What a controversial topic!
While fanfiction has gained in popularity and notoriety over the years, one thing about it remains: it is still something to be ashamed of. To hide. I find this to be a very sad thing, because I believe that there is tremendous value to be found in the creation and consumption of fanfiction. And that value can be summed up in a single word: practice.
The most common sound bite of advice that a prospective writer can get is to simply write. There are so many successful writers, how-to books, and advice columns that spout this simple idea. When asked, “how do I become a better writer?” these sources inevitably respond with, “just write!” Well, okay then. Write what? Standard answer is, “anything and everything.” While this advice is all some writers need to jump into the deep end and start telling tales, others want a bit more guidance, a little more detailed advice. For those who seek just that little bit more, I submit to you the idea that you should be writing and reading fanfiction.
Fanfiction has such a bad rap, I understand if you are a little bit uneasy or suspicious of this suggestion. But consider the following facts about fanfiction:
- There is an established world.
- There are established characters.
- There is an established plot.
No matter which type of source material you are talking about (and there are a lot!) these three things remain true. Beyond them, there are usually a lot of readers willing to read your stories and then comment on them for free, and fellow authors/readers who are willing to edit (beta) your stories before they are published to help clean them up. You can use this completely free resource to learn the basics of writing and hone your skills.
Do you struggle with keeping characters in character? Write a character study about a particular individual and get the opinions of the readers as to how in character you managed to keep them.
Do you struggle with plot holes? Find a source material with a complicated (or not) plot and ask yourself what if? Then submit it for mass consumption and specify that you’d like the readers to help you find plot holes. I assure you that they will!
Do you struggle with world building? Pick a source material where the world is well developed with lore, and then see what you can do to develop it further. This will also help if you struggle with plot. After all, you need a reason to talk about all this world building you’re doing, right?
Do you struggle with plot? As I said, all you need to do is ask yourself what if? and go from there. What if this person had died? What if that person had lived? What if the hero had taken the shot instead of sparing the murderer? What if?
Fanfiction is one of the best resources for the developing writer and editor because it allows for the practice of skills without the danger of isolation that leaves us making the same mistakes over and over. You can play in someone else’s sandbox, build castles and rip them down, and never have to use up your own original ideas learning. Then, when you are done, when you’ve developed your own personal writing style and learned the techniques to make you a top-quality writer – then you use your original material.
And write your story!