When I write fan fiction, I tend to concentrate on areas that Tolkien mentioned in passing, but did not concentrate on in too much detail. I then try to research the background as much as possible, tying in dates and places, plus other events, so that my plot does not contadict anything else. Once I have a reasonable framework, I see if I still have enthusiasm to continue the story or if the idea has been trashed by other events already written.
Once I begin, I then try to keep my characters as close to character as possible, generally avoiding the bigger star names (unless they are making cameo appearances).
Like Val, I like to explore the areas about which Tolkien said little. That is particularly why I like the first half of the Third Age, and the boyhood adventures of Legolas, whom I imagine was born in that era.
I like to write stories with a clear beginning, middle, and conclusion. In them I like to tell the readers stuff they might not already know. That’s the fun part – making things up that conform to Tolkien’s canon (in the US, a cannon is a big honking gun. I was in a law ethics class once and the professor asked the class “Where do we find the Canons of Ethics?” Smart aleck replies: “Right next to the Guns of Navarrone.”)
I have only departed from the canon knowingly, twice, both times in the same way and for the same reason.
The easy part of writing a story is knowing the very last scenes and the very first scenes. The hard part (which is also fun) is plotting the story in between. In the first fan fiction story I ever wrote I wanted to show how Legolas the lad practiced and studied with great teachers to learn archery. I knew that the final scenes must contain a spectacularly dangerous challenge for Legolas, which had to have the following characteristics:
• must endanger some Elves – the more the better
• must have been caused mostly by Legolas
• must take place in front of his parents, teachers, and others
• Legolas must be there in the middle of the action, and
• the reader thinks the outcome, that Legolas actually prevents the danger through his archery skills, is uncertain.
I knew these characteristics because I had seen them in kind of a dream, but how to get from Legolas the student to Legolas the boy hero was a mystery to me. I had to imagine the physical layout of the place where Legolas lived. There had to be a place where people could look down onto a large clearing. It could not take place in an underground cavern, and that had to be accomplished without damaging what little canon there is in The Hobbit. The danger that Legolas faced had to take place in front of a lot of people, so the reasons for a lot of Elves to be in one place had to be developed. The danger had to be really scary, so that the outcome was in doubt. Legolas had to have caused at least part of it, because that would make his failure worse and his success greater (heightens the tension). And it had to be the kind of danger that could be met with great archery skills, and I had to make his ability plausible. And it would help if the danger in question was brought about by Legolas through his trying to perfect a deficient archery skill.
How you do it is, tons of trial and error, asking what if, and writing the possibilities until you run out of steam. Then what you do (or what I do anyway) is research. I remember reading essays on hunting and doing internet searches on archery, and re-reading The Hobbit, and all kinds of reading. And then going back and rethinking it all, and writing and discarding and writing some more.
When you’ve finally got the story down in a first draft, you go back and eliminate the needless words (adverbs, passive voice, “Did too! Did not!” type dialog, etc.) and correct all the technical errors. Then you read it aloud and see what you think.
Well, that is how I wrote my first story and all the stories that I thought were any good.
I did not know this post was going to be so wordy, but I do like talking about writing. Regards – Chathol-linn