Writing Fanfiction Has Made me a Better Writer

Four lessons I learned about writing fiction

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Saying you read — or worse, write — fanfics is one of those embarrassing topics you avoid talking about unless you’re with your closest friends.

But fanfics have been a massive part of my life. They helped me realize I liked girls when I was fourteen, and they gave me the queer representation I was starving for.

When I wrote my first fanfic, it wasn’t because I loved writing. I did it as a hobby, but over time, I realized I wanted to write for a living.

What they say about passion is true. You don’t discover what excites you until you try things.

But that’s another topic I’ve already covered.

Writing fics not only helped me discover what I wanted to do with my life, but it’s helped me become a more skilled writer.

Here are four lessons I’ve learned about writing from creating fanfics.

1. People want to feel something

That’s not all readers care about, but my most popular comments — and the comments I saw in others stories — had to do with the emotions the words and story made them feel.

Readers want to feel what your characters feel. They want to laugh and cry and feel like their heart drops to their stomach, just like the character when they do something risky.

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader — not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

— E.L. Doctorow

We don’t only read to escape; we consume books to have adventures. When our friends are away, when we can’t afford plane tickets, when we want to feel like we’re sitting on the edge of our seats, we look to books.

Give readers what they want and make them feel.

2. Readers want to see themselves in your story

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

The reason people read fanfics is because of the relationship between two characters they ship. (When you ship two or more people it means you want them to be together romantically.)

What’s so popular among fics is that there are a lot of queer relationships. A lot of the LGBTQIA+ community reads fanfiction not just because of the characters, but because they see themselves in the story.

Representation across all areas (race, disabilities, sexuality, gender identity, etc.) is crucial to entertainment.

It’s not just about the characters you create, though. It’s not only their culture or the dialogue that’s important.

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

Alan Bennett

The problems you throw at them, the situations they get stuck in, the opinions and thoughts you offer all make a reader feel seen. If they can see some part of themselves in your story, they’ll be able to connect to it.

3. Talking it out always unblocks you

One of my favorite things about writing fanfiction is what I love about this platform. There’s a community. There’s friendship, feedback, and so much support.

In fanfiction, the community depends on the book, movie, or show you write about. Right away, we have one thing in common, which makes it easy to connect, and friendships with other writers form quickly.

Thanks to some of those friends, I’ve learned one vital lesson about getting ideas flowing and breaking through “creative blocks.”

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Talking about your problems will almost always help you figure out what you need to do.

Here’s an example of what usually happens:

Me: Hey, can you help me with my story?

Friend: Yeah. What’s wrong?

Me: So, I have this storyline, but I don’t know what to write next.

Me, again: I tried this thing, but it didn’t work because of this.

Me, again (again): So, then I tried this, but no luck either. Unless… what would happen if I tried this one thing?

Me: Wait, that could actually work. I’ll do this and that, and I’m sure it’ll lead to this other thing!

Me, a final time: Thanks for your help!

Friend: You’re welcome?

Talk about your problems, and most of the time, you’ll come up with solutions yourself.

4. You can’t force any ideas to happen

Lots of fanfiction writers upload chapters of their story weekly. I used to do the same thing.

Some days, I didn’t know if I’d be able to follow through on my word to upload. Since I didn’t want to let anyone down, I’d push myself to write.

While that’s a good habit to build, what wasn’t a good habit was the ideas I’d try to force into the story.

Any idea you force to happen won’t happen — even if you’re on a deadline.

If it doesn’t make sense, if it’s not something your character would do, or if it doesn’t fit with your storyline, you probably won’t find a way to make it work.

Not only will it frustrate and stress you out (believe me, I know), but it won’t allow new, better ideas to come through.

Once you let go of the ideas you’re trying to apply, you make space for new ones. They’ll come to you freely.

Those are four lessons writing fanfiction has taught me, but you can look back at any writing you’ve done and gather lessons from it too.

What did your first short story teach you? What have you learned from your writing, how have you improved, and what will you do to keep growing?

It’s essential to look back at what you’ve done, not only to see how much you’ve grown but to find lessons among your mistakes and be better.

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