Back at the ArmadilloCon Workshop, the fantastic Mark Finn talked a bit about that moment that many writers dread: when someone approaches you with “the idea”.
Now, in this case, the person with “the idea” wasn’t pitching “This is my idea, YOU write it, WE’LL make millions!” Rather, she was presenting the book that someday she’s eventually going to write. She had a whole binder filled with research material: sketches of maps, worldbuilding and character notes, pictures of actors who fit the characters, other pictures of costumes. But what was not there was telling: actual text. And Mark asked, do you have anything of the story written? Oh no, she said. I’m not ready.
Mark ended this anecdote by saying, “I’m not sure exactly what you call that, but it’s not writing.”
I knew what to call it: A Fandom of One.
She was the biggest possible fan of something that existed only in her head. The problem, as I interpret it, is she didn’t know how to move past being a fan of it to being a creator. She wanted to love it, love it as her new favorite novel series, but could only think about it in fannish terms. She didn’t have the tools to midwife it into being an actual thing.
Now, here’s the thing: we all start that way. Lord knows the characters of Thorn of Dentonhill, Holver Alley Crew, Maradaine Constabulary and Way of the Shield all existed in my head, but more as abstract concepts (as did the city of Maradaine, the nation of Druthal, and the whole rest of that world). It took time, and real work, to figure out their actual stories. To figure out what they were all about and what they needed to do. But I had that same desire: to be a fan of this thing that I thought was so cool.
(Steven Brust, at one ArmadilloCon, made a comment that stuck with me, saying that Every Sequel is Fanfic of Yourself. This comment received some groans and argument, but he further clarified, saying, “If you’re writing a sequel, and are really doing it because you have this driving love to do it, it’s because you’re being a fan. You are so geeked out on what you’ve created, you need to play in it more.” That really resonates.)
But part of that trick is really figuring out what you have to say. Fandom, and by extension fanfic, is often more interested in theme and character interaction and relationships over the nuts and bolts of plotting and story structure.*
You have to love your work. You have to be a fan of it. But you have to love it enough to slog through the hard parts and actually give it enough for everyone else to join you in your fandom.
*- My biggest issue with fanfic is how fandom communities easily embrace lazy writing. Fanfic writers don’t have to do character- or world-building, or much in terms of description, because your reader base already knows it all. So most fanfic** ends up as vignettes for characters to hang out, rather than have a story with solid structure. Or worse, elaborate set ups to enable characters to have sex with each other. Yes, I’m sure there’s some good stuff, and I know for certain many solid, published authors have their start in fanfic. It can be a good training ground. But it’s a training ground where instead of having grizzled vets telling you to be better, you have teddy bears telling you how great everything is.
**- From my experience. I don’t really care to hear recommendations or anything.