You Should Write Fanfiction

Fanfiction, by definition, is fiction about a pre-established world or set of characters, written by a fan of said franchise. Some are short one-shots focusing on description and creating a vivid scene; others are long-form serial stories that create a fully fleshed out story.

Obviously, fanfic writers can’t and don’t write to make money. Fanfiction is about appreciating and exploring another author’s story in new ways.

So why should anybody write it? I’d recommend fanfiction for any writer, but especially for newer or younger writers who are still figuring out their own writing style. Besides the fact that it’s fun to make up stories about your favorite characters, I have three reasons for this:

1. It gives you a starting point.

You’re sixteen years old. You’ve just opened a new document titled “My Magnum Opus” and the words are… just not there. The beautiful bits and pieces of inspiration have vanished, and you’re left with a vague creeping feeling that you’ll never really be able to put those ideas into a cohesive story. How do you translate all your ideas to a piece of paper? How do you make a book?

Enter fanfiction. Writing a fanfic gives you a specific world, a set of characters, or even a plot structure to follow. You’re able to borrow an experienced author’s work and just work with one category.

Maybe you want to learn about characterization, but you can’t create a whole world just for your character to live in. So you write about an original character (O.C.) who goes to Hogwarts. Now, you don’t have to invent an original setting or a rigorous magic system; you can just focus on making your O.C. as realistic and interesting as possible.

Or maybe you have a fascinating idea for a superhero plot, but your characters are suspiciously similar to those from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No worries- just drop your plot right into the MCU and work the established characters and world to fit your idea. Now you don’t have to worry about accidental plagiarism or coming up with new character names; you can dedicate all your energy to finding and filling those inevitable plot holes.

2. It forces you to actively analyze an established work of fiction.

One of the best ways to learn any new skill, whether that’s writing a story, making petit fours, or playing an esport, is to figure out how other people do it. High school students analyze short stories in class, bakers learn from established chefs, and gamers study other people’s combos and strategies.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I actually assigned my high schoolers last year to write fanfiction of The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre. In fact, one of the final project options was to write an alternate ending to one of these books. Why? Because when you have to sit down and write an additional chapter to an established book, you need to know that book inside out.

If you’ve ever read fanfiction, you probably know that a reader can tell within the first paragraph if the author knows his/her source material well. The best fanfics are those that stick to the original story in some way, whether that’s in the little quirks of the characters, the depth of the story world, or even the style of humor or narration. To make any story ring true, it needs to have that ethos, that consistency, and a fanfiction story is no different.

3. It helps you discover your own writing voice.

Have you ever watched a really awesome show on Disney+ that got you invested and excited, but then the ending Absolutely Sucked and you just know you could rewrite it better? (@Wandavision: whyyyy?) Don’t ignore that feeling; write that alternate ending the way you think it should go. Why? Because that’s a bit of inspiration, and following that inspiration will make you a better writer.

We learn what our artistic styles are in two main ways: 1) by experiencing other similar art and identifying what we do and don’t like, and 2) by experimenting with our own art. Writing fanfiction accomplishes both of those goals. Fanfiction allows us to take what we do like from a story, and then we can add in our own flourish.

And when it finally comes time for us to write our own original Magnum Opus, we will know just a little bit better what we want to write and how to write it. We’ll be able to apply the tips and tricks we learned from writing fanfiction. Our own narrative voice will be muscle memory. Writer’s block will be just a little bit easier to overcome.

So if I’m giving one piece of advice to someone who wants to write their own books someday, it’s this: Write fanfiction. You’ll become a stronger writer, and you’ll have a heck of a lot of fun in the process.

And yeah, I will eventually write that alternate ending to Wandavision.

Is Your Story Worth Writing?

Back from a lovely vacation with a “big question.” It’s what I like to call a stupid question: everybody knows the right answer, at least at surface-level, but if you think about it too long you start to worry. The question is this:

Is my story worth writing?

The short answer that we’d all give is a resounding Yes. But then we begin thinking (and overthinking), and we begin to doubt. What about the bullet journal we’re working on? The poem we’ll never let anyone see, or that letter we’d never even think of sending? A goofy fanfiction we write to escape after school or work? Do those stories matter?

