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[GUEST POST] Timothy C. Ward on The Problems with Writing Fan Fiction and How To Solve Them

Timothy C. Ward grew up on DragonLance, Stephen King, and Dune. Read how he blends these influences in his serialized epic, Scavenger: Evolution, where sand divers uncover death and evolution within America’s buried fortresses. Scavenger: Evolution is available in ebook and signed paperback at SpikePub.com.

His first printed story, “The Bomb in the President’s Bathroom,” released in the Amish SciFi anthology, Tales from Pennsylvania.

The Problems with Writing Fan Fiction and How To Solve Them

by Timothy C. Ward

A few weeks ago I released Scavenger: Red Sands (Scavenger #1), an authorized fan fiction novelette set in the world of Hugh Howey’s novel, Sand. Hugh has opened up his world of Wool to fan fiction through Kindle Worlds, but Sand is not yet open and thus has only one other writer, Michael Bunker’s Dunes Over Danvar, writing in Sand‘s world. I’ve read all of the Silo Saga (WOOL, Shift, and Dust), but one scene in particular in Sand inspired me to create my own character in his story. Without that inspiration, I don’t know that I would have bothered. There are a lot of Wool fan fiction stories out there, and while the world is full of opportunity, I just never moved any into the top of my queue. Call that a case of running Adventures in SciFi Publishing and having a crazy reading schedule or maybe it’s a preconceived notion that I’ve already read the story of the Silo. The Last Prayer by Lyn Perry put a different spin on Silo life, focusing more on religious persecution, and while it was a good story, it felt very similar to Wool 1.

Dilemma #1: People will not pick up your story because they assume your story is too similar to the original.

One could say that the assumption that your story will be similar is what will draw people to it, but one problem could be how difficult it will be to show how yours will be different enough to feel fresh.

Before I propose my solution to that first dilemma, let me pose the second, which I discovered as I plotted out Scavenger’s sequel.

Dilemma #2: How much of the original content do you keep?

I had thoughts of starting Scavenger 2 with my character, Rush, waking up in a different reality, or inserting monsters into this world, or other ideas wildly different from Sand. All seemed too obvious in their efforts to be different.

Number two ties into Dilemma #3: Some readers will wait to read yours until they’ve read the original content, possibly in fear of spoilers.

The obvious benefit to writing fan fiction is finding new readers who love the world and characters. But how much of the world do you keep the same. How much of the plot? How do you handle the characters? Considering the many Mount To-Be-Read’s, do you invest your time in a story that appears as a sequel to someone else’s book, or worse, series?

For Scavenger, I picked a possible threat within Sand‘s plot–terrorists–inserted my own characters, and let the events unfold to my own conclusion. If you’ve read Sand or if you haven’t, I don’t think I’ve ruined the suspense in either story.

Solution #1: You can change any event and create your own alternate timeline.

The threat that I picked was not the final event of Sand, so as I plotted for Scavenger 2, I had to decide if I was going to keep Hugh’s ending and how his characters would be involved.

To expand on the dilemmas listed, I brainstormed some potential problems with keeping the original timeline and ending because using Hugh’s characters would be tricky. While I love Hugh’s characters, I want mine to be the center of my story. If I keep his around, readers may get disappointed if I don’t include his as Point of View characters (they’d make a large cast) or that they aren’t as active in my plot. If I kill them off, readers could resent me for killing whom they love (insert joke about what Hugh does in about every story). Killing them is still an option, but I have a different solution.

Solution #2: Use the new timeline to give readers a new introduction to familiar characters.
In order to keep my characters central, and combine the hook readers already have with Hugh’s characters, I’m going to use them as bait to move the reader toward how my characters will find them and how they will be different based on my timeline.

Hugh’s characters are influential in the ending of Sand, so without them I can change enough about the direction of events to make my own adventure. Hopefully this will solve the initial bias that my story will be the same as Hugh’s and will create a mystery about his beloved characters in new ways than they’d get in a sequel to Sand.

In Hugh’s io9 interview, he said that Sand has greater potential for expansion than his Silo Saga. I agree. While he answers some of the questions in Sand about why the “world” is now a desert, the clues at the end suggest a very interesting post-apocalyptic dystopia, which he has left with only bare bones description. Writing my Sand fan fiction before he writes a sequel gives me the chance to be the first one to show that society, and if he does write a sequel, I am sure they will be vastly different.

About Timothy C. Ward (29 Articles)
Timothy C. Ward grew up on DragonLance, Stephen King, and Dune. Read how he blends these influences in his serialized epic, Scavenger: Evolution, where sand divers uncover death and evolution within America's buried fortresses. His books are available in ebook and signed paperback at www.spikepub.com.

5 Comments on [GUEST POST] Timothy C. Ward on The Problems with Writing Fan Fiction and How To Solve Them

  1. The idea of an authorized/published fanfic market is not one I would’ve considered. I’m really curious to see how it might evolve into its own thing.

    I’m glad to see you’ve gotten a lot out of it. Do you think the concept might spread to other authors and worlds?

  2. I enjoyed Tim’s story and actually read it before reading Sand. I think fan fiction could be a great gateway for a new author to attract readers. Timing is everything, though, and you have to get in on the ground floor when a series takes off. I suspect writing a Wool fan fic novel would not generate a lot of sales.

    I just finished Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch and saw it also has some fan fic (I thought I saw Timothy Zahn’s name?). It seems to be more popular these days.

    • Thanks, Peter. Time will tell about the gateway factor, though I am meeting new readers already. I’ve only published one part so far though, so we will see a better metric once I’ve published the five parts and then move to an omnibus.

      Yes, timing is crucial. I would like to see Sand get more recognition, so there is still room to join the bandwagon. I wonder if people are waiting until they read Wool and the other two novels in that trilogy. Another aspect of timing that I would have liked to have had was to not go four months between publishing part one and two (planning for Oct.1). That has hurt my momentum, but I was editing another novel while seeing if anyone liked this story enough for me to serialize it.

      Wayward Pines is up there on the charts and has Matt Damon in a TV series coming up, so yeah, that would be good, but was the fanfic invitation only? Maybe Kindle Worlds will snatch up that series so people can submit their stories.

  3. Judging by the writers (Blake’s younger brother and Zahn’s), I suspect it could be invite only.

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