One of the most prevalent forms of online creative writing that I have encountered is fan fiction. If you do not understand this term, my favorite definition comes courtesy of UrbanDictionary.com:
“Fan Fiction: Stories written by fans of a certain TV show, cartoon, anime, book, or movie using existing plots, characters, or ideas from the series but then continuing the story, adding new characters, changing the ending, or changing the plot.
Most are written by an obsessed fan who invents a character that’s supposed to be like him/her, only […] prettier, smarter, and stronger who falls in love with whoever the fan has a crush on. Many [fan fictions] have poor grammar, thin plots, and bad spelling. But there are a few with original ideas, great story lines, and interesting fan characters written by creative writers. These ones are worth reading.“
This almost fully sums up my encounters with fan fiction. Much of it (I feel confident saying the majority of it) is self-indulgent, pornographic, or simply a huge insult to the original author/creator of the text from which the fan is borrowing. However, I have run across a few writers who manage to stay true to canon while creating another story in the world of the text, and I have also found some very engaging, well-written stories of this type.
I like the idea of fan fiction. As someone who has sometimes needed encouragement to begin the creative process, I’ve found it to be a useful exercise to think of some of my favorite fictional characters and place them in a situation that was not included in their novel. For example, I might write a scene in the world of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, in which (**spoiler alert**) Lydia and George Wickham receive an invitation to the wedding of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
It can also be interesting to test how well you know an original character by placing him or her in another fictional world. For example, if I was writing a short story that featured a pessimistic butcher named Curtis, I might write a scene where he gets transported to The Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To write such a scene I would have to consider the following: How would Curtis react? Is he the type of man who believes in the fantastical? Has he read Lord of the Rings, and if so, would he be able to identify where he was before being told? Would he be angry, embittered, confused, surprised, or excited, and how would he act out those emotions? Is he the type of man who would ask for help from the nearest hobbit?
Even if I never plan to expose Curtis to magic and alternate universe travel in the short story he is meant for, it might help me to know that his first reaction at arriving in The Shire was a giddiness he never expresses in his normal life. He has loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy since he first cracked the pages of Fellowship when he was thirteen. He likes the idea of being in a world where everyone knows who and where the villain is. Though he is lacking examples in his reality, he truly believes heroes exist. His focus would not be “how do I get home?” but instead “what part of the book are we in?”
Fan fiction is also useful in that you can see the strengths and, more obviously, weaknesses of other creative writers and look for those issues in your own work.
There are a huge number of online communities dedicated to this activity. The most prevalent fan fiction site to cover all genres is probably FanFiction.net, but most fantasy novels and shows (Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Inuyasha, et cetera) have specific fan fiction forums.
Here’s the big warning:
I think experimenting with fan fiction is a wonderful way to push through writer’s block and test the strength of your characters and other aspects of your writing. Remember, however, that if you are appropriating someone else’s ideas, there is only so much you can grow as a writer. My advice is to use fan fiction as one trick up your sleeve, rather than the whole show. Also, though I’ve read fan fiction online, I choose not to post any of my own because of plagiarism and copyright considerations. I’ll write more on these issues in another post.
Fan fictionally yours,