Writing Tips

What writing fan fiction can teach you

When I started writing, back in 2004 or so (God, time flies, can you believe that it was 12 years ago?), I didn’t really have much to say in the realm of non fiction. To be honest, non fiction blogs back then written by girls my age were usually something along the lines of “I came back home, had soup, then played with my Barbie”.

Unreadable junk, basically.

Even though I love Instagramming my porridge these days, I was never delusional enough to think anyone cares about what I do day to day. But there was something else a girl like me, with quite some imagination but not quite enough skill, could do – write fan fiction.

That’s how my writing journey started.

I started with Harry Potter, and the storyline/writing/everything I created was just bad. The episodes were roughly 200 words long (and we’ve just reached 150 on this post), and I changed the storyline completely after a few chapters because the readers told me my original one was implausible. Bad choice – what I came up with to remedy that was what was actually implausible. But lesson learnt – your readers don’t always know best.

Then I moved on to writing about a, then very popular, Polish tv show about lawyers (which was one of the reasons I ended up at Oxford doing Law, but you can read about how that ended here). I actually stuck with it for around 2 years (2006-2008), writing over 300 episodes for various stories about the characters from that show. I absolutely loved it, even though some stories were better than others, it was still the most important, most enjoyable thing I did at that time. I pretty much wrote every day, straight after coming back from school. When I go back to this blog now (and it still exists, if you speak Polish, you can have a look), I can see how much my writing was lacking, but who cares. It was almost 10 years ago.

I then moved on to the hype of the hour – Twilight. Although I am slightly embarrassed to admit that, I think some of the stories I created during that period were the best I’ve ever written. When I sometimes go back to them, I still find them to be really good reads, even though I wouldn’t touch Twilight books themselves ever again. Definitely an enjoyable episode in my life, though. (Now I kinda regret I disposed of my “I don’t want a prince on a white horse, give me a vampire in a Volvo” T-shirt… It would have made for a great cover picture for this post).

The last stage of my fan fiction career was Gossip Girl. As you might know from the post about my favourite tv shows, Gossip Girl is one of my very favourite shows of all time. It was the first time I wrote anything like that in English, so the language was a bit clanky, and I found it a bit harder to put my thoughts on paper (or screen, rather), but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless. It also gave me a really cool pen pal, with whom I loved exchanging regular emails.

And then I stopped writing.

Well, not entirely. At that point, I have just entered high school, and my focus shifted from doing stuff I loved to getting into law school (which, as it turned out, I didn’t love). So I wrote essays, homework, university applications, emails. But I put my creative self to sleep, and I really regret it now.

The point of me telling you all this is that, without those 6 years of writing fan fiction, there wouldn’t be Arguably Honest. Of course, this blog is entirely non-fiction (at least for now ;)), but the practice, the skills, the ease of writing and lack of fear of putting it out there for the whole world to see – I owe it all to those 4 distinct periods in my life.

So right now, when I’ve reached a time in my life when I’m considering going back to writing fiction, I decided to offer you a little gift. What you do with this gift is up to you. But I want to share with you the things that writing fan fiction can teach you. What you can get out of it. How it can enrich you. And if you think writing about Twilight or Harry Potter is a bit silly, then just look at 50 Shades of Grey. Yes, it’s crap. But it was a Twilight fanfic and the author is making a bloody fortune.

It can help you wake up your creativity

If you put your writing to sleep for whatever reason, or if you always wanted to try your hand at fiction, but you never knew where to start, here’s your starting point. If you’re reading a book, and think of a way to improve a storyline, turn your computer on and start improving it. You think your favourite movie should have ended differently? Rewrite the ending! The thing with fan fiction, as opposed to writing, say, a novel, is that it is reactive, rather than proactive. You create it by reacting to something you’ve watched or read. Especially if it’s something you’re reading, your creativity is already turned on a little bit. Working off that is much easier than just sitting in a quiet room with an empty word document and thinking “ok, now I have to create something from scratch”.

gaelle marcel
Photo by Gaelle Marcel

You get to learn in a safe environment

The characters are already created, storylines have been started, relationships established. All you have to do is pick up where the author left it, et voila. I’d personally recommend, for your first fan fiction at least, to just carry on with the original storyline, adding to it, instead of changing stuff. Changing the characters’ personalities, or pasts is really exciting, but is also much, much harder. Enjoy the fact that someone has already laid you the groundwork (because that’s really the essence of fan fiction), and build on that. You will soon see that the longer you’re writing the more original characters and storylines there are in your stories. That’s when you might want to think of going it alone and creating an original story.

