I use to look down on writing fan fiction, though I had never read any of it. I don’t know why. I guess I had some idea that it was cheating. Using characters and worlds built by others. Not creative enough maybe. I don’t know, but I didn’t see it as “real” writing. Of course it’s real writing.
I started playing Choices on Android. It’s a game but also books. You pick a story, customize your character and then read basically a graphic novel with the ability to make choices that affect outcomes. A choose your own adventure for grown ups. It was great fun until I found a series of books with an ending that didn’t satisfy me. Then I discovered the fan fiction others had written for it. I devoured it. Some I liked, some I didn’t, that’s the point. It was other peoples imaginings of alternate endings, alternate plots, or a continuation of a series that had ended. I couldn’t get enough it.
Eventually I read it all. Still, no one wrote it quite the way I would have. Finally, I gave it and wrote my own and it was so satisfying to get the outcome I would have rather had. Then I realized that fan fiction is great for exercising my writing muscles! Considering I hadn’t written anything in months, how could I poo poo anything that got me back in front of my keyboard? I really couldn’t. Still, I didn’t publish it. Still I was a little ashamed, somehow, that I had “cheated”.
However, the more I read fan fiction and saw the following it has, saw how many people are grateful for the chance to see their favorite characters again, to see the plot re-invented in a way they like perhaps even better than the original, the more I appreciated it. The more I wrote it, the more I realized that the very fact I am writing with someone else’s world and characters is what makes it such good practice! I don’t have to create all of that, I can just focus on certain things, like more (or different) character development. It made me, for the first time, understand the importance of writing an entire book and then rewriting it, something I use to feel was just so much extra work. I now understand how going back to something that is finished and seeing the holes, the things that could be more thoroughly explored let’s you add so much to the story. It’s a chance to add depth and texture, nuance.
You can add to the story by inserting things, conversations that could have happen off page but without changing the story itself, add characters thoughts about events, get a different characters point of view on something. Or, yes, you can diverge from cannon and say at this point in the story, I’d like to imagine it happened this way instead. Either way, there is still so much creative effort in it.
Writing fan fiction has also pulled me out of my comfort zone. For example, with romantic feelings and sexual tension already established, it has pushed me to write scenes of a steamier nature than I ever have before and doing so has increased my comfort and confidence in writing those types of interactions. It has let me explore writing in first and third person, from several points of view and omnipotent POV. With the world already established and not worrying about keeping POV consistent across my writing, it’s been an opportunity to explore and play with different writing styles.
Most importantly, it reminded me what I had forgotten. That it doesn’t matter what you write, just that you write! Writing on a regular basis, no matter what you are writing, leads to writing more in general. I have already added two new chapters to the book I am currently working on. Once I start writing, the creative juices start to flow and I get ideas for my own projects, my own worlds and characters. For that reason alone, I am thankful that I discovered it. Right now, it’s all on tumblr, but I plan to add a section for it here, now that I no longer see it as cheating.