The following is a guest post from Hayley Zelda, who is a writer and marketer at heart. She’s written on all the major writing platforms and worked with a number of self-published authors on marketing books to the YA audience.
Whether or not to write fanfiction is an important question for many writers. On one hand, it might seem like an easy option that doesn’t require much skill. On the other, some people feel that writing fanfiction is a waste of time that could be better spent on original work. In this article, I’ll explain what fanfiction is, and help you decide if writing it is right for you.
What is Fanfiction?
Fanfiction is very similar to original fiction, except that the characters and settings are often based on an existing universe. Most fanfiction is based on TV shows, movies, or books. However, it can also be based on video games, anime, or even songs. To see some examples of fanfiction, you can look at:
- After (One Direction) – the top fanfic on Wattpad that later got adapted into a book and movie
- Poison in Paradise (Star Wars) – a multimedia fanfiction piece about Rey and Kylo
- My Immortal (Harry Potter) – one of the most famous fanfiction pieces ever, known to be the worst fanfiction ever written
Fanfiction is a participatory culture. It involves taking something that already exists and making it your own. It is a way for fans to add to the story. Fanworks are often recorded and shared among the fandom.
Get involved in the fandom
Considering writing fanfiction? Before you start penning those character studies, you need to learn about the fandom it’s based on. Take time to really get entangled in the fandom by joining discussion threads, posting in role play forums, commissioning art, and participating in group chats. By immersing yourself, you’ll become enamored by nuances you may not have noticed, which will influence your voice as an author. Note that you don’t want to just lurk, especially if you’re writing fanfiction for a fandom in which you aren’t a published author. Join conversations. Post comments. Add fanart to your favorites. Engage with the fandom and, more importantly, with the community.
Find a community to be active in. It doesn’t even have to be where other authors hang out. Get to talking. Post fanfictions on your own blog. Working with the fan community allows you to check whether you enjoy the fandom others enjoy. If it’s something you’re interested in discussing in your work, it also provides you everything you need to know about the subject matter. If, through all your interactions, you discover that the fandom isn’t a place you like, maybe it’s time to rethink your decision to write fanfiction. Fanfiction is about having fun. If you aren’t enjoying it, try other fandoms or try writing original works.
You can look into fanfiction sites like Commaful, AO3, or Fanfiction.net for great fanfiction communities to participate in. Tumblr and Amino Apps are great for general fandom groups.
Practice writing from new perspectives
Beginning writers often write fanfiction about the fandom they grew up with. But if you want to take your writing in exciting new directions, consider branching out. This doesn’t mean abandoning your first fandom — there’s nothing wrong with writing sequels to the stories you loved as a kid — but you should explore genres and series that might interest your current fandom. Try writing a Star Wars fanfic about the Ewoks, or a series about the Weasley twins’ adventures at Hogwarts. Then, when you move on from writing fanfiction, you’ll have a lot of different worlds to work with in your original stories.
Fanfiction is also a good way to explore genre fiction. Writing within a defined series means that your backstory is already established. When you don’t have to spend time deciding the history of your world, ou can focus on plot and character development instead. This can result in a more visually vivid story, or a more richly drawn novel. Fanfiction can quickly show you the kinds of gimmicks readers want, so it’s an excellent opportunity to try a few experimental storytelling and style techniques that might not work as well when starting from scratch.
Balance writing fanfiction with your own writing
As you weigh your options when it comes to writing fanfiction, it can be important to ask yourself whether you’re really interested in writing in a fandom, or if you’re doing it for less productive reasons. Are you drawn to the quality of the fanfic stories and worlds that you find there, or to the fandom’s source material? Are you drawn to the fandom as a way to relax? If you’re too engaged in any one fandom, then you’ll feel obligated to keep writing fanfiction for it while neglecting your original works. To that end, it’s important to make sure you’re writing in any fandom properly. Figure out where you want to innovate and where you want to stick to basic fandom rules. Show your fandom loyalty by doing justice to it, and yet try not to absorb too much of the fandom’s source material. That way you can ensure the fandom isn’t shortchanging your own original material.
