What is fanfiction, exactly?
Put simply, fanfiction is a when a writer creates a story that takes place in an already-established publication using the characters, setting and concepts from the original author. In the last several years, fanfiction has boomed into a massive movement, sparking publications of its own and exploding the internet with the ever-popular Fanfiction.net (which should be navigated only with discretion).
Now the big question: is fanfiction a valid method of storytelling or not?
As a writer, I have had a divided opinion of fanfiction, despite the fact that I owe it a major portion of my growth. I had a recent discussion with a fellow writer about whether or not we could consider fanfiction “real” writing, as in, if we should or shouldn’t consider fanfictions to be our own work.
It’s a fine line. On one hand, fanfiction is empowering. When I started writing in 2010, I had little experience crafting a story, let alone an entire world with rules and magic systems, etc. After finishing my first novella, I wanted to do something bigger before my first National Novel Writing Month challenge in November. So I decided to try a little fanfiction. I chose my favorite anime at the time, Bleach by Kubo Tite, and went off on a plot idea I had.
In writing a sixty thousand-plus word fanfiction, I discovered much about writing. For one, chapter-by-chapter feedback is amazing. For two, it’s a good idea to write ahead of schedule and then edit before posting. (I did not realize this until a couple years after the fact, and am still ashamed of my practices). Finally, I learned that such a massive amount of writing was not only possible, but fun, and the very next month I wrote fifty-nine thousand words of my first original NaNo novel.
In essence, fanfiction was my gateway. It taught me how to write in quantity while keeping a decent story pacing, and also taught me the elements of accountability—since I posted my fic regularly and needed to keep a schedule. Without my project, I may never have had the proper confidence to attempt an entire NaNoWriMo.
Of course, there is a flip side. Not long after I started writing my own novels, I could no longer see the use in fanfiction. Using other authors’ story ideas, characters and settings seemed more like cheating than creativity. The dedication and effort to create an original piece far outweighed that of fanfiction. I also found a much deeper joy in finishing my own work. It was mine. Only I had a claim to it. When I compared my massive fanfiction to my equally massive novels, I had an infinitely deeper connection to the latter.
I began to wonder. Why do fanfiction at all?
After much internal debate (and several years), I have finally come to a somewhat surprising conclusion. It is this: any form of writing can be beneficial, and therefore well-done fanfiction deserves respect.
Here’s why—fanfiction does take conscious effort. Embodying another person’s characters in full, with all their traits and quirks, is not easy. Keeping true to the original ideas whilst creating one’s own storyline involves speculation and in-depth knowledge of the content. Fanfiction also gives writers the opportunity to showcase their skills while accessing an active fanbase, thus giving them a taste of what it feels like to interact with real readers and write accordingly. It also gives authors space to improve their writing techniques and play with style and structure. Finally, it offers writers a place to funnel their excessive love for anothers’ fiction in a positive and constructive manner.
This shift in my thinking is fairly recent. Let’s blame my fandoms. Last week I wrote the first fanfiction I’ve attempted in six years, and while I’m a bit rusty, it was liberating. I finally had a way to express my adoration for a fictional universe without squealing at someone in a high-pitched string of unintelligible words.
In addition, as I wrote, I realized my biases were not as concrete as I’d assumed. I was not just ‘stealing’ someone else’s ideas in order to gain recognition and or attract readers. This was a genuine effort to produce a meaningful work mutual fans would connect with. Like fan art, it offered a way to demonstrate my appreciation for a story in a way that I personally love and can do at least decently. If I enjoy writing it, and other people enjoy reading it, then we have accomplished something. If that isn’t a spectacular outcome, I don’t know what is.
Therefore, I would encourage interested writers to try their hand at fanfiction—if that’s what they want. If someone tries to tell you that fanfiction is lazy or plagiaristic writing, don’t let them stop you. Fanfiction is a great tool for sharpening your skills and getting you motivated/in practice to write your own works. If it makes you happy and you’re being productive, there’s no reason you shouldn’t write it. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t sweat it—that’s what original stories are for. If you wind do up loving it, however, then take advantage of your passion. Someone out there in the fandom will thank you.Plus, maybe you’ll save someone from your high-pitched squealing. Verbal communication really breaks down when you can’t actually talk. So write, and show that love in a cohesive and captivating way.