It’s not a secret that I’ve been an active member of various fandoms for a long time, that up until now my writing has all been fanfiction. Most of you who read this have followed me here from fandom, for which I’m very grateful. It’s not something I’m ashamed of or that I’m trying to hide. Writing fanfiction taught me to write, it’s the place I developed my skill and I’ve been lucky enough to receive an enormous amount of love and encouragement from fandom.
When I started this blog or web page, call it what you want, I decided not to discuss my fanfiction or what fandoms I’ve been involved with. I made that decision for several reasons, first, because I’m a big believer in keeping fandom in fandom, this place is not fandom.
Second, because this is me trying to write something original, and I have to take a step back from my “fandom persona” – someone I’ve spent twelve years and several fandoms creating – to do that.
But, it’s also no secret that the story I’m working on is an old piece of fanfiction I’m re-writing.
A few day’s ago, I got a wonderful message from Adrianne, a reader who’s been very encouraging through the years, and she had some questions, respectful ones, regarding my choice to re-write it. I thought the questions were interesting and that people who know me from fandom might be interested in reading my answers. A fair warning, this will be a novel-length post. I’ll try to ramble as little as possible but, consider yourselves warned.
1. Why re-write an already popular story? Why not write part 2,3,4 etc in the same universe?
The answer to that is complicated. To really explain why I have to go back in time.
I’ve always had stories in my head, always. My mother told me that when I was young, I had this cassette player with a microphone, kind of like this one (but pink)
I used to sit in this rocking chair I had and record stories that I made up on the spot. Sadly the tapes are lost, I bet there were some killer plot ideas on them.
My inner life has always been much more vivid than what I show the world and people around me. In my head, I’ve had characters going off on adventures or living whole lives experiencing love and loss. Teachers and other adults used to say I had a tendency to drift off, that I daydreamed too much. I wouldn’t call it daydreaming because I had whole worlds, characters I felt closer to than most of my friends always drifting around in the back of my head. Some stories would go on for years, some characters I made up decades ago are still with me today.
When we had writing assignments in school, I always did really well, written words have been a friend, a place I’ve felt safe. But it wasn’t until I discovered fandom in my early twenties that I started to write fiction. When I began it was for fun. I was so in love with my fandom, I’d get an idea, write it down in a day and post it. It was bad, but I had fun and people encouraged me and said nice things about my silly little stories.
Over time I took my writing more seriously, not in a way that I had any plans of doing it outside of fandom. But I learned what a Beta was, how to build a plot and give my character’s motivations, make them a little less one dimensional. I spent about five years writing in that first fandom and by the end, I think I’d “found my voice” my style of writing.
Around 2009-2010 I came to a point where, I didn’t fall out of love with my fandom, but it had run its course. I was convinced I wouldn’t write anymore, that my motivation for writing had been this pairing I saw something special in, that I couldn’t write without writing about them.
But I found a new fandom, and I wrote a new story. Before I had only written stories set in a “fixed universe” and here I wrote the characters in an “alternate universe” setting, so I could take the characters and do what I wanted with them. I was convinced I’d be laughed out of this new fandom. That my story about an elective mute and his sociopath knight in shining armor would be at best, overlooked and at worst, make people furious.
They loved it. In a few weeks I got more comments on that story then I’d gotten on all my previous stories combined. It changed how I thought about writing, it made me realize that I write better when I have free hands to do what I want with my characters. That my strength as a fanfic writer was in building worlds, building characters, that the less “fandom rules” I adhered to, the better my stories were.
I became even more serious about writing. But I still believed my ability to write depended on fandom and pre-existing characters.
The story that changed that is the story I’m re-working now. In November 2014 my mother was diagnosed with Cervix cancer, she died August 12th, 2015. Without going into details about her illness and the time after her death, I think most people can understand it was unbearable.
I’m not an open person and I’m not the type to reveal my inner life in support groups or to a therapist, it doesn’t help me, it just makes me feel uncomfortable. Writing became my escape; Kodiak was the place I hid when all the things I had to do surrounding her death or decisions about my own life or even just my grief became too much.
Someplace I could breathe and process what I was going through.
Writing Kodiak was the first time I felt like the story had a life of its own. Where I felt I was writing a story for another purpose than to have fun with fandom characters that I already loved.
I wrote Kodiak for me. The characters, world, and plot came from me. I wrote it as fanfiction because that was the only way I knew how to write. But the characters in my head and the story became fanfiction because I made conscious decision to write it that way, they could have been original even back then. But I didn’t think I could write an original story, and I was so broken and afraid, so unimaginably sad, I needed fandom. All the encouragement and excitement people shared about my writing was one of the few things that made me happy during that period in my life. I needed fandom to get through this nightmare I was living in and my role in fandom was always as a fanfic writer.
