We’ve all been there. We’ve finished reading a book, watching a movie, a TV Show and thinking “Wow, that was so good. I bet I could do something just as good, if not better!” So we go to our desks and sit down, open up Word and suddenly… nothing happens. It seemed so easy when a story was being told to us. Why is it so hard to create a story ourselves?
And then the fear comes that paralyzes us. What if we write something and then people don’t like it? Because really, who hasn’t spent an hour searching through fanfiction.net or fictionpress.com in the process of trying to find something just plain… good. Readable. Legible. And then when you do find something it just… sucks to read because the story and writing style is awful. It happens more times than we care to admit.
Writing good stories, both original and fan fiction, can be hard. If it was easy, we would all be the next JK Rowling, living with so much money that we wouldn’t know what to do with it all. While there are many ‘rules’ in regards to writing well (and I’ll write more about those another day), perhaps the biggest element of what makes a good story is the tale itself – what the story is made up of. In other words, good stories are inspired and unique in their take of certain type of tale.
So how do we get an inspired, unique, and all around good story to enter our brains? An adventure of some kind, a romance, something dark and edgy, anything. One option is to bang our heads against a desk trying to get something to come to us, but I don’t advise this – you might bring on a concussion. Rather, here, I’d like to give you 7 tips and tricks for writing good, inspired fan fiction that I’ve picked up over 13 years of writing publicly (why do these numbers keep surprising me when it comes to how long I’ve been doing these things…).
In any case, these tricks are designed to get your mind pumping, working, the cogs turning, just plain going. They’re all good for leading you down the rabbit hole in a manner of speaking and discovering the creativity inside you, built up over years of your own life and daydreams. Not only will they help you with fan fiction, but they can also help you write your own original fiction as well. So let’s jump right on in!
1. Read classics, including those written in Shakespearean and Historic Language.
Maybe you hated Dickens and Shakespeare in school. Maybe you’re being forced to read through it now. But the fact of the matter is, there’s a reason why books and plays by the likes of Hemingway, Twain, Homer, Austen, Poe, etc. continue to be placed on the required reading lists in High School. It’s because they expanded literary horizons.
Classics were game changers. They made a difference in how we use the English language in order to invoke emotion, portray events, and even arrange words grammatically. If you’re not reading classics or are not familiar with them, do so and become familiar with them. They can be a challenge, but stick with it.
By doing this, your own writing will be enhanced. You won’t automatically start writing like the ‘greats’, but your own dialogue and vocabulary will change to be more unique, distinct, and grabbing. I’m not saying you should be out to copy great authors or historical language. Rather, read to intake their wisdom and see how you can use that wisdom to influence and dabble with in your own writing techniques and styles.
From new words to new methods of storytelling, these classics’ impact can enhance and change your whole outlook on how you can tell stories. They can almost be seen like a kind of collection of thesauruses for methods of storytelling – there to give you new perspectives and ideas for your own adventures based on ways other people have told stories in the past. Sometimes even, one word can inspire a whole story. So give it a go. Those old guys had something and that’s why their work is still around today.
2. You don’t have to have an ‘original’ plot, if you come at it from an ‘original’ perspective.
You’ve probably heard the saying that there are only 7 basic stories in the world (some argue less). They are said to be: The Quest, Tragedy, Comedy, Voyage and Rebirth, Rags to Riches, Overcoming the Monster, and Rebirth. They may overlap at times, but every story out there can fit into at least one of these categories. Well, that’s pretty much true. In many ways, this saying is even truer when it comes to fan fiction. There are always going to be the School AUs, the Tragedies, the Love Triangles, the What If This Happened Instead, etc.
If you’re just starting out, you might be thinking “My story has already been done before! I saw it last night 3 times while skimming through various websites!”
You’re probably right. It probably has been done. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth telling in your own voice, especially if it’s from a different vantage point or perspective.
