Fanfiction is a wonderful thing. In fact, the first piece of writing I ever published online was a Vampire Academy fanfiction when I was thirteen. It was my own take on the story, designed to give me an outlet for my personal desires for the series, and express who I thought Rose should have ended up with in the end. I tried my best to stick to Richelle Mead’s tone and writing style, and made sure that I had a clear reason why things were different in my version of the story. From conception to the final product, it took me a long time to be completely happy with my work because I wanted to make sure, even at the age of thirteen, that I was showing as much respect as possible to the original text and the author. To be honest, looking back I, am thoroughly embarrassed with the quality. I do have to say, though, that it was a nice first attempt.
As I’ve already mentioned in my blog post about the Death of the Author, writing fanfiction can be an excellent way of engaging with the original text and helping to make your interpretation your own. Many distinguished and successful authors have started off by writing fanfiction before moving on to create something original to them, including Neil Gaiman. Many fanfiction writers and authors alike write both original stories and content for their favourite fandoms. Fanfiction communities are diverse, fun and wonderful to be a part of! I’m really in favour of creating your own work based on someone else’s and I think that it can help you grow as a writer.
So clearly the conclusion of this article has already been reached: fanfiction is great! There’s absolutely nothing to worry about, and if Neil Gaiman says he’s a fan, there’s no point in arguing about its place on the internet. Clearly, its place has already been forged for us!
Nice try. This is ShanniiWrites! I wouldn’t have released this post if I didn’t have some “grand” point. Fanfiction can be great, but only if done properly! Of course, as with anything, there are pros and cons to writing fanfiction, but there is something that I rarely see the benefits of: OOC, or out of character, fanfiction. I think that OOC can be a dangerous trap to fall into because it can take away some of the most important aspects of using fanfic to grow as a writer. So, why would I think that? How dare I question the art that is OOC fanfiction? Well, first and foremost, we need to identify the good and bad points of fanfiction as a whole so that we can understand where OOC fits into this.
What are the benefits of fanfiction?
This is something that has been discussed all over the internet, with writers and readers alike falling on different ends of the spectrum. I understand that some people think that fanfiction takes away from the original story, but to them, I would say “not if done correctly”. Fanfic has clear positive aspects:
It helps you with problem-solving
When done properly, you’re essentially creating limitations for yourself that you’re going to have to abide by. When you choose a period and setting from your favourite fandom, you’re limited by a bunch of different things. Here are just a few:
- The events that have already happened in the canon
- The events that will happen in the future of the canon
- What, canonically, is happening at the same time
- How characters act
- The tone of the story
- How the setting is important
If you do, in fact, try to stay as true to the source material as possible by taking all of these points into account, you’ll usually find yourself having to explain how and why your story is different from its parent. If it’s set in the past, your readers will have that “aha!” moment when they realise how your story ties into the later narrative and possibly even explains or explores events mentioned in the book better. If it’s set in the future, you will certainly have to explain how the things that happened at the end of the book or series culminated in the start of your story if you want people to leave your work feeling satisfied. The mark of a great fanfiction is one that manages to convince you that the events, no matter how unusual and unlikely in the original story, would definitely have happened that way because of how much they wink at the source material. For the moments when you’re reading a good fanfiction, you’ll be thinking to yourself “I totally see why Loki did that” or “it makes sense that Harry and Draco ended up together after that“. People like the stories they read to make sense. What’s the point otherwise?
But that makes it seem a lot easier than it actually is. Making all of the events tie up and work together to make something different happen is extremely difficult. Any good author has written their story in such a way that their course of action is the most logical one to come by, so changing events can mess up the canon of the entire story, past and present, if you’re not careful. That’s the problem with creating a great fanfiction that’s realistic in the universe of its source story: the closer you get to the original storyline, the more obstacles you face in actually trying to tell your story. If Harry really does hate Draco and obsess over his guiltiness in the Half-Blood Prince, how do you turn that around to make Harry and Draco fall in love without making it sound false or completely ignoring events that happened before the start of your story? What little plot details are you going to change in order to make that work? How much do you need to explain the situation?
