“Work” Writing Vs. “Fun” Writing: A Reflection (Part 2/?)

It all started with a television show.

The time was spring 2019. I had just become a published author for the first time ever, but I was having difficulty getting things off the ground. 

There were the usual difficulties with being a first-time author, of course, but I had many other things going against me other than the typical stuff. First, in a business where you want to be well-known in the region that you live in, I was less than a year away from moving to a totally different section of the state, far away from my home base of 40 years. In the middle of me doing that, trying to hustle for a side gig was the last thing on my mind. 

Looming in the distance, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, was COVID, which would keep me away from doing anything in-person for a long time to come. That would eventually halt most of the momentum that I had, and the fact that the publisher I worked with on my book was not accepting any new fiction work stopped my progress on that front, as well.

I was in a weird middle place, which I haven’t totally escaped from yet, where I was in-between projects. I have (still do have) some fiction that I had been working on, and the idea of trying to get back into the grind of trying to find a new publisher or agent was something that I was dreading. I was anticipating a years-long process behind that, because that was how it had gone previously for me. And there was no guarantee that I would have what I wanted in the end.

It was then that I got… a bit distracted by a shiny object – that television show.

Back in 2019, Game of Thrones was king. While I am not an HBO subscriber, I had been following the progress of the television show by other means. I am a big fan of fantasy fiction, and this interest had only grown since I was in my pre-teens.

The show was in its final season and I know there were plenty of people online anticipating the ending of the show. Many were anticipating it so much, even, that they were starting to come up with their own endings for the show. Even more, I was beginning to read them and watch them online.

I’d never had a totally favorable opinion of fan fiction by this time of my life. I had heard the old stories about how Star Trek had gotten that and “slash” romance fiction (such as Kirk/Spock). It seemed like people just trying to write their weirdest fantasies and throw it out into the ether of the Internet.

I started, in an ever so gradual manner, to read some of this work. Some of it I found on Reddit; some I discovered lurking around on other sites. I even saw a table read of a Game of Thrones play covering the final season on YouTube. There was a lot of speculation on YouTube regarding how this was going to shake out.

So, as I began to read and watch that material, in waiting for that final season to drop, I came upon something of a revelation for myself. I started to realize, some of these authors are good.

When I say that, I’m not talking about writers who were basically literate. I’m talking guys (and ladies) who were really good storytellers. I was getting as much enjoyment out those stories online as I had ever gotten out of anything I’d bought from a bookstore or Amazon’s Kindle store. They had everything – compelling, real-to-life characters with compelling relationships, great descriptions, plots that drove the story and that made sense based on a clear understanding of human nature and logical thought.

Because there wasn’t a lot of that – especially good plots – on TV screens right around spring 2019. Specifically, on any screens showing Game of Thrones.

If you haven’t heard, there were a whole bunch of people not happy with the ending of Game of Thrones. In fact, it was a debacle that eventually ended up killing a lot of the rewatch potential for the series. Somehow, it has managed to not destroy interest in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe (as the George RR Martin series is called), based on the reaction to the new House of the Dragon series (essentially a prequel to Game of Thrones).

I had been through bad endings of television series before, many many times. Anyone who grew up with any memory of 1970’s television (and reruns of 1950’s-1960’s television) would be able to recall bad series endings. Especially in those early days, there was no sense among television executives that series could come to a clear ending. They’d usually run those series until the wheels came off, when the ratings kept dropping even when cute kids were introduced in a desperate effort to keep eyeballs on cathode ray tubes. 

Eventually, those producers and show-runners got more sophisticated and realized that series needed a decent ending so that you could have satisfying series-long story arcs. Of course, show runners still got things wrong when it came to final seasons and endings. I had already suffered through Rosanne, Dexter, Lost, and, most horrifically, Battlestar Galactica (1-2).

But this ending – the ending to Game of Thrones – that threw me more than nearly any other ending of a show or a movie ever had. And as I was stewing over the many flaws of not only the ending but the entire final season of the show, one thought kept nagging at me: I could do this better than the 2Ds (3).

So, I started writing, pouring all of that frustration and a desire for a great story out onto the computer screen. Within a few weeks, I had a 40,000-word story set after the events of the series. It was a wild little tale that was never going to earn me a single dime. I wound up posting it in full on FanFiction.Net. 