One of my first stories, “What?“, is a great model of this (despite the fact that when I read it now I cringe at parts – I was so young when I wrote it). In “What?” I did two things though –
I basically told a story that had been dabbled with before, which was ‘What could have happened between Episode 12 and 13 of “Teen Titans”?’ Almost everyoneeeeee has wondered or done this at some point if you’re a fan of the show. The idea is certainly not that original. But I gave it my own voice and gave my own take on it and you know what? People seemed to enjoy it because they hadn’t read it in that way before. Why? Well, because it was my voice and I hadn’t told it yet! Just that itself made it ‘original’. How cool and fun is that? The same thing is true for your voice too!
I told the exact same story from mirroring perspectives. Literally. Same dialogue, same sequence of events, but every other chapter was told from the perspective of one of the two main characters. Despite being literally “Exactly the same” in terms of dialogue and events, because each set of chapters were told from different perspectives, it offered vastly different insights, feelings, and struggles to focus on within the story, proving that perspective really can be everything.
So just because ‘it’s been done before’, don’t let that hold you back. Take a stab at it. Tell the story in your own voice or even with your own chain of events. You’d be surprised at how vastly different your perspective might be from that of another author’s and in that way, your originality can breathe new life into even the most overdone of stories.
3. Understand basic plot structure along with theatrical writing styles, film writing styles, book styles, comic book styles, etc.
Exposition. Conflict. Rising Action, Climax. Falling Action. Resolution. That is the basic plot outline for every story ever told. Know it. Understand it. Figure out what it means. Why? Because when you’re telling a story, you should know where you’re going. The Plot Diagram is essentially a map for a story. It is the instinctive base used when we tell others about something that happened. It can be shortened, lengthened, and built upon, but no matter the story being told, it will follow the Plot Diagram as the Plot Diagram allows for an audience to understand the conflict, how a solution to the conflict was attempted to be implemented, and the ultimate end result of said attempts (and sometimes, what those results say about morality).
You can start from the climax and go straight to the resolution, but we wouldn’t care. You can start with the climax, go back around to the exposition and rising conflict to come back to the climax. But without a resolution, why would the audience feel as if getting involved with such a story was a good use of their time?
In short, by understanding plot structures, your story will begin to make far more sense as you draft out what you’re trying to relay to your readers.
Additionally, despite the end goal being ultimately the same though, that being telling a story, writing meant to tell a story is going to be different depending on the medium it is written for. The basics of this can be seen in the written forms themselves. Theatrical plays are written so that there is a lot of dialogue and only key details are necessary – everything else generally gets chucked, which allows directors to be free and open to giving their own take on the story with their own style and vision. Films, which are written in a Screenplay format, are written in a similar manner, still with the focus on dialogue, but also with key visual details meant to tell what dialogue will not. Comic Books have essentially two parts to their story: Dialogue and what kind of image is seen in each panel. And finally, there are books, where descriptions are key to painting a picture because the reader (or audience) can only rely on their own mind and imagination (Film, Theater, and Comics provide the image for the audience).
But why is any of this important?
It’s important because when you write, you need to understand the medium you’re writing for. You need to think about what’s important and what’s not, what to include and what to drop. In this way, you can hone in on what really matters – what’s going to make a difference in your story telling – and appropriately delegate your time to elements of your story as you determine how your story will unfold. As you do so, you’ll truly be able to focus on what will be game changes in your story, which will allow your mind to wander to just the right places to find the right, needed inspiration.
4. Read poetry and listen to music.
Poetry and music tap into a part of the soul that is intrinsically abstract – it’s a part of our beings that maybe we can’t just write a clear essay on – and they do so with their own abstractual language and sounds. There’s a reason when we hear a song or read poetry that we may suddenly start to think of a book we just read or a movie we just saw. Songs and poetry tap into emotions which we so often can shutout in our everyday lives just to get through the day, but then allow ourselves to feel when we are taken away into other fantastical realms as seen in television or books.
In this way, they can also be a great stimulant for ideas. By following the inspired emotions that a song or poem presents us and attributing those emotions into or recognizing them in a character, we can start to think of situations or scenarios that would lead to characters feeling those emotions, whether they be joy, heartbreak, anger, surprise, or something else entirely. As we hold onto, listen, and read the abstract, we can continue to hold onto those emotions which make it easier for us to dive into our subconscious and create new stories. Knowing that, it’s no wonder so many fan fiction authors attribute quotes from songs and poems to the beginning of their stories – they’re extremely strong catalysts!
