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  • Stephen Howard

How To: Write Fanfiction That Doesn't Suck


Fanfiction. The genre some people love to hate. By some, it is seen as the lowest of low in writing while others see it as a compliment to the author and their work. It's a broad spectrum that has many soldiers on each side of it, but we're not here to discuss that today; today, we are going to start a two-part series on how to write fanfiction that doesn't suck and make people want to gouge their eyes out by reading it.


Let's begin.


There are many fandoms to choose from when writing fanfiction.

Picking a Fandom

To say that the choices are endless would not be too far from the truth; there are thousands of fandom's across many genres, some of which have massive followings. Marvel, DC, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Sherlock, Dr. Who, are just a few them (and some of my favorites).


One Google search and you will find yourself getting lost down the rabbit hole of fandom's without hope of ever getting back out again.


So how do you choose? Well, if you are asking yourself this question, it is more than likely you love multiple fandom's and you have an idea for each one. Plot-bunnies run free in the fields of your mind, multiplying by the hundreds in short order, leaving you feeling overwhelmed. This happens to on a daily occasion, so I feel your pain.


But with all these choices before you, let's try and narrow it down. First, pick the fandom you are most likely to stick with. I know, I know, it's like telling all of the other stories in your head, "It's not you, it's me," but I promise you will get to them.


I would encourage you to write down the story idea you have for them in 200 words or less; DO NOT start writing a whole chapter down.


Have you picked it yet? Good, now let us move on.


Original Character vs. Established Character

Now that you have your fandom, you need characters to fill them. While this may seem like the most natural thing in the world to do, it tends to be the most complicated one. For instance, if you are creating your own character (which I am assuming you want to do) you need to make them grab the readers attention, especially if they are going to be hanging out with characters that the readers already know and love.


Let's look at the top three pros and cons of each, so you have a general idea of which type you want to go with. To save time, I will be referring to Original Characters as OC, and Established Characters as EC.


Original Characters: Pros

  1. You can create something of your own. This is one of the most satisfying things do to as a writer, especially when the readers connect with your creation.

  2. You are not restricted to a backstory that everyone knows; this means that you can do whatever you want with your character and give them as interesting a story as you want.

  3. You can create their personality; this means that they can have their own unique voice in the story.


Original Characters: Cons


  1. You have to come up with a backstory in addition to your main plot-line. Coming up with an additional story can be a daunting task if you are still trying to come up with your outline.

  2. You don't know if the readers will connect with them. Let's face it, if your OC is the main character in your book and everyone hates them (and they're not supposed too), that's a problem.

  3. They're Vanilla. This tends to happen when you make them into a Mary/Gary-Sue (we'll talk more about those next week), and they are the ones who just rock at everything in life.


You can come up with some fantastic characters for your stories, you just need to know what the pitfalls are and how to avoid them. Now let's take a look at EC's.


Established Characters: Pros

  1. You don't have to come up with something new; everything is provided for you, leaving you to figure out what your story will be about.

  2. Built-in fan-base; Most readers will probably be familiar with the characters already, meaning you will not have to try as hard to keep their attention.

  3. Depending on the fandom, you have a plethora of other characters you can use as well.


Established Characters: Cons

  1. Voice is much more important here. With EC's people know and love, readers will expect them to act and talk certain ways. Captain America won't go around throwing F-bombs, and other swear words, for example.

  2. Every EC will have a backstory or origin story, and while you can remake it into something different, you run the risk of messing with the character more than some fans will go along with.

  3. Reader expectations. Fans are a fickle bunch at times, and they will be expecting certain things to happen or not happen depending on the character. As an example, in Lord of the Rings, Legolas and Gimli become best friends; this will be a reader expectation if you wrote something with them in it.


You will not be able to please everyone so do not even attempt to try. Instead, write the story that you want to write.



Pick a Universe: Original, Alternate, or Crossover

No, not that kind of universe.

You might be wondering what the differences are between the three listed above, so before we move on, I'll touch on these briefly.


Original:

This universe is the same universe that everyone is familiar with, and they know what is going on. Take Sherlock; if you are picking up after Season Four, and you are using the same timeline and have changed nothing, you are in the original universe.


Alternate:

In this universe, some or all of the timeline may be changed to fit your desires. In my Lord of the Rings fanfiction, Tales of the Fourth Age Series, I created an alternate timeline for events in the Fourth Age, and I also changed some of the significant events from the book to fit my needs and my vision for the series. This is relatively standard among fanfiction's.


Crossover:

This is what it sounds like, it is a crossover between two or more fandom's in one story. You'll see crossovers like Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, Sherlock and Dr. Who, and many others.


These are the three main ones that you will find on sites where you can publish your works, but you will need to choose which you will prefer. Any of the three options are good ones, it really depends on what you want to do with your story. Personally, I enjoy Alternate because of the possibilities it gives me to play around with characters and reader expectations, while still giving me a wealth of information about backstories and such.



Next Steps

Now that you have a little bit of information under your belt, I would challenge you to sit down this week and start that story you've been sitting on, and do not let anyone look down on you for writing fanfiction. I have found a wonderful community of fellow believers and amazing authors on Wattpad since starting to write fanfiction that I would never have met otherwise.


Next, we'll take a look at the overused tropes, picking a platform, and plots, characters, and pov.



If you've enjoyed this, please subscribe to get alerts when posts go up and access to THREE FREE worksheets to help you get your story started. I also would love to hear from you, so make sure to comment below!


Needing help with your story? I offer developmental editing and story coaching to help authors bring their stories to life. If you're interested in learning more about this, click here.