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Title: How to De-Fanfic a Story
Author name: Icarus
Author email: icarus_ancalion@yahoo.com


How to De-Fanfic a Story

The process of "de-fanficcing" a story, i.e., sawing off the serial numbers and turning fanfiction into original fiction, is much more than simply changing names and developing some backstory.

1 - Character development in fanfic is based upon prior material. It's a little like starting in the middle of a book. Alas, you need to reinvent your characters, including their histories together: why do characters X and Y interact the way they do. The first story I de-fanficc'd, the character interaction did not make sense without the canon background.

2 - Fanfic plots can be borrowed for original fiction without too much difficuty; however, if you have relied heavily on allusion to canon (next point) you might have to slow the pace, expand the length, or focus on just part of the plot. You have some 'splaining to do, Lucy.

3 - Allusion to canon in fanfic becomes the major stumbling block in "de-fanficcing," depending on the sort of fanfiction you've written. There are three (general) types of fanfic in terms of difficulty in translating them.

a) The first is the fanfic author who sticks a Mary Sue into Hogwarts or Atlantis or wherever. This is easy to translate because all you need to do is stick the Mary Sue someplace else (my, some of you have some creative suggestions as to where). I no longer have my Mary Sue Andre Norton rip-off I wrote in 1977, unfortunately, so you guys may breathe a sign of relief. :)

b) The next type takes a dangling thread in canon, say, "why did Snape join the Death Eaters?" and writes that story. It slots neatly to fill a hole in canon. To de-fanfic it is a little tricky, but mostly you just need to tidy up the beginning and end, and make sure it can stand on its own. Check that it doesn't reference events and characters outside its boundaries. I may have one of these, I'm not sure.

c) The final type is brutally hard to de-fanfic. Unfortunately, most of my fanfics (and I'm gonna guess almost everyone's fanfics) fall in this category. Here the author has capitalized on the strength of fanfiction: their audience. The writer can layer in allusions to canon and create a densely packed story.

What do I mean?

Let's take an example. Snape. The loyalties of Snape are an open question in the Harry Potter world. It's hanging out there in the ethers. Instead of directly explaining why he joined the Death Eaters, the fanfic writer can write a story of Snape peacefully brewing potions.

The story can jump back in time to show Snape learning to brew potions as a child. In the process the writer shows us how Snape wanted to fit in with the "cool kid" pure-bloods.

Ping! The educated Harry Potter fans get the allusion, the subtle reference to Snape's motives. Could this be why he joined the Death Eaters?

A later part can show Snape the adult interacting with one of these same "cool kids" now. Perhaps he's creating that potion for Lucius Malfoy. The writer then shows Snape being treated like an outsider still, a lesser being.

Ping! The Harry Potter fans see that even joining the Death Eaters made no difference. Maybe that's why he left, disillusioned. Ping! They also know that Snape isn't a popular teacher, so leaving the Death Eaters made no difference either.

Finally, the writer can show Snape angry at Lucius for treating him like a house-elf. The author can make it clear he still wants desperately to be on the "inside." But then, the story closes on his sense of satisfaction in his potions work.

He's miserable because of what he think he needs, due to envy, totally unaware that he's happier alone, brewing potions. Ping! The reader recognizes what he's done with his life, all those bad decisions based on trying to join the "upper eschelon."

You have a thoughtful piece on human nature and the inability of a bitter man to see what's best for himself.

In fanfiction this can be a short story. You can afford to be subtle. But to unpack all those canon allusions and turn it into original fiction, you'd have to write a novel. Yet this theme is too delicate for a heavy novel-length story.

The fanfiction writer's greatest asset is their reader. Like with any highly specialized educated audience, the writer can reference a shorthand of shared ideas.

Even though fanfiction uses the same writing techniques as original fiction, within the restrictions of canon, the fanfic writer has this extra tool. It's a slightly different technique. Which doesn't tell us whether the writer can or cannot write original fiction. It just means you'll have to write differently.

As for "de-fanficcing": If you have an AU, with plenty of original characters (or at least a unique backstory for those characters), and aren't closely tied to canon, then maybe it's worth the effort.

The last question is: how attached are you to that fanfic? *Icarus starts the chainsaw.* Be ready to take it apart.