To answer that, we have to start with identifying why we write.

Why do you write?

Do you write to process your thoughts and feelings?

To get out all the characters and stories that are just too fascinating to keep in your head?

To organize the concepts you’re learning?

To explore new and exciting ideas on your own terms?

To give your favorite characters a better ending?

It could be any or all of these, or it could be something completely different. These are just common threads I’ve seen in my experience. Whatever the reasons, I like to write them down on paper somewhere. That’s something I can go back to later when writer’s block sets in and the question pops up again: Is this story worth writing?

Once I identify why I am writing a certain story or project, things start to become more clear. I’ve always found that any writing project does ultimately matter in the long run, for at least one of two reasons.

1. It might matter now.

Writing may be a humanistic and affective pursuit, but it’s also tremendously practical. A lot of your writing makes a difference right away. You might simply be writing an essay for a grade, or maybe you’re re-typing a short story for your family to read. Maybe you want to submit a few of your poems to a magazine or website, or you’re trying write a blog to keep you accountable to write every day. Regardless, your writing might be in the “matters now” category.

But on the other hand…

2. It might matter later.

Writing is one of the most important practices for people to learn. In education, it’s one of the higher-order learning tasks; this is why so many universities assign written papers instead of exams. Writing helps us think, explore, process, apply, internalize, and expand our ideas.

Fiction is no exception. Even if you end up abandoning a project, all the work you put into it lasts and carries over to the next project. That fanfic you wrote at age 11 helped you learn how existing stories work, and you were able to can find out what you like and dislike about characterization and plot. That Hunger Games ripoff you wrote helped you dive deeper into why certain stories work better than others. Every plot you ever created helped you make the next plot a little bit more solid.

Every word matters.

Even if you never finish the project you’re working on now (the one that you really, really want to finish), every little bit of work you’ve done on it is making you a stronger storyteller. Writing is never wasted. Keep writing, and remember everything matters. Eventually.

On Freewriting

Hello! Quick post today, and it’s a day late because a) I was out of town celebrating my first anniversary with my husband and b) my index finger is currently wrapped in band-aids because of a cooking accident. Regardless, I am here, so without further ado, let’s talk about freewriting.

What is freewriting? Basically it’s a block of time in which you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write whatever you want without stopping until your timer rings. It’s comparable to a NaNoWriMo writing sprint. The goal is to help you push through writer’s block and make yourself write something without the pressure of creating something for publication. No editing as you go or staring at a blank page waiting for the “perfect” idea; you’ve gotta write, so write whatever comes to mind!

I first encountered the idea of a freewrite a few years ago when my mother told me about the Bravewriter curriculum she was using with my siblings, which builds a freewriting session into every week’s schedule. After seeing the awesome results with my siblings, I incorporated it into my own classroom schedule twice a week.

If you want to read more about it, here’s a summary of how the Freewrite process works.

I won’t go into all the educational benefits of freewriting here. I’ll leave that to blogs that are actually about education. However, I found that as I used the freewriting strategy with my students, it helped me grow as a writer myself.

This is primarily because I wrote along with my students. Let’s face it, a roomful of eight year olds will never be jazzed about having to write for five solid minutes. So I modeled freewriting and worked through the process with them. We brainstormed ideas, came up with writing prompts, and practiced writing for five minutes in a row, even if it was just printing the alphabet or copying a poster on the wall. I modeled the skill of sitting for five minutes and just writing whatever words or ideas came to mind, right in front of them.

So what did I learn from freewriting myself?

The first thing that I learned is that freewriting is hard. It comes with a multitude of questions. What do I write about? What do I do when I have a different idea halfway through my timer? Can I go back and rewrite a section during my next freewrite? Should I show any of my freewriting journal entries to anyone else? These are questions I had to work through and find answers to as I wrote. It was a process.

The second thing I learned is that writer’s block isn’t actually a block. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual learner, but when I heard the phrase “writer’s block,” I always pictured a literal block of wood standing between myself and the story I wanted to write. But freewriting has helped me re-imagine writer’s block as a thick jello that I can wade through. It takes work and strength training, but it is possible to overcome writer’s block.

