The Benefits of Writing Fan Fiction

Fan fiction is a controversial topic. Some people say are totally against it while others are absolutely for it. Let’s first identify what fan fiction is.

When someone creates a piece of fiction, if a person takes that work and writes something based off it (keeping the names of characters, locations, and events), this is fan fiction. It could be set in an AU (Alternative Universe, which means the events of the canon story either didn’t take place or had different outcomes), and it could include OC (Original Characters—creations of the fan fiction author). These stories are written in the universe of the original story. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you wished Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padme got married instead, that would be a fan fiction story in the Star Wars universe. If you wanted to find out what was meant when Black Widow said, “It’s like Budapest all over again,” and Hawkeye responded, “You and I remember Budapest very differently,” you could write an Avenger fan fic based on that to explore it.

What’s the catch? You cannot sell this work or attempt to profit off of it. Since you do not own the rights of the original story, you can’t do that. However, you can post it on sites like www.fanfiction.net or so forth. When you do this, fans of the original story will see it, read it, and likely comment. This feedback is useful for your journey into becoming a writer and helps you hone your skills.

One of the issues about writing your own original story as the first full-length novel you ever write is you may not know how to develop characters well, you might not have a full handle on description or scene setting or dialogue, and on top of that you have to create an entire world. If you’ve never done that before, it can be daunting. This makes writing your own novel all the more difficult.

If you write fan fiction first, you don’t have to worry about creating whole new worlds or characters. It’s like a pre-set story for you to just fill in the blank and twist however you want. You already know the characters because of the story/book/film/show, and you can readily imagine them in your mind. You already have an understanding of their world, so it’s easy to grasp. You won’t have to worry about all those fundamentals of a story while you’re trying to learn your own writing style. The foundation is already there. All you need to worry about is perfecting the specific elements (character development, dialogue, description, plot structure, etc).

The more you write, the more you’ll start flexing your writing muscles. It’ll likely start with you taking the characters to unfamiliar places, and this gives you the chance to create an original setting in a safe environment. As this becomes easy, you begin introducing more major original characters into the cast. Eventually those original characters completely replace the fan fiction characters, and as you add more twists and turns and get further and further from the original source of the story, you’ll realize you have something that’s totally different from the original story. This is where you can begin writing your own original story.

When this happens, you won’t be so stressed out about all the different elements of writing because you already have a good handle on them. Instead, you can press on and write your own original piece of fiction, and you have a good chance of publishing it.

Consider fan fiction the playground or training arena for writing. You can’t sell the work, so you don’t have to worry about promoting it. Instead, you are writing it for you (and maybe a few fans you pick up along the way). You are growing as a writer, and you learn so many lessons in a safe environment. Once you start breaking the mold and flexing your writing muscles as creating your own worlds, the world becomes a scary place, but you’re ready for it.

This is why I recommend writing fan fiction if you’re a beginning writer. Of course, some people may view it a waste of time, and I understand that. However, if you’re struggling with writing, writing fan fiction is an option you have and should consider.

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New Project Writer’s Block

New Project Writer’s Block—what is that? It’s after you completed your latest project, and after you’ve celebrated such an accomplishment, but you don’t want to go back immediately and revise because you want to put a little distance between that piece of work and yourself. Instead you want to begin a new project. Something fresh—something exciting! Now is the time to put all those story ideas you got while writing your other project to good use!

If only you could remember them.

If only they were half as interesting now as they were when you originally got the idea.

Now you’ve opened a new document and find yourself staring at a blank page and blinking cursor. All those ideas you had back then don’t seem so enticing anymore. So you go back through your older files to find any story you might have left unfinished. Maybe you’ll be prompted to finish it now.

But still, you find yourself uninspired to write—unmotivated. If you had written every day from beginning to end of your last story, you probably feel like you ran a marathon and deserve a break from writing.

Now, this is where the danger of this Writer’s Block lies. The ‘New Project’ Writer’s Block can last a week, a month, a year, or even several years! How does this happen? Let’s break it down.

  1. Completed project means you deserve a break
  2. Enormous mental strain to build a new story/world/cast of characters is wearisome
  3. Uncertainty of which story to write next makes you indecisive and leery

All of these tie closely with one another. If you’ve completed a story, you don’t feel like diving headlong into another mess of conflicts to sort out through the process of writing. You don’t feel like discovering new characters, their personalities, habits, backgrounds, and their involvement with other characters. Even if you’re working on a sequel, restarting the writing engine with a new plot is tiresome. And when you’re tired, you’re not motivated or inspired to write.

Now, just because you’re not inspired to write, does that give you the excuse not to write? Say you take a break. What happens to your writing skills if this Writer’s Block drags on for a year or so? Will you be as sharp and on the ball as you would have been if you kept waiting every day?

