I wrote my first fan fiction when I was 7, although I didn’t think of it as fan fiction at the time. I called it “Simba Gets Lost”. It was about a lion cub named Simba trying to get home to his mom, and I remember my teacher at the time was doing her damnedest to keep me from telling the same story as The Lion King every step of the way.
It went kind of like this:
Teacher: “And then what happened?”
Me: “Simba grew up, bumped into Nala, blah-blah-blah.”
Teacher: “But, didn’t that happen in the movie?”
Teacher: “Let’s try to get Simba home to his mom….”
See what happened there? Do you see it?? I was writing a perfectly valid piece of fiction, focusing on character and sequential plot points that I was familiar with, and my teacher was trying to get me to create something completely fresh. At seven years old. Now let me ask you this, why did it matter if they were MY characters or MY plot points? It was a second-grade storybook. I wasn’t going to publish the damn thing!
I have a big-ass problem with people treating fan fiction writers as if they’re committing a sin against the almighty writing gods.
Let’s pull out of the novel writing world that fan fiction writing mimics, for just a sec. If I wanted to make it as a screenwriter on a TV show, or any TV show, know what I would have to do? Write what is called a spec script – one episode of a series that has already been established and is currently on the air – which I could then use as a sample for getting a writer’s job on a show.
Now you might be thinking, Okay Tanya, but that’s TV – not novel writing. Gosh! Get with the program. And besides, what if you didn’t want to work on a current show? What if you wanted to write your own? Well let’s talk about the purpose of a spec script in the first place: To show that you can successfully write for a full cast of characters and develop a cohesive plot within a larger story line – BEFORE tackling your own.
So, back to my seven-year-old self and “Simba Gets Lost”. I was doing a completely normal thing for a creative person at that age, and that was learning how to correctly formulate a story. God forbid we actually teach people to do that.
Any writer will tell you how incredibly difficult it is to write an original story that grabs you, *and* has compelling and loveable characters, *and* has a plot that makes sense. Any writer will also admit that, in a way, it is actually much more difficult to write successfully for a character that is not your own.
Successfully really is the key word here because, as some of you may have noticed with extreme disdain, any average dodo can sit at their computer and write fan fiction, then publish it to FanFiction.net for any average dodo to read, then critique or praise or flame with comments that look like they could have easily been written by a four-year-old. With bad spelling. Using ALL-CAPS. That is the reality of fan fiction. Love it or hate it.
I’ve read all kinds of fan fiction throughout the years ranging from incredible to downright atrocious. Yes, it can get embarrassing. But especially more so to fan fiction writers that are actually good (they do exist, I promise, they are not a myth).
There is so much involved in writing fan fiction well, and I mean *well*. Hours, sometimes years of character studies – the way they think, the way they talk, their quirky habits, their unconscious motives, their dreams, who they love, and the big one: Why they do what they do – and enough in-depth research of your chosen fandom to make your head spin. Although it may seem like nothing to those that pull it off, trust me, it is no easy task.
What’s even more amazing is there is no reason for us to practice this seeming insanity other than for the pure love of it. Love for characters, love for stories, love for our most respected and admired creators, authors, artists, and screenwriters. Aside from some genuine comments, there is no reward for it other than the simple act of doing it. There have been instances of writers trying to recycle their fan fiction stories – change names and places, make it their own in hopes of “getting something out of it”. I strongly believe this is impossible. No character or scenario is so cookie-cutter in concept. If the story is truly good – and I mean it’s so fantastic it hijacks your brain for days, weeks, maybe months – it just can’t be retold as an original.
Sure, there are people out there who judge fan fiction, but that’s inevitable. Celebrities like Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson will laugh because, let’s face it, it’s pretty damn funny. And you may start to question yourself when an episode of Adventure Time talks about the Ice King writing his Fionna and Cake fan fiction (are they making fun of me?? They did not just make fun of me!).
People will always make fun because like I said before, it’s pretty damn funny. But once you get past reading all the crap that’s out there in fan fiction, you might find that it can actually be a very valuable tool for telling any story.
Tanya Marcy is a writer and artist with a love for marketing, online media, and the independent arts. She blogs at stickTnotes, where you can find her story tips and tricks, and her ideas about being a creative artist in today’s changing world. Check out her own art at deviantART and sample her writing at Figment.