Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fanfiction. I mean, I think about fanfiction a lot anyway, but specifically I’ve been thinking about the process of writing fanfiction.
Where do those ideas come from? How does a writer go from watching a show (or reading a text) to crafting a story of their own?
Fanfiction serves many purposes – providing backstories, imagining possible futures, expanding on ‘noodle incidents’ and references, alternate timeline ‘what if’ stories, and fix-its. Then there’s the inevitable AUs, putting characters in different situations to see how their meetings or relationships would play out under different circumstances. I think I’ve written all of those at some point. Maybe not AUs, but definitely alternate timelines – what if one character had gone to a different school/made a different decision/met a different person at a crucial moment?
But how do we get those ideas? And how do we turn them into finished stories?
Last year, I wrote (or at least completed) my first multi-chapter fic for several years – ‘The Good Life’. I think it’s perhaps the most methodical I’ve ever been in approaching a fic. I was desperate to write something for ‘My Hero Academia’, specifically the underappreciated ‘Background Boys’ of Class 1A, but didn’t want to write about them as teenagers. So I sat down with my notebook and made pages of notes about where I thought each one of them would be ten years in the future. What type of hero work would they be doing? How would their hero personas have developed as they matured? Where would they be ranked? Would they still be in touch with anyone else from their class?
I spent ages on world-building, mapping out the environment where the story took place, and also thinking about day-to-day life for other people, the ‘extras’ and background characters. I planned out how a hero agency might function, taking into account paperwork and accountability. I researched crime statistics, looking at types of crime committed at different times of day, in different types of weather. I developed OCs to fit in with the older characters and the world they would be living in.
I had all of that planned out before I even started on the plot. Even then, I mapped everything out, chapter by chapter, so I knew the plot beats, I knew how to foreshadow later events. I stuck to my intended number of chapters, and the story ended exactly how I’d envisaged it when I first started planning.
It’s possibly the first time that’s ever happened when I’ve written something.
It used to be the case that most of what I wrote came from random moments of ‘inspiration’ – a throw-away line in an episode would stick in my head until I wrote about it. A line in something else I read would give me an idea for a story. I’d start writing something, and somehow a conversation or a scene would get away from me and suddenly the story wasn’t going where I’d expected. Or I’d have an idea for how I wanted the story to end, but would get stuck partway through trying to figure out how to get my characters to that point. One of my favourite works of my own was written because I wanted to write something in the style of a particular horror novel I’d read as a teenager, and I happened upon a ship that would lend itself to such a style.
Personally, I think that this newer, more methodical approach to my writing works better for me. But sometimes I miss my older tendency to grab a random idea and run with it, just let it play out as it wants to. I’m less likely to write drabbles and short pieces now – I did some earlier this year and really struggled because I’d become so used to being methodical, and how do you map out a piece of writing that’s likely to be shorter than your planning notes?
One thing that hasn’t changed in my writing process is what I can and can’t do on a computer. I can write a first draft in a word processor, but I absolutely cannot plan with one. All my plans are done longhand, in notebooks. I’m not a linear note-maker, so I need space to get ideas down all over the page, adding in annotations and crossing stuff out and mapping out timelines. Sometimes I’ll do a first draft long-hand as well, or at least chunks of it, when I write during my lunchbreak or in a coffee shop on a day off.
I mostly write in chronological order, but I’m not opposed to writing an ending or a middle scene then going back later to join things up. Sometimes my idea will start with the ending, or with a specific scene or even just a line, so I’ll start there and let the thing spread out from both sides, so to speak.
I still wish I could write more (and more often) than I do. I will admit that, sometimes, I’ll have a drink or three to help facilitate the process – some years ago I wrote a play for a theatre group, and most of the first draft was written at the pub after a few pints, and it was honestly some of the funniest stuff I’d written. I don’t want to promote drunkenness as a good way to write, but loosening my inhibitions meant I wasn’t afraid to write down whatever popped into my head. I’ve done it a couple of times since with fic – it tends to help with writing dialogue where I just want to show characters chatting to pass the time.
For now, I think I’ll stick with my methodical approach. Sometimes it feels a bit clinical, but I find it helps me to be more focused, and means I’m much more likely to finish the longer stories I start (apologies to everyone who’s still waiting for me to update those Free! WIPs!).
How do you go about planning and writing fanfiction? Where do your ideas spring from? Do you plan, or do you just let the words flow and see where they take you? I’d love to hear about your approach in the comments!