Alright, I’ve got a confession to make. I write fan fiction. *hangs head in shame* Yes, even though I have eight finished original novels under my belt and at least a dozen waiting in the wings, I occasionally indulge in the Turkish delight that is fan fiction. I know, I know, how could I stoop so low, right? Fan fiction isn’t “real” writing, after all. It’s fluff writing. It’s stealing other people’s characters and making them do things that their real creator would never have them do. It’s a hair’s breadth away from plagiarism, right?
Eh, maybe. But I happen to believe that writing fan fiction is one of the most useful writing exercises out there.
Okay, let me explain. When you write fan fiction you are, in essence, practicing the fine art of mimicry. To keep true to the characters, setting, and situation that you love you have to work hard. If you don’t duplicate the personalities and traits of the pre-created characters you’re trying to write about then you lose the feel for the original work. If you don’t stay true to the world that someone else has built then your fan fiction falls apart. In order for fan fiction to work you have to stick to a pre-established set of rules and conditions. Yeah, sure, maybe in your story Hermione hooks up with Draco, but in order for that to work you have to operate within the bounds of who Hermione is and who Draco is. The tension of that sort of fan fiction pairing comes from elements that J.K. Rowling has already created. Or if you write yourself onto the Enterprise as a 20th century teenager who is somehow transported into the future, you have to maintain the integrity of the Star Trek universe. *cough* Not that I would know anything about that. *shifty eyes*
Yep, I have always considered writing fan fiction as an author comparable to practicing scales as a musician. You aren’t going to get on stage and perform scales. You aren’t going to sell Harry Potter fan fiction. But if you want to master the art of playing your instrument you have to spend hours on those scales. And if you want to hone your craft as a Writer then you need to practice maintaining the integrity of characters and fictional worlds and playing with plot, tension, and pace.
Fan fiction is a terrific way to do this. You don’t have to put a lot of energy into coming up with a premise or creating three-dimensional characters. That part of the exercise is already done for you. What you do need to do in fan fiction is stay true to what you already have. Heck, what you need to do in your own original writing is to stay true to what you already have. When it comes to creating original fiction that act of creation is one of the trickiest parts. It’s easy to create flat characters and half-baked worlds. That’s why it’s important to play with something that is already very, very good in order to get a feel for how it all works. Same thing with sports. If you want to improve your skill you play against someone better than you.
One of the very first things I wrote waaaaaaaay back in the day was a silly little Indiana Jones fan fiction. I think I was in 5th grade. I was obsessed with Indiana Jones. Three movies (at the time) wasn’t enough, so I wrote myself another one. But in order for it to be satisfying I had to write Indiana Jones as Indiana Jones. He wasn’t my character. I learned a lot about how to keep a character true to itself by writing that story. Another fan fiction I learned from was when I rewrote the ending of Labyrinth. Aside from the fact that I was just entering puberty and had a serious hormonal obsession with David Bowie’s pants (and if you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I mean) I hated the way the movie ended. I wanted Sarah to stay in the Labyrinth world, so I had her forget the words to the poem, had time run out, and had Jareth make a deal with her that if she stayed and married him then Toby could go home. I had to play within the rules that had already been established for the story, keeping the personalities of the characters and the world they inhabited intact. … Man, now I want to go back and finish that fanfic!
I also rewrote Wuthering Heights, because that has got to be the stupidest excuse for a classic love story that ever existed! I mean, poor Heathcliff was just a love-starved lost soul whereas Cathy was a bitchy heart-breaker who wanted everyone to love her and only her. I mean, come on!
Anyhow, I still write fan fiction. Usually about characters in BBC historical mini-series’. It’s my way of making the stories turn out the way I want them to. It’s something I do to cheer myself up when I’m in a bad mood (like yesterday – Lark Rise to Candleford fanfic! Woot!) It’s also my way of rolling up my sleeves and dissecting characters, settings, and plots that I know work. It’s practice. I see no harm in taking stories apart and putting them back together in a different way. But I rarely show them to anyone. The best part is, I can do it all without guilt.
So get out there and write yourself some Lord of the Rings fanfic! Hook Harry up with Draco! … Um, no, actually, don’t do that. I am scarred for life by some nasty Harry Potter fanfic I never should have read with some incredibly inappropriate shipping. But go ahead and get your Doctor Who groove on! Why not. (That just reminded me that I wrote an entire Torchwood fanfic story incorporating a friend of mine as a Christmas present to her. She loved it! Christmas is only 3½ months away so get cracking!) Have some fun and learn something too.