So you’ve just seen the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, read the latest Harry Potter
book or really wish the West Wing hadn’t been cancelled. You have a great idea for where the story should go next, a theory that closes a major plot hole or really just wish more attention had been paid to your favorite character, whoever that might be, and try as you might you can’t fend off the inspiration to write fanfiction that is slowly stealing over you. There’s only one problem: you’ve never written fanfiction before and you have no idea how to begin to not only create a good story but one that other fans will read. Not to worry, as a veteran Internet nerd and fanfiction writer, I can help.
First, let’s focus on the story. For first time fanfiction writers shorter is definitely better. This is not the time for a novel-length piece of fanfiction. Try to keep your fanfiction to five to ten pages. If nothing else, it means you’ll finish your piece of fanfiction, and there’s nothing the fannish hate more than great stories that are unfinished. In fact, Work in Progress (WIP) fanfiction from writers who are not known in a fandom often goes unread, because people worry the writer won’t ever manage to finish it – and this can be even more heartbreaking than the stories that don’t’ get told in the original work.
Try to focus on a single, major character. Obviously, the other characters in the universe you’re writing about will be present, but first time fanfiction writers usually write more coherent stories if they stick to a single viewpoint. After all, creating one believable tone is much easier than creating three.
Limit your use of Original Characters (OCs). Fanfiction from unknown writers that have a lot of OCs generally make other fans nervous, because of the Mary Sue factor. Sure, it’s easy to make up a new character for the Harry Potter universe, especially if they are cast as the latest in a line of Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, but even a quick search on fanfiction.net will show you just how many hundreds of people had that same thought and then decided the character should be an American housewife. You wish I were joking. I am not. Fanfiction, and fanfiction.net in particular, can be an ugly place.
Put off OCs for now – force your fanfiction to work with what the original author has given you. Similarly, avoid turning cannon characters in your fanfiction into OCs. Just because you are an angsty teen with cutting issues doesn’t mean Harry Potter is. He also probably doesn’t share your taste in music. Fictional characters are compelling for the ways in which they are their own people; try to let them continue these independent existences in your fanfiction.
Even though your fanfiction can never be sold or be considered professional work (unless you are writing on something out of copyright) spelling and grammar still matter. At minimum, use spell check. Never post your fanfiction until you’ve walked away from it for a few days and reread it for awkward or unnecessarily contorted sentences.
Consider using a Beta Reader (beta) who is familiar with the universe you are writing fanfiction about. They can look for not just spelling and grammar issues if you wish, but can also double-check your fanfiction for consistency with the universe you are writing about. In the Harry Potter fandom, British betas are highly preferred because they can eliminate Americanisms from the place they least belong – dialogue.
Try to write your fanfiction in the third person. Getting inside a particular character’s head can be hard, and for your first fanfiction foray, you may want to focus more on what happens and less on the inner turmoil factor.
Now, what can you do to make sure someone, anyone, reads your fanfiction?
For all my maligning of it, there’s something to be said for fanfition.net. It takes most genres and subjects of fanfiction (although no stories with a rating above an R and no stories about real actual people, often known as actor-slash or real person slash (RPS), is free, and isn’t hard to use. It also has a search engine allowing people to discover your work on their own and leave comments.
There are also many fanfiction archives for specific fandoms, ratings and topics of stories that you can find with a quick google search. More unusual or extreme stories may find a better home on such archives. Additionally, the specificity of these fanfiction archives helps get your fanfiction story in front of a more relevant audience more quickly.
These archives often have very specific requirements, both in terms of content and story quality. Some only take fanfiction that the maintainer personally likes. Others will only accept completed fanfiction (remember my warning about WIPs), and still others will only accept fanfiction that has been reviewed by a beta.
A good place to promote fanfiction is on the relevant groups at many blogging sites. Livejournal, in particular is overrun with fanfiction focused communities. Additionally there is a blogging service called JournalFen geared specifically to fannish pursuits. Remember to always read the rules of a community before joining it and to try to participate in ways more meaningful than just promoting your own fanfiction – this often means reading and providing feedback on other people’s fanfiction.
When promoting your fanfiction, it’s considered standard to let people know some basic information, such as its title (no untitled fanfiction please, that makes your story very hard to discuss in a sea of untitled fanfiction works), the characters it focuses on, its rating, and a brief summary. If it contains exceptional violence or sexuality or something that you feel may be disturbing to some readers, providing warnings is always a nice touch, because let’s face it we all have something we really, really don’t want to read about – in fanfiction or anywhere else.
It is also considered appropriate to always put a disclaimer on your fanfiction, acknowledging the actual copyright owners and creators and stating that you’re not making money, but just playing in a world that you love. Many fanfiction writers try to get creative with this particular courtesy and some fanfiction disclaimers are highly amusing.
Finally, sex sells. If you’re into fanfiction for those sorts of reasons, the fact remains that stories with more adult ratings get read more often and receive more feedback. This can range from funny to annoying depending on what types of fanfiction you like to read and write, but the fact remains.