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.

Set the Scene Without Slowing the Story

I was going to move on to another topic this week, but I touched upon something in last week’s post, and I think it’s important to focus on it briefly. Last week we discussed mainly narrative description and use of body language and whether those two slow down a story, but there is another kind of description. This is the description which sets the scene or introduces a character. I’m not going to go into introduction of a character because I’ve already posted about that, which you can find here: Character Introduction.

I’ve also already discussed description in great detail in previous blog posts. You can find them in the following:

Painting Pictures With Words

Movement in Description 

However, in this post I want to focus on the question, “Does scene-setting description slow down the story?” It has the potential to do this especially if it isn’t done right or if the placement of the description is wrong. Otherwise, it adds to the story rather than taking from it. There are some things to keep in mind as you’re coming to a scene where you need to set the setting.

You don’t need to show EVERY detail of the room—only the important details. Does it matter if the walls are red, blue, or beige? If it’s not fundamentally vital to the scene or the story, then no. However, DO add little details that show more of the character, but do so in a passing way. Let’s say you have a very sentimental character that’s gone missing, and a detective steps into her room to find out more about her. It could go something like this:

Nodding to the weepy-eyed mother, Detective Blackwell stepped into the victim’s room. His gaze immediately went to all the school achievements hanging on the far wall—Best Student of the Year, Most Likely To Succeed, her high school and university graduation diplomas, and certifications in yoga, tai chi, and karate.

This Elise girl was one smart and resourceful person, and this only added more to the mystery of her disappearance, but Blackwell glanced to the other side of her room. Hanging on the wall above her desk, he noted pictures of Elise with friends while some of the pictures were of a German Shepherd.

That’s Elise’s dog Legend. He disappeared over a year ago. It was really heartbreaking for Elise,” her mother informed Blackwell when he stared at one picture of the dog and girl for too long.

And so the scene can continue. Are her walls pink? Does it really matter? Does she have teddy bears from her childhood on her bed? I don’t care. What I wanted to show was that she was accomplished but also knew how to take care of herself while at the same time she liked to have her accomplishments on display in the privacy of her room.

Now, if you’re trying to introduce a much larger scene such sa a city, a kingdom, or a world, you will need to employ other elements to show the scene without slowing it down. The key to this is, the means by which you describe the setting should be in motion. This will give the illusion of movement rather than static description. One way you can do this is by using things that move easily and without too much hinderance such as light, shadows, water, or animals. A very good example of this is actually the bird in the Assassin’s Creed trailers. They always introduce the setting by means of a hawk or an eagle or some other kind of bird. This is awesome because the flight of the bird allows you to get an overview of the situation below. Check out the first minute or so of this trailer to see what I mean:

Can you use people instead of animals to show the description? Yes, but when you’re just trying to introduce the setting in which the story takes place, I suggest not naming the character immediately because who the character is at this point isn’t important. What is important is what they see and how they interact with their environment. At the end of it, then yes, introduce the character. Again, Assassin’s Creed Unity has a good visual example of this:

Now, seeing it done in film is one thing, but translating that into writing is tricky. How do you do it? Set your mind to it, imagine the scene unfold in your mind, and just do it. Now, I will warn you, it can be a bit tedious and overbearing because you can get lost in all the beautiful description and the story won’t start until Page 20, and you don’t want that. Always know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and stay focused. Try to keep it short—no more than a few paragraphs, and don’t get distracted with unnecessary detail. Here’s an example inspired a bit from the Assassin’s Creed trailer:

The hawk flew over the wide-spread plains, over the dirt road which snaked through the fields toward the city. People traveled the road at this noon hour, running for the city with guns, knives, and pitchforks in hand. They ran with an angry shout and pure determination, but the hawk flew on.

Coming to the mighty gates of the fortress, the bird glided over the wall and over the fighting thereon. Man strove with man on the walls, at the gates, and in the streets. Shouts and gun powder filled the air,

The hawk swept down into a corridor between two buildings. Below, peasants armed with farming tools charged straight for the organized line of royal guards. The guards stood their ground with their guns aimed at the approaching mob.

