I’ve thought it, too.
If you’re not doing it yourself, you’re not doing it right. Fan fiction is derivative, it’s kitschy, and it goes against every creative bone in your writing body.
You know what? You’re wrong.
In August, I was between writing projects. I had just finished reading Michael Bunker’s wonderful Amish science fiction novel Pennsylvania, and like a lot of good books, it left me wanting more. Why did the main character’s brother turn away from his Amish roots and join the rebellion? There was an unwritten backstory, and I had to know the answer.
The idea grew on me until I finally worked up the courage to email Michael Bunker himself and take his temperature on the subject of fan fiction. I know how much effort goes into world-building and would not have been surprised with a politely worded version of: “No, I don’t want some random guy traipsing willy-nilly through my carefully constructed world.”
His email answer came back a few hours later:
Absolutely David, You have my permission to publish your fan fiction. I hope you do well with it! Very exciting!
With the blessing of Mr. Bunker, I wrote The Yesterday Adjustment, a novella set in the world of Amish science fiction.
Was I nervous about it? Yes, but I needn’t have worried. Here’s five reasons why my fanfic experience was great.
- Fanfic relieves you of world-building – In writing science fiction and fantasy, balancing the elements of plot, character development, and world-building is a tricky business. But in fanfic, the world comes pre-made for you. Your main concern as a writer is telling a great story that is consistent with the original author’s vision.
- Ability to Explore – How many times have you read a book and wondered about a character’s backstory or what happened in that scene that the main character just described in one sentence? That was my spark in The Yesterday Adjustment. I wanted to know how the main character’s little brother became a leader in the rebel forces fighting against the evil Transport.
- Cast of Characters – Fanfic comes with a cast that already lives and breathes as a result of someone else’s hard work. You know what these people look like, which brand of beer they drink, and how they talk. Don’t like the cast? Create your own spin-off. In my piece, I created Agent Damien Strickland, a spy from Transport, who is tasked to go back in time and disrupt a historical event. Damien never existed in the original Pennsylvania. In fact, Bunker’s original work is told from the rebel point of view.
- Using Limits as Creative Doorways – Good stories have constraints, internal logic about what can and cannot be done in that world. For example, in Pennsylvania, the Amish live apart from society in designated Amish Zones, where they are exempt from the personal tracking technology that is mandatory in the larger society. Now tell me, doesn’t that sound like the perfect place to hide a time-travelling undercover agent?
- Meet New (Real) People – A few weeks before I published, I found out that Pennsylvania had its own fan site called The AZ, short for Amish Zone. I joined right away and have met some great people that I otherwise would not have met. Some became readers, some became reviewers, and a few became friends.
But Who Reads Fanfic?
Probably the biggest misconception that I had about fanfic was that it would only appeal to readers of the original work. I gave a copy to my wife and she loved it! (This is surprising for two reasons: she doesn’t usually read sci-fi and she hasn’t read Pennsylvania).
For me, what began as a tentative project ended up being a great experience that I would recommend to any writer. In a perverse way, I found the limits imposed by someone else’s fictional world let me write faster and more freely than I was able to on some of my own fiction. Even better, it left me refreshed and eager to go back to my own work.
You can get your own copy of The Yesterday Adjustment from Amazon.
David Bruns is the creator of the sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles, and one half of the Two Navy Guys and a Novel blog series about co-writing the military thriller, Weapons of Mass Deception. Check out his website for a free sample of his work.