A guest post by chemistry researcher and fanfiction veteran Seneska.

Have you ever read a book and thought some characters were clearly capable of so much more? Or wondered in a hilarious television sitcom why they didn’t just stop and think for a second, giving us all twenty minutes of peace? Have you (and I know the answer to this already) watched the Star Wars prequels and thought “I could have pulled better films out of my arse”? Congratulations, you are two steps away from becoming a writer of fanfiction. It’s all uphill from here.

What next?

The next step is to think of a scenario you want characters to perform. Then, finally, you have to actually write it all out.

It’s usually that last phase where people fall down, but it’s only that extra drop of dedication that makes the brew complete. That is where the distinction lies between a reader/watcher/player of a medium, and a fan. A fan doesn’t see writing out all this stuff as a trial. I have managed to write a thousand words of A-Team fanfic in thirty minutes; a fact that I’m not particularly proud of, and one wish I could repeat the when it comes to my work…

Fan communities are generally considered to have started with the onset of Star Trek: The Original Series, with magazines written by fans for fans. The arrival of the World Wide Web to our daily lives, however, made the fan’s life much easier.

Getting involved

I first got involved in a fandom with a Lord of the Rings online forum with my best friend a decade ago when we were 16. There were discussions about creation myths, the evils of technological advancement and poetry… and all that was just supplied by JRR himself! The people involved with the community were friendly and very forgiving, unless you asked them whether a Balrog has wings. My first steps into fanworks (fan- fiction, poetry, videos, art etc) came by re-writing well known song lyrics to make them LotR-based.

Knitted Draco by Nicky Fijalkowska (knitforvictory.co.uk)

Never been kissed

It was my best friend who first made the jump to writing her own fanfiction. She had a thing for Draco Malfoy, so she dated him, fictionally. It was all a bit bite-y from what I remember reading… And therein lies the main issue people have with fanworks. The people writing these stories blatantly have too much time on their hands, meaning that they tend to be quite young. After all, who wants to do homework when there’s romance just a click away? And if there is one thing that is on a teenager’s mind it is sex.

Not all fanfic is romance, but the majority is. Unfortunately, inexperienced and hormonal young adults aren’t necessarily going to deliver quality fiction. That’s where the community comes in.

Help is at hand

The community will help edit works and offer development advice, so that adolescents grow into reasonably good writers (and maybe even lovers). It takes time and practise, but I’ve known fanfiction authors develop huge fanbases, the strength of their popularity letting them branch out into being professional authors. They wouldn’t be where they are today if they hadn’t written those stories about Draco Malfoy and his jeans.

Labour of Love

The first rule of fanfiction is that money can’t be made from the work of the fan. If you try to make a profit, you’re breaching the author’s intellectual property.

You also need to be aware that some writers don’t like fanfiction on principle. They feel that their creations are for them alone to play with. Others are happy that their works generate such fannish (the preferred term to fanatical) tendencies. Regardless of their personal viewpoint, very few original creators will ever admit to reading fanfiction, in case of any copyright issues if similar plot points turn up in a sequel.

For some people it’s a form of expression. For others it’s about the two hundred friends you make while doing something fun. For others it’s about Aragorn and Legolas and their obvious gay love affair. Whatever floats your boat, the fan community can accommodate you. You’ll almost certainly learn something along the way.

For more from Seneska, follow on Twitter @Seneska.

For examples of fanfiction that has led to publication, check out Molly Ringle’s blog, or her LoTR parodies (Fellowship, Two Towers, Return of the King).