Anyone who has consumed a significant amount of media can tell you that there are no original ideas. Most stories merely borrow ideas from their predecessors. The fact that most stories can be categorized into a handful of core concepts proves that everything has already been done before. And yet, people keep writing stories. Part of what makes a story original is how it mixes its influences to create something new, even if the foundation is recycled.
Then, there’s fanfiction. Some stories are told so well that the characters and settings are adopted wholesale into a different author’s new work. While this form of creative writing could be considered intellectual property theft (especially if the stories are sold without consent from the original creator), it can be used as a stepping stone for writers who want to improve their craft. Alternatively, experienced writers can find the weak spots in famous stories and re-write them to fix plot holes and character inconsistencies. In the end, using pre-established characters and settings for new stories is fanfiction, regardless of its intended purpose.
Fanfiction alleviates the need to create from scratch.
It’s no wonder that some of the highest-grossing franchises have inspired writers to continue the stories considered canon. It’s easy to come up with new adventures for characters who already exist in our minds, especially if the universe’s rules have already been established. Working within the set limitations of the universe and characters can be a challenge at times. Fanfiction is often criticized when writers take the franchise’s agreed-upon rules and ignore them to write the story they want to read. Sometimes the fantasy of interacting with favorite characters can be so enticing that the original intent of the franchise is left behind for something that hardly resembles the source material. Not that it’s all bad. Heck, even Dante basically wrote self-insert fanfiction centuries ago that’s considered a “literary classic.”
What newer writers perhaps don’t realize when they start writing fanfiction is how they are learning the basics of good storytelling. With the characters and universe already established, the story can rise to the surface. This also helps learn how to integrate backstory since the potential readers already know most of the canon material. There’s less of a need to do information dumps when there’s an implicit contract between the writer and the reader that everything that’s happened in the “official” timeline exists in the fanfiction one.
It’s a small step between fanfiction and original content.
Looking back over the stories I have written over the years, I realized that many of my “original” stories had their origins in fanfiction. At the time, I wrote what I knew, and I knew the TV shows that I watched religiously. It’s no wonder that I eventually joined an online Roleplaying story set in the One Piece universe. While I didn’t write any of the established characters from the anime, I used the rules and setting of the One Piece universe to frame my own story. Granted, the character I wrote was wholly a self-insert, which is far from uncommon in fanfiction. Still, I enjoyed writing this story so much that I started to wonder how much I’d have to change to create my own original content. After all, books like Fifty Shades of Gray are merely Twilight fanfiction with some of the details changed to make it original.
While The Rulers of the Waves Chronicles was something that petered out due to the lack of commitment from the other writers, I realized that I could use parts of the story as a foundation to make a different kind of fanfiction. The one thing I needed to change between my fanfiction and my original story was how One Piece‘s Devil Fruit powers were implemented in the universe of my book. Because I wasn’t writing any of the canon characters of One Piece, once I swapped “Devil Fruits” for “Fluxions,” I was set. The next challenge was coming up with original characters. At the time, I had finished my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, so I knew a lot about science. From my knowledge, I pulled out the individuals who discovered these scientific concepts and used them as characters in my story. I had done what Dante did: I wrote fanfiction about historical figures.
First Name Basis is merely historical fanfiction in a fantasy setting.
Ten years after I first published First Name Basis, I still like what I’ve written. Sure, I have improved since then, but knowing how my fanfiction evolved into my first novel is something that I think about when I’m feeling low on inspiration. The fact that I still want to tell stories in established universes tells me that I’m still not done writing fanfiction. With each book I write, I try and hide its influences, but sometimes it’s a lot easier to turn off my brain and write what I think these well-known characters would do in new scenarios.
Have you ever read any fanfiction?
Have you encountered a story that you think you could fix?
What stories have you read that feel unfinished?