The Pitfalls of Jumping from Fanfiction to Published Fiction

Awhile back, I read a blog post by a writer detailing how writing fanfiction had improved her writing abilities overall. While writing of any kind will improve our writing overall, I found myself adding a number of mental provisos to her post. Not long after that, a certain infamous piece of fanfiction was changed to ‘fiction,’ and became a worldwide bestseller (out of respect for the integrity of this blog, it shall not be mentioned by name here). So I thought I’d spend some time today discussing fanfiction and what it does – and doesn’t do – for writers.

Let’s start with a little personal history. When I was six I decided I was going to be a writer, and I started writing. I’ll reserve the nuances of that story for another day (or never, if you’re lucky). The point is that I wasn’t introduced to fanfiction until almost 10 years later, when I started high school. My two best friends were very into fanfiction, particularly that of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Suddenly I was swept up into this notion that I could contribute to the stories I loved the best, and put my own spin on them, and explore things that the author had left out. It was amazing, empowering, and it got me to write.

That’s what’s great about fanfiction. It gets you to write. You have a ready-made starting point, and from there you can go in so many different directions. It also comes with an in-built audience that isn’t afraid to tell you what’s good and bad about your story.

But.

There’s always a but.

Anecdote time again. When I left high school, I stopped reading fanfiction, more or less. I just didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, and it seemed less fun. When I stopped reading it I also stopped writing it, of course. There was only one fanfiction that I still read with regularity, and I was overjoyed to hear that the woman who wrote it was in the process of publishing a book. I followed her updates closely and, as a sign of support, I went out and bought her book the very day it was put on the shelves.

I enjoyed it well enough, but by the end I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. The best way I could describe the book was ‘fanfiction-y.’ Great word, for someone who calls herself a writer.

By ‘fanfiction-y’ I mean that the entire book felt like fanfiction for another book that I’d never read. Imagine coming across some Harry Potter fanfiction without knowing the premise of Harry Potter. By the end of it you might have a rough idea of Deatheaters, Lord Voldemort, and magic in the world around us, but you’d still be missing something. That’s how I felt about this book.

Descriptions of the world were missing, little details that I would have liked to know. The characters were underdeveloped, as though we were already supposed to know them. And the plot – the plot was probably what made me feel most fanfictioned. The main plot felt like it was happening somewhere else.

All of these points made me realize why writing only fanfiction isn’t going to make you a strong author. Fanfiction is great. Fanfiction has a purpose. But the purpose of fanfiction is highly limited.

When you write fanfiction, your world is pre-developed. Your characters are ready made. And your plot works around the main plot, which is what fanfiction is all about but seems rather anticlimactic if a reader is unfamiliar with the original material.

A lot of people use fanfiction as a way to get started with writing, and I think that’s perfectly legitimate. But just because a person writes good fanfiction doesn’t mean that he or she can write good fiction. Practice in the craft of writing original fiction is needed before you make that jump to published author.

 

How about the other authors out there? Any thoughts on how writing fanfiction helped or hindered you?

Picture Worth Your Words: Forbidden

I’m deviating from my usual ranting so that I can post the story I just wrote for the third Picture Worth Your Words contest, posted by the lovely Aisha.

I stumbled on one of the pictures in the contest when another entry showed up in my feed. All the pictures she posted were incredible and normally I write fiction more in line with the other three, but as soon as I saw this picture I knew what to write about.

I don’t feel that this story is at all polished, but I figured if I didn’t get out there and do it, it might never happen. I hope you enjoy.

Forbidden

There is a little room, tucked below the stairs of one of the long, thin houses in Amsterdam. It is a tiny time capsule, showcasing possessions. The snapshot of her life just before it was snatched away.

The girl must have thought she would get them back. She lovingly placed the roses so that their delicate petals would be in no danger from the other, heavier objects. She set her favorite toys to stand watch over her treasures, moth-eaten and helpless as they look now. She must have brushed her hair before setting down the brush, soothing her hair and her own nerves with the repetitive strokes. She removed the cameos from their case one last time (turning them over and over in her fingers, I imagine), but the way they lie so carelessly on the boards suggests that she dropped them in her haste to quit the room and thus keep it secret.