Then they fired.

The hawk swooped up, away from the gunshots, away from the fighting and bloodshed. It soared up the lofty clock tower then perched itself on the outstretched arm of a hooded man who observed the fighting below but turned his eyes to the pouch attached to the hawk’s leg. Opening the pouch, he removed a rolled up piece of paper. As he turned his back on the fighting to read the message in his room behind the face of the clock, he lowered the bird onto its perch and gave it some leftover raw flesh to eat.

As you can see, using this method is a way to inform the reader of a few things:

  1. It’s set in more medieval time but with gunpowder
  2. There is unrest in the country
  3. Somebody is watching and has outside communication

So, is this the way you should always do intros to every location in your story? No. Variety is always best for your story. Switch it up, or it will become predictable, and people will skip over the paragraphs. This is merely one way to show without slowing the story, and it’s a good little trick to have up your sleeve. It takes practice to master though—as do all things in life.

If you think your description is slowing down your story, it probably is, but you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions. At that point in the story, is it okay to slow down the pace? Or does it disrupt the story? Do you, as the author, naturally skip over those descriptions? If you skip them, it’s likely your readers will too.

Writing description is tricky, but it’s a skill worth mastering. Once you discover how you write description, that is something you will never lose.

Notice What You Notice

In my previous post, we discussed the introduction of a character and how to describe them without the writing becoming boring. Now, we can come across the same problem when it comes to describing setting and a scene. I’ve discussed some of this in earlier posts, which I will link at the bottom of this one, but I wanted to touch upon another aspect and basically give you homework (which you don’t have to actually share unless you want to).

I mentioned the term ‘deductive writing’. What is that? Let’s bring Sherlock Holmes back into this. He uses deductive reasoning to come to his conclusions and solve the mysteries. Now, how do we apply this to writing?

Sherlock Holmes is very observant. That is what makes him good at what he does. Not every character will be as observant as he. If your MC is a boy-crazy girl who has only spent all her free time on the internet or watching chick flicks, she’s not going to be observant. In other words, you can’t rely on her to show the reader the setting of a scene when she walks into the room. Her eyes won’t notice the color of the walls, how many doors or windows there are, or all the food and drinks, or how everything is carefully decorated in this impressive mansion. No, her eyes will scan the people—quickly overlooking anyone who is plain, maybe noting her rivals, but absolutely pinpointing all the hot guys in the room. She’ll then get sucked into conversations, and the rest of the scene unfolds.

However, if your character has any training an Martial Arts, they will have a completely different approach the same situation. These characters are more reliable when you want to show a scene through their eyes. Now, you can have a character who has never taken any form of Martial Arts but is still observant by nature, and this character is also reliable when setting a scene, but it is only because of that character’s personality that makes him or her reliable like that.

So what am I talking about, and how does it apply to writing? Here’s the exercise I want you to do, and I’m going to show you how it’s done.

Notice how you enter a room or unfamiliar setting and the first things you look for when entering the room–

Because I am prone to terrible headaches, as I approach an unfamiliar room, my senses are already spread out looking for four things: loud noise, flashing or dizzying lights, crowded environment, and potent smell. Any one of these can trigger a headache, and I avoid such places to the best of my ability. If it cannot be avoided, I at least limit my time there to the bare minimum.

When I step into the room, due to my training in martial arts, I note every exit, windows, stairways, and balconies and whatever might be blocking me from them. Yes, I’m not necessarily counting them but making a mental note as to where they are in case they’re needed. Also, if I can’t see down the corridor at the end of the room, I make a mental projection of what might be down there in case it is important to know. I then begin to assess the crowd for any threats or unusual behavior as well as their dress—whether it be practical or not in any given circumstance.

Being a writer, I automatically read people’s faces and body language determining their possible thoughts, feelings, and motives.

As naturally introvert, I scan all the faces for someone familiar and feel the greatest relief when I recognize someone.

