Fan Fiction: Am I Doing It Wrong?

Fan fiction is huge. No doubt about it. has hundreds of thousands of people on it, with millions of words of stories based on the works of other people, crafted, (obviously) by fans of said work.

There are authors who turn a blind eye to it, and authors who get offended and lawsuit happy when they discover fan fiction based on their properties. Of course there is also fan fiction based on characters and settings that are not in the public domain, which usually means the author is now dead, and not likely to have anything to say about it.

Yet whatever author’s think about it, it’s going to happen. Basically forever.

I’ve had not read a lot of fan fiction. I’ve explored a few stories that take place in worlds that are familiar to me. I find several things that a lot of fan fiction has in common.

What I have read has been mostly, to be truthful, crap. It is clearly more fan than fiction. Written is what appears to be haste, or at least with little thought to much of anything other than the fact that the beloved characters of choice show up and so things. (Sometimes even the exact same sort of things they do in their source material.)

Story structure, layering or nuance doesn’t often make it’s way into fan fiction that I have read. Indeed most of it is too short to include all of that; fan fiction I find tends to be the length of short fiction or even micro-fiction more often than not. There are exceptions to every one of these observations of course.


The big reveal here? I’m writing a fan fiction myself, which I will probably post somewhere online under another name. I wanted to use it as an exercise in plot structure, first and foremost. It’s good for that.

The pre-existing characters were, as my mother said like “a pre-furnished apartment” I can live in for a few months. I don’t need to shop for my own characters or places, but can just use what is already there to work on that which I feel I could use some fine tuning. (Plot pacing.) Yet like I said, I don’t think most fan fiction authors are concerned with that. So thinking this much about it may be breaking a rule of fan fiction.

Yet the biggest rule of fan-fiction I’m breaking is probably this; I’m writing about a universe I enjoy, but am not in love with. I like the stories I have consumed from this world, but I am not in love with it. I wonder if it really counts as fan-fiction then.

I will say it’s not Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction. I say this because I never want to write such fiction. I consider myself too fond of the actual stories from that universe, that it would feel like painting the peacock. Most people who write fan fiction do so because they cannot contain their love for a show. I myself am letting the love of a show stand on its own for now.

So I am writing my fan fiction based on something I enjoy, but probably do not love.

As I do so, like I said, I’m struggling with plot perfectionism  just as much as I do with my own fiction. I had thought that because there was a built-in set of characters and settings, I’d be able to just jump into a story, or that a fine story would just present itself. While the setting does lend itself automatically to a certain type of fiction, I haven’t found that fan-fiction writes itself anymore than other fiction does. At least it doesn’t for me.

I don’t mean to say I’m a better writer than most. I am constantly evolving and changing the way I write. But based on the stuff I have read, it seems to me most writers of fan fiction do so in order to get it out there. To experience an intimacy with characters the have followed. To feel like they are somehow a part of things. And perhaps a few of them do so because they want to be writers, but are not ready or are too lazy to come up with their own stuff.

Whatever the case may be, I wonder if I’m doing it wrong? Have I, by choosing a universe I merely like instead of love, and by obsessing over plot details and story structure and dialogue missed the point of fan fiction? Have I squeezed the element of unadulterated fun out of the genre? Or is fan fiction, like any fiction, what we make of it?


  1. As a total and complete Trekkie, I appreciate your “painting the peacock” metaphor. Is there any fan fiction you enjoy or recommend?

  2. I have only just begun to explore it, so I am far from qualified to make a suggestion as to which kind is best or most enjoyable. It’s all highly subjective. If you mean in regards to reading it, that is. There is literally fan fiction out there somewhere for just about any fiction. (And even some for real life people…mostly the adventures of boy bands…which I think is something else entirely.)

    As for what kind to write…I think again it’s subjective. But I think it is best to try your hand at writing it when you appreciate but don’t love the source material, as I am. I think loving it too much can make you too close to write good fiction. But liking it just enough can allow you to contribute to the spirit of the source.

  3. J.D. McLaughlin

    I think you mostly hit the nail on the head here: But based on the stuff I have read, it seems to me most writers of fan fiction do so in order to get it out there. To experience an intimacy with characters the have followed. To feel like they are somehow a part of things.

    Having written fanfiction in the past, I don’t think you necessarily need to love what you’re writing about, although I did. I think it’s just whatever sparks a story for you. There are still times when I see something that I enjoy and think I would like to set something up in that universe.

    I also think that to some degree for some people, fanfiction is about taking a story you’ve had for a long time and finding out someone else had a similar universe–so you use it instead. I’m not saying it’s the norm, but it’s very common to think just because someone came up with something remotely similar and it wasn’t on the shelf first that it isn’t viable. It isn’t original. While not true, it’s a common thread–so people instead piggy back off of someone else.

    I would actually argue that the characters are the least original part of fanfiction. The universe can always be toyed with in different ways, but you are using characters that someone else added depth to. This is why when I used to write fanfiction, I would say 75% of my fanfiction was on minor characters (minor even to the degree that their names were mentioned in passing) and I just used the author’s original realm as a backdrop.

    Since I keep rambling…. I could talk about the politics of fanfiction forever, I think. But there are good writers in fanfiction, and that doesn’t mean they’re lazy–just that they may not have found their niche yet. Of the first 4 good fanfiction writers I have met, 1 is now a non-fiction writer, 1 politically inclined and in debate (still requires excellent communication skills), 1 writes plays/scripts, and the last writes fiction.

    Then again, we were all 13-17 at the time.

  4. Good points, all of them, as usual. And certainly not all people who write it are lazy. Just that it seems that on average those who write it seem to accept a lower threshold for success. Average, but not 100% of them of course.

    And you make an interesting point about characters being the least original part of fan -fiction. I think that may be way fantasy and sci-fi are the most popular (but not only) sources for fan fiction. You can make lots of things happen to familiar characters in such wild settings, and use what you know of them to create their responses. The setting takes on a whole new dimension in a way.

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