MM: What led you to fanfiction?
I’ve always been a voracious reader, partly due to the fact that I love making connections with the characters I read about. I like to understand their stories and emotions, etc. Whenever a book ended I would always wonder what would happen afterwards. For me, the story didn’t end with the last page. I always imagined that there was more. There had to be more.
MM: What was the first piece of fanfiction you ever created? What did you ever learn from it?
The first fanfiction I ever created was a little Phantom of the Opera fic (that I never finished) that was complete and utter rubbish. I still cringe about it whenever I think of it.
However, like every writing activity, this fic did teach me a lot of things about who I was as a writer, why I liked writing and how I approached the writing process itself. For instance, I learned that I’m exceedingly verbose (kind of like Tolkien, and who is an author I admire) and a perfectionist when I write. I like to describe things, to set the stage and make sure that my reader knows where they are down to the most minute of details.
That rubbish fic also taught me that I really do enjoy telling a story, that writing was more than just a pipe dream or a fanciful notion, but a real goal I had. I wanted to tell my readers about this fantastic idea that was percolating in my brain. I wanted to show them what I saw in my imagination, to draw them into a new experience through my characters and the shenanigans they conjured.
MM: Are there “rules” for writing for fanfiction? What are the standards that you like to follow?
Fanfictions allow for a lot of freedom of expression and experimentation. You can take those familiar characters like John and Sherlock and put them in wholly new situations and experiences. You aren’t really bound by a set of rules in that regard.
Overall, though, I think the rule every writer tries to follow is this: try and present your best work. Writing fanfiction may seem like a sort of sub-standard or hobby-ish sort of activity but it’s really not. Sure, we writers write fics because we enjoy writing them (since we certainly don’t get paid for them), but that doesn’t mean we don’t take the creation of stories lightly. The process of writing is just as rigorous and time consuming as if we were writing a traditional novel.
MM: How does the instant feedback you receive from reviewers affect your writing? Have comments ever changed what you planned for a story?
First, I have to confess that I love the instant feedback. I adore seeing how my readers perceive my story and plots and the little twists I throw [affect the] flow of the story. It’s enticing and enlightening to get their reactions, and it helps me to gauge whether they understood the subtle little nuances of my work or if I need to be a bit more explicit in later chapters.
As for the plans for my story ever being changed by reviews? Not really. I’m a firm believer in remaining true to myself as a writer and writing what I want, above all. While I enjoy the feedback and it helps me tailor the finer points of the actual content of my story for my readers, the general plot tends to remain the same because that is how I, as the author, would like it to be. It’s not about me catering to my readers (though I appreciate their suggestions and ideas immensely, I can assure you), but about showing them who I am as a writer, giving them a glimpse into my imagination and allowing them to (hopefully) experience something new.
Though because my plots and plans tend to remain the same it gives me a chance to address reviews and feedback in a more personal manner. By keeping my plans the same for my story, I’m able to have some interesting discussions with my readers where we compare how they perceive the story to what I’ve written. It’s a highly rewarding thing.
MM: How is writing within the fanfiction community different from writing for traditional publications (literary journals/websites, etc.)?
In a lot of ways, I think the fanfiction community is right on par with other more traditional publications. There are the certain expectations (or hopes) for a complete story or idea, one that is engaging and entertaining and informative (like you would hope to find with any literary journal or website). And authors of fanfiction are expected to hold a certain standard of writing for their readers much as they are in any other traditional form.
Where I think it differs, though, is in the sheer creative and collaborative nature of fanfiction communities. Writing in fanfiction allows for a more instantaneous feedback, more open discussion, and I think a warmer, more inviting atmosphere compared to a lot of other, more traditional or mainstream forms of publication. You develop friendships and you see familiar pennames you each appreciate what the other is doing because it’s hard to write. It really is.
MM: How has writing for fanfiction affected your other writing?
Writing fanfiction has really helped me to develop my style as a writer and to experiment with the lyricism of writing itself. I’ve come to find myself more attuned understanding how to incorporate beauty into even the most tedious of tasks, like writing an essay or response paper. And people have noticed that growth. I had a professor comment on how descriptive and beautiful my writing style can be, which made my work more enjoyable for them to read. “I can always tell who my creative writers are. And you have a firm understanding of the musicality of language because of it.”
