and don’t let anyone tell you different
Let’s face it. Teen writers tend to get looked down on a lot.
Parents don’t always understand. They see their teen holed up in their room, hunched over a keyboard or a notepad and assume they are up to no good, playing some brain rotting game or something else. Strangely, they can assume that the act of writing itself is the brain rotting activity, as if that makes sense. They think “at your age” you should be thinking about your future and doing something more immediately productive.
That’s fair enough on one level. Their job is to prepare you to have a future, after all. But some parents never stop to consider that, maybe, writing is your future. I saw one girl whose father, after seeing her art, stabbed his finger at it and said, “You will never sell this,” as if that should have been her primary concern. I felt a part of her soul die from across the room.
I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds on this, but we have a bias in this culture against play. This includes writing and other “frivolous” activities. We think that if something isn’t physically productive then it isn’t worth doing. The reality is that it’s through play that we make sense of the world around us. And for those of us who write, the cathartic scratching of pen on paper is the play by which we make sense of it.
And your peers often aren’t much better. I don’t know, maybe kids are kinder now than when I rode my dinosaur to school. But I remember when one of my classmates found a story I was writing. For an already bullied boy, the ribbing I took put me off writing for years.
Teachers and other professionals tend to have a problem with fanfic because they think it doesn’t actually teach you anything about becoming a professional writer. Again, as if that should be your primary concern. But it’s a wrong assumption to begin with, as I will go into shortly.
Of all the forms of writing you could choose, fanfiction seems to be at the bottom of the list for respect. For parents it’s just childish make believe. For your peers it’s just nerdy stories about spaceships and flying blue boxes. It’s not given much more respect in the mainstream publishing industry, either.
But if you’re serious about your writing there are several very good reasons why you should ignore all the naysayers and focus on this under-appreciated form of literature.
The first reason is practise.
If you’re serious about your writing then what you need most of all right now is practise. You need to dive in the deep end and just start writing. Write whatever you like. Write about everything and lots of it. And if fanfic makes that easier, then go for it.
The form you learn in English class is great. I’m not dismissing that. But for a professional writer that’s only the beginning of the journey. The kind of English you learn in classes has its limits. It’s designed to give you a solid foundation so you can communicate technical information in a work environment. So you can build a resume and covering letter or write a memos and emails. It’s good for what it is, but if you want to take your skills to the next level you need to level up yourself. And that means practise. It means taking your work and putting it out in front of an audience for critique and support.
Fanfiction is a great, low risk way of doing that.
When you write fanfiction, you are part of a fandom. If you publish on a website like fanfic.net or AO3 you are publishing to that fandom. These communities are usually fairly close knit, active and eager to welcome newcomers. They also provide advice and feedback on your work that is usually very supportive and encouraging.
Just remember not to feed the trolls. Every community has them.
Along with practise, support is what you really want right now. You need to surround yourself with a community that will support and encourage your writing. Fanfic communities, like those that exist on fanfic.net, are great for this.
I remember when I was writing one of my stories, a crossover called “Indiana Jones and the Eternal Crypt,” one piece of criticism I received was that one of my chapters was a bit slow. He also said that he liked my other chapters but this one was just a bit slow for him and he was looking forward to the story picking up in the next chapter.
This was good advice for me. It reminded me of two things. You shouldn’t bog down the pace of your story for anything. It also told me that if you can hook a reader within the first few chapters, which I had at this point, a reader will forgive a dip in the pace for the promise of a pickup on the other side. Just don’t count on that as a strategy.
Learn about characters and plots
For young or new writers, learning to write by crafting fanfiction is like a child learning to draw by tracing. When children learn to draw by tracing they aren’t learning any of the higher forms of the art that might make them a world class artist later. But they are learning.
They are learning how to hold the pencil. What the scratch of pen on paper feels like. How to draw the basic curves and forms of their favorite artwork. Eventually they don’t need to trace and they can replicate the forms on their own. Then they move beyond mere replication to creating original artwork. The same is true of fanfiction.
When writing fanfiction you don’t need to worry about developing characters, worldbuilding, plot, themes, structure, story arcs, etc. For the most part, these things are done for you. If you’re part of a particular fandom you should already be familiar with the characters and worlds lore of that fandom.
Developing your own unique stories requires you to think intricately about the character, worldbuilding, politics, geography and other details of the world you’re creating. Fanfiction can help you train your brain to think in those terms because you’re piggy backing on a world that already exists. Once you understand the structures and patterns these worlds are based on you can branch out into your own unique fiction.
Serialized fiction, like that in TV, books and movies, tend to follow certain patterns in their stories. These story structures tend to carry over from episode to episode. You can use the story structure, that you are already familiar with as part of that fandom, to give a boost for your own writing. One example of a serialized story structure that’s very predictable is almost every episode of the Power Rangers.
- At the beginning of the episode the rangers are faced with some moral dilemma that divides the group.
- The villain of that particular series or season attacks [INSERT NAME OF GENERIC SLEEPY TOWN HERE].
