solution? Write the entire multi-chap before publishing any of it.)

As for keeping on top of original work, what I do is alternate my Nano projects. So if my November Nano is a fic, my April will be original, my July fic, my next November original, and so on and so forth. Not to mention that I learned to write here and there, to follow my inspiration when it came to writing time, and to not give up on projects just because they seem scary. (Yes. I know. You’re thirty thousand words into your novel and you’re not even halfway through the plot and it’s terrifying. Keep writing. If you love the story, if you love the characters, don’t give up on them just because the finished piece might be one hundred thousand words. You’ll get there eventually. There’s no deadline.)

Now that I’m taking a semester off, I’m still writing both original work and fan fiction. I write fan fiction because it’s fun and fast and easy. Because you can write absolutely ridiculous things, call it crack, and people will still love it. (I wrote a M/M fic with a pregnancy scare that wasn’t even in an mpreg universe. It’s still one of my favourites.) Because I get obsessed with shows that are never going to make my ships canon or give the aro/ace community the representation they deserve, and I itch to do something, anything to fix it. Fan fiction is a way for me to write without worrying about my career or my life or every little detail that could be wrong.

There are a lot of people out there and a lot of professional authors that will tell you fan fiction is a waste of time. That you’re writing something that’ll never be published, that you’re wasting your time, that you could be creating something great and instead you’re working with someone else’s characters to make something mediocre. But I honestly believe writing fan fiction teaches us how to write original fiction. I believe writing fan fiction can give us much needed breaks from slugging through our original work. I believe tropes and alternate universes and terribly, terribly sappy fluff fics get our creative juices flowing, get us writing, and give us inspiration. There is nothing wrong with writing fan fiction instead of original work.

So find your favourite character. Find your favourite ship. Find your favourite movie/show/book and write something worthy of everything you love and let the world see it. Because I swear to you, there are people out there who are going to love every word you write and you just need to find them.

I know I was told early on in the Writing department not to share my work outside of the department because other people didn’t know what we were striving for. What good fiction meant to the department. And I would follow those guidelines for things you’re actually writing for class, but everything else? Let the world see your writing. Let people tell you they love it. Let yourself bask in the praise a little bit because it’s hard to get back short stories you worked on for three months and see a 67. Let someone tell you you’re brilliant. You deserve it.

Happy writing!

P.S. I realized I lied to you in this post! My first fan fiction since junior high was actually a horrible Destiel high school AU that I wrote for November 2014 Nano? But whatever.

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2 Responses

  1. Russell says:

    Which website do you put your fan fiction online?

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