Let me start by saying this post is not to pooh-pooh fanfiction or the many writers and readers who enjoy it. I believe fanfiction is a valid and important writing form that produces many wonderful stories that bridge borders and offer opportunities for readers of all types.
That’s not what I’m going to talk about, though.
My Fanfiction Writing Life
I think the very first story I ever wrote was a fanfic. For those unfamiliar, fanfiction is stories about characters and worlds already established through media like television, movies, comic books, and videogames. From the rebel hideouts of Star Wars to the high school hallways of Persona 4, I loved wandering through them all. Moreover, I loved the people in them. Their stories sparked a light in me that would often keep me up long into the night, when I would scribble out side stories of my own leading them into new adventures and romances.
Over time, I took an interest in creating my own characters in those worlds: people who could support, antagonize, romance, and challenge the pre-existing characters I already adored. In the fanfiction realm, we call those homemade creations “Original Characters”, or OCs for short.
In the beginning, my OCs were supporting characters only. I felt like readers wouldn’t want to read about my original characters butting into the lives of their well-known favorites. For the most part, that held true. Feedback from readers showed that they didn’t care about the side characters I was creating. Some readers got so offended by my OCs that they wrote me hate mail! I decided the hassle simply wasn’t worth it.
But there was more to my leaving fanfiction than just some petty reader backlash.
The more I wrote my OCs, the more attached I became to them. I realized I loved many of them more than I liked the pre-existing folks. My OCs started to take on lives, loves, and destinies of their own, sometimes completely separate from their source material. After not very long, the fanfiction roots for many of my OCs started to lose their luster. I wanted my characters to be my characters alone, with no ties to someone else’s (read: some company’s) world or story.
In 2017, I began the process of taking down most of my fanfiction. Two years later, only a handful remain on public sites like Fanfiction.Net and AO3. With only 1 or 2 exceptions, nobody seemed to miss them.
Now, it’s not like I don’t care about those stories. I’d spent time and effort – weeks, months, sometimes even years of my life – writing, crafting, drafting, and editing. Still, it felt good to reclaim them from the cavernous depths of the Internet*. Now, they’re just mine. Their being mine allows me to go back and rewrite, repurpose, or just reread at my leisure without the pressure to make them match my current level of skill. That means a lot of them stay ugly and amateurish, but I’m fine with that.
I haven’t completely given up on fanfiction. At the same time that I was taking down other fanfiction stories, I wrote a completely new one based on the Metro:2033 series. I recently revisited my “Doctor Who” Songbirds stories for sharing here. I’m sure my joy will be sparked by some pre-made world or character again in the future. I look forward to it! Until then, I will enjoy and take pride in the worlds and people of my own creating.
To those still writing fanfiction: Keep writing it! There’s a lot of joy and support to be found in the fanfiction writing community. I found and made good friends through sharing those stories.
And for those looking to move from fanfiction to original fiction: You can do it! Your fanfiction writing roots will serve you well in creating your own worlds and characters.
* Nothing is ever completely gone from the Internet, but the stories aren’t easily accessible anymore. That said, there are some stories I’ll never share again, for varying reasons of time, file size, and text.
What about you?
Have you ever read fanfiction? Written it? What are your favorite fanfiction genres, series, or characters? Let me know in the comments below!
I too started my skills in fanfiction, and I should probably follow your example of taking most of them down, as they range from rough around the edges to just plain embarrassing. That being said, perhaps one of my most cherished (and actually completed!) stories is there, so I understand how you feel about the labor.
For all intents and purposes, I’m probably 75% fanfic writer, 25% actual original content. I love writing Cipher, I love writing Wedge and the Rogues, and I miss writing Souji and Yukiko. They are able to do things and express things I can’t by virtue of being completed characters, I just borrow them for a spell. It makes me sad that your first OCs met with such vitriol, as I know that feeling as well. If could just snip out those characters I use so much and pack them into my own little world, I would without hesitation.
Like you said, fanfiction is a place to develop skills and grow writing style, maybe not somewhere to be confined to. I have been privileged to follow you on your journey into original fiction and have greatly enjoyed doing so, just as I greatly appreciate you accompanying me on my path. Will I ever leave the fanfic world behind? Probably not, I have too many ideas left that have grown from the seeds of others’ universes. But as I improve and I write more, I have to one day have something 100% my own.
I debated a LONG time on the pros and cons of taking them down. Some stories were just weak vignettes (like “Sink into my Sin”), others I want to update (like Fearless), while others I just want to able to plagiarize myself (so much of 1 More Chance!). 🙂 It’s the right decision for some and not for others.
When we find characters we really relate to, it can be hard to give them up. One thing that happened with me was that I took some characters to such a different place from canon, they basically became OCs. Rather than try to pigeonhole them back into their “rightful” place in fanfiction, I pulled them out of it. The entire cast of Finding Mister Wright started out as fanfiction characters, from different series ranging from Borderlands to Doctor Who to Power Rangers! I’m not as well-versed in the Rogue Squadron universe as you are, but your stories around them are so lush, I think you could probably create your own Wedge, Hobbie, and the rest from those bases, if you wanted to. That’s the key bit: you have to want to make them into something else. I wanted to tell a different story with that mishmash of FMW characters than I could staying in their respective universes. That precipitated that jump. But there are other stories that are perfect for the canon universe they’re in. Basically, there is no right or wrong answer for staying with – or moving away from – fanfiction.
Everything YOU WRITE is YOUR OWN. Nobody else can tell the stories exactly the way you do. So, you’ve already got tales that are 100% your own. If you want to build up a complete story made of original characters, you will get there. You’ve already put yourself on that path with the original vignettes and scenes you’ve been writing over the last few years. All it takes is the right story to grab you.