How Fanfiction Made Me a Better Author with Carolynn Gockel

| Posted in Guest Posts |


In the Emperor’s Edge world, I’ve sent the final manuscript in the series off to the editor. It should be ready to publish by the end of July. In the blog world, I haven’t been getting many posts up. So, what’s new? Today, though, I have something for you, a guest poster to talk to you about a topic I don’t know much about: fan fiction and using it to improve your writing skills and build a readership.

50 Shades of Spock/Uhura: How fanfiction made me (an accidental) a better author

My name is Carolynn Gockel. I write stories about myths, modern and ancient.  I got my start writing fanfiction. And I am not ashamed.

The word fanfiction generally conjures one of a few reactions in people. The first is, “What is that?” The second is, “Like 50 Shades of Gray? Like porn?” And lastly, “Errr…isn’t fanfiction just really, really bad?”

To the first, fanfiction is stories written about other stories–whether movies, tv shows, books or comics, games, and occasionally real-life people.

As to the second, is it porn? Errr…a lot of it is, yes.

As to the question of quality, I don’t like to think of most fanfiction as bad; I like to think of it as immature. Most of the authors are in their teens or early twenties. They don’t have a lot of experience with life, let alone with writing. But it’s not bad that they are trying to explore life and writing through fanfiction…even if the result is sometimes “immature” porn.

Get to the part where it made you a better author!

Right. Well, first, understand I’m not someone who ever thought I’d want to write fiction. It happened by accident. I was captivated by the romance of Spock/Uhura in Star Trek 2009. I loved how it tweaked the notion of destiny. I liked how it combined one of my favorite genres, sci-fi, with just a little more romance than usual. Trolling the intertubes for Spock/Uhura, I first discovered fanfiction. I found some amazing stories that didn’t fit the description of porn or immature writing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find enough stories to sate my appetite. So I started writing my own. It was a game at first. Just as most fanfiction authors are young, so is the audience. I wondered if a story that showed Spock and Uhura behaving in a professional manner, rather than gobsmacked on the bridge, could ever get traction. So I typed a short story up one evening, posted it, and waited. Almost to my surprise, the reviews I got were great. And then I wondered what else I could get away with. Specifically, if a story that snuck big philosophical ideas into a romance aimed at a general audience–most of them young–could ever get traction. (‘Cause big philosophical ideas don’t seem to get me much traction in casual conversation).

I wrote Descartes Error, a Spock/Uhura fanfiction that took its name from Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. Despite being a bit rambling, in the fanfiction world it was a hit.

I was hooked. I discovered I loved poking fun at our modern myths, and I loved playing with big ideas: philosophical, scientific, psychological and political in the context of a story that could be action packed, emotionally moving, and fun.

In the end I wrote more than 50 novels, novellas, and short stories. In the process I made fans, and more importantly, made fans who enjoyed my work but could be honest and critical. They helped me keep my characters true and my stories humming along. As deep and as meaningful as I’d like my work to be, the last thing I want is to be boring.

Big deal! You could have gotten that from a writers group

Well, maybe. I would argue that my work which combines action, romance, fantasy and science fiction might have been hard to find a writers group for. By writing fanfiction in my chosen genres–sci-fi and fantasy–I was able to meet like minds.

But there is one thing that writing and posting fanfiction can get me that a writers group can’t– stats. That’s right. Numbers, Baby!

I can see how many people are reading my stories, what stories they’re reading, what chapters in the stories perked their interests, and when I let them down. I can tell which stories are well read, but aren’t getting a lot of reviews. Different fandoms (i.e. fan followings, such as for Star Trek reboot, Star Trek TOS, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc) are more responsive than others. This is important when making the transition from fanfiction to original fiction. People who don’t review still buy stories.

Click on the image for some more blow by blow analysis of a recent “novel” I wrote for the “Thor” fandom, called Blue.

Stats don’t just let me see the mind of other authors, they let me see the minds of everyone.

Fanfiction is my sandbox

Fanfiction is a great place to see just how far you can push ideas in your stories and how you can maintain your readers’ interest. It is great place to test out plot devices you may encounter while writing original fiction.

What fanfiction is not

Part1Fanfiction is not the best way to market your original fiction. I’ve gotten perhaps 100 solid customers from my fanfiction writing, and about six editors whose opinions I trust. But most people reading fanfiction are reading it because there is a world they are interested in exploring. They aren’t interested in your world. (A bit of advice: if you write for different fandoms you’ll pick up readers in each genre who will like your writing so much they’ll “follow” you into fandoms they don’t care about–those readers will read your original stories with gusto. If you are going to write fanfiction, writing a variety of different story types in a variety of different fandoms is best).

Still, as a fun, inexpensive way to gain experience writing, without leaving your house, it is great.

