I've mentioned before that I've written FanFiction in the past. I've written in a couple of fandoms, one of which is quite sizable and although I never blazed any major trails with it, I had a decent following and for one story in particular found a modicum of success. During various reviews, a few people suggested that they would love to see the story as a proper book. Because I was writing the story before/at the beginning of the "P2P" or pull to publish craze, I assume they were just being nice. Maybe they weren't though, maybe they would have handed over hard earned money for a polished version of the story. There are plenty of people who do, some knowingly some not. A number of best-selling books that have been released in the last few years got their start as FanFiction. [Before we go any further I need to say that while I have discussed my views on this in the past (and my opinion of it can probably be gleaned from the unintentional tone of this post), I am not here to ignite the debate of the moral or copyright rights or wrongs about the choice to publish as original a work which was originally a fan-service piece.]
Going back to my original topic, there probably was the possibility to do a big clean and edit on one of my FanFiction stories and release it as an original novel. It certainly seems that it would have been easier than writing Through the Fire (and the rest of the Daughter of Fire / Son of Rain series), especially considering I had almost 300,000 words already written on one story/series. However, I never seriously thought of doing it. Why? Because even though my story is out of character for the particular characters I was writing and even thought it's "all-human" instead of paranormal, I was always writing the characters as the ones I loved (okay, okay, I was trying to keep things a tiny bit separate between fanfic and my originals, but for simplicity's sake for the rest of the post I'll admit that in this case, the characters were Edward and Bella, ala Twilight). In the story, Edward isn't a vampire, he isn't sparkly and he swears . . . a lot! Both he and Bella are Aussies and there is no Renesmee (there is another child, but seriously . . Renesemee?!?!?!). See, lots of differences right? Yes and no. For me, the characters are still built on the foundation of the original characters. For every difference, there is a similarity.
When I wrote the story, I was exploring characterization and story-telling, but having two characters which the audience already loved and who were already "destined" to be together (in the minds of most readers) made it easier to push the boundaries and still have a happily ever after. I learned so many valuable lessons in plot and craft from my time writing Fanfiction, but I do not think I could do a "find and replace" of the character names to be able to call this an original story which I think is unfortunately what sometimes happens with the ones that are pulled and published. [Further caveat, I know of some which have been published which have undergone multiple rounds of edits and are, from all accounts, remarkably different stories. The following doesn't necessarily apply to those, and see above RE the fact that I'm not going to weigh into the debate about right or wrong here.]
In my opinion, there are a few reasons why something which has been written as a fanfiction often doesn't work as a stand-alone piece, which I'm going to here:
- I have a habit of calling people by the name which they were first introduced to me. It took me almost ten years to go from calling my husband by the name which he first introduced himself to me as (Daniel) to a relatively common nickname he has (Dan). For this reason, when I've met a character as "Edward" he'll always be "Edward" to me. In my case, I might be able to change things around and find him a new name, but in my head he'll still be "Edward."
- FanFiction is a serial method of posting, once a day/week/month/however long a chapter goes up. The next one might not be for a while, so it's a good idea to sprinkle in a little, "What's happened up to now" the way a sit-com might but which doesn't happen in a movie. There are often redundancies written into the text which all need to be edited out to read it as a stand-alone novel.
- The characters are already known. As I mentioned above, just by writing "Edward" and "Bella" there is the expectation by the readers for them to end up together. That might not always happen, but it damn well better if it's not marked as a different pairing. Because of this, the characters don't have to be described in detail. You can just say, this is Edward and this is Bella and the reader will fill in the blanks (in fact, I'm sure other Twilight fans already have the mental image of these two in their heads just from the mentions of their names). I even played with this in one of my stories, having my character only called "B" by Edward (which is quite a common nickname amongst fics) and it's only revealed at the very end who "B" actually is. The natural assumption by fanfiction readers is that B=Bella which made it easy to use that assumption as a ploy to draw the reader toward a "Oh wow" moment. The impact would be lost in an original story, because no one would have an image of who the person is supposed to be.
- This may be true of more fandoms, but in Twilight FanFiction, Edward can be the biggest bastard and people will still want to like him. He's Edward: the monster who is fighting his internal struggle to not eat the love of his existence. He's supposed to be flawed, the more flawed the better he represents the struggle of his vampiric nature, even in an all-human story. I'm not sure whether the turnaround Edward's often have in fanfiction really work outside of that.
- Insta-love. In fanfiction (especially the Twilight fandom) it is totally expected that Bella and Edward fall in love (see above). This means they can go from just meeting to screwing in less than a day. Again this is welcomed, sometimes even expected, because the reader is already invested in their love, having read about it through four books by Stephenie Meyer. Even in the original material, the love affair isn't that quick. Attraction yes, but attraction =/= love.
- Little nods to source material. In every fanfic I've written or read, every single one--even the wildly out of character/all-human/alternate universe ones--there is some nod to the books, TV show or movie which inspired it.
EDITED TO ADD: Why yes, I did end up going back and cleaning the fic mentioned in this for publishing. Hypocritical? Not really. What I did was start to edit and decided if I couldn't see a significant improvement and or/massive changes, I wouldn't do it. However, there was loads of room for new material, deleted material, and now a spin-off series. Was it hard work to strip, clean, edit, rewrite this? Yep! Was it worth it? I think so, if only for the ability to tell Phoebe's story. Do I regret it despite talking out in the past about pull to publish? Nope! I stand by my claims that I don't agree with a straight pull to publish. I have no problem however with it becoming the base for an even better story.