Writing fanfic v writing original fic: some thoughts

As you know from my March reviews, I read virtually no fanfic last month but that didn’t stop me from thinking about it, and about my own tendency to write both fanfic and original work.

Over the last twelve months I’ve published two novels, a couple of short stories and three fanfics. (For details, see previous posts.) The fanfics were longer than the original short stories, and took more research. It occurred to me you might like to know some of the differences between original and fanfic writing from the point of view of the author.

First of all, when writing fanfic, it’s important to know the ‘canon’ or original book, show or film. There’s no need to stick to it. As soon as my story starts, I’m veering away from the original, whether my tale takes place during the canon, before or after, or in an alternate universe. However, it’s important to know what the characters were originally up to. If, for example, one of them died in canon but I want them alive in my story (my The Paths of the Living which is LotR fanfic)has Boromir survive the attack of the orcs) I have to explain, credibly, why my version differs. Other fans are unlikely to read or enjoy something that ignores canon and drives a coach and horses through it. My novel SGX has original characters set against the concept of the Stargate – it has failed to attract any attention from SG fans and cannot, of course, be published as anything other than fanfiction. I’m still quite proud of it but I can understand that fans of SG1 want ‘their’ heroes. In a completely alternate universe (The Morning Gift has Bodie and Doyle of The Professionals in eleventh century Oxfordshire) the core character traits need to be maintained or there is no point using the character or trying to appeal to other fans.

Obviously when writing original fiction there’s a need to know the ‘backstory’ of each character but at least I’m responsible for that backstory and readers can’t contradict me. I do, however, have to be careful not to contradict myself!

Most of us don’t recall every detail of the shows we have seen. Books are easy, because it’s always possible to re-read. Happily, TV shows are easy, too, because the episode scripts are online and can be read and referred to. In this way, if I missed an episode I can still get its full impact provided I know the context, and if I can’t remember e.g. a minor character’s name, well, there it is on iMDB. There are also trailers and so on (on YouTube) to help the writer become reacquainted with movements, voices, etc. Sometimes, as with two of the auction fics I wrote, there’s a need to binge watch a new show. For The ballad of o guerreiro I had to watch Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard and for The fault…is not in our stars I had to finish watching the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. The watching is not pure pleasure; it’s important to concentrate and notice details that can be incorporated into a story. Having said that there has to be some pleasure involved or the stories won’t arrive in the author’s brain.

When writing original fiction, once I have created the characters I feel as though I know them in much the same way as I ‘know’ characters in books or on screen.

Most fans talk about needing to get the voices right. It’s essential to listen carefully to characters in a show. Listening gets the writer closer to their patterns of speech, vocabulary they frequently use, mannerisms such as pauses, and so on. I try to use a beta reader who is also familiar with the canon so that they can spot where I’ve deviated from any particular character’s norm. I usually write Brit characters but if I ever write e.g. American ones, I look for a beta who is also familiar with the speech patterns and vocabulary of the country. I once wrote a story in The West Wing (Campaign) and my beta saved me from calling a sweater a jumper…

In much the same way it’s important to keep original characters ‘in character’. Many writers (I’m one of them) use extensive notes and glossaries, some of which they share with their readers but the primary purpose is to keep the writing consistent. Not to mention details like eye colour or favourite drinks!

Some critics and authors sneer at fanfiction, calling it derivative and lacking in imagination. This should not need to be countered, but here we go.

All art is in some sense derivative. The creator is inspired by other art or by events in real life. Many artists begin by trying to recreate well known works. An original writer who is using historical fact or current scientific research to underpin their story is no less derivative. Similarly, much original work relies on traditional tropes and we all know there are very few original plots. A book or show introduces characters to readers and viewers. If these characters are sufficiently well developed and likeable fans will inevitably weave further stories about them. Writers create new stories about Arthur and his knights, about vampires and about elves; artists and architects such as Gaudi (see header picture) are inspired by the natural world. When I wrote Lord of Shalott I had to be careful about ‘canon’, particularly Tennyson’s poem, and the only reason my work could be published was that the ‘canon’ was out of copyright.

