I have Phil Giunta today talking about how using fan fiction can improve your writing craft. Phil is the author of Testing The Prisoner, a paranormal tale of child abuse and redemption. Catch him on his blog.
Fan Fiction as Exercise by Phil Giunta
By now, it’s old news that E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey was originally written as Twilight fan fiction. In fact, at a recent Author’s Guild event, it was reported that a few authors made wisecracks about that fact. Nevertheless, all three books in the Fifty Shades series have held the top spots on the NYT Bestseller list for thirteen weeks.
Steamy content aside, James is not the first writer to hit bestsellerdom with a story derived from someone else’s universe. Enter the media tie-in novel. Media tie-ins have been around for decades and include novelizations of movies and television episodes as well as “further adventures of” (new stories based on another writer’s characters). Many have made it to the NYT Bestseller list.
I’ve always viewed media tie-in as professional fan fiction and that is no slight to the writers. I have friends that are veteran media tie-in authors. They have also produced wonderful original works. At home, I have shelves full of media tie-in novels that I’d never part with, many of them autographed. The practical difference between media tie-in and fan fiction is that the former is sanctioned by the license owner, the latter is not. Selling fan fic is a blog post unto itself. We won’t go there.
In the late 80s, I began writing stories from Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and several others. Just about everything was rated PG and totally safe for kids (not all fan fic is so, however). The feedback from fellow fans was excellent and as time went on, I could see an improvement in my writing skills.
But you can’t build a serious writing career with fan fiction, so why bother? Had it not been for fan fic, I probably wouldn’t have met longtime friend, award winning writer and publisher, Steven H. Wilson. It was through his Firebringer Press that my first original paranormal mystery novel, Testing the Prisoner, was published in 2010. My follow up, By Your Side, will be released in February 2013.
Steve is also a former fan fic author who went on to write for DC Comics Star Trek and Warlord series. His original SF audio drama, The Arbiter Chronicles, has won the Parsec and Mark Time awards and spawned two of his three published SF novels, Taken Liberty and Unfriendly Persuasion.
Not too shabby for some dudes that began in fan fic, eh?
How many of you engage in writing exercises, such as writing prompts from literary magazines or how-to books? Writing fan fiction can be used to hone one’s skills in almost exactly the same way. To me, that was the point—practice.
Character. How well can you truly develop characters that have been thoroughly explored already? Well, some fan fic writers disregard what has been established and take broad liberties. When I played in another writer’s sandbox, I respected his or her characters and maintained their integrity. That doesn’t mean you can’t add some event to an existing character’s past, something that may have happened between the last movie, or the series finale, and your story.
Also, when you introduce your own original characters, you have the opportunity to craft fresh backstory, personality, dialogue, and point of view—just like any other writing exercise.
Setting. Fans of Star Trek obviously recognize the bridge of the Enterprise (some can tell you the purpose of every button on every console), but they won’t know the interior of your original alien ship or the terrain of your alien planet unless you describe it in some measure of detail. You are creating a fresh milieu. There are plenty of exotic locales for Indiana Jones to have an adventure and for Jedi and Sith to do battle in that galaxy far, far away. Creating new stories for your favorite characters will force you to learn the art of description.
Plot. One of the many clichés about writing is “life doesn’t make sense but fiction always should”. In other words, the chain of events in your story must be logical (pardon the pointy-eared pun). In this regard, crafting a quality fan fic story is no different than an original tale. Each event should lead to the next as organically as possible and every scene must advance the story. Otherwise, you should…
Revision. Cut it out! Again, fan fic can teach you to edit and revise just as much as writing anything else. The same methods apply. It’s just another form of practice, but one that allows you to have fun with characters you’ve grown to love.