All this takes a few seconds while I pass through the room. Can I recount all this information to you in that moment? Unlikely. I note it immediately, but it takes time to process in my mind. It is merely instinct.

If the room has any of the elements for a headache—especially noise or crazy lights—I forgo most of my usual assessments simply because I can’t see doors or windows in the flashing lights. Instead, if I am there to meet someone, I will zero in on that person and prompt them to go outside, so we can have a conversation without shouting. Otherwise, if I’m alone—well, I’d never go to such a environment on my own, so I would just leave.

This is an example of how to measure your own assessment of a new location. Once you know how you take in new surroundings, it’s easier to introduce a new setting for your characters.

The same tactic can be applied to when you meet someone new. What is the first thing you notice about them? Is it their appearance? Their face? Eye color? Clothes? Posture? My sister has a superb memory of people. When I ask her what someone looked like, she’ll say, “He’s a bit taller than I am, has brown hair, blue eyes, square jaw, lean.” She usually links their appearance to an actor. But personally, when I look at someone, I see none of that. Instead, I notice how they carry themselves, how they present themselves. I might note their hair color and height and if they’re lean or muscular, but other than that when I meet someone, I make note of their personality and who they are rather than simply how they’d like the world to see them. Once you understand how you handle introductions with real life people, you can apply this idea to your writing.

Of course, your characters are not you, and they will notice things you probably wouldn’t notice, but it’s your job to make sure they notice what they would see such as Marcus, the ex-Marine, taking note of the guards at the ballroom; Patrick, the hacker, noticing all the technology; and Olivia, the thief, identifying the valuable pieces throughout the room.

So, how do you enter a room? And when you meet someone, what do you first notice about them?

Now, step back, communicate with your characters, and figure out what they notice when they walk into a room or when they meet someone. And they won’t notice everything, and that’s okay. Not one person can notice everything (unless you have a superhero character), but that is why we have multiple characters, and we can get a bigger picture of the scene—if necessary—through the eyes of other characters.

As promised, here are the links to the previous posts I posted discussing scene setting and description:

Paint Pictures With Words

Movement With Description

Shifting Points of View (POV)

If you want to include in the comments a brief description of what you notice when you first walk into a room or when meeting someone for the first time, feel free to do so. It would be great to read!

Paint Pictures With Words

Show–don’t tell. That has been my motto for this blog. “But how do I know what to show? There’s so much! How am I supposed to describe every little detail?!” The good news is, no, you don’t have to describe every small detail. “But I want everyone to see it exactly like I do in my mind!” That is a noble undertaking but altogether impossible. When I was a younger writer struggling with my craft, I argued with a wiser author on this very point, and he put it simply, “No matter how hard you write, if you show your work to seven different people, they will all see it seven different ways. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

When I stepped back and calmed down, this was liberating.

In junior college, an English professor demanded every detail. He used an example of a piece describing a feast. Every food, drink, crumb, color, texture, sound, person, and action was described. He wanted our essay papers to be just as detailed. What do I remember of that picture painted? Nothing. I only recall long lists of jumbled words, but it wasn’t alive, and it wasn’t a picture.

When I discovered I didn’t have to write all that, I could breath, relax, and have fun.

When should you describe something?” Use description if only it is important to the story. I don’t care if Princess Agnes’ ball gown is made of silk, satin, or velvet with sparkles. I don’t care if it’s floor length with a train, ankle length, or even at her knees. I don’t care if it’s a pencil skirt hugging her curves, an A-skirt, or a big puffy skirt. Did she wear high heels or flats? I don’t care. All I care about is the color because that gives insight into her personality as well as sets a tone for the rest of the scene. All the other details can sneak in throughout the scene.

