Do you like writing fanfiction, but struggle to get going? Do you like to use fanfiction prompts to practice writing? Or, do you question if writing fanfiction will even benefit your writing? 

Fanfiction Prompts

Fanfiction gets a bad rap.

Anyone can write anything and put it out there for people to read, and for this reason, there’s often a misconception that this style of writing, so widely produced and poorly regulated, also suffers in quality and contributes little to the literary world. Some go as far as saying people who write fanfiction are not “real writers.”

This isn’t true!

Fanfiction can actually make your writing much stronger. And understanding what fanfiction is and using fanfiction prompts to give it a try (before you bash it) might be well worth your time.

Fanfiction Definition: What IS Fanfiction?

Before questioning if you should write fanfiction, you should understand what fanfiction is.

By definition, fanfiction is:

Fiction written by story fans that features characters and settings already existing in a body of work, such as a book, television show, or film. It most commonly is born out of the love for particular characters or concepts, and is far from a modern concept.

These days, with the freedom and accessibility offered by the internet, fanfiction is everywhere. There exist over a million fanfiction stories for Harry Potter alone, and many classic works of literature are actually fanfiction.

Did you know that Dante’s Inferno was actually fanfiction of the Bible?

Did you know that Shakespeare’s Othello was actually based on an Italian tale called The Moorish Captain?

Did you know The Three Musketeers actually started with a book called Mémoires de Monsieur d’Artagnan, which Alexandre Dumas checked out of the library and never returned?

I spent the latter half of high school, all of college, and the first year or two out of college obsessively writing fanfiction.

Some of my stories were only a page or two long, while others reached novel length. I wrote them with zeal and reckless abandon, with no purpose other than to please myself by putting my daydreams on paper.

At the time, I never thought of it as anything but distraction and entertainment. What did it matter when I was only amusing myself?

It wasn’t until years later, when I started to really take my writing seriously, that I realized the years spent writing fanfiction were far from wasted.

In fact, fanfiction taught me valuable skills that I still use on a regular basis to this day. And it’s why I encourage every writer to give it a try (and you can start by trying out one of the fanfiction prompts I include at the end of this post).

3 Fundamental Lessons You Can Learn From Fanfiction

Why should you try writing some fanfiction? Because maybe you’ll learn the three big lessons I learned from it, too.

1. Characterization

Most fanfiction stories are written around existing characters. In order to write a story, the writer must get to know the character, study their behavior and backstory, and write in a manner that presents them accurately. 

In between high school and college, while other kids were busy doing productive activities like working summer jobs, taking college classes early, or taking one last chance to party, I decided I was going to take on the very “useful” project of writing my favorite movie from the secondary character’s viewpoint—the view of the love interest instead of the hero. Scene by scene.

This project sounded fun and easy in my head. But in practice, it was quite difficult.

I discovered quickly that it’s not enough simply to narrate each scene from the character’s point of view, because in order to convincingly connect the scenes, I had to create other scenes in between as well.

Not only that, a story isn’t just dialogue—I needed to explain why this character said what she said, why she acted how she did, and her thought process that led up to this point.

It was the first time I truly dissected a character to try and understand what laid beneath the surface—the first step towards character development.

This project took up most of my summer that year and ended up being just over a hundred pages. I don’t recall doing much else in those three months. No regrets.

Writing fanfiction taught me so much about characterization.

2. Universe (or world) building

Universe (or world) building can be quite a daunting concept.

This, I believe, is another reason the idea of fanfiction is so tantalizing for many people.

Writing with an established universe is much like playing in a ready-built playground, instead of having to design and create your own equipment before you even get to go down a slide. 

Every writer has their own interpretations of the same subject. The rules of vampirism varies between Dracula, Salem’s Lot, and Twilight.

Frankenstein is only one of hundreds of interpretations of the undead, but that doesn’t mean the many versions of it can’t be just as interesting. 

Writing fanfiction allows the writer to navigate around these rules and at the same time become comfortable with applying the “rules of the universe” into a particular setting and embed them into stories.

For most of my college years, I was quite obsessed with a particular and obscure universe of vampires and undead (not Twilight). I wrote stories about various characters within the universe and a few times made up my own.

In doing so, I better understood how stories and characters are shaped and bent by the rules of their universe. Events take place, as well as ongoing cause and effect, exist because of these rules. A vampire who turns to dust in the sun versus one who sparkles produce very different stories and conflicts.

Experimenting with universe building feels less stressful when it’s for fun, and writing fanfiction liberated my imagination in this area.

3. Build confidence

All writers need confidence to finish a book.

This perhaps was the most important and fundamental need fanfiction taught me.

Writing original stories, or rather writing in general, had been very daunting for me before I started writing fanfiction, despite my life-long love of writing.

I didn’t know how to structure a plot or direct a story, and most things I wrote before that were poor imitations of Stephen King.

I had no idea what steps to take from novice to novelist (this was also some time before strong writing communities like The Write Practice were readily available online).

But fanfiction was easy, and fanfiction was fun.

I wrote my first fanfiction in the year 2000 and was surprised at how much I learned about writing by simply writing one story. After that, every story became a little better, and a little stronger, and I approached the next one with more confidence than I did the previous.

Fanfiction was the “gateway drug” that finally got me really and truly hooked on writing and I haven’t stopped since.

Fanfiction gave me the confidence I needed to finish and write more stories

5 Fanfiction Prompts You Can Try

I mentioned earlier that some writers want to write fanfiction but don’t know where to start. If this is you, don’t stress! Here are five fanfiction prompts you can try in order to get your fingers stretched:

  • Write a scene from your favorite movie from the viewpoint of a side character. Make sure they have their own goals! To figure this out, consider writing a premise.
  • Write a blurb about an element crucial to your story’s existing universe. For example, a new Harry Potter spell that is needed in order to accomplish something important in a scene, like how Alohamora helps unlock doors at crucial moments.
  • Reinvent a favorite character from childhood. For instance, how might they be rewritten in the modern world? Then, figure out what makes them ironic in their story. (Try writing your premise again.)
  • Write a blurb about how an existing story might be different if it took place in a different time period.
  • Take the setting of your favorite fairytale, only make the villain in the story the protagonist. For example, Disney’s Maleficent.

Fanfiction Skills and Prompts Will Make You a Better Writer

Whether you write a 90,000-word novel based on your fanfiction idea or just a scene, writing fanfiction gives you the nuts and bolts for imagining how a story might work.

Sometimes the hardest part of writing a story is starting. But when you write fanfiction, which you can do by choosing one of the fanfiction prompts in this post, you don’t have to do all the character building and setting work alone—which means you get to really experiment with plot and structure!

Either way, I think you’ll learn a skill or two by practicing writing with some fanfiction.

Do you have experience with fanfiction? Let us know in the comments section below.

PRACTICE

Now that you have five fanfiction prompts for your picking, choose one that excites you the most!

Spend the next fifteen minutes working on this prompt. When your time is up, share your practice in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers. Can you tell what stories they’re writing fanfiction about?

And then, if you really love where your fanfiction is going, keep writing!

J. D. Edwin
J. D. Edwin is a daydreamer and writer of fiction both long and short, usually in soft sci-fi or urban fantasy. Sign up for her newsletter for free articles on the writer life and updates on her novel, find her on Facebook and Twitter (@JDEdwinAuthor), or read one of her many short stories on Short Fiction Break literary magazine.
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