In honor of Fan Fic Writer Appreciation Day (an “unofficial” holiday I heard about over on Tumblr), I just wanted to write a really quick blog post in defense of fan fiction. Because, quite frankly, I would not be where I am today without it.
For those of you who somehow don’t know what fan fiction is, it’s when a fan of a video game/movie/book/etc. writes a story based on that media. Here’s the cool thing about fan fiction: The writer can create their own original characters in the original work’s setting, or they can write “AUs” (Alternative Universes) with the characters of the original work as their protagonists/antagonists, only setting it in a different world or timeline. They can also write “prequels” or “sequels” to the original work. So, for example, one could write a story about Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s original Wizarding World, set either before or after the events of the original 7 books; or you could write about Harry’s parents (i.e. writing an alternate story where one or both of his parents survive the attack from Voldemort); or you could write a story where Neville is the Chosen One instead of Harry.
Or you could do what I did for the first, oh, hmm… ten or so years of my writing career: You could create your own Harry Potter characters and send them off to Hogwarts to have adventures of their own.
Fan fiction gets a bad rap. In my capstone course, we even had to read a writing advice book that warned its readers/aspiring writers to stay away from the “trash” that is fan fiction. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one fuming while I read it.
Now, there are some legitimate concerns when it comes to fan fiction. If you want to be a “serious writer” (that is, a published writer who produces original work, although I don’t like the term because it implies other writers can’t be serious), writing long fan fiction takes time — time better spent focusing on your own original work. Then there are issues of copyright, which is usually where big-name authors become worried. Look at the whole 50 Shades of Grey thing. It started out as a fan fiction of Twilight, but then the woman who wrote it, E.L. James, started making money off of it. In order to avoid a conflict with Stephenie Meyer, she had to change the names of the characters, take away the vampirism, and tweak the story so that it could be published. As a writer myself, the thought of someone else making money off of my ideas makes me a little sick to my stomach. George R.R. Martin has also voiced similar concerns.
And I get that. But on the other hand, fan fiction can be a really fun way as a fan to interact with a story you love. And as a writer, I would simply love to write a story one day which readers love so much, that it inspires them to get creative and have fun.
There are criticisms of fan fiction that just do not ring true to those who write it. For one thing, there is this idea that all fan fiction is poorly-written “smut.” That’s frankly not true, and many readers and writers of fan fiction know that and take it as an insult. There is some wonderful, complex fan fiction out there, with great editing and proper grammar. And, yes, some of that good stuff is even smut! But not all of it.
Then there is the “sick burn” that fan fiction writers are unoriginal and lack creativity. Again: Not true. Some of the AUs that people come up with are awesome, and many of them, whether they choose to write about their own characters or not, show an amazing understanding of characterization.
And finally, there are those who believe that fan fiction is simply a waste of time. As mentioned above, if you want to be a serious writer, that is true… but only partially.
The truth is, I’ve been writing fan fiction since fourth grade, when I created a Harry Potter character who befriended Hermione and had great adventures with her and Hagrid, and when I created a rogue elf from Middle Earth who fell in love with a young Legolas from afar and dreamed of meeting him someday. (You can read what I wrote about her here, all 31 chapters! Although I wrote it when I was 11 or 12, and let me warn you, it’s not great and it remains unfinished.) In high school, when I lacked confidence in my writing abilities, I joined a fan fiction writing forum where other writers and I created our own Hogwarts characters and co-wrote stories of them interacting together, often providing feedback to one another and bouncing fun plot ideas off of each other. Those years taught me a lot about myself. I made friendships with other writers that have lasted until today. When I got to college, I was able to write original fiction knowing my strengths (plot, dialogue, description) and weaknesses (characterization, pacing, over-telling) thanks to the friends I made in the fan fiction community and what they taught me. Still today, when I hit a block in my original writing, I take a diversion and write some fan fiction, post it online, and hope for some feedback, whether it be a comment or a kudos. Some readers offer great constructive criticism, while others just like to leave comments saying, “I loved this! Thank you for writing it.” And that can easily make my day.
For me, it has never felt like a true waste of time. Sure, I sometimes feel a little guilty for procrastinating on my original work. But every time I write a fan fiction, I learn something new about my writing, and interacting with an audience boosts my self-confidence a little bit.
I’ve also seen really neat collaborations between fan fiction writers and fan artists, where artists will draw something based on a fan fiction, or the writer will ask the artist to use their work as a writing prompt.
Fan fiction has helped me build a small audience, has helped me overcome writer’s block, has taught me how to carefully examine setting and characterization. And, quite frankly, it’s just really fucking fun to write! Whether you’re in it to improve your writing or just explore a creative alternative version of a beloved story, all fan fiction writers can agree that they love what they do (even when the writing itself gets difficult).
So here’s to all the fan fiction writers out there! Don’t let the anti-fan fiction snobs get you down. Thank you for doing what you do, and happy Fan Fiction Writer Appreciation Day.