I write fan fiction. I write in the Sherlock fandom, Sherlock Holmes as re-imagined by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Mainly, I write intricately plotted mysteries and am currently working on a trilogy, which began with a simple idea about five years back. I wrote a short story using that idea, posted it, and got a few reviews that gave me the warm fuzzies. I liked the feeling so much, I began writing a much longer story, and I have had tremendous fun since then, writing and meeting people in my fandom.
Why I Chose Fan Fiction
I fell in love with the Sherlock fandom. Love? Hell, I tumbled right off the cliff. I was lucky enough to finally catch the modern version of Sherlock when it aired in the United States on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater.” I was completely stunned by the amazingly talented actors, the incredible writing, intricate plots, gorgeous sets, original music, fantastic direction, beautiful production… did I mention the writing?
I’d loved the Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a kid. So this new series was like a gift.
I wondered if there was fan fiction out there based on this marvelous retelling. Oh, heck, yes there was!
At the time I discovered fanfiction.net and before I investigated Archive of Our Own (AO3), there were more than 9,000 stories based in the Sherlock fandom, as I recall. There are now more than 55,000 at ff.net and close to 89,000 posted at AO3. And that’s just two of the fan fiction sites that exist.
I dove in and read truly amazing stories. I read some that sucked. I read some that the author had abandoned and, judging by the date of posting, had no intention of picking up again. I read many where it was obvious the author had never heard of spell check. (Ouch!) I read some that were as good as and a few that were even better than books I’d paid good money to read.
I was so excited about Sherlock, I challenged myself to write a short story, just the one story, about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. I made myself a promise. I would write a story. Post it. And if it got six reviews, just six, I’d write a much longer story in the same vein.
“Debriefing,” my first Sherlock fan fiction, got six reviews. Just six. At first. But it was enough. I started on the longer work. And that morphed into a set of novels and that became my ongoing trilogy: “There but for the Grace of John Watson,” plus a few shorter side stories.
Easy peasy? No. Not by a long shot. But it was exciting. Often, I wasn’t certain what my brain would come up with when I sat down to the keyboard. And I found that writing mysteries, particularly for the story I had in mind, necessitated a lot of research. I still half expect agents for Homeland Security to break down my door and demand to know why I have searching stats on sniper weaponry, special ops, exotic poisons, survival tactics, psychological counseling, hospitals in and around the London area, drugs and the administering of. Drugs and the tampering with of. The British military. Did I mention drugs?
At the same time I was becoming a fan fiction writer, my dear husband became quite ill. This meant trips to the ER, frequent hospital stays, sitting by his side in horridly uncomfortable chairs. I needed something portable. Something I could take along to work on, to keep my mind and hands occupied while he was receiving medical care.
And then my dad, bless him, gifted me with a little Toshiba laptop for my birthday. And yes, it’s purple and tiny with a 14” screen. But it fit perfectly into the bag I took with me to the hospital, and I took it along with its charger and its purple mouse. It is now affectionately known as the purple Toshiba of sex, but I digress (yes, some of those scenes… er… cough.)
And I wrote. I wrote in the corners of hospital waiting rooms and doctor’s waiting rooms and by my husband’s bedside. I wrote during long lengthy hospital stays while he slept and while he watched crap telly (as John Watson would put it) and while tests were run and meds administered.
I got up in the middle of the night and wrote when worry kept me awake and when I needed to be close by to check his temperature and blood pressure and administer medication. I wrote. And I wrote. I eschewed our little home office and wrote at the kitchen table because it was closer to him and he could hear me working away. And know I was close.
And I posted what I wrote. I tried to post interesting chapters, with believable dialogue and intriguing action. Most of the time, I felt, I succeeded. Occasionally, I posted crap. And my readers called me on it. So I took it down, fixed it, and put it right back up again.
Slowly, bit by bit, my stories improved, and they garnered reviews. I made and kept new friends who enjoyed what I was writing and told me so. And I ticked off readers who thought they could tell me what to write. And told me so.
I am a fan fic writer. For better or for worse, I’m in it until it ceases to fascinate me. And I’m having a blast.
A Few – Just a Few – Tips for New Fan Fiction Writers
When one of my readers – bless ’em – asks me, “How do you write fan fiction?”, I always ask them to specify. What do they really want to know? Are they asking me how I, skyefullofstars, go about writing? My immediate response: I write backwards. I come up with an idea for an ending to a story – it may be a line, a last word, or a sentence. Usually, it’s a scene that plays out in my head. I write it down.
