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.


Exchanging Original Fiction

I’m putting out feelers here…

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about setting up an original fiction exchange. I’ve done a lot of fanfic exchanges and they’re great, but I’m wondering how to work an exchange for original short stories.

Would any of you be interested in that kind of exchange? There are many ways to run it–I’d want to take the time to figure out the best way (probably a prompt fill)–so if you have ideas, interest, or questions, please leave a comment.

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I lied.

I wasn’t finished. I mean, yes, I was finished with the rewrite draft and the first edit pass, but I’m a perfectionist and I declare it not finished.

I did move on to the next phase, which was making it available to read as a Kindle document (I see so many more things when I read my own words that way). Also, this weekend I attended a SCBWI workshop on writing dialog and while this isn’t a children’s book, the same rules apply. I’ve been able to go back and pick out what one of our speakers (Bill Konigsberg) referred to as the Seven Deadly Sins of Dialog. I’ve read this thing on my phone app two and a half times so far, and I keep finding things to fix.

Editing, I love you. It’s like watching errors filter through an hourglass: they get to the skinny spot and disappear, a little bit at a time. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun editing my own work before, and I am so happy to say “I’ll take it.” My work keeps getting better and better, just like magic! It’s not magic–just hard work–but if it ultimately looks like it was easy, so much the better.

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Revising and rewriting is, oddly enough, a whole lot of fun right now. It’s usually something I dread. When the story’s told, I’m done with it. Only this time I’m trying to be quite professional, doing a thorough job of things.

I set out in November with the express goal of writing something marketable. I did a pretty good job, but the first draft was a first draft, more proof-of-concept than something with meat on its bones. Now I’m going back and making stew out of it, I guess.

For a few weeks I denied it, dreading the process, dreading what seemed like the drudgery of redoing something I’ve already done. See, I forgot that editing means taking the opportunity to write new material, and I live for writing something new.


Why We Write

Maybe I should have titled this post Why I Write, because I certainly can’t speak for anybody else. Here’s the thing, though: I woke up this morning thinking wow, I’m writing this story. Up until two days before NaNo started, it wasn’t even so much as a gleam in my eye. Over the course of the past month I’ve come to know my characters, their circumstances, the story of the book. I have notes about where I thought it was going to go at first. Reading those notes now makes me giggle: if I used those plot points now, they would seem so contrived. It’s a case of live and learn.

Back to why I write, though. I’ve got this story and a month ago I’d never so much as imagined it. At this point my novel-to-be is incredibly rough. It’s filled with inconsistencies, little tears in the fabric of the tale that need to be mended. These are all things that can be fixed, because the bones of the story are pretty solid. I’ve created something that’s brand new, and it didn’t exist a month ago. There was nothing about it in the world, and knowing that boggles my mind.

So why do I write? Because it’s fun. Because it lets me go somewhere else for the duration. Because there are new tales to tell. Because someone will read this story and like the characters, or one of the characters, or the storyline, or some of the writing and the thought of that makes me smile.

Why do you write? Share your thoughts.