Friday, September 19, 2014

Meet Mikhaila (Fan Fiction to Original Fiction)

This is a picture that I drew of Alexander, Mikhaila's father. 
I have written before on the topic of fan fiction as a springboard for creativity, but today I would like to delve into the process a little deeper. If it weren’t for fan fiction, I probably never would have become the writer I am today.  

When I was fourteen, I tried to write a few of my own original stories, but all of them were lacking.  None of them really seemed to ring true, and I abandoned them ten pages in, if I even made it that far.  But fan fiction changed that. 

Well, sort of.  The title of today's post is slightly misleading.  I actually didn't write fan fiction until a year or so ago, unless you count a few stories I wrote about my toy My Little Ponies when I was twelve (the stories weren't based on any of the shows).  

However, I didn't write fan fiction in the sense that I never wrote it down.  Instead, I acted the stories out.  Safely cloistered in my room, I walked in endless circles, talked to myself, and acted out these stories I was making up.  I interacted with other characters by speaking to my mirror; romantic scenes were staged by me kissing my closet doorframe. 

Don't laugh too hard.  I am not the only person who has kissed a doorframe.  There are others out there who have done this.  (You know who you are.)

During my teens, I was very interested in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Okay, by interested, I mean obsessed.  And by obsessed, I mean that I had almost half of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings memorized. I knew the entire lineage of Elrond's family, from Thingol and Melian all the way down to Arwen. (I did forget the name of Dior's spouse, though.) I knew The Silmarillion, too. I can still  tell you exactly where all three Simarils are.  In fact, I will, just to demonstrate how serious I am about this. One's at the bottom of the ocean.  One fell into a rift in the earth and was destroyed by magma.  The final one rides in the sky above Middle Earth; Eärendil sails his ship there, placed by in the firmament by Elbereth Gilthoniel herself.  Want to know who my favorite son of Fingol is? Maedhros.  That's right.  He was a lefty.  Well, not by choice—since he had to lop his hand off to escape from Angband. But, you know, it was all okay, because he became a better left-handed swordsman than he ever was with his right hand.

Naturally, when you are that obsessed with something, you make up your own stories to go along with it—fan fiction.  Just because I didn't write it down doesn't make it any less fan fiction. Let's see...there were the stories about Elrond and Celebrian, detailing just how she got that poisoned wound that Elrond couldn't heal, thus causing her to leave her family and sail to Valinor. (If you know what I'm talking about, you are awesome.  Also, show of hands--how many people hated that Hugo Weaving was cast as Elrond for the movies?)

Then, there were the stories set after the events of The Lord of the Rings, starring mostly my own original characters.  Eventually in this story, Elros, Elrohir, Thranduil, and several of the Valar showed up.  The Valar were there because Melkor was trying to break back in from the void.  It was bad news.

Those were actually the good stories. 

However, most of them were little more than me basically inserting myself in the story so that I could be Legolas's girlfriend.  And for the record—I liked Legolas before he was played by Orlando Bloom. (If my older sister happens to be reading this: Yes.  I was doing exactly what you accused me of and I staunchly denied.  You were right.  Try not to gloat too much.)

Those—those were the lame stories, to put it mildly. 

Then, there was one day I made up a new character to represent myself in Middle Earth (yet another character destined to lock lips with Legolas—or the door frame, as the case may have been).  Her name was Mikayla.  Naturally, I had to come up with a back story for Mikayla.  She couldn't just appear from nowhere, and I didn't want to go with any of the obvious choices, like Gondor or Rohan.
So I made up my own back story for her.  She was from a country hidden in the Northern Wastes, north of the Ered Mithrin (the Grey Mountains, for the uninitiated).  She had come south both to flee civil war and to find out why the Nazgûl's winged beasts were so active lately. (The beasts originated from the Northern Wastes, after all.)

I had started this little story with Mikayla sometime around 7 in the evening.  Sometime around 1 a.m., I looked up at the clock and realized what time it was. In front of me were complex political maps and detailed histories of Mikayla's country.

You have to understand that this was the first time I had written down any of this kind of thing related to my LotR stories.  The only other things I'd written before this were my Pony stories and the aforementioned abandoned stories.  But writing down all of that history, drawing all of those maps—this was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

The next morning, I awoke eager to resume work on Mikayla's story, but since it was January, I had to do school work instead.  You can imagine how much I was actually paying attention to my math lesson.  During my ten minute break between subjects, I managed to wiggle in a little more planning on Mikayla's back story.  

That was when it dawned on me:  Forget Tolkien.  This is my story.  

It was a defining moment in my life.  Everything about Middle Earth vanished from Mikayla's world, evaporating like morning fog under a rising sun. This story was mine.

So, over the course of the following year, I wrote the story about the civil war in Mikayla's country.  It was about 71 pages long—10 point Times New Roman font, single spaced, 1.25-inch margins. I worked on it when I should have been reading Oliver Twist.  I worked on it when we went to vist my grandparents during the summer, typing on my grandfather's ancient computer. Not even typing—I hadn't taken a typing class yet, so I stared at the keyboard and fingered in the words one letter at a time.

I was 15 when it was done, and I was glowing with pride.  I had written a story! My story. Not Tolkien's.  Not anyone's but mine.

Then, the revisions began.  The story evolved and grew up along with me.  Mikayla's name changed to Michaela, since her grandfather was named Michael, then later became Mikhaila when her grandfather's name was changed to Mikhail. From that 71-page story has arisen a 80,000-word monstrosity with a life of its own—a living, breathing organism that keeps on growing. It has its own origins. I made up languages for these people, if only a small lexicon. Cultures. Nations. Politics.  A world.  And I'm still not done.  I'm not even a third of the way through with it. 
Mine. All mine. Inspired by other things? Yes, but no more so than any other tale. 

And all of that—all of that—came from a silly, vapid "Mary Sue" whose sole purpose was to have the hots for Legolas. 

Forget Legolas.  Forget Tolkien.  That fan fiction is gone.  Dead.  Totally vanished. 

This is just one way fan fiction can be a springboard for creativity.  If you write fan-fics now and can't possibly imagine your having your own original ideas, don't count on that lasting forever.  One day you'll hear the clarion, siren call of your own story.  Yours. Not your fandom's.  Not anyone's but yours. 

You'll meet your Mikhaila.

What are your thoughts on the topic of fan fiction? Do you think it fosters or stifles the creativity process for original fiction?  Experiences and opinions vary; share your thoughts respectfully in the comments. Oh, and don't forget to put in your two cents about Hugo Weaving as Elrond (you don't need to be respectful about that).

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  1. Never having written fan fiction, I don't feel qualified to comment on that. But I must agree that Elrond could have been cast better. I don't care for Hugo Weaving in anything I've seen.

  2. Why do I get the feeling that you had Anna and I in mind when you wrote this? Heh. I certainly agree that fanfic chases writer's block away like no other exercise! As a buildup to original fiction, I also agree that it will help in the long run. OC (original character) creation especially gets the creative juices flowing for me. I've discovered a few personality and background concepts that I'll probably use someday when attempting my own "Mikhaila". That'll be a long way off from where I am, though.

    I got quite a laugh out of your LOTR anecdote! It brought back some great memories. I don't think I'm qualified to pass judgement on Hugo Weaving's performance, not having any background knowledge of him as an actor and having never been a huge fan of Elrond in the books or movies. The hobbits were too distracting for me- a trait that I believe I inherited from my dad, who says he skimmed the the trilogy, only reading the parts with our little halfling friends.

    All in all, fanfic will probably be my favorite writing category for the rest of my life, whether or not I manage a decent original piece.