I seem to have several ideas for fanfiction novels. I'm working on a long fanfiction at the moment that's quite complex and I'm trying to practice editing.

I would like to write some original short stories because novels take years of work. I write just for me, mainly because nobody really likes my writing. I'm not really looking to write as a profession but I still would like to write original stories.

The problem is I can't seem to think of anything beyond fanfiction and writing prompts don't really help. I can't write unless I have the whole story from beginning to end.

What should I do?

  • 4
    If you are just want to practice writing for yourself, do you really need original ideas? Take Sheakespear's plays, and rewrite them in your fan fiction settings :)
    – Alexander
    Nov 22, 2017 at 0:10
  • Hello @egan, and welcome to Writers SE! We try to address specific questions here, and it's not very clear what you are asking. Are you asking how to find ideas? There are many posts about this already: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/29609/… Or are you asking advice whether to focus on short or long narratives? Or what else? I suggest you to rephrase your question to clearly express what you want to ask, so that more people can help you. Happy writing!
    – FraEnrico
    Nov 22, 2017 at 8:09
  • This blog may help you. Nov 22, 2017 at 8:10
  • 1
    Originality died during the birth of this universe, write a story about you going to the cemetery to visit its grave. Nov 22, 2017 at 19:57
  • 1
    If you're doing fanfiction, think about the areas where you deviate, your characters, their backgrounds, etc. What would happen if they got stranded in another setting? How would they cope? You don't have to like the story, but you can toy with that in your head for a while and see "what if". I've found that has gotten me out of some boring sections of my own writing.
    – BugFolk
    Nov 22, 2017 at 20:19

7 Answers 7


To quote Illy:

Please forgive me if it all sounds so familiar

I'm sure that you've heard this all before

I'm only one voice in a world of billions

And no idea's original no more

(Sorry - been listening to him most of the day, seemed appropriate)

I forget who said it, but there's a maxim that there are only a handful of stories in the world. Everything else is just a retelling of these core stories.

A great example of this is the movie Ten Things I Hate About You (coincidentally, my wife's favourite movie). It's a great story about the struggles of young adults in high-school, finding ones identity, learning to compromise, learning to fall in love, the differences between two sisters, young love, a misguided bet then then turns into deeper feelings, betrayal and salvation etc - and an absolutely fantastic soundtrack.

It's also Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

What you're struggling with is quite common. You've got one of these core stories, but you can't help recognizing it and associating it with something you're familiar with. It's a common affliction and a symptom of also being your own worse critic.

The difference comes through in the window dressings. The setting - place, characters etc are what make the plot lines to your story unique.

You mention you write fan-fiction. Personally, this is not something I do and I don't personally enjoy it overly much - particularly when it's using existing, established characters. And I think it might be contributing, in part, to your situation, that said - I think it could also help with a solution for you.

Start small, but be prepared. Plan your story out - identify your characters (more on this later), the plot, the inciting incidents, the resolution - all of it. Write it down and keep referring to it. But keep it broad, force yourself to fill in the gaps as you're writing.

Before that, though, expand your horizons. Start reading other stories, other settings - try other genres. The more you read, the wider you read, the better it will be for your writing.

If you still decide you want to write a fanfiction though - make it a fanfiction that doesn't focus around known characters in the setting. You can reference them, or certain events, but make the story your own and put your own spin on it.

For example, say you wanted to write a Harry Potter fanfic - don't write a story about any of the main characters, why not try telling a story from the perspective of younger student who started the year after the events of The Deathly Hallows - retracing the sites of the battle with wide-eyed wonder, perhaps they found an artifact of some description in the forest.

Slowly work your way out of telling your version of someone elses story and setting, into telling your own.


One suggestion:

Go at it differently. Create two characters, completely made up or composites of friends and acquaintances. Then just start having them talk to each other. Don't worry what the story is. Make them talk to each other. Do that with a few different made up characters. See what comes out of it. When they come up with something you like, see if you can develop it into a short story by adding in the other elements like narrative and so on.