Then I work backwards. What has to happen in order for this final scene to happen? Who’s involved and why and what actions do they take to get us to this point? I write the entire last chapter. Get it down. Then go back and start at the beginning and work toward the end.
And that’s how I write.
I can hear the groans from here. Yes, it’s a bit unusual but it works, for me and for many other writers.
But this is not what my readers usually want to know. They don’t want to know how ’sky’ goes about writing.
They want to know how THEY should start.
What they are really asking is: “What is the magic formula? Is there one? If so, share it with me! (Actually, no magic formula. But there is a bit of magic involved. Read on.) I’m afraid to write. (Me too.) My words sound dumb. (I bet they don’t!) I can’t even imagine coming up with an intricate plot line, such as yours. (Your story doesn’t have to be intricate. It does have to be interesting.) So how do you go about it? (Read on.) How can I write when I’m so busy? How do you find time? (If it’s important enough to you, you’ll find the time. Do you watch TV? Spend time on the internet? Bingo. There’s your time.) What kind of software do you use? (Word.) How old is your computer? (Not applicable. It types and connects to the internet. That’s all I need.) I don’t have a computer, just this tablet. (Great. Now get a word processing program.) What do I do if I tried it once and I failed? (You already know the answer. You keep on trying.) How do I come up with ideas? (Read in your fandom. Read. Read. Read. But don’t steal. And keep up with current events. I can’t begin to tell you how many times something in the news has sparked an idea.) Do I have to write sex scenes? (Hell, no! This one comes up a lot, by the way. Just because some of my scenes can be a bit – steamy – doesn’t mean yours have to. Write what makes you comfortable. But challenge yourself, too. Don’t stay in that comfort zone too long.) How can you kill off a character when you love them so much? (It’s damned difficult. But I do it anyway. And why do you think you have to kill off your characters? Instead, make them evolve, change. Mature.) My words mean so much to me, I’m afraid to just send them out there to be criticized/condemned/laughed at. (All of us hate this. Our words are our babies. But we do it. Some will criticize. Some will applaud.) What if this makes me uncomfortable? (Keep on writing. If it makes you VERY uncomfortable, you might want to stop and ask yourself why.) How do I know if this is any good? (Don’t make me come over there. Seriously, people will let you know. Sometimes, they will fall all over themselves letting you know all that they find wrong with your words. Mainly, you will know when you’ve written something worthwhile.) Where do I start and how do I keep going? (With an idea. Expand on it.) Where do I write? (What do you mean? Try the library. Your room. The kitchen table.) Do you have your own office? (Yes, but I use the kitchen table. It’s close to the coffee pot. And that’s important.) I don’t know how I’d react if someone sent me hurtful reviews. (You ignore them and move on. But read them first. They might be giving you some helpful information.) Help me! I really want to do this but I need help!”
Wow. Yeah, that’s a lot. But I have had that exact same conversation over and over with several readers in the past five years. And here’s what I tell them.
First, sorry, there is no magic formula for writing fan fiction or any fiction for that matter. You have to apply your butt to a chair and start typing away.
There is a common starting point. You start with an idea.
But how to proceed once you have that idea?
Okay, you wanted a bit of magic. Here it is. I hope this helps you, because like Sherlock, I hate repeating myself.
There exists an utterly foolproof way to spark your imagination, to kindle a mental flame so intense that you feel your brain will melt if you don’t get words down on paper (euphemism for computer screen). There is a process so completely, devastatingly Real that you have no choice but to begin writing fan fiction and keep on writing for as long as you wish.
Trust me; this works. Here it is. Four little words.
You fall in love.
I’m just going to let that sink in.
You fall so totally, completely in love – with a book, a TV series, a movie, a novel, a graphic novel, a comic – that it’s difficult for you to think about anything else. You become so enamored of those characters that they become real persons to you. You are so ass over tea kettle for that world/those people/that plotline that you cannot even begin to imagine it coming to an end.
And when you hit that point, when the thought of never reading another word in the Lord of the Rings universe moves you to despair, when new episodes of Sherlock are so few and far between that you simply can’t wait to see what happens next, what do you do?
You continue the story yourself. Voila. Fan Fiction.
It’s as easy – and as hard – as that.