The third thing I learned is that writing is a skill. It’s bred, not born. Some people are naturally better at writing, yes, just as some people are naturally more athletic. But just as everybody can find the right kind of strength training to help them build muscle, everybody can improve their writing through practice. Anyone can write, and anyone can build those writing muscles up. Freewriting is one of the best exercises for that.

So I recommend you try a freewrite, or a few. Try building your own writing muscles in a different way. See if you can work through your own writer’s block and build strength to help you overcome your own perfectionism.

Have you every tried freewriting?

How to Stay Organized as a Writer

Have you already joined my Encyclopaedia cult? Well… it’s not so much a cult as a writing tip that will revolutionize your life. You might want to check out my previous post on that, because today I’m expanding on that writing tip. Specifically, I’m trying to convince you why you should have an encyclopaedia for each and every novel project you work on.

What’s an encyclopaedia for?

For those of you who don’t have time to read the earlier post right now, a quick summary: What I call an “encyclopaedia” is just a massive document, notebook, or app that functions as a second brain for you. In it you can store deleted scenes, characters that didn’t fit your current WIP, minute details about your worldbuilding, research, etc. Screenwriters usually refer to this as a series Bible.

My encyclopaedia saves me from having to re-do the same research over and over or scramble through a heap of sticky notes to find where I wrote my main character’s birth year. Having all the information written down and organized in a place where I can easily find it allows me to focus on writing the actual novel.

Why do I need so many?

While I can refer to one massive, capital-e Encyclopaedia for a series of novels or stories set in the same fantasy world, I also like to have a separate master list of everything I need to know for each individual project.

I can’t store all that information in the same document as my draft and final scene outline. Let’s face it, typing and loading speeds are sluggish when you hit the 40,000 word mark, and I don’t want to have to scroll through pages and pages of random “what-ifs” and plot hole lists just to get to the scene I was working on yesterday. On the other hand, I don’t want to keep 30 different documents for a single project. My wifi can’t handle opening that many documents in a single writing session just because I forgot where I uploaded the map of the underground city.

The solution? Creating an encyclopaedia for each individual novel project. This is where I type my ridiculously long, specific story outline, along with all the dates, what’s happening in the news, and even what the weather is like. It’s where I keep detailed character biographies and backstories. It’s a place to jot down my middle-of-the-night ideas for this or that plot point. And yes, I can even use it to save old drafts of scenes that had to be rewritten when I decided to remove a character from the story.

How do I keep that much info organized?

This is what I love most about the encyclopaedia system; whatever method you use allows you to organize information into sections and flip to it at a moments notice. The way you organize will largely depend on what method you use.

For example, I use Google Drive to store all my writing endeavors because automatic backup ftw. I use the built-in Table of Contents option and create headings for categories like Characters, History/Politics, Plot Draft 2, Ideas, Deleted Scenes, etc. Then I can just click the automatic hyperlinks to get to whatever section I want.

In a pen-and-paper notebook system, you might use those sticky tabs labeled with the same categories. You could do the same thing with a three-ring binder and even have a section of pictures in plastic page protectors. I’ve also seen quite a few worldbuilding apps (such as World Anvil) which basically create a private wiki for you. They seem intuitive enough to use; I just haven’t made the switch for myself.

Being organized isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Just as with everything else in life. Having an encyclopaedia for each novel project is a bit of work up front, but in the long run it saves me so much time that I would otherwise waste searching through stacks of irrelevant information. What with my 100 words challenge, that extra time is invaluable.

Try it yourself and see!

How do you keep yourself organized while writing? Tell me your ideas in the comments!

On Writing a Thriller

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know ya girl has always preferred to write fantasy. But I’ve always pushed myself occasionally to branch out and try something new, and lately, that has meant writing a murder mystery/thriller/superhero story. After all, everyone loves a good suspenseful book, and it’s always been a back-burner idea for me to write one of my own.

There was just one problem: I had no idea how to write a thriller.

But you know me; any time I run into a problem, I research it to death until I realize it’s not that hard after all. I did some research on thrillers, thought about my favorite suspense stories in media, and took a lot of notes. Here are three big takeaways I’ve learned from plotting a thriller.

Plot structure works the same way.

