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!