Revision as Fanfic
I was doing a workshop for young writers recently and as usual I started with a quick assessment…
Who writes—or wants to write—the following:
And so on…
The good news is I saw several hands go up for each area, and many of them went up multiple times.
Then on a whim I added, …and what about fanfic?
Lots of hands, and (even more important) lots of excitement. “Awesome!” I said, and we were off and running.
Fast-forward to a while later, as we’re discussing the revision process. I’m trying to give them two fundamental takeaways…
1. Revision can really improve our work.
2. Revision can really be enjoyable. (Because without them buying into #2, #1 isn’t likely to happen.)
The first one is pretty direct: Revision is where you can go from good to great, etc., along with explaining various reasons why virtually any manuscript can be made better with judicious revision. The teachers are nodding in agreement, and the students seem to get the idea. In theory.
The second one is a harder sell. I talk about how I changed my mindset from dreading revision to enjoying it. “Look at it this way: you’ve actually reached the end, and in the big picture it probably hangs together as a story to one degree or another. So the stress of wondering if you’re even going to finish the initial draft is gone. You made it! Now you get to return to your world and make it even better and—”
I stopped, as something struck me. “Remind me again—who’s into fan fiction?” Three fourths of the students put their hands up. “Well, this is similar.” I had their attention now, if not their concurrence. “With fanfic, you start with a world you love and characters you love and a basic story holding it all together, right?” They nodded. “So you don’t have to do the heavy lifting of world-building or character creation or fundamental rulemaking because it’s already been taken care of, right?” More nods. “So, you guys are basically saying that the fun of it is, you get to dive back into that world and improve things and add new things and just generally make it into the story you always thought it should be. Sound familiar?”
The room lit up with fifty or so lightbulbs turning on. Including the one above my head.
It was my turn to nod. “So it sounds like… revision is doing fan fiction on your own story!”
And it is.
My views on revision changed when I began to realize it was an opportunity to go back to the world I’d created—and the characters I’d created and was invested in—and play around some more. (With credit to my child bride here, because she got over her dislike of rewriting before I did and thus helped show me there was light at the end of the tunnel.)
And I think a big part of this is—as we’ve discussed before—reading like a reader instead of a writer: Take some time away from the story then go through it like a fan. And as you read, keep note of the things that bore you or confuse you or that you’d just like to see done better or different.
Then take that punch list and go back through it as “writer you” and make all the changes that “reader you” was wishing for, making sure the transitions are smooth and natural and that none of the stitches are visible after the surgery.
And when you’re done… congratulations! You’ve just created some awesome fanfic based on the work of an author near and dear to you.
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