People started posting comments on it and saying it was good. It… was a bit of a rush, to be honest. I mean, I’ve had people compliment my work before (more than a few of them family), but this was some random strangers giving them out. 

Then I decided to post it on a site called Archive Of Our Own (AO3), a virtual warehouse of fanfiction content. I met several cool authors there who put out some really ambitious work. There was one younger writer out there who essentially did an entire rewrite and reimagining of the entire ASOIAF series (4). There was plenty of great writing out there… and the craziest idea popped into my head.

“I should do a rewrite of Season 8.”

Part of me thought it would be too much work to do for a “fun” project, something that had no commercial potential whatsoever. But the other part was drawn to the challenge. I’d seen too much cringe moments in that season that I knew I could have done a better job of it than they could. I’d had that feeling reading plenty of paperbacks over the years, but I hadn’t gotten the idea to actually redo a book. Until now. 

I ended up with about half a million words. 

It’s now a series. 

I’ve had more than 1,000 people give “kudos” (AO3-speak for likes). 

I’m not sure how much more of it I’m going to write. If I wanted to be a “serious” writer, I should just try and come up with an idea about a new OC dark fantasy series. 

But, it turns out it’s one of the most fun things that I’ve ever experienced as a writer. 

And because of it, I think I fell back in love with just writing for writing’s sake. And I’m so thankful for it.

And yes, there will be more to this in a later post. Maybe you’ll see it next weekend? And maybe you’ll see it with some other stuff.

Footnotes:

1. The one that started in 2003, not the one in 1978. You’d never expect a science fiction series to last long in the 1970’s.

2. The four best ever endings in TV history so far are, of course, The Shield, The Wire, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos.

3. The Showrunners Who Will Not Be Named.

4. He’s since started at least three other series reimagining that universe. He’s a very ambitious and creative young man.

I Finished My Fantasy Game of Thrones Fan Fiction (At Least One of Them)

About two and a half years ago, I was paying attention to the final season of a really popular fantasy series on television known as Game of Thrones. I had been interested in the series for a while, but I was getting obsessed with the season and the ending of the series.

It was a weird situation. The television series that was based on George R.R. Martin’s book series was about ready to be done even though the book series itself wasn’t yet done (it still isn’t lol). So, the decision of how the series would end would rest largely in the hands of two TV producers (henceforth referred to, collectively, as 2D) who convinced Martin a decade or so back that they would take good care of his life’s work.

And they had done an all-right job. I loved the main story, its grittiness and the twists and turns behind it. The production design was fantastic and put me into this world of Westeros, and the casting to a person was spot on.

To be honest, the entire experience made me fall in love with the whole fantasy genre. It’s a wild situation, because I live in a world that’s so technologically advanced it looks like nothing in the pages of Martin’s books or what I saw on the screen. But I was falling in love with the world, and admiring the stories I had previously read. When I was in late elementary school, I had discovered The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander and now, thirty or so years later, I was actually combing bookstores for a serviceable copy of The High King to see if it still held up. (Reader, it did.) That led to me starting (but yet to finish) The Lord of the Rings and be foolish enough to dip my toes into the deep ocean of story that is The Wheel of Time series. I would have to say that the entire experience was enough to propel my interest in fantasy fiction – one I half-fear, half-thrill at, will be what dominates my fiction writing interests moving forward.

Anyway, with that much of an impact on my fiction fandom, I was itching to see how it would all end up. And I was more than half dreading it, as well.

Because I knew about television series endings. Hollywood is starting to take ending television series a lot more seriously than the bad old days when they’d try to carry on a series forever until everyone got sick of it and they just canceled it with no concern about whether they ended it in the middle of a story or right after they got to a cliffhanger. I liked that they were trying to be civilized and try and consider a series to be part of a longer stories that could be told in just a couple or a few seasons, rather than rambling on and on with no concept of a finite story or making sense (looking at you, Simpsons and Supernatural after Season 5 or whatever it was). British television has managed to do that for years (except for Big Brother, Coronation Street, Eastenders etc.).

