So now you know the fandom in which you are going to write your story. You have narrowed down your story ideas to one or two plots and subplots. You have steeped yourself in your chosen fandom. All that remains is to finally start writing your fic.
Organize your notes
The first thing you will want to do is organize your notes, depending on the complexity of your story ideas. If you are anything like me, you will have snippets of dialogue written down on the backs of receipts.
You scribbled the name of an article or website address that had some information you want to include in the story at the bottom of a grocery list. It’s a lot more useful to have these sorts of things either written down on a three-by-five card or set up in a word processor document. Organizing your notes does not have to involve sorting bits and pieces of paper into stacks.
Whether you want to write a short piece of fanfiction and have everything just so or a four hundred page novel that is going to take you weeks or even months to write, making that process easier is a good idea. There are several free or inexpensive software programs that can help you organize everything. Reedsy also has great self-publishing tools that you can use if you need more resources.
Evernote is one such free online tool. It allows you to input your notes into one place that you can access later on any device whenever you need it. FreeMind is another free online resource that can help you organize your thoughts through a technique called mind mapping. Neither of these will help you much if you’re planning on writing a drabble or other very short story. But if you are thinking about a novella or longer, they might be worth your time and drive space.
Decide on the length and type of story you want to write
Your fic can be a short story, novella, or novel. It can be flash fiction or an epic. It can be serialized and shared as a WIP or “work in progress.” It can be an entire series of novels all posted at once for your readers to binge on over a weekend. It can be a one-hundred-word drabble or a one hundred-thousand-word novel. It all depends on how much of a story you want to tell and how much detail you want to put into it.
Drabbles are a favorite type of story. They are so short they don’t have a more traditional story structure with a beginning, middle, and end. Even so, they are still stories. The drabble packs a lot of punch into very few words. When I started writing fanfiction years ago, a fic was only called a drabble if it consisted of exactly one hundred words, no more, no less. Now, the drabble is still quite short, but it can be as long as four or five hundred words. Drabbles are actually quite popular now. Take, for example, the RWBY fanfiction on Commaful. You’ll find the stories are often very short and sweet with some elements of plot and just endless hours of entertainment. You can also look at smaller fandoms like Danger Man fanfics and the 6th Day on Fanfiction.net and AO3 to see more examples.
Drabbles, twit-fics — stories of 140 characters that can be shared on Twitter in just one post — and three-sentence fics are challenging to write, but doing it successfully can be as rewarding as writing that novel. And they take a lot less time to write. With just one hundred words, you can get a sense of character, setting, history. Perhaps more importantly, you also can have all the elements of a good story: conflicts, goals, and your character’s motivation. Below is an example of a traditional drabble I wrote several years ago. I received a prompt from a friend. They wanted a brief Star Trek fic based on the recent movie reboot and starring James Kirk. Pike’s challenge echoed in Jim’s head. Yes, Lieutenant George Kirk saved hundreds of lives, was a genuine hero. His youngest son decidedly was not. But didn’t heroes usually die being heroes? Just like his dad? The dive bar and others like it were everyday things for Jim. Was that what he wanted? To live and die in a backwater, lurching from one bar fight to the next? He swiped at the blood on his chin, looked at the dull red smear on his thumb, then pushed up from the table.
He wasn’t ready to roll over and die just yet.
Besides the length of your story, you will need to decide what type of fic you are going to write. It is not at all uncommon for a fic to be what is known as “slice of life” or a “PWP.” These are two types of story that will not necessarily have a real plot. In that regard, they can be somewhat easier to write. But both types of fic are fun to write and read.
They may not have much plot, but they can enrich your experience of a character or setting in your favorite fandom. In a slice-of-life fic, you might write about a character’s or group of characters’ typical day. A PWP, which stands for “plot, what plot?” is usually little more than an extended scene. A PWP will, for example, show a character’s reaction to something we did not get to see in canon or titillate the reader with a more sensual scene. “Fix-it” fics do just that.
