Building on fanfiction

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Well, so far today all I’ve managed to write is about 700 words of three different fanfictions, so I thought I’d talk about that for a bit. I know a lot of people who say they can only write fanfiction and not their own original stories, but I don’t believe that for a moment. The skills and confidence built up in fanfiction are absolutely applicable to your own writing – and not just by filing off the serial numbers, 50 Shades style. It’s just a matter of knowing how to make the transition. So this one’s for the fanfiction writers who want to write their own, original works.

Firstly, there is the filing-off-the-serial-numbers option. That’s the term used for writing about an existing property, then changing names, locations and details just enough for it to dodge copyright laws, basically. For this reason, it’s generally not advised to take this route, no matter how far from the original subject matter you veer. A Harry Potter fanfiction might be easy enough to alter in this way; a few names, a few spells, and a few locations altered, and you could be writing about any magical school attended by three friends, one of whom once punched an evil sorcerer in the face. Other fandoms are harder to convert – a large group of friends trying to destroy a magical bracelet by throwing it in the sea is always going to raise suspicions among Lord of the Rings fans. The main problem with this, though, is that it really doesn’t let you explore the full extent of your creativity. Working within someone else’s framework can be fantastic, certainly, and it does strip down some of the less exciting bits of the writing process (thinking of names, anyone?) – but it robs you of the freedom to create your own framework, your own unique world.

Another way to approach original writing when you’re used to fanfiction is to create a handful of characters first. Focus on their appearances, their characteristics, their relationships to one another if relevant. Maybe a couple of settings. Dream up a mundane, boring storyline you’d never want to use. Then take that as your canon, and what-if the living daylights out of it. What if character A was a boy instead of a girl? What if characters D and E broke up? What if character C moved away to strike out on their own? What if character B wished themself out of existence and was forced to watch how their loved ones functioned without them? What if all those characters were stuck in a lift together, or character A walked in on a passionate affair between B and D? The ‘what if’ is one of the mainstays of fanfiction (the other is ‘I don’t like that, I’m going to fix it’) and it can serve you well with your own original characters, too.

One thing to remember when you’re used to writing fanfiction (which is usually shared freely online) is that your original fiction, unless you have no intention of publishing it elsewhere, should not be online and therefore won’t reach readers until such time as it does get published. Even if you do put it online, it won’t have the guaranteed built-in readership (other fans) that fanfiction does. This is a mixed bag; it means there’s no pressure to get the next chapter online before your reviewers take up their torches and pitchforks and come for your head, but it also means there’s no reassuring *ping* of reviews into your inbox as people let you know what they think of your work. There are no ‘flames’, but there are no great accolades, either. You’re free to work on your story in private, without the pressure of readers seeing your early drafts, but you do need to get someone to read through it eventually. Here, fanfiction writers may actually have the advantage; before I started putting calls out for beta readers on my novel, I approached a couple of fellow fanfiction authors I’ve become good friends with and asked them to beta it as they would any other story I’d written.

The really big, important step that you need to take in order to transition from fanfic to original fic – and let me be the first to assure you that taking up one doesn’t mean abandoning the other – is to stop being afraid. Stop being afraid that your ideas aren’t good enough, stop worrying that the words won’t come, stop writing yourself off as useless before you’ve even begun. If you’re really not happy with something you write, nobody ever has to see it. But if you can write fanfiction – if you’ve even once posted a story and thought ‘yes, I have made a good thing’, or been told your fanfic is amazing by a fellow fan – you can write fiction. You really can.

Give it a try, and see how it goes.

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