Experimenting With Writing Techniques

Hi, my name is Jennie. And I write fanfiction.

I’m not supposed to say that. “Real” writers don’t write fanfiction — and if they do, they don’t admit it. Literary writers certainly don’t. I can see the head of the local writers group cringing as he reads this. But I’m saying it anyway.


Why? Because I’ve found over the past 12 years that fanfiction builds my storytelling skills much more quickly than if I were muddling away on my original fiction. I’ve written probably 750,000 or so words of fanfiction in that time, most of it during the past three years in the NCIS fandom. I’ve used those stories to shake off the rust from a five-year hiatus from fiction writing, then to go on to build my skills in plotting, pacing, structure, dialogue, description… Pretty much every skill you need to have for fiction writing, I’ve developed through writing fanfiction.


I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I just launched myself into a novel-length fanfiction story that’s very different than what I’ve written before. Part of the reason it’s so different is because the plot bunny that hit when I was brainstorming made me realize I had the chance to try out a technique called voice journaling that James Scott Bell had mentioned in Conflict and Suspense. I’ve been toying with using it for the novel rewrite, especially after two reviewers dinged my antagonists in Thrown Out for not being as well developed as the protagonists. But the idea of trying it out on a project that’s that far along gave me pause.


This fanfiction story gave me a chance to start from scratch in building the antagonist first and getting inside his/her head. That led to me trying a different technique in storytelling — first-person snippets from the POV of the antagonist at the end of each chapter. I’ve been fiddling with a similar approach in All That Is Necessary, but third person POV and not every chapter. It gave me some of what I wanted, but it wasn’t working as well as I had hoped. But experimenting in this fanfic project with this combination of deep third for most of the story and first for the chapter endings is creating an effect that I’m liking and that the readers seem to be enjoying. If that’s  the right word for being completely creeped out, which has been the actual effect.


Even as I delve deeper into this side project and into a story that would probably give me nightmares if I wasn’t the one writing it, there’s a piece of my brain that’s making notes about how these techniques could work in ATIN and cataloguing how readers react as I post each chapter. As both the new story and the novel revisions play out, I’m going to be interested to see how this cross-pollination continues to play out.

6 Comments on “Experimenting With Writing Techniques”

  1. A lot more fiction writers write fan fiction–they just won’t admit it. I didn’t know it in middle school–lo, those many decades ago–but when I wrote stories about Star Trek and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I was writing fan fiction. The English teacher who caught me doing that in class was a fan of both shows–and also wrote fan fiction. I don’t know what it was called 40 years ago, but it’s been around a long time and isn’t going anywhere. And it’s great as a writing exercise–you can focus on plot because the characters are already developed. 😉

  2. I have never seen any problem with admitting one writes fanfic. There are a lot of published folks who started out writing fanfic, some of whom still do. Naomi Novik is a best seller in the fantasy realm. Fanfic author.

    Jean Johnson, who writes paranormal romance, started out writing Harry Potter fanfic.

    Meljean Brook, who is a very popular comic book and paranormal romance author got her start in fanfiction.

    Meg Cabot, Jacqueline Lichtenberg. Also fanfic authors. Certainly hasn’t hurt Meg Cabot, who has been ALL over the best seller lists for over a decade.

    There has been more than one instance where a fanfic author who wrote for a particular fandom (Stargate Atlantis) was approached by a publisher to do a novel tie-in.

    And Rachel Caine, who writes urban fantasy, wrote a Stargate tie in under the name Julie Fortune, her writing name in that fandom.

    With all the official movie/TV show tie ins, one can even call Lee Goldberg someone who writes professional fanfic for profit. He has multiple Tv tie ins for shows like Diagnosis Murder and Monk.

    And what about derivative works. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies uses an original world in WHAT universe? Jane Slayre? Original character? Not in this century. Little Vampire Women? Enough said?

    Anything that allows the writer a way to develop skills isn’t a bad thing. I’ve learned a lot about my writing journey and developed my style in the fanfic realm.

  3. I love fanfiction and writing it can be fun and a great exercise. I, myself, have written some fanfiction (not just of my favorite shows, but my favorite celebs and movies, as well) and it’s a wonderful exercise.

    It’s also great for people to know that, although there are authors who look down on fanfiction, there are also authors who strongly encourage it, even when their own works are involved. It’s awesome!

    And good luck with your WIP!

  4. Read this post and then saw this press release from ABC. It’s about the new Richard Castle books that are being released as a tie-in to the show “Castle” — and the whole official release is fanfic! They even included “quotes” from “author Richard Castle” who is just a character on a TV show. I definitely think this is just another sign of fanfic becoming more mainstream and less “that thing that creepy fans do.”

    And by the way, I figured you would appreciate the fact that they’re releasing Castle’s novellas as eBooks. 🙂

  5. I couldn’t agree that writing fanfiction is a great way to experiment with techniques and style. I also think it’s a great place to meet critique partners who are more than willing to offer feedback. My writing has improved exponentially from both editing the works of others and having other fanfic writers edit mine. Several of us are branching out into original fiction, something I wouldn’t have ever seriously considered without my fanfic experience.

    Great post! Good luck with your WIP and thanks for sharing your confession—perhaps it will help lessen the stigma against fanfiction.

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