Surely she thought she’d return in a week or two. That her treasures would be safe until she could reclaim them. And how could she have known? That even if the next five years didn’t kill her body, they would kill that little girl who snuck down under the stairs that night and set aside pieces of her life, one by one. She thought they would be forbidden her in the camp. But she didn’t understand.

In the camp, her life was forbidden her.

I cannot help but wonder if she made it – whether her sickly, starving form was pulled from the wreckage of history or whether she slipped away, a ghost in the gas chambers. Perhaps the life inside made it impossible for her to experience life outside. Perhaps it was just impossible to remember her own life and she left the roses to crumble, the toys to molder, the ivory to yellow. Bent double in that little room under the stairs, twirling the dusky roses between my fingers, I feel so close to her that I can almost reach out and touch her ghost as she reverentially lays down her photo, rubs her thumb over the surface of the cameo.

But as close as I feel, I can never truly know her. Only wonder at the knowledge that is forbidden me.

A Self-Publishing Assembly Line

I am really, really bad at sticking to a schedule. When I first started writing this blog, I made it my goal to publish on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It was also going to be a fiction-only blog. Oh well.

But I have to put this out for discussion, because I read an article about it that kind of blew my mind.

This article, which was featured in the New Yorker’s Book Bench, outlined the idea put forth by the man who runs an online publishing company called Leanpub, and equates publishing in this day and age to a startup business.

The idea behind Leanpub is that while you’re in the process of writing your book, others can read it and influence the process. They presumably make constructive criticisms and suggestions which act as the ‘editorial’ phase and at the end of the day, the argument here is that you’ve got an entertaining book that you know people want to read because hey, you already tested it with a bunch of readers.

When I first saw this, I thought, “Assembly-Line Publishing. NO.”

Just think. You’re a fantasy author. You’ve got a great idea for an urban fantasy revolving around witches. You put up your first chapter and the comments roll in: “There should be vampires! They should SPARKLE. The two main characters should be in love but they can’t be together because he’s a werewolf or a warlock or blah blah blah…”

I’m using Twilight as the exemplary trend here, but you can take any book craze – Harry Potter, the Da Vinci Code, even Sweet Valley High (ugh). My immediate gut reaction to this publishing process was that people are going to start reading a book not with the interest in seeing how it finishes, but with an interest in manipulating the story themselves.

My second issue is that it supposedly makes the post of editor redundant. Um, what? As someone who’s been reading from age 5 and writing from age 6, I can tell you that while I can critique a piece, I am not qualified to edit it. It’s a skill set that I could have learned but never acquired, and I would argue that for many other writers, it’s the same. Just because you get 35 people to read your novel doesn’t mean that you don’t need an editor at the end of the day.

This experiment, however, is intriguing to me. I want to see how well it works and what it’s like. So I have decided to take the plunge. I’m going to try it.

I’m going to use one of the Nanowrimo ideas that I didn’t work with this year – Predestination, in case you’re interested. It’s an idea that I like but don’t love, and this provides me with the opportunity to improve my writing without really risking anything but a bit of wasted time.

I’ll be periodically blogging about the experience as I go. At the moment I’ve just signed up, so I don’t know much about the inner workings.

If you’re interested in taking a look at Leanpub to decide for yourself, you can always click here.

Day Twenty-Three

Whew. It’s been a long time since I was on here. Comparatively, anyway.

Guys, I have come to grips with the fact that I won’t be finishing my novel this year. I think I am at peace with it. If not, you’ll see some spectacular word counts in the next few days…but I’m not even at 25,000 words. So I get to make up the other 27,756 by November 30?

I could do it, in theory. Stranger things have happened. But let’s not get too optimistic here.

