Hello there! Welcome to 2018. Here’s hoping it’s less of a dumpster fire than 2017, though we’re off to a rough start already.
Today’s rambling topic: fanfiction, and how I transitioned from writing it to writing original stuff. Let’s begin, shall we?
But first, proof of my incurable nerdery:
Captain Rex & this dork at Celebration 2017
Me and the mister.
In the furthest recesses of my closet lies a box filled with notebooks. Many of the notebooks are from my days in middle and high school; the first halves hold algebra, biology, and world history notes, while the second halves are filled with stories I wrote while I should have been paying attention in class.
Among these notebooks, fanfiction and original fiction (just “fiction,” I guess?) coexist peacefully. Stories of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader reside next to long-lost sorceresses and determined princesses. For me, fanfiction and original fiction have always existed hand-in-hand, often even feeding one another in the untamed jungle that is my subconscious. And for many, many years, I was content to focus my efforts wherever they felt like residing. Prior to the publication of Catalyst Moon: Incursion, I’d been primarily writing fanfic; heck, that’s how Kali and Stonewall found life! But as much of a Star Wars nerd as I am, the worlds I’d once spent so much time playing in began to feel confining. I was no longer content to “fix” canon by writing my own versions of what “should” have been. That niggling question – what if…? – would not let me be and I realized it was time to step out of my comfort zone and write something I could publish.
That decision alone could fill an entire blog post, but I wanted to focus more on nuts and bolts here: how to transition from writing fanfiction to writing original fiction. The most important takeaway is this: figure out what you love most about your fandom(s) and follow your bliss.
I don’t know how stories start for you, but for me, they generally begin with a character and a situation, often an intense emotional (ie: angsty) one that whets my whistle and makes me want to explore further. These flashes of inspiration usually occur when I’m invested in a fandom, like…oh, say Star Wars. Something in that media evokes an idea in my brain, which starts a cascading series of “what if?” questions that I follow to their “logical” (I use that word very loosely) conclusion. For Catalyst Moon, I kinda cheated, as I had two fully-realized characters in my brain that I wanted to bring into an original story. (Note: Most of my fanfiction focused heavily on original characters, so this step was fairly simple. If you tend to write canon characters, this method will still work, just bear with me.)
So I had my Jedi Knight, Kalinda Halcyon, who had a pretty solid backstory, fleshed out character, and about 1 million words about her in various stories. I also had Stonewall, my clone trooper captain, who was as solid – if not more so – in my brain as Kali. I had my two main characters, I just needed a setting, story, etc. Easy, right? [cries]
Figuring out the genre their story would be set in was easy. I love fantasy, so fantasy it is. Boom. Done. I have plans to make CM a bit more scifi in the future, but that’s not important right now. I also love romance and adventure, so including those elements would be a given, but if you found my books in a bookstore, they’d be in the fantasy section.
The setting and story elements were more complicated. In many ways, I crippled myself by using characters that already existed, as at first I tried to hammer them into the story I thought I wanted to tell. It was difficult to figure out how Kali’s motivations would have changed if she wasn’t raised as a Jedi Knight. A lot of practical elements of her backstory, (dead father, injured knee, inability to maintain a braid, etc.) remained the same, but her motivations, the nuances of her behavior and choices, had to be built from the ground up AND molded to fit how she appears in my mind.
But building a story around established characters had its advantages. Stonewall’s name, for example. I wasn’t about to change it, so I had to think of a reason that a real person in my fantasy world would have a name like that. (And yes, I’m familiar with the Civil War general, though that’s not where his name came from.) It occurred to me that he would still have chosen the name. But why? And why that particular name? After some brainstorming, I decided that sentinels choose their names when they become “official” sentinels, ie: after they survive their first full dose of hematite. They cast their old lives aside and pledge themselves to the gods. Furthermore, stone and rock imagery is central to the sentinels’ patron god, Tor, so a lot of sentinels choose names with those themes. If I hadn’t had Stonewall’s name already, I might not have come up with that element.
I could go on and on about this, but I hope you get the idea. I built my original story idea around existing characters from a fanfiction, and went from there.
But what if you write mainly canon characters? Or what if you’re drawn to your chosen fandom(s) for reasons that aren’t easily (or legally) translated into an original story? Fear not, friends. Remember what I said before? Figure out what you love most about your fandom(s) and follow your bliss.
Okay, so I have this idea for another story to be set after Kali & Stonewall’s arc is over. This idea sprang to mind after watching the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Yes, it’s been that long.) Kylo Ren’s character captivated me; with no knowledge of how his story would play out (oh, past Lauren, you were so innocent), my imagination leaped onto the crumbs of information we got in the trailer and began to wrap a story around them: A failed student, turned evil. A long-standing sect of magical do-gooders, destroyed. A young woman, set on bringing order back to the chaos. My brain whirred and a story began to form. My first thought was to create an OC, as that’s how I roll, but eventually I decided to try and work this into the CM ‘verse. (That’s why I created CM after all, as a mental playground.) I examined The Force Awakens, and subsequently, The Last Jedi, (both of which are amazing and if you think otherwise you can FIGHT ME), and considered the reasons those stories drew my attention. After a lot of exploration, I realized what themes I wanted to delve into in my own writing, and how I could practically do so without ripping off the galaxy far, far away. I’ve been thinking and writing down ideas since, and have a somewhat solid story idea that I’m eager to get into once Kali & Stonewall’s tale is done.
So…that’s it! That’s the big secret to transitioning from fanfic to original stuff. Figure out what it is about your fandom that propels your imagination into hyperspace, and create your story around it. Simple, eh? 😉
What do you think? Have you gone from writing fanfic to original stuff, or vice versa? Or do you manage both at once? (I am not that skilled, though I wish I was!) Let me know!
Livin’ the dream, y’all.