I did quite a few searches for “thriller plot structure.” And you know what I found? Absolutely nothing new. Everything related to plot structure was just an off-hand reference to three-act structure.

Remember that roller coaster template you had to use in high school? Yeah, it applies to suspenseful genres too. Like most other stories, thriller novels and horror stories alike both follow the typical three-act structure. They follow the pattern of rising action, climax, and falling action. Of course there are exceptions, just as every other genre has exceptions, but for most books and movies the rule holds true.

That was a huge relief to me. Rather than spending my energy learning a totally new format for plotting a story, I’m able to focus on translating what I already know about plot structure to a totally new genre. I’m analyzing my favorite mysteries and thrillers according to three-act structure to find out what stays the same and what’s different.

Suspense, suspense, suspense.

All that isn’t to say that thrillers follow all of the same rules as, say, a romance novel or a sitcom. If I could boil down all my thriller research to a single rule, I’d say the biggest takeaway is that everything has to build suspense. In fact, maybe a better way to describe the “rising action” of a thriller would be “rising suspense.”

I looked back at some of my favorite stories in the genre (And Then There Were None, Nightmare City, Rear Window, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find are some classic examples). These stories are terrifying to me, but at the same time I couldn’t look away or put the book down. This is because each of the stories uses the prescripted plot points to build tension, raise stakes, and make the reader or viewer sweat a little bit more with each chapter.

Writing a thriller is all about creating an atmosphere of dread that intensifies every moment, where readers need to turn page after page, but at the same time they’re terrified to find out what is around the corner. Whereas a romance novel builds tension and makes readers root for the love interests to get together, or a sitcom focuses on using irony to create humor, a thriller is all about creating fear or suspense– and then making it worse.

The crazier, the better.

With all this in mind, I started to understand how thrillers effectively scare people. If plot structure is the same, and every event needs to build suspense, then that tells me that my main goal is to use all those “scary story” ideas to subvert readers’ expectations and make them more scared than ever. Once I know what readers are expecting, I’m able to subvert their expectations with something worse.

For example, let’s say plot structure dictates that the protagonist makes a decision to take ownership of the plot at the midpoint. Readers intuitively know this from all the other books and movies they’ve seen with the same structure. So, I can use that expectation to throw something totally new at them.

Maybe the main character doesn’t make a decision at the midpoint so much as realize that someone they trusted is actually out to get them. Maybe they finally escape from their haunted house, just to continue hearing ghostly sounds in their sister’s apartment. Maybe the too-nice side character the reader thinks is the culprit suddenly gets murdered. Whatever it is, my goal is to manipulate the readers’ expectations and throwing something way worse at them. It creates that dreadful feeling and tempts them to read just one more chapter, where they’ll find something even more terrifying.

This is where my crazy “what if” ideas come in. For years I’ve been collecting some juicy, scary story ideas in a note on my phone, but until now I haven’t had a chance to use them. Now I can break some of them out, mix them together, make them scarier, and piece them into a plot.

Writing a thriller is scary and exciting. And that’s really the whole point of the suspense genre anyway: to create a scary story that thrills and entices the reader to keep reading. If I’m scaring myself and making myself curious to find out what’s next, maybe I’m on the right track to creating a story other people will want to read too.

Have you ever written a thriller, horror, or mystery novel? Would you ever try it? Tell me about it in the comments!

Let Someone Read Your Writing

We hate letting other people read our writing, don’t we?

As easy as it is to tell people bits and pieces about our story, rant about our characters to our best friends, or even share #1linewed snippets on Twitter, when it comes to letting someone else read the words we actually put on the page, we clam up. We slam our laptops shut. We hide our journals under our pillow and hope no one ever asks to see what we’ve written.

Why is it so hard to let people read our writing?

I can’t speak for the millions of other writers and creatives in the world. But, in my limited experience, I’ve found a few common threads running through all our fears about sharing our work to the world.

We’re scared our work isn’t good enough. We constantly criticize and edit our own writing, telling ourselves it isn’t good enough. But at the same time, we are scared of having that fear confirmed. We only think our writing is bad; if someone else reads our story, they’ll tell us what they honestly think, and then we will know our writing is bad. If we never let anyone else read our writing, we’ll never need to find out if our work is really not good enough.

