With only one week to go until NaNoWriMo 2014 officially kicks off, I took today to reflect on the journey my 2013 NaNoWriMo story The Bravery of the Soldier went on over the last 357 days.
And let me tell you: the feedback I got so far is nothing short of amazing!
First things first: The Bravery of the Soldier is a work of 103k words, if you count footnotes. It is a very long piece of BBC Sherlock fanfiction.
However: Sherlock Holmes is a secondary character in this! I borrowed the modern London setting, but the story’s focus is on Doctor John H. Watson and his past as an army doctor.
It started when I was bored in hospital. I had just discovered sites like Archive Of Our Own (known in the world of fanfiction as AO3) and read a few stories, but I really wanted to see one that explained John Watson’s background. The man is a doctor and Afghanistan veteran (as per Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, yet still possible today), meaning he’s clever enough to have gained a medical doctorate (MBBS or MD is never explained); he’s a soldier holding the rank of Captain and saw several years’ worth of conflict on three different continents; was shot, developed typhoid fever and survived; likes living with Sherlock Holmes; is one of the few people who actually get along with him and he’s a bit of a ladies man. In no way should this man be treated like Holmes’ faithful but slightly stupid sidekick!
I wanted to read a story about Watson the soldier, as I’ve always felt that this is someone cuddly on the outside but potentially lethal underneath. How would this soldier react to being invalided home from war? We never really hear about that in ACD’s books, and BBC Sherlock only shows John Watson dreaming about the war. He has a psychosomatic limp and a shoulder wound and knows how to handle a gun. He pulls rank sometimes, but that’s the extend of it. I wanted more.
So I started writing, first by hand and then on the computer. I thought I’d be done in about 10 pages. Then I thought of something else and something else again. I started a new chapter on November 1, and just kept writing all through NaNoWriMo and December.
Back when it was only meant to be a few thousand words, I thought I’d put the story on fanfiction sites, figuring the best people to judge whether I actually get the characters right are fellow fans. I had no idea it would snowball like this! I posted it to get general feedback, as I had not written anything remotely creative in a very long time.
The first chapter went up on AO3 on November 1, and on Fanfiction.net (often shortened to ff.net) on November 4, 2013. The last on January 11, 2014. I want to make it clear that this is not for sale, the names Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (as well as most of the original Sherlock Holmes stories) are not protected by copyright any more and the story itself regarding John’s background is my own creation. The character descriptions and traits are taken from BBC Sherlock, which is why this is fanfiction.
Now, I know that these two sites counts readers differently, but as of today, The Bravery of the Soldier has been read a combined total of 100,320 times!!!
That’s right! In just under a year, I managed to get more than 100,000 readers! It got a total of 527 reviews/comments, gained 439 virtual Kudos, 460 people favourited or bookmarked it and 380 people are still subscribed for updates!!
Here’s what some of those readers said about The Bravery of the Soldier (click on thumbnail to enlarge):
I still grin like the Cheshire Cat when I see some of these comments, because they make me so happy! Getting asked by an Iraq veteran when and where I served because the descriptions of fights, procedures and mindsets must have been so realistic they wanted to make sure it wasn’t just imagination (which it was, start to finish) is one of the highest compliments I can think of when it comes to a story tackling on ongoing conflict and how soldiers cope with being home.
My year 2013 was pretty crappy to say the least, but this acceptance, comments and reviews like this from like-minded people really gave me the encouragement I so desperately needed. to keep going and keep writing. People started to subscribe because they didn’t want to miss an update. Normally, hardly anyone ever listens to things I have to say! It’d been so long since I last wrote for fun and not because I had to get an article out before the deadline. I thought, if I post this and 10 people read it then I’m happy.
NaNoWriMo gave me my creativity back. And yes, I realise that I can always do with tightening my style a bit, but I’ve written to precise word count specifications for so long, it’s nice to let the words flow. And if I can make readers laugh and cry and side with a character, inspire them, and make them wonder whether I actually experienced something I’ve written, then I’d rather listen to suggestions these readers put forward rather than discussing which dialogue tags are redundant and why.