Throwback Thursday #10: Fanfiction

I have a close relationship with fanfiction. Pre-established worlds and obsessive teenage thoughts about shipping and fictional mythology gave me the drive to finish books instead of just starting them. Before that, every work-in-progress or story concept was abandoned by chapter three, as my family shot down the plausibility or I was too limited by my young brain to properly conceive a story world.

I wrote my first fanfic when I was 10, before I even knew what fanfiction was. It was about Harry Potter. I think Goblet of Fire was the most recent HP release at that point, and that was when Ron and Hermione’s chemistry became evident. I shipped them. I wanted them to end up together. So I wrote a story about Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the Hogwarts Express and Harry mediating a fight between his two friends. And I think it ended up with Ron and Hermione confessing their feelings or something.

I can’t remember properly because I lost this story. It was on my old computer – the one with 7 GB of hard drive space and no functioning CD-ROM reader.  I never thought about posting it online anywhere. I just wrote it because I wanted to make it be, and that made me happy enough.

But I was 11 and shy of 6th grade when I discovered fanfiction.net. That was the summer when I became a diehard fan of Artemis Fowl, so I spent most of my summer days on FF.net reading Holly/Artemis stories and other silly things. By the fall, I started participating. I published some things that have been lost in the years since, as I did not save the original files and I deleted them off my fanfiction.net account (things like Artemis Fowl: The Musical, Artemis and The Lost Remote, and a crossover of Artemis Fowl with the movie Clue. I feel like these are probably better gone and buried, to be honest.) To this day, I still have my primary AF-verse trilogy up though….mostly because I like skimming the reviews for nostalgia’s sake. But I’m not telling you the name of it. It really is abysmal. You can see the potential there, I think, but it was quite obviously written by a spastic child.

In 7th grade, I returned to original writing and spent an entire year working on The Outcasts, which was the subject of a previous Throwback Thursday. In 8th grade, I began writing RPF (real person fanfiction) about my actual school friends, met with….mostly outrage from my friends, until I came up with one called Truth or Dare: Dante’s Inferno – or, the only time in my life I’ve ever “pants’ed” a story (I may talk about ToD in an upcoming Throwback Thursday, but that’s one I have to be careful about….because it’s constantly in my “top five shortlist” for projects I plan on revamping. It’s sorta been in development hell because I haven’t been able to get it “right” yet, but I revisit it every couple of years. I really, really adore the concept of it and it’s great fun). My friends loved Truth or Dare so much that I kept writing it throughout the school year, about a chapter a month, until I finally found a way to end it. One of my friends liked it so much that he tried to write a sequel.

The latter half of 8th grade is also when I rediscovered fanfiction.net. I became obsessed with The Office (US), as well as National Treasure that year, and wrote a few stories about each. There was another Harry Potter story somewhere in there, basically my take on what Book 7 should be like. Then Heroes came out and I stuck with that fandom for four years – all the way through high school and part of college. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words – words that allowed me to find my voice and plotting methods and to become a true writer. My last fanfic was published in 2010, and I actually haven’t had a desire to write anymore since. Partially, because nothing has inspired me as Heroes did and 2010 is when Heroes ended. But also, my second-to-last fic was met with mass critical acclaim from the Heroes community, and I finally felt like I’d “made it.” Like I was finally accepted, and therefore ready and determined to be published professionally. Some people can dabble in fanfic while simultaneously working on original fiction. That’s impressive, as I really have to choose between the two. The muses don’t get along and they don’t like occupying the same space.

But I do still read fic occasionally – usually for the Avengers, or Inception, or even strange stuff like True Grit. I’ll even browse through the Artemis Fowl section sometimes. Most of me feels like it was a stage in my life that I probably won’t return to, but you never know when something inspiring is going to come along. Heroes is coming back this spring, after all, and the fanfiction bug could bite me again.

Fanfiction – Or, How I Learned To Write

Fanfiction gets a bad reputation from many, including George R.R. Martin and my own dad. They dismiss it as “lazy. ” As in “go write your own stories you punk kid!”

Let me tell you, there is nothing lazy about writing three 100k+ word novels. And that is exactly what I did when I was in Heroes fandom in high school, along with ~25 short stories, and 5  novellas. I clocked in probably 600,000 words in the span of three years.  And you can bet I became a better writer for it.

No, I did not learn how to create believable original characters, but I did learn how to write realistic speech. I learned how to take some deep, meta looks at the psyches of fictional people, and how to write arcs of growth, and how to create chemistry between characters.

True,  I didn’t learn how to world build….but I learned how to plot.  Writing fanfic is how I designed methods for outlining my books. It taught me to research topics I was unfamiliar with.

Stylistically, I was in peak shape at age 17. I could write anything at the drop of a hat because I knew my voice that well. This is partly because I was exercising my author muscles, but also because I read so much fanfic.  I read for hours every day and I guarantee that had an effect.  I stopped reading and writing fiction in college, and my style has suffered for it.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be as good as I was at 17.

I should mention that I did not start writing with fanfic.  I had several original works-in-progress from ages 6-14, including two completed screenplays and one completed book (called The Flying Chameleon Club. It did not actually involve flying chameleons). But for the most part, I hardly got past Chapter Two on any WIP because I had no clue how to outline. Fanfic did not spark my interest in writing, but it taught me HOW to write, and how to actually finish books.

In writing Paradisa and The Shadow of Saturn, which were my first original projects since I was 14 and the first writing I’d done in 3 years, I did realize things fanfic didn’t teach. Creating my own sandbox is hard, for one.  Editing for querying is also much more involved than editing for the free fanfics I was posting online. But if I didn’t have those half million words of fanfic between my childhood and now, I would probably be on the same path of unfinished WIPs, nonsensical plots, and hair-pulling. And I would be so lost with the whole process that I’d probably give up over and over again.

So thank you, fanfiction :* You made me the opposite of lazy – a person who has finished novels instead of someone who wants to write them “someday.” ^_^