“But what am I supposed to write if I don’t feel like writing?” Something—anything—whatever you can think of. It could be a journal entry or a poem, or you could try writing out one of those ideas you got while writing your other story. It might fall flat, but you might discover a character there or a unique plot twist you could use in another story. Go back to the ‘Playground Experience’ and focus on perfecting specific elements of your writing. It’s like having a toolbox. You might not need all the tools, but you want to make sure they don’t rust and dull from lack of use, so sharpen them, polish them. Write a one-shot specifically on creating a relatable antagonist. You never know—it might spark a fantastic idea, and you’re off writing a story again.

Ideas come from anywhere. That is why you have to explore and seek out new ideas, new concepts, new angles to old ideas.

In May 2013 I completed writing my medieval fantasy story. I had been writing 2,000 words a day since I got the idea back in January 2013. Five months later I was really worn out from that marathon of writing. Now, in June 2014 I finally discovered my next story and have been faithfully writing it. However, between May 2013 and June 2014—that’s a little over a year! What did I do in the meanwhile? Wrote—every day. I co-wrote numerous stories with writer friends just for the fun of it. Revised older work. I tried out new ideas hoping it would lead to my next novel. I kept falling flat on my face, but I pushed myself up and told myself, “Write at least 500 words a day—1,000 or 2,000 is preferable.” I didn’t write because I feared not to write. I just knew that if I didn’t write, I’d become irritable to be around. Writing is my way to express myself, my way to stay sane and to understand everything I encounter in life. I didn’t worry about beginning something I couldn’t finish because I knew it would come together in the proper time.

With any form of Writer’s Block but especially the New Project Writer’s Block, real life tends to get in the way, and we may be tempted to use this to justify not writing. Is this all right to do? No. If you’re a writer, you will write—maybe not a lot. You probably won’t like everything you write, but you will write.

Here’s an example of Real Life getting in the way—just to show you I can relate to the struggle. Immediately after I finished my medieval fantasy novel in May 2013, my mom broke her arm in June 2013, and the very next day my sister with her three small children came to visit from England for the summer. That weekend my favorite cat had her first litter of kittens, and the next week my sister’s cat had kittens too. So we had two cats, eight kittens, three small kids, and somebody with a broken arm all in the house. The next week, my mom had surgery on her arm, and I was asked to stay overnight with her instead of my dad staying. On top of this, a good friend of mine had her first baby, but she was sick afterwards, so I was worried about her. Then my sister-in-law was also pregnant and had several false alarms which included me driving two hours to their place to drop off their other son from visiting with us only to be asked, once more unexpectedly, to stay the night with them in case my sister-in-law went into labor that night because they wanted me to watch their son. Then I had to paint and then repaint a room to prepare it for even more guests from England and help a sister pack up and move out of state. At last my sister-in-law had her baby weeks later, and I had to spend the night at their place again, and then finally everything calmed down by September.

This is what it’s like when Real Life interrupts. At times like this, it’s tempting to not write because it’s simply easier that way, but I knew I needed some form of normalcy in my life during this chaos. I brought my laptop or my Alphasmart NEO with me at all times, so I could write. While in the waiting room waiting for my mom’s surgery, I was the only calm and patient one in the room because I was co-writing with a friend. I was able to take everything in stride because I had taken the time to clear my mind, taken the time to see everything from the bigger picture like a story, and from the viewpoint I was able to remain calm.

Regardless of all this, did I get frustrated and discouraged due to the New Project Writer’s Block? Yes—plenty of times. I felt worthless as a writer because I couldn’t focus on any one project, and all the projects I was working on kept stalling. I was worried I wouldn’t find a new story that would propel itself onward with me hanging on for dear life to write it all. But then pieces started coming together—pieces from old, completely unrelated stories began to fit together to form this new idea, and then it took off, and that’s what I’ve been writing these last few months with no end in sight really.

Is there a way to prevent this New Project Writer’s Block? Well, I have a theory, but I have yet to get it to work for me. Maybe it’ll work for you. As you near the end of your massive project, before you complete it, determine what you will write next and prepare it. That way, once you’ve finished the other story, you can jump right into that one (maybe giving yourself a little break if you want). This hasn’t worked for me yet because I find myself unable to work intensely on one project while simultaneously outlining and world-building an entirely new endeavor. That is a lot of mental work, and you risk losing interest in your immediate story because the new one sounds much more enticing. You don’t want that. The readers can sense that in your work. That is why you must dedicate time to each story.

So, is there a solution? Again, if we had some kind of magic solution to any form of Writer’s Block, it wouldn’t be a problem for us anymore. The solution is unique to each writer and your situation. However, you need to determine for yourself what kind of writer you will be. Some have tried to write every day but find they can’t stick to it and end up loathing everything they write. To be honest, it’s hard for me to comprehend that, but I know it is a true struggle for some writers, and I respect that. However, be consistent with your writing if possible. If you have to go back and write fan fiction just to get through the dry spell of ideas, that is fine (write fan fiction for your own stories if you want. That’s always fun to do).

