By Chris Stewart
When I was an early teen, a girlfriend and I used to write episodes for our favorite TV show, Battlestar Galactica. The original, not the imposter (you can see what side I'm on you BG fans).
You remember: Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, Lorne Greene. We loved it. And we wrote 200 page 'scripts' for the show (more TV movies than TV shows) for about a year. They probably weighed more on the side of romance than science fiction (I had a crush on Benedict; she had a crush on Hatch), but they were great practice at character development and sustaining a storyline.
I haven't done this in years, but have come across others doing it, which has been a nice surprise. Not many people know this, but I'm a mad Doctor Who fan from way back. I watched the show (now 'Classic Who') on PBS television for over 20 years, then switched to Netflix and YouTube when MPT pulled the show and the new series started (don't get me started on that).
I'm not a big sci fi TV/movie watcher, but there are a few that I can't resist and Doctor Who is one of them. I was thrilled when it returned with new Doctors and episodes (I'm more partial to Eccleston than Tennant as the Doctor, I have to say), and have come across many blogs where fans are taking matters into their own hands and writing scenes and episodes of their own to develop the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, as well as his back story, and producing funny, technical, dramatic stories to boot. It reminded me how great it was to write like this 'way back when.'
If you still don't know what I'm talking about, first: time to come out from under your rock. Second, it's called FANFIC (fan fiction), and it's a fabulous exercise that I encourage you to try. The characters and structure are already in place for you, all you have to do is think up a story and start writing. Take the show to a place you've always wanted it to go. Write the story leading up to the start of the show. Write its final episode. Anything goes.
So try writing outside your genre. If you normally write romance, try a cop show. If you write humorous pieces, try a hospital drama. Sci fi is fun because there are so many possibilities - romance, science, drama, history, humor, politics.
If TV doesn't appeal, pick your favorite book and write a little something from the point of view of a minor character. Or continue the story that you think takes place after the book ends.
Period fiction is very popular as we've all seen with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Those are a little extreme; there's plenty on Amazon and the web of a more serious nature. You could go blind reading the amount of Jane Austen fanfic out there.
It's a great way to practice your craft and take some risks in your writing, without pressure. And it's fun. Remember writing being fun? We all also need a reminder to shake things up, to try something different, to allow for imperfection and experimentation.
There are many sites devoted to fanfic for specific shows, a Google search will easily turn them up, but if you want to see just how large this universe is, check out the comprehensive website: http://www.fanfiction.net.
(Only the DW fans will get this reference, but here goes anyway):
So, c'mon you literary fiction writers or poets, show me some Spock!
Chris Stewart is program director for literary arts with the Maryland State Arts Council. A teacher/mentor of prose and poetry, she lives in Baltimore. Check out her new Sense and Sensibility-inspired project at www.embarkingoncourseofstudy.com