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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Ten things to learn from writing fanfic if you want to transition to writing original fic



I just read Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and I loved it so hard I read the whole thing in one day, while I was hiding from the overwhelm I always get post-Christmas. But I wished, as I read it, that it would have gone into the adaptation of fan writing into so-called "real writing" a little more, so here's ten things I learned by reading and writing fan fiction back before I started writing my own stuff. Thing you can get down, then take to your own work. Things you can adapt. Things you can carry over. Fan fiction is a safe place where you can basically workshop all these useful skills before you head out into writing you could make a living off of.

1. Dialog 
Personally, I think dialog makes or breaks a book. A story with stilted narration but realistic and entertaining dialog is a lot easier to read than a story with unrealistic dialog--because narration is whatever, but dialog is people talking to other people, and they have to sound the way people sound, or the whole thing is weak. Fanfic lets you practice putting words into other people's mouths and making them sound the way they should--and what's an established and beloved character if not one that sounds real?

And pragmatically, too, dialog takes up space and defines the human impact of what's happening. Most of the subtler conflicts in a story can happen in the way people talk to each other. If you're learning to take short fiction skills into long, dialog is super-helpful.

2. Following plot bunnies to see where they lead

Because writing is literally just following plots forever. Fanfic has this sort of looseness that "more serious" writing doesn't have--and that's a stupid set up, if you ask me, that comes from literature snobbery, this idea that if it's fun it's not real. Piss on that, says I. All writing should be fun at least some of the time, and writing with this loose follow-the-plot idea is a gnats stoic way to make all writing fun. See where it goes. See what crazy stuff happens, and then see where that goes. Combine things in unusual and new ways--crackfic of your own characters is innovative! Keep that playfulness!

3. Constructing believable worlds

In fanfic, you're given a world--and then you embroider it. Pay attention to how you think that through--and pay attention to what you're given. Ask questions. Why is that major story point like that? If it's something that you wish they'd done differently, or something that doesn't make sense, or something so vague you have to do it yourself--well, that's worldbuilding.

When you get to your own writing, you aren't starting from scratch. You're starting from everything else you've read, and the things you wanted there and didn't get. You're not reinventing the wheel--you're building the wheel you've always wanted and couldn't find before. And you learned your wheel-building skills by filling in the gaps in someone else's wheels.

4. Taking and applying criticism

If you're going to be a working writer, there's no way around this: you need to know how to take and apply criticism. And if you're writing fic in a public place, you're probably getting all sorts of feedback that you're not even thinking of as criticism, but that is--because real criticism is meant to help you improve your work, to make it stronger, to make it more original, to make it sell or read or flow better. You have to know how to listen to all of it and apply the good stuff.

There will also be, probably, haters. And you need to know how to handle that stuff, too--which should be by not engaging, if you're a paid writer out in the pro marketplace, and by figuring out ways to not let it get to you and ruin your calm. Because there will always be someone trying to start a fight, and if you're in a bigger pool, there will be more someones, and you can't let them get to you. Practice on the fichaters.

5. Writing for an audience

If you're writing on your own, your audience is basically yourself and whoever betas your stuff, and then this amorphous hypothetical of the sort of people who would like your story. But with fanfic, you're writing for a defined and engaged and present audience--and audience that has specific wants and needs, and that you can write to directly. If you then transition to public, original writing, you can get to know the audience your actual work builds, and you can give them what they want without having to guess. And you'll be better at communicating and engaging with them than non-fic writers. Look at how Cassandra Clare handles her audience, vs how someone who made tier name before the internet does. Look at how Neil Gaiman, who learned this through comic-writing, does it vs how reclusive other writers can be. And look at how they write what they want to write, but do it in a way that will resonate with their audience.

6. Being inspired instead of waiting on inspiration

I always felt like there's a reason we say being inspired instead of anything else. It's a verb--inspiration is something you do. In fanfiction, you have to develop a habit of finding the thing that needs writing, and writing it--you've got the show or the movie or the book to guide you, but when you're off on your own, it's the same goggles. You're still looking for something that was left unsaid, some story you wish you'd had differently, a better ending, a less-dumb premise. Training your brain to see story opportunities everywhere is one of the harder parts of fiction-life--but easy if you've been writing fic. It's the same muscles--only, since you're giving them to your own characters, you're the final word on it, not the internet.

7. Followthrough

It's a well-known fact that stories yes to start easy, then get hard, then never end because a new, shinier story comes along. Fanfic, where people are reading your installments and waiting for the next and holding you accountable, is an ideal situation for learning how to finish a damned story. Believe me, I wish if had the internet a decade before I did, so I could have learned that trick faster!

8. Branching out and testing your own limits

Sooner or later, you'll start writing further and further from cannon. If you're writing an AU so altered from the original that you can change the names and publish it, you're basically writing your own stuff--you're not even letting the training wheels touch the ground when you're biking now--so you may as well just write your own. By that point, someone else's stuff will stop being support and start being chains. Which means you need to stretch those wings and find new limits. 

Before that, fanfic lets you push limits and find the sorts of new stuff you like to write. It let's you see where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what you need to figure out how to do. It puts you in contact with people who can help, people you don't have to go looking for because they're right there with you. It's a safety net and a community, something to keep you up and to teach you. Learn from that.

9. Not writing badfic

And intentionally writing bad so you can see what bad is and not do it when you mean to write good. Out in the world, there's not a lot of support of bad writing; people don't have time for it, and there's nowhere to put it. But in fanfic circles, there's places where you can celebrate the worst writing--and learn from it. There's places where bad writing can be workshopped into good. It's like a crowd-sourced writing school, if you use it right, if you're brave.

10. Trusting your own ideas, impulses, and gut reactions to your writing

This is a big one. You need confidence in your own abilities if you're going to be a publishing, functioning, productive writer making a living off your own work. A lot of young writers get into fanfic because they're insecure--insure was--and they feel dumb or too inexperienced putting their own stories out, but the fandom offers a safe place. But that safe place also means you can get to know how your own brain works, overcome your own shortcomings, develop your own habits, and when you find that place where you just have to write your own story, you know how to do it--at least enough that you can. Each story is different, but if you have enough trust in yourself to do it, you can. Fanfic spaces can build that confidence.



Did you learn anything from reading or writing fanfic? Share in the comments!

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