Writing Kodiak was like turning on a tap that I can’t close. Among all the sadness I felt such freedom writing it. While writing my next story, Phoenix I changed my mind back and forth so many times between writing it as fanfiction and writing it as an original story.
I don’t regret writing either Kodiak or Phoenix as fanfiction, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s been great fun and the comments and encouragements I’ve received for those two stories have finally given me enough, not a lot, but enough confidence to try to write an original story.
To believe that someone, somewhere might be interested in a story I’ve written that isn’t about a fandom character.
Another thing that changed while writing Kodiak and even more so Phoenix is how I approached the text and the work surrounding the story. Before that, I wrote one draft and had that edited by a beta and that was pretty much the finished story. With Kodiak and Phoenix, I became really interested in the “craft” of writing. To rework the text, not the plot of the story but the text itself. I became aware of things like adverbs and why they’re bad. I began using an editing program that analyzed my writing. How many times had I used the word “feel” in a sentence and could I rework it, find a better word?
Both Kodiak and Phoenix took about eight-nine months to complete from start to finish. I’d say on average I worked 2-3 hours per day, for eight to nine months on those stories, that’s a lot of hours. I have charts, style boards, hundreds of reference pictures for my characters. I know when the sun sets and rises in Kodiak, what the average temperature is in any month of the year and the overall demographic of the population. I know the wildlife, the most common plants, and trees. I know the hunting seasons, how many deer you’re allowed to shoot and what to do with it once you have. I know how many roads there are, where on the island you can travel by car and where you have to fly. I know the average household income and I’m fully caught up on the conflict surrounding the logging enterprise that took place in Chiniak the past few years.
The simple answer that I’ve made long and complicated, is that something happened with how I see writing when my mother died. It stopped being about having fun in fandom and became about me, stories I find in myself.
Fandom and fanfiction were the reason I started writing, but it isn’t anymore.
So why re-write Kodiak, why not write something new? I’ve always loved Kodiak, it means a great deal to me, but I’ve always felt I didn’t do it justice the first time around.
I love my fanfiction, it’s brought me so much joy, so much happiness. But I know I can make the characters more rounded, the plot more interesting, and the writing “tighter.” I know there’s more to Kodiak than I wrote the first time, but not as fanfiction
Which brings us to the next question.
2. Is writing about people that have ”faces” restrictive in a way? Does it restrict the author to explore different and further routes for the story?
Yes and No.
It all depends on why you’re writing.
The thing about writing fanfiction is that you have a pre-determined set of faces and personalities to work with. That can be fantastic, it gives you a frame to work within. You don’t have to start from nothing which a lot of times is the reason people don’t even try to write. The thought of creating characters and the world from scratch is too daunting.
Fanfiction takes away that pressure. It’s like LEGO, you have a box full of pre-cut pieces in different shapes and sizes that you know will fit together, but you decided what to build and the possibilities are endless. You have a set cast of characters and personality traits and if you stay within canon, you even have places, relationships, professions and timeframes to work with.
My experience after twelve years in different fandoms is that the older a fandom is, fanfiction creates its own “canon” a set of unspoken rules about who each character is, how to write them, how to describe them. This character always wears blue, this one is grumpy in the mornings and that one has a catchphrase that’s in almost every piece of fanfiction. That can be great if you want an easy way to make your readers recognize and instantly connect with your characters.
Also, fanfiction exists because of a demand. When you write a certain pairing there are expectations, not in any way unreasonable ones, because fanfiction is about exploring that pairing, about wish fulfillment, fantasies come true. For most of us that’s the point of fanfiction.
But, it also restricts you. You can take the characters and pop them into an “alternate universe” make them doctors instead of CSI agents or zombie killers. Make them straight instead of gay even change their gender, but you still have to keep them relatable, make them recognizable as the fandom character.
When a reader opens your story they already know what they want. You can always surprise them. Over the years I’ve read some amazing stories, incredible writing that takes the readers on journeys they never expected. But, the story is still made up from those same pieces of LEGO.
As I said earlier, something changed with my writing when my mother died. I always believed I loved writing because I loved fanfiction, loved the fandom characters I wrote about. Now I’ve understood that I love writing even without fandom and the characters I fall in love with are my own.
The reason I’m turning to writing original fiction is that I’ve come to a point where I can’t make my characters or the stories I want to tell fit within the fanfiction frame. My characters are nothing like the “set cast of people” I have to choose from when writing fanfiction. My motivation for writing is not to tell a story about these fandom characters I love, but instead to tell stories about people who are my own creation.
