There used to be a slogan plastered across the header of my old website that read: “Where words become worlds.” I made this my mantra not because of my love of alliteration (which is strong), but because of this process wherein words are strung together and turn into worlds. Worlds that come alive. You can people these worlds with characters that you come to know and love, sometimes to loathe, all with more words. Even to those of us who do this on a regular basis, it can seem like witchcraft.
I never thought I would write a story that anyone cared to read. As an avid reader, it’s all I ever wanted to do, but I spent twenty years giving up on writing. I would get through a chapter or two before walking away in disgust or out of disinterest, and the dream of completing a novel seemed unattainable. It took a spark for me to learn that I could do this. It took Caroline Todd on a writing panel telling those of us in the audience to stop thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, talking about writing … and just write.
We all need some kind of spark. For some, it comes by dabbling in other worlds. Fan fiction is like writing with training wheels on, and that’s not meant to diminish what’s involved. Fan fiction helps turn readers into writers by providing a sense of comfort and familiarity. But once you dabble in another’s world, you soon learn that the world is the easy part. Coming up with a satisfying plot, realistic dialog, powerful tension, and a thrilling resolution … these are the hard bits. This is why borrowing from history or the world we currently live in doesn’t make writing any easier. So for those who think fan fiction is cheating, I’m telling you it isn’t. This is real work and real art, which is what fan fiction writers soon come to realize as the training wheels float above the pavement. They realize that they didn’t need them bolted on to begin with.
Fan fiction should be celebrated as a means of increasing writership and also as a means of making literary pursuits more widespread and enjoyable. Really, it’s the literary equivalent of what musicians do as they learn to play their favorite tunes. Or what cartoonists and comic artists do as they grow up drawing their favorite characters. Or athletes who mimic the moves of their idols. You revel in the thing you love, and then perhaps you strike out and do it on your own.
It can even work the other way around. Established authors write fan fiction all the time. Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS is an ode to the world Gene Roddenberry made, but it’s more of a literary nod than full-on fan fiction. Timothy Zahn wrote what are arguably the best Star Wars stories ever told in what we call licensed novels. E.L. James wrote some Twilight fan fiction and skirted legal issues by changing some names and altering key plot points. Nearly every play written by Shakespeare was based on historical circumstances or a previous play by someone else. All of these routes are a little different, but I think all of them should be celebrated. Anything that gets people writing and people reading is a win for all.
That’s why I couldn’t be prouder to announce today that the Wool universe–the Silo Saga–is joining Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program. For those of you who missed the announcement of this program a few weeks ago, Amazon Worlds is a mix of fan fiction and licensed storytelling. It gives those of us who own the rights to a world the ability to bless others with its exploration; they can even profit from their works. I was blown away when I first heard about Amazon’s take on fan fiction. It immediately felt like a natural fit for the world introduced by Wool.
That’s because for the past year, talented authors have been exploring Silos of their own creation. Many of those works of fan fiction have become bestsellers (check out my dedicated fan fiction page for a sampling). The ones I’ve read so far have blown me away, and I look forward to reading more and to crafting some Worlds stories of my own. What Kindle Worlds is going to allow us to do going forward is make these Silo Stories official, give them extra exposure, and invite more readers to put their spin on their favorite Silo and/or characters. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. My hope is that the expanded awareness of fan fiction will turn more readers into writers. I also hope, selfishly, that it’ll give fans more material to gobble up rather than sitting on my website all day clicking “refresh” and waiting for my word count meters to move.