To solve these, you need to be able to think about what plot points can be sacrificed or changed without losing the authenticity of the story. In short, it is important to change things without making it seem like you’re creating a whole different world. You need to establish how far you can allow all of the characters to act differently from the original story without acting like a completely new or different person. You need to be able to understand the basic rules of the story’s universe and use them to your advantage. If you’re particularly keen, you might go as far as I did: creating a new narrative based on the unsolved plot details by the end of the book (such as a random villain who vowed revenge on the main character but never showed up again) or the plot holes that make everyone scratch their heads (like why Fred and George never noticed Peter Pettigrew running around on the Marauder’s Map or how Hogwarts students learn maths and English when magical primary school is never once mentioned) and turn all of these details into your own story in which you explain the unexplained.
If you can take into account everything that’s happened in the true story, change as little as possible about the plot, explained all of your changes in a logical way, and you still manage to make Harry and Draco fall in love by the end, I salute you. You’re the superhero of creative writing. You have beaten all the odds, solved hundreds of problems and come out of the other side with a satisfying story no one can dispute. Once you’ve done this once, twice, or one thousand times in your fanfictions, you’ll be very accustomed to solving problems in other people’s stories. If you can do that, you can sure as hell get yourself out of the plot holes you create in your own work. You have more control over your own stories, after all! Starting with fanfiction helps you to get your head around the problems that authors face, and equips you with the tools and practice to deal with them.
It helps you understand characterisation
To add a whole new layer of complexity to the whole problem-solving deal, you have characterisation. The best fanfictions show off the writer’s understanding of how their favourite characters act: their likes and dislikes, their fears, their motivations, the things that anger them, their strengths and weaknesses. Unless you’re telling a very specific type of story (like a Victorian-era melodrama), I can guarantee you that the unique character details of people in stories matter. It doesn’t matter how obscure and outlandish your story is. If you have sympathetic characters that act like people, I can guarantee you most people will buy into your story. It’s when people start to act weirdly or inconsistently that people will really notice the plot holes. Of course, messing up things like time and the laws of physics matter, too. However, if your characters are acting consistently like themselves and not constantly changing their whole personality, the rest is much easier to forgive. Characters make stories!
So fanfiction lends itself really well to this type of growth as a writer. In order to make your story believable, you need to be able to understand how the characters you’ve chosen act, think and feel. The writer has given you training wheels: they’ve created the character for you and established their mannerisms and personality. It’s your job to understand that and stick to it when you’re writing fanfiction, because each character in a good story has their own personality and you should be able to tell them apart by the things they say and think. Getting a true understanding of that helps you to tackle one of the most important parts of creating your own writing, and using other people’s characters is a great way to establish that you’ve understood characterisation and get in al the practice you need.
If you can write a fic and your versions of the characters really do resemble the ones in the original story, people will comment on it! If you haven’t quite succeeded, the community will be quick to point it out (in most cases). If you take the feedback on board and continue to write lots of stories with those characters, you will slowly get a better understanding of how they are. In fact, commenting on other people’s fanfiction about whether or not their characters act right helps you, too! And once you’ve gotten in all that practice, it will be a great tool for you to transfer to your own writing: you’ll understand characterisation, really get to grips with the fact that every character should be different, and have loads of practice writing characters that perhaps don’t act how you’d make your own characters act. It helps you to think outside of the box! So write lots of different fanfiction about a multitude of different people from hundreds of fandoms and it will truly help your writing!
It helps you understand the importance of research
Research is key to a good fanfiction. No, I don’t mean pouring over dusty tomes in the most remote part of your local library armed with your favourite quill and a sense of determination. As fun as that may sound to boring old me, research for fandoms is much quicker and easier, thanks to the internet. Of course, the best place to start is actually reading the story that inspired your work, but I highly doubt there are hundreds of fanfic writers who forget that stage. Next is to find out if the writer has said anything in interviews, on their website or in other books. If you don’t want to spend hours on that, I can guarantee you that most popular fandoms have a wiki that you can scan through. You might find some really cool theory YouTube channels (like SuperCarlinBrothers) that use the evidence we have on a fandom to come up with some cool theories. That will help you with keeping the story authentic.
