Last week, when I spent the majority of my time in bed going back and forth between watching Buffy reruns on Logo and throwing up in the bathroom, I went searching for an old fan-fiction story I’d started reading in 1999 and hadn’t ever finished.
And I found it! Thanks, Google!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I remembered. (Boo.)
But it was still pretty good.
There are a lot of writers who don’t like fan-fiction because they say it encroaches upon the original writers’ rights, and also because it’s stupid. Ironically, these same people are usually the ones who get paid to write movie and TV tie-in books, even though they sometimes can’t even spell the characters’ names properly. Which, if you ask me, is the same thing as fan-fiction, only not as well-written and often way too expensive.
(Yes, Paul, even after eleven years, I am still bitter about that $8.00 book by the person who spelled ‘Drusilla’ with a C.)
I, on the other hand, am not ashamed to admit that I spent a LOT of my time writing fan-fiction when I was younger, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have half the writing know-how I have now.
Which is why I think fan-fiction can be really great as a learning exercise. Because even though Xander and Willow never really got together, and the show itself devolved into a parody of itself from season four onward, everything was OK in the Buffyverse because I could just ignore all the other crap and write it the way I saw it.
The way I wanted it to be.
The way it should have been.
Until, you know, the writers got it wrong.
Which, now that I think about it, is still the reason I write today–because something isn’t the way it should be, and I feel like I have to correct it to make the world right again.
Which sounds more egotistical than it really is, I think. But whatever.
There are some pitfalls fan-fiction authors fall into that can be easily avoided, if you know where to look. So from one former fan-fiction writer to another, here’s a list of survival tips I’ve compiled for aspiring authors who write fan-fiction:
* Use a pseudonym
If you’re at all squiggy about someone (like a potential agent, or your mom, for example) finding your fan-fiction online, here’s an easy solution: don’t put your name on it. Give yourself a handle like HighlanderFan302 and be done with it. No one will ever know unless you tell them.
* Work on the mechanics of writing
Just because you’re using someone else’s characters doesn’t mean you can’t still learn something about writing. Pay attention to your grammar and spelling, pacing, story structure. Practice plotting. Perfect your pitch. These are things you’ll need later, when you start writing your own, original stories. And the more you do them, the better you’ll become.
* Take chances
Variety is the spice of life. So every now and then, do something you think is stupid and would never work. Write a script. Write a story using only one-syllable words. Create an odd pairing, or write a story in second-person present tense point of view. Without having to worry about characters or setting, you can focus on being as experimental as you like, without worrying about whether or not it works.
And experimentation? Yeah, it’s a good thing.
* Beware of toxic people
Here’s a story for you. I once met a girl who was serious about writing. I know that she was serious about writing because she told me: “My name is Jenah and I’m SERIOUS about writing.” She also told me she liked my stories, and that if I worked really hard, I could be as good as she was.
Months passed and Jenah and I kept talking. I learned she had an agent (but she wouldn’t say who) and that she belonged to a super-secret top-notch critique group (but she wouldn’t say where) and had won a bunch of awards (but would never say which ones).
One day I asked if I could bounce an idea off of her and when I did, she told me it sucked.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” she said, “but it’s not very good. And I wouldn’t say that unless I cared.”
I scrapped the idea and a week later, she put her version of it up at her website.
“There are no new ideas,” she said when I confronted her about it, “just new twists. Your idea inspired me. You should be proud.”
Then she told everyone I was a freak who thought everyone was stealing her work. I never talked to her after that.
Later I found out she had been giving me such a hard time because she didn’t think it was fair that I was in my twenties and she was in her forties, and we were both in the same place, writing-wise.
I KNOW. It didn’t make sense to me, either. But that’s beside the point. The point is, she was mean because she was jealous. Or maybe she was mean because she was mean. But there was some jealousy in there, too.
So if your friend or critique partner or beta reader is always trying to find something they don’t like about you or about your work, or if they’re always telling you you’re wrong and that your ideas are stupid, cut them loose and move on.
For what it’s worth, I later met someone who was serious about writing, and unlike Jenah, this person was interested in doing her best, not in being the best. That person, by the way, is Victoria, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, she is AWESOME.
* Finish what you start
This one is important for two reasons:
(a) starting a story and not finishing it is a mean thing to do. Why? Because someone might want to read it, that’s why. And that’s hard to do if you never finish it. I ran across an abandoned story in 2006, when I was recuperating after having had a miscarriage, and let me tell you, I’m still annoyed by it.
(b) starting a novel is easy, but finishing one is hard. So if you have dozens of half-finished fan-fiction stories on your hard drive, how many half-finished novels do you think you’re going to have? Finishing the stories you start, no matter how stupid or badly written they are, is a good habit to have.
* Copy someone’s idea–or worse! Their STORY!
That’s called plagiarism, and not only is it stealing, it’s completely fruitless. Don’t do it!
* Be a review whore
Writing a book is hard work, and for a lot of people, it’s solitary work. And if you’re trying to get your book published, it can also be thankless, frustrating work. Sure, everyone likes a good old-fashioned pat on the back every now and then. But the reality is, most of the feedback you’re going to get is constructive criticism, which is just a nice way of saying there’s something wrong with your story.
Something you have to fix.
Which can get old. Fast.
Especially if you’re only writing so people can tell you how good you are at something.
So while reviews can be a nice ego-booster every now and then, it’s probably not a good idea to get too invested in them. Otherwise you’re just letting other people (your reviewers) determine how you feel about yourself and your writing. And that ever ends well.
And last, but not least, you should NEVER…
* Write fan-fiction–and ONLY fan-fiction
Repeat after me: you cannot publish fan-fiction.
(OK, so technically, you can, if it’s public domain. Like if the author’s been dead for a hundred years, technically you can use those themes in your novel. Which is why there are a gazillion Pride & Prejudice sequels out there. Not that I’m complaining.)
But for most people–like those of you who write Supernatural slash, ahem–that kind of thing will get you sued.
So if you’re serious about wanting a writing career, pouring all your energy into fan-fiction is not a good idea, no matter how hot Dean Winchester is without his shirt on.
What was I saying? Oh, right. It’s your time–use it wisely.
Like maybe by replaying that video, for example.
OK, that’s it for me. Tomorrow I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor about my back and/or hip, and then I’m back in the gym on Saturday for ballet class. Keep your fingers crossed!