I can’t tell you which words to put down first. No one can. I can’t tell you what ideas to use and which to discard. Believe me, you’ll know as you go along. I have no way of knowing what will work for you (and for your readers) and what won’t. That part will work itself out.
But I can tell you one thing: you can do this. Yes, you can! Don’t tell me you can’t.
Once you are in love with that story and its characters, you are almost ready to begin. Almost.
First, you have two hurdles to pass. Think of them as tests. Pass them both, and the world of creating your own fan fiction, your very own AUs (alternate universes), waits.
Fail. And… nope! Not gonna happen. Failure is not an option. So let’s not even go there.
The first test is easy and just as easily recognized. It’s that little voice that nags, day and night. We carry this voice around with us, despite our best efforts to leave it behind. Sometimes, it lives to toss roadblocks in our path. You’ve got your own version of this little demon.
It goes something like this:
“Hey, what the hell? Write fan fiction? Are you kidding me? Sure, you could do it, but writing is so damn hard. Why do hard, when you can do easy and just keep reading and reviewing the stories you like? Besides, you don’t have a proper PC/iPad/tablet and would have to use paper and pen. No one does that. No one. And another thing… where will you write? This place is tiny/small/crowded. You have zero room for a proper office/workspace. And no cash to create one. And don’t even talk to me about time. You have classes/work/family for gods’ sakes. Where will you find the time? Just pass on this stupid-ass idea and move along. This is not the droid you were looking for.”
Or something along those lines. Yeah. I hear that voice too. We all do. I choose to ignore it.
It can be daunting, but if you wish to create, you have got to dump the internal critic. I can tell you this: that stupid dumb-ass voice gets smaller and smaller and farther away the more you just get on with what you want to do.
If writing is important to you, you will find the time, somehow, some way.
Tools? There’s nothing wrong at all with paper and pen. But sooner or later you will have to type your words and post them to the Internet. So be thinking about that, okay? It’s extremely rare not to have access to a PC/keyboard/tablet or the Internet. You will figure out a way to type your words and send them into the ether for others to enjoy. So just stop putting obstacles in your path before you’ve even started.
That second hurdle I mentioned? Well, this one’s a bit more difficult. You can call it LOC (lack of confidence) but I just call it “the lb” (’sky’ speak for little bastard).
It can be a killer.
If you’ve been alive on this planet for any length of time, you’ve encountered this nasty self-deprecating roadblock. It sounds like this: “Hey, you know what? You can’t do this. Your words sound silly. Your plot sucks. It makes zero sense. No one will read this. And don’t even think of sharing this with someone! Jeez, they look at you weird now. What will happen when they (friends/family/teachers/classmates/soulmates) find out you write fan fiction? Are you freaking insane? You can’t do this. I’m telling you now. Give. It. Up. Better yet, don’t even start. You will fail.”
See what I mean about the little bastard part? I still struggle with this and there are some days, I nearly cave. But I don’t. And you can’t either.
And I’m telling you that you can do this. You can write decent fan fiction. Are you afraid family and friends will laugh or frown at you? Then don’t tell them! Besides, who says you have to tell anyone what you are doing?
I was writing for several months and had a short story and half of a much longer novel posted up on fanfiction.net before I mentioned my “hobby” to anyone, including my husband. It wasn’t that I thought he and my family wouldn’t support my efforts. In fact, it turned out just the opposite. He was incredibly proud of me, as were and are my adult daughters, my sisters, and my friends.
It was just – well – I was still learning and wanted to keep my writing to myself for a while before the new, bright and shiny began to wear off.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been writing in the Sherlock fandom for over five years and I have a dream. My dream is that I can stand up and say aloud, “My hobby? Oh, I write fan fiction,” without the raised eyebrows and stunned silence that usually accompanies such a declaration.
Honestly, at times I can hear the crickets chirping – the silence can be that deafening.
And that’s not the worst reaction you will get. How about this one: “Oh, you write fan fiction? Cool. But why don’t you write something real? Better yet, something you can make money at?”
Obviously, the making of money being the sole reason we do anything in this life.
I used to get defensive over this. Not sure why. But now I just smile sweetly and ask, “Is that why you garden/paint/craft? To make money?”
Shuts them up every time.
What’s Keeping You from Writing Fan Fiction?
