What is fan fiction?
Fanfiction is a type of creative writing that involves taking existing characters, settings, or storylines from a particular work of fiction and using them to create new stories. Essentially, it is a piece of writing that is based on or inspired by another writer’s work. Fanfiction can take many different forms, including short stories, novellas, and even full-length novels (or poems about Red Dead Redemption, but that’s probably just me).
Fanfiction is often written and shared online, and it can be found across a wide range of genres and fandoms. Some are simple AUs (Alternate Universes), like if Startrek were set in the Wild West, Name of the Wind if it were in first-person POV, or Game of Thrones if it were written in the contemporary genre.
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Step-by-step guide to writing fanfiction
The process of writing fanfiction can vary widely depending on the writer's goals and the specific fandom they are working with. However, here are a few tips that may be helpful for anyone interested in getting started with fanfiction:
1. Choose your fandom (source material)
The first step in writing fanfiction is to choose the fandom you want to work with. This could be a TV show, book series, movie, or any other work of fiction that you are passionate about. The key is to pick source material with a world and/or characters that you are very interested in exploring. The more fun you’re having, the easier it is to write!
2. Choose your concept (identify the gap)
Many fanfiction writers choose to focus on aspects of the story that were left unexplored in the original work. Look for gaps in the plot or characters of the story that you can use as a jumping-off point for your own story. Typically the concept for a fanfiction will be some gap you see in the source material’s story—or just something you’d have rather happened.
I have multiple writer friends who have published fanfiction (that was altered out of being fanfiction, so it was published as original work) inspired by their assumptions on how a story would end—when it didn’t end that way, they wrote it themselves.
3. Write what you’d like to read
Fanfiction is a form of creative writing, so don't be afraid to write the stories that you would want to read yourself. Let your imagination run wild and take the story in the direction that you think would be most interesting. Like any form of writing, the more interested you are in the story, the easier it will be to write, and the longer you’ll stick with it.
4. Decide how long it will be
Some fanfictions are one-shot scenes to explore some small concept or premise for a source material. Some fanfictions are multiple lengths of novel. And lots of fanfic writers start writing with no idea how it will end. If you’re a planner, decide how long you want the end product to be. Or just wing it!
5. Choose where to post it (if you will)
If you’re trying to share your writing, you’ll need to choose a platform for sharing. It might be your private blog, fanfiction.net, substack, etc. If you’re trying to build any kind of following for your writing through fanfiction, this step is important because some publishing platforms lend themselves better to building followings than others.
6. Come up with a regular posting schedule
Again, if you’d like to build a following from this fanfiction, posting regularly will help you be discovered. How often will you post? Once a week, once a month, once a day? It doesn’t matter as much how often you post, more that you do so consistently. Once or twice a week tends to be the standard for active fanfic writers.
7. Connect with other writers and fans
Connecting with other fanfiction writers and readers is not only fun, but beneficial! You can find beta readers, co-writers, and an audience through fanfiction, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people writing similar pieces, respond to comments on your posts, and be generally active in the community.
8. Seize the exposure
If you’re interested in writing other forms, dropping something like a newsletter signup at the end of your fanfiction pieces can help you start collecting an audience now! There’s no sense losing that opportunity for exposure, if you’re already putting in so much hard work and getting people to fall in love with your writing. It’s pretty easy to pull fans over to another platform, if, for example, you’d like to publish an original novel one day.
Examples of famous fanfictions
If you’d like some inspiration, here are some of the most famous fanfictions. These are now considered original works, most published traditionally, but they did get their start as fanfiction.
This is the only example on the list that wasn’t actually published, it’s just one of the most famous fanfictions. It’s loosely inspired by the Harry Potter universe, and it’s hilarious. I recommend looking it up, if you’ve never heard of it.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
As far as the most famous published fanfictions go, the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise is probably the most famous. If you’re somehow unfamiliar, this fanfiction made Bella (later named Anastasia) into a college student who interviews a billionaire (Edward, then Christian) on behalf of her friend, who fell sick before she could conduct the interview herself. Christian is immediately interested in Anastasia as a subject of his BDSM fetish. Then that’s the whole series.
It started out as a Twilight fanfiction originally titled Master of the Universe by Snowqueen Icedragon. Now it’s a book and film franchise worth hundreds of millions.