  • Great idea - I've provided my own answer inspired by/based on yours!
    – storbror
    Nov 22, 2017 at 17:20

In order to answer this question, you should start by identifying the type of story you want to create. Is the story character-driven or plot-driven? Character-driven fanfiction would favor unique characters impacting the original plot: their actions directly changing the course of the story. Plot-driven fanfiction would favor original characters being thrown into a unique story (with or without a proper explanation of why or how, though some fans may feel repelled by the handwave at these questions.) If you already have a full cast of unique characters and settings, you may not be writing fanfiction at all, but a unique work of fiction drawing inspiration from other material.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a unique story or unique character trait, or combination of traits. Everything you can imagine has already been thought up, and probably already produced. What we are left with is the ability to throw unoriginal characters into unoriginal stories. The task of a artist is to find a way to make it our own.

How to do this is impossible to give a matter-of-fact answer to. It is something each and every artist has contemplated (oft in frustration) and all have failed to produce a definitive answer. The best advice I can give is this: Decide whether you want to write a character-driven or plot-driven fanfiction, then work backwards.

For character driven stories, ask yourself what type of character would be needed to alter the original story in the way you want it to go. Build your character(s) around that goal alone, then add in traits later that contradict the social convention, or "cliche," of that character type. (Is he/she a super baddie that forces the original baddies to team up with the heroes? Maybe he could also have a soft spot for cats, or a tendency to do volunteer work - out of a genuine desire to help out.) Making a round character in any work of fiction is possible by doing this, and is recommended by many well known authors.

For plot-driven stories, ask yourself what type of situation the original cast could be in (believable or otherwise) that would produce an entertaining result. This is the most common method in fanfiction I have read, and is arguably the most entertaining when done right. This type of fanfiction does not require any new characters. If it does (say they are transported to a different world, and the new world is inhabited), the characters will very likely not be necessary to develop beyond generic characters, often called "stock" or flat characters. The point of plot-driven fanfiction is to create a unique scenario for the fandom to see their favorite characters in, not to fall in love with new characters (the latter is best used for character-driven stories).

In either case, the most important (and compelling) aspect of fanfiction is to portray the source material in a new light. If the plot is different, what unique factors or characters were responsible for this variation? If the original characters are changed in some way, what unique conditions made them change in this way? The most important aspect of writing quality fanfiction is leaving no deviation unanswered (short of handwave dismissals of how they ended up knowing each other in highschool, despite canon dictating they met later in life, for example. In this case, the fact they met in highschool should be pivotal to the story in some way. An example of this being the fanfiction takes place in highschool, and the character needs to be there in order to tell the story you want to tell. Readers will likely understand the necessity to handwave this type of deviation, and are less likely to be put off by it.)

If you cannot naturally produce scenarios or characters of your own, try playing around with other existing universes (including our own.) Drop the source character(s) into any other universe. Throw characters from another universe into the source material's universe. Does any of these exercises spark ideas you would like to play with? Take one (or more) of them then run with it.

More than likely, you will end up coming up with some ideas of your own along the way, simply by trying out new things. Remember, at the end of the day, nothing is every truly unique, and that's okay. The goal of writing is to tell a story that has been told a million times before, nuanced by the unique perspective of the writer.

If none of the above methods gets your proverbial gears turning, you might need to ask yourself the most important question of all: "Why am I writing this story?"

What are you (or readers) intended to gain by the time lost writing (or reading) your story? Be it intended only for the writer, or for the audience as well, writing is a poor use of your time if it serves no other function than "for the sake of writing." The same is true for writing with the sole intent of making money, and for the same reason: If you do not feel passionate about what you are writing, you will have nothing unique to bring to the table.

Contrastly, when you write about things you know and have an opinion on, you have access to an endless archive of ideas to draw from, because it's the same things running through your mind every day. Answer that fundamental question, and make sure the purpose is being pursued in your writing. Do that, and you should have no trouble in coming up with ideas for your fanfiction.

Final thoughts: If you do not care about public approval, and;

A) write because you want to hone your writing ability, you don't need to come up with a unique story for that. It can be done using even the most cliche of plotlines and characters.

