Fanfiction – fiction created for a fandom such as a TV show/film or book gets a lot of criticism. Some writers swear off it completely, deeming it not very original or of good quality. What are the pros and cons though? Is fanfiction really that bad?
First of all let’s look at the purposes of fanfiction.
1. To expand upon an already created stories.
2. To imagine alternative versions of that story.
3. For fun.
4. To practise writing.
So the most common criticism of fan fiction is that it’s not original and that you should write something original. While I agree that it’s probably a better idea to write your own story, there are times when you might want to write fan fiction and some benefits to doing so.
1. For practise.
I rarely write fanfiction but have recently written a lengthy novel for a fandom because I had an idea that really would not leave me alone. Because it is not my usual work and I have no intention of trying to publish or sell it beyond uploading it to websites such as archive of our own, I can take more risks and try out writing scenes that I usually would never get to write. This lets me practise without as much fear of criticism and for no other purpose other than sheer enjoyment.
As my fanfiction is purely for practise and entertainment, I can put in the story elements that I would feel wouldn’t work in my other novels. It can be a good thing to write purely for enjoyment and can reignite your passion for writing. Trying to write professionally can sometimes sap that enjoyment and it does you good to remind yourself that it should be fun too.
3. To tell stories that don’t usually get told.
Fanfiction is relatively popular in the LGBTQIA community because the sad truth is that there is pretty low representation in the mainstream media of non-heterosexual couples. Fanfiction allows underrepresented communities to create stories that may not be taken up by mainstream publishers and to get what they feel is missing in the mainstream.
We often believe that art allows us to write any story that we like but the truth is that there are people who decide what can and can’t be published and much of literature is still aimed at the perceived ‘norms’ of society and can leave out marginal groups because they are not as large an audience as the dominant demographic groups in society.
Recently I learned, for example, that there are extremely few love stories for LGBTQIA people that are romcoms and that have happy endings as these sorts of films are more often dramas or more ‘high art’ films. This isn’t because there isn’t a demand for them but nevertheless when writers can’t find a story they want they may go out and write it.
4. What if?
If you have ever watched a TV show and wondered ‘what if it had happened differently’ or ‘what if these characters were put in another story’ then you aren’t alone. Numerous online writers have created canon-divergent or alternate canon stories just for fun. Fanfiction allows writers to explore new possibilities within a current fantasy world and to create their own.
Fanfiction is often looked down upon because it uses non-original characters and therefore is seen as less valuable than original fiction. While I do value my original fiction more than fanfiction because it is entirely my own creation, I managed to write an entire 45000 word plus novel in just a month just because the story idea would not stop haunting me. I was initially a little skeptical too about writing fanfiction but found that I enjoyed it far more than I expected and that it has helped me to feel more confident that I can write quicker (having been a pretty slow writer before) if I put my mind to it and do it chapter by chapter.
My only negative experience was that online troll commenters are more common in fanfiction because of the anonymity and it feels very weird to receive a hate comment for something done entirely for fun. This is just so common on the internet that you cannot take it personality and my suggestion would be to either ignore or delete the comment unless it is constructive criticism and carry on regardless.
Despite that and feeling a little guilty at not getting back to my other projects yet, my advice about fanfiction is to see if it works for you and if it doesn’t don’t do it. If it does work for just do it for your own enjoyment and to practise and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for it.
Many writers start out writing just for fun and fanfiction is as good a way as any to start. It lets you run away with your imagination as you wish which can only improve your creative thinking the next time you come to write your original project and you may have even learnt a few new tricks.
Just remember that if your fanfiction is copyrighted work the original author still has the right to ask you to take it down. Be careful to respect that the author may not okay with fanfiction and that this is their right as the creator/owner of the original work.
For details about the legalities of fanfiction there is a great post here discussing it in depth.