The Benefits of Fan Fiction

Fan fiction has a bad reputation on the Internet.  It’s usually looked down upon as a pass-time of rabid fangirls living out their fantasies with or between their favorite characters.  Poor spelling, poorer grammar, Mary Sues, and slash abound.

I’m not saying that fan fiction doesn’t have these elements because I’ve seen enough to know it exists.  What I am saying is there is a lot more to fan fiction than just that.

I used to think that fan fiction was the last resort for people who couldn’t write.  A cop-out for people who weren’t original enough, creative enough, or talented enough to be “real writers.”  Ironically, no one had defined fan fiction or even explained it to me at that point, so I had only the vague image of teenagers with no lives mangling someone’s characters because they couldn’t make their own.  What I didn’t realize was that I had been creating fan fiction ever since I could read.  I just didn’t know that’s what I’d been doing.

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Plot Writer versus Character Writer

How do you start writing your story?  What creates that spark of interest that makes you commit your time and energy to a project?  Every writer has their own peculiar modus operandi.  Some free-write while others outline, some write chronologically while other start at the end and work their way backwards.  The genus of an idea and how that idea is developed is also unique to each writer.  However, I have noticed a general trend among my friends who write and authors who discuss their creative process.  I speak in generalities and understand there are exceptions to every rule, but, in my experience, this trend creates two groups of writers:  Plot Writers and Character Writers.

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The Appeal of Fantasy

What is your favorite genre?  What kind of story inspires you, intrigues you, appeals to you?  Do you seek the spine-tingling screams of Horror?  The alien worlds and high stakes of Science Fiction?  The head-scratching maze of Mystery?  The depth and realism of Historical Fiction?  The pounding pulses and happy endings of Romance?  (If you would like a full list of the main genres and sub-genres of fiction, I highly recommend reading “Writer’s Digest Sub-Genre Descriptions.”)

I think everyone has a favorite genre or kind of book or story that they seek out over the others.  Some people like a wide variety of books while others are very particular about what they read and specialize in only a few types of books.  Some even focus on only one kind.  I don’t think one way is better than the other, although it is good to be at least exposed to other works and genres even if you don’t read them on a regular basis.  My personal area of expertise is the wide-eyed wonder of Fantasy.

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How the Office of Letters and Light helped me start (and stay) writing:

I think humans have a tendency to name things and make up random holidays.  Throughout the year you can find instances of this.  Did you know that January 10th is “Peculiar People Day?”  Or that October 28th is “Plush Animal Lovers’ Day?”  How about August being “National Catfish Month?”  A lot of these days and months have multiple names to them.  Personally, I think there’s a government committee somewhere whose sole purpose is to make these things up.

At any rate, this obsession with naming led to November being called “National Novel Writing Month.”  It’s rather nice having a month dedicated to the art and craft of writing, specifically novel writing, but for most people, this month passes by unnoticed.  However, the Office of Letters and Light decided to create something special.  They made a contest also called “National Novel Writing Month,” affectionately dubbed “NaNoWriMo” (pronounced “NAH-no-RHYME-oh”.)  It challenges would-be novelists to write 50,000 words, the minimum requirement for a novel, in 30 days.  There is no cash prize and there are no judges to evaluate your work.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to get writers to stop agonizing over perfecting each passage before moving on, to break the rut of perfectionism and procrastination that dogs the heels of authors.  In order to help writers complete that first draft, the emphasis is on quantity, not quality.  Now, granted, a writer could just sit down and type the same sentence over and over until they reached 50,000 words, but NaNoWriMo offers little incentive for such a path.  With no cash value and no one reading your work beyond the snippets you choose to post, there is no reason not to sit down and write.  All you have to enter is the number of words you wrote, and, at the end of the contest, an on-site word validator proves that yes, you actually did write that number of words.  If you reach 50,000 words, you get bragging rights and the satisfaction of reaching your goal.  And if you only wrote, say 30,000 words, or 20,000, or even 10,000, you still have more done now than you did at the start of November, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

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