You can see if you enjoy writing 

Ok, I know, that’s not exclusive to fan fiction. But there is something about writing a blog that already assumes you like writing. And you don’t really face writing a whole damn book if you don’t know it for sure. Fan fiction is a bit of dipping your big toe in the pool instead of jumping right in. And you also see if you enjoy writing from time to time, or if you can actually write 15+ chapters of a fan fiction in a short period of time (though there are some great fan fics with many more chapters, like Breakfast at the Basses’, or Wide Awake). In 6 years I have written around 450 chapters of various fan fiction. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t enjoy writing.

You can learn to deal with criticism 

Readers is one thing almost guaranteed when you’re writing fan fiction – there will always be people looking for new stuff to read about shows that have finished or books that stole their hearts. However, there is no harsher critic than an avid fan who is not happy with what you did to their beloved characters. But don’t let it put you off writing. Facing the critics can teach you two amazingly valuable skills – dealing with unfavourable feedback and reasoning with it. The first can really help you improve your writing. Maybe there’a plot hole you didn’t notice? Or maybe your hero has gone so out of character that it’s making your story inconsistent? Readers are fantastic at spotting things like that. Sometimes, though, you will disagree with the critic. You can ignore them or… try convincing them your way is the right way. It might seem futile, but it is great practice for your debating and argumentative skills. It might one day come in handy when you’re asking your boss for a pay rise. ;)

You will learn to edit your work

Unless you want people to focus on your typos/grammar mistakes/incoherent syntax instead of the essence of what you’ve written, editing is a must. You can do it yourself, especially if your command of the language is near perfect. I recommend a ‘double edit’ method that I’m using for Arguably Honest – write -> leave for an hour -> edit -> leave for the night -> edit again -> publish. You can of course adapt it to your style of working – I like pushing posts out quickly, you might prefer keeping them ‘brewing’ for a bit longer. If you don’t want to do the editing yourself, I’ve a great option for you. The fan fiction world has adopted a phenomenal invention – beta readers. They’re kind of like book editors, but unpaid – basically people who enjoy reading fan fiction. They will read through your work for you, correct mistakes, point out plot holes. Could it really get any better? I used beta readers for both my Twilight and Gossip Girl fan fics. That pen pal I mentioned earlier? She was my lovely beta reader. I actually tried beta reading myself, but I have a rather unique syntax when I write in Polish, and I tried to edit my authors’ work to suit that – a disaster it was, I must tell you… You can find beta readers here.

You will understand how hard it is to write a good story

And, in the process, learn to appreciate your favourite writers’ work. It is actually easier to write a fan fiction on a bad show or a bad book, than on an amazing one. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but think about it. Amazing books, you can really just add to e.g. by writing a story set 10 years after the book ended. Take Harry Potter. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t dare meddle with the storylines in the book. I just couldn’t. But if you find nothing you can improve, it really shows you how amazingly written/made it is. On the other hand, something like Twilight? So easy to improve. I’ve literally re-written whole storylines there. Writing fan fiction will make you look at books in a completely new way. But it can also give you an ego boost – if you can improve a best selling author’s story line, maybe you’re actually a half decent writer yourself?

I really hope I convinced you to give writing fan fiction a shot. It’s a fantastic journey on which you can meet so many people who like the same show/movie/book/anime/game/etc. as you do. You will learn all the things I have just mentioned. But, most importantly, you will practice your writing. Because you can read Nobel prize winners’ books all day, you can read ‘how to become a bestselling author’ manuals, read blogs about writing. You can do all that. And you still won’t be half the writer you would be if you spent all that time actually tapping away at your keyboard. So take a dive and start writing. Or just dip a toe and get into fan fiction.

For some great examples of fan fiction, space to publish, inspiration and beta readers check out fanfiction.net.

Cover photo by Aaron Burden

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