The key to overcoming Writer’s Block is determining exactly where you are in life and writing, recognize it for what it is, keep your imagination engaged, bounce ideas around with friends, and try to write something every day. What you write doesn’t have to be for anyone else’s eyes but your own. It can be random sentences in a notebook, a paragraph, a poem, a song, maybe even the rough sketch of an idea or an outline or even dreams you’ve dreamt. It can be a short story or a fan fiction story or something you co-write with someone. It can be a full novel or even a screenplay. And it can change from day-to-day until a story seizes your mind and refuses to let you go until you’ve penned it.

“What if that never happens, Kelly? What if a story never grabs a hold of me like that?” I wish I knew the answer to that, but all I can say is I’ve felt the same fear before, but a story always came. I just had to be patient for it. In the meanwhile though, you might need to evaluate why you write. If you know that, if you can lay hold on that, then nothing will tear it from you, and you will write.

This may not have given you the answers you were looking for, but maybe it gave you some hope. Keep daydreaming stories, keep listening and watching for inspiration every day around you, and keep writing. Turn that Writer’s Block into a steppingstone to your next great adventure!

Author-Based Characters

Young writers (‘young’ can mean age or inexperienced) get an idea and think, “It would be so cool if I could do that.” They proceed to daydream, form a story, and might finally attempt to write the story. This results in an author-based character.

An author-based character doesn’t have to be a writer in the story. It doesn’t have to be in present day or do anything the author does. The author could be a stay-at-home mom who writes a spy thriller. The way you can identify an author-based character is the voice of the character, the actions of the character, and the lack of real depth in the character.

Author-based characters come into existence because the author places himself into the situation and writes how he would respond if he ever had run from the CIA, save the world with some new superpower, or travel back in time. This is where all the daydreams and fantasies come to life, and you’re able to do what you could never do in real life.

These characters are often found in fan fiction because the author gets the idea for the story by thinking, “Now, if I could have been in that movie/book, what would I have done? What would happen?” Author-based characters have the tendency to become Mary-Sue or Gary Stu–that is to say the ‘perfect’ characters. To the author, these characters are charming and beautiful, but they’re absolutely annoying and unrealistic to the readers.

Once a writer asked me to read the first novel he ever wrote because he wanted to publish it. I met his female protagonist, and I had to put his book down. Everyone in the story loved that character. They crowded around to reach out to her just to get a brief touch of her. They said she was an angel, and she was described as beautiful.

This, in and of itself, would be all right if the twist had been that on the inside she was dark, but the worst part was this character was absolutely innocent, ignorant, but knew anything about everything. There was nothing wrong with her, nothing different, no shades of gray, or depth. Have you ever met someone who just seemed so perfect that it’s annoying? The same goes for stories.

Needless to say, I couldn’t finish reading that story. I had to give him credit though because it was his first novel, and he was writing a female character. His downfall came in being too careful. He didn’t want to insult his female readers by making his female character unlikable in any way whatsoever, but there is a crime in being too careful. Every character has a conflict. If there’s no conflict, there’s no story.

But I didn’t mean to write a Mary Sue! What am I supposed to do?” Think back and reconsider why you’re writing the story in the first place. Yes, Mary Sues have their proper place in writing, but they’re never the main character. They’re often used in parody.

If there’s even the slightest chance of me accidentally writing a Mary Sue, I don’t want to write.” That’s your choice, but if you’re a writer, you won’t be able to not write. No one said writing was easy. Characters are only one aspect of writing, and you must master them before you can think about publishing your work.

This is why the Playground Experience is important! During the Playground Experience you can play around with all sorts of characters, tear them apart, piece them back together, find out what makes them tick, and talk with them–argue with them. You’re going to disagree with your characters. They’re going to storm away and slam doors in your head on the way out, but they’ll always come back because you are the only means they have to get their story told. Like us, they want their story known to the world. The Playground Experience is the proper place to experiment. Mary Sues are tolerated in fan fiction because it is an unspoken agreement among fan fic authors and readers that fan fiction is merely a playground to learn the craft.

Writers have the most selfless people in the world because even though they write the story, imagine the characters and the setting, they have no say in what actually happens. They may want something to happen, but in the end, it’s all up to the characters.

Every writer must know and understand their characters and realize they are not their characters, and their characters are not them. This understanding comes with practice, and over the course of many years, you—as the author—will develop how you connect with your characters and how you communicate your characters to the world.

Quick Tip: If you think your character is an author-based character, change the gender of your character. Author-based characters are the same gender as the author, so if you change the gender, you automatically create a distance between that character and you.