Writing with the Training Wheels On

Recently I was discussing with a fellow writer on CV about the role of fan fiction in terms of how it relates to the skill of writing. He relayed to me the quote from Neil Gaiman that writing Fan Fiction is "writing with the training wheels on." I guess this blog is more of a personal reflection on that concept, and what I have been doing with a lot of my free time in the past year, but I thought it worthy to share with the other writers (or anyone else that is interested). In April 2012 I decided that something that I might like to take a shot at would be to become an author of fiction. I got the idea after having seen John Carter and identified a few key problems with the concept and its presentation. Alas I already had a trip planned for May so while I started planning an epic novel, I didn't really start until last June. With June 1st as an arbitrary starting point (though I probably started later) I wrote in total about 368k words last year (not including blogs, reviews or fan fic, of which I did a lot of all three.) I had some motivation with NaNoWriMo to expand my horizons and to write something new, and once I did I ended up writing a lot more - a technological post apocalyptic story, a crime/revenge story, a story in the literary nonsense genre, an erotic thriller, and started a few others (a horror and a zombie story). At the end of the year though I sat down and read the epic again (it was 173k and I was still adding to it) and I discovered that I didn't really like it in the end. Maybe "not like" is not the proper description, but I sure felt like it wasn't a part of me.

How does that relate to fan fic? Or if I had taken a more serious attempt at writing beforehand would I have been better prepared for my journey which I just put myself back to the beginning of? I am not so sure in this case that Neil Gaiman's words are so accurate. I think in terms of writing that a writer needs three things - inspiration, technique and dedication. For writers starting out I think the inspiration is usually what hooks them. Very few authors start to write because they say "I am a strong technical writer, so I better do something with it" or "I can complete writing marathons where I don't sleep for days on end" but rather because they say "I wish this story had turned out differently" or "This character would be awesome" or something like that. I think therefore in terms of what Gaiman is saying, is that it is only partially true. For instance, what of an author that wants to write Halo books based in the Halo universe? Or would anyone argue with the success (if not quality) of 50 Shades and E.L. James even when this story started as fan fiction for Twilight? I think that the writer has to be inspired by something. In my case it was a mix between John Carter and Adam Strange. I even considered not writing it as a novel and just as a fan fic which I would post here until my husband convinced me to take it more seriously.

What I do see as a problem for some though is accepting the limitations of the comic medium and simply perpetuating those problems. If that is the inspiration for fan fictions that is fine, but if they do regard themslves as wanting more of a writing career they definitely need to break outside of the box and get the training wheels off. So much of fan fic is like working with a safety net. If someone writes a story about Luke Skywalker or Batman, they can rely on the well established characterization for these characters without having to work it in themselves. Equally the conception and explanation of such otherworldly places such as Gotham City of Tatooine is going to be overlooked for the fan fic author venturing outside of the genre. I think if I have learned anything after the first year of writing it is that writers have to take chances and make mistakes. Only by finding out what we do wrong can we make ourselves better.

In short then, I think this comes down to the individual writer. A writer who relies too much on what is already there needs to move out and grow if they do plan on something in their own name. Equally, not everyone that writes fan fic wants to do more than write fan fic, and for those I applaud them for at least writing, as it is a great skill to have. I can only say this from my own perspective inside the writing world, as my personal great inspiration presently sits at a word count of 0, that I am glad to have found this passion and to have grown from it, but that I know I still have a lot to learn.

A picture of Bridgit Mendler, because why not? Right?

29 Comments
29 Comments
Posted by Delphic

Interesting blog, and interesting sort of mini-autobiography. In a way it was a little inspirational. What I really want to do one day is write a tie-in novel for a series I'm a fan of. I think it would be the ultimate pinnacle of writing fan-fiction. Outside of that, I never really considered writing my own original work, and until I tried it I didn't realize just how much more challenging that is. That being said, I learned from a podcast a while back that for people who break into the tie-in genre, normally have been previously published.

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Posted by RazzaTazz

@delphic: Well that is what I mean, I think for someone to get the interest in writing, the worst thing that can happen is for anyone else to tell them that this idea is stupid or worthless (unless they are that rare breed of person that feeds off of negative criticism.) For this reason I somewhat disagree with the attitude that fan fic is writing with the training wheels on, because anyone setting out to write has the training wheels on in one sense or another, they write in truisms, or cliches, or simplifications. Those that don't are probably missing something else about their writing if they are technically so strong to begin with. I guess what I mean is that every writer starts at the bottom of a hill that is their work, but that each hill is unique to the writer.

