Understanding Fan Fiction


I received an inbox from a follower on tumblr today, asking if I can help her answer some questions about fan fiction. I thought that I would I would write up a more detailed answer and post it here for those who are not sure exactly what it is and why it’s done. I have plans for putting up how to posts for tumblr later so this is probably a good place to start.

Fan fiction is a world that I didn’t even know existed until early last year. I went onto tumblr looking for funny gifs and vines, based on things I had seen on Pinterest, and stumbled across it by accident. It’s a bit like the underground world of writing. Some people have heard of it, others haven’t and the fans and writers tend to keep quite about it unless they are talking to someone they feel will enjoy it.

Fan fiction is the viewer/reader/fan’s interpretation of what could or should happen with a piece of media that they enjoyed. I will admit I thought it was only based on movies and tv shows, but I have since found out that it includes almost everything, there doesn’t appear to be limits, TV shows, movies, books and even video games all have fan fiction stories written and based on them.

It uses the characters and sometimes plots of a piece of media to make a new story. Sometimes including reader inserts, which is where the reader is placed in the story using acronyms such as Y/N for Your Name. The story lines are anything from re writing some of the already used plots to include other characters, fix issues fans had with them or to include things they thought would have made it more interesting, crossovers with other fandoms, based on songs, brand spanking new ideas or just to end a series that fans didn’t think ended very well.

Fan fiction is a great way for writers, like myself, who want to test the waters with their writing skills, develop their writing, learn how to write or even see what people think. Fan fiction has also brought about a few famous authors. E.L James, wrote (according to fan fiction legend) 50 Shades of Grey as a fan fiction of Twilight and The Mortal Instruments author Cassandra Clare also started out writing fan fiction.

Not all producers, published authors and video game creators like the idea. Some really have an issue with it. Other’s don’t mind it and have admitted to reading it.

As an author, although not published, personally I think the idea can be great. Would I be offended if someone wrote some for my work? Probably not. I think writers can get a lot of good ideas and a greater understanding of what their fans want and possibly even ideas for future works. I also think it’s a great way for writer’s to be able to see how people judge and interpret their characters and storylines. It’s really does help someone know if they are portraying a person how they meant to. And for those who have stepped into that world as a reader or writer, once there you really do get an idea of the size of a fandom; Supernatural, Dr Who, Sherlock or the SuperWhoLock fandom is a great example.

For me personally I have seen how fan fiction can change a person’s life. My own blog and work is open to requests. I allow people to send through story ideas based on what they want to read and I write it up. This have been everything from: “Can you do a birthday fic?” to “I have a friend living with terminal bowel cancer, who is a Supernatural fan, could you please write something that includes the boys helping the reader through the end?”

Other requests have been about how one of the main characters falls for someone who is flawed according to the rest of the world, be it overweight, glasses, underweight, has stretch marks. Fans like to be able to feel that their hero’s, celebrity crushes etc can fall for someone who isn’t Hollywood gorgeous and it then becomes a massive confidence boost. Something a lot of people need. And what is meaningless to one may end up helping someone else who is really struggling.

These kinds of stories usually end up with private messages from people thanking me, because they had a bad day and were suffering low self esteem etc and the story just helped them realise that they are not as bad as they thought. I have even written stories based on a blind hunter and another who was deaf. Giving these people a chance to believe that they can still achieve anything and “save the world,” means a lot.

It’s also a great place to make friends. I have spoken to some of my readers who have been going through some pretty tough times and spent hours talking to them. Helping where needed and sometimes all they need is just an ear. It’s amazing how strong a friendship’s can grow from this. I have one reader/friend who is now on my personal Facebook and we talk most days about random stuff, I have another that I chat to privately through tumblr about random stuff as well or use her to throw idea’s around with. I’ve seen other’s who have made life long friends who have changed their lives.

Getting into writing fan fiction is easy. Firstly, check it out. Read others works. On tumblr do a search for your favourite character x reader (eg dean x reader), fan fic, fan fiction etc. See what others have done. It’s pretty easy to pick up on a few things. There are a few sites out there who host fan fiction, but tumblr was an easy place for me to start. Set up a blog, this is automatically done once you sign up, so pick a good user name.

