I’m really too old for this

I have an embarrassing confession to make: I have written Doctor Who fan fiction. Boom! Half of the four people who read my blog have just closed their browsers. One of the two that’s left is searching for the “unfollow” button. Don’t worry, I’m not posting the fiction in the journal itself (it might end up on one of the side pages; I haven’t decided yet).

I’m not a writer. I have never written any fiction before, except for those stupid assignments you always get from some English teacher in high school, to write a short story or a poem or something. To be completely honest, I have a good grasp of grammar and spelling, but what I use it for is technical writing. Well, I guess blogging, too. But never fiction. I do like to lie awake at night and imagine the Great American Novel that I’d like to write – everyone does this, right? – but I’ve never once set down a single word of it. I did write a 500-word vignette once, for a forum competition for an online game I used to play, but I would have never written it if there wasn’t a shiny in-game trinket for a prize.

So, it came as quite a surprise to me when the idea for a story came to me the first time I viewed the episode “The Girl in the Fireplace.” If I remember correctly, this was the first Doctor Who episode that touched me deeply. I had enjoyed all of the one before it, but this episode really drew me in. I lay awake that night thinking about it, and the story idea germinated. I thought about it all the next day, and could not fall asleep that night, as the idea blossomed. The next night, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m., typing furiously into my iPad until I got it all down. The next couple of days at work, I had the story open in another browser tab, and reviewed it frequently, adjusting language, moving bits around, and doing background research.

It was a completely new experience for me, to be consumed for a few days by a creative idea. I’m not an artist in any way (verbal, visual, or musical), so I must assume that this is what artists feel all the time: a compulsion in their minds to create and shape.

I wrote down a few other ideas for stories, but didn’t revisit the concept of writing until a week ago, when “The Day of the Doctor” inspired another story idea. The impetus wasn’t as strong as the first, but it was a fun idea, and I’ve written that story out, too. This time, though, I felt that this was something I could enjoy doing more, and I wanted people to read my story and provide feedback. I know I’m not a good writer and I want advice and guidance. Thus, I posted my story on fanfiction.net. Unfortunately, while I did get a few readers, the feedback hasn’t been very useful. It’s been of the “Wow, cool story!” variety, rather than the “This part could have been better if you did it like this” variety.

It has been a learning experience, though, because rather than waiting to be inspired by an idea, I’m starting to think about what would be fun or instructive to write about. My interests are the interactions between characters and the emotional journeys of the characters themselves. For example, I want to write one-shots where a human has the Doctor enter his life for a short period, so I can explore how his life changes. I also would love to write a timey-wimey story, but complex timeline plots are extremely difficult to do without graph paper.

I suppose, though, my greatest failing as a writer is that I can’t create an interesting plot. This is the main reason why I’ve never written the Great American Novel: I have no idea what to have the characters do. For example, in most Doctor Who episodes, the Doctor and the companion encounter a situation. They get involved, and it gets more dangerous and more dangerous. Then some clever thing happens (usually the Doctor coming up with a clever solution), and they win the day. It’s that middle part I can’t do: making the situation get them into danger, and then getting them out of it. So this is what I’m trying to work on.

One thing I am doing to learn is to read other authors’ works on fanfiction.net. There are some real gems in there. One of my favorites was a series of vignettes featuring what was happening to all of the Doctor’s previous companions while one-third of the world was standing on the rooftops during the Sycorax invasion. It was an innovative idea, as well as being well-written. There are a lot of talented fanfic authors out there, and their work can really add some fun to the universe.

One of the problems with this, though, is that 90% of the fanfics are ship dross. “Ship” is short for “relationship,” and refers to fanfiction which pairs up characters romantically. The Doctor Who fanfic area on the site is plagued with stories of the Doctor marrying Clara, or Amy, or, especially, Rose. In general, the stories seem to push everything else – the situation, the other characters, even the dialogue between the two ship characters – into the background, in favor of depicting the two characters getting into a situation where they can hug, kiss, or more (the site does not allow purely adult content, so the stories don’t feature actual porn). Luckily, the story summaries usually say that it’s an alternate universe in which X and Y are paired, so it’s easy to tell which stories to avoid.

I’m not against relationships being deepened. The thing I hate about shipping (yes, it’s a verb, too) is that in my view, it deviates too far from canon and ruins the show. In the case of Rose and the Tenth Doctor, pairing the two up destroys the beauty of the end of “Journey’s End.” Ships that romantically pair the Eleventh Doctor and Clara completely miss the point of their relationship. The fanfic could be wonderfully written, but adding romance demonstrates that the author didn’t really grok what it was about the characters’ relationship that made it fascinating.

Perhaps I’m simply being an old grump, trying to keep those dang kids off my lawn. Meanwhile, I plan to just keep writing and having fun with it. I feel that Doctor Who has expanded my horizons, inspiring me to create, and that can’t be a bad thing.

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