Is there ever a time to include such detail?” Of course—if only it’s important. For instance, say the ball isn’t going to have a happy ending because everyone is going to be taken hostage, so no one can leave the building. Now, let’s add the element that Princess Agnes is trained in martial arts, so she is not defenseless in this situation and chose her dress accordingly just in case of disaster. She wouldn’t wear a tight dress but would wear something that would free her movements as well as hide any knives she might have. It wouldn’t be too short or too long. And her shoes depends on her balance and confidence. If she can sprint and do a sidekick in heels, I applaud her, but it’s doubtful she would wear 5-inch stilettos. Again, all these details can slip in throughout the scene. There is no need to write her intro into the scene and take up two pages describing every detail of her dress and shoes.

Imagine when you’re writing a scene, it is shown like a movie. The more details you add, the slower the scene passes. For example, two men are walking down a hall with purpose, and when they turn a corner, they run into a new character. Now, you have the option of describing this new character from head to toe in the most profound details. However, when you do that, the ‘camera’ suddenly slows. If your other two characters are rushing through the corridor when they run into this character, how much sense does it make for them to halt and take note of everything about this new person? Most people wouldn’t notice much about him other than the fact that he is present, blocking the way, and whether he’s a threat or not. If he’s perceived not to be a threat, then there is no reason why the other two characters would linger long but rather nod in greeting and pass him by.

Just keep in mind, the more details you add, the slower the scene will pass, and it’s likely the reader will skip these block paragraphs.

I’m not worried about describing my character. I’m trying to describe the room—the setting.” It is vital to establish the setting of each scene before investing too much time in the scene, but there is a delicate balance. How much is too much, and how much is just enough?

Before you begin writing the scene, you must put yourself into it. Leave out the characters, the distractions, and the action. Imagine you’re a playwright, whose play is going to be performed for the first time on stage the following day. You can’t sleep, so you go to the theatre. It’s empty and dark, but the stage is set up for the morning rehearsals and later the actual performance. You wander through the props and gaze around at the wonder the world will see later.

This is where you need to be before you write the scene. Walk through the scenes, down those corridors, through the doors. What catches your eye? Does the rope fastened to the wall catch your attention and draw your gaze up, up, up to the crystal chandelier? Hmm, that gives you an idea, so you make note of that detail. Ignore how many steps the wide-sweeping stairs have where your protagonist, Princess Agnes, will walk down. Ignore the number of pillars lining the room—but note the way the shadows gather under the balcony. Note how the ceiling vaults but ignore how it is a dome style and not a cathedral ceiling. The windows too, they’re important, but don’t count every one of them.

These are the details Princess Agnes will notice when she enters the room, and through her eyes the picture will be painted.

But what if there’s one small detail that the character wouldn’t notice but is important for another scene?” Details significant to the story should be mentioned but without disturbing the flow of the scene or seeming out character. For instance, after Princess Agnes descends the stairs, she might walk past a table just as a random individual sets down a sealed letter then slips away. It will strike the reader as odd, but they will go along with it just as long as the letter is explained either later in the scene or later in the story.

If you want a very detailed description of a room, don’t create an ‘all-observant’ character that notes every little detail! In reality, that is impossible, and stories are supposed to be a reflection of reality. Not one person will be able to notice everything in a room. However, what you can do is have several different characters enter the ballroom. Let’s say you have an ex-Marine, a hacker, and a thief enter the ballroom together (yes, this scene suddenly became modern instead of medieval). The ex-Marine will notice the number and location of each bodyguard as well as their body build. By their stance, he might be able to identify their fighting style and if they have any military training. The hacker will notice the technological security as well as the models of the computer systems in the room. He’ll notice the different phones and even the fancy digital watches. The thief will make note of the jewelry and identify any rare pieces of art. She’ll see the original paintings on the walls, ancient statues around the room, and unusual artifacts. Alone, each character would see the room differently, but when we see the room through their eyes, we get a clearer and broader picture.

So that’s all? That’s it?” Well, I could go on a long rant about what makes good description easy to read, but that’s not my place. As a writer, you must discover your own style of writing description. Keep in mind what I said, apply it to what you already do, and see how it all unfolds. The only other piece of advice I can say is, keep it simple but poetic if possible. Movement description—not static.