I’ve been ruminating on exactly why I am likely to fail this year. More specifically, I’m ruminating on where exactly I can place the blame so that it lands on someone else. Because at the end of the day, I have some issues as a writer that I need to work on.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – I’ve still got 6 days!

Mood: resigned (and sick, and sick of working)
Word Count: 22,244 (not bad for a month’s work, really)
Music: Trollolo song (blame my boyfriend)

Day Sixteen

Blech. I’m running out of steam.

And the problem is, I’m running out of steam in terms of everything I do. Thesis isn’t going as well as I’d like, novel is going just as nowhere as it was three days ago, I have little energy or interest for my job, and I don’t even want to cook dinner anymore.

November is a classic time in which we put a lot on our plate, because somehow it feels like the boring month. And for me, November has never, ever been boring. Finishing that novel has always been a challenge.

For all of you that are already finished (some people claim they know wrimos that can do all 50,000 words in a week or two), please go hide under a rock and stop making me feel inadequate.

Of course, it even says on the OLL blog that one of the points of Nanowrimo is that it’s for everyone, not just for people who magically have loads of time to work on a novel. People like me, in spite of having classes, jobs and outside commitments, finish every year and feel all the better for doing so.

But blech. Right now I just want it all to be over. Every aspect of my life, really. I am officially requesting a blank slate. Too bad life doesn’t work like that.

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along for the month. Hopefully things will get really interesting soon. In a good way.

Day Fifteen

Well, my fellow wrimos, we are halfway through the month and therefore supposed to be 25000 words in. And I am roughly 7000 words behind.

To be honest, I’m not too concerned. Last year I was behind until day 29. My first Nanowrimo, when I was 17, I was so far behind that the only way I could catch up was to write 30,000 words on Thanksgiving day. I wrote 20,000 in the morning, went off to Thanksgiving dinner, and wrote another 10,000 when I came back. True story. And I wonder why my novels are so bad.

I’ve been telling myself that next week, after I’ve met with my professor and made my big professory life-changing decisiony things, I’ll be able to write a lot more. It’s what I say every week, every time November rolls around, with little variation. I’ll always have time tomorrow.

The old excuse that we just don’t have time is the easiest way to legitimize giving up on Nanowrimo. We look at our slap-dash opening chapters and just don’t want to devote the energy to finishing them. But the point of Nano is to make time.

I’ll be doing a lot of time-making in the evening this weekend. Hopefully I’ll be in a better position by Sunday evening than I am now.  Good night, fellow wrimos!

Day Thirteen

I am only two days behind. That’s not so bad. A girl can catch up in a couple of days, if she applies herself.

My boyfriend and I are both participating in Nanowrimo this year. Earlier this evening, he said that the reason I was likely to succeed at Nanowrimo and he wasn’t was that he couldn’t write while he was at work, and I could write during the day, while I was at university.

“I don’t write when I’m at university,” I told him.

“You don’t?” he said, aghast.

I try to separate working and relaxing, especially at university. I can’t study at home for a number of reasons and so I want to maximise my productivity at uni by not allowing myself to think of it in recreational terms. So I don’t write at university. When I start thinking it’s time to put some words down, it’s usually time to go home.

In my opinion what really separates my boyfriend from me in terms of getting our writing done is this: When we sit down to write in the evenings, I sit down and do it, while he gets distracted on the internet. So while I can write a couple thousand words in a couple of hours, he gets only three to five hundred words done.

It’s very easy in this day and age to get completely distracted by what we can get on the internet. In fact, I have fallen behind precisely because of internet distractions.

And it’s not even necessarily bad to get distracted a little. The brain needs a break sometimes. The problem occurs when the brain doesn’t come back from break. Life has to be something more than one big distraction, and so does Nanowrimo.

So, lesson number 13, as brought to me by my boyfriend: the internet is bad. IT’S BAD. Turn it off for November! Way more will be accomplished. Also, I wills top looking at crazy cute pictures of sloth and wishing I could have one for my birthday.

Mood: quite tired, but not too bad.
Word Count: 18,929
MusicThick as a Brick, by Jethro Tull