I was first exposed to fanfiction when I was about 9 years old. I think it was Harry Potter fanfiction. I was then inspired to write my own. My first piece wasn’t long because I was only about a few sentences in before my sister pointed out that it was the exact same setting and plot as the one she had shown me earlier. I was caught red-handed in my first attempt at plagiarism at 9. I didn’t exactly have the best start at writing.
I have a bit of an addictive personality. When I find something that I like, I latch onto it and milk it for all its entertainment worth. One of the things that I was really interested in at 10 was mystery stories, primarily the Encyclopedia Brown series. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a series of mystery short stories that end with questions that you can answer using the clues in the story. The answers and explanation can be found at the back of the book. After reading those books and a few others from different authors such as Nancy Drew, I realised that I wasn’t satisfied with just reading. I wanted to write too. I wrote an original story with original characters using a format that was similar to the one used in Encyclopedia Brown. I even wrote biographies for my original characters even though I only used them for a 4-5 page-long story.
I tried to write fanfiction again when I was a teenager. I don’t even remember what they were about, but they were never more than 2 paragraphs long and they were BAD. I started to panic because I thought my writing skills were regressing from since I was 10 years old. The reason is simple in retrospect — what I wrote at 10 wasn’t fanfiction. It was using the same concept and format but it wasn’t the same characters. I never had to try to understand the existing characters because I never tried to write about them. I didn’t realise it then. Instead, I panicked and started avoiding fanfiction like the plague. That didn’t last long.
For the past few years, I sporadically dabbled in reading fanfiction. Well, I mainly read whatever appeared on my tumblr feed and nothing more. Recently, I decided to read this piece on two of my favourite characters in an anime and I thought that it was probably the best thing that I’d ever read online. The characterisation and character voices were spot on and I really felt like it could have been adapted as a spin-off series and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. I basically devoured all the other pieces that this author wrote and once I was done, I started looking for more. I started reading works based on other animes and eventually, I tried my hand at writing my own. At the point of writing this blog post, I’ve written 4 and they are online somewhere under a different name. And yes, that pseudonym will be following me to my grave. However, I would like to share some of my experiences with fanfiction and how it has helped to improve my writing for my original work.
1. Consistent Personalities
This is one of the things that I have a lot of difficulty with. When I write, there will always be a point where all the personalities will blend together into this hive mind. With fanfiction, I already know the characters from the source material, and it’s really obvious when their personality has suddenly changed to become like another character or a combination of the two. I’ve gotten into the habit of constantly asking myself, “Are you sure they would do/say that?” Since I don’t have source material for my original work to refer to, I go back to reading their character biographies and try to imagine how they would respond to a situation.
2. Establishing Context
Say a character has a prominent personality trait, like a violent streak, that is shown frequently in their daily life. Once I’ve established that, I have a tendency to make that the only way they respond to similar situations. Of course, this isn’t something that should be done. Normal functioning humans don’t react to every vaguely similar situation the same way. If a person gets yelled at by someone they dislike, they may yell back. If they get yelled at by someone they love, they may cry instead. When you write about a character that you’ve already seen deal with a variety of situations, it’s much easier to decide how they will react. While this doesn’t exactly help me for my original work, it at least reminds me that I need to consider how my characters are affected by the information and feelings that they have, rather than make all their reactions knee-jerk.
3. Taking Criticism in Stride
As far as I can remember, I haven’t gotten any criticism for anything that I’ve posted on this website. It’s probably because the few people that do visit don’t feel the need to comment. However, when you’re writing fanfiction, the likelihood of people commenting is a lot higher because you’re writing about a universe and characters that they already care deeply about. Why else would they read fanfiction? Some of the comments are really nice, even if they are criticising your writing. But as with anything, there will always be a few bad apples. I’ve received comments that were just plain rude and insulting without any explanation as to why they were so offended by what I wrote. The first time it happened, it hurt… for about 5 minutes. I realised that they weren’t criticising me, they were criticising my work. If anything, I’m grateful that someone even read my work and took the time to comment on it. It’s a lot better than having my work out there in a void, not evoking any reaction.
4. More Views =/= Better Writing
Out of the 4 pieces I have online, I worked really hard on 3 of them. The remaining one, I wrote on a whim and barely did any editing before posting it. I’m sure if I showed all 4 to a writing teacher, they probably wouldn’t think that the latter was the best written. Oddly enough, that was the most viewed and received the most likes and comments. I was so confused by this when it first happened. I guess the audience likes what the audience likes. At the end of the day, as much as I want to think that I’m writing for myself, I’m actually writing for an audience. While you shouldn’t care so much about getting positive reactions that your work veers into pandering territory, your audience is still an important consideration.
5. There are just so many relationship dynamics to explore
I can’t even begin to list out a comprehensive list of all the relationship dynamics that I’ve come across in fanfiction. There are a lot to choose from and a lot that I can potentially use in my own original work. I’m not really fond of a lot of them, but it’s still fun to read and find out what other people appreciate. One thing I’ve always struggled with was writing romantic relationships. Writing fanfiction has helped me to deal with that because I can practice without having to rewrite completely new characters.
6. If your characters can’t shine in any alternate universe that you can think of, they probably aren’t fleshed out enough
I love it when characters I love are thrown into the strangest alternate universes and it’s still believable that they would act in the ways that the fanfiction writer described. I’m personally of the belief that if you have difficulty writing your characters in many different situations and alternate universes, you haven’t understood your characters enough. They should still feel like the same people even if their context changes because they would still retain their core personality. I’ll definitely think about this when I’m writing my original work.
Writing fanfiction is a great way to practice writing without the burden of having to create new settings and characters. If you post your work online, it’s also a great way to acclimatise you to the reality of being a “real” writer. I highly suggest you write under a pseudonym. One of the reasons why I did that was so that whatever I wrote under that name wouldn’t be attached to my real name, and therefore wouldn’t change the way people view me or my original work. Ultimately, writing fanfiction is what you make of it. If you decide to start or have already started, I wish you all the best!