Why Fan Fiction Is A Good Starting Place For New Writers

Fan Fiction

I can almost hear certain writers scoff at such an absurd statement. However, I grew up in the generation where Harry Potter fan fiction was strife and created a space for fan fiction from a whole variety of places, including celebrities. In fact, a few published works were originally fan fiction (see the Fifty Shades of Grey series and The Mortal Instruments series).

But how can fan fiction be useful for new writers?

Let me give you some context.

When I first began writing, fan fiction was everywhere. From the badly written fan fiction that was obviously written by a young teen (as I was back then) to beautifully written fan fiction that had to be have been written by someone who knew how to write, fan fiction has released a whole variety of writing styles and genres. I enjoyed writing original fiction, and I did mostly keep to it, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t dabbled in fan fiction writing.

Fan fiction is perfect because it has all the elements ready made for new writers.

Fan fiction has the characters already developed. Fan fiction has the relationships between characters already established. Fan fiction has the story arcs and settings already in place. Depending what type of fan fiction you’re writing, you can alter just one of the elements, such as setting, or you can change all of it except one element.

Sure, to begin with the fan fiction might be awful. But that’s how you learn. By experimenting and researching into how to make it better. That research can include reading other fan fiction, but reading published books and looking for basic writing tips online go a long way. It’ll help you find the basic writing rules, and help you figure out how to bend/break them.

One major advantage of fan fiction is the fandom you’re writing for. Typically, when you’ve written original fiction, it’s hard to convince readers to try your book, let alone convince them to form a fandom based on it. But with fan fiction, you have the fandom behind you, and no matter how crappy it might be to begin with, someone will love it. Honestly. Then you can build up a loyal reader base and potentially advertise your original fiction to them if you ever decide to try it.

Additionally, it depends on the size of the fandom and the popularity of your ship. If your ship is a popular ship, your fan fiction might drown among the more popular ones, or it might be seen a ton because it’s a popular ship. However, if you’ve gone for an unusual ship, chances are you’re more likely to be seen because there will be hardly any fan fiction based on it, and trust me, when you’re desperate enough, you’ll read any fan fiction for that one particular ship.

But most importantly, fan fiction is the perfect place for experimentation. If you’re sick to death of societal norms, you’ll find different sexualities, genders, races, body types and any number of other things present in fan fiction. It can be inclusive in a way original fiction/the canon material isn’t. Or it can just give you a new perspective on characters, from changing their genders to their body type to their sexuality, and sometimes it makes the story/canon far more interesting.

Additionally, if you make basic writing errors, no professional is going to see it… probably. But it might turn readers off, so definitely invest in learning at least basic grammar and spelling. Learning the basic writing rules too helps, such as ‘show, don’t tell’, because it’ll help you improve as a writer.

Because you see, fan fiction isn’t technically wrong since you’re adapting the original material to fit to a story you’d like to see, or expanding on what the original material has provided by tweaking one or two elements, like what if Harry Potter’s parents survived? Simple adjustments, but adjustments all the same.

Yes, perhaps fan fiction isn’t the best medium by any means. But if it helps writers develop their writing voice/talent, I’m all for it.

What do you think about fan fiction? Do you think it’s the perfect place for new writers?

Writing Elements: Three Act Structure

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I previously wrote a blog post about narrative structure, but that only provided the basics. The three act structure is a more in depth structure used by Shakespeare himself, but it varies by medium. TV and film use the Three Act Structure in a specific way, so without further ado…

Disclaimer: the key parts are in quotation marks, in case you were wondering what each stage is called.

Before we begin, the very first thing you have to do is identify the protagonist. Where there is an ensemble of characters, there is still only the one protagonist. A protagonist is the lead character, the one we focus on first, and the one the show have decided has slightly more story than the others. The protagonist has to be active, be capable of change, and we must feel sympathetic towards them. True, there are definitely characters we don’t feel sympathetic towards them, but they are still at least active and capable of change, even if that change is undone in a few episodes time.

Act I

Within the first few minutes, the episode/film establishes key elements about the character/s. We see what kind of person they are, and what their setting is. Typically establishing shots are used here. Establishing shots show us the setting of a place, like when films show us the Hollywood sign, or high skyscrapers. Similarly, they might use extreme close ups to show us the mise-en-scene (anything in front of the camera that tells us about the character). Regardless, this is all established within the first few minutes of any TV show/film.

Like any story, there needs to be an ‘inciting incident’. I.e. the reason the character’s life has to radically change, whether for the better or not. The protagonist could succeed or fail, but either way, it has to set off a chain of events that’ll force the character to take action. They can’t stay the way they were.

Following this, there needs to be an ‘on the hook’ moment, or moments. In this stage, we see what’s at stake for the character. We see the impact of the inciting incident, and what this will mean. Values will undoubtedly be challenged, either internally or externally.

Act I ends with a ‘point of no return’. The point of no return is like the words suggest: the protagonist has decided, willingly or not, to go ahead with whatever they were required to do by the inciting incident. We, as an audience, await the consequences with the protagonist as the story continues to unfold.

