A few weeks ago, I blogged about my ignorance of the thriving world of fan fiction writing. As an editor, blogger, and aspiring novelist, pretty much all my spare time is devoted to those three things, and oh yeah, trying to squeeze in a family life. But I’d run across some fan fic doing my bloggy duty for WU, and I was mightily impressed, if not by the quality, then the sheer quantity of fan fic out there.
What was it, I asked myself, that drew writers into spending hours of labor devising stories about people and situations that came out of some other writer’s head?
So I asked you, our readers, if anyone wrote any fan fic, and why. The responses varied, but they all came down to one thing: the feedback on writing was virtually instantaneous. If any of you have been reading Jasper Fforde’s interview (below), you know that it’s darn near impossible to get anyone but your mom and best friend to read your work. But fan fic offers a forum for people to post work and get crucial information on the response their writing evokes in readers.
“I had already started a few fiction projects, but it was really nice to get the feedback on this story,” said Jennifer Shew, who wrote a short piece based on the t.v. show Roswell. “Most of it was pretty enthusiastic, though I had to take that with a little bit of salt because I knew that most of the fans would be enthusiastic about anything written in the fandom. But yes, I had a few close friends who had really insightful comments and if they didn’t like something, they let me know. One of them even helped me figure out the ending. The main thing I liked about writing the story was that so many people wanted me to finish it, and they would tell me so, so I had an impetus to finish, which is my problem with the other fiction I write. I guess I have somewhat typical author’s arrogance in which I think that I write pretty well, but it’s nice to be validated.”
Secondly, people may have started writing fan fic as a lark, but it quickly progressed into a serious commitment.
“I had a really positive experience with feedback from readers,” said Lacy Boggs. “It was so amazing to get these rave reviews every week — I was churning out a chapter a week (2,500-5,000 words!) just so I wouldn’t disappoint my ‘fans.’ I got a few flamers and lame comments, but mostly, it was easy to tell that they hadn’t actually read the thing, or hadn’t gotten past the first page.”
Finally, fan fic offers an opportunity to develop skills and learn craft in a relatively risk-free environment.
“It also really pushed me as a writer,” Lacy said. “I wouldn’t say that the novel itself is some of my best writing, but I have several short fan fics of which I am INCREDIBLY proud, and I got to work on a collaborative project of which I am also quite proud. Getting feedback every week, writing all the time — it all made me a much better, stronger writer. It was excellent practice, if you will. A lot of authors I’ve heard speak talk about having to write a practice novel; maybe that fan fic was mine.”
“For me, learning to plot was a real struggle,” non-fiction writer Courtney Hunt said. “By borrowing someone else’s characters, I was able to plot and craft a novella and teach myself how to plot. I ‘published’ this novella on a fanfiction website and received tons of incredibly helpful reviews. It was like having an online critique group. It really encouraged me to go on and complete on my original work.”
I decided to give it a whirl. I found a smallish fan site and wrote a short story based on the characters of a t.v. show and posted it. Since it was anonymous, I let the story be as wacky as I wanted while still maintaining the integrity of the characters and my craft.
Within minutes, I had comments saying they liked my work and please post more. Wow! I thought. That’s incredible. It was indeed a rush. People read my writing, liked it, and more importantly, wanted more. It gave me the boost of confidence I needed for writing my novel, because the feedback told me that I was a semi-competent writer who could write pleasing fiction. It was also fun.
I’m definitely going to write more fan fic in the future. The great strength of it is you’re borrowing characters and situations already established so you can concentrate on moving the plot forward. You can play around with genres, or write in a style you normally wouldn’t. It can open you up creatively, if you can keep yourself from spending time on it that you should be spending on your novel.