So while there isn’t a particular pin point of exactly where you’ll find your inspiration within music or poetry, that’s not really the point anyway. They allow our bodies and souls to meld or rather, they allow our minds to become more aware of what’s in our hearts. Sometimes, tapping into what’s already inside of you is all you need to get you started.
5. Look for inspiration all around you, but especially in fields that might play a part in your story. AKA Sci Fi genre stories – look at science. AKA historical fiction – look at history.
For this point, I’m going to divulge in a story of my own. Back in 2007 through 2010, I wrote a mammoth of a story called “Custody“, which I later found out became longer than the 5th Harry Potter book (yes, I probably needed a life…>>). As one might expect due to the length, “Custody” had a variety of plot points and twists that I could not have come up with on my own without using research to gain said inspiration. PST. SPOILERS FOLLOW.
In one instance, I had to bring a man back from the dead, without making it seem possible. I also needed to link basic robberies to an arsonist killer. As I am neither a criminal nor a pyromaniac, I had to do some digging to better understand how that could happen. And I did that digging in Chemistry. I learned about various chemicals with the potential for leaving little to no trace in the case of a fire that were highly flammable. I learned about substances that could be used to save oneself from being burned. I also looked for where those substances could most commonly be found. I dug around in Physics. I learned about force and acceleration and what could theologically increase or decrease those within a bullet, particularly via ways not visible to the naked eye. With that, I managed to allow a man in my story to live through what could have been unlivable.
Probably in real life, it wouldn’t have worked, but for a reader, the research gave me the ability to make it believable enough for the story and that’s what was important. So while I’m not a scientist, I had to gain a basic understanding of such concepts to allow the semi-sci-fi elements of my story to make sense. Otherwise, this character’s rebirth of sorts would have seemed like a cop out. It would have put the entire story in jeopardy in terms of credibility and believability. SPOILERS END.
I had a friend who similarly did the same thing when writing about a car mechanic. She knew nothing about cars. But to make it seem and feel genuine and distinct, she learned about how to fix parts of cars and used that to her advantage. That part of the story then felt real with those details laced in with the character’s thought processes and greatly enhanced the story.
So what’s the point here? Do you need to become an expert on things to find inspiration? Certainly not, but if you’re stuck, try learning about something new that’s related to your story. It not only can act to add detail, but it can also firm up key plot points you have within a story and give you more inspiration on how you’d like your story to unfold.
6. Try thinking of questions or problems never solved in the original story and then thinking of your own viable solutions.
This is probably one of the most basic things a fan fiction author can do, but sometimes it’s also the most overlooked, particularly now that ‘fan theories’ are rampant on the internet. So let’s look at why “fan theories” are rampant. To understand that, we need to look at source material.
Successful shows, comics, and books, often do not give all of the answers. They leave a loose end or two regarding a story. In “Avatar the Last Airbender”, we never find out in the show what happened to Zuko’s mother. In “Hey Arnold”, we never found out how the titular character ended up with his grandparents, at least not in detail. In the Harry Potter series, we are never outright told how literal the tale of the Three Peverell Brothers was, what happened in McGonagal’s past, or the full history of the Veil (among many other details). This technique, used by a variety of authors, of not fully outlining every aspect of a story in many ways allows for audiences and readers to become involved in the story themselves through their own speculation and thus enhances emotional investment.
Add in the internet and you’ve given speculators easy ways to connect, collaborate, and argue over what is the ‘most likely’ scenario for these unresolved plot threads.
So why is it a good idea to look at these loose ends if there are thousands of people likely already debating over these plot points? Well, for one, the author did not write about them and just because people are arguing over the ‘most likely’ outcomes, it doesn’t mean any of them are canon (or confirmed as accurate in regards to the author’s original intents). Furthermore, they’re not really writing “fiction” regarding it. They are debating reasons, not storytelling. It’s a big difference. Readers looking for fan fiction want to see the literary version of how a loose end could be tied up, not the debate behind it. That means that if you’ve figured out a way to tie up a loose end, you’re already going to have a curious audience waiting for your story as they not looking for a debate.
