Fanfiction defined: Fictional writing that is based on the canon of different “fandoms”— particular books, movies, television series, or even real-life celebrities and bands. If you want to know more information on the details of what fanfiction is, read about it here.
While fanfiction is a creative goldmine to some, to others, it represents a decline in originality. In and out the writing community, you can bet that everyone has an opinion on whether using this form of expressing appreciation helps or hurts your skills as a writer.
Why do some say to stay away—while other people swear by it?
Those Who Don’t Write It Say:
One of the major arguments against writing fanfiction is that it will get you stuck in a creativity rut; that writing within a fandom is a waste of valuable time that could be better spent churning out more original stories into the world. Those violently against fanfiction argue that participating will ruin you for any other kind of writing and make it more difficult to come up with your own ideas. There’s the risk that if you devote your time to writing with someone else’s characters and universe, you may end up unable to focus on your own projects in the future.
Unfortunately, one of the major obstacles fanfiction writers have to overcome is that outsiders have a hard time taking it seriously. There are so many misconceptions about fanfiction—it’s for copycats, non-serious writers, or untalented writers. People tend to assume all fanfiction is only erotic, instead of recognizing that, like any other medium, it houses many different genres. Because of these misconceptions, writing fanfiction can be looked down on by other writers or readers who haven’t given it a chance.
There’s no money in it
Writing fanfiction isn’t monetarily profitable since you can’t publish content based on an existing work. Even the longest fanfictions that span the length of several novels can never be sold, traditionally or otherwise. This goes back to the claim that fanfiction is a waste of time. If you’re writing fanfiction in hopes of becoming the next E.L. James or Anna Todd, the chances are low.
Those Who Do Write It Say:
Fanfiction is yet another way to stretch your writing muscles. By having several previously set variables in your writing, there’s the opportunity to focus on areas of your skillset that could use refining. For instance, maybe you want to get better at dialogue: writing two existing fandom characters in deep conversation or argument is a great way to hone your banter-writing skills, without having to divert time to explain character backstory to your readers. Here are some more examples of exercises that can enhance your technical skills:
While there’s the argument that using an established fandom’s characters shows a lack of creativity, it’s often the opposite. No matter what genre of fanfiction you’re writing (perhaps with the exception of crack fic), you have to understand the characters you’re borrowing—their personal motives, fears, and desires. Someone who has never read or watched Harry Potter might not be able to write a convincing Harry if they don’t understand his history. Because of this, writing fanfiction is an excellent exercise to practice character work: how do you stay true to a character that readers already love while still making it your own?
If you’re writing a more detailed fanfiction that not only utilizes the characters, but also the world they canonically live in, you have the opportunity to stretch your world-building skills. Maybe you want to write a story that takes place in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth—not only will that take a lot of research and knowledge, but you will need massive amounts of creativity if you want to build out areas of the map that aren’t covered in canon.
Maybe you only have experience writing short stories, and you want to hone your long-form fiction. Fanfiction is a great place to start. You know the characters and you know the universe. Now, see if you can write a 400,000-wordBuffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction that takes place post-canon. You already have some set variables (the Scooby Gang, supernatural rules of the Sunnydale universe), so you can focus on building a long-term plot and other aspects you want to improve on.
Maybe you want to get better at writing romance. Sprawling adventure stories. Spy action thrillers. Tear-jerking, major-character death scenes. What better way to workshop your writing in different genres than to practice in fanfiction?
You’re part of a community
One of the most incredible aspects of writing fanfiction is that you’re automatically part of a community invested in the same fictional universes as you. You have a built-in audience who already love the characters, who are more than willing to submerge themselves in your work. The fanfiction community is one of the most supportive you could ever ask for—but they’re also one of the most vocal. When readers like something, they share it. They comment on it. Because they’re just as passionate as you are about your favorite fandom, you’ll receive frequent and thoughtful feedback. Fanfiction is a great way to build your confidence as a writer. No matter what you write, there is an excellent chance it’s someone else’s cup of tea.
Building a fanbase
Though you may not write the next break-out fanfictions likeThe Mortal Instruments (originally a Harry Potter AU) or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, when you write fanfiction, you are still building a fanbase. Given the engagement of the fanfiction community, writing stories that people want to read is a great way to gain a loyal readership.
At the end of the day, writing fanfiction is about personal fulfillment. Despite stigmas, people love it because they’re showing their appreciation for canon, building their technical skills, and—most importantly—having fun creating stories that they’re passionate about.