Interview with a Fanfiction Writer

Today, we’re talking about fanfiction!

Fanfiction is any story based on an established source material, often using the existing characters, settings, and events as a starting point. Many writers start with serialized fanfiction before diving into their epic novel.

Meet Kay, a.k.a. HyrulianJedi of the Golden Sun fandom. She’s here to tell us a bit about how she got into fanfiction, why she loves it, and how her experience with fanfiction has influenced her original fiction.

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ROYAL EDITORIAL: Thanks for being here today! Let's start by hearing a little about you and your writing.

KAY: Hi! I’m Kay, also known as HyrulianJedi in the Golden Sun fanfiction community. I’ve been writing for about eighteen years now, a lot of it thankfully lost to time. I have a file of my oldest writing that I keep under lock and key—it’s bad!

I started mostly with fanfiction. That’s what I was reading at the time—I discovered it in high school and thought, oh, this is cool! It was just more of what I loved, so why wouldn’t I love it? Also, I was eleven and didn’t have much concept of quality.

ROYAL EDITORIAL: When and why did you begin writing fanfiction?

KAY: I’ve always been interested in creating stories, as far back as age three when I would stay up past bedtime to make up stories with all the stuffed animals on my bed. They all had different characters and names. They went on adventures. It was great. Actually, that’s probably where my fanfiction started, because I usually just pulled ideas from things and copied them and redid them.

For the first piece I ever wrote, I think I just had a dream. I was like, that was cool! Let me write it! Spoilers: it was not cool.

ROYAL EDITORIAL: Do you write original fiction as well? If so, which came first, and what was the transition like?

KAY: The first thing I wrote and shared with other people was fanfiction. I think that was because it was more comfortable to write in something that already existed, something other people already contributed to and written in. That helped me feel more comfortable sharing it with people, knowing there were others doing the same.

I transitioned into original writing through online roleplaying. It started with an argument on this board I was on. It turned into a text-based fight that gradually evolved into actual roleplay with actual characters. It was kind of a weird transition. When I started doing that, I was drawing on a lot of ideas I’d had and never written down, and I took them and turned them into characters and stories and started interacting with these eventual friends. That went on for several years and I realized I really enjoyed writing those stories and those characters. The interactivity of it gave me the confidence to write more and talk about it more.

ROYAL EDITORIAL: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing fanfiction?

KAY: One of the big things was fanfiction did for me was let me focus on development rather than construction. Jumping into a world that was already made with characters who already existed gave me a skeleton to work with. I could then draw interpretations from them about the world and the culture and the people and the relationships. I’ve always taken that and gone, okay, what is the next story to be told? Let me continue with that. It allows me to see how things grow, between people, between settings, between cultures. It lets you focus a lot more on, okay, what did this cause? You already have the actions. You have the inciting events. You’re only creating the reactions, which lets you really focus on moving forward.

On the other hand, fanfiction doesn’t give you a lot of experience in constructing the initial stuff. Like worldbuilding! I’m good at taking existing events and characters and pulling details out of them and extrapolating from that. Not so great at doing the initial detail-making! That part I’m like, hmmm...alright, let me go find a random generator of some kind and run with that for a while. I’ll tweak what’s needed later.

ROYAL EDITORIAL: How has the community aspect of fanfiction influenced your writing? What are the benefits and challenges to sharing the same source material with so many other authors?

KAY: What got me into writing fanfiction consistently was seeing all the other output that people had created, all the different ways people not only developed the story that had been laid out originally but also how they read the characters, how they read their interactions. Seeing all those interpretations and directions really provides a boost to creativity.

To me, it provoked the question of not only how do I see this, but also how can this be seen? Looking at a specific event and seeing, okay, my initial interpretation was this. That’s how I saw it. But what other ways could I interpret this scene? How can I see these two characters playing off each other? Is this friendly banter, is one of them stressed out, is one of them frustrated with the other for something? Are they putting on a show for someone else?

All those different interpretations can be read into the same exact scene, especially with a source like Golden Sun, which is kind of vague at times. Characters often only had a few lines, so those singular lines were really latched onto as characterization points and then interpreted differently. There’s lots of room for people to see a specific event or a specific line in a unique way. Which is fascinating! I’ve gotten into many arguments with friends about that kind of thing. Friendly arguments, of course—mostly.

Because of that experience, it’s easy for me to see all my options in my own original writing.  What do I want to use—or what do I need to use for the story—as opposed to just taking the first thing that comes to mind? When I’m really stuck on something and I can’t figure out where to go, I’m able to really step back and say, you know what, I was looking at this piece back here wrong. I can backpedal a bit, move in a different direction, and then everything falls into place. I’m less likely to settle on a specific idea, particularly if I’m not sure it’s the right choice for the story. I often stop and reconsider my next steps. What could they do here? What is reasonable for them? What actions would require specific interpretations of their mindset? Mentally laying out those paths and saying, okay, this is the one I want, this is the correct choice. Fanfiction is great for developing that skill.

ROYAL EDITORIAL: Does the serialized format of fanfiction come with its own considerations?

KAY: I have to consider where I’m leaving each chapter. What assumptions do I want to leave in the reader’s mind at the end of it? And what don’t I want to leave—I don’t want to start leading them down a road unintentionally.

You obviously have to plan a lot more, and that part is very difficult because you can’t go back and edit previous chapters. So if you find that you forgot to set this thing up, it’s gonna come out of nowhere! Even if you go back and edit the previous chapters, people probably aren’t going to go read it. You could maybe do that once you’ve finished, go and clean some things up and change a couple details, but that’s not really an option during the writing process.

I’ve definitely found that I need to have much more strict outlines for upcoming chapters than I do for original, non-serialized fiction, where I can go back and add in a scene or change how something is going to happen. I have more fluidity in how I can address things retroactively. With fanfiction, I need the chapter I’m writing outlined very explicitly. I need the events in the next chapter outlined as well, and probably the chapter after that. I think I’ve gone probably ten chapters ahead at times.

This is also important for pacing, since you don’t want too much of the same thing in consecutive chapters. It’s essential that the foundation for twists or shifting character motivations be laid chapters and chapters in advance. You don’t want a bunch of clues dumped into three consecutive chapters and then nothing for nine, especially if your story is being read over time in a serialized fashion.

ROYAL EDITORIAL: What would you say to a beginner writer considering getting into fanfiction?

KAY: Do it! A lot of people think there’s a big obstacle to writing something original, and that is a little true if you’re looking into traditional publishing, but a lot of the writing itself is just doing it and getting practice with it. Most writers start off writing kind of garbage. They look back and go, my god, why did I ever write that? But it’s good to churn out the bad ideas early on.

Fanfiction is a good way to get experience developing and structuring characters and settings, and to get comfortable with writing other voices. The ability to control all those elements doesn’t come from just reading—you have to write. In that respect, writing fanfiction is not any different from writing original fiction. You’re still getting all that practice. You may be missing out on developing original characters and settings, but I’ve always found the best fanfiction is the fanfiction that doesn’t stagnate with the story or the characters that were in the source material. It expands on them, it goes past them, it asks what came next. An original story is already asking what came next after some event. Something happens—what comes next? That’s the start of the story. The difference is that, in fanfiction, the inciting event is not part of the story you’re writing. It’s a framing device, or it’s before it, it’s after it, it’s across it, it’s beside it.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on fanfiction, Kay!

You can find tons of fanfiction across tons of source material on fanfiction.net. If there’s a book or a TV show or a movie that you wish had gone on longer, chances are good it’s had fanfiction written about it. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, maybe it’s time for you to write some fanfiction yourself.

Katie King