I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most writers start with fanfiction. Whether you are a fan of a certain style, character, plot, or actor, it is fanfiction. George Orwell, in his BRILLIANT essay Why I Write, says that his first writing memory was a poem loosely imitating Blake’s Tyger, Tyger. I learned in April that Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon started as a Tolkien fanfiction (I don’t see it, but I really don’t need to, because that book – that entire series! – is fantastic). I must have been writing long before, but the first thing I recall writing is an X-Files fanfiction. I attempted to hide the fact by using Mulder and Scully’s first names. I was in the third grade.
I never really deviated from this trend. I wrote the X-Files story because I wanted more of Eugene Victor Tooms, brilliantly portrayed by Doug Hutchison. I’ve modeled characters after Lynn Collins, Tobin Bell, Robert Englund, Viggo Mortensen, Luke Evans, James Purefoy, Keith David, Cate Blanchett. They were not all good, of course, but that’s OK.
My first novel, Perfect Words – the horrible one – was actually a Shakespeare/Tobin Bell/Lynn Collins fanfiction. (Normally, I would say,”Don’t ask me how that works,” but I’m actually about to tell you.) You can blame John Stege and Stephen Bluestone, who were my British Literature and Shakespeare professors at Mercer, respectively (unfortunately, I cannot blame them for the horrible writing). I loved Sonnet 129 so much – even before I understood exactly what it meant – that I challenged myself to write a novel based on those 14 lines. And I did: 63,000 words of beautiful characters jumping around my gaping plot holes (God knows, though, I’ve seen movies with worse…).
Fanfiction is a great place for writers to start – either to start their writing career or start a piece – because you already have so much to work with. Whether it is style, or character, or a storyline, that’s a significant amount of material to work with! If you have any questions as to how your characters would move or act, you can refer back to the original. What word should I use? Refer to the original! However, there is also vast potential for originality. Don’t get caught up in the original work so much that your story is predictable.
As a writer, if you want to write, but you’re struggling with a certain aspect, there is nothing wrong with resolving it by considering someone else’s idea. You want it to be enough to your own to make it unrecognizable – or make it obvious it’s a hat-tip – but that’s something you can go back and fix after the writing smooths out.
Challenge: Along the same lines of a fanfiction is writing a work based on a song or poem. For example, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is based on Robert Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. I’ve been kicking around an idea based on Our Lady Peace’s Clumsy.
For those of you who are socially-conscious, current events are also excellent fodder. But not the obvious ones, like Ferguson or Waco. Works like that tend to end up sounding preachy.
I once heard a blurb on the radio about a registered sex offender who was being forced to move because they were building a school within a certain distance of his house. Sex offenders cannot come within a certain distance of locations where children are known to congregate, such as parks or schools. In this case, the locality was entering his space, and telling him that he had no choice in the matter, so he sued. I don’t know any more about the case than that. However, I remember having to struggle with fairness of the situation. It’s not fair, no matter what you argue. I ended up writing a story based on that. (Incidentally, this was around the time I saw Kevin Bacon’s The Woodsman, which was OMG incredible. My story was not so much.)