All writing requires imagination. (Even the writer of non-fiction has to imagine how their words will come across to the reader.) Imagining a story or scene involving someone else’s characters is not much different from imagining a story or scene involving invented characters. Nobody accuses the creators of the modern BBC Sherlock of lacking imagination but this is fanfiction all through.

Another common misconception about fanfiction is that it inevitably revolves around sex. Admittedly there is some erotica. After all, readers like it! But a great deal of fanfiction is either ‘gen’ or only brings in erotic elements as part of a complex plot whereas I have read a great deal of original fiction that is more sex than story. Obviously, mainstream commentary will highlight anything that titillates the public. I have personally included explicit sex in some of my work, such as The Paths of the Living, and The Morning Gift, but I have written other fanfiction where sex barely rates a mention. As with original work it really does depend on the story.

Some people seem to regard writing fanfiction as a kind of apprenticeship to what they call proper writing. As I began writing both at about the same time I have never subscribed to this idea. Also, the words ‘proper writing’ tend to assign a higher value to things that are made for sale rather than given out of love. Much fanfiction is written and posted freely for the pleasure of other fans and the resultant fan community is itself a reward.

I enjoy the fanfic community and I enjoy the company of other original writers. Sometimes the two sets overlap, possibly more often than people think. I don’t feel my writing is really different in either genre. I do know both give me pleasure and I hope they offer something to my readers too.

For anyone who wants to find my fanfiction, it’s all (96 works) on AO3 (Archive Of Our Own) under the pseudonym moth2fic. You don’t have to be a member to read, to download, or to comment. And most of it is, I hope, accessible to non-fans who have no idea of the canon.

The picture shows details on Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. We visited before construction was finished.

More reflections on writing



Titles: Are they the bane of your existence, or the easiest part of the fic? Also, if you do chaptered fic, do you give each chapter a title, or not?

I don’t always find them easy. Usually, by the time I’ve finished a story some theme or focus will become clear and will suggest a title to me. Of course, I then have to decide whether it will make sense to my readers, and check that it doesn’t clash with another story in the same genre (or fandom if it’s a fanfic). Lots of people write stories with the same title – and of course there’s no ownership or copyright in titles – but we try not to overlap in the same sandpit if only because it makes each book less visible to possible readers or purchasers.

For original fic there’s a further issue. If I’m writing a series, I need to make sure the titles link the books together as well as being easily remembered. So I try to use the same format – it’s no good calling book 1 The Scroll and book 2 The one where they go abroad. Again, the titles usually suggest themselves towards the end of the first draft and sometimes earlier.

For fanfic, I didn’t, for ages, title chapters in a long work. In fact, after some formatting problems with a long fanfic ‘novel’ I backed away from chapters altogether. However, recently I posted a collection of drabbles which I called Monsterfest (because it was in response to prompts in a comm duiring October) and I used chapter titles to enable people to find the monster they wanted. It worked OK. I prefer, as a reader, to have chapter titles as it makes searching easier if you come back after a long pause. So I try to treat my readers as I would like to be treated.

For orginal fic I also use chapter titles, not just so that readers can search easily, but to give them a flavour of what the chapter might concern. Formatting chapter titles to create a live chapter section for Amazon or Smashwords is horrendous. Just saying.


Where do you get the most inspiration (also, at least in the fandom world, known as plot bunnies) for your stories?

I suppose from my subconscious though obviously that must be influenced by outside factors. I have always told myself stories in my head, whether about the characters in a book or film I liked or about original characters of my own. Sometimes these develop into fully grown ‘bunnies’ and have to be written because one of the main characters insists.

We all, whether we admit it or not, get inspiration from other things we have read or heard. Sometimes it might be unconscious and sometimes you might be aware that you are heavily influenced by e.g. a Chaucer storyline or a Shakespeare scene. If the inspiration is a current writer, I always cite. If it’s a writer who is out of copyright then I feel it is only polite to at least mention them to my readers in the summary or notes.

One example is my self published novella, The Lord of Shalott.


The first section is based on Tennyson’s poem and inspired by Loreena McKennit’s ballad. I am happy to tell people that and send them to the sources.

Another example is my SGA fanfic …Till A’ The Seas Gang Dry… (On Archive Of Our Own). The title and the general theme of the story are from Robert Burns’ poem which I quote at the end – full lyrics because it’s out of copyright, of course.