They fix something. They take a perceived flaw in the original source material, such as the death of a beloved character, and — as the name implies — fix it. An alternative universe or AU fic will involve the same characters as in canon, but they alter the setting in some way, either minor or major. Something as subtle as a character not answering a phone call or as major as shifting the characters from your chosen fandom to our modern world can cause that change. Alternate universe fics can be either character-based or plot-based.
AU settings seem to happen more often with a character-based fic because of the challenge of keeping that character true to the original in spite of the sometimes drastic difference in setting. A “high school” or a “college” AU is a popular type of alternate universe that puts the canon characters into a modern high school or college setting. In many cases, large numbers of AU fics come about because the canon is closed.
AUs allow for a wider playing field. The Hunger Games is a good example of a fandom with a great deal of both character-based and alternate universe fanfic. The world of Panem and Katniss Everdeen is currently a closed canon. (There are rumors, though, that movie producers want to create a series of prequels to the canon events. If that happens, it could become an open canon again.) Of the more than 8,600 works on one popular fanfiction archive, almost 2,000 of them are one flavor or another of alternate universe. The largest number of AU Hunger Games fics are between “alternate universe — modern setting” and “alternate universe — canon divergence.”
Put your story down on “paper” and walk away
Once you have organized your notes, you know what you want to write, and you have worked out some kind of a plan, it’s time to write.
Get that story down on paper, even if it is only virtual paper made up of bits and bytes. If you want to write a longer fic, it can help to put together an outline beforehand, although it is not necessary. Many of us write by the seat of our pants, letting the characters and their reactions dictate the story. Others need that story roadmap to function. But no matter how you go about writing your fic, the important part is to write it.
As with organizing your notes, there are also several free programs and apps available online that can help you write your fic.
They won’t actually write it for you, but they can help to focus and avoid distractions while you write that first draft. FocusWriter is one of my favorites. I first downloaded it when I needed a word processing program I could install on my new laptop. I didn’t have the money for Microsoft Word. I later discovered that Focus Writer is a great way to keep me from surfing the internet when I want to write. Of course, when you first write that fic, you can always use good old-fashioned pencil and paper. Just like with FocusWriter, pencil and paper will keep you away from that time suck we call the internet. And, too, if you write your first draft on paper, you will automatically start editing when you type it into whatever word processor you might use. Some websites will even allow you to type your fic directly into the posting interface. This allows you to skip the word processing software altogether. Whether it takes you just a few minutes to write your fic or it takes you a week — or even more — after you write it, take a break.
The longer the fic, the longer that break might need to be. Just walk away. That way you can give your brain a chance to process what you have written and your eyes a chance to rest. When you come back to it, that break will help you to see what you have written in a new light. You will pick up those missing or extra words. You’ll fix the misspellings your word processor can’t because the words are not misspelled; they are actually the wrong word. Words like “loose” and “lose” or “breath” and “breathe” fall into this category.
Read what you wrote and edit, edit, edit
When you return to your computer, read your fic as though you are the online fan who just stumbled across this beautiful new story. If you have not done so already, be sure you run spell check and make those more obvious corrections. Read your fic again. Chances are good you will see places where you could have phrased things better. You’ll find paragraphs where you rambled, and now you can pare them down to something easier to read. For this stage, too, there are free apps that can help you improve your writing.
Hemingway and Grammarly are two of my favorites, both available for download or as websites where you can upload your fic. You can either cut and paste or upload your story directly to these sites to analyze for grammar and word usage. Hemingway will highlight possible problem areas in different colors for different problems. Blue is for excessive use of adverbs, green for passive voice.
Purple will give you suggestions for ways to simplify a phrase. Grammarly tells you straight up what to fix in your grammar. It explains why something you have written is wrong as well as, in the paid version, giving you suggestions for better word choices.
If you make a lot of edits during this stage, you might want to take another break and start the process over again. Keep repeating the process until you have a fic that does not make you cringe. Eventually, you will be satisfied with the story, and that’s where step 5 comes in.