The outer limits of fanfiction

When I started writing fanfiction I was preoccupied with ideas of love and logic. Spock/Uhura was perfect for that. But that perfection began to break down when I was interested in exploring other types of love beyond romantic. My first original short story, Murphy’s Star explored logic and other types of love.

Another issue with fanfiction is that the fandom you write for has expectations in their fiction. Most fanfiction audiences are female.  They may like action in their movies and books, but they’ve already gotten that from the source material. In their fanfiction they’re usually looking for an exploration of romances that were not the focus in the plot of the original story. I like a little more action with my romance, and that can be a harder sell. (Which isn’t to say it can’t be done!)

Finally, writing for a fandom, you’re confined by the characters and situations in that fandom. After a while it becomes too restricting.

These reasons are why, after approximately 3 years, every fanfiction author who has been writing consistently goes professional–whether through traditional publishing or self-publishing.

After love and logic I became enamored with chaos–probably because I have children. At first I played in Marvel’s universe with Loki, “God” of chaos, but Marvel’s Loki is an emotional wreck with daddy issues. He is supposed to be the embodiment of chaos…I think chaos is much more than that, and I also think chaos can be wonderful.

My latest original fiction series, I Bring the Fire, is based on Norse Mythology’s Loki. It is a romp through the realms, antiquity and the modern era, and a wink at myths ancient and new. It’s also, covertly, a celebration of chaos.

One last thing fanfiction taught me

If you keep writing, you will get better. And each time you stretch your wings–or fingers–to try a new genre, you’ll pick up more readers. I Bring the Fire hasn’t let me quit my day job, but my fans love it, and I love writing it. I don’t know that I’ll ever be a best selling author–I’m too quirky–action, adventure, fantasy, romance, humor and Rhyle’s refutation of Descartes’ mind body dualism with a dash of quantum physics on the side? It’s not Twilight. But if I keep at it, I’ll find more and more like minded quirky readers.

About the (Accidental) Author

C. Gockel makes a living designing and coding. The first book in her series, I Bring the Fire is available FREE at: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. Her short story, Murphy’s Star, is available here: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. She can be found on Tumblr and writes as Startrekfanwriter on

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Comments (21)

Thanks for sharing. I downloaded the free story and will check it out. You’re on the right author’s blog for SF/F + romance + brainy stuff. Encrypted is still one of my favorite stories!

Thank you for downloading my story! I hope you enjoy it.

I loved the sciencey-encryption aspect of Encrypted. I Bring the Fire is more fantasy–although I use quantum mechanics to justify magic. And I have found people actually like it–yay!

Interesting idea about writing across multiple fandoms to grow a loyal audience.

I wonder also how many people would buy your non fanfics if they were closely related to that fandom you write in, like a space opera romance in a Federation type universe for those that do Star Trek. A lot of the SFR I’ve picked up is very derivative of Star Trek which the audience doesn’t seem to mind.

Thank you for commenting!

I only have written original stories closely aligned with my fanfics. “Murphy’s Star” was going to be a Spock/Uhura story. “I Bring the Fire” features myth Loki, and I’ve written extensively in the Thor fandom. I think I’ve probably gotten about 100 repeat customers from my fanfics…and those are the people who read anything I write.

I’m very grateful to the 100 fanfic fans who were brave enough to try my original fiction. I have to say though, that I have about 10,000 viewers of all my stories monthly, and that hasn’t translated into 10,000 sales.

People read fanfic because there is a world they want to immerse themselves in. Mostly, they don’t care to leave that world. I have about 10,000 viewers of my stories every month — it hasn’t translated into 10K sales!

Also, there are people in fandom who really resent fanfic being monetized in anyway. I’ve received hate mail on the subject.

The Thor fandom is rather quiet right now (more people are reading my ST2009 stories even though they are much older). There is another Thor movie coming out this fall. It will be interesting to see what affect it has on sales.

I just downloaded your story, Carolynn, and am reading. Enjoying it!

Thank you so much! I hope you keep enjoying it. 😉

Just finished it. Very fun, very entertaining, great characters! I’ve started reading Part 2. 😀

I’m so glad you liked it! Hope you enjoy part two (and maybe part III)

Just saw your review of Part I! Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story and review it so quickly.

I found fanfiction much the same way as you did–I fell in love with the television show Eureka in its fifth season, back in 2010, and while searching for information (spoilers, I wanted spoilers!), I found I guess I’d heard of Harry Potter fanfiction, but I truly had no idea of the rich and diverse world of fanfic or how much fun it would be to read it, write it, and participate in an active and enthusiastic community of fellow readers and writers. For me, fanfiction reinvigorated a love of writing that had been dormant for a solid decade.

