Flutter-Pony is an Australian author who has been writing fanfic for five years on and off. Currently, she writers primarily for Glee. Please welcome her with me.
It starts with that feeling in your tummy, little flutters of curiosity. You begin to hang on every word they speak and you see them everywhere you go. Holding hands in line at the grocery store, canoodling behind shelves at the public library. When you start calling your housemate ‘Mulder’, you know it’s gone too far but it doesn’t matter, you are in love with a love story.
You’re favourite fictional couple, or ‘Ship’ if you roll that way, can quickly become your favourite hobby, and the internet (God bless it) is bursting with fellow love junkies, desperately searching forums and chat rooms for their next hit. The network TV show, the trilogy of books, they can no longer satisfy the hunger.
Then drifting in like a love song on the breeze comes Fan Fiction. And it is glorious. Hours can be spent hunched over your laptop with starry-eyed devotion. You can see every longing glance between Jack and Kate on that deserted island, you feel every trembling touch between Booth and Bones and you know, with everything that you are, that Castle and Beckett are the end game.
When it comes to dealing with characters in writing fanfic, the concerns are both different and similar to those when writing original fiction. The good news is that you already have your primary cast created and developed. The bad news is that your primary cast is already created and developed.
You have a handful of people from your favorite fandom, and that gives you a pretty big cheat in writing, because creating characters from scratch isn’t easy. The problem now is that you have to maintain those personalities that have already been developed and be true to those characters. The people you are writing for are not casual followers, they are megafans, and they will catch every screw-up you make with the characterizations. You must know the characters in your fandom intimately, better than even your closest friends.
I have Mulder and Scully’s birthdays memorized. I can draw out their family trees, name every time they kissed or almost kissed, and probably even when they held hands, and I can call up their voices in my brain at will. I could also, at one point years ago, name every episode in which Mulder donned a black t-shirt, because he looked especially yummy.
Writing fan fiction is not the same as writing regular fiction, even for professional fanfic writers (think the books based off TV shows). Fanfic in general is very different for two very specific reasons.
Fanfic authors have complete editorial control over their work. This does not happen in the publishing world. Both the literary agent, and the publisher who eventually picks up the novel will have much of the editorial control. Also, titles are very often changed.
Fanfic authors can’t make money off their work. We’re paid in reviews, not cash. This is great for the people reading, but I don’t imagine many of my fellow writers would turn down the opportunity to be paid for their work.
This applies to professional fanfic writers as well. These are the people who write books for Criminal Minds, Star Trek, Buffy TVS, Supernatural, Glee, CSI, Dune, Battlestar Galatica and what I imagine is many, many others. They get to make money, and are subject to the same rules as the rest of the publishing world. A side note on these to enthusiastic writers, you do not write a fanfic book and send it to a publisher/literary agent. If a network wants someone to write novels based on their show, they’ll pick an already established author and commission them to do it.
Moving onto the writing. The primary differences in writing fanfic versus original fiction are that you’ve already have characters, setting, and generally tone set for you. Tone and setting are flexible to an extent, but the characters are the reason you’re writing the story in the first place. You want to keep those characters, though you do have the freedom to choose which to focus on in your writing and how you want to develop them.
Already having characters removes a considerable chunk of the work you have to do, and if you don’t believe that, try writing a novel. I’ve done it, and trust me, developing characters is not easy and takes a considerable amount of work. By having characters already written, you know what they look like, what they sound like, how they act, nervous tics and odd mannerisms, and an entire history on which to build. Often you have a few seasons of a show, or several books or comics that have given you a clear, very distinct impression and an opportunity to sort to integrate that characters in your head. With original work, you’re starting fresh, and it’s hard to keep track of every character in a book, and make all your central players stand-out when you haven’t been with them very long.
The flipside of that though, is that you have to know someone else’s characters and do your best to stay true to those characters. I reread the X Files novels a few years ago (yes, I’m a nerd), and I was disappointed to realize that that author could have been writing about anyone. It said Mulder and Scully, but there was very little distinct about the characters in the novel, and certainly nothing that said they were Mulder and Scully. That is your challenge as a fanfic writer, to get to know someone else’s characters so well you can put them to paper in your own voice and words.
Like I said, setting can be flexible depending on the show, book or comic. Obviously if you’re writing for Star Wars, you need to set it an their universe, but you can pick which planet and even what location on which planet. In some series, like Criminal Minds, the X Files and Supernatural, the characters often travel, so you’ve got a lot of freedom. In other series, like Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, and Charmed, the location is more static, and you need to have good reason to move the story out of their city.
Tone is a little less concrete, and it often changes (and should) even within the show, book or comic, but there’s still sort of a central tone, a general feeling to it that remains the same throughout. Think of the feel of Bones or NCIS versus that of Criminal Minds or Law & Order. The former two shows have more of a fun, humorous tone to them, and while the latter both have moments of humor, they’re darker and more serious. Likewise, Bones and NCIS both have their darker, more serious moments. Fanfic writers have to stay true to this tone. Of course, like in the original work, the tone should be fluid in a story, but still hold to that overall feel.
What do you think are the major differences with fanfic and original fic? What do you think are strengths and weaknesses of fanfic?