FORGED IN THE FLAMES OF FANFICTION; Guest Post From Author Andrew Seiple

Hello there! My name is Andrew Seiple, and I'm a fanfiction writer. This is normally the part where you chorus "Hi Andrew!" and I confess my sins. 

But a weird thing has been happening lately. I'm not feeling that sinful anymore. See, the popular stereotype of fanfiction for years has been more about the "fan" part of the fanfiction. The stereotype is of poorly-socialized overpassionate zealots pounding out bad stories. Unskilled individuals committing literary sins; poorly written portrayals of popular characters, implausible and silly plots, bad grammar, poor spelling, bizarre punctuation (!!!!!!!!!) and inappropriate pornography. And some of that's true. Some of that's deserved. There's a ton of the stuff out there, and good lord, it gets disturbing. But some of it... some of it's actually pretty good. 

It's all about Sturgeon's Law in the end. Sturgeon's Law, if you haven't heard it before, is simple; ninety percent of everything is crap. There's a lot of fanfiction out there, so there's a lot of crap. But that ten percent that's left, now? That ten percent is worth wading through the other ninety percent. That's the other part to fanfiction. The "fiction". Some of it's so good that it can cross over, and be converted to original fiction. You know what I'm talking about, and it rhymes with "Nifty Grades of Hay". Love it or hate it, a lot of people read that story. That's the definition of a successful story, right there, and the only one that really matters in the end. It's not the only one, either. Check out a small list at Goodreads, here

Maybe not as big as the elephant in the room, but most of them are doing okay for themselves. Most of those are recent, within the last few years. Fifty Shades made the crossing, after all. It showed it could be done. And honestly? It's about time. Fanfiction's got a use, you see. Fanfiction's a chance to practice. You're working with known characters, so you have to play to their characteristics and attitudes. The rules of the universe you're working in are set, so you have to stay within those, too. Those boundaries provide basic measurements... if you can nail them, then you do well. If you can't learn to color within those lines, well, the fans won't hesitate to shoot you down. 

It's kind of like open mike night at a low-end comedy club where folks are just looking to have a good time, and don't care too much if you stumble a little so long as you're amusing overall. It's informal, too. That's a blessing... sure, don't get me wrong, beta readers and writing circles can be invaluable. But the danger there, is that you end up getting to used to your circle's biases, or playing to the personalities of the betas. The audience is limited, and sometimes that doesn't work so hot. With fanfiction? The audience is whoever cares enough to wander in and click on your link, and if you suck they won't be shy about telling you. It's hands-on experience learning to write for a diverse crowd, who has no stake in your success or failure. It teaches you to write for the audience, rather than the critics. 

That's how I got started. I wrote fanfic crossovers for fun, then eventually started messing around with more and more original stuff. I estimate I put down maybe four hundred thousand words, maybe more, over the years. (And I'm hardly prolific, compared to some...) Finally, my last fanfic story really took off. I'd done what's usually a risky maneuver, and tried a crossover with one of my OC's. (Original Characters.) I figured that if it didn't work out, I'd move on and try another angle. 

It worked. It worked so much and so well, that I found the confidence to go legit, as it were. I started writing original e-books, and just finished a full novel about the OC. That novel's now an E-book available in Amazon's Kindle Store, and it's selling pretty well. Maybe not shaking the pillars of heaven, (yet,) but there may be a few votive candles wobbling, here and there. Feel free to look over it here. It's a sweet little supervillain origin story. 

Even though I'm self-publishing, I'm still writing that fanfiction. And after it's done, I'll write another. I don't see a problem with working on both original fiction and fanfiction, as long as the proper disclaimers and manners are observed. And I'm not alone in this view... a lot of far superior authors than me have taken this route. And that's just the ones who have admitted it! How many more lurk out there, behind exotic usernames, and the anonymity of the internet? Far more than will ever admit to it, I'm sure. 

Gonna be a long time before the fanfiction stigma fades. I ran into that years ago, when I was playing City of Heroes. A published author, with dozens of stories in print and respected within her genre. We got to talking shop, and she complimented me on my City of Heroes fanfiction. I recall asking if she'd ever done any of the stuff, and she laughed, said she'd started by writing a few Star Wars fan stories back in the day. "Any of them still around?" I asked her. "God, I hope not," was the reply. That's fine, though. Not everyone has to get up in front of the group, and confess their sins. But for those who do? You might be surprised, to find that they're no sins at all.

Andrew Seiple is the author of Dire : Born, and two other e-books at the time of this article. He owes his confidence, and much of his technique to the practice, support, and encouragement gained with online fanfiction communities. He sometimes tweets as @AndrewSeiple


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