Most of us have witnessed it. The part in the interview when all fans wince and even the actors tense. They are having a pleasant conversation about their hit movie or show when the host or interviewer has to go and step on that landmine.Fanfiction.
Just take a look at the cast of "Teen Wolf" when it comes up:
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There are so many problems with this. First, it's been done to death. Actors have to deal with a lot of stale, repetitive questions during interviews, which comes with the territory, but this is something that seems to come up over and over.
Secondly, whether the interviewer is just discussing the fanfiction, or forces the actors to read it aloud, the pieces that are chosen are usually poorly written and raunchy, as if this is an accurate representation of all fanfiction. Also, the selections are oftentimes discussed or read with an undertone of mocking, which is insulting to the author, and fanfiction as a whole.
While the modern idea of fanfiction goes all the way back to the original "Star Trek", it is a topic that has taken on new life in recent years. Thankfully, people have been attempting more and more to fight back against the stereotypes and bust the myths.
I could show you some of the beautiful and inspiring fanfiction work that exists to convince you of its worth. I could give you facts about fanfiction authors to prove stigmas to be false. But, you're writers. You don't have time for all that. You want to finish your story, screenplay, six-part novel series - or maybe just that first sentence. So here is where I am going to prove fanfiction's validity and value in the world of creative writing. Because let's face it, we're all selfish at the end of the day and you're sitting there asking yourself "how is this going to help me?"
1. It Gets You Writing
The best way to get better at writing? Writing. But it's not like this is a beginning writer's full-time job. We're not getting paid to sit at our desks and bang our heads against the keyboards over and over. Most of us have one, or multiple, jobs, school, family, and everything else that comes with this messy thing called life. It's not always easy to find the time, energy, or motivation to write. With fanfiction, you already know that you like the original content and its characters. You don't need to cultivate a whole new creation. The seeds have been planted and the trees are grown. You're just adding on some branches.
2. A Story is a Story is a Story
Whether you're writing a character analysis, a sequel, or a case-fic (story centered specifically on a criminal case, similar to a television episode) for a crime show, there is always a story to tell. Sure, the heavy lifting has already been done by the original creator, but you're not writing a verbatim play-by-play of your favorite film. Whatever you write, even if it is just a single missing scene, has a story behind it that you need to deliver. Once you've developed the skills, you'll be able to transfer them into your original work.
3. Because Character Development is Hard
Let's be honest. Characters make or break a story. It doesn't matter how much research you put into your WW1 SciFi thriller. Maybe your setting, slang, even clothing fabrics are all historically accurate. Maybe your plot is so full of juicy twists and turns, even Dominic Toretto couldn't drift those corners. But if your characters are kiddie pools, no reader is going to want to dive in. With fanfiction, you're (mostly) working with characters that have already been described and developed. Your job is to translate that into your writing. How would they walk, talk, argue, think? If your piece is based off a television series or movie, you can even pick up on their mannerisms and speech patterns by paying close attention to the actors. Fanfiction also allows you to create OCs or Original Characters. These characters can act as cliches, or they can add a new, rich, element into the story. These OCs need to be engaging and likable enough to be accepted by readers into the fold of already beloved characters in the original content. If you can take a popular pair, like Holmes and Watson, and add a third wheel without getting called out by fans, then you'll have no problem creating your own characters for your works.
4. Grammar Schooling
Sure, our junior high English teachers taught us where commas should actually go, proper grammar and dialogue formation, but how often do we practice it? And who remembers all of those details when some are not frequently used in academic writing. Of course, someone could publish really poor work online as fan fiction (and this does happen) with more punctuation errors than plotholes, but the readers are going to notice and either offer critique or just not finish it.
Some stories and authors even have "beta readers". These people read the works prior to it being published, checking for errors in spelling, format, dialogue, plot, etc. Basically, they're editors. So now, not only are writers getting practice, but future copy editors have a place to hone their skills too.
5. Short Assignments
Not everyone has the time to plunk out a 50k word novel. Not everyone wants to. While I have several novel-length stories in the works at the moment, I personally prefer writing and reading shorter pieces, especially flash fiction. However, some fanfiction stories are novels in length. I, myself, have a few fanfiction works that top out from between 80 and just over 100k words. But it's not required, or always preferred. There are plenty of fanfiction pieces that are only several hundred words and still are able to tell a beautiful, fully developed and delivered story. Even if you are writing or reading something longer, fanfiction authors tend to post by chapter. If this sounds odd, don't forget about serial fiction and that many great authors like Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had their original works published this way.
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This has already been touched on, but readers are able to leave feedback on fanfiction immediately after reading it, even chapter by chapter. They politely point out errors, praise well-done characterization, make suggestions, etc. Authors are able to better their writing and audiences turn into critical readers. This also acts as a confidence booster for the shy, new author. The first time someone told me that they literally stayed up all night to read and finish my story made my entire day. During a low point in my life, I stopped writing altogether. This meant that my stories stayed unfinished for several months. That was, of course, until I checked my email and discovered the bombardment of reviews from readers expressing their love for the pieces and asking, sometimes threatening me (I like to end my chapters on cliffhangers), to continue.