When you have ideas, do you sit down and start writing right away, or do you write them down for future use?

It depends how busy I am. Once I start writing something I keep on to the end, sometimes forgetting to cook dinner, go shopping, get dressed or whatever else I ‘should’ be doing. So if I am already in the middle of something any new ‘bunnies’ have to wait their turn. I do make a brief note of them but in such cryptic terms that even I am sometimes hard pressed to recall what I wanted to write. If the story idea is a sequel to something I am already writing or have written then obviously it has to be filed and approached at the appropriate time.


Do you ever get ideas from other people’s stories or art in the same genre or fandom?

I have never consciously been inspired by other people’s stories or art, but my favourites must influence my thinking. The only exception is when I have been doing prompts for a challenge with other writers. But that’s more a case of everybody responding to the same prompt though obviously discussion plays a part.

April Fool’s. Hindrance or help?

A friend told me about a writing challenge that is more flexible than NaNoWriMo but still operates to kickstart writing and keep it going. She also asked me to advertise it. You can find the details here:

April Fool’s (the FAQ) (and April Fool’s Forums)

You can set your own goals, include non-fiction/academic writing of various kinds, and get support from others who have signed up.

For once, I’m tempted.

I have followed the adventures of various writer friends on NaNoWriMo and frankly, have not been impressed. I have watched people fail, and be miserable. I have watched them succeed in producing work that will take an eternity to edit into anything worthwhile. I have watched people spend more time worrying about their wordcount than about the words they need to fill it. I have watched people sit back satisfied with second-rate work because they managed to produce it in the allotted time.

Having said that, I am sure some writers find they work well to a deadline and get things finished that would otherwise languish in WIP folders. And if they don’t mind the editing, who am I to criticise?

I have never worked well under pressure. Stress has two possible effects on me. Sometimes I panic and dig my heels in as a form of resistance. Not helpful. Sometimes I just fall apart and do nothing which has the same result. This applies even if I am the one exerting the pressure… It also applies in any sphere – driving, cooking, writing, even getting ready to go out.

I am not at all sure why. I used to work happily under the pressure imposed by exam deadlines. Perhaps that’s the trouble? So many exams and qualifications and courses and I burnt out?

I imagine everyone (even the career academic), has a point at which enough is more than enough.

So why the change of heart? Well, after my recent hospital experience my concentration and clarity are shot to pieces and perhaps I need to set myself some goals to help them recover. If the goals really are self-set, they can also be self-averted if they prove ineffective or negative. I hope.

I think I shall give it a try. I need something to get me going again… And it has come at just the right time. I have already signed up for a fanfic challenge – a novella for ‘publication’ within the fandom later in the year. My beta needs something to work on by June at the latest, and I also need a rough draft to attract an artist or vidder by then. I have the plot and have done some research. Now I need to start typing.

Meanwhile, some of you might work at your best under deadlines and pressure and might welcome this April challenge instead of having to wait till November.

Maybe I’ll see some of you on the forum?

Writers who inspire me

A friend asked, in her blog, who inspired us… She gave examples of people who inspired her, and gave quotations from their speeches or writing.

So here are a few of the people who inspire me. They are all authors, two fantasy writers and a poet.

J.R.R.Tolkien British scholar & fantasy novelist (1892 – 1973)

“A dragon is no idle fancy. Even today (despite critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who have yet been caught by the fascination of the worm.”

“One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one’s personal compost-heap; and my mould is evidently made largely of linguistic matter.” (On the creation of LotR)

“What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator’. He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside. …… Every writer making a secondary world wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it.”

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

 Guy Gavriel Kay (Canadian fantasy writer !954 – )

“…it also needs to be remarked that sagas and idylls are constructed, that someone has composed their elements, selected and balanced them, bringing whatever art and inclination they have, as a offering.”

Robert Frost (American poet 1874-1963)

In Neglect (published 1915)

“They leave us so to the way we took,
As two in whom they were proved mistaken.
That we sit sometimes in the wayside nook,
With mischievous, vagrant, seraphic look,
And try if we cannot feel forsaken.”

Who inspires your writing? Can you share any of your favourite quotations?