B) write simply because you enjoy coming up with cool ideas, you do not need to ever write a single word for that. The "fun part" of writing isn't the writing itself. It's the brainstorming. You can do that all day long (as I often do) without ever picking up a pen!


  • Decide whether you want to write a character-driven or plot-driven fanfiction.
  • Change only what is necessary to your story (fanfiction), or keep only what is necessary to your story (fiction).
  • Draw inspiration from anything and everything.
  • Know why you want to write what you want to write.
  • Decide whether writing is a viable use of your time.

A story (of any length) consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Google for the "Three Act Structure", here is a link to an example worksheet, it applies to all stories, even one page stories (although the segments might be only a paragraph long, in that case).

First you must learn how to structure a story. Once you do that, your original ideas are just characters with problems or issues to solve, and they pursue them. An "original idea" is a problem you think is interesting, or a character you think is interesting. Then you find the opposite (a good character to have that problem, or a good problem for your interesting character to have).

In Breaking Bad, it looks to me like somebody came up with a problem: An older adult that is a complete novice in crime embarks upon a life of it. That is the problem. So, what kind of crime would they choose? Making drugs, perhaps:

Now refined to an expert chemist, older, that is a novice in crime but nevertheless embarks upon the world of manufacturing and selling illicit drugs. Pretty cool. But WHY? What could compel a lifelong law abiding citizen to do this? They found a good reason: He is a low paid chemistry teacher that discovers he has Stage III lung cancer and only two years to live. His compelling reason is that he has a disabled son with cerebral palsy, and he needs to leave him enough money to support him. Or die trying, he's got nothing to lose. So ... here we go.

That is technically a "fish out of water" kind of story, but obviously that kind of dismissive summary doesn't do justice to a billion dollar story.

We can provide these kind of paragraph-long descriptions for most books and stories, and it is a good exercise for you to try and write some for books you know.

You will find that the main ideas are pretty straightforward, and if you generalize them (e.g. "a fish out of water" story) then you have examples, and can then come up with your own ideas.

Use the Three Act Structure to expand that paragraph into many and outline each major piece of the story. Then you will know the beginning, middle and end, and can write your story.


To begin with; This is an expansion of @DPT's answer to this question.

A dialogue between two fleshed-out (or quickly sketched-out) characters can possibly develop into something "bigger" by having them talk about something that you choose in advance - be it something (1) ordinary or something (2) extraordinary. There's a potential (3) bonus too.

In the case of (1) you could then choose to give them opposing views/perspectives/experiences on/of something we can all relate to. Their differences can then lead to personal developments in them both. This is the basis for many realistic stories, but a part of almost any story at some point.

In the case of (2) they needn't be as different as I would suggest them to be in (1), and the 'stranger' subject (the extraordinary) would be the basis of their mutual development, and they would more likely go on "the journey of the shorter/longer story" together or 'on the same side'.

In either case, you could stumble upon 'a great idea for a/your story', simply by having characters react naturally or unnaturally to each-other or a third party (the extraordinary).

In the case of (3) If you do this exercise with semi-known or yet-unknown characters (to you or an established fanbase) you will most likely get to know them very well - perhaps very quickly too - since interaction and communication tell A LOT about a character.


  1. You could know early on what the relation is between the 2 characters, as this would change the behavior of the two in both situations (1) / (2). You could also 'learn this' as you go. The same goes for the following:
    • The exact location of their interaction, e.g. "The café of a Prince Hotel on 5th Avenue" (real or fictional).
    • The broader location (real or fictional)
    • The era/time/dimension of the interaction (real or fictional)
    • Their age, background, skills, etc.
    • I think you get the point: You can learn a lot as you go and then edit the already written when you know more.
  2. In either case, they should differ in some ways, though personal differences are probably more crucial in (1).
  3. An unusual/odd interaction between the characters could raise many questions in the reader (and the writer seeking a bigger story) as to what might cause this behavior in the character(s)

    • For (1) it would potentially create a sense of mystery.
    • For (2) the reader would perhaps assume that the extraordinary had a connection to the unusual/odd behavior.