The best thing about fanfiction, IMO, is that you’re writing for readers, not critics. When you join a writer’s group or participate in a writer’s workshop, your readers are critical readers. They want to help you improve your writing, so they focus on the mechanics, the structure, the rules. When you write for fanfic readers, they care that you entertain them. If you break a few rules along the way, so be it. There’s so much freedom in fanfiction. And yet at the same time, on the important stuff — are your characters consistent and believable (and behaving as they should), is your plot interesting, is the text readable — fanfic readers are like anyone else. They’ll move on if you bore them. Writing for an audience teaches you so much.

I’ve never attended a writer’s group or workshop — so I can’t compare. My highest goal is to be entertaining, not to fit in a box, and fanfic will let you know if you’re being entertaining.

However, the one thing is that the popularity of a show/movie waxes and wanes. So you could write a fantastic story, but not have an audience, and think that you flubbed it.

And then if your interpretation wanders too much from the source, you’ll lose readership too. Staying close to the source over multiple movies or seasons gets harder and harder!

So then it’s time to write original fiction.

Oh, I lasted less than a year with fanfiction before going original, LOL. Posted my first fic on 11/9/10 and my first novel on Amazon on 12/9/11. The problem for me with fanfic was writing in a world that someone else controlled: I can trace the arc of my fury through my stories as the creators of the television show I loved messed up my OTP. But still, I wouldn’t have started writing again without it and I do think that the immediate gratification and instant feedback was a huge part of what made writing so much fun for me. But writing original characters is more interesting than writing someone else’s characters, I found!

” The problem for me with fanfic was writing in a world that someone else controlled: I can trace the arc of my fury through my stories as the creators of the television show I loved messed up my OTP.”

Ha ha ha! Yes.

I’d never thought of myself as a writer so it took me longer.

Thanks for this; it’s fun to hear about someone else’s fanfiction experience. I started with original fiction, but fanfiction saved me as a writer. I started writing original fiction about 23 years ago, but had a hard time finishing anything because I was all hung up on whether or not what I was writing was “marketable.” Then my best writing friend passed away from cancer, and I lost all heart for writing. A few years later, in the late 90s, I got interested in anime (through my kids’ interest in Pokemon) and discovered Sailor Moon. The tragic love story of Nephrite and Naru (Nephlite and Molly, in the English version) caught my imagination, and after hunting all over the internet for anything that would give them the happy ending they should have had, I decided to write my own fic.

With fanfiction, you can’t sell it so there’s no pressure to write for gatekeepers, so I finally learned how to finish my novels. I also learned a lot about writing and editing (and also learned HTML when I decided to put up my own website). When I decided to return to the original novels I had dropped a long time ago, I was a lot better able to write them the way they should be written. (And as a bonus, now that I’m self-pubbing, my experience with HTML makes it a lot easier for me to do my own ebook formatting! 😀 )

I hate to think what would happen if I lost my primary beta, Kay. That must have been a horrible experience for you, I’m so sorry.

I haven’t discovered Sailor Moon yet — maybe when my 2 yo daughter gets a little older? But you make it sound intriguing.

As for HTML, doesn’t require you know it, but I am so glad that I know it from my job!

I hopped over to Amazon and the description for I Bring the Fire immediately drew me in. It just sounds so fun. Downloading now!

Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy it.

First, what everybody else said. Thank you for sharing and what a great look into the benefits of fan fiction.

Second, I’ll just offer this tidbit of info – when I saw the cover of your book and read that title? That title is gangbusters. At least for someone like me. I’m going to go check it out right now and I probably would’ve looked into it based on the title alone.

Thank you! I’m so glad you like the title, and grateful that you’ll give my book a try.

(Most people say it the dinosaurs that draw them in).

That would be great but you are only one of the 5 percents that use fanfiction in an appropriate matter.

Most use it for quick ego boosts and you can tell by either the quality of their writing or the way they handle it if someone gives minor suggestions and they flip out.

Note. There is a HUGE difference between a troll and a flame and when I write I don’t care about pairings. That to me does NOT make a story.

What makes a story is decent pacing in plots *not just action action *a little bit of talking* with tons more action which makes the characters feel very shallow.

The other kind I am not sure what to call it is where the story takes 5 chapters for one action scene to happen and it becomes one giant ramble fest.

The author promises *things will get better just keep checking!* so I skim the story and find out things went JUST as I expected not surprised in the slightest and the story is full of “PLEEZE RITE MOOR!” reviews so the little guy who writes in his criticism politely gets ignored among the masses.

I have also notice most Self Insert storys except a very few seem to focus on character shipping to unrealistic extremes or tries to make nothing but jokes out of the fic.

A few stories like “Don’t Panic” got it write but gets very wordy on the other extreme as I am not that knowledgeable about the language and don’t want to read 2 lenghtly chapters of trying to understand the conversion techniques used before the action scenes happen.

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