Okay. So write me a novel.
No, don’t look at me like that. Go think of completely new characters, complete with back stories, an entire setting, and a fully developed plotline. Stat. I still don’t know what Stat is, but I like saying it. Write me a novel! Stat!
Not sure where to start? Yeah, welcome to the club. So if we can’t just jump into a full-blown novel, let’s look at some baby steps that might head us in the right direction. Baby steps, yup, that’s it!
Or training wheels if you don’t like the baby analogy. I am not married to it. Either way, we are going to crawl before we walk and walk before we run. In case you’re wondering, all that crawling and walking and running includes falling on our faces really hard and crying about it for awhile until someone promises ice cream.
There will be no ice cream at the end of this article: fair warning.
I bet, like, five people, easy, just closed their browsers.
Okay, so you want to learn how to put all the pieces together but aren’t sure how to start building a world. Then may I suggest starting with someone else’s world? You got it; we are going to talk about FAN FICTION.
Some people hate fan fiction, some love it, and some really love it. There are all camps, but I am not here to debate the ethics of it. I am here to talk about the use of it to new writers. And old ones. To be honest, I still dabble in my fics, but I rarely publish them anymore. Fan fiction acts more like a writer’s doodle pad, and I go through stuff to see how it works.
If you want some practice putting a story together, there is no better place to start than writing fan fiction. You have characters established for you, settings, and if the show has a formula, there is even a story structure to work with. Fan fiction is great for learning how to get a voice right, how to set up a plot line and see how to resolve it, and a great test to see if you can paint with someone else’s palette.
I wrote Supernatural and Doctor Who fan fiction. No not together, but separately. I think I wrote over two hundred thousand words of fan fic in my day. Though some of it was questionable, what I always tried to do was write a story that sounded like it could have been on television. In Hollywood these are called spec scripts, and you write one for a show you do not work for to prove you can, indeed, write for them. But since we aren’t in Hollywood and the chances of writing for a network television show are rare, let’s stay with fan fic for now.
Fan fiction gives you the chance to write into a formulated storyline without having to worry about all the moving parts. It’s a great place to get your feet wet and to see what works and doesn’t work for you. Try shows that you like and that you think are missing something in the margins. For example, I like the interplay between Sam and Dean on Supernatural, so my stories have a lot more dialogue than they do monsters. In fact, most of my stories have very little to do with monsters unless they are a vehicle to get the boys to a point where I wanted them so I could write my own story.
I wrote what I called DVD extras, scenes that were never in the show but that could have been. Moments we didn’t get to see that I thought still had meat on the bones. Once I figured out what needed more story, I had a finite beginning and ending, and it helped me figure out how to land a story where I needed it inside the specific episode. One of the hardest things about writing is making the ending worth the telling. A story can change under your fingers as it is being written, and might end up somewhere you never imagined it would go. While that can be a good thing sometimes, staying aboard a story that’s suddenly developed its own impetus requires skills that we’ll talk about in another blog. Right now, we’re talking about learning how to lay the groundwork for a story firmly and to write convincingly from there. Fan fiction gives you that ability, especially when you are writing a story that takes place between episodes.
Also fan fiction can give you the freedom to concentrate on other things rather than creating plot, characters, and settings from scratch. For example, since most of the basic work is done when writing a Supernatural story, I can focus all my attention on dialogue and the interaction between the characters. Fan fiction provides you the opportunity to stretch certain creative muscles that might be weak without having to worry about shortchanging everything else.
Okay, so that’s all the good stuff. What’s the bad?
Well, let’s go back to my previous statement. I have written almost two hundred thousand words of fan fiction. I have a Doctor Who collection that is an entire season of stories. By that I mean I wrote nine individual episodes that linked together to create the story arc for a season. Sounds neat, doesn’t it?
Now, what if I told you all that work could have been two more Foster High books?
Fan fiction is a lot like weight lifting to some people. You can work your arms and chest until they are HUGE but, honey, you still got chicken legs. Writing is about the whole experience and you can end up killing some of your creative urges by staying in someone else’s world too long. For example, if a writer works on dialogue by writing ten stories with Dean Winchester as the lead, every lead in that writer’s original fiction begins to sound like Dean Winchester.
If they all looked like him? I’d be fine with that. But people have to sound like real people, not just a character on a TV show.
I see people spending thousands of hours on fan fiction, and their stuff is really good. However, those are thousands of hours that they could be using to write original books with original plotlines that everyone, not just ‘fans of Sherlock’, can enjoy. Develop your skills in fan fiction, sure, but have a definite timeline to wean yourself off of it. Because, as I said, it is a fun and exciting thing to play in someone else’s world. For a while. If you get lost in that world, there is no getting you back sometimes.
Also, there is the glaring truth about people who read fan fiction. Fans can be crazy. I mean crazy, crazy about their shows. People who read fan fiction can be the meanest critics out there. A writer has to be ready to have his story completely blown up by some random person who knows how many inches long the laces on Dean’s boots are. I know more than a few people who have sworn off writing because their stuff had been shredded by mean girls online.
Mean Girls here referring to the movie: I’m not making a sweeping comment about women.
Don’t be afraid to dabble in fan fiction. It can be a great tool to use to strengthen skills you need help on, as well as giving you the confidence to write more. Conversely, it can be an experience that can scar you for life if you’re not ready for the sharp eyes and sharper comments of fan fiction readers. Done properly, fan fiction can give you the edge you need to write more and to write better.
Also, if you want to make everyone look like Dean Winchester while you’re at it, you have my thumbs up.