The Danger of Fanfiction

I’ve spoken before about the value of fanfiction. Of the way it allows you to play around in an established world, getting a feeling for the way you want to tell your story, allowing you to craft your author’s voice if you would. But there is more to it than just a medium to allow for expression and learning. There are habits learned in the world of fanfiction that must be unlearned once you begin to cross over in the world of paid publishing.

The first of which is world building. As previously stated, the joy of fanfiction is that it allows for you to ignore world building in favor of characters and relationships. But that means that  you don’t get the experience with world building. This can mean that the worlds portrayed in your original stories lack depth.

The second issue is that you can fail to show the reasons behind relationships. Most fanfiction tends to revolve around the relationships of the characters from the source material. And that’s both expected and fine. But the problem here is that you (and your readers) are already invested in the relationship between the characters – whatever form that relationship takes. This is not the case in original fiction. All the people your readers are meeting are new to them. They have no reason to prefer this person to that, or have any opinion on the relationship between them. You must form the attachment (or antagonism) between the people through your writing. No longer can you assume that you want to people in a romantic relationship and jump straight to the pining. You must make the reader understand the desire and sympathize with it.

The third issue is this strange tendency of having all the interesting things happen off-screen. This is something I’ve seen multiple times by authors who are very good at fanfiction, but their writing looses something in the transition to publishing. When you write within someone else’s playhouse, so to speak, you are operating with a list of things and events that have already occured. Given the nature of fanfiction and that it is assumed that any readers are already familiar with the source material, fanfiction focuses on the things that either happened off-screen or didn’t happen at all but what if they did? This does not translate well to original works. Fanfiction authors get so used to just casually mentioning the interesting things that have happened elsewhere that they forget that readers want to know what those interesting things are.

I’ll make other posts later where I will go into more detail about how to keep an eye out for these problems in your own writing. For now, keep an eye on the content of your story and consider the things you are emphasizing and the things you are de-emphasizing.