Part 5 of The Fan Fiction Experiment
Never bet your money on another man’s game.
Every reader has a different expectation when he/she opens a book. You can wind up in a losing game of chasing the trend if you try to write based on what you think others want to read…this week. Besides, the best stories are often the ones where the writers penned what their own inner readers craved.
Fanfiction can help you learn to write what your inner reader wants to read. It lets you test out your literary concoctions on a random sampling of readers—one that doesn’t have any impetus to support garbled writing or purple prosaic slop just because it’s you. You get to find out if what interests you interests others. Sometimes that means tearing out all the back story and the family connections in an adventure. It might be a fun study for you as a writer, and you should delve into the back story for yourself, but imagine picking it up off the shelf. Would you like having to wade through the four info-dump paragraphs that introduce every character? Not likely.
I’m a Jane Austen-ophile, but I’m not a British aristocracy buff. There is a rare sect of Austenites that congregates for the pure pleasure of touting genealogical trivia. Some of them believe a long, meandering family tree belongs in the introduction of a regency fanfic. Now, if I have to know and recall to memory Sir Pimpleton Snigglebothum’s entire progeny, I will shelf that fic pronto. But I didn’t consider this when I first entered the Austen fandoms. I spent hours trying to get a grip on the difference between a duke and an earl, and which family house claimed which lands and what their links to the crown were–all to come up with a decent set of fake family names and titles so I could begin the actual story. You will not find that story online. It was duller to read than it was to write, if that’s possible. My point is, I wasted my time fulfilling other readers’ expectations, when I should’ve been writing what I enjoyed.
Try perusing fanfic stories in a fandom for one of your favorite novels. Many fanfic writers will attempt to write in the style of the author. Reading through these attempts will help you develop an eye for the original author’s methods and tricks. Does the author sum up large periods of time in a sentence or two? Does the author use flashbacks to keep the story moving? What narrating perspective is employed? Are the descriptions highly detailed? Is the story peppered with sentence fragments? Focus on what intrigues you about the way the author wrote that great story—what pulls you in—and implement it in your own fiction.
In the stories I crave, the author goes off on tangents and philosophizes in a way that endears me to the characters. Shortcomings are introduced from a perspective that lets me laugh sympathetically with the characters, not at them. They will reach the inevitable rock and hard place and leave me emotionally torn because I’m sympathizing to some degree with both sides. I find this scenario in many of Anthony Trollope’s novels. He was a master at creating reader sympathy for his characters. I also admire Elizabeth Gaskell’s understanding portrayal of those with conflicting views in works like Wives and Daughters and North and South.
What story-telling methods do you like best, and which authors satisfy the appetite of your inner reader?
Next up: Help for Wordophiles
(Disclaimer: My inner reader likes to read my opinions and pretend those opinions are clever. I’m pretty certain that’s why I’m posting this series.)