I wrote this in an email from a reader asking for advice on starting a fan fiction, and thought I may as well share it with a wider audience.
I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned about writing fanfic is not to start posting prematurely. You may at first be filled with inspiration for a story, write the first chapter and want to expose it to the world right away.
You need to have a good few chapters written already, with plenty of ideas WRITTEN down for the rest of the story (so many times I’ve been sure I won’t forget the next plot twist, but it got lost in the ether), and safe in the knowledge that your inspiration for the story has lasted longer than a few weeks, before even contemplating beginning to post. This is where I went wrong in previous fandoms–in my profile you’ll find many one-chapter wonders that didn’t make it further because I began posting them far, far too soon.
You should usually have an idea how/when to end the story, or at the least a few ideas knocking around that you can choose from as you go. Or, if you’re doing a drabble series, have a few written already with a number of ideas for going further.
So, don’t be premature. Write all you can while the idea’s fresh, but don’t put anything online too soon. If the story’s only a few chapters long, consider writing it in full–and having beta-read, an invaluable investment–before you post. Then when it’s done, don’t post it all at once, wait until the first chapter has disappeared off the ‘recent’ list before posting the next one–you get more readers that way.
Familiarise yourself as much as possible both with canon and fanfic. Research in both areas is important. Re-watch the episodes closest to your story idea, check your facts on wiki, and try searching fanfic archives for fics that may have used the same idea. If you can’t find anything in the latter, be excited, you may be onto something! If there’s plenty of authors who’ve got there first, don’t panic, familiarise yourself with what’s gone first and make sure you do something different.
Getting the summary right is key, especially if the idea has been used before, so if it’s not your thing, ask a beta or an author who’s got good summaries on their fics to help. I think my record is twenty rewrites before I settled on one which worked, so don’t be discouraged if the first attempt isn’t great. Think of them like the blurb on the back of a book–they’ve got to have selling power. The length is a challenge, but can result in very concise and engaging summaries when embraced. FFnet allows quotes from the fic as summaries (not all archives do, I believe) so if you have a line or two in your story which expertly sums it up, by all means use it.
-From a fanficcer who wishes she’d received the same advice seven years ago!