We know we can do better. Sure, it may not be the worst draft we’ve ever made, but we can make it even better. If we just rewrite this scene one more time… if we just do another round of edits… if we just change that subplot a little bit… We as writers can always make our work better, and we know it. So we keep writing and rewriting and put off sharing our story with everyone else until it’s “better.”

We’re afraid our story is too personal. This one may be the most reasonable fear of all. Most writers have one particular story that is the most personal and true-to-life for them. Often it’s a story we wrote to help ourselves get through a crisis, or just a story that has been burning inside our hearts for years that we were afraid to write for a long time. We finally write that story, and it’s near and dear to our hearts– but letting someone else read it? That’s like letting someone into your heart. It’s like being naked, or telling someone your darkest secrets.

Does it even matter?

So what if we never let anyone read our stories? Didn’t I just share a post about how not everyone has to write or publish a story?

It’s true that not everyone has to share their writing. Even vocational authors don’t have to publish every story they write. It’s even sometimes healthy to have a story or a journal that no one else sees except you; it provides a safe space to be completely honest and work through your own thoughts.

But don’t use the “not everyone needs to publish” as an excuse when you know fear is what’s really holding you back.

Deep down, a lot of us really want someone else to read our writing. Maybe it’s a story we wrote for someone in our family, or maybe it’s a novel that we know would help a lot of people. Maybe you’ve told your friends about your story, and they are begging you to let them read it. And you know you want to.

But… the idea of letting someone see something as personal as a story you wrote is just so scary.

So what can we do about it?

I’m really new at this. Part of why I’m writing this post is to hold myself accountable and push myself to share my own writing. But here are some ideas that have helped me overcome my own fears of sharing my writing.

Have just a few other people that you can trust. For you, it might be your best friend, or it might be a total stranger you hire to edit your manuscript. Whatever is comfortable for you. For me, I have exactly four (4) people that I would even consider letting read my first draft of anything. They are all family members, and yet it took years for me to let them read any of my writing.

But having those four people changes everything for me. I know my parents are going to cheer me on anytime I write any story. I know my sister will listen to any new ideas I come up with. And I know my husband will be my biggest fan and give me ideas anytime I get stuck on a story.

There are, of course, people that I know I shouldn’t ask to read my writing. Total strangers, rude acquaintances, siblings who are too young to read some of the content in my books. So I don’t turn to them. I stick with the people I know will help me overcome that fear of sharing. I know I don’t have to share with everyone, at least not right away.

Start with a small piece of writing. I know the very idea of letting someone read your novel is terrifying. But what if you just let them read one scene? A part of your outline? A silly poem or short story you wrote last year?

When my husband and I were first dating, I didn’t show him the first draft of the novel I was writing. I just showed him a song I was working on for my mom, because he loves music and I knew he could help me with it. When I was working on my first novel, I didn’t show my sister my first draft or even my scene outline. I just talked through the plot from memory to see if it made sense to her.

Baby steps are tremendously helpful. Start small and build that trust. You’d be surprised at how much people will gush about your writing.

Push yourself. At some point you have to step out of your comfort zone and realize the wide world isn’t as frightening as you thought. Believe me, my voice was shaky the first time I sang that song aloud in front of my then-boyfriend. I was nervous about sharing my sitcom drafts with my third sister (who likes to rate jokes on a scale of 1/10). Even when I let my parents read the newly-published Son of Ren to my siblings, I couldn’t be in the same room as them. I had to leave and work on my own schoolwork during read-aloud time.

But once I stepped into those scary situations and did some deep breaths, I realized I didn’t really have anything to be scared of. My husband loved to hear my nervous singing, because it was a song I wrote. My sisters genuinely loved all my jokes, even the ones I thought might fall flat. My parents tell me time and again how proud they are of me for writing novels and publishing them to the world.

You don’t have to share everything you write. There will be some stories, songs, or poems you never let anyone else see. But that doesn’t mean everything has to be a secret. Maybe you have something to share, and you’ve been considering letting someone read it. Consider this your permission to share it with them.

You’re a storyteller. You’re good at writing, and you know it. You don’t have to hide those stories forever.

Have you ever let someone else read your writing?