I included that picture because I think that is how I want my new MC to look by the way.

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Posted by The Poet

Cool insight, razz

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Edited by RazzaTazz
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Posted by AweSam

I do consider fan-fiction writing with training wheels on. Albeit, I also think it's the best way to start. It helps you create your own characters by understanding other character that have already been established. I try writing comic based fan-fics, but I'm not very good at it. Problem is, the characters have existed for so long as have so many adaptations and different writers, there's no true way to write them. I recently started writing a Darker than Black fan-fic. I know Darker than Black better than anyone, so it was easy to write and I consider it the best thing I've ever written.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you said you decided to write because John Carter had mistakes? The "if they can do it, I can do it" sort of thing? What usually gets me writing is when I read a really good book, or watch a good movie and decide that I can do that, or better. Obviously I can't right now though.

Posted by RazzaTazz

@awesam: I think in terms of the inspiration for writing in such cases it usually comes from one of two places. Either the "If they can do it, I can do it" mentality, or "I can fix that" mentality. I guess I tend more towards the latter, though I think I use both.

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Edited by AweSam

@razzatazz: I'm just too competitive, I guess. Interesting read. I'd give a more thought out response, but I'm on my phone.

Posted by Renchamp

"Why not?" is always a good reason.

I'm inspired by those who have the spark and write yet do not "like" the result, as opposed to people like me who want to write but find excuses not to. Writing should be a very intimate ordeal and the best writers are able to put a bit of their soul into a piece that stamps their work and makes it instantly recognizable. Huzzah! for those with the courage to write, regardless of whether it is with the training wheels on for forever off.

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Posted by RazzaTazz

@awesam: Sure, I was just sharing, if you feel like something more detailed later please do :)

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Posted by RazzaTazz

@renchamp: The hardest thing to starting to write is the first word, and then the first sentence and then the first paragraph and then the first chapter and then the first finished story. After that if you aren't hooked then you aren't human.

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Posted by dngn4774

@renchamp: The hardest thing to starting to write is the first word, and then the first sentence and then the first paragraph and then the first chapter and then the first finished story. After that if you aren't hooked then you aren't human.

Good words to live by. I liked this blog. Deep down I always criticize myself for not publishing another chapter quickly after I put up the previous ones. I understand that if I publish more often I can develop this skill faster but I can't stand the thought of messing up any of the stories that are close to my heart (which are usually the only stories I publish). I'll work out a rhythm eventually but for now I'm just trying to write about whatever ideas I think are worth exploring.

Posted by RazzaTazz

@dngn4774: I think the words come when they come, if that makes sense, the most perfect time to write is when it feels best.

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Posted by 4donkeyjohnson

Writing for say Batman or Spider-Man is still essentially writing with training wheels on, just on a bigger scene. This is the fan-fic section, not the original writing section...which would be a possible good addition to the site, where originality and new ideas not just Wolverine joins the JLA or another post-apoc world (not there is anything wrong with them at all, some are quite enjoyable since you get to do what YOU want with an established character)

Posted by RazzaTazz

@4donkeyjohnson: People still use this as an original fiction forum though.

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Edited by 4donkeyjohnson

@razzatazz: This is true, but would a whole new section of just original fiction not be a better place? I like seeing Batman being bitten by a radioactive spider but that is fan-fiction. A fiction section where Red Fox, a noir detective in a super powered world hunts down the killer of his mentor the Emerald Flamingo (I am making this up as I go) or stuff that sword & sorcery primepower53 has written oor the tales time_phantom has written, which are fiction pure and simple (there are others who have written original stuff, I just picked those because I remembered them)

Redesigning the site to accomodate that is a big ask, but it is something to consider. There's fan-fiction and then just pure fiction.

But then I also see people wanting seperate RPG forums for sci-fi or superhero or vampire-esque etc.