Getting that ending just perfect, however… a writer has to stick that landing/that ending right. Because when you stick that right, it can cover up a multitude of missteps along the way and make everything right in the end. Most people know those series – The Sopranos, The Shield, The Wire, Six Feet Under.

But the ones who screw it up, the ones that just foul up the last things devoted viewers loved about a series – their infamy is eternal. There are so many that fit that category. Lost and Dexter are just a couple of many.

(And I’m still not over the idiotic way they ended the second Battlestar Galactica series. Ancient humans colonizing Earth? Forget that nonsense. They did Adama, Apollo, and especially Starbuck dirty.)

I was desperately hoping that Game of Thrones would be one of the former types of series – the one with a great ending that overshadows everything – rather than the latter, the ones with horrible endings that poison all that came before it in regret. Guess which one it was. Go on, just guess.

It did not work out, Readers. [Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com]

Yes, in May of 2019, what I was feeling was an overwhelming sense of… disappointment, sadness, and frustration, watching what unfolded across the small screen. And finally… I started thinking.

I knew that I could do better than what I was seeing. I knew I could turn out something better than these idiots, and I didn’t need a $10 million per episode or whatever budget they had to do it.

So, I dipped my toe into the waters. I thought, what if I had one more season to salvage the wreckage that was left at the end of the series. The result was a 40,000-plus word story I decided to call “The Reunion of the Pack.” I didn’t know where I could post it – I tried to set something up on FanFiction.Net and I did have it there for a time. Then I discovered Archive Of Our Own. I really loved how you could set up the stories into separate chapters, series, and also the tagging system.

I was happy with what it was. It wasn’t a perfect story, but I thought it did a decent job of salvaging the story and getting a nice enough ending to it. I got a decent reaction from it, based on the number of kudos that I received (the AO3 version of likes)… but I was still a little unsettled. Was there a way I could make a better ending for the story?

That’s when I thought if I had the chance to rewrite the entire final season… that would be something. It would be crazy. but it would definitely be something.

And then I started writing. I just thought that it would take maybe 40 short chapters, maybe 60,000 words at the most. I figured I would knock it out in a year at the most.

I’ve now not only finished that story, but added some other stories to it and it is now a series. It’s a series that now spans over 400,000 words and is likely to top a half million words sooner than later. It’s not something that I’m ever going to make money on it, because, of course, fan fiction. And I’m doing fan fiction on an author (George RR Martin) that has gone on record speaking out against fan fiction authors. (Personally, I think it would be hilarious if someone started doing fiction based on my work as long as they’re not trying to cash in on it.)

And, I’m likely not to publicize it here. By that, I mean linking to the story and so forth.

For one thing, I am considering eventually monitizing some of the stuff on the site, and maybe utilizing Substack. So, I wouldn’t want to try and do anything that might hint at trying to make money at that.

Secondly, I am a teacher in the public schools. Right now around the country, there are people who are trying to get books banned and teachers fired from their positions for either daring to tell the truth about history in the United States or teaching materials their parents consider too “difficult” for their kids to handle.

My students know I am an author and blogger. I have never promoted my book The Holy Fool to my students because the subject matter is definitely for adults, and adult situations definitely happen in it. I know some of them have even glanced at this blog, which I have no problem with. This blog is a writing-based blog for all ages, essentially.

However, the fan fiction that I do is also not aimed at children. I do not want any hint that I might encourage kids to read my fiction. If it had a movie rating, it would definitely be an “R” rating. I want to keep this separate from my professional education life, and I have no reason to stir up the waters, to be honest.

Besides, this experience has proven to me that I can enjoy writing for the sake of writing. All throughout the process, I never had to think about whether there would be a market for whatever this was, whether it would be easy to promote under a certain genre, or whatever it is. I just got to enjoy writing for the sake of writing, and I have gotten such a positive response for my fiction from the readers on AO3. I’ve also had the chance to read some writing on that site that is absolutely the equal of any that have been on my bookshelves.

So, what now? Although I will not likely put out fan fiction at the rate I have been putting it out over the past couple years, I will certainly continue to do it. There are a few other stories I want to wrap up there before I’m done, and I’m having a blast at it. I’ve gotten great feedback on my work, and I’ve gotten to talk to writers I never would have met otherwise.

So, this will leave a little more time for this blog – and perhaps some original fiction as well. But I won’t