You then use all of the information you’ve gathered and written down to come up with an interesting narrative for your story. Instead of insisting on a plot and forcing it into a place in the fandom where it doesn’t make sense, why not try to find a place where it fits using research, or tweak it a little to make it make sense? That’s much more fulfilling for your readers and helps to show that you are actually trying to expand on the story, or change small details to make it something new and interesting, instead of just making a mess out of the characters and narratives. I promise you: there is very little you can’t write a story about if you choose the right characters, locations, times and motivations. You just need to make sure it fits into the story.
Being able to do this then extends to your own writing in a few different ways: for one, you see the value of writing all the interesting character details down instead of just having them in your head. If you know all the details about your characters, you can find a good character, quality, ability, personality trait or motivation to get yourself out of a sticky patch in your writing. If you can’t find something, you can invent it and write it in your story descriptions so that you bring it up later and it doesn’t just seem like a random, super convenient plot device or a Deus ex Machina. Instead, you would have done research on your own story and cleverly included it into the narrative both before and after it becomes relevant to move the plot forward. It essentially becomes a much better literary device: Chekhov’s Gun. You seem clever — like you’d planned this all along! And, of course, Notebook.ai is a great way to keep track of all of this and make researching from your own notes much easier.
The second, and arguably more important, way in which this will help you is when adding new and interesting details into your stories. Once you’ve realised that researching a story in fanfiction makes it much more appealing to your audience, you’ll realise the importance of doing the same for the things that inspire aspects of your original work. For example, if you’re looking to add to the diversity of your story by including another culture, you’ll be more inclined to do the required research to (hopefully) represent them without causing offence. If you want to set your story in a place you’ve never been to before, knowing that people will freak if you so much as get their favourite characters wrong will help you understand the importance of getting that setting right, too.
Finally, there’s research to ground more fantastical stories in reality. Of course, characters should be believable no matter how bizarre and “unrealistic” events in your story are. Understanding how people “work” would arm you with the ability to make your story just as satisfying to your audience as an extremely in-character fanfiction is. For example, it doesn’t matter if your war is fought with dragons and magic wands. Researching into PTSD and other psychological effects war has on people will always help you create sympathetic, realistic characters that people will enjoy and root for. Understanding a little about the way things work in the real world will help you tell the readers what’s different about yours, and so what makes it more fantastical or sci-fi. If you understand real-world politics, you’ll be much better equipped for creating your own unique political system. Doing as much research as possible for your story will always make it much stronger, and fanfic is great for showing you the benefits and training you to use the information you have access to!
It means the story only ends when you want it to
This is the best part about fanfiction, in my opinion, and has little to do with growing as a writer. In fact, it’s much more about growing as a reader! Writers create wonderful worlds for us and so if you’re anything like me, you’re left feeling unsatisfied when the story ends. I want it to just continue forever because the universe created is real to me. You know, not real in the sense you and I are. I’m not delusional. I mean, real in the sense that I can believe it. I can suspend my disbelief (stay tuned for that post) and pretend when I’m reading or watching or listening to the story that it’s real. It takes me out of my world of mundanity and into the mind of people I wish I knew.
So when the writer finishes their final word. I get a mix of excitement and sadness. Why does it have to stop like that? Well, in the age of the internet where stories are so easily accessible online, it doesn’t have to stop there. I can simply head over to any of the popular fanfiction websites (AO3 is my favourite), tumblr or a personal fanfiction blog and live the experience again and again in hundreds of different ways, through the eyes of thousands of different characters. If I’m really keen, I can even immortalise my own thoughts, ideas and views and make sure that my love and respect for the world created is on show forever. Contributing to a fandom makes us active readers! In order to create good fanfiction, you need to really understand the work in question. In order for a work to be worthy of good fanfiction, it needs to be deep enough to interpret in different ways. Fanfiction keeps a world alive because is only through us readers and fans that a story can continue when the creator has laid down their pen.
OOC ruins this
There are so many ways in which OOC completely destroys the amazing relationship fanfiction has with the original material. I would go so far as to say that OOC fanfiction is the cancer of the fanfiction community: spreading and adding nothing of value, squeezing the life out of the ordinary cells that are good stories and causing many to call for the removal of the whole fanfiction organ. But why? Here are just a few reasons.
