How to Develop Deep Fan Fiction Characters

3 min read

If you could write about the personal relationships of any character in popular culture, who would you write about?

For decades, fan fiction authors have upended our expectations about our favorite characters. They do this by writing stronger emotions, desires, and personal thoughts beyond the canonical portrayals of characters.

Fan fiction author and scholar Francesca Coppa is an expert in what makes fan fiction stories into page-turners, as well as what mistakes to avoid so that you don’t lose readers mid-story.

To help all the aspiring writers in our community, we’ve collected some of her tips on how to write erotic fan fiction that brings strong emotion and new life to fan stories based on popular culture. These comments all come from a much longer interview on Henry Jenkins’ excellent blog–go read the whole interview!

Be Faithful to the Canon

Fans of a particular franchise read fan fiction because they love a group of characters and want more. So while fan fiction is aimed at taking things a step further, remember to start from familiar territory to draw the reader in. “If you don’t recognize the characters, then it’s what slash fans call an “any two guys” story (which is the worst insult!) There’s no investment in the characters.”

Include Transformation

While it is important to honor the characters in some ways, the point of fan fiction is to take things a step further. Transformation can suck a reader in, as they want to watch their favorite known characters grow in new directions. “…if you don’t transform the characters and the story, then you’re not satisfying your readers’ needs. You might as well just watch the original movie again, or go read a tie-in novel that colors within clear lines.” Think Captain America meeting Kim Kardashian at a party.

Explore Characters’ Inner Worlds

Internal motivation is key to character development, and the deeper you go, the more interesting a character becomes. Stories are the ideal medium for exploring a character’s inner self, which doesn’t get as much play in film or TV. “We’re interested not just in a character’s actions and dialogue, but in their innermost thoughts and desires. That’s different than traditional speculative fiction, which tends to focus on confronting the external rules of a world rather than the endless internal landscape of the self.”

Be Innovative With Character Development

Fan fiction writers don’t have to deal with studio expectations, so you have complete freedom to make modern and complex people emerge. Fan fiction characters are usually “still too unusual for prime time: queer or ace or pregnant or elves or socialists or winged or telepathic or werewolves or into bondage or what have you, even though in life, of course, real people are…”

Learn from Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes has been played by dozens of people in as many different settings from modern WWII London and Brooklyn to the 22nd century and the Muppets. This has added depth and nuance to the character that makes him more interesting. “The different worlds are typically interesting only to the extent to which they showcase and complicate the character.”

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

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