How Fandom Made Me A Better Writer

A fangirl or fanboy is somebody who has an intense love for a book/movie/tv show/actor and shows it by congregating with others and discussing it, researching every single thing related to it (watching all of an actor’s movies no matter how bad, finding all behind the scenes info available about a movie), and creating ‘fanworks’ (fanfiction, fanvids, photoshop edits).  I am guilty of doing every one of these things.  First it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer or anything Joss Whedon related.  Then, it was Stargate SG-1 or anything Michael Shanks related (i.e. his latest series, Saving Hope).  Author Kelley Armstrong is my main book obsession.  The Hunger Games is another one.  When a fan finds a group of like-minded individuals either at a Convention or on the web, they have become part of a fandom.

So, how did a time-consuming activity like fandom help me as a writer?

1) Characters – Being part of a fandom exposes you to new people.  Meeting people with similar interests does not mean meeting people who are similar to you.  Among my closest online friends, you’ll find: an archaeology major from Florida, a brilliant woman who goes under the name of an infectious bacterium, and a librarian with Asperger’s.  I’ve learned so much about differences in people from them, and so many others.  Conversations with them have spawned fresh story ideas and that archaeology major inspired one of the characters in an upcoming story.

2) Learning social networking – I used to be a lurker.  I would go on sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Fanfiction.net and sift through them without ever bothering to participate in them.  Then one day, my little sister made me sign up for a Tumblr, proclaiming me a secret fangirl who needed a “place to flail.”  She wasn’t wrong.  Not long after joining Tumblr, I became a full-fledged fangirl, writing fanfiction and posting thoughtful analyses of my favorite television shows.  This, eventually, led to the building of a Twitter writing network and to this very blog.

3) Deep Discussions – The perception of a fangirl is mostly the picture of a girl who shrieks like a banshee when her favorite singer blows a kiss into a crowd of thousands and proclaims proudly, “That was for me!”  Most of us are a tad more mature than that.  I’ve had significant discussions on the full character arc of Stargate’s Daniel Jackson, read essay length writing pieces on why Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments Series is a Mary Sue (aka, a perfect character with no flaws and special characteristics that nobody else has – a literary no-no), poked holes in the entire plot of Buffy Season 7, expounded at length on how you can tell something’s a Joss Whedon piece without reading the credits, and played strange games like “Place the characters from The Hunger Games into Hogwarts houses” (thanks for the that one, Pip).  That’s character development, how to create strong characters, spot and correct plot holes, tie loose ends, and have a distinct and strong voice – all essential writing skills.

4) A book idea – I was goofing off with my favorite online crew of friends, discussing Stargate character, Daniel Jackson.  Somebody said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you had a Daniel on your shoulder, telling you what to do?”  And someone else said, “Wouldn’t it be more fun if it was Jack O’Neill?”  (Daniel is brilliant, but calm and peaceful.  Jack is a tough as nails bad ass.)  And I thought, how would one truly react if they had their favorite character from their favorite television show trying to direct their lives?  Last post I referred to the story of the divorcee with the imaginary friend, remember?  And thus, a story was born…

5) Fanfiction – Fanfiction is when you take characters you love from a piece that you love and write a story about a previously unrecorded adventure.  This is strictly for fun, not profit, and can be a powerful exercise.  For somebody who is serious and respectful of the original work, it can be a bit like writing for television if you were sitting in the writer’s room with the series creator.

Shortly after joining Tumblr, I got my first fanfic idea.  This was after six months of a stress-induced writing drought.  With some trepidation, I pursued it – a short story length tale.  I posted it and spent the next couple of hours obsessively waiting to see what people thought about it.  It got good reviews.  Reviews that asked me to keep writing for the characters.  My peers, people who loved the same television show I did, thought I did a good job with their world.  So I tried another one, a longer one: about 100 pages broken into 10 chapters.  I posted chapters once a week and was prodded constantly by people that now considered themselves my fans to post more.  I’d received useful constructive criticism and compliments.  Eventually, I won fan-voted awards for both stories.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The entire time I’d been working on these pieces, I had been cringing, thinking I should be hard at work at the original thing that I couldn’t write.  It didn’t occur to me until I was posting thank yous for my fan awards that this was just as important a step as if I had taken a writing class.  Writing fanfiction returned my confidence to me.  It reminded me that I was a good writer and asked me for more and it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start writing my own work.  People genuinely liked my ideas.  They liked the way I handled characters.  And maybe, they would like my plots and my voice in a brand new world of my own creating.

I started writing in earnest once again less than a month after I published that first fic.  By the time the fan awards came in, I had begun seriously considering myself a writer.