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How to Write Successful FanFiction

Updated on January 23, 2015

Fandoms

The most important fodder for your FanFiction story is the inspiration. FanFiction is a growing, fun activity for members of fandom communities to write unique, creative stories in which they can share their love for their favorite sources of entertainment, such as TV shows, films, books, video games, anime, cartoons, plays / musicals or comics, with other fans.

FanFiction writers never write stories about a fandom (a term which also refers to the direct source material for the Fandom community) in which they do not know. It is very important to know the ins and outs of your fandom in order to write a successful story. If other writers or readers cannot buy into your FanFiction story, they may call you out on it. The best way to avoid this scenario is to know everything you can about the fandom before you start writing.

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Characters

One of the differences between writing novels and writing FanFiction deals with the characters. While authors have to spend time developing characters for their novels, FanFiction writers, for the most part, have it pretty easy. Unless FanFiction writers decide to create new characters to bring into their FanFiction world, most of the characters are already created and somewhat developed (depending how early the fandom is when you start writing). There can be great benefits to including characters from a Fandom into a FanFiction, but there are some drawbacks as well.

Since the characters are already created, writers do not have to create an image for the characters. Readers and writers will automatically know whom you are talking about and will have an image in their head without you needing to describe the character.

However, if you plan on writing a novel someday, it would be good practice to include character descriptions within your FanFiction stories anyway to avoid ambiguity and / or confusion.

FanFiction is also a great way to bring new members to the fandom, so it is important to include details for characters for fandom newbies. Be sure to always include great detail for characters you create - especially since your readers would not know what they look like.

Not only should fandom and original characters have strong descriptions, but they need to stay in character as well. It is easy to write a FanFiction story where non-original characters are out-of-character (OOC). OOCs can be the leading difference between an amateur story and a successful one.

Writers should have a strong feel for the fandom characters; great FanFiction writers are able to determine how these characters think, how they act, speak and interact with others.

Canon characters, if anything, should be what FanFiction writers strive to write.


Plots

Aside from the fandom, the plot of your story, whether it is a one-shot (a term used to describe a story written in a single chapter) or a multi-chapter FanFic, is what will keep your readers engaged.

There are three kinds of plots in which FanFiction writers need to be wary of: (1) alternate universes, (2) canon stories, (3) crossovers and (4) spin-offs.

  • Alternate Universes (AU)

The most uncommon form of plot is an alternate universe. Most writers steer clear of writing AUs because it is very hard to create and maintain a believable story in which characters from a fandom are placed into a world that they are not originally from. Some writers are very good at AUs, but for a FanFiction writer newbie, it is not advised to write an AU as a first story.

  • Canon Stories

Many FanFiction writers refer to write canon stories as opposed to alternate universes. However, writing canon is a skill because writers have to have a great feel for the fandom's characters in order to make a canon story believable. Canon stories are separate works of FanFiction that use fandom characters but is not necessarily in-sync with the storyline of the fandom. A canon story may take place ten years into the future or explore a particular past event in a character's life. Canon stories may also take place in the present but focus on a separate plot that isn't a part of the fandom itself.

Writing canon stories is fun but can be difficult if writers do not have a strong storyline or insight on fandom characters.

  • Crossovers

Like alternate universes, crossovers are not generally common in the FanFiction world. Crossovers are basically FanFiction stories which bring together two different fandoms (for example, Harry Potter and BBC's Merlin) into one unified story / universe. Crossovers are hard to write because of believability. It is not wise to combine two fandoms which have virtually nothing in common. No one would want to read a crossover that unifies Spongebob Squarepants and The Chronicles of Narnia; it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever. The fandoms have nothing in common. It is important for crossovers to have at least one or two themes in common in order to unify two different fandoms and make the story believable.

For example, Harry Potter is about a boy who attends a magical boarding school for young witches and wizards to improve their craft. BBC's Merlin is a TV show derived from Sir Thomas Malory's work: Le Morte d'Arthur, and examines a What if? situation where Merlin (Colin Morgan) uses his magic to bring about Prince Arthur's (Bradley James) destiny. Harry Potter and BBC's Merlin are both about adolescents who not only have magical abilities but also important destinies. If it can be done well, a crossover of Harry Potter and BBC's Merlin is a plausible scenario and could be made believable.

