How Fanfiction can Help You Finally Write that Novel

Ever considered publishing that “Great American Novel,” or a new and trendy dystopian trilogy, or a fantasy series no one can stop talking about? It can be hard to get started, even when you have a story pretty well mapped in your head. “No problem,” you say as you approach the computer, ready to write a super awesome action scene that’s been playing out for days in your head.
Then you realize: there are so many small, niggling details to keep in mind. What aspects of the setting do your readers need to know for the scene to play out? Where are the characters in relation to each other? How should they react to the scenario while remaining true to their personalities? What about that character who’s only got one hand, but you accidentally wrote him completing actions with TWO, and now you have to figure out how a handicap comes into play?
You work hard to fashion a fully-realized world. You’re sure to craft characters with all the dimension of real world counterparts. But sometimes… you get disheartened by slow (or non-existent) progress.
In those dry spells, why not try banishing the curse of writer’s block through a little fanfiction? There are several ways this avenue can help a budding author discover his/her craft and style. Let’s explore them in a little section I’d like to call:

“Fanfiction: It’s Good for More than Just Pairing Your Ships”

1) Skip the World-Building and Get Straight to the Story

Every story requires world-building, whether based in reality or fantasy. What’s the scope of your world? How are the towns and cities laid out? What’s the technology? What do people wear? Eat? Do for work? And on and on…
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Interested in writing a story with a steampunk setting? Hey, Final Fantasy VI has got you covered.

With fanfiction, the world’s been built for you, giving you a chance to explore and create on already-established ground. The arduous behind-the-scenes work has already been done; now enjoy fashioning a tale with all those details at your disposal!
You can choose any genre: from sci-fi to fantasy, historical fiction to horror. Learn how each world works with its genre and what you’ll need to think about as you develop settings of your own.
As an added bonus: when writing the details of someone else’s world, you may in fact gain inspiration for your own. Or at least hone the skills necessary to fully explain a setting to your readers.

2) Expand on Previously-Established Characters

This is why fanfiction was born, right? Especially to expand on the relationships of these characters.  Did that guy and gal in your favorite TV show never hook up like you hoped they would? Well, hey, they’re just one keyboard and Microsoft Word document away from discovering the love they always had for each other but just never expressed.
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Diversity + a dash of quirkiness = great breeding grounds for character development.

I would also like to posit, though, that fanfiction is great for character exploration on the whole. No need to limit it to unfulfilled romance! Movies, shows, and games are replete with all types of personalities just waiting for a little more extrapolation. How about practicing interactions that aren’t rife with amorous tension?
Characters are the driving force of any story. You can have the most gorgeous world planned, you can have all the intrigue of a Sherlock episode, but if your characters are as expressive as toast, you won’t take your audience very far. So practice with personalities that are already fully-realized! They may teach you how to craft your own story’s cast.

3) Express the Story Through a Different Art Medium

As previously mentioned, the purpose of fanfiction can often be to pair up characters you were sure were MFEO, even if the original story seemed to disagree with your opinion.
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You know those obsessions you just can’t explain…?

But have you ever thought of taking a story as is and simply “translating” it to the page? For example, how do you think you might capture the same essence of a video game’s tale through written fiction? You’d have to express the setting, action, and dialogue through different means. (And maybe experiment with added interactions to flesh out the characters…?)
I mean, if Star Wars can do it (and in iambic pentameter, no less), surely no fandom is off the table. And just think: maybe this is the chance you’ve been waiting for–the chance to finally get your non-gamer friends interested in these stories you love so much! They might be more willing to read a book… right?
(How dare you insinuate I have ulterior motives?)

4) Don’t Agonize over Perfection (It’s Just for Fun Anyway, Right?)

This advice goes mainly to the writers who can’t stand first draft problems (which would be me, me, and also me.) Why can’t the words flow from the fingers exactly the way I want them to on the first go-around? Why did I burp out this awful, clunky exposition in Chapter 5 when I had far more fluid prose in mind? I feel the need to excuse myself against my own self-criticism: “I CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS, I PROMISE!”
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Don’t sweat the small stuff.

It may not be the same for everyone, but, when writing fanfiction, my need to impress decreases significantly. Of course, I still want to use the time to hone my craft, but I’m also just here to enjoy a good story! I want to expound on characters I love and see how I can personally describe another creator’s world. When I work with a pre-fabricated story, somehow the pressure’s off, and my inner critic calms down.
It’s good practice for when I return to my personal work and need a reminder that not everything needs to have wow-factor on the first (or second, or third, or eleventh) draft. After all, even movies, shows, and games with the largest fanbases had rough drafts at the beginning. It’s all part of the process.
So next time your fanfiction gets pegged as a waste of time, remind the naysayers of these practical applications that are furthering your career as a notable author. It’s definitely gained me some respect!*

*All claims of this writer may not be true and should be read with a grain of salt. Amanda cannot be held responsible for any loss of respect amongst non-geek friends and relatives, as she is too busy digging her own dignity’s grave.

Amanda Bizeau-Nicol

Amanda’s love for video games started way back when she used to watch her brother play the NES; one day, she decided to pick up the controller herself, and the rest is history! She's currently working to upload her longtime fanfic work - The Fluffy Tadpole - to Archive of Our Own. In her spare time, she writes fiction, cross-stitches, whips her husband at puzzle games, and creates Myers-Briggs profiles for fictional characters. (Shh… It’s all perfectly normal…)

2 Comments

  1. Stan Faryna on November 29, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Fanfiction is a candy shop, indeed. I enjoyed the read and the reflections that the reading provoked.

    And, oh, novel writing is something… [grin]

    To be sure, a good American novel will be the result of a pain-staking craftsmanship. I resent this. [laughing] And a good (fruitful) Christian novel will be a bloody affair where soul and spirit must be separated. I am reminded of the scourging of Jesus at the pillar. I resent this challenge even more.

    When we accept to do the work, world-building, character-building, or otherwise, we will make a pilgrim’s progress on hands and knees.

    • Amanda Bizeau on November 30, 2016 at 12:49 am

      Thanks for commenting! And yes, crafting a novel of our own is truly mind-breaking work. Especially as Christians, I think that even when our stories aren’t overtly speaking about Jesus, we still have to take serious consideration for the message we are trying to convey. I’ve been taking some time of my own to reflect on that.

      In the meantime, a little frivolous practice keeps my writer muscles strong. 🙂

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