Fan Fiction to Original Fiction: Is It Worth the Jump?

Updated on March 1, 2024.

Picture it: Summer 1998. Campus of College of William & Mary. Williamsburg, Virginia.

Sitting in a computer lab after finishing one homework assignment or another, I ventured into the area of the Internet then known as Yahoo Groups. This corner of Netscape Navigator was dedicated to topics of all kinds: business to home improvement, gardening to programming, website creation to obscure facts.

It was here, though, that I got my first exposure to the world of fan fiction (AKA fanfiction, fan-fiction, or fanfic). At its most basic level, Merriam-Webster defines fanfiction as “stories involving fictional characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet.”

To me, it was as if I’d crossed the threshold into the land of Narnia. I grew up a fan of professional wrestling, so to find these types of stories written about characters I watched on television on a weekly basis blew my mind. Not all of them were Pulitzer Prize winners, but there were some that I thought were better written than published novels.

Since that summer, I’ve read and written fanfiction of my own over most of the past two-and-a-half decades. The shortest story is just over 500 words; the longest is over 900,000.

Now, thanks to the diminishing stigma surrounding fanfic, a lot more people are a lot more open about their experience either reading or writing it. The explosion in popularity of sites like crowd-funded and privately run Archive of Our Own has made it all the more accepted as a legitimate form of publication and authorship.

I recently took a class at The Muse Writing Center in Norfolk, Virginia, titled “Making the Jump from Fan Fiction to Original Fiction.” I signed up specifically because the content of my first manuscript was essentially two related fanfiction stories I wrote combined into one to create an original story.

Below are some of the crossover skills I learned from the class that made me feel so much better about using these stories as the foundation for that manuscript.

Story Development

Writers who’ve spent time in the fanfic world bring with them some major skills that are required in novel writing: character development, worldbuilding, and plot development.

Despite the preexisting characters and canon events, fanfiction writers still have a responsibility to write as close to the characters’ existing personalities, ways of speaking and acting, and growth arcs as they can, all while deciding how their version of the characters will exist in the canon world. We decide the external conflicts and internal needs they face, while ensuring those things are appropriate to who the characters are at their cores.

Audience-focused Approach

Yes, fanfiction brings with it a built-in audience. These are people who will read your story solely based on the fact that they already like the characters you’re writing about. It also forces you to stick to a writing and posting schedule. When you know readers are expecting regular updates, you start writing more efficiently and effectively.

When you write original fiction, that approach becomes critical to producing quality work. You now have to quickly gain your readers’ attention, get them invested in your protagonist as soon as possible, and keep that investment locked in until the last page.

Thick Skin

Finally, writing fanfiction quickens the pace at which you develop the ability to deal with rejection and negative feedback. Once you post your story, it is no longer your story, it’s your audience’s. Sure, you can delete it from the host site, but guarantee at least one or three people have already read it. When you receive comments, kudos, or feedback on a fanfiction story, you recognize and wholly accept that those words and actions are meant for you. However, the reviews for original fiction are not; original-fiction reviews are intended for other readers. Most authors I know don’t even bother reading their book reviews for that very reason.

Creating original fiction is no easy feat. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just like writing fanfiction, it not only brings an author satisfaction at having completed a story or three. It brings more content and characters for readers to enjoy.

Me, personally? I’m a big fan of that idea.

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