There are actually quite a few published novels that began as Twilight fanfiction, including:
- Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard
- Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren
- Sempre by J.M. Darhower
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
The Love Hypothesis started as a Star Wars fanfiction. If you’re a fan of the fake dating trope, this might be a good book to pick up! It’s about a Ph.D. candidate who doesn’t believe in love, but when her friend pesters her enough, she kisses the first man she sees. And they fake date, then fall in love, spoilers. The characters are based on Rey and Kylo.
For Love and Bylines by Merrin Taylor
This is another Star Wars fanfic, about an undercover reporter who infiltrates a high school and falls in love with the English teacher. This one feels like a crossover fic between the Star Wars universe and Never Been Kissed (1999).
After by Anna Todd
This book started as a One Direction fanfiction, and has had its own film adaptation.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
This book is a mashup of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and a zombie apocalypse, and it (and its film adaptation) has become a cult classic in its own right. Grahame-Smith was able to directly use Pride and Prejudice, rather than obscuring it like the previous examples, because it falls under the public domain (more on that in a bit).
How to turn a fanfiction into a full novel
Fanfiction can be a great starting point for creating your own novel. By taking the characters and world you love and putting your own spin on them, you can create a unique story that stands on its own. But turning a fanfiction into a novel requires more than just changing the names and tweaking a few details.
Start by reviewing your fanfiction
Before you begin, read over your whole fanfiction. Consider the characters, the setting, and the plot. What works well, and what doesn't? What aspects of the story can you build on, and what needs to be changed? During your regular editing process for a book, scan for copyright-protected elements. If you use beta readers or hire an editor down the line, make sure to tell them what it was based on so they can also be on the lookout for anything you should change or remove.
Sharpen the plot
Fanfiction is a very forgiving genre. Readers of fanfiction are often quite willing to suspend their disbelief, so you can get away with a lot more inaccuracies, silly elements, and inconsistencies.
If you’re trying to turn your fanfiction into a proper novel, though, you’ll need to fill plot holes, nail the pacing, and make it feel like a fully-fledged story. What new challenges can you present to the characters? What new conflicts can you introduce? How can you make the story your own?
Hone the characters
While your fanfiction may have relied on pre-existing characters, a novel requires original characters. Develop new characters that complement the key elements of your fanfiction. These characters should be unique and have their own motivations, goals, and personalities. Make sure you’re not copy-pasting characters and only changing their names. You should bring some originality to each of them.
Flesh out the world
Expanding the setting of your fanfiction is another crucial step in turning it into a novel. Consider the world your story takes place in, and think about how you can build on it. What new locations can you introduce? What new cultures or societies can you create? Expanding the setting can make the story richer and more immersive.
Revise the prose
As you revise your novel, remember that the prose needs attention, too. Your fanfiction may have been written for a specific audience, but a novel needs to be accessible to a broader audience. This means making the writing clear, concise, and engaging. Fix grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Use active voice and vivid descriptions to bring your story to life.
Lastly, get feedback on your novel. Share it with friends, family, or a writing group. Use their feedback to improve your story, and be open to constructive criticism. A fresh perspective can help you identify areas that need improvement and help you refine your novel.
Turning a fanfiction into a novel is a great way to build on a story you already love. By following these steps, you can create a unique story that stands on its own. Remember to develop a new plot, create new characters, expand the setting, revise the prose, and get feedback. With dedication and hard work, you can turn your fanfiction into a compelling novel.
What you do with the novel afterward is up to you! The writers in the examples above mostly went the traditional publishing route, but self-publishing is pretty accessible and can even be free!
Comb for copyright infringement
Obscure the story, world, and characters beyond recognition of the original. Leave no trace of the source material. The characters should be unique, any words that the author made up for their story should be removed, unique settings and plotlines that are recognizable should be chopped. It should stand alone as its own story and be unrecognizable as a fanfiction in its final form.
Is fanfiction legal?
While fanfiction is not inherently illegal, there are some legal considerations that writers and publishers should be aware of.
The primary legal issue with fanfiction is that it often infringes on the original author's copyright. Copyright is a legal protection that gives the owner of a creative work exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and adapt the work. When someone creates fanfiction using characters and settings from an existing work, they are essentially creating a derivative work that may be considered an unauthorized adaptation or infringement of the original copyright.
In general, it is recommended that fanfiction writers and publishers seek legal advice to ensure that their work does not infringe on any copyrights or other legal protections. While fanfiction may be a creative and enjoyable pursuit, it is important to respect the rights of the original authors and to ensure that your own work is legally sound.
If you want to find out if your fanfiction is infringing anyone’s copyright, here’s a lawyer’s guide for the legality of fanfiction.