I got my start in writing stories about ten years ago now, when I was fifteen. I’d just read the latest Harry Potter novel, Goblet of Fire, and wanted to know what happened next. So I went online looking for theories, news, excerpts, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled onto the rampant and amazing fanfiction community. I think at the time – and this may still hold true – Harry Potter fanfiction was the largest selection of stories across all the fanfic websites.
I read a whole bunch of them, hundreds – the big names at the time – and some of those stories I still think about today, they were that good. These stories would be posted with updates every week, or month, or what have you – whenever the author had the time – and I’d be hooked. It was sort of like waiting for a new episode of your favourite TV show. Those fanfics, the really good ones, were being written by writers with some severe talent.
Why weren’t they writing their own original stories? Some of them were. Names you will recognise, I’m sure.
I saw the response and the cries for more these writers were getting, swept up by the majesty of it all, and thought it amazing.
So, naturally, I decided to start writing my own fanfiction. I chose the Harry Potter fandom not only because I loved those books and that world, but because it would afford my writing the greatest exposure. The community was active, rabid even, and wanted to be fed. What happened over the next few year surprised me. I ended up writing in excess of a 1,000,000 words on a trilogy of stories. And then starting again with another few novel length works set in the Harry Potter universe, which capped my total north of 1.5 million words. I was heavily influenced by all the authors I was reading at the time, from Stephen King to Matthew Reilly, but looking back at those fanfics and I can almost see myself learning how to write. The first chapter of the very first story was over 10,000 words long and not a lot happens. These days, I’d cut that entirely. I make all the mistakes a rookie writer makes, but my story was good. Great, even. People loved it.
I became one of those talked about writers on the forums, in blog posts, and people read my stories in droves. Tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and now and again some of them would leave me reviews. Thousands and thousands of reviews. My fanfics garnered praise and derision, were held up as shining examples and laughed at as pitiful failures, and most importantly I began to understand writing.
A little bit. Somewhat. Some would still say not at all. 😉
In short, I’d become a fiction writer—and for the most part, a well received one. How about that, friends and neighbours, just how about that.
From Fanfiction to Original Fiction
It wasn’t until I turned nineteen that I started writing stories in my own worlds. Characters of my own creation, places and settings and all the mechanics of a story. I didn’t know what I was doing, but then no one does when they’re just starting out.
I found myself imitating other writers far too closely, in the start, and having made the leap from J.K. Rowling’s wonderful world, I was almost still writing fanfiction, for all that mattered, because my stories had been told a thousand times before. Hero saves the day, gets the girl, the end.
It took many more years before I finally started to get my head around some of the work required to produce an original story. Ideas have and still do come at me from a thousand different places and in a hundred different ways. I’m only just now, ten years on, starting to get some of those ideas on the page in a readable manner.
Fanfiction taught me mechanics, how to tell a good story, and I know some famous authors consider it crass or next to useless, but those people are wrong, ladies and gentlemen. This article, which inspired my post, has more to say on the matter.
I would offer this advice to those writers just starting out, who are unsure and uncertain, that knocking out a few thousand words of fanfic in a popular fandom and posting it for critique can do wonders for your confidence. You’ll get honest reviews, harsh critiques, and even wonderful praise. A big step for any writer is to showcase their work to as large an audience as possible. You’ll learn a lot, I guarantee it.
What do you all think?