Find something you love or have read/watched/played enough to know what it’s about, the main character’s personalities etc. And come up with an idea. Write up your story and give it a good edit. I like using Word to write it up and then I copy and paste into tumblr. Other’s happily just use the tumblr app and type it straight into it.

Tag it! And use your tags wisely. I’m not entirely sure how it works, someone once told me places only count the first five tags. I’m not sure. I have a list that I add in. Tags are what search terms the story is placed under. Without tags no one can find you. So this is things like: #supernatural #Dean x reader #dr who #Matt Murdoch #Dean Winchester. I’m not sure if capitals matter. Then click post.

In the world of fan fiction, a lot of writers do help others out. They shout out for new blogs, share stories, read and review, and offer advice on setting up blogs. But usually only if asked. I am one of those. I happily help out others, we all had to start somewhere. And when I started I had no help and had to go at this and figure it out all on my own.

Keep track of your stories and make sure you copy all the web links into a word document so you can post what is known as a Masterlist. A list of all your story’s web links. This is vital. I cannot stress it enough. You will be asked for one, usually on a regular basis.

Layout and formatting is important. I have read a lot of posts from readers who will not read a fan fiction that isn’t spaced out, well formatted, correct use of everything. Sometimes this can’t be helped. Tumblr known for changing story formats being viewing modes, eg phone to pc. But where possible make sure you include things like line spaces between paragraphs, and a new paragraph per speaker/new lot of dialogue. Also always spell check. We all make mistakes, even some published books have errors in them. But a story that’s riddled with mistakes is hard to read. And if you are re reading old stories and you notice an error. Edit it.

Post regularly, eg weekly or fortnightly. If you have a schedule let your fans know. If you are going to be away for an extended period, let them know. They are great and really supportive and understanding. But those die hard regulars like to know when your next story will be. And who can blame them, we are all like that with our favourite authors.

If you have rules let them know. I don’t do smut (R18, porn writing and sex scenes) not my style. Could I? Probably. Will I? Nope. I have fans and readers, including my kids who are under that age group, I have readers who are under the age 13 so I keep it clean. I will imply it’s happening. I will give a bit of details about kissing someone’s neck, hand going up the shirt. But that’s it. I usually cut scene to lying in bed after or the next day. I don’t feel that it’s needed. It can take away from the story line, it can ruin a story, and ultimately it can give readers that are too young for that kind of thing, details that they didn’t need to know.

I can and have managed to write stories based around a sexual relationship without actually writing sex scenes. However, this kind of thing is each to their own. Some writers enjoy it and do it happily. But it’s one of my rules and I stick by it. If it’s requested, I politely decline that part of the request but write everything else. If it’s too hard to leave that out, I will offer the request to other fan fic writers and ask someone else take it on. As a writer you should not feel pressured into anything.

Also decide if you are taking requests. This is when people contact you with a story idea. And let people know. It’s your choice. You can open it once a month, once a week, not at all. Your choice. I do, and it generally stays open. I just line them up and work on them around my other writing schedules.

What do people like to read? After nine months I think I’ve figured it out. Angst, tear jerking, emotional rollercoaster type stories. Will you please everyone. God, no. I have had emails complaining because I killed someone off and I need to fix it. Nine times out of 10 I do. But funnily enough, the times I write up the next part to bring them back people don’t ask for it. But they love to be drawn into the story like an addiction.

It will take a bit to get going and find your style, pace and ultimately you will. It’s just takes patience and trial and error. My work when I first started compared to my work now is completely different. Don’t get discouraged about the amount of likes or reblogs you get. I’ve had some that have only had 10 all up and others that have hit the hundreds. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. You’re not them. You are you and that’s all there is too it. People will love your work, it’s just a matter of them finding you, of you making yourself known. Love your fans, sure aim for more. But what you are doing is for those who are following you now. You will notice a regular group of them who come back for every story. I have some that I know without a doubt will be one of the first people to like my work and if they don’t I worry. Not about my work, but them.

Fan fiction starts as a way to test the waters and ends up as an online family and book group. It can be a brilliant way for people to refine their skills, test different styles (Point of view for me was a huge test) and see what works for you. It’s worth undertaking and using to it’s full potential for emerging writers. Embrace it.

I am the author of the Supernatural and Avengers fan fiction blog, 5 Minute Fan Fiction on tumblr.



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