Act II

For a brief time, ‘things go well’. Everything is going well, and the protagonist thinks perhaps this inciting incident wasn’t so bad after all. It’s changed their life, and for the better. Yay.

However, there is the ‘midpoint reversal’. A crisis happens, reversing whatever good fortune they’d previously had. They thought they were managing this, but turns out, no they are not.

Following this, the opposite of the above happens: ‘things get worse’. At this stage, the protagonist is (mentally) asking how things could possibly worse. Trust me, they always do. The odds are increasingly against them, and whatever they thought they were managing is drastically slipping away.

Then comes along the ‘lowest point’. I.e. when the protagonist is utterly broken. Their goal may now seem unobtainable, and they tend to reveal their emotions about everything. This is the most emotional part of the entire story.

I will add here that the lowest point can be at the end of Act II, but it can also be at the start of Act III.

Act III

Act III is usually what is known as ‘taking stock’. I.e. the darkest hour before the dawn. Either alone, or with some help, the protagonist manages to regain their energy after receiving new information or figuring out a solution they hadn’t thought of before to defeat the antagonist, whoever or whatever that might be.

Every story has a ‘climax’. It’s generally the part everyone has (subconsciously) geared themselves up for. This is where the battle reaches its peak. The antagonist is revealed (or, in the instance of a TV show, it could be a minor antagonist, and in the season finale we’ll see the major antagonist). The battle is just as much physical as it is emotional, and the stakes are all or nothing. We want the protagonist to win.

Finally, the ‘resolution’. We determine the protagonist’s fate. What have they lost? What have they won? The resolution isn’t necessarily a happy ending per say either. In some TV shows, they use the last minute to tease a new threat, or else throw in a plot twist, to make the viewer tune in next time. Either way, the resolution acts as the ending for that particular episode.

The above structure can be applied to both an individual TV episode and a story arc for the TV show, or conversely applied to a film/Shakespearian play. But every linear story follows this structure.

Why not check out how many of these elements you spot the next time you watch a TV show/film?

Writing Elements: Editing

Editing

Disclaimer: I’m not the best at editing my writing because I’m a perfectionist that never finishes anything. However, as part of my creative writing degree, I had to edit the work I did, so these are a few tips I’ve done whilst completing my degree, or I’ve heard and would like to pass on.

By some miracle, you’ve reached the end of your first* draft and you’re ready to start editing it. Congratulations! You’ve managed to get further than a lot of people, myself included.

*Or whatever number draft you’re on.

Firstly, take a break. Editing immediately after you’ve finished writing is a terrible idea, because the story is still fresh in your mind, as are the characters, so you might not edit it as thoroughly as when you take a break. Don’t touch it for at least a month, longer if you can.

Secondly, choose whether to print it out, write notes in a notebook, change how the document looks like or another method. It will help give a fresh perspective to your story since you’re either changing it in someway or you’re making notes as you go along.

Thirdly, try and get feedback. Choose a beta reader, a trusted friend, or even workshop it in a writing group. Receiving feedback can help you figure out what’s working and what’s not and you’ll improve the story/characters as a result.

However, as was a very helpful tip I received, any feedback you do receive is subjective, meaning you don’t have to listen to it or take it on board. Go into the criticism with an open mind, then choose honestly which pieces apply to your story.

Lastly, and most importantly, the best way to edit a story is to redraft it. Because while you’re retyping what you’ve already done, you’ll see areas that need improvement or removing. It’s like retelling a story to a friend, but as you’re telling it, you remember details you forgot to include last time, or some details have changed.

Even though it’s one of the last steps, it requires as much dedication as the rest of the writing process. It’d be like running a marathon but deciding to give up when you can see the finish line. When you’re so close to finishing, you might as well finish it properly. That might mean asking for assistance, which might require a fee, but surely it’s worth finishing the race when you’ve come this far?

Editing is a crucial part to writing. Don’t neglect it.

What is your editing method?

Writing Elements: Narrative Structure

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Narrative structure is essentially the plot, and is tied as one of the most important writing elements. Without the narrative, you don’t have a story. As a good analogy, it’d be like creating Sims but not actually playing them (which is perfectly valid too).

There are five stages to a general plot:

Exposition

This is where we learn about who the protagonist is. From the relationships they have, or don’t have, to the routine they do on a daily basis, this is all important for setting up where we are and whose perspective we’re in.

Inciting Incident

This is where the protagonist’s normal routine is disrupted by an incident that changes it in some life altering way. Whether it’s a new colleague or an attack happens at school, the inciting incident has to incite a change in the character so they want to do something about what’s happened. Perhaps they want to discover what this new colleague is really up to, or perhaps they want to prevent further attacks from happening to their school.

Mid Point

This is where the action has been building towards, but it’s not quite the main battle yet. There have been many obstacles in the way that have led to the protagonist nearly giving up a few times, but something happens to keep them going. It has to lead to a point where they do either nearly give up or do actually give up, then something ignites in them to carry on.

Climax

This is the all or nothing scenario. The whole story has been leading to this moment between the protagonist and the antagonist. The moment where the two opposing forces clash and they’ve changed from how they started the story. Whether the protagonist has foiled the antagonist or the antagonist has defeated the protagonist in some way, this is revealed in this moment.

