Saturday, July 2, 2011

How Fan Fiction Changed My Life: A Writer's Journey

It's launch day! I'm so excited that my debut book, Her Son's Hero, is finally on shelves. As I look back over the years I slaved and wrote and pitched, I remember fondly how I started my writer's journey: in the world of fan fiction.

For the uninitiated, fan fiction is any story written based on existing work that is outside of the official canon, whether it's a book, TV show, movie, radio play, video game—you name it, there's probably a fanfic of it. Subgenres of fanfic include anything from slash—erotic pairings so called after the most famous pairing of Star Trek's Spock/Kirk—to more lighthearted stories to crack fic—random often humorous stories that place the characters in ridiculous situations. Fanficers take the characters and worlds they love and tell their own stories.

In 2005, I was watching a fabulous Nicklelodeon show called Avatar: The Last Airbender. I had an idea for story that needed telling, and I desperately wanted to write it down. Not that I believed it could go anywhere or do anything. But I was compelled. I had to write that story. So I did.

I wasn't sure what to do with it after that. I was so proud that I'd actually completed a story beginning to end—up to that point, I'd only completed one short story, and had a random handful of other stories started. I wanted someone to see my work. So I Googled the show to see what I could find about it.

The explosion of search results was like an epiphany. I had no idea how rich the world of internet fandom was, and the show was only in its first season, about 10 episodes in.

I found and posted my story there. When the first dozen or so reviews came in, I was gleeful, and started writing more. When the reviews reached 100, I was ecstatic. When the reviews kept pouring in, to the point I was getting 50 or more reviews a day, I knew I was onto something that would change my life.

I spent every spare minute writing after that. I plotted while using the treadmill, wrote on an old Palm Pilot with a fold-up keyboard on my commutes and during lunch hours, spent whole days without seeing the outside of my room as I pounded out story after story, eager to feed the fandom.

It was a borderline obsession for a while. My family was concerned that only shut-ins and social outcasts wrote fan fiction. My behavior didn't exactly put them at ease, either: I eschewed many social gatherings in favor of writing. I talked about it constantly. It had become my life, and that fervent need to produce had me completing novel-length stories in record time.

True, those early works weren't my best, but I got better quickly. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was learning the basics of story structure, characterization, dialogue, world-building, plot and conflict.

What I learned from fanfic wasn't confined to just writing skills; promoting my work and learning internet etiquette was a huge part of working with the fandom. I was on Live Journal forums, took part in internet chats, and reviewed other people's work. I taught myself how to use all kinds of design programs so I could contribute to the art side of the fandom by making avatars and icons, animated gifs and fan videos. More than all that, I learned how to relate with fans, to be part of the community.

In short, I was learning how to be an author.

When the show was winding down its third and final season, I knew I would soon be turning away from the world of fanfic and taking the next step: original fiction.
It was a lot harder. I had to create my own characters and world. I had to put them in situations that were not contrived. I was daunted by how much harder I had to work, and nearly gave up several times, especially after those first rejections.

But I did it. And I have fan fiction to thank for it

So here's my official thank you to the Avatar: The Last Airbender fandom and the fan fiction community that supported me throughout the years. I hope you all enjoy Her Son's Hero...especially the Acknowledgments page.
; )

Vicki Essex is a big fan of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. Her Son's Hero is her first book.


Snookie said...

Wow, I never heard of fanfiction! Interesting things you learn in these blogs! I'm looking forward to reading Her Son's hero.

Mary Preston said...

Fascinating. What a journey you took. Thank you for sharing.

Toni Kenyon said...

Hey Vicki

Congratulations on the launch of your first book. I hope that it sells really well for you.

Angelina Rain said...

Congrats on your book. It's so cool that you started with fan fiction. I did too, but for me it was General Hospital fan fics. It's funny how writing a little story can make you realize your dream that you didn't even know you had.

Robin Covington said...

Vicki - I love fan fiction! I'm a frequent reader of teh Roswell stuff - and you definitely learn your chops writing fan fiction.

Congrats on our release!

