Continuing my series on the benefits of writing fan-fiction, today I have my first guest. H.A. Titus is the author of Forged Steel, a short story contributor in such anthologies as Avenir Eclectia, Different Dragons II, and Quickfic Anthology 2. She’s also a contributor to the New Authors Fellowship and an online friend I’ve known for a long time. Today, she shares with us some of the lessons she’s learned while writing fan-fiction.
I was a late-comer to the world of fan-fiction. I discovered it in my mid-twenties, in the middle of my obsession with the shows Sherlock, Supernatural, and Doctor Who.
My own writing had stalled. I was a new mom, we’d just moved into a new house, and I felt creatively drained. It felt like every book I picked up had something wrong with it—I couldn’t turn off my editing brain for the world. I’d been letting myself just soak in these new shows, hoping that the love of story would come back someday. And when Sherlock and Supernatural began making jokes about fan-fiction, I decided to check it out, little knowing the rabbit hole I was about to fall into.
I think what surprised me the most was that it was so different than most of the stuff I’d read before. The AUs, the crossovers—sure, the writing in some may not have been super polished, but the good stories held my attention nevertheless. It really brought home to me the idea that “story is king”—something I’d heard said before, but I hadn’t really taken it to heart.
But the second thing I discovered about fan-fiction?
It’s a really, really fun way to practice writing.
As I absorbed these shows and the fan-fiction, I started getting an itch to write again. I started getting ideas for a crazy crossover involving all three shows—it just seemed like the personalities of the Winchester brothers, the 221B Baker Street gang, and the TARDIS crew would make for fun banter (one of my favorite things to write) and a zany adventure. So I came up with an idea, sat down, and started writing. (I later discovered that SuperWhoLock crossovers, as they were called, were considered some of the craziest and most out there fans. Oops.)
“Hey, look! Writing’s fun again!” I thought. So I figured maybe I’d try to bounce between two projects. I’d write my “serious” fiction first, then reward myself by writing in the SuperWhoLock fanfiction.
The problem was that I got bogged down in my own writing again. And not by worldbuilding, or plotting…it was how the characters were coming out on the page. Something felt flat, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
By contrast, I was flying through the first draft the SuperWhoLock fan-fiction. Part of it, I knew, was that I was viewing my own world as “work”, as “serious”, while the fan-fiction was “just for fun.” But I couldn’t figure out how to turn my own work into “fun” again.
And then, a beta reader hit the nail on the head. I got some comments on chapters of my book that I’d sent out—knowing it wasn’t ready, but desperate for some kind of feedback. “Your characters all sound the same. If you hadn’t included speaking tags there’s no way I would’ve been able to tell who was talking.”
That made me sit back from my computer and blink. And then blink again.
And then it hit me.
That’s why my own work felt boring. That’s why, despite a world I loved and a plot I was excited about, my characters were flat. Before the beta reader’s comment, though, I’d been too close to the work to see it.
By contrast, the fan-fiction was fun because of all the different voices. If you’ve seen Sherlock, you know what I mean. John Watson has a lot of non-verbal cues, and is sometimes almost stuttering in his replies. Sherlock Holmes speaks sharply and precisely. Those are the most diverse examples, but it was there in all of them. Even though they’re brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester have different speech patterns. Amy, Rory, and the Eleventh Doctor are, again, all different.
I could use that, I realized. I could use my fan-fiction to practice bringing speech patterns and non-verbal cues to life on the page. Maybe if I could figure out how to mimic John Watson’s stutter, Eleven’s way of bouncing from topic to topic, Sam’s deliberateness, I’d be able to go back to my own book and differentiate my own character’s voices.
With that in mind, I spent a few evenings binging some of my favorite episodes of the three shows. Once I had the characters’ speech patterns firmly in my head—and, I’ll admit, even tried to imitate them on my own–I sat down, rewrote a bit of what I’d already written, and carried on. I began posting chapters on Wattpad and other fan-fiction sites, hoping for some feedback, but scared out of my mind. I was taking on the Big Three of fandoms (at least, it felt like it at the time.) What if people hated it?
And, at first, I got a few negative comments. Folks mostly didn’t like that it featured only canon relationships…I also got a few people that didn’t like the SuperWhoLock crossover idea. But by and large, pretty soon, I started getting really nice, really encouraging feedback. This feedback not only told me that yes, I could write and write well, but that I was nailing the different voices of the diverse cast. (I even got a couple of comments saying that they wished I could write an episode of one of the shows for real!)
Eventually—and this is what I regret the most—the fan-fiction got abandoned when life got too busy. But it rekindled my passion for storytelling. And what I started “just for fun” actually taught me a lot about character voice, making characters sounds different on the page, and how describing non-verbal cues can be just as important as describing how the character speaks. It’s a very important part of my writing journey. I’m grateful for what writing fan-fiction taught me.