Fan fiction writing tips

Find out everything you need to know to write a brilliant piece of fan fiction based on your favourite story or characters.

Emily Rowland's love illustration

1. Know the canon

In fan fiction, the original story, characters and world you are responding to is called the canon. For instance, the Harry Potter canon includes all the information and rules of the Harry Potter universe which is expressed in the series of novels and all other official offshoot publications and films.

Know the story you're responding to. Read it a few times and make sure you have the detail straight. Make your story make sense for the existing story world. If the protagonist can't swim in the original story, don't start yours with them doing the front crawl across the British Channel unless you can explain when and where they learnt the skill (and how it's relevant). If characters act out-of-character, or the world has changed in your version, make sure there's a good reason for it.

2. Have fun with plotbunnies

In fan fiction, a plotbunny is a rapidly developing idea for a story that won't leave you alone until you write it. Sound familiar? Great! The first stage of writing should be a kind of mad brainstorming.

Inspired by your chosen film, book, TV series or band, get all your plotbunny ideas down on paper or the screen, and then, when the bunnies have stopped gnawing at your brain, you can start to rewrite, hone and edit.

3. Look at our general writing guidance

The BookTrust teen writing page has great advice on constructing interesting and believable characters, plots, dialogue and ideas around diverse characters and situations. It features useful questions to ask of your writing, especially when you're in the editing and rewriting phase.

4. Don't write a Mary Sue

In fan fiction, the phrase Mary Sue refers to a new character who is unbelievably (and irritatingly) perfect. Does your character run faster, shoot higher and think faster than everyone else? Are they gifted with every paranormal gift available? Are they always right, desired by all and completely saintly with no flaws? If so, you might have written a Mary Sue.

Remember, the best characters are always flawed in some way, even if they have amazing powers. The flaws are what make them human, and readers will relate to them better that way. See our writing tips for more information on how to write great characters.

5. Get a beta reader

Fan fiction writers often work with other fans called beta readers, who read their work before they post it online and edit it or suggest changes or improvements. Reading your own work aloud to yourself or others is a good idea; alternatively, ask a friend to read it through for inconsistencies or points that need clarification. Doing either (or both!) of these will help make your writing the best it can be before you post it on a fan site.