Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Making the Leap from Fanfiction to Original Fiction

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

I’m a sucker for backstory. I love it more than is probably healthy. I’m the one who’s always asking “what happened before? Where did that character trait come from? Who made this person into who they are? Why why why why?”

For someone like me, fanfiction was the perfect venue. I could take these mostly full-formed characters I loved and fill in the blank places. The world I chose to start with was Harry Potter, but I didn’t want to write about Ron or Harry or Hermione. I wanted to know why Lucius Malfoy hated Muggles so much, and what Sirius Black’s birthday was, and how Sybill Trelawney became so forgetful. Once I found The Sugar Quill and saw that other people were also interested in exploring the nooks and crannies, I was hooked. I started writing (terrible) fanfiction, filled with the worst, most melodramatic trope overuse. Luckily all of that is lost to the annals of time.

Slowly, though, I got better at it. I finally wrote a story I liked enough to submit to the Quill, one I was proud of even though deep down inside I knew it probably sucked. But the powers that be there liked it! They liked it enough to shelve it with their favorites, and thus was born my first authorial acceptance letter. I kept writing, kept exploring the pieces not only in the Harry Potter fandom but in many others, and a funny thing happened.

I became a better writer for all that inane poking around in the backstories of other peoples’ characters.

For the record, I’d always dabbled in writing original fiction too. I just didn’t think it was very good at all. I’d switch back and forth between fanfiction and original fiction and slowly, slowly, the light dawned. With original fiction, no one could claim my MC was acting out of character. No one could tell me that I’d gotten the background details wrong. No one could say I hadn’t read the right chapter or watched the right episode. No one argued with me over whether what happened was wrong or right.

After being constrained by canon for so long, writing my own worlds and characters was a breath of fresh air. I became very good at writing characters and knowing them and giving them backstory. Always backstory, because I’m still a sucker for it. And little by little I learned that I’m the one who needs to know the backstory, but it doesn’t have to be a part of the story. It’s enough that I know it.

Making the leap from fanfic to original fiction was a little bittersweet. I didn’t sit down and say no more fanfiction, not now, not ever! But once I’d tasted the freedom that came with writing my own worlds, I was hooked. I still had to figure out big-picture things like how to plot and how to use story beats, and in many ways I’m still and will always be figuring that out. Somewhere along the line, my focus for original fiction outshone my focus for fanfic. Fanfic became harder and harder for me to write, where original fiction flowed like a river. Eventually I stopped writing fanfiction altogether–and now I doubt I’d even know how to do it any more.

I was able to fill the need for it in a unique way, though. It didn’t take me too long to realize that writing sequels for my original stories was exactly like writing fanfiction for my own canon. What can I say? Where there’s a will, there’s a way?

Even though I don’t write fanfiction any more (my last one was written over three years ago), it will always have a special place in my heart. It taught me so much about the craft and skill of writing, of imagination, and of infusing writing with emotion. So if you’ve got a background in fandom and write or wrote fanfiction, wear that nerd banner proudly! It serves us well.

And before you know it, people will be writing fanfiction for your characters.