Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Guilty Pleasures of Fan Fiction

If you’ve read my bio, you might know I tumbled into writing somewhat accidentally. While speculating how J.K. Rowling might go about starting up another series based on the Harry Potter universe, I discovered how much fun it was to write fantasy. So for the last six years, I’ve been working on my Hogwarts story, learning everything I could about writing to make the story the best it could be. Six years may seem like a long time for a book, but I had a LOT to learn, and each new rule I discovered often meant a major rewrite. And a couple of years ago I decided I should also start working on my own stories, so my time has been split between multiple manuscripts.

To be honest, working on my Hogwarts story often feels like a guilty pleasure. Rowling didn’t worry overmuch about telling vs showing, employed a distant narrator who knew things Harry sometimes didn’t, and seasoned her story with plenty of colorful dialogue tags. (All supposed no-nos in writing) And since I made the decision to match her style of writing in my fan fiction, I don’t obsess too much over these rules, which means the writing comes naturally.

But when I work on my own stories, the feeling is completely different. Rowling might be able to break the rules and be successful, but that doesn’t mean I can get away with it, so I’ve made it a point to follow the rules as best I can. So I cut back on my telling, shifted to a closer POV, resisted the urge to explain, and tried to follow every rule I've read.

And it’s like slogging through molasses.

I often spend more time worrying about the rules than I do on the story itself. Heck, it often feels as though someone is staring over my shoulder while I write, prepared to make rude noises whenever I break a rule. As you might expect, this puts a real damper on my creativity. And based on my CP’s comments, some of which I’ve mentioned here over the past two months, my chapters have been a disaster. I’m so afraid of telling, I leave out information the reader needs to have, often confusing them. My characters seem like robots and the words don’t flow. Arg!

The good news is that I’m slowly figuring this all out, and next week I’m going to tell you about a new strategy I’ve come up with to solve the problem.

At least I hope it does!



  1. Maybe just plowing ahead regardless of the rules would help. Yes, it would mean a lot of rewriting, but you don't want to cramp your creativity.

  2. Screw the rules, Ken. I really mean it. If it's stifling your voice, it's not worth it. Write what comes naturally, and if you need to make tweaks later to comply with certain rules, you always can. Besides, imitating writers we admire is a really good way to develop our own voices!

  3. I really relate to your rule paralysis. See, I even noticed that adverb and thought about deleting it. But I'm working hard to overcome rule paralysis because it's death to an author's voice.

  4. Nothing wrong with "telling" so long as the information clear, concise, and effective. I call out folks who accuse books for telling. I ask for an example and they often can't give one. You could say their accusation is "telling" as well.

    Do what you must to get words on the page. Editing is where the magic happens. :)

  5. I'm a firm believer that rules are meant to be broken -- as long as you do it out of calculation rather than ignorance.

  6. Oh, I had no idea you were struggling that much. I'm anxious to hear your way to solve this problem. If I'm still doing taxes next week and forget to visit, email or message me!

  7. I think following the rules is a good idea, but too strict an adherence to them just makes writing no fun. Every book would be the same if every author always followed all the rules. But, every book published is different because authors are supposed to "create," not follow a bunch of undocumented rules. Just write what's in your heart and as long as some people help you figure out how to make it make sense to other people, you'll be fine. At least you'll have created something unique.