Today, I’m glad to have author Reneé Le Vine to share her thoughts on why it’s important to do research when writing fanfiction!
Research Your Fanfiction
Research and fanfiction are two words that sound like they shouldn’t go together. Fanfiction is just for fun, right? Research sounds like something that you would save for more serious writing, like school essays or that unfinished original novel that’s staring you in the face.
And while fanfiction is definitely more of something you would do for fun, doing research is still a good idea! Unless you’re writing one of those fics where the canon and/or plot doesn’t matter, I think your readers will probably appreciate you taking the time to at least have some idea what you’re doing.
While I haven’t written a ton of fanfiction, I have written some, both more recently and in the past, plus I just really love research, so here are some ways to go about doing research for your fanfiction!
- Know the source material.
It might seem kind of obvious, but if you’re writing a fanfic, you should probably at least be familiar with whatever universe you’re writing your fic in. This is particularly true if you’re writing crossover fics, so you can keep the facts of each universe straight, but it’s just as true of regular fics.
So watch the show or movie, play the video (or card or tabletop) game, read the book or comic or manga. If you’re writing a fic about a real person (yes, such fics exist), read up about him or her.
It’s also important to know where in a universe’s canon your story is set, if you’re doing a standard adaptation fic or inserting an OC into an existing storyline. Especially in shows, books, and comic or manga series, a canon character’s development may be at a certain place, or certain facts about the universe itself may be true or not true. In my rather large Doctor Who fanfic “The Companion’s Diary of Alyson ‘Alys’ Reed,” I made a small mistake in the first couple adventures regarding the TARDIS Time Rotor (that column in the middle of the console), which I only realized later.
If your chosen fandom has any sort of “expanded universe,” it’s worth checking out any info from it as well. Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who are particularly good examples. Even smaller fandoms can have this, however; the TV show Orphan Black (which I was quite a fan of when it was on) used its comic adaptation to explore backstory for the main characters that the show hadn’t revealed, as well as explore the mysterious “Helsinki incident” alluded to early on.
Knowing the source material can also help you know what rules you’re breaking if you do change things. In my Go! Princess PreCure one-shot “Lily & Flame,” I changed the order of a few canon events around to fit the story, but left the plot of the episode being adapted more or less the same.
Streaming services have made it easier than ever before to become familiar with — or even to review — shows or movies you’re basing a fic on. If your fandom is more obscure, you might have to resort to less legal methods, such as torrents or sites like YouTube or Dailymotion. There is also the option of getting DVDs from the library, which is also a good place to find books, comics, or manga you might be writing a fic about. Many books, comics, and manga are also available digitally, either from libraries via Overdrive or through ebook stores or apps like Comixology or Izneo. So know the source!
- Reference Works
This is more like “traditional” research. If you are setting your story in a certain historical era, it would be a good idea to research that time period. This is true even for series that feature time travel, like Doctor Who or Legends of Tomorrow. It could also be useful if you’re writing AU fics, since the characters are probably in a different setting than usual.
Reference works related to the actual series you’re writing about can also be useful. Some series, such as Doctor Who or Star Wars, have released official reference books. Gamebooks can be useful too — and not just for tabletop games! I’ve used Time Lord, a Doctor Who live-action roleplay gamebook released in 1991, for character development for “The Linguist’s Story,” my pre-Time War project starring an OC Time Lord.
- Fan Wikis
This is a reference that has become more common in recent years, especially with the popularity of the wiki-hosting site FANDOM (formerly Wikia). Fan wikis can be very useful for fact-checking anything you might need to know about your chosen universe. Keep in mind, though, that some are better than others. The best fan wikis I’ve seen are Wookieepedia (Star Wars), TARDIS Data Core (Doctor Who), and Memory Alpha (Star Trek).
Ah, TVTropes. Sure, it’s one of those sites you could waste a lot of time surfing, but it’s also great as a fanfic research resource! It has entries on just about any book, movie, TV show, comic, etc you might think of, making it useful for information, much like the wikis in #3. However, it’s also useful for its helpful resources, such as its So You Want To guides (including one specifically for fanfiction) and Useful Notes, among various other categories in its Index. Also check out its Fanfic Recommendations list to find member-recommended fics based on various series.
- Other Online Resources
The previous four sources aren’t the only places to do research for your fanfiction!
Any good search engine will probably pull up any number of resources on either your chosen fandom or fanfic writing in general. I did this when I wrote “Lily & Flame,” because it had been a long time since I had written a one-shot, so I needed guidance on that front.
Tumblr is also a great resource, thanks to its large fanfic and roleplay community. Blogs aimed at helping roleplayers (called “RP help” blogs) are particularly useful, but even blogs about writing in general are great, as are reference blogs such as Script Medic and study help blogs (usually called “studyblrs”). “Masterposts,” essentially long lists of references, are also very helpful.
I hope this post was useful to you! Thanks for reading!
Reneé Le Vine is a writer of science fiction and fantasy primarily, though she dabbles in other things. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature and Writing Studies from California State University, San Marcos, with a Writing Studies emphasis and a minor in French. In her spare time, she likes reading, writing, listening to music, or playing video games. While she doesn’t have any major publications yet, she is working on several original novels and short stories, and occasionally working on fanfiction, such as her Doctor Who projects “The Companion’s Diary of Alyson ‘Alys’ Reed,” a diary-style fic featuring an OC Companion traveling with the Eleventh Doctor between “The Snowmen” and “The Bells of Saint John” that is both a NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo winner, and “The Linguist’s Story,” a collection of short stories, set primarily pre-Time War, featuring an OC female Time Lord from Romana’s generation that was originally a roleplay character. Besides this, she has many other fanfiction ideas on the back burner. She writes from the San Diego area.