Fan Fiction FTW? (Or WTF?)

Let’s be completely honest: most fanfiction is complete and utter crap.

I’ll be completely honest: I’m not big on the genre.

I mean, to each their own. You like fan fiction? Great! All power to you. I just never much got into it and I certainly never wrote it. The biggest reason for that, though, is that you have to wade through stories upon stories of crap until you finally find a gem. And I never wrote it because the prospect terrified me.

How do you write a story that isn’t your own?

How do you stay true to another author’s characters?

How do you attract the interest of fans?

There are two camps: Fan Fiction FTW and Fan Fiction WTF. FTW updates every week, has a plethora of followers, and religiously reads other stories. WTF – the camp I have always shamelessly been a part of – isn’t nearly as willing to comb through the stories to find the good ones. And sometimes they accuse fanfic fans of extreme nerdiness (which I never did, I am a huge nerd and have no right to call others more nerdy than I). Still, when I thought of fan fiction, it was with a small level of disdain. As if I thought I was better than that. (I know, it’s terrible. Hear me out?)

So, when our last assignment in my creative writing workshop was to write a fan fiction short story, I was beyond stumped. Heaven knows, I have enough games, tv shows, and books I am a fan of and could write about. But to actually participate in fan fiction writing…

I struggled. It was so hard. Suddenly, I understood why so few fanfics are any good. It takes a talented writer to compose a story based on someone else’s ideas. And I believe even experienced writers struggle to step into another author’s shoes completely. As authors, characters live floating around in our heads. Sometimes their words and actions even surprise us. So how do you embody characters that don’t live in your own mind?

That being said, fan fiction has become a new writing exercise for me. Since it presents such a challenge, it stretches me as a writer. I don’t do it often, but I did participate in Zutara Week this year for the first time, writing a different themed short story every day. I have a chance to glimpse how things might have been with characters in a different world. I have to stay true to their pre-existing personalities, adapting them with time, and making sure they remain distinctly their own.

Practice in these areas translates greatly into writing original stories. Sometimes we are unaware when character personalities begin to blend. We have to be consistent with their traits, even as they develop and mature. We have to let them be their own people and do things as they would do them, not necessarily as we would. Practicing this from a fanfic standpoint makes it easier as an exercise. The world and characters have already been created, now it’s up to the writer to manipulate them. It hasn’t been easy for me, but I feel I’ve already seen good results.

When it comes to reading it, I’ll probably stay in Camp WTF, but when it comes to writing fan fiction? Definitely FTW.

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