Resolution

Depending how you end your story, the resolution will usually wrap up what’s happened. It’ll usually give us the consequences of the protagonist and antagonist’s actions. We might see what or who they lost or gained.

However, these five elements are shown in a linear narrative, i.e. a narrative that is told chronologically from start to finish. But, depending what type of story you tell, you might prefer to tell your story in a non linear way.

Perhaps you’d prefer to tell us the resolution at the beginning and we’re left to wonder what’s to come next. Memoirs tend to be good at a non linear narrative, since each chapter might lead to different sections of their life. It isn’t necessarily told in a chronological order because sometimes life is easier to tell in a seemingly jumbled mess but you realise when you finish that it makes sense in the end. Or perhaps you want to tell the whole story backwards.

Whichever way you choose, make sure at least all five elements are in the fictional story. For non fiction works, it’s harder to know which you need. But they will help guide your story and you’ll see how the reader interacts with each section.

How do you use narrative structure?

Writing Elements: Writing Characters

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Disclaimer: there is so much I could say about characters, so expect a (potential) series about characters.

Writing characters is very much like getting to know a human being: no matter how well you think you know someone, they’ll always surprise you. Characters are the same. No matter how well you think you’ve written your character, they will always surprise you, which is why some writers don’t like to create characters beforehand. They much prefer to let the story shape what type of character they will be. However, other writers like to at least know the basics about their characters beforehand, while others like to know a lot of details about their characters. It really varies depending what type of writer you are.

However, there is one writing no-no that every writer tries to avoid: the dreaded Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is an unfulfilling character that either is a self insert of the author, an idealised version of the author or wish fulfilment. To an extent, all characters will have aspects of the writer in them. But if your character resembles Bella Swann from Twilight, you might have an issue. To see if your character is a Mary Sue, or in danger of becoming one, fill out this quiz and see what your result is.

How do you create complex characters?

For starters, take a look at your favourite characters and figure out why they’re your favourite characters. Usually, your favourite characters are representative of either who you are as a person or the type of person you’re drawn to. Whether it’s the humble librarian, the overconfident lawyer, the loud theatre performer, each have their own personality that perhaps resembles someone you know or perhaps reminds you of you or perhaps you’ve secretly wanted to be. Regardless, figure out what drew you to them in the first place (even if it took half a season to convince you – again, figure out why you didn’t like them initially).

Don’t be concerned if you’re drawn to villains though. I’m drawn to villains in a fictional sense, but would immediately leave if that type of person manifested in my life. Characters are fictional and typically exaggerated to fit the story. For example, a villain is typically the polar opposite to the hero as a way to throw the hero off. However, the hero and villain usually have something in common so their paths cross in the first place.

Secondly, look at the people around you. From your family to your classmates/colleagues, figure out what you like or dislike about them. You might not get to choose who is in your school or workplace, nor who you’re related to, but you can at least figure out why you feel the way you do about them. Perhaps you don’t have an opinion on them, but you’ve noticed little things about them. Jot it down. Characters with little quirks are always better than flawless characters. Additionally, with family, see how you’re alike or different to them. Is there a family trait you share? Is there a genetic trait you share?

To add to this, look at why you chose your friends, regardless of whether they’re only online, your adorable pet(s) or imaginary (we’ve all been there). Why did you choose them to be your friends? What was it about them that drew you to them? Then look at maybe a trait or two you might not like, and maybe consider adding it to a character or two. As I mentioned above, a flawless character isn’t realistic, so add flaws in.

Thirdly, look at the people around you in a more general sense. Sit down with a notebook (or the note section on your phone) and observe the people you see. Sure, you won’t get an in depth analysis like you do with your loved ones, or even a brief overview like those at school/work, but you can see things that might say a lot about them. For example, if you see someone disrespect a waitress, you can probably gauge a little about them. Or use stereotypes and consider why they’re stereotypes, or perhaps why they don’t fit this stereotype. I promise, you’ll learn more about a person when you see why they don’t fit a certain stereotype/label than how they do.

Lastly, if all else fails, fill out some character questionnaires or interviews. Even better, grab a friend and get them to ask you questions about your character and you answer as if you are your character (also known as hot seating). It’s a good way of figuring out how well you know your character and how to develop them further. Plus, it’s a good way to see what types of questions the interviewer asks you, because you might not have ever thought about it and they might bring up an interesting point.

Basically, the main key to writing a good character is to see if they’re complex or not. If you could tell me tons of detail about your loved one but next to nothing about your character, you might want to flesh out your character a bit more (depending what type of writer you are).

What’s your best advice for writing characters?

Is there anything you want me to cover about characters? Let me know!

My Trip To Norway

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I went to Norway for the first time with three of my best friends that I’ve known for over 10 years and we were all wondering how it’s taken us so long to go on holiday together. It was one of the best holidays ever, partially thanks to how beautiful Norway is.

Before we had even arrived in the country, we were concerned with money since we’d heard the rumours about it being one of the most expensive countries in the world. Fortunately, we were careful with our money and managed it quite well. We were all quite shocked to find everything was either cheap or expensive with no in between.

Continue reading “My Trip To Norway”