Fanfiction. You may have heard of it, you may have even partaken in it, or (just as likely) you have no idea what it is. Fanfiction is exactly as it sounds—it’s you as a fan of something, writing a fiction about it. You can write Fanfiction about anything: do you love a TV show so much that you can see new storylines in your own head? Do you appreciate a book’s characters so much you want to see what they’d be like in a different setting? Do you want to play in somebody else’s lands but copyright stops you along the way? Fanfiction. That’s the answer.
I wrote fanfiction when I was seventeen, through to about twenty. Many of my friends write fanfiction, even now, as it keeps them sharp and engaged with other writers. Incidentally, the most famous fanfiction is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ which started out life as a Twilight Fanfiction and then was tweaked to make it what it is (holding off on my opinions of the actual text, as I’ve only read snippets of lines). If you think back though, there’s been many cases of fanfiction writing being published. If you continue a deceased author’s work, you’re writing fanfiction. If you’re re-writing a classic story, you’re writing a fanfiction. ‘Four Children and It’ by Jacqueline Wilson, ‘Austen Land’ by Shannon Hale, any Enid Blyton book written post Enid Blyton. All of these are merely fanfictions that someone has been allowed to defeat the copyright (given special permission).
Now, of all my ramblings, why am I so adamantly telling you this? Because, my dear readers, I believe we should all start out by writing fanfictions. Why? Because it will ultimately make us better writers. When we start out we can appreciate what makes a good character, we can even create the basics of one, but to truly understand how to write characters we have to know them inside and out. The best way to do that is by characters we’ve seen and read multiple times, who we already know inside and out because of another writer’s successes.
During my time writing fanfiction I got to know the process of developing characters. Because it was in a fantasy world, I got to learn the process of developing worlds that people love and wish to escape to. I became an editor, helping many people on the platform I was on help reach their story’s potential. I became involved in the writing world, and got to know many people across many different countries and continents who all shared the same passions as me: the show/book and writing.
Fanfiction is also useful for another reason. As well as growing you as an author, it connects you to an audience. You learn to take criticism, you learn to pick yourself up, you learn to accept praise. If you become a popular enough fanfiction writer, you can then more easily sell your own original stories to them. You’ve gathered yourself an audience. Yes, admittedly, an audience that’s there because they want to read stories based on the shared book/story you love, but one that you can persuade to love your writing style; to love your work.
When writing fanfiction, you can go with any genre. You’re not stuck writing romance, if it’s a romance (remember somebody took ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and made ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, if that’s not fanfiction in a nutshell, I don’t know what is). You can do anything with fanfiction. If you want to change the plot of the original story, or change one of the characters, or the details of any of the characters—write an Alternate Universe (AU) story. If you want to take an episode of ‘Friends’ and make it into a thriller, then do it.
Do you know what’s so amazing then? If you spend your time developing your skills, using the building blocks somebody has already laid out for you, you can then start creating your own building blocks. You can understand the effort it takes to create all the different elements that make up a book. You can take your fanfictions, later on, look through them, pick out all the elements you like and write an original piece mixing the two pairs of building blocks together. If you’re very, very lucky you could be able to write fanfiction professionally (again, if the copyright police deems it so).
Does it feel slightly dirty, like your cheating by not coming up with your own original ideas? Sometimes, yes, but most of the time, no. It’s an easy way to teach yourself how to write, and for me (mostly to do with the website I did it on) I learned by reading other people’s work and editing some others. There’s plenty of websites you can use, some better than others. I know some people who do it through fanfiction.com, some who do it through writer’s apps, some who write on their own blog (hey there!), some who do it on specific shows fanfiction sites (fimfiction.net, being the main one I know), even some who do it through social media. My friend, the main one who continues to write fanfiction, does all of hers through Tumblr and she often collaborates with other writers through the site.
And on the fanfiction sites, you can often find even more. Due to my (very small) success on my site, I had people offering me artwork for front covers of my stories. All of these artists where better than I was, and the relief at not having to spend hours labouring over my own covers was amazing (unfortunately, I do all of the artwork on my blog though, hence why certain posts take so long to come out).
I even met poets, like myself, who loved to write poetry about the shows/books we loved (incidentally, poetry is the easiest way to get through copyright, I think). You can choose anything, even real people (though I often think that’s a tad creepy, especially if they’re alive) and have fun with it. Because that’s the word of the day with fanfiction: Fun. Have fun, mess around a bit and see what you come up with. You’ll be surprised how much better a writer you’ll be by the end of it.