I could technically mold my stories and my characters so they fit in fanfiction. I could give them features, names or personality traits that make them appear to be a fandom character. I’ve done it with both Kodiak and Phoenix. It would be easier, probably more gratifying. I’ve been in fandom for a long time now, I have a decent amount of readers who follow me and I get an enormous amount of love and encouragement for every story I write. But that also limits in what direction I can take the characters and the story and I don’t want to do that.
I think as fanfic writers, we all have a set numbers of stories we can tell about a character, some more than others. In the end, we all move on. Some, to new fandoms, others, like me, to original writing and some, who wrote only because of their love for the characters they adored, stop writing. Many of the writers I’ve known through the years have changed fandom several times, one or two have been published and far too many have stopped writing.
I want to write about characters who have black hair, red hair, blond hair, dreadlocks, curly hair, long hair, short hair, afro’s, braids and shaved heads. I want them to be African, Persian, Asian and every color of the rainbow. I want to write about old people, young people, and children. Gays, straights and everything in between. I want my characters to be strong, weak, shy, brave, funny, boring, neurotic, crazy and uptight.
I can’t write about those people and write fanfiction at the same time.
3. Is it a desire to share the messages and thoughts within the story with a bigger audience that doesn’t care about fanfiction but loves original fiction?
Not really. I don’t intentionally write stories with a message but I like exploring themes that allow the characters to grow and evolve. I’m not a plot driven writer, my favorite part about writing is to understand people, find out who they are and how I can make their lives better. If people get something out of that, then that’s fantastic.
The only thing I really want to give other people with my stories is a place to hide and rest, the same way they are for me.
I honestly don’t know what will become of Kodiak once I’ve finished working on it. I see people in fandom commenting and writing about how I’m taking it down to be published. That would be fantastic, but I don’t have a publishing deal waiting. I don’t know if that will happen.
The reason I’m re-working it is that I want to know if I can actually pull it off. Can I turn this story into what I believe it can be?
Can I write a book?
I don’t know, I’ve never done it.
But I’ve reached a point in my growth as a writer that I’m willing to risk finding out.
4. Is writing fanfiction the crucial test that brings people face to face with broader critique and readies them to write original fiction?
I think writing fanfiction is a wonderful schooling, at least it has been for me. It’s an environment where you’re encouraged and you have a large audience ready and waiting when you start. I think there is a lot of talent in fandom and if you want to and look for it, you can find people willing to help you grow and evolve as a writer. I don’t think that has to mean that you go on to writing original fiction.
I think those of us who do, do so not because we’ve stopped loving fandom or fanfiction. Not because we feel original fiction is better or more superior. I think it’s simply that we have stories and characters in our head that are our own. That we’ve probably been telling ourselves stories all our life, we just didn’t know we could write until we found fandom and fanfiction.
However, I know I’ve been fortunate. My stories have been noticed, and that’s resulted in readers, very kind readers. I’ve been spared from trolls and nasty comments. Many fanfic writers struggle to get their stories noticed, most go year after year, story after story with sometimes no comments or encouragement at all. Unfortunately, there are rude, entitled, mean people in fandom and they can be very unpleasant to writers if they’re not happy with the story. Being subject to harsh critique or having no comments on your stories can be discouraging and devastating for your confidence.
I keep thinking back to those terrible stories I posted when I first started. If the comments I’d received on them had been critical or mean, I probably wouldn’t have continued writing. The stories I write today are the result of over a decade of practice and I’m still learning, still evolving. I don’t believe my writing is as good as it has the potential of becoming if I just take it more seriously, or work harder. When I say my first stories were bad, that’s not me being humble, they were awful. Writing is a craft and just like you don’t pick up a violin and play Mozart on your first try, you’re not going to write your best work when you’re starting out.
That’s where fandom and fanfiction can be invaluable, if like me, you’re lucky to find good friends, good betas and kind readers who encourage you to be better instead of being mean and critical, I think your writing can evolve beyond what you’ve believed possible. If you’re willing to do the work. If that then takes you to writing original fiction is all down to what stories you want to tell, what characters you want to explore. You might become a fantastic writer but decided that you have no interest in writing anything but fanfiction and that’s perfectly fine.
I’m not trying to write original fiction because I’m looking for a different or better audience. The fandom audience has been wonderful to me. I’m doing it because the stories I want to tell doesn’t belong in fandom anymore.
Well, Adrianne, I don’t know if this is a satisfying answer to your questions, it’s certainly long enough. Thank you for asking, I love talking about writing.
I’d love to continue talking about writing with all of you. So if you have questions or you want to swap ideas or anything, don’t be afraid to ask or start a conversation with me. I love to talk to all of you.
Until next time, have a wonderful weekend.