What an honor it was to hear that from someone I respected and admired in the academic field. And their praise was due to taking the time to push my skills with writing fanfiction!
MM: At more than 230,000 words, A Single Dream is More Powerful Than a Thousand Realities is an epic length. How did you stay focused during the writing process? Did you chart out where you wanted the story to go before you started?
The writing process, for me, is somewhat of a manic thing—which I blame on an overactive imagination—so focusing becomes almost a necessity. Once I’ve latched onto an idea, it’s hard to dissuade me from stewing about it and writing furiously until I expel that idea from my imagination and onto paper. I have a hard time stepping away from that world I’m constructing, even when I’m working through the minutia of the day. I’ll have my Pandora station on and a notebook nearby to jot down ideas to put into the chapters I’m working on.
For this particular project, my focus did rely on knowing where I was going with the story. I had the entire plot planned out before I put pen to paper so it was easier to take the chapters on because I knew what I wanted to say (even if I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to say it). And, I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that another way that I maintained focus on this length of story was by reminding myself to NOT be a perfectionist writer with the initial draft. I’m one who edits as they write, so it’s hard to maintain a steady flow of production on a work and it gets really tempting to abandon a work because I’m constantly writing and rewriting a chapter. Nothing else would get done that way. So, to combat that tendency, I forced myself to make a hard draft of the chapters and focused on completing the story before I tackled any editing. By doing that, I remained honed in on the meat of the story and plot and not so much on the minor details.
MM: Where do you find inspiration for your stories? Do you find yourself reading back through Tolkien to find potential fic ideas?
A good deal of my inspiration for stories comes from the music I listen to. I think there’s such a powerful connection between music and imagination, which is why there are soundtracks to movies, right? Music just makes the world more vibrant and exciting for me. Hence, I have a Pandora station specifically set up to provoke the writing muse and I tend to listen to that when I’m out for a walk or studying. I find that by doing that, it sparks my imagination and really helps me to see new ideas and stories just by the things I observe in the world around me.
Certainly, though, I love going back through Tolkien and picking apart his works. He’s definitely an author that I adore studying and his works always provide a new perspective and a wellspring of ideas for me to latch onto and form stories around. His descriptions, the construction of his characters entice me greatly because there’s so much there to peruse. Nothing is really stagnant in Tolkien because he was a meticulous creator and his world expands beyond the reaches of just the stories he presents in [Lord of the Rings] or The Hobbit.
MM: You’re visiting Oxford in England, and you find a portal to go back in time. On the other side of the portal, you know you’ll be able to meet with J.R.R. Tolkien. Do step through the portal? Why or why not?
Is it really an option to say no? Of course I’d have to take that leap through the portal. It’s an opportunity I’d be loathe to pass by. And, after some hyperventilating and fan-girlish squeals, I’d have to step through. I have to remain professional when talking to someone like Tolkien, right?
But to be able to talk to that master of prose? Oh how delightful! The beauty of Tolkien is that he could talk for hours about his stories, explain the complexities of his characters and their histories. He could wax poetic on the terrain and the ancient construction of Middle Earth. I’d be like a sponge soaking all of that in.
MM: What fanfiction story (other than one you created) would you recommend?
Though one that I highly suggest you take a gander at is “Invisible” by Chappysmom on Ao3. It’s a fantastic Sherlock fic, which is part of a series that deals with a rather unique trait that John Watson possesses.
Kaleigh Spooner graduated with a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University in 2013. She is currently employed at the same university teaching writing and rhetoric, while pursuing a Masters in English Literature with an emphasis in 19th century authors and Tolkien. She spends most of her time reading a slew of Scott novels along with my faithful Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, watching Peter Jackson’s movies, listening to beautiful music from the movies, and analyzing (as well as having too many feelings for) Tolkien’s characters and their presentation in film and literature.
When not buried in books or typing novels and stories, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, hiking trails and taking pictures of mountains and trees and rivers, playing soccer and barbecuing.
This Q&A was edited for length. Featured image via Joel Montes de Oca.