You only have to put “online stories” into Google and you get 1,020,000,000 results in 0.46 seconds (or I did), to see that posting various kinds of writing online these days is a common thing.
For those of you who are maybe not as familiar with the online story world as I am, it’s simple. Someone writes a story and then they post it online where anyone can read it for free. People do this for a million reasons – a few being to drum up some fans just before releasing a story or two for sale, to get feedback and build on it or as a hobby of sorts.
Don’t confuse this with kindle or other apps where you can view the first chapter or so of a story but then, to read the rest you have to pay for it. Just while we’re on it – although this seems like a bit of a fishing rod idea it’s actually brilliant for both writer and reader. Have you ever read the blurb of a book and been really excited about it so you buy it or you go to the library but when you actually start to read it it’s a massive flop? That’s disappointing as hell, for the writer as well as the reader. The reader will perhaps never think about that book again but they might also mention it in conversation, that that book they read a while ago was rubbish, they might not even offer up their copy, just go straight to the don’t buy it. And that’s the end of that conversation but it also means that that new person missed out on something they could have enjoyed, and an author who could have became a favourite or even a treasured friend to their imagination.
And it doesn’t stop there, that don’t buy it friend might mention it every time they have a similar conversation, citing the author’s name as not worth it and then those friends who they tell end up associating that name with oh, no thanks. All because the book wasn’t that first person’s thing. So, if they read the first chapter, for free, they don’t think much more about it if it’s a let down. They close it, they move on, they don’t bring up the book again and the author is left out of the oh it’s them, I won’t bother zone.
When people post stories online these are totally free without obligation. You can comment, telling them what you think, and most of them encourage it, it’s maybe even the reason they started it in the first place.
Right now, I’ll let you into a not-really-a-secret-secret – I post online using a medium called fanfiction. I can hear you groaning and rechecking how old I am from here. When I started out on tumblr I had no idea what it was, none at all. For those of you who don’t know – tumblr is just another social networking site like facebook and twitter. But from then on I noticed fanfiction kept popping up on my dash, mentions of it here and there. So I clicked on a link one day and it took me to a story, I can’t remember which one or what it was about. I just know that when I realised what it was I closed it down like oh god no, I’m not twelve.
Again, for those of you who aren’t aware, fanfiction is a certain genre of online posting, it revolves around one concept – taking an original idea that isn’t yours and rewriting it. This can be from a TV show, a film, a band etc. We’ve all seen a film or an episode on TV and imagined how we would have changed the ending, right? Well, the only difference is that we write those down and post them online. And to clear it up, it’s not copyright. We’re not making money off of them. The original ideas belong entirely to the creator, we’re just making up fiction and letting others read it, that’s all.
From then on it was like my dashboard filled to the brim with fic recommendations and I was swimming in all of these great sounding stories that I refused to read because hello I’m an adult, god!
But eventually I gave in and starting reading. I know fanfiction has a reputation for being porn and I won’t lie, there is a lot of sex. Sure. But there’s sex in anything you read. And I quickly learned that, while there is a lot of porn-no-plot fics, there are probably more stories out there which have three or four different sub-stories going on spanning over 100,00 pages that have been more engaging to me than some traditionally published books I’ve read. These stories can be the length of an average book and then some and, as a lot of you will know, writing like that takes time and effort. And substance. There’s only so many orgasms you can put in before you need something else to keep your reader interested. Yes, sex sells but only so much.
I think the first fic I ever wrote was Quarantine and it was a Torchwood fic. I don’t remember where the idea came from or why I decided to just give in and write it but I did. I didn’t post it right away, I stored it away and kept on writing other stories before I eventually decided I could do with a little how am I doing? and posted it. It’s still up and it got a few reviews pointing out mistakes etc. It was my first foray into asking someone’s opinion on my writing that wasn’t a teacher, it was my first experience with criticism and it was my first experience with learning and building on what I had. I learnt more about my technique and editing skills (or lack thereof) in those twelve chapters than I had since I finished standard grade English in high school.
And then I realised what all the other fanfiction writers were doing – they weren’t writing porn or letting themselves get too into a show/film. They were sharing and even asking for help to improve. Then it hit me – I could do that too. From then on I posted stories with one chapter, stories with twenty-five of them; stories that took one episode of a TV show and changed it; stories that practically rewrote the whole thing; stories that crossed over shows and ones that took characters right out of them and placed them in the real world.
I had this preconceived notion that fanfiction writers and readers were daft teenage girls who swooned over 1D and craved anything to do with sex; who thought smoking was cool and that the Glee versions were better than the originals. It’s not like that at all. I’ve grown as a writer and, I think, as a person over the past couple of years and I’ve made amazing friends (one of which does think that some Glee versions are better than the others but I’ll let it slide).
Posting online might seem amateurish and not something you’d find a (collective groan) real writer doing and I guess I could understand that five years ago but this is the digital age and I’m damn proud of the stories I’ve posted online as well as a mock-article of Benedict Cumberbath photo-bombing U2 at the Oscars that is on tumblr.
They say that practice makes perfect and Rainer Maria Rilke said not to look outwards for validation. I know that I’m happy with my work, but I also know it doesn’t hurt to have someone point out that one scenario you’re unconsciously repeating throughout all of your stories either.