I read a lot of books before I became a writer. Like a LOT of books. But it wasn’t until I started to read and enjoy fanfiction that I decided to pick up a pen, open a notebook, and try my hand at a fan-based story of my own. I figured my long history as a reader would provide all the knowledge I could possibly need to dive right in. Yeah, not so much. But the more I wrote, the more I learned about all the different elements of writing. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from fanfiction.
Fanfiction taught me what I didn’t know. An embarrassingly short time after I began my very first story I started to run up against deep and complicated questions like, How do I punctuate dialogue? I didn’t instinctively know the rules for action tags versus speech tags. I couldn’t even remember if the comma should come before or after the quotation marks. Any and all instruction I’d received about such pesky issues in school had long since faded from my memory banks. Thankfully, I had a bookshelf full of ready examples to lead the way.
Fanfiction helped me realise all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Head-hopping (the act of swapping back and forth between different points of view multiple times in a single scene) is generally considered a grievous sin. It’s confusing for the reader and prevents them from sinking deeply into the emotional lives of the characters. When I first started writing fanfiction I’d never even heard the term, but I was oh so guilty of the sin. My early stories head-hopped so flagrantly and so often it’s a wonder my readers didn’t get dizzy. The fact that I was writing at all lead to me reading articles on writing, which opened up a whole new world of techniques (both the good and the bad).
Fanfiction taught me to love my fans. Fanfiction can be a wonderful place to start your writing career because you get feedback every time you post something new. A short story, a chapter from a series, even a drabble (the shortest of short stories) comes with fast hits of reader response. I quickly learned that reader love is a very special and addictive kind of bliss. Reader hate should be backed away from and forgotten as quickly as possible. I figure if I’m not getting a bit of both, I’m probably not saying anything particularly interesting.
Fanfiction taught me I could write a book. Having a go at writing short fanfiction led to me writing longer fanfiction. Which led to writing fiction with actual chapters, then lots of chapters. The day I finished a 30,000 word fanfiction story (for which I even managed a few modest popularity awards) I decided to have a go at writing a book. I took an original character from one of my fanfictions and gave her a story all of her own. That book became my first publication.
It’s been a long time since I wrote a piece of fanfiction, but I’ll never forget the gifts it gave me. A way to try out something new; a warm and generous community of fellow writers; ravenous readers to delight; and most of all, the confidence to keep moving on to bigger projects. We all have to start somewhere, no matter what skill we’re acquiring. For writing, I will always recommend fanfiction as a great way to lay down your first ink. You never know where it will take you.