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Writing Effective Fan Fiction: Advice from a Fan Fiction Writer
Why Write Fan Fiction?
I began writing fan fiction about two years ago when my favorite character hadn't appeared in the series for over a year. When I began writing, I wanted to give a different perspective of what he might have been doing in the time he was away. It was also important to me to answer lingering questions about the character's past and motivations.
Many fan fiction authors write to explore relationships between characters. Sometimes, these are canon relationships. Other times, the relationships come from the author's desire to explore how characters might act in a different situation.
In many cases, fan fiction authors are unhappy with how the original author wrote a story's ending, or are dissatisfied with the amount of development a character has received. Writing fan fiction allows the author to constructively create a more satisfactory scenario.
Effective Fanfiction: True to Character
When I was writing a flashback for a minor character in a manga series, I asked a friend who teaches writing to give me his opinions about it. Although he liked many aspects, he noted that the character I had depicted as stroking his ailing son's hair wasn't true to his established character in canon. My friend reasoned, a stoic character who discouraged outward displays of emotion would never try to choke back a sob or stroke his son's hair to console him. On my friend's advice, I decided it would be more true to character for the father to simply sigh resignedly.
Likewise, a good writer of fan fiction would never depict Batman's Joker as sitting at home drinking tea and reading the I Ching. It simply doesn't fit the Joker's character. Heckling a bad comedian while planning ways to manipulate an unwitting victim would be more in character for the Joker.
That doesn't mean that you should always stay strictly within character. In my own fan fiction, the character I was writing about was canonically described as being unhappy because he was lonely and felt misunderstood. As a result, he disliked others and sought only to manipulate them. That's when I introduced his mother (my own character) to the story. Although it's technically out of character for him to be concerned about someone else's welfare, he values his relationship with his mother because he knows she is important to helping him understand himself. (Note that I made sure to establish why he treats his mother differently from how he treats others.)
Effective Fan Fiction: Written Well
Although fan fiction is considered by many to be a niche interest for writers, the effective fan fiction author still takes time to proofread and edit his/her work. If the author doesn't care about writing clearly and concisely, why should anyone else care about reading it? The fan writer's ultimate goal is to craft a narrative that will keep readers engaged and wanting more.
There are many aspects to writing well, but the basics are a good place to start. Here are some things I tried to consider as I began writing my fan fiction:
- Are names, especially those of canon characters and places, spelled correctly? For fan fiction based on manga, there may be variations on how a character's name is spelled, or how a place name is translated. In Bleach, for example, there's not much difference between "Lieutenant Hisagi" and "Vice-Captain Hisagi," because we know who is being talked about. In most cases, though, there is only one correct way to spell a name. For example, a Harry Potter fan who reads Voldemort's name spelled incorrectly in a fan fiction (even though the T is silent) would rightly wonder whether the fan author is actually a fan of the series. For rabid fans, this misspelling would be enough to make them stop reading that fan fiction, even if it is otherwise interesting and enjoyable.
- Does the author follow basic writing conventions? I know I have stopped reading a fan fiction when I kept seeing errors in spelling and usage—not because the story was bad, but because the errors distracted from what I was reading. Take time to proofread and edit your work.
- Does the writer vary between long and short sentences? This is just good writing. Writing nothing but long sentences can confuse readers because they're being bombarded with several ideas and events at once. Writing nothing but short sentences makes for a choppy, awkward read.
- Are paragraphs and page breaks used judiciously? Paragraphs and line breaks let the reader know when the scene has changed. When I started writing my fan fiction, I didn't use page breaks or horizontal dividers. Besides giving my readers a lot to digest at one time, leaving out page breaks also made it hard to know when the focus had switched to different characters or places.
- Does dialogue enhance the narrative and offer insight into the plot and characters? Dialogue should have a purpose. Whether that purpose is transition, exposition, or development, there should be a reason for every piece of dialogue. Maybe you want to show that a character lives in the South. It would be appropriate for the speaker to use local dialect to further show that the story takes place in the South. In my fan fiction, I use dialogue to explain a character's past actions or to show the difference between characters.
Effective Fan Fiction: Sequenced Logically
Fiction narratives often don't follow a linear path from beginning to end. Although it's important for your reader to know the sequence of events in your story, good writers often insert flashbacks into the story to give insight into why the character and the plot are the way they are. This technique, called in medias res, dates back to the Roman writer Homer, author of the famed Iliad and Odyssey.
In other words, the writer might start in the present and then devote some of the narrative to past events. These past events may be introduced with dialogue, looking at old photographs, dreams, or after a pause in present action. Once the past events have explained an aspect of the plot, the narrative may return to the present.
The fan author may also decide to present a narrative from several characters' perspectives. This is more difficult than writing a story in chronological order, but it's not impossible. More likely, the writer would still follow each "strand" of the story until all the strands can logically come together.
However you choose to sequence your fan fiction, a definite beginning and end are helpful for figuring out where the story is going.
You Can Do It
There's a lot to remember, and it can be daunting. The first thing is to remember why you started writing. If it was for personal satisfaction, be sure you're enjoying it. If you're not enjoying what you're writing, it'll show. In my time writing fan fiction, I've come to like my own characters and even wonder what they'd do in the actual series. If you enjoy what you're doing, everything else will come in time.