It’s an uncanny, backwards version of the fandom’s universe
OOC completely destroys the world that was created by the original author. As I’ve already established, characterisation is one of the core things you need to get right in order to create good fanfiction. The characters are the things that make the story, so if you change them, none of the rest of the action makes sense. It is the actions of characters that drive narrative; it is the conflicts between one person and another which create intrigue. If Harry wasn’t brave in the main series, he wouldn’t have gone after the Philosopher’s Stone in the first book. Boom, Voldemort would have gotten his hands on the stone and come back when Harry was only 11 — long before he was actually ready — and killed him. If not then, Harry still wouldn’t have gone to the Chamber of Secrets to get Ginny back. Voldemort would have come back when Harry was only 12 and most likely killed him. So, if you make Harry cowardly in your story, you’re completely invalidating everything that happened in the main series. Harry can’t act out of character in a world where the events in the story still happened without an explanation. If you change everything… well, I’ll go into why that’s so wrong a little later.
It’s so much more than just making a character act weird because characters are the most important of a story. If you change their personalities and the way they act, it’s no longer them! They’re cheap impostors. It’s identity fraud. In fact, it’s even worse! The thing you have created is nothing more than a parasite wearing the character’s skin. That’s the stuff of nightmares. Imagine a fake OOC version of you walking around in your skin! There are hundreds of horror films established using that idea!
OOC displays extreme laziness on the part of the creator. If you don’t have the time and the energy to make your story make sense, why are you even bothering to publish it in the first place? I understand the desire to create and add to a fandom, but if you really respect the writer and love their work, you should take the time to at least understand the characters you’re creating. You might not do all the research I spoke about before, but understanding the characters based on the books you should have read is a must. If you haven’t done that, are you sure you actually like the books? I know some people might say that how a character may act is down to interpretation, but it is standard to make educated guesses using the information you have from the author. If you haven’t done that, it’s pretty much laziness.
It completely bypasses any necessity to actually think about why your scenario came to pass. As I’ve already stated, the best fanfictions make it clear why things happened this way instead of how they did in the original, or possibly before or after the events we already know. Doing that — even attempting to explain how and why things are the way they are — shows that you’ve given the fandom a lot of thought and care. It’s kind of insulting to the writer if you’re not even going to consider how you think the characters would react in a new, different situation. You don’t even need to write it down or come up with an elaborate plot. All you need to do is take a moment to stop and ask yourself if this is accurate to how the character behaves. If not, it’s not impossible to find a workaround. It just takes a little bit of work. If you’re not willing to put in that work, I don’t think your story deserves to be written. People should give it as much care as you gave it.
It’s gaining popularity from work you’re not even using
If the characters aren’t acting the way they are, they’re basically characters you’ve created. If you want to do that, just make your own story with your own characters! Of course, it can be inspired by the work you love. Heck, there’s even another, completely credible, category of fanfiction for you if you want to set your story in the original universe: OC (Original Character) fanfiction, which is designed to allow readers to create their own people for the story. You just have to give them different names and appearances. So why would you want to create OOC fanfiction instead? The most obvious answer to that is that neither original stories nor OC fanfictions gain the same kind of popularity as established characters do in a pre-existing fandom. It takes a lot more effort to become popular if you’re using your own characters, so avoiding that again points to the laziness factor.
This is even more true with OOC, AU (Alternate Universe) stuff. So, your story is set in a different world with different people who just so happen to look like and be called the same thing as the characters in your favourite story. So what’s the point of even labelling it under your favourite fanfiction? To gain popularity from someone else’s creations. AU can be great when coupled with an excellent understanding of characterisation because it can be a chance to explore how those characters would act in different situations. Excellent! However, when coupled with OOC, it just becomes a mess of leeching off someone else’s work.
Stick to the characters or create your own
So please, please refrain from making your characters act differently. It doesn’t matter how bizarre of a situation you put them in. All that matters is that you don’t encourage the identity theft of characters the writer spent a lot of time and effort making up. Either stick to them or don’t use them at all. Don’t use a crazy hybrid! It will make you a much better writer in the long run.