Vicki Essex said...

Thanks Snookie, marybelle, Toni, Angelia and Robin! I do like to recommend very new writers to try out fan fiction to get a sense of their writing style. Having the characters and universe set up for you is a lot like training wheels. 8 )

Beth Andrews said...

Congratulations, Vicki! Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us *g*

I'm looking forward to reading your debut :-)

Jackie S. said...

Learn so much from these blogs...especially from you "younger" and "techy" nice and I thank you. I am always asking my grandson "what's this", etc. lol

Jill said...

Yay! I love fanfiction. I wrote it privately for myself long before I discovered the Internet.
It's funny all my friends and family know I write romance, but the fanfiction part is a deep, dark secret. Only my husband and a few close friends know. And everyone here, I guess ;-) Firefly and Glee are my favorite to read and write at the moment, but there have been many others. Usually I have to write fanfiction when I'm left unsatisfied by how a show/book/movie handles the romance plot. :-)
Susan Gable is another Superromance author that used to write fanfiction and Naomi Novik (fantasy writer) is another one.

Unknown said...

Congrats on your release day! I can't wait to read your book.

JV said...

I just saw a piece on the news today about how the Harry Potter series is destined to live on in fan fiction. Yours is an interesting story! It gives hope to those among us who have writing aspirations.

I can't wait to read your debut book!

Helen Brenna said...

Wow, Vicki, what an interesting journey! Congrats on that first book hitting the shelves!! What a great day for you!

Vicki Essex said...

Thanks so much, Beth, Jackie, Jill, Virginia, JV and Helen!

Jill: funny how fanfic is that deep dark secret for some of us aspiring writers. If I could get more people out of the fanfic closet, I totally would. You can make so many friends that way!

PatriciaW said...

Congrats, Vicki. I knew of fanfic but I've never read or written any. I'm wondering how the original creators feel about this derivative market for their work? It sounds as if it's huge, so embracing it is probably the best path.

mary sullivan said...

Congratulations, Vicki, on your release day! I just saw the real deal in the Gateway Newsstand in the Northbound Bloor/Yonge subway station. Woohoooo! It's real.

Thanks for sharing your story. You learned a lot through writing fan fiction!

Anonymous said...

Vicki, you must be so pleased- congratulations on Release Day! I wish we got Supers here in the UK, I'll need to buy an ebook copy!

I've known some fabulous fanfic writers who never made that leap into original fiction.

Karina Bliss said...

Great post, Vicki, and a fascinating insight into fan fiction. As a friend said to me when my first book came out, "May it be the first of many, may your prose be viewed mightier than Shakespeare, your wit brighter than Oscar Wilde and your pay cheque greater than JK Rowling."

linda s said...

My son reads Star Trek books and he is so critical of the details fitting the shows that I think writing fanfiction must be quite challenging. Congratulations on your first book! I'll be taking it along on my vacation next week.

Kaelee said...

Hi Vicki ~ Congratulations on your release date. May you have many more release dates. I'm looking forward to reading your debut.

Vicki Essex said...

Thanks Patricia, Mary, Autumn, Karina Linda and Kaelee!

Patricia: some author embrace the fandom, but probably never read the work for fear of influencing their own stories. Other authors are very proprietary: has a list of authors who've kindly asked not to have their work fic'ed, which sounds odd to me since you really do want fans.

Autumn: I know a lot of great writers on, too, and tried to encourage them to write original fic. It really is hard to make the leap.

Linda: Yeah, the hardcore fans can be pretty hard to deal with, especially Trek fans, but if you love something enough, then you try to cater to the universe.

Debra Salonen said...

Vicki, Sorry I missed this post yesterday--I was in Flakeville doing nothing. It was great. LOL.

I really admire your focus and determination. I have not read a single piece of FanFic, although I have heard of it. Do you see a crossover in readership at any point?


Vicki Essex said...

Deb: I think if you're good enough and have a following, then yes, there's room for crossover. I've received a lot of praise and I'm sure some fans will pick up my book. The community is pretty tight.

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