Furthermore, you can read the debates themselves! You can decide if something already said by someone else in a debate makes sense to you or you can come up with your own tweaks and insights on theories already out there. After that, you can use those ideas to create your own story of events which allude to why that version of the story makes sense. While that means that you will likely need to be convincing with your version of how the story unfolds, it still gives you an audience almost immediately as well as an immediate kick off for a story idea.
Maybe the solution or story you come up with isn’t ‘completely original’, but again, remember that there are really only seven stories in the world and your voice is what makes it different. Whether your story line has been talked or debated over before or not, it doesn’t really matter – your unique spin on things is what does. So use speculations as a starting point and see if it will lead you to your own conclusions and own tales to tell. You might find a surprising number of twists in your own mind as you continue to wander down the writer’s path from those initial fan speculations.
7. Don’t write a “Fan Fiction”. Write a Story.
No one is truly looking for “fan fiction”. No one. You know why? Because “fan fiction” implies poorly written stories by 13 year old fangirls who haven’t finished high school and are just starting to see how grammar affects a story the same way awkwardness affects the way other people treat one another. Trust me, I know. I was one of them.
What people are really looking for is a continued usage of characters and environments that they have already fallen in love with and familiar with in something new. In other words, they’re looking for whatever scraps they can find that were written by the original authors of the stories they loved. But guess what? There’s likely next to nothing left. The writer finished. It’s being continued by someone else. They’ve read it all. There’s nothing new to see.
Think about it. Isn’t that why you’re writing fan fiction? You’re a huge fan and there’s nothing left for you to do, but speculate and create your own stories based on the things you love because that’s the only way it will really continue. So rather than writing a “fan fiction” which as I said before, implies poorly written ‘he said, she said, this happened’ nonsense, why not write a story?
Why not write something truly good that takes a little bit of effort? Maybe a lot of effort. But then if you put in a lot, guess what, none of that effort will be wasted, unlike that ‘he said, she said, this happened’ nonsense that the internet spews out every day. Instead, you’ll be rewarded with something that you yourself will actually want to read over and over again and something that reminds yourself of why you love the original the way you do. Why? Because again, it will be a story. It will be imaginative and invoke the same or at least a similar sense of adventure that the original did when you took part in it the first time. It will be whole. It will be complete.
In other words, when you look at your ‘fan fiction’ as a story and not some piece of a drabble to get something off your mind, it will become a literal ‘story’, a legend even in your mind, naturally, because you’ll be putting the effort, detail, and true thought into it. In turn, your work will attract more readers who, like you, want the adventures to continue. I like to think of it this way: I write my stories for me. I write things that I would want to read over again. If it’s good enough to do that, it will be good enough for others. And in order to get your mind in that proper mode, you need to keep your perspective on writing a story and not something built of rubbish. It will keep you from being lazy, but most importantly, it will keep you to your own standard of the best quality writing and story-telling that you can provide. In short, it will actually motivate you to write and come up with something good.
The Home Stretch:
So hopefully this list provides you with a good starting point for not only getting some inspiration pumping in your brain, but also how to produce your best possible work while writing. Some of these are simple and easily overlooked. Some of them require more effort than others. But all of them can help you in your quest to create the best fan fiction, and even original fiction, that you can.
Read classics, including those of Shakespearean and Historic Language.
You don’t have to have an ‘original’ plot, if you come at it from an ‘original’ perspective.
Understand basic plot structure along with theatrical writing styles, film writing styles, book styles, comic book styles, etc.
Read poetry and listen to music.
Look for inspiration all around you, but especially in fields that might play a part in your story.
Try thinking of questions or problems never solved in the original story and then thinking of your own viable solutions.
Don’t write a “Fan Fiction”. Write a Story.
So good luck! Break a leg and get out there! Try the above suggestions out! The final piece of advice that I can give is that stories don’t wait. When they come, they come. Sometimes they come quickly, sometimes they take a while. But take advantage of them when they do come, and prepare yourself for a wild adventure, even with just a pen and piece of paper at your side. As a writer, you will never regret it. 😉