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.


The Fun Part of Fandom

For years now, my friend Paige and I have been running a late-summer fanfiction exchange called I Need My Fics (her title, isn’t it beautiful?). The exchange has always been small (okay, intimate) and lovely. We’ve had some wonderful stories.

We’re in the last five days of this year’s exchange, and prompts are open to anyone who’d like to write in the existing fandoms. For the basic exchange we require stories to be a minimum of 1000 words. Once we open the prompts, that requirement goes away. We’re accepting stories of any length. They’re due on September 21 by 9pm EDT.

The open requests live right here on Archive of Our Own. If you’re motivated to write something, all you need is an AO3 account. If you need an account invitation to fill one of our prompts, I have a handful to give away.


Fanfiction Exchange

For the fifth year, I’m co-moderating I Need My Fics, a fanfiction exchange hosted at Archive of Our Own. Right now we’re open for nominations. If you think you’d like to sign up, check out the nominated fandoms and see if there are any you’d like to add. You must be a member of AO3 to participate. If you don’t have an account there already, I can provide you with an invite code.

The window for nominations closes on the 28th of this month, with signups opening immediately after. If you have any questions about participating, let me know.


The Voices in My Head

Because it wasn’t hot enough in the Pacific northwest, I decided to go to the desert for a few days. Sadly, I traveled without my camera but had I taken photos, everything would have had a haze of heat drifting from it.

I quite enjoy traveling alone and always have. Some folks I know are afraid to do it, for whatever reason, and I’m sure those are all valid. A long time ago I discovered that even when I travel by myself, I always have an entourage with me. It’s those fictional characters living in my head. They like to see me safely from place to place so I can live to write them another day.

When people talk about the voices in their head, I have to nod knowingly.

I actually wrote on the flight home yesterday, which is a rarity for me. I’m trying to go repeat-genre with another detective story, and there was no time like the present. Especially after a two-hour delay at LAX. One thing I like about that airport (at least the wing I was in) is that there are plenty of power outlets all around, so I was able to charge my phone which has been mysteriously draining not just power but apparently its ability to follow the simplest of instructions, like “turn off.” Time for a new one, but I’ll wait until we move.

In the meanwhile, I offer up a little change of pace. This is the fourth year that I’ve been co-moderating a fanfiction gift exchange. If any of you are fanfiction writers and interested, all the information is right here. (If you’re not a member of the AO3 and need an invitation to join, just let me know, I’ll hook you up with one.)

P.S. While I was away, two more peafowl joined our resident peacock. We now have a peahen, a juvenile male, and our adult male. It’s starting to look like a zoo around here!


The Value of the F-Word

You’re probably snickering, but the F-word I’m talking about here is fanfiction. Fortunate enough to grow up with a wonderful writer in my older sister, I started writing fanfiction before I even knew there was a name for it. Not to age myself too drastically, but in those days fan communities were a lot less tightly-knit than they are now, so all that writing took place in a vacuum. There was no centralized location for quick and easy feedback, no ready stream of fellow fans to tell me if I was getting details or characterization right or wrong.

After a time I put away working in other peoples’ worlds in favor of my own characters and settings, but the separation didn’t stick. While I generally only have the focus to work in one world at a time, at this time of year the joy of original fiction always shares the spotlight with the joy of fanfiction. For five years now, I’ve participated in the Yuletide exchange for rare and small fandoms. I remember my curiosity being piqued by a bunch of odd letters popping up on LiveJournal that all started Dear Yuletide Writer… Intrigued, I went ahead and investigated. What is this small/rare fandom thing, I wanted to know? Only a collection of some fabulous stories in fandoms I loved, so I decided to join. As a contributing writer, I have to confess that the writing of these stories has brought me so much joy. It might sound trite to insist that the gift is in the giving, but that really is a huge part of it.

Don’t worry, I’m not selfless enough to say I enjoy that more than receiving stories in turn. That’s such a thrill, and I’m always amazed at the creativity that goes into these pieces. It’s a pleasure to be able to take part in the whole exchange.

To me, the value of fanfiction is two-fold. First, it lets me enjoy worlds I’ve loved to visit in ways I never imagined possible. Second, I firmly believe that writing fanfiction is a great way to hone my own writing skills. It’s both easier and a lot more difficult to create faithfully in someone else’s playground: I’ve had to remember to play by another writer’s rules and guidelines. That can be limiting. But it’s also a great exercise in melting my own writing into an existing work. In contrast, writing my own stories seems so limitless after that, so freeing. My characters are mine, their motivations are their own, and the pacing and resolution are mine to work with. It’s less daunting than it sounds! After all, I’ve had a lot of practice in a far more confined space.

Now I’m heading back to my original work. One more chapter and this novel is complete, at least on the first pass. The holidays will be over and life will continue at its usual dull roar. It seems the more I have to do, the more I’m able to do, and I like things that way.