Monday, February 7, 2011

Borrowing a Sandbox: Writing Fan Fiction by Guest Blogger Elaine Garner

I have a driving compulsion to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s shouted from the roof tops or if I’m the only one who ever reads it. I have a story lurking inside the slushy wilderness of my brain, and it refuses to stop harassing me until it’s told. I’m different from the professional writer, however. I like to stop in and play in someone else’s “sandbox.”  I step into worlds which are already established and belong to others. Even my original work is dependent on material which legally belongs to someone else. My inspiration flows around characters who don’t always belong to me, but have taken up residence in my imagination.

I’m a fan fiction and hobby writer, and I won’t be paid for a single feverish keystroke pounded out in the dead of night.

So why do it?

My answer: because it’s fun. Other fan fiction authors I know write for positive attention through comments left for them on blogs, forums, etc. Others want something to continue which has otherwise ended, be it a video game, book series, comic series, television show or movie. In writing and reading about it, the experience lives on.

Fan fiction writing can also be good practice to flex the writing muscles. There will always come a time when a writer must step outside their own skin, eventually writing about things not personally experienced. Fan fiction makes me study the characters in my tale. I listen to vocal inflections, observe expressions, body language, what they wear, setting, try to get into their minds, and orient on details. In some ways, this is more demanding than writing about one of my own. A freshly minted original character can behave however you want them to, but other fans have expectations on how established characters act. By doing all of this, a writer trains their brain to start picking up details. This will carry over to original, marketable material as you observe people around you in life. You can transfer what you absorb into your next short story or novel.

Fan fiction does, unfortunately, have some drawbacks. One of the most obvious is copyright issues. In rare cases, authors are allowed to write under the umbrella of a company. I can’t share specifics on how it works because I’ve never done it, but I’ve seen novels based on comic characters. There are entire chains of books spun from Star Wars and Star Trek. Obviously, these authors were the exception to the rule. They gained full legal permission from those who owned the sandbox and presumably were paid for their novels.

On the other side, there are authors who are protective of their work and will do everything in their power to shut down web sites or places who borrow from them. Most people are satisfied with a disclaimer on the fan fiction which includes who is the original owner and states there is no profit being made. Some authors like Wendy and Richard Pini ( even encourage fans. They love to see what others do with their ideas. For anyone who wants to delve into the world of fan fiction, it’s wise to do a little research to make sure you aren’t going to offend anyone if you plan to publish it in any format to share with the world.

I began writing fan fiction for television shows as a teenager. Some of the stories sprung into characters of my own, but I never pursued it in a professional capacity. Later, I picked up the pen again in my college days to write as an outlet for stress in my real life. This was before the internet became the household presence it is today, so I actually published what was called a “fanzine.”  These were self published magazines which I charged just enough subscription money to almost cover my costs of producing them. I had people send me stories and artwork, combined it with my own, and ran each page through a copier. I then bound them and mailed them out in hard copy. Now there are places on the internet dedicated to nothing but fan fiction, but many years later I’ve found myself wanting to write about a video game universe. Instead of going through all the trouble and expense of a fanzine, it goes to my blog.

One day my muse might stop bashing me soundly over the head with conversations I wish I could have had in a game called Dragon Age: Origins. Until then, however, I will be a fan fiction writer.

For more of Elaine Garner's fan fiction check out her blog:

You may also look for additional fan fiction writing at:

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