Greetings, readers. National Novel Writing Month begins in just over a week, and you ought to be spending this time doing a little bit of planning, so that on November 1st, you can use your Halloween candy sugar rush to fuel an explosive wordgasm of awesomeness, which will buoy your spirits for the coming challenge, and the one after that (the sugar crash being the most immediate one, followed by writing a novel). Perhaps, like several members of Salon Auteur, you have already caught the fever, and have to actually fight yourself to keep from jumping the gun and putting a few thousand words down now (that would be cheating!) Or maybe you have an idea, but you’re feeling silly about the concept. You’re feeling silly because it’s…fan fiction.
You may be under the impression that fan fiction is the lowest form of writing; it’s derivative, it’s unoriginal, it’s not publishable. Fan fiction is practically a synonym for porn, for God’s sake! Fan fiction may seem like nothing more than word masturbation (particularly if it’s porn)—who would want to read it besides you? Do we really care about your adventures on Deep Space Nine (No)? Does the world need another Draco/Snape slash fic (Yes)? But these kinds of doubts are irrelevant, not to mention untrue. Being derivative is neither a necessary nor an exclusive feature of fan fiction (Tom Clancy has how many novels?). And if you read Thursday’s post, you know that originality is not necessary to make an interesting or successful book. Creativity and imagination (which aren’t necessarily original) are your key here, and I’ll give you a few hints in a moment on how to spark them. And as to the idea that fan fiction isn’t publishable, just take a look at the best-selling paperback series of all time (and no, it isn’t Harry Potter). Yes, if you haven’t already heard a hundred times, lady-porn monstrosity 50 Shades of Grey is nothing more than Twilight fan fiction with a few altered names and settings.
And seriously, if you want to write some porn, write some porn. If you honestly think you can manage 50,000 coherent words, go for it. If nothing else, it will be a good exploration of your own sexual psyche. Watch Marigold Farmer of Questionable Content (my favourite web comic that you should be reading daily) show you how it’s done with a masterfully written piece entitled “Hermione and Ginny Vs. The Space Wizards.” Granted, that’s a short story, and you’re writing a novel, but let it serve as inspiration for you. The photo above shows Marigold in the process of creating this masterpiece. You should click on the image and go read the saga of how it was created. The comic link is completely safe for work, and the story is mostly safe for work (it does have space underwear and sex, but now so does this). Wait, why are you reading this at work, anyway?
Now, there are several different kinds of fan fiction that you can imagine. Obviously, you can just write a similar story where the already existing characters make the choices that you would have had them make, as opposed to the ones they actually did. Most erotic fan fiction falls into this category (according to the internet, Hogwarts is a total den of iniquity). But since we’re trying to spark creativity and imagination, let’s shake things up more than that. The trick is to add (or change) something significant in order to get your mind flowing with a new story. I think it’s a good practice to introduce only one significant change at a time, in order to keep from overwhelming yourself with what you’re trying to accomplish. Once you change one detail and feel good about it though, you can certainly move on to the next. You might find that the one detail that you added to the original story is actually strong enough to survive on its own without whatever your original fan source was (I have actually experienced this personally, so it’s not just a hypothetical to me any more).
So what can we add to our story of choice to make it interesting? The first thing that a fan typically imagines is that she is a character in the story. You may think you can simply replace your favourite character with yourself, and the story happens as normal, except it’s you. Don’t do this. While it appeals to the fan inside, you’re so similar to the character you replaced it doesn’t make any difference, except you feel good about it. This is the type of fan fiction that you were warned about. I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t imagine yourself as the characters in your favourite story. I’m just saying that it’s best kept in your mind and off of paper.
Another type of fan fiction is when you insert an original character into the midst of the already existing story. This is much more interesting (you may think of this original character as yourself, but don’t use your own name for her). How does this character influence the existing story? Does she have a positive effect on the world, or does she break it completely? One example of this type of writing is the play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). While technically the play falls into the category of parody more than fan fiction, it has lessons to teach us, as it brings a new character into pre-existing material and scrambles everything. In the case of Goodnight Desdemona, the result is high comedy. Your addition could just as easily result in tragedy (or romance). Give it a thought.
Better yet (or at least my favourite) is the setting shift. This type of fan fiction re-imagines a pre-existing set of characters and story lines into a completely new setting. What if Batman took place in feudal Japan? What if the Hunger Games was set in 1800s Europe? This sort of shift can cause a big shake-up, adding in all kinds of interesting drama. My first written story actually falls into this category, more or less. I imagined that Indiana Jones was a polar bear in a world of talking animals (I was 11, okay?). I mean, why not? These kinds of stories can be highly imaginative and interesting. For a pro-example of this kind of thing, check out the film Brick. It’s a brilliant remake of The Maltese Falcon, set in a modern California high school, instead of black-and-white 1940s San Francisco.
The third main type of fan fiction you can write is the Crossover. You know what this is. Take two pre-existing stories, and smoosh them together. Hilarity/awesomeness ensues. Crossovers are most common in the comic book world. Transformers meet X-Men, Superman vs. Aliens, you name it, it’s probably been done. That doesn’t mean that you ought not do it again. I’m not sure what else to say about this, except that if you’re going to cross two fandoms, you’ll probably end up pleasing neither. Crossovers are notoriously difficult to do because both sides usually end up feeling that “their” side was unfairly treated. Obviously, if it’s your novel, you can just tell them to shove it, but keep in mind that your fans are going to exclusively be fans of the original product, and if you irritate them too much, they can grow hostile. For example, if you try to answer the age-old question of what would happen if the USS Enterprise met the Executer Super Star Destroyer, angry fans will find you can hurt you.
Actually, I think that writing a Star Wars novel falls into a completely different category of writing than fan fiction (although Star Trek stories don’t). If you want to find out why, be sure to read me on Thursday, when I will continue my subject of choosing what to write. In the mean time, feel free to add me as a writing buddy on NaNoWriMo.org. My user-name is Citizen7. And don’t forget to read Jabberwocky Anonymous on Wednesday!
This post is dedicated to the old crew at the Toonzone World’s Finest Writing Corner, once the world’s greatest source of Teen Titans fan fiction! You know who you are. Thanks, I owe you.
K “Kregor” R