The Value of Writing Fan Fiction

The subject of fan fiction can be a controversial one, so I may be making some people mad when I say that fan fiction is valuable and important.

First of all, to clarify for those who might not know, fan fiction is just what it sounds like: stories written by fans of a particular book/TV show/movie. Fanfic stories can range from plots that easily could have fit into the official story, to endings or explanations for unfinished storylines, to alternate universe adventures and wild what-if tales.

Fanfic is written for the fans, by the fans, and is generally not authorized by the original authors or creators of the book series/show/movie. There’s nothing illegal about fan fiction, unless you try to make money off of it or claim it as your own property. Then you get into plagiarism, theft of intellectual property, and related cans of worms.

This post is not about the legal or even moral implications of the fan fiction world, but rather its value as writing and art. All nerdiness and fangirling aside, writing fan fiction has several benefits:

Writing for your own enjoyment

Many people write simply for their own pleasure. In my opinion, this is the best way to start any writing project, even if you’re a professional writer. After all, if you’re not enjoying writing it, then why do it? If you like to write just for fun or for a creative release and have no intentions of sharing with others, that’s fine. And you want to spin a fanfic yarn based on your favorite TV show instead of building your own world and characters, then go for it.

Writing to build your confidence

Especially if you’re a beginner writer, confidence in your writing ability may be something you struggle with. (“Experienced” writers often struggle with self-confidence, too). Sometimes it might feel easier to get your writerly feet wet by working with a world and set of characters that’s already been established and developed. Also, if you hang out in online fanfic forums, that could be a safe place to begin publicly sharing your writing. While internet trolls can lurk anywhere, usually die-hard fans are supportive of one another’s fan work, and will happily read other’s fanfic and offer feedback and encouragement. (Just remember, if you find a fan group where someone is trying to sell their work, or insisting that their work is “authorized” by the original creator or copyright holder, either leave or proceed with caution).

Writing to improve your craft

Writing is just like any other skill – it takes constant use and practice to get better or stronger. And all writing counts as exercise and practice. Even if your goal is to write and sell original novels, don’t discount the value of writing exercises like blog posts, website content, non-fiction articles, and yes, even fan fiction. The best way to learn how to tell a good story (aside from reading/watching/hearing good stories) is to tell a lot of stories.

I’m working on a piece of fan fiction myself (no, I won’t tell you what it is, and no, you won’t ever get to read it, even in a fan forum). It’s basically a series of vignettes, rather than a full-fledged story. It’s not something I write on frequently, but I use it as a way to keep my writing muscles going if I’ve hit a wall with whatever else I’m working on at the time. It’s a fun creative release, and sometimes if I’m feeling stressed about trying to tell the perfect story or get all my plot points right, I just want to relax and write a scene of useless dialogue between two characters I love. Sometimes to unwind I write little vignettes or mini-scenes with the characters from whatever book I’m working on, and other times, I go to my fanfic piece.

I’m also using my fanfic as an exercise in deep point of view. I almost always write in the third person, and I know that a lot of my stories have a high-level sort of point of view – that is, almost an omniscient narrator, like in a movie. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I want to get better at deep POV – getting as deep into a character’s head as first person POV might be, while still keeping it third person. So in fan fiction, writing a character I know well, and telling a story that doesn’t really matter, I am experimenting with style, word choice, and narrative voice. It’s a fun exercise, and one that I believe will help me improve my craft and skill in this area.

So that’s my take on the world of fan fiction. If you want to become a published author and share your stories with the world at large, you’ll have to branch out from fanfic and tell your own stories. But don’t neglect fanfic, especially if it’s something you’re already writing, or you’ve had an interest in. Practice writing, enjoy your writing, and go tell your stories!

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4 thoughts on “The Value of Writing Fan Fiction

  1. Very well said. I see nothing wrong in the slightest with fan fiction. Many of devise alternative plot lines to movies, shows, and books in our heads – especially if we aren’t keen on how a particular story unfolded – and putting such down on paper is just a natural extension of that. I can’t say as though I’ve penned a lot of fan fiction myself, but I do distinctly remember writing a short piece with an alternative ending to the movie Titanic, as I was – back when I first saw it the age of 12 or 13 – million miles away from pleased with how it ended. No idea whatever happened to that story, but the long and the short of it is that Jack pulled through.

    xoxo ♥ Jessica

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    • Yes, Jack lived! That sounds like an excellent fanfic. 😉 I always thought that broken table/raft was big enough for two! Yes, I suppose that making our own happy endings – or just different endings – to stories that aren’t fully satisfying is a natural human habit, thus making fan fiction the next logical step. Thanks for sharing your insights, Jessica!

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  2. I’ve written Lord of the Rings fanfiction for a time, though it was years after I started writing.
    It was fun. But some of the stories were good… I mean, I loved the stories and I knew I couldn’t share them if not on fan fiction rings. So I stopped writing those.

    I went a different way. When I started writing, internet was a long way to come, there wasn’t a fan fcition group I could join (even if I know fan fiction already excisted) and so my very first steps into the world of writing were my own already. But I do think that fan fiction can help improving your writing, especially at the beginning, for all the reasons you said.
    I also think that fan fiction can help you going, even when you would probably give up on a story of your own. Because a time always comes where writing becomes tough and if you don’t really love the characters it’s hard to go to the end. But you write fan fiction ‘because’ you love those characters, so I think this is a huge help.

    Thanks so much for sharing. Great post 🙂

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