Today, I’m glad to have author Abigail Falanga to share her insights on how the boundries of fanfiction can help you become a more creative writer!
I don’t read fan fiction.
I don’t even write much fanfic any more.
Anyone still reading?
Good. Because, whatever my failings in the fanfic regard, what I have written has taught me so much – about writing and even about the world.
What could be better than the thrill of extending your love of someone else’s created world by writing your own version of it?
It’s a way of pushing characters we know and love in new directions, turning corners in plots where maybe the originators aren’t going to go, exploring the details of a franchise which fascinates us far more than one hour a week or one book a year can satisfy.
And then, what happens when two totally different universes collide? Mashups have always been my favorite ideas to play with: What happens when the TARDIS materializes right in front of Katniss Everdeen? How would Capt. Kirk interact with the crew of the Raza? What gentle critique would Father Brown offer to Prof. Xavier and his sometimes-illogical theories? Would Gibbs and his NCIS crew survive an encounter with the UCOS team? (it’s ok if you don’t get the last one!)
But writing fanfic comes with inherent limitations.
After all, there’s only so much one can do to a franchise before it ceases to be that franchise. Add in enough elves, vampires, and minimalist poetry to a “Star Trek” story, and it really won’t be “Star Trek” anymore. Yes, what it becomes might be really, really cool – but it’s a totally different thing.
The same thing goes for characters: Make the snarky, cynical, optimistic Malcolm Reynolds taciturn and murderous, and he is no longer our beloved Firefly captain. Yes, he could be a deep, interesting character – especially if you explain how he got to that place (though, seriously, what worse could possibly happen to him…?!) – but he will be someone else.
In fact, some series outright forbid certain twists. For instance, Clarissa Clare will not include zombies in her books, “Doctor Who” won’t dabble in magic without saying there is some scientific explanation, etc. Yes, a fanfic might insert some forbidden element; but to do so excludes it from anything remotely canonical.
These limitations are what allows story to be told and worlds to be built. Without them, it is chaotic – or at least much less enjoyable to consume. After all, every magic system must have boundaries to be believable.
But what happens when all those add-ins and mashups accumulate into something fascinating and independent?
What happens when you put a character through so much that he’s no longer Mal Reynolds, but a taciturn assassin with a quirky sense of humor who can’t you help but really like?
What happens when the elven-vampire war-in-space has so many battles and broken alliances that you’re starting to track them on flowcharts and pick sides?
There is a glorious moment when your own creation transcends the boundaries of its origin world and leaps into the realm of inspiration.
I’ve had this happen several times, and I’ve come to enjoy it (though there is sadness in letting the original go!). In fact, I have found that many of my best characters spring from fanfic inspiration, and some of my best stories and worlds somehow have roots in the books or series I love. After all, these characters and worlds are great because they are strong and well-built; why not borrow from the best?
I’ve heard it said that writing fan fiction is an excellent way to learn the basic skills of writing – plot-structure, dialogue, scene-construction.
But clearly it goes beyond that.
Working within the boundaries of one universe shows how a world is built, while stepping outside shows how it must evolve with every change. It demonstrates why structures are in place, and how the complexity of a character’s development is integral to how she acts, talks, reacts.
It even allows a context in which to examine different worldviews – socialism, Taoism, pantheism, scientism, utilitarianism, ideas about the nature of equality, spirituality, humanity. These, too, have their limitations and fanfic sometimes forces one to find them.
And, through it all, writers have the magnificent experience of creating new things and great characters, which have their roots in the stories we love and inspire us the most.
How much more fun could practice and training be?!
Abigail Falanga is an incorrigible fantasist and inveterate science-fiction writer who believes in using long words freighted with meaning. She lives in New Mexico, alternately inspired and distracted by her family and extremely large black lab mix. She writes speculative fiction ranging among fairy tales, ghost stories, science fiction, high fantasy, space opera, and espionage thriller. Beginning to build a platform is hard work, but Abigail is beginning to seek publication on various blogs, short story venues, and Wattpad. And then there’s the full-length novel thing, but that’s a different story!