- The rangers attack the boss’ minions and defeat them.
- The boss sends a monster to attack them which often exemplifies and exacerbates the moral dilemma at the start of the show.
- The rangers defeat the monster and the boss makes the monster grow to the size of a building. Because… Japan.
- The rangers transform into their Zord phase and defeat the monster.
- The defeat of the monster brings catharsis and resolves the moral dilemma introduced at the start of the show.
The great part is that, once you understand the tropes of your particular fandom, you don’t need to rigidly stick to them. You can bend them and see what happens. What if the Zords are broken and the Rangers need to get up close and personal? What if the Boss loses control of the monsters and needs to team up with the rangers to stop it? What if defeating the monster fractures the team more instead of resolving the moral dilemma at the beginning of the program? In this way you can also learn how to subvert expectations in fiction in a way that is safe. And the community will let you know with encouraging feedback how well your subversions hit the mark.
Explore organic character interactions
When I write fanfic, one of my favorite things to do is the crossover. It’s incredibly fun for me to take two characters who would otherwise never meet and dump them into a crucible together. When you do that, and just allow the characters to be themselves, sparks can fly in interesting ways that you never considered.
In “The Eternal Crypt,” which is unfinished on fanfic.net, I put Dr. Who and Indiana Jones together. I expected the two to become friends, which they eventually did. But what I didn’t expect, after just letting the characters be themselves, was how they started butting heads over who was the better adventurer. This led to some interesting one liners and quips between the two that I didn’t anticipate when going into the work.
Writing characters in fanfiction, especially if you do crossovers like I do, will allow you to explore organic character interactions in a fun and safe way. Another great way is character chat. This is where you enter a chat with someone online as one of your favorite characters. I just learned about this technique and haven’t tried it yet, but I’m very excited about it. I think character chat is probably the better option for developing organic character interactions. But fanfic is a close second, in my opinion.
You can also experiment with creating and introducing your own characters in fanfic. In “The Eternal Crypt” my version of The Doctor was an amalgam of Mat Smiths Doctor and David Tennant’s Doctor. Meanwhile, the character of Vranea in the same fic, is a completely original character. I created her to stoke the flames of tension between Indy and the Doctor. I have another unpublished fic which is a crossover between Star Wars and Stargate. That story focuses around two completely unique Jedi, Master Hinn and Kitt, his padawan. The only canon character that appears in that story at all is Yoda.
You will also learn your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Through community feedback, you will learn where your writing is strong and where it is weak. You will also learn what tropes people like to see and what they don’t.
It’s a break
I go over this in my article “7 reasons you should write for fun,” [LINK], but writing is hard. Especially when you’re writing original content. Nothing is done for you. You need to craft your world, it’s geography, politics, culture, characters and hundreds of other details from scratch. You need to keep these things in your head and try not to let them slip lest you create a plot hole. Sometimes you just need a breather.
But you don’t want to just stop working. When you just stop working it’s often hard to get back to it. We tend to hit the snooze button one too many times and then “Five more minutes, Mom,” becomes “Holy crap, I missed the bus!”
Writing something fun, like fanfic, lets you drop into a world you know well and just write. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t even need to be good and people won’t see it unless you want them to. It just needs to be fun and relaxing.
The point is to fill your tank without turning off your engine.
It can lead to greater things
There are many fanfic authors who go on to publishing their own original work. It’s absolutely possible for lightning to strike when you write for fun. When you’re not worried about what anyone else thinks, or writing for sales, it frees your creativity. This freedom has made stars of some very unlikely authors. Many authors have had success by tweaking a short story or fanfic they wrote for fun and publishing it on the market.
I’m no fan of the Twilight series. Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply interested in how it became so popular, and I want to do an article on that later because I think it’s interesting. But the books themselves are fairly poorly written. Even less than Twilight is my desire to read the Fifty Shades of Grey series. I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard snippets and it seems to be possibly worse than Twilight.
But the “50 Shades” series is significant because it started as a Twilight fanfic. The author, E.L. James, wrote the whole thing on her phone. She transitioned it into a standalone work when it diverged significantly from the original. I’m not vouching for the quality of said work, but the story is inspirational all the same. It shows how focusing on something you love, only because you are passionate about it, can lead you to create something that others may love as well.
These are some of the reasons why I think fanfiction is a great option for new and established writers alike. If you want to know more about why you should be writing fanfic, I suggest this video by another YouTuber, Alexa Donne:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG-LpRqIlYM (Alexa Donne – What fanfic can teach you about writing.)
She strongly believes in fanfic, as I do, and she’s very encouraging with some good advice.
I’ve also found a video from this YouTuber, Adele Marie. This video doesn’t have as much practical information, but it’s great if you need a little encouragement. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a little cheerleading.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiFS-JMo9a0 (Adele Marie – Is fanfiction “real” writing?)
You might also want to check out these articles on writing fanfic:
Good writing and Calamus Gladio Fortior!