In order to write a successful crossover FanFiction, the writer must have strong knowledge and insight for all fandoms he or she wishes to unite for his or her story.

  • Spin-Offs

As far as inspiration goes, spin-offs may be the easiest type of FanFiction story to write. Episodes of TV shows or the last chapter of your favorite novel may inspire you to write a FanFiction story and explore the What's Next? factor. Perhaps you have a very strong idea as to what you want to happen in the fandom but know the creator of the original work will most likely not go to where you want the fandom to go. For that reason, you decide you want to spin the fandom off in your own direction so that the storyline happens the way you want it to occur.

Spin-offs are great, but they also require a level of canonical skill. Even if you want a story to spin off from the original source, you will want to make sure characters are finely tuned and that the storyline is also believable.


Whichever type of plot you wish to explore, whether it is an alternate universe, a canon story, a crossover or a spin-off, it is important to keep in mind that well-written FanFiction stories are believable, consistent and resolute.

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How to Begin

Once you know which fandom you want to use as your story fodder and have a general idea for a plot line, it is now time to start drafting your first chapter or your one-shot. Everybody has different methods of drafting. Some people outline their drafts; others write their content first-hand. It is always important to draft first. Then once you feel like the one-shot or the chapter is complete, put it down and re-read it a few hours later. Do not rush this process. sometimes, when you re-read it after taking a break, you may find mistakes or realize it might not have turned out to the way you wanted. Don't panic. If you are really insecure about your writing, you can always send it to a friend who is familiar with the fandom and have he or she read it for you. Or, you can always collaborate with a beta (see more under Betas).

After you have looked over your first draft, make any revisions that need to be made and consider it ready for upload. Sometimes, you need to have confidence in your work; you may find your story terrible, but others might enjoy it. FanFiction is always a risk, but it is also a great learning tool.

When I first started writing FanFiction, my stories were all over the place. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I started writing FanFiction stories when in was in sixth grade. The more I wrote, the better I became at writing canon. You might not write canon very well for your first FanFiction story, but if you continue writing, you'll improve your craft.

General Writing Tips

With a quote, always have context. Do not just write dialogue.

  • Who said it?
  • How did he or she say it?
  • What was he or she doing when she said it?

Point of Views
If you are going to frequently change Point of Views, you need to be sure to let your readers know.

  • First Person - POV in which the narrator refers to him or herself as the teller of the story. Example: "My name is Aya Ikeuchi and I am dying." (Fandom: One Litre of Tears)
  • Limited Third Person - POV in which the narrator focuses on one mindset of a character and explores said character's thoughts and feelings about what he or she perceives. Example: "Walter O'Brien never believed in love, but after meeting Paige and her son, Ralph, he was beginning to see that love wasn't just junk science." (Fandom: Scorpion)
  • Omniscient Third Person - POV in which the narrator knows everything about all of the characters in the story.
    Example:
    "While Harry hated spending every morning with Professor Snape in his potions class, Hermione adored mixing concoctions and learning about their functions in the magical world." (Fandom: Harry Potter)


Betas

There are two kinds of Betas in the FanFiction Universe: (1) Editing Betas and (2) Writing Betas.

Editing Betas basically agree to read someone's work, edit it if needed and give pointers. The FanFiction writer writes everything, and the Editing Beta simply helps them with the proofing process.

Writing Betas are users who agree to write a story for another user. Usually, Writing Betas only write for other people if they are good at collaborating and adhering to a FanFiction user's plot. If you don't like to write for other people, then being a Beta may not be for you. However, if you know you don't write well and want your story written well, it may be a good idea to collaborate with a Beta.

Publishing

There are two ways to send out your FanFiction story to the internet; you can either post your stories onto your personal website or you can join a FanFiction portal. Since personal websites can be a part of many servers, I am not going to elaborate on them. As long as you know how to manage your personal website, then that's all you need to know for this section.

Some people like to keep their FanFiction stories private, and that is all right! But for those of you who want to publish your stories, it is important to know about the different FanFiction portals in which you can publish your work.