If you ever find yourself feeling burned out on a particular fandom, step back from it. Find a place within it that you can claim as your own — perhaps an easier canonic idea that any writer could interpret in their own unique way. After all, even if you have some relationship to the source of a fandom, it doesn’t have to define your fandom writing. For example, while the major characters have a ton of fanfiction written about them already, writing about more minor characters like specific goblins will give you a lot more room to be creative.
Learn how to give and receive constructive criticism
Criticism is common in fandom, so it’s important that you learn how to make constructive criticisms of your own. When reading a fic, it’s easy to get caught up in the story, but it’s equally important to consider the technical aspects. Does the story use the correct tenses for the characters? Have you ever forgotten whose point of view you’re writing from? Are there too many adverbs, or too few details? Does the piece reflect the tone of the original work? When you finish the story, come back and read the critiques posted by other readers. Find out what they liked or didn’t like, and adjust your own opinions accordingly. Soon, you’ll be an experienced reader and a helpful critic.
The easiest way to improve your writing is to provide constructive criticism for other fanfiction authors. Clarifications, helpful tips, and warnings can all be indicated using special formatting, and nobody learns by being criticized directly. Volunteering your time to give constructive criticism can also help you become more comfortable with your own writing, because you’ll get used to tackling technical issues.
When you’re in a writing slump, turn to fanfiction as a form of experimentation. Give yourself permission to use tropes you’ve never touched before, and to try your hand at a writing style different from the way you express yourself. This will give you a chance to develop new skills that will come in handy when you’re writing your own characters. When you find a prompt or genre that’s particularly enjoyable, consider using it for future writing as well.
Build the foundation for a future original work
Even if you never publish the novel you spent years writing, writing fanfiction can help you develop the skills you need to become a novelist. Among those invaluable skills are storytelling, descriptive writing, and proofreading your writing. It can also help you develop relationships with people to whom you can showcase in your own original work. For example, if you write a fanfiction featuring Princess Peach and Mario, you can also introduce a few of your own characters, which allow you to practice character development and character building as well as potentially create characters you can use in your original works.
There is also the real temptation when writing fanfiction to just skip over the hard parts. Because movie, TV, book and game studios love to make spin-offs for their most famous characters or works, it can be tempting to simply write something that repeats what already happened — now with a twist! Or to simply use characters that you know and love and apply some different prejudices and appearance from the characters’ canonical looks. However, you can avoid this and actually further your writing skills by forcing yourself to work hard, even if it seems laborious or silly. Make every scene interesting and try to expand on the important relationships between the main characters. As you know more about the fandom, delve deeper into its subcultures and fan-created characters and the worlds alongside the standard ones. If you’re conflicted about whether or not it’s a quality work, ask yourself if it would be enough to get the story or characters published — if so, it’s quality fanfiction.
If you’re going to write fanfiction, go into it with the right attitude. Fanfiction is, at its core, a celebration of characters, and the creativity involved in writing them. Put those two elements together in the form of fanfiction, and you’ll be celebrating and exploring creativity in ways that might not be possible in “straight” writing. If you approach it with the right attitude, it can even be a gateway to original writing. In any form, storytelling is a great skill to have — so enjoy your fandom, and be the best fanfiction writer you can be.
A big thank you to Hayley Zelda for this post.
If you’re interested in writing a guest post for my site, feel free to contact me!
Ingmar Albizu says
Great post, Hayley. Very informative.
I will add some authors detest fanfiction. However, they should feel privileged fans relate to the material and want to make it their own. As you said, fanfiction is a participatory culture.
I would love if one day fans make fanfiction of my stories because it will mean the stories I created will live on. How many authors wish for passionate fans? (as long as they are not stalkers, of course).
As a kid who grew up creating my own comic book and Doctor Who adventures, I approve of fanfic.