: And/or the difference between writing fanfic and original fic?
The biggest difference between the two, imo, is that for original fic, you're alone. It's just you and your blank page.
I don't mean that just in the way of "fandom is a community that will support you and brainstorm with you and beta read your fic and a thousand other little things to help you write and post your fanfic". That's part of it, but not even the most of it. In case phrasing it that way makes it sound like I'm saying fandom doesn't support people original ventures, I will just say that is a filthy lie. I don't know if I would have written those three novel first drafts without support from people in fandom. (You know who you are and you're all amazing. <3)
No, what I mean is that, much like when you and your fandom friends find yourself in different fandoms, your friends are missing some of the context. Because half the worldbuilding only exists in your head. Or you're trying not to spoil a specific plot point. Or you added that character at the last second and you'll go back to edit their subplot in any day now.
I mean, maybe it would be different if I actually let anyone look at my draft-zeros as I write them, but I don't. Like with fanfic, I write original fic in a draft-zero that no one will see but me (this allows me to actually write, because only I will see if I fuck up and need to scrap a whole scene or whatever) which I then clean up and send to beta as a (finished) first draft. Because my original fiction writing is novels
and my fanfic writing is short stories, it takes a lot longer for me to be done with a piece of original fiction, so I do sometimes end up feeling like I'm the only person invested in it. Obviously YMMV on this.
On a storycrafting level, though, you are also all alone.
As far as I'm concerned, stories have three 'objective' elements: characters/settings/plot (order deliberate, btw). Now, in my head, I conceive this as the three vertex of a triangle that provides the base for two pyramids with a triangular base, the last two vertexes of which are theme (below) and tone (above). But 'theme' and 'tone' are very 'subjective'. Characters/settings/plot are concrete, so I'm going to talk about those.
I always phrase it as "characters/settings/plot", in that order, because that's how I build stories: plot happens at the intersection of character and setting and at the intersection of character and character. So, (character + character) + setting = plot, basically.
The difference between fanfic and original fic is that all three of characters/settings/plot come from you, not from outside. In fanfiction, at least one of the three is from outside.
(Themes and tone are pretty much always personal. I'm tempted to say the combination of the two is what makes "voice", but we have talked about the part where I have no formal writing training, yes?)
Most people read fanfic for (and as a consequence most fanfic is written about) the canon characters. A lot of fic is also written in the canon setting (or close enough). Some fanfic (fusions) even borrow the plot from another source.
(Apart from possibly the plot, I categorise anything that borrows character and/or setting from somewhere to be fanfiction. Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald
is fanfiction. Published, Hugo award-winning fanfiction, but fanfiction nonetheless.)
Actually, Study in Emerald is a very good example of a story that wouldn't
work as original fiction. It's a story that relies on the reader's familiarity with the works of both Arthur Conan Doyle and HP Lovecraft. The reveal about the narrator, his detective friend and the criminals they are hunting would have no impact if the reader wasn't already invested in ACD's characters. The entire thing, including the adverts, relies on the reader going 'I see what you did there' for entertainment value. I would say "replace the names and see how well it holds up", but it would hold up, because it's good fanfiction and everyone is in character, including the setting.
That's the thing: original fiction and fanfic have different sets of goals and problems. When I'm writing original fiction, I
make the rules. If, halfway through the book, I decide that the character who is non-binary isn't alone and in fact part of that society's third gender, I can! (I have.) When I'm writing fanfiction, I can't. What I can do, is rely on my readers' pre-existing affection for the characters to get them to read a story that's driven not by "what happens next?" but "how did we get here?", ie, a story told in reverse chronological order (I'm talking about Retrograde
, if you were curious). That's one extreme, but I like to think that all my fics would fall apart if you took away all references to the original canon.
And now I am going to talk about how I Do Fandom Wrong.
A lot of people read fanfic solely for the characters and the (often romantic, often sexual) relationships between them. There are people out there who are able to write 100K+ stories that are only about Alice and Barbara getting together. I don't know how they do it and it kind of blows my mind. I can't write without plot. That's why there's always shit going on in the background of even the character pieces (of which I have, like, two). I'm not claiming my plots are any good, I'm just saying that I can't write for shit without them.
I need all three vertexes of that triangle, or else it collapses on itself and I end up stalled. I can't tell you how many ideas for settings or characters or emotional arcs or whatever I have just lying around, waiting for a plot (or to connect to something else to make a plot). So I write things with plot (I basically have to approach that part of the fanfic writing process like I do for original fiction). I've seen people talk about not wanting to read fanfic with plot "because I have canon for plot". On the other side of things, I've seen people outline a brilliant plot and then dismiss the above as essentially worthless with a "I ain't writing no gen fic here". (As someone who is mostly a gen writer, it's nice to know that the reason people don't read my fic not because I write in small fandoms but because people aren't banging. /sarcasm)
Another difference, I think, is that in fic you know your reader picked your fic for a reason. That reason is often that they like the characters you're writing about, but not always. Whatever the reason, though, they're already invested. You get some leeway to get to the interesting bits, because your reader expects you to get there eventually. They trust you.
In original fiction, you have to build that trust. It's not easy, but it's challenging and exhilirating and I love it.
I love fanfiction too. I can love writing and reading both, the same way I can love jumping from the 10m diving board and having hot chocolate with friends. They're different things. One isn't "better". I can like making shit up and I can like poring over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore (the glamourous life of writing for comics canons). I can love both and I do. What I don't like is people pitting the two against each other. Whichever side you're on, you sound like an asshat when you do that.
Basically, I feel like the difference between writing fanfiction and original fiction is that writing fanfiction is a shared activity while writing original fiction is not. (For me, at least. It could be!)
Next time, I'll be talking about an achievement I'm proud of, which might go under f-lock depending on how it turns out. (The Meta Monday Masterpost is here
. If you want me to talk about anything, let me know over there.)