Challenging Yourself By Writing Fan Fiction

By Tristan A. Arts

Fan fiction. Most people, if they know this term at all, think of amateur writers writing storylines they've always wanted their favorite characters to be in, and doing poorly at it. However, this is ignoring all the really great fan fiction work out there, and completely missing the point of fan fiction. Yes, many fans write fan fiction to see the characters they love from another author doing things they never would've otherwise, and yes, many of them are amateurs. There are also those who aren't very good at it. Let's just overlook all that for now, since all writing has it's share of people who are trying to improve. For now, let's focus on the true point of writing fan fiction: the challenge. Then we'll move on to discuss different types of fan fiction stories.

No matter how great a fiction writer you are, you're probably used to your own characters. Since they're yours, you can make them do whatever they want to... they are yours, after all. Of course, you do have to make sure they never do anything out of character, unless something that happens to them makes them act understandably out of character, but still, the story is yours. You can change it however you want by adding new characters, new scenarios, and new settings. Where your own fiction is concerned, you are a god... you are even the God to your characters.

Let's say for a moment that you're stuck with a case of writer's block, since it happens to the best of us. Maybe you can't think of a new story or novel to write, or you're stuck on one part of a novel you're currently writing and can't think of how to proceed. It's a challenge, and you're stuck. So how to get unstuck? Let's explore a possibility.

Try writing a fan fiction story. Yes, write a short story with someone else's characters, setting, and rules. You can't usually get things like this published, but that's not the point of this exercise. It's just exercise for your creative brain. You take the characters of, say, Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer - a story you know almost as well as your own, if not even more so - and write a story that could happen in that world, with those characters.

Bear in mind, of course, that you can't add characters, except for minor ones that fit within the context of that world. You also can't change any of the laws, rules, history, character personalities, or character history of the stories. Because this is not your world, you are only a minor god, and it's a challenge for you.

Writing like this is a challenge for you as a writer because you can only work with what you know to be true. By working within the confines of another author's world, you begin to look for pieces of the canon of that world that you can use to your advantage... tools to make the characters do what your plot says they must. Of course, the plot also has to make sense in that world, and conform to its laws as well, but it is a plot unique to you. The challenge is integrating your creativity into the creativity of another, without any assistance from them personally.

This process will help you in your own writing because you'll be able to look at what you've done already and use all the rules, history, character history and personalities, and laws of your own world to come up with a solution to the block you're at in your story.

For those of you who can't think of a story to write, writing fan fiction not only helps you improve your writing skills but can inspire you. If you can come up with a plot that works for a fan fiction story, it might help you think of a plot, setting, and characters for your own story. The best way to inspire yourself for writing is reading, of course, but another way - if you're still stumped - is to take what you've read an apply it to writing fan fiction. Challenge yourself this way enough, and you're bound to get inspired by it.

Now let's look at some of the different types of fan fiction stories, starting with the shortest type... the drabble. A drabble is a story that is a mere 100 words long. If you can go over, some communities may still consider it a drabble, but most communities would consider that a vignette.

You may think that a 100 word fan fiction was no big deal, but all fiction has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, correct? Furthermore, the story has to be about something. There has to be a conflict and a resolution, unless it is a conflict that never gets resolved in the context of the original story.

So we see that the drabble, which must contain all of the above stated things to be a story, can be highly challenging. It can even be considered, in some ways, to be one of the most challenging fan fiction types. Though, because it is so short, it is not really very useful as a tool to improve fiction writing. One should then consider drabbles to be warm-up exercises, if the goal is to improve short story and novel writing skills. Vignettes, of course, are along the same lines, but without the strict word limitation.

Thus we move on to the next and most obvious fan fiction type, the short story. These come in many genres, many of which depend on the mood of the story. These mood genres are "angst," "fluff," "romantic," "introspective," “action/adventure,” “drama,” “horror,” “humor,” “parody,” “PWP,” “slash,” “suspense,” “crossover,” and various community-specific terms as “war” and “post-war.” Most of these are fairly self-explanatory, but some are not.

Of the exceptions, there is "Fluff," which is defined as a story that is predominantly humorous in an excessively happy and cute way. Then there’s “PWP,” which stands for, “Plot? What Plot?” and usually refers to fanfics where two or more of the characters are engaged in intimacy, and that act is the focus of the story. On that note, there is “slash,” which may or may not be a PWP as well, in which there is love or lust between two characters of the same sex. The last, “crossover,” is when characters from one author’s world are put into another, such as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” suddenly finding herself in a “Walker, Texas Ranger” story.

There are also combinations of these genres… as many as you can imagine! Even seemingly opposite genres can be used, such as an “angst/fluff” piece, if you can make such a pairing work.

Also, in the world of fan fiction writing, any "fanfic" world can have a mood different from the usual mood of the original story. Though because of the dynamic nature of most stories popular enough to be written in by fan fiction writers, it is difficult to find an example of this. However, one possibility might be a story written in the world of the humorous "Futurama" cartoon being an "angst" piece.

As to the form of a fan fiction short story, these vary in size and length of detail from rather short to long and involved. It all depends, of course, on what the author is trying to accomplish. Which means, also, that what kind of fan fiction you write for practice depends on what you're trying to accomplish with your own writings. For example, if you're trying to work on narrative detail as opposed to dialogue, you might try an introspective piece of some length, or maybe even bring two characters together in romance and have an internal narrator, making an "introspective romantic" piece. If your aim is humor, either “humor” or “fluff” might be for you. Then, with practice from the fan fiction you wrote, it should loosen up the creativity you need for your own writings.

Fan fiction usually only deals with variations on short stories and on poetry, but there are also some who write novellas, novelettes, and novels based in another author’s world. This, however, seems to be more for the true fans and not really for those who are merely honing their writing talents. Still, to each their own, in their own way.

Now that the benefits of writing fan fiction have been explained, you should be ready to try your hand at it, if you want to and need to. You have all the basic information needed to write a “fanfic” now, and if you desire any more information, you can always look up the fan fiction web sites and communities online. They will be glad to offer their assistance, as I have.