I used to think that fan fiction was a lesser form of writing that was only practiced by those who were too lazy to come up with their own storylines and characters. It was a waste of time that could be better spent creating new material instead of rehashing already published stories. Then I started writing it myself.
I’m not going to argue that all fan fiction is great literature; I’ve read some incredibly maudlin, overdone stories on my occasional expeditions into the fan fiction world. Some writers seem to engage in fan fiction solely because it allows them to shove their favorite characters into erotic scenarios without any regard for the author’s intent or the characters’ compatibility. I’m not talking about this kind of harlequin romance fan fiction.
I’m talking about fan fiction that takes established story lines and characters, and creates something new with them. There are a few things writers can learn from writing fan fiction.
1. You learn how to identify character mannerisms and speech pattern
When I started writing my story, I realized that in order to write convincing fan fiction, you have to be able to ascertain the defining characteristics of characters and translate them into new scenarios. You can’t just copy the lines a character said in a book; you have to decide what characteristics comprise the character’s voice and then apply them to new dialogue.
This has honestly been one of the trickiest parts for me, since I’ve borrowed characters from half a dozen stories who all have their own distinct way of speaking. To make the story convincing, I have to jump from one writing style to the next, juggling vocal tics and accents while still maintaining a believable conversation. It’s been great practice, and has helped me hone my skills at creating interesting-sounding characters.
2. You learn how to craft interesting, but plausible scenarios.
This has been my favorite part of fan fiction writing. I get to take characters who have never encountered each other and then work out how they will interact with each other. Who will be more dominant? Which characters will get along, and which will rub each other the wrong way? Which characters will exert the most influence over a situation, and which will back down from a conflict?
I love it because, in my fan fiction story, I’ve taken characters from over twenty different stories and stuck them together. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and have very different personalities. Whenever I plot out the next scene, I have to consider what role each character would fall into if they were actually in this scenario. Their behavior patterns have already been established by their authors, so I can’t make them do things that would run counter to their personalities. There is a little room for lee-way. For example, over the course of the story, one of the more violent characters has started to mellow in response to those around him. Changes have to be plausible and gradual, just like they are in real life. We all have baseline personalities that strongly influence our actions. People rarely experience 180 shifts in behavior some kind of dramatic impetus. Therefore, when I plot out my story, I have to be mindful of how the characters would most likely react to events.
3. You learn how to create the unexpected.
Keeping in mind the importance of being realistic in your story-crafting, it is also important to surprise your readers. There is a delicate dance between consistency and creativity. While the characters need to act according to their personalities, your stories also have to offer up something new. They need to show a new side to the characters or at the very least highlight elements of their personas that are downplayed in their original stories. For example, one of the characters in my story is Gabriel Gray, the serial killer from the television show “Heroes”. In the series, you mainly see Gabriel’s jealous, power-hungry, insecure side. He kills people because they have abilities that he lacks. He is driven by the need to be accepted, and he believes that gaining power and eliminating the competition is the only route.
However, there are occasional glimpses of his protective side. He defends people, not for personal gain, but because he genuinely doesn’t want them to get hurt. Despite his flaws, he is still capable of forming emotional attachments, and he wants to protect the few people who matter to him. In my story, I brought out this side of his personality, making it the core value of his identity. Throughout the plot, he slowly shifts from an insecure, angry man, to someone who is willing to risk his own safety for the people he cares about. This shift is interesting because it is never fully realized in the tv series, but it is also plausible. It is surprising without being unrealistic.
When I started writing my story, I viewed it as a writing exercise. I was blocked on my novel, but I didn’t want to stop writing altogether. Instead of trying to hammer through my writer’s block, I shifted my creative energy towards fan fiction, where the stakes were much less intimidating. Now, whenever I get stuck on one of my projects, I spend some time adding to my fan fiction. It’s a great way to hone my skills without worrying about whether I’ll be able to sell the end product. There is no way I could publish this thing without being sued, so the pressure to please a publisher is off. I can sit back and let my imagination run free. Somehow, over the course of four years, this little experiment into fan fiction has turned into a 400 page novel, and I still have about two hundred pages to go. For once, I don’t see fan fiction as a waste of creative energy. It allows me to write a story that is just for me.