I’m a fanfiction writer myself who’s trying to break into original fiction, so this answer comes directly from my own experience. I’m not going to talk about how to generate ideas, because I know this has been answered elsewhere (one of which is linked in FraEnrico’s comment on your question). Instead I’ll specifically talk about how to use your fan fiction ideas to get you started on original ideas.

First, find out what it is that drives you to creating fan fiction. Fan fiction writers can be drawn to a variety of thing about the source material: the universe and world, the characters and their relationships, the plot and adventure and loose ends that were never tied up. For me, it’s definitely characters. When I watch a show or read a book, I latch on to a character, or the idea of a character, and my brain starts rolling with my own ideas to create their past, future, or behind the scenes stuff that’s going on within the context of the original story.

For example, one of my fan fics is a ‘how they met’ story about the characters Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta from the Hunger Games. As you might expect, the Hunger Games world is tightly built into the story. The plot doesn’t make much sense without it. In fact, the relationship itself was interesting to me because of this context. It’s what I consider a ‘good’ fanfiction – it cannot and should not exist outside of its canon universe.

Even so, as an exercise you can attempt to strip away whatever makes this idea relevant to the source material. In this case, I end up with what is essentially a doomed romance in the midst of a dystopian future. Now repeat this for all of your fan fiction ideas and compare them. What do they have in common? What are the recurring themes, settings, character archetypes? What do you like about them? What was it about the source idea that pulled your interest in the first place? At the end of this exercise what you have is an idea of the kinds of stories you are interested in writing. If all your fan fictions essentially boil down to star-crossed lovers in post-apocalyptic settings, then (if nothing else) you know where to start brainstorming.

Other times, I have an idea that I’m consciously or subconsciously interested in exploring, and I use the original work as a platform to build that idea. This is my idea of ‘bad’ fan fiction. It’s not that it’s actually a bad idea, or that I shouldn’t write it, or even that people won’t enjoy reading it. But it’s bad at being fan fiction because the idea itself is not necessarily relevant to the source content. It’s bad for me because I could make my own characters and setting to explore this idea– but instead I’m taking a shortcut and using somebody else’s.

As another example, I recently had the urge to write a fan fiction about two side characters from the anime Haikyuu!!, which is about a high school volleyball club. My idea was for a reunion between two of the female characters years later when one of them is becoming aware of her homosexuality. Before I knew it, the story had become more of a vehicle for some things I wanted to write about, in this case a discussion on sexuality and sexual agency. The idea I ended up with was not exclusive to those two characters and the backdrop of Haikyuu!! was no longer relevant. I could take the story right out of context, and it still made sense. It could stand alone as its own story.

It’s at this point you realise that what you have is an idea for a story that could be – but doesn’t have to be – a fan fiction. Have a look yourself to see if any of your fan fiction ideas are really just regular ideas in disguise. It’s taken me many years to get to this point, so don’t worry if you can’t. Essentially it’s the same as my other point: the bare bones of YOUR ideas belong to YOU.

Long story short, you are more than capable of creating ideas. Your ideas may even be more original that you realise. But you need to break them down and find out what stories YOU are interested in telling. That’s your starting point. Good luck!

  • 1
    Nice to read such a simple yet comprehensive strategy! It may, of course, be easier to some than others (and probably easier with practice), but this is very straightforward and well written.
    – storbror
    Nov 22, 2017 at 18:26


əˈrijənl/Submit adjective 1. present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest. "the original owner of the house" synonyms: indigenous, native, aboriginal, autochthonous;

2. created directly and personally by a particular artist; not a copy or imitation. "original Rembrandts" synonyms: first, earliest; noun

I'm pretty sure that without inspiration, nothing can be created. So, originality is a fable. Nothing is original because it wasn't ever the first thing to exist.

As for short stories, write about something that genuinely interests you, it could be easily formatted as a diary entree, that happens all the time in books and short stories.

Think about Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. It's a rather long short story with about 180 pages, but it's inspired by the things that happened in Keyes' life.

The Muppets series was an idea taken from a childhood memory.

Some things really can't be original.

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