Posted by AweSam

@4donkeyjohnson: Yeah, I'm still surprised they only have a fan-fiction board. It would make more sense to have a writing one, then have sub-forums for fan-fics, poetry, etc. Then again, this is a comic site. Point is to write fan-fiction based on comics.

Posted by Deranged Midget

Very nice write-up!

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Edited by RazzaTazz

@awesam: @4donkeyjohnson: i think because comics is such a wide open medium, that really anything could be considered to be fan fiction of ccs. One of the first fan fics I wrote here was about a female superspy, and it wasn't really a fan fic, but she could easily be a Sharon Carter type.

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Posted by RazzaTazz
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Posted by AweSam

@razzatazz: I'm sure this was meant for comic based fan-fics. Only reason people post other works of fiction is because no one actually cares.

Posted by RazzaTazz

@awesam: It might have been originally intended for that, but it has changed to be for just generally any fiction ;)

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Posted by cbishop

@razzatazz: @awesam: @4donkeyjohnson: Not long after I first got on CV, I asked someone on staff (don't remember who, sorry) why there wasn't a writers forum for original fiction, the same way artists have a forum to show off their wares. The basic answer was that there is a fan fic forum that gets used for original writing too, and that encouraging original writing is a logistical nightmare.

What that means is that it's a copyright horror story. If you put fan fic out there, you're accepting the possibility that someone may use your idea for that property, and there's no real way for you to get credit and/or reimbursed for it. Make no mistake: you are taking the SAME risk with your original fiction, when you post it online. You have no guarantee of copyright by posting online. You MAY have a defensible civil suit, if you can point to a date posted that's previous to the stolen work being published, but when you can edit your past posts, that's doubtful.

If there were protective, *enforceable* laws in place for new fiction, I could see a writers forum being added much easier. I don't recommend posting original fiction online. I can tell you from personal experience that ideas CAN and DO get stolen.

Posted by AweSam

@cbishop: Figured. I never post any original stories online, obviously. Any old schmuck could steal it and make it less cheesy. Thanks for the info.

Posted by RazzaTazz

@awesam: @cbishop:

Oh yes absolutely, I don't even tell trusted friends my original story ideas, just because I am afraid of any number of things happening (like someone stealing their account or their computer.)

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Posted by cbishop

@razzatazz: All I can tell you is fanfic was my main goal, when I first got online in the mid-90's (I was a little late to the Internet revolution). I told a few different people the meat of my fanfic ideas, and saw three different ideas go to publication in DC Comics, plus an original idea get stolen off a writing website. (Although I must admit, they [not DC] tweaked my original idea so that it worked better, fixing some problems I was having with it.)

I later posted to a thread asking for ideas on the DC Comics forums (gone now) and gave one, saying freely, "Please use it. I don't mind." It was in print within a couple of months.

Comics are my first love, but make no mistake, they're a business. They have deadlines to meet, sales to fill, and they have to do it every month. If they can make your idea work, they'll take it.

Posted by RazzaTazz

@cbishop: right, I would say the same, unless a person is just writing for fun and wants to share with the world, best to keep the best original stories to themselves.

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Edited by Jnr6Lil

@awesam said:

I do consider fan-fiction writing with training wheels on. Albeit, I also think it's the best way to start. It helps you create your own characters by understanding other character that have already been established. I try writing comic based fan-fics, but I'm not very good at it. Problem is, the characters have existed for so long as have so many adaptations and different writers, there's no true way to write them. I recently started writing a Darker than Black fan-fic. I know Darker than Black better than anyone, so it was easy to write and I consider it the best thing I've ever written.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you said you decided to write because John Carter had mistakes? The "if they can do it, I can do it" sort of thing? What usually gets me writing is when I read a really good book, or watch a good movie and decide that I can do that, or better. Obviously I can't right now though.

Edited by 4donkeyjohnson

@cbishop: I see your point. It's a shame that people would stoop that low, but is a business first nowadays and a dwindling market where they fight for our attention amongst so many other sources of entertainment.

They need to make something like Dropbox where it is online for you to view but encypted...already it seems like too much hard work.

Posted by RazzaTazz

@jnr6lil: That is great! I think writers come from one of two motivations, either the "fix it" or "forge it" trains of thought. Both are perfectly fine as means of inspiration. I tend to go with the fix it version myself more often, though I do sometimes get inspired by something extremely well done.

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