I’ve been working hard on my Calvin and Hobbes – Encyclopedia Brown crossover fanfic the past couple of days, and it’s been a fairly enjoyable experience (after a considerable writer’s block). In fact, it’s definitely been some of the most fun writing I’ve done in a long time.
I had started writing this on a whim (the genesis of the idea actually manifested itself in a comic form). I mostly did it for fun and to goof around. What I didn’t expect it to do was make me a better writer.
Fan fiction just has that aura of…amateur. There’s bad fiction, and then there’s fan fiction, which is the lowest circle of writer hell (with furry fan fiction, self-insertion fan fiction, and furry self-insertion fan fiction as the absolute bottom). When I began writing this fanfic, I specifically wrote it completely over the top with lots of Tom Swifts and ridiculous dialogue and even more ridiculous plot. It was, after all, a fanfic, and you can never take these kinds of things too seriously.
But the sheer lack of seriousness helped transform what began as a silly project into an incredibly helpful and insightful foray into fiction writing, and here’s why I think every writer should write at least one serial fanfic.
1. It gets you into the habit of writing
My habits as a writer waxes and wanes with the moon cycles. Sometimes I’m on fire and I’m producing page after page. Other times, I’m in a slump and the blog goes weeks, even months without an update (though I try not to go too long before I post something – anything!). The fanfic definitely experienced a prolonged hiatus, but before and after the hiatus, the fanfic forced me to be fairly regular in my writing. I couldn’t let it sit for too long because I knew it would start to turn cold, and, frankly, I like the plot I came up with, and I’m pretty determined to finish this one writing project through, so I’m forcing myself to trudge along, especially when a few of my friends confided in private that despite the fact that it’s a fanfic, they actually do want to know what eventually happens to Calvin and Encyclopedia Brown. This only encourages me to continue producing.
2. It gives you an excuse to write
I am not a strong fiction writer by any means. While most writers have the problem of describing everything in excruciating detail, I seem to have the opposite problem with fiction writing. I progress the story too quickly. There’s no build up, no suspense, and half the time people don’t know what’s going on because I described the scene so poorly. Because of this, despite the fact that I would like to write fiction, I never did because I told myself that I am a poor fiction writer.
But then I started to write this fanfic, and, you know, despite the fact that I’m a poor fiction writer, I didn’t care, because it’s fan fiction! It’s supposed to be atrocious and terrible! That’s half the fan fiction’s charm! It suddenly became okay, even accepted to be horrible at writing when you’re writing an open fan fiction, and suddenly it lifted my self-imposed bans on writing fiction.
3. It will make you a better fiction writer
Even though it started as a fiction with over the top dialogue, plot, and writing, as a writer you can’t help but endear yourself to the characters. The more I wrote, the more I started rooting for Calvin, even though I knew fully the hell I had planned for him before he could defeat his demons. And the more I started to care about the presentation of the story. This thing isn’t going to win any awards, but I definitely want to at least do a decent job writing this.
Every writer goes through this. You become incredibly attached to your creations, and, at least for me, you’re afraid to reveal them for the world to judge because you don’t want people to hate them. These creations’ flaws rest upon your own flaws, and how people view them reflects how people view you, or at least that’s how you feel. With fan fiction, you can show the world your loved characters, and when people tell me how one dimensional Calvin is, I laugh and say, well, of course, it’s fan fiction. No harm done. But if someone tells me that despite the fact that the story is stupid, they can sometimes relate to Calvin and his troubled grip on reality, I thank them and inside, I’m proud.
So I started to pay more attention to how I structure things. Parts nine and ten, as well as the future parts eleven and twelve, were actually one long storyline that, as I read it over and over again to edit it, I begin to rewrite and add parts, fleshing out one part here, explaining more there, setting a slower pace here, chopping up parts to speed things up there. I began to re-read the old “how to write fiction” books from my old college classes. I listened to the great writing podcast Writing Excuses much more carefully, and I began to obsess on how to improve. And as I continued to write my atrocious fan fiction and tweak things and practice and experiment, I could feel myself getting better.
Of course, the fan fiction is still over the top, melodramatic, Tom Swift-y and atrocious. But even if I’m purposely writing pretty terrible genre fiction, I become more aware of why what I’m writing is so atrociously bad. But even though I’m purposefully writing bad fiction, I have tapped into the daily routine of what successful writers go through. I’ve started to obsess over what will happen next, how will I present it, what will I reveal to the audience, and what will I conceal? In my spare time, even during the times when I’ve tried to meditate for zazen, the thoughts of my fanfic float into my head, asking me constantly, how will you write the next part? I’ve begun to think and evaluate my work the way successful writers do, all within the safe, accepted confines of bad fan fiction, and this room to experiment and to just simply practice writing on a massive scale is a great experience, one that every aspiring writer should try, if only so that you, too, can practice your fiction writing and not care if somebody thinks the writing is terrible because, you know, it’s fan fiction. I mean, my Gandalf x Captain Picard x Voldemort x Mr. Darcy fanfic is supposed to be terrible.