The idea of studying your fandom to write a piece of fanfiction may sound odd. After all, you’re only writing fanfiction for fun. But one of the more challenging aspects of writing fic — and the most rewarding when you nail it — is evoking the original source even when the words and ideas are yours. The research involved does not need you to cite sources of quotes, although that can sometimes happen.
Researching your fandom means rewatching that episode that sparked your story idea. It means taking notes as you watch to make sure you have the details right. It means rereading a chapter on your Kindle while you highlight passages or make notations there for future reference. Regardless of what form your research takes, it can be a necessary part of writing a fic.
Watch or read the original source
Sometimes you know your fandom backward and forwards. In many cases, even if you feel like you live and breathe your fandom on a daily basis it helps not only for inspiration but for a feeling of confidence to rewatch or reread the original canon material.
Rewatching an episode or two surrounding the timeframe in which you want to set your fic or rereading a couple of chapters of the original book may not only help you with the details as you write, but it can also contribute to getting you in the mood to write that story.
With the relevant scenes and details of canon fresh in your mind, it can be easier for you to bring your version of the characters to life. But trying to refamiliarize yourself with every aspect of your chosen fandom is not necessarily a good idea or even a workable one.
If you try to rewatch an entire season of a series or reread the entire book, it can be too much to take in at once, even if you are already familiar with the canon. You want to strike the right balance between the details that already exist and the story your imagination wants you to tell.
Read fic in your chosen fandom
A good way to research your fandom so that you can write that first story is to read what other people have written. In any fandom, there will always be stories that other fans of the original canon material will recommend everyone read. Sometimes these recommended stories will be just as good as the original. They’ll have original characters of their own to support those that exist in canon.
I often like to go to category pages on sites. For example, if I’m researching RWBY fanfic, I might go to the RWBY fanfiction section on Commaful for inspiration. Or if I’m writing Mulberry fic, maybe I’ll go to the Mulberry fanfic category on FFN. I might even try Wattpad if I’m trying to dig deep, lokoing for Sombra fanfiction.
Other times they will be stories that are popular in the fandom with little to no bearing on how well-written they might be. Regardless, reading fic in your chosen fandom will give you an idea of what others in your fandom are looking for. Chances are those fics will strike a chord within you, as well. If you’re planning on writing your first fic in a large fandom like Harry Potter or Star Wars, it may be especially important to read a few of the most recommended fics. There are blogs that specialize in reviewing popular fics in a given fandom.
They will tell you what they feel is good and bad about these stories. Online fanfiction archives will have a list of stories posted there.
You can usually look at those lists to see which fics have the most likes, kudos, comments, or reviews. If you cannot find what you want searching for it on your own, there are forums you can post on to ask for recommendations.
With any kind of writing, taking notes can be a good way to keep your ideas organized. Notes can help you to remember that brilliant idea you had for a scene halfway through watching an episode. Your notes can be anything.
They can be a word or two to prompt that bit of memory. They can be a line or two of dialogue that came to you while you were falling asleep and you want to use in your story. If you jot down that bit of dialogue to use later, you will save yourself a lot of frustration trying to remember it when you are finally ready to write your fic. If you use a bit of dialogue straight from the show or movie, that is okay, too. Just don’t forget to make sure your readers know some of the dialogue is not original to you but comes straight from the source material. Always give credit where that credit is due. Notes do not have to be simple reminders of situations or settings or ideas.
Depending on how detailed your notes are, you can use them to create an outline for a longer fic. They can even become parts of the fic itself, such as in the case of those snippets of dialogue mentioned above.