Have you ever wanted to put your work out there, but are too afraid of what people might think? Do you want to dabble in a different genre that you're not sure you've got a grip on yet? Fanfiction is the answer. Like many famous authors do, fanfiction websites allow you to create your own pseudonym or pen name. You can Google search my name and the subject of fanfiction and the only relevant item that will come up is this article.
Whether it's familiarizing you with the basics of the original content you intend to work with or researching every detail you can on life in 1920s Chicago because you're putting the characters in an alternate time period, there is always some element of research involved. This gets you used to the type of research you're going to have to do for your own future original works.
Remember what I said? The best way to get better at writing is writing. Every single piece I create, whether it is poetry, fanfiction, or that new chapter to a work-in-progress novel, I find myself growing and learning. I have a difficult time going back and looking at my early fanfiction works, or any of my early writing that is all hidden away in journals in my parent's basement. My storytelling was rushed, there are adverbs everywhere, and why I thought every character needed a page long detailed description of their face and clothing is beyond me. Through practice and reader feedback, though, I have been able to up my game and now have works that are followed in earnest by people around the world. As fanfiction was the bulk of my creative writing for several of my younger years, I don't believe I would have grown as much as a writer without it.
No, I'm not talking about "Fifty Shades of Grey"'s origin as "Twilight" fanfiction. Though, technically, that counts - as much as I wish it didn't.
11. It's Everywhere
Fanfiction isn't limited to the online world. Every superhero show, every live action adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's character of Sherlock, the new "Star Trek" films and so many more films and series are all based on and rooted in other original works. They feature previously created characters and plotlines and sometimes reference the originals or adaptations that came before them verbatim. Even if these protagonists are gender swapped or the setting is moved to modern day, they were still inspired by and based on some other original work. If these works can be taken seriously, why can't fanfiction? Speaking of serious works, "Paradise Lost" is, essentially, a fanfiction of Genesis. And "The Divine Comedy" is "an epic self-insertion fic for Catholic doctrine" Even classic literature can't escape this. Who is to say that your idea for a dystopian future version of "Beauty and Beast" with Beast as a robot, Belle in the role of the reluctant, plucky, heroine, and Gaston as the handsome, heartless dictator, won't one day become the screenplay or novel that hits it big? (And now I really want to write that story...)
12. How to Make Friends & Influence People
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Networking, networking, networking. That is what every career comes down to. While feedback is great, there are other advantages to the people that you meet through fanfiction. First of all, there are friends. I have made acquaintances with people all over the world and we chat about everything and anything together. I have met fanfiction authors that have their fanfiction and other works published. The community is entirely welcoming and there isn't a sense of competition. Do you have questions about turning your work into a sellable ebook? Confused about the modern world of publishing in general? You'll find a whole handful of new friends to walk you through it all. On the other end of this, you can also influence people into finally trying to write, or even just to watch a certain show just because they want to read your fanfiction story about the series. Both are pretty great feelings.
13. Flip the Script
Writers and directors make character and storytelling decisions for a reason. Even if that reason doesn't make sense to grieving fans. So, next time you have the irresistible urge to spam Moffat or any other breaker of fan hearts with threatening tweets that will surely fix all your problems - do something constructive. Think of it as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story where Sirius Black can live to raise Harry Potter. Or where Jason Todd and Bruce Wayne sit down and have a decent heart-to-heart and fix their issues instead of both of them being emotionally constipated, stubborn men, who shoot first and ask questions never.
14. It's FREE
Yes, you heard that right. Free. No strings. No ads. Just - free. To write. To read. Think of all the things you have to pay for, but with a phone or tablet or computer and some internet and you can write and read entire novels about your favorite characters for no cost. You can even download the works as PDFs or find apps where you can save stories to view offline.
15. It's FUN!
Let's face it. Writing isn't all sitting in the grass by a rolling brook with a pipe in your mouth and a fountain pen in your hand. It's stressful and time-consuming. It's realizing that you left a major plothole six chapters back and having to re-work everything you just finished. It's getting all the way to the end and scratching the whole thing. It's late nights, long hours, and little financial reward. That being said, I still love writing. I'm going to continue to do it until I die, whether I ever see a penny or a scrap of recognition - because it's my passion. Sometimes, though, when I'm running head first into a wall of writer's block, or I just need a break from a work, fanfiction can be a great fallback. Yes, I still take it seriously. But - for all the reasons above - there is something liberating in its creation and sometimes, it's just more fun. If I'm writing something dramatic and the weight of it gets a little too heavy, I can take a break with a short comedic piece. It's different, but I'm still writing.
I'll close with a not-so-secret confession: I hate working out. So to combat my disgust and lack of motivation, I work in fun "breaks" from my normal routine. I'm still working out, but maybe I'm walking the mall instead of the track or having my own private dance party in my living room. Your muscles need variation, anyway. So, why not treat writing the same way? Does this mean that I'm a fitness expert or some sort of athlete? Far from it. Does this mean I view myself as some gifted writer? No. Even the mere act of composing this feels something akin to committing fraud. But I still hit the gym every day. And I still write fanfiction. Because I'm trying. I'm growing. And that's really all any of us can do.
Interesting in giving it a shot? Head on over to FanFiction.Net or ArchiveofOurOwn.org to get started.