A great many bloggers I enjoy and admire have been talking about fanfiction in the last few months. I’ve been quiet on this topic for the most part, even when I really want to jump in, because I know very well I’m biased. I said it way back in my first post: my very first fumblings in writing were all fanfiction.
Fanfiction gets a bad rap. At times, it deserves this. If the only fanfiction you’ve ever read was “My Immortal” (warning, have booze on standby for that one, my friends.) then yeah, you’re going to think it’s dumb. But there are people who put real effort and thought into their fanfiction.
These kinds of fanfics have four things in common: They respect the style of the original work, they use the world as a scaffold and not a crutch, they grow the characters, and they use English well.
What I’ve always found interesting is that many of the same principles apply in original fiction, so today I’m going to compare those principles and how they are applied in each aspect of writing.
Respect of Style
In fanfiction, this means that an author tries to take the writing or ambiance of the original work and put into their derivative. Unless the author is going for comedy, they don’t write a Dark Souls fanfiction in a tone as sugar sweet as Disney movies. While this is somewhat subjective, a fanfiction written in the same style as it’s original will almost always trump one written in an Alternate World.
In original fiction, this means respecting your genre. There’s something to be said for genre breaking, but at the same time mislabeling your writing is akin to mislabeling the mayonnaise. Reaching for vanilla pudding and getting mayonnaise would make anyone cranky, so if you’re going to write a romance novel, it needs to have some romancin’ going on. If you’re in the fantasy genre, something fantastic had better be happening.
Strong Use of World
In fanfic, this means the author knows what the world is. They have studied it more extensively than “I read it once a while ago”. Now, I’m not saying that to write a good fanfic you need to know every little detail, but the world should be familiar to you, and thus easy to access through the fanfiction. It also means that the world is used to tell the story, and not be the story.
In original fiction, it’s the same thing, almost exactly. We want and need characters, yes, but in a way the world should be it’s own character. We should understand it well enough by the end of the story to give a basic run down of its characteristics. Maps are helpful, but they aren’t everything. How big is it? Are there many different land forms? What’s the weather like? My rule of thumb, actually, is to give an audience enough that writing a fanfiction would be easy and pleasurable, but avoid textbook numbers at all costs. That means no “the population is X, the export is Y and the greatest import is Z.”
Proper Use of English Language
This is a no brainer on both counts. Writing has rules for a reason. When we write with the rules, readers can sink into the world. When we break the rules, readers spend too much time working out what we’re trying to say.
In fanfiction, you take a ready made character and then put them through trials and joys in order to change them in some way. In original fiction, you create a character, and then put them through trials and joys in order to change them in some way. Notice how the concept ran together after a little while? This is the most important shared principle of fanfic and original writing. In the end, both stories, and indeed, all stories, require change. Whether you learn to orchestrate that change in fanfiction or original fiction, it’s up to you.
These four principles, once mastered in fanfic, can be fairly seamlessly transferred to original fiction. There’s a lot of other hairy stuff to get through when striking a path into original fiction realms, such as world and character building from the ground up, but while fanfiction gets it’s bad rap from fumbling attempts at characterization and plot (and a dose of pretty-much-unethical publishing) it has it’s place and it has it’s uses.
What do you think? Are you a fanfiction fan? Did you cut your writing teeth on original or fan fiction?
Edit: If you found your way here through Freshly Pressed, welcome and thank you for coming! Here on the blog we write articles like this one, provide updates on our forthcoming books (see sidebar), and write a lot of flash fiction. If you’d like to keep track our facebook is here, and our twitter is here. Again, thank you for coming!