Enter “fanfic” into Google and you get about 9,900,000 results. These results include fan fiction sites for Harry Potter, Twilight, Zelda, Naruto, the Jonas brothers, Lord of the Rings, and yes, even Star Trek. Fanfic writers spend hours laboring over their own stories about Harry’s post-Hogwarts adventures or Bella ditching Edward or Sam declaring his undying romantic love for Frodo.
And some people snort in derision. Such a waste of time. What an utter lack of creativity. You’re stealing someone else’s work.
Yeah? Bite me.
I’m what people call a “real” writer, in that I’ve written and sold a dozen-odd books to New York publishing houses. And I started by writing fanfic.
When I was in college in the late 80s, I joined a group called Stellar Operations Command, a group that combined fanfic with role-playing. We used the Star Trek universe, but not the Star Trek characters themselves. You created a main character and assorted minor characters for yourself, and you were put on a ship with about six other people. Every month, the captain sent out “orders,” basically an overview of what was happening on the ship, and then you wrote a story about your character’s adventures. You could also include other people’s characters, but you couldn’t kill or otherwise change them.
You mailed a copy of your story to everyone else in your group, and they mailed their stuff to you. (This was before e-mail, so everything was done on paper.) Stellar Operations Command was huge, with hundreds of members nationwide. Weirdly, it didn’t survive the Internet, and it faded away in the late 90s. Such a shame.
My character was the communications officer on his ship, and his name was Rusty. He had several friends–a med-tech named Randy, a security officer named Nora, a Kaatian science officer named Mrrit. I must have written 300,000 words about them during my tenure with SOC, enough for three novels.
And I loved every minute.
Why? SOC fanfic granted me freedom. Since the setting was already created for me, I could concentrate on character. I had enormous fun developing Rusty. He was one of the first long-running characters I created, and I miss him from time to time.
SOC also forced me to write. With a monthly deadline, I had to get to that keyboard on a regular basis. Between SOC and my job at a local newspaper, I learned to write to a deadline, a skill that has served me well over the years.
Finally, fanfic was a safe place to romp around in. I could do nearly anything I wanted, write purely for myself, tell stories on paper just for fun. I could take risks, be silly, stupid, or outrageous, safe in the knowledge that the other members of my ship would still read every word. That meant a great deal. In the process, I learned how to write realistic dialogue, describe people and places, set a scene, build suspense, add plot complications and foreshadowing.
Eventually I started writing my own short stories, and editors bought them. I moved on to novels, and then novel series, including the Silent Empire.
And then I sold a Star Trek book. And a Battlestar Galactica book. And a Ghost Whisperer book. Know what? They’re all freakin’ fanfic. And they paid very nicely, too.
Still think fanfic is a waste of time?
I’ve been on the other side of fanfic, too. People have written their own stories about Kendi and Ben and other people in the Silent Empire. Whoa! When I was writing for SOC, I never thought that day would come.
Since my writing went pro, I’ve been forced to give up fanfic for the simple reason that I only have so many writing hours per day, and I have to choose the one that will support my family. But a waste of time?
–Steven Harper Piziks
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