I've read that fic
Fanfiction as proving ground, kind of
warning: flashing gif at very end of email.
“I would love it if you would post about fanfic. Especially with regards to pro writers, or fanfic as a path to pro writing.”
I got this delightful ask from Mur Lafferty, who is a delight, and whose podcast Escape Pod was just nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine!
I don’t know if I’ve written about it in this newsletter, but I’ve been reading fanfiction on and off since I was thirteen and we had a dialup connection. Fanfiction is a story either set in a world that was invented by someone else or using someone else’s characters, frequently both. If you can think of a movie or a TV show or a book - or a historical figure or a Kpop band- there is probably fanfic about it. My current favorite tag on The Archive Of Our Own (or AO3) is “Ever Given Container Ship/Suez Canal (Anthropomorphic).”
Why do people read and write fanfiction? There isn’t one catch-all answer. Sometimes it’s a desire for the continuing adventures; sometimes for the fix-it, if a beloved character dies. Frequently it’s “What would these characters do if they all worked in a coffee shop? Were in high school? Were superheroes/vampires/werewolves? After the apocalypse?” (These are called AUs, or Alternate Universes.) Regardless of the reason, fanfic is a wonderful way to engage with story and character, and can be a fantastic way to start developing skills as a writer.
Some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy either started out as fanfic writers or are still fanfic writers. Naomi Novik helped build the code for the AO3. No, I will not link her handle. The Archive itself won a Hugo Award for Best Related Work in 2019. When Novik went up to give the acceptance speech on behalf of the team, she asked anyone who had read or contributed a fanwork to AO3 in the auditorium that night to stand up - damn near half the audience did, and I still cry thinking about it.
The skills you can hone writing fanfiction are endless. Plot. Pacing. Tone. Humor. Dialogue. Character development - yes, even when you’re using someone else’s characters you can still plumb their depths, finding new aspects of characterization that make readers say “oh my god, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.” You can get used to writing to an audience, and getting feedback from that audience for good or bad.
In short, fanfiction is an excellent way to develop writing chops. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite for success as a professional writer - mostly because the two endeavors involve two completely different sets of consumer expectations. With fanfiction, you are working with a set of characters that the reader, presumably, is already familiar with; a setting they are already familiar with; and basic world building premise, same. The more you improve as a writer, the more easily you will be able to move from one set of expectations to another. In one set, the reader knows what the house originally looked like and is excited for your redesign; in the other, you have to get a paying audience on board with the concept of your house in the first place.
I hate to use the word “transcend,” because it implies that one endeavor (fanfiction) is less worthy as a medium or takes less skill. But there is something about really, really good fanfic: when done well, you can get a reader to be interested in a world they know nothing about.
There are a few authors I have subscribed to where I have read everything they’ve written, in any fandom they’ve gone to. This has meant reading fic for fandoms I’m unfamiliar with, where I don’t know anything about the world. Great writing has the ability to take the reader out of their expectations and into another set altogether. So in that way, getting really good at fanfic is getting ready to be a professional writer.
It’s common practice for agents and editors to approach authors of fic they love and ask them if they have written a novel. I did this several times in my previous career! It’s almost always incredibly fun. I wouldn’t say, however, that you should immediately dive into writing Riverdale fanfic or whatever simply because you think it’ll find you an agent. Just like writing to the market is almost always a bad idea when seeking traditional publication, people can spot someone whose heart isn’t really in it a mile away. And since you (probably) don’t know what fandoms your dream agents are in, it is a even more of a long shot than querying!
This is where I make a note about “filing off the serial numbers.” It is a time-honored tradition for fic writers to take a fic they’ve written and turn it into a novel that is then published. This is a bit of an interesting challenge for a writer: how to take a character that the reader is already invested and change them into something else - something different and new, and yet keep the essence the same? Again, not a guaranteed strategy - but worth considering if it’s something you’re interested in.
Regardless, fanfiction is fun - even if you never write any, or if the fic you write never goes beyond the Archive. I have a lot of big, complicated feelings about fanfic and fandom, as one would about anything one had been doing in one way or another since they were thirteen. I don’t think this is my most articulate newsletter ever, but if anyone is interested in exploring this further I can talk about it in future editions - let me know in the comments/via email.
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THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
I don’t know, pals. Love is dead, happiness is a myth. My beloved Civil War Husband Braden Holtby had already been traded to the Canucks and I didn’t think my heart could hurt more - now the 2017-2018 Caps have been dismantled further with the trades of first Christian Djoos and Jakub Vrana. Down in Dallas, I’m assuming they’re moving to an all-emergency goaltender roster since both Ben Bishop and Anton “Dobby” Khudobin are out indefinitely for injuries. (How do you injure your entire core, Dobby? How???) So: everything is pain, but at least the Caps had a very cute celebration for Nicklas “Answer My Riddles Three” Backstrom’s 1000th NHL game.
The Last Time the Suez Canal Was Blocked a Utopian Communist Micronation Was Formed At Sea by Matthew Gault (Vice)
The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal, they were there for eight years and developed a separate society with its own Olympic Games.
“Nobody ever made fun of him, but I did.” Orson Welles on his friendship with Hemingway” by Emily Temple at LitHub
“We had a very strange relationship,” he explained. “I never belonged to his clan, because I made fun of him. And nobody ever made fun of Hemingway. But I did. And he took it, but he didn’t like me to do it in front of the club.”
One More Thing Bernie Madoff Helped Ruin: The Mets by Joe DeLessio (NYMag)
“Insofar as people can be not taken by surprise when someone famous gets caught up in a Ponzi scheme, I don’t think it particularly surprised Mets fans to find out that not only were the Wilpons one of the rubes, but they were one of the biggest. In fact, when it happened, the Wilpons were so enmeshed with Madoff and their finances that Irving Picard, the prosecutor whose job it was to claw back all this money, genuinely believed that the Wilpons had to be involved. Like, it just didn’t seem possible that they could not know about it. And I remember at the time thinking, Well, he must not be a Mets fan. This makes perfect sense. In fact, every Mets fan I know was sure that the Wilpons weren’t in on it. It was far more plausible that they were the biggest dupes of all.”
Learn fantasy & science fiction writing from Hugo Award-winning legend N.K. Jemisin. What it takes to open a bar in a subway station. Please adopt Prancer, the man-hating gremlin chihuahua in the best twitter thread ever.
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.