Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fan the flames of your writing with fanfiction

Good morning, writers. I'm coming to you live from my kitchen table where I'm wolfing down a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats, sipping my coffee, and checking out Archive of Our Own, a fanfiction (FF) site. This has become my new morning routine.

Last month, I wrote a post about fandoms and how writers could learn something about what makes fans passionate about stories. This month, I'm going to lightly to skim the topic of fanfiction and why authors might want to participate. I say skim because one could literally write a book on this stuff (not me though, I have too many projects I'm juggling).

I just started writing FF for two fandoms, one based off a television show, the other off a popular series of books. At first, I wasn't going to do it because I'm up to my eyeballs in half-done writing projects. I have two manuscripts and a short story I'm working on -- all at the same freaking time. But then I started reading the FF on AO3 and it inspired a few ideas I had. I don't know if it's the writer in me, or the fan, or a combination of both, but I can get real meta about stories. I can't tell you how many times my husband and I would watch an episode of Mad Men and I would go on and on about Don's story arc or Joan's scene or wonder aloud why Matthew Weiner chose to have Peggy say that. My husband, the engineer that he is, watches TV strictly for entertainment. But I digest TV, movies, and books for entertainment AND knowledge on story craft. I also know that writers can be both purposeful and arbitrary creatures. We don't always have a reason for what we do. Since I can't ask Matthew Weiner or John Wells why they do the things they do, I choose to fill in those blanks myself with FF.

So why would established authors want to try their hand at FF?

First, FF allows authors to break out of a rut and experiment with voice and narrative style. If you always write in first person, write FF (first person is not really done there).

Second, writing is a muscle that authors need to exercise. But it's not always easy to work on your stuff everyday. Sometimes, writing has to marinate. If I feel like I can't get to my manuscript because my kids are too distracting, I'll write a piece of FF, roughly 1K-2K words in length, and upload it to AO3. [I have to say the readers on AO3 are super nice. I get lovely comments about my work. The criticisms are few and everyone is so appreciate of the writing. It certainly helps my deflated ego.] I've written for the day, added to my 10K hours and all that, and contributed to a community. I feel good about life.

Third, writing FF allows writers to work within the confines of existing characters. It's great practice for working with character voice, mannerisms, and motivation. Especially if you're working in a TV fandom because viewers see that character, notice that he thumbs his nose often, or bites his lip, or wears the same hoodie all the time. You need to work that into your FF piece in order to remain true to the character. I've made a point now to incorporate more mannerisms into my original work.

Fourth, and this is personal to me, FF scratches an itch. In television, viewers can pick up with characters in the middle of the action whereas in books, authors tend to flesh out scenes, provide backstory. But in TV, a lot of that is glossed over in favor of time. When I write FF, I like to compose short pieces that fill in those gaps. It's cathartic. What were those characters doing before we got to this point? I'll write it.

The bottom line is that writers write. Personally, I can't always be hyper-focused on my original work. I like branching out into FF or blogging or (at some point) screenwriting. But FF is a lot of fun for me. It gives me joy to see beloved characters live on, or get justice (as the case may be in one fandom). Also, I'm contributing to the community. It's neat to see how fans interact with art.

Do you write fanfiction? Do you now want to? Sound off in the comments.


Mary Fan said...

Great advice! Sometimes you just need to get those writing juices going in a pressure-free way :-)

Brenda St John Brown said...

I feel like the first series I wrote could be classified as FF, inspired by Twilight. I wouldn't have called it that at the time b/c I really didn't even know what FF was, but the story line was VERY close and definitely resolved some issues I had with the original story.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I've never actually written any, but I've had solid ideas for a "Forever Knight" sequel series and a revisionist version of the "Star Wars" prequels. I know there's nothing I can do about the "Star Wars" ones, except maybe do fanfic, but I'm holding out hope that someday I'll be able to pitch "Foreverer Knight" to a studio.

Jonathan Schramm said...

What a great post, Kimberly! I'm totally going to go check out AO3 right now. I've never written any fan fiction, but I always hear those stories about 50 shades of gray being twilight fan fiction-- probably the most famous piece of fan fic out there...

This brought up a thought for me: I think writing fan fic for an established author is kind of like an established band playing a cover song versus an original. Sure you're using someone else's stuff, but you're putting your own spin on it. Thanks again for sharing!

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