Most writers do not post their FanFiction stories onto a Facebook page, but it is an easy alternative in case you are not tech savvy. Some writers write disturbing stories and would like to stay away from personal connections reading their works so if you are one of those people, do not add your story onto Facebook. Because, everything uploaded to Facebook, is thereby owned by Facebook and not you.

Using a Tumblr blog to showcase FanFiction is a great way to get involved with the fandom community. A lot of modern fans use Tumblr to post thoughts and information pertaining to a fandom so if you know how to use Tumblr and want to keep it simple, simply post it on your Tumblr page.

Or, if you want to use a different portal, Tumblr would be a great way to post awareness for your FanFiction and spread the word.

Like Tumblr, WordPress is another simple portal to use. However Tumblr and WordPress are not known for organization; since you'd be posting posts, you wouldn't be able to keep the chapters together. If you strive for organization, Tumblr and WordPress may not be the right place for your FanFiction. However, WordPress is also a great way to advertise your story!

AO3 is more than just a FanFiction portal, but most people use it for FanFiction. AO3 is very easy to use, and you can include graphics into your stories too. AO3 is not a popular venue as of right now, but more and more people are beginning to use it.

Over 3 million users use FanFiction.Net. FanFiction.Net provides communities for users to join, beta profiles and forums alongside the FanFiction stories people have written. If you want your story to be read, FanFiction.Net is the place to go. You'll even be able to upload cover arts for your stories.


Whichever portal you decide to use, use one with which you are comfortable. Don't use a portal simply because that's the one everyone is using.

One key factor about publishing your story is that you need to be committed.

Thousands of users (I am guilty of this upsetting factor) start amazing stories and never finish them. While it is important to take breaks between writing chapters, it is also important to pace yourself. If you wait too long to add a chapter, you may lose interest in your own story. If you lose interest in your own story, do not pick it back up until you've rediscovered your muse. If you try to force yourself to write, the chapter will not be ideal, and you may lose readership.


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Archive Warnings

If your stories include anything that could trigger unpleasant memories in a reader, it is important for you to include a warning before the content of your story. You never want to be put in a position where your story ruined someone's day because of a particular type of content. You also want to include warnings for graphic scenes such as strong depictions of violence or sexual themes.

Here is a list of some themes for which you may want to consider including warnings:

  • Strong Depictions of Violence
  • Explicit Sexual Scenes
  • LBGTQ Pairings
  • Obscene Language
  • Major Character Death

Disclaimers

Even though it is obvious, you need to make sure you include a disclaimer at the beginning of your story, making readers know that you realize you are not the fandom's original creator.

Example:

I do not own CBS's TV program, </Scorpion>.

Reviews

Whether you use AO3 or FanFiction.Net, your story may receive reviews from other users. These reviews may be negative, constructive or complimenting towards your work. Do not get discouraged if someone doesn't like your story; remember, it's a learning process. Haters will always be haters. There's always going to be that one hostile user who claims they hate your work. The best way to deal with these kinds of people is to continue writing. You have the right to report these users on FanFiction if they become a pestering problem.

Another important piece of advice is to never base your desire to write on the number of reviews you receive for your stories. Just because people do not review, it does not mean they didn't like your story. Begging for reviews can be annoying; if people want to review, they will review. If they don't, they don't.

Reviews or lack thereof are all part of the FanFiction writing process.

Now that I've gone over all of the most important aspects of great FanFiction writing, view the video below. This woman wraps things up quite nicely.

Wrap-Up

“FanFiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don't do it for money. That's not what it's about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They're fans, but they're not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”

— Lev Grossman

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    • Ilonagarden profile image

      Ilona E 3 years ago from Ohio

      I don't think I knew what fan fiction was, before reading your hub- even tho I heard the term. Interesting, and now I'll look at it with better understanding.

    • becometaller profile image

      Ashwini 3 years ago

      I love writing, but have not tried my hand at fan fiction. This article gives you a great place to start. Followed!

    • Christy Maria profile image

      Christy Maria 3 years ago

      Hello Kim!

      Excellent article, especially for a first one. I voted up and followed, I am thrilled to be your first follower as well. Welcome to Hubpages :)

      If you have the time, please check out my articles I have posted!

      Would love to see more from you, keep writing!

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