by Diana Nielsen, teen committee member
Learning how to write is stressful. I know that’s no news to anyone, but it’s true. There are so many things to worry about: plot, characters, grammar and spelling, word choice, scene structure—to name a few. And every writer is bound to be strong in some areas and weaker in others. Some days, when your weaknesses are staring you in the face, you wonder how you do anything as a writer if you can’t do this one thing.
Step back. Take a break. (Run away with us for the summer, let’s go upstate.) There is a way to strengthen your weaknesses.
That way is writing fanfiction.
Now, I know fanfiction sometimes has a bad rap among sophisticated teen writers such as ourselves. We’re too good for bad, overused plots about OOC characters, right? We’ve moved on to real novels, with complicated plots and original characters and unique magic systems.
You can look at fanfiction like that. After all, Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of everything is crap, and fanfiction is no exception. Or you could look at fanfiction like an opportunity to improve, or a support system for your writing skills. Because fanfiction gives you a break in worrying about every aspect of writing. It lets you lean on already-created worlds instead of making up your own from scratch. The amount of pressure that takes away is astounding.
It’s okay if you don’t believe me just yet. Let me share my experience and then see what you think.
A couple years ago I was writing an original novel and struggling with my plot. And I mean struggling. Every time I thought I’d figured it out, I’d come up against another road block. None of the plot outline tutorials I was looking up seemed to help. I knew what I needed in a plot but I just couldn’t seem to apply it to my story. After three drafts and a fourth draft outline, and still no success, I was so frustrated I couldn’t stand it. I understood my characters. I wanted to tell their story. But I didn’t know how to make it happen.
At the same time, I got into a new fandom. I guess I shouldn’t just say “got into a new fandom.” More like, “fell head-over-heels into the life obsession that is Gravity Falls and there’s never any backing out of it, plus I basically abandoned all my other fandoms because I wanted to dedicate all my time to this one.” More like that. And, of course, as a writer, whenever I fall in love with something, I want to write about it. So I started writing fanfiction.
I didn’t make the decision all at once. I wrote a whole mini fanfiction, at the same time I was plotting my newest draft for my original novel, and I didn’t think about it. But one day, I got this really great idea. Subconsciously, of course. I don’t think I realized just what a great idea it was until after I’d begun.
I put my original novel on hold and started writing a fanfiction where I rewrote the plot of the original show into an alternate universe.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, the thing is, I’m terrible at plotting. But I’m good at characterization and some other things. This project let me use my talents in my strong areas of writing while leaning on the original plot of the show to carry me through my weaker ones.
It has been amazing! I haven’t used everything from the original plot: instead, I’ve taken bits and pieces here and there and reworked and reordered and added my own ideas. As a result, I’ve come up with some pretty good ideas I would’ve never gotten to by myself. But the outline of a good plot was already in the show, and so I didn’t have to come up with my own. I could just change the details. And, in doing so, I’ve studied the plot of the show and why it works so well, so it has taught me more about the art of plotting as a whole.
I’ve been writing my fanfiction for exactly a year now, and I don’t regret any of it. I’ve gone over the main benefit, but here are some others:
~ I’ve stopped working on my original novel and let it sit in the back of my head. While it’s been floating in my subconscious, I’ve actually come up with more ideas for it, including some ones that will significantly help my plotting issue once I turn my attention back to it.
~ People read fanfiction more than they do original fiction. If you post your work online, and you want feedback or just more reads in general, fanfiction is a good way to go. You can post it on popular sites like Fanfiction.net, AO3, or Wattpad, and people are more likely to read it and give you the praise you need to keep up the motivation.
~ It’s a placeholder for your writing. If you aren’t ready to write a full novel yet, or you don’t have any ideas, writing fanfiction is a great way to keep up your skills and continue writing while you wait for the big ideas or opportunities to come.
Maybe it doesn’t work for everybody. But it’s worked wonders for me, and I bet it can for you too. Maybe your issue isn’t plotting, maybe it’s characters. Try writing a fanfiction using the characters of a work in your own original plot. Maybe it’s world-building. Try putting your own characters and/or plot in an already-existing world. Fanfiction is like the training wheels on a bicycle. You don’t have to feel bad for using it, and it will help you get to a point where you don’t need it anymore.
So slow down. Evaluate where you are as a writer. Then:
Take a break. Write some fanfiction.