Getting a start in creative writing; publishing fan fiction
ONLINE COLUMN: Writing Q&A
Published: June 24, 2008
|I'm interested in creative writing, but I'm not sure how to go about it. How do I get started? |
Sometimes that blank page can feel daunting. This is especially true for new writers. But you're interested in pursuing this and the fact that you're on The Writer magazine's Web site means you've started to look into how it works. That's a great first step. Keep visiting writing-related Web sites and reading writer's magazines. It's an excellent way to learn about the craft, the creative process, and opportunities that exist for all levels of writers.
At this point, your main task is to practice writing. And you've probably already done this in some form. Many writers like to keep a daily writing journal. You may already write in a journal, but you'll want to think about this writing journal differently than you would a regular journal. Instead of writing the day's events and your thoughts and feelings, focus on translating experiences or imagined situations onto the page. You might, for example, describe the view out your window, or the way your son eats ice cream off the cone. Think about places that resonate with you and try to capture that feeling in a description. Perhaps the stillness perched at the top of a ski slope last year struck you as particularly peaceful. Try and recreate that moment through description. Be sure to focus on details that appeal to the senses: sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound. Don't spend too much time judging what you write at this point. Just get words on the page.
Also, begin to look for moments in daily life that intrigue or inspire you. Perhaps you saw an unexpected pair at the coffee shop in intense conversation. They didn't come together and their interaction didn't make you think they were friends or a family relation. How did they know each other? What were they discussing that was so important? Invent the answers to these questions and then take a stab at writing that scene in your journal.
If you ever find yourself at a loss for ideas or want to change up your journaling routine, seek out creative writing exercises. A Web search will pull up enough—either online or in books—to keep you busy for a long time.
Also, make sure you're reading as much as you can. Make a conscious effort to focus on the kind of writing you'd like to create. That might be poetry, novels, short stories or memoirs. Right now, you might not be sure. Read as widely as possible and see what you gravitate toward.
At some point, you'll want to begin to focus and develop your writing skill. Making that transition from journaling to creating complete stories, essays or poems is an important step. When you feel ready, take it. You might choose to start with self-study and make your way through books on the craft. This can be a great way to learn about different techniques. (Gotham Writers' Workshop's Writing Fiction is one of my favorites for fiction, and not just because I contributed a chapter. In addition to discussing different elements of craft, there are exercises throughout that encourage you to stop and practice what you're reading about.)
You may eventually want to take a class-or several. In a class, you'll not only learn about the craft, you'll also get focused and direct feedback on your writing. A community of writers is valuable to the learning experience, as it gives you an opportunity to see what others are writing and to hear how others respond to and interpret the words you've written on the page. This outside look at your work is the only true way to get a sense of whether what you intended has, in fact, come through in the choices you made. And a knowledgeable instructor can help offer guidance on how to achieve that even more effectively.
Don't let another day go by without starting your writing practice. Pull out a piece of paper. Don't worry if it's not bound in a fancy leather cover. Try one of the prompts above. Or this one: Write about your childhood kitchen. Keep it sensory. What color were the walls? What did it smell like? What sounds do you associate with it? Make up whatever you don't know. Then, go further: Imagine what's happening in that kitchen right now. (You might not know if that kitchen still exists. Or you might know it's already gone. All the better. There are so many possibilities. What do you imagine?)
Once you've gotten over the hurdle of starting, everything else will simply be writing.
Can I try and publish my fan fiction?
For those who aren't familiar, fan fiction refers to stories that use characters or other significant elements from an already published work. If you wrote a story about J.K. Rowling's character Harry Potter at Hogwarts using your own imagined scenarios, you'd be writing fan fiction. If you wrote about the childhood of Hagrid, a secondary character who appears in Rowling's series as an adult, you'd be writing fan fiction. Many fans indulge in their enjoyment of books, movies, and television shows by writing fan fiction. Some even post their stories on popular fan fiction Web sites, where they can also read other writers' stories and post reviews.
The nitty-gritty of copyright law is this: fan fiction is considered a "derivative work" because it contains significant elements of a preexisting work. According to U.S. copyright law, only the owner of the copyright has the right to "prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work." And some authors don't grant this right to others. Anne Rice takes a strong stance against it, and fan fiction Web sites had to remove thousands of stories that used her characters. Still, not all authors oppose this practice. J.K. Rowling has said she is flattered by the fan fiction in response to her series. Still, she acknowledges that it should remain a non-commercial activity. In this particular case, that means posting it on a fan fiction site under your own name without any profit is bound to be OK. It isn't all right, however, to attempt to publish it in print, make money off of it, or fool fans of the books into thinking it's an official part of Rowling's series.
If you're looking to commercially publish a work based off copyrighted material, seek permission first. But be aware that it's not likely to be granted for fan fiction. You may find it more productive and rewarding to take that energy and enthusiasm and work on your own unique creations.
|Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University, University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and edits Letterpress, a free e-newsletter for fiction writers.|
Send your questions on the craft of creative writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.