Is it the advice of your writing instructors who insist you first have a lengthy, detailed outline before you put a word down? Stop worrying that you don’t have an entire novel plotted out. I didn’t. And still don’t. I have a general idea where the thing will end and yes, I wrote down the ending more than a year ago. Now I just have to work toward it.
If I could go back in time to my two writing teachers and tell them one thing, it would be this: “Enough. Enough with the outline and enough with the plotting every line, every word!” And then I’d hug them because they were wonderful and inspiring teachers.
Yes, you definitely need some sort of blueprint if you wish to write a long story. For a shorter work? Not so much. Just ask yourself what you are trying to get across in your story. Are you telling a snippet out of your character’s daily life? You don’t need an outline to do that. Just write down one or two lines – the gist of your story. If you know the end, write that down. Then work toward it.
Don’t review every word you write as you write it. Don’t stop to edit. Write something first. You have to have something done in order to have something to edit.
Don’t second guess yourself. Trust yourself. Trust the process.
It will happen.
And no, it won’t all be good. It might be very bad indeed. I remember posting a chapter early one morning, around 2 am, while we were in hospital. I remember reading it over and thinking, “This is a bit sloppy, but just this once, no one will notice.” And I posted the thing.
They noticed. One of my readers called me on by BS not an hour after that chapter was up.
I immediately thanked them, pulled it down, rewrote it the right way, and reposted it. I have no idea if that individual knows what a service they did for me. But I learned my lesson. It may be fan fiction but if it’s worth doing, well, you know.
I now keep a sticky note on my keyboard. POST EXCELLENCE OR DON’T POST.
Write your story. Use your spell check. Work on your dialogue. Several of my readers say that dialogue is difficult for them. Listen to how you and your family and friends speak. Imitate those speech patterns when you write. Toss out formal speech and go with everyday expressions. Then go back and remove the words you’ve used too many times. (For me, it was “patent” and “quiet.”)
Allow your characters to lead you forward. If you find that you lose the strings halfway through, read your notes. Remind yourself where you are going with this story. And don’t be afraid to abandon a story if it’s not working for you. But don’t abandon the next. You are allowed to abandon one if it’s not working out. Just one.
And as for outlining, well, I hate that word, so I refer to it as mapping (since I use my notes as a map to guide me where I need to go).
If it turns into a longer work, then yes, you will need some sort of skeleton on which to hang the meat and bones of your story. You will have to map out where you are going. But it doesn’t have to be a long, intricate outline, and it doesn’t have to take up pages and pages in your notebook (you do have a writer’s notebook, right? They sell lovely little composition books for a buck. Ditto pens. Nothing fancy but it works just fine to keep your notes.)
You can’t think of any new characters? One of the joys of fan fiction is this: you are playing with a universe and characters that someone else already created. All the hard work’s been done. You just need to build on what someone else has already created.
Reading fan fiction is fun. Writing it can be a blast. It can and should be challenging. But hard? Nope. Just exhilarating. Writing fan fiction, posting what you write, reading your reviews, replying to your readers, that is the fun part. It’s not meant to be difficult or agonizing.
And if that isn’t enough incentive, watch out for the second bit of magic.
And when the second bit of magic happens, oh my dears! When the second happens….
The first bit of magic was when you fell in love with that universe you wish to preserve. And you decided to do something about it. You decided to take it on and make it your own.
The second magic happens when your characters take over the story and lead you places you never intended to go. It’s amazing when it happens, and if you write enough and stick with it, it will happen to you. That story of yours will evolve into something you can be proud of.
Along the way, you are becoming a good writer. And that’s something to be proud of!
You will have good reviews and bad reviews. And, occasionally, no reviews at all.
That is when you have to remind yourself of one thing, just one. Who are you writing for? If you say your readers, your friends and family, and the fandom in general, you’re a liar.
You are writing for yourself. You are writing because you couldn’t bear that particular story or universe to come to an end. So you are single-handedly doing what you can to keep it alive.
There is no other reason to write fan fiction. If you find yourself writing to please someone other than yourself, if you force yourself to make your characters dance to a tune not your own, then I am here to tell you that you are churning out what my journalism teacher derisively called pap.
Write for yourself. Tell yourself the stories you want to read. Tell them all.
Then, yes, post them and sit back and see if anyone likes them. But don’t let the response or lack thereof keep you from your dream of writing fan fiction. Keep writing.
I believe in you.
But don’t forget the spell checker!