The Argument for Fanfiction

I am a fanfiction writer. There, I said it. To many people, this would seem like some sort of dirty little secret. Not to me. Fan Fiction, in case you’re wondering, is fan-written fiction, or, according to Wikipedia:

“Fan fiction is a broadly-defined term for . . . stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work’s owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published. Because of this, many fan fictions written often contain a disclaimer stating that the creator of the work owns none of the characters. Fan fiction, therefore, is defined by being both related to its subject’s canonical fictional universe and simultaneously existing outside the canon of that universe.”

It’s gained popularity and notice in recent years, especially with authors such as JK Rowling, Naomi Novik and Stephanie Meyer being supportive of fanfiction, and with authors such as Anne Rice, Anne McCaffery and George RR Martin against the practice. I’m going to examine the reasons why it’s good, and also the reasons it’s bad to write fanfiction.

Since I’ll make the argument for, I’ll start with the reasons why authors discourage fanfiction and why I think it’s rubbish.

+Copyright Infringement: Many authors argue that fanfiction is a form of copyright infringement. The characters are theirs, the story and plot are theirs, and they do not wish their created story and characters to be distorted. While I understand the protectiveness many authors (myself included) over their characters, I also think it’s a bit silly. I tend to think of my characters as actual thinking entities to some extent, but they are still just that. Characters. Fanfiction authors rarely make any money on their works, and are only doing it for their own entertainment. To me, it’s kind of like a singer getting mad about someone singing their song badly or getting the words wrong.

+”Not a good exercise for aspiring writers”: This reasoning is given most notably by George RR Martin, and I disagree wholeheartedly. Fanfiction writing allows you to practice writing in a manner that you are unfamiliar with. With characters that are not yours, in a world that is not yours. To be a good fanfiction writer, the characters (whether they are canon or an ‘OC’ (Original Character)) have to be believable, the world has to be consistent, and it is actually far harder to keep someone else’s character ‘in-character’ than it is to keep your own character consistent.

Those are the two biggest arguments, and while I do believe they have valid points, I stated why I think they’re silly. Writing fanfiction is fun, easy, and in my opinion, a great exercise. It’s a great way to get fans excited about a story, and a great way to get excited about writing.

I would never have considered myself a writer if it weren’t for fanfiction. The desperately silly mary-sue filled self-inserts from my elementary school years evolved into stories in their own rights, separate from the trappings of someone else’s fictional stories. So much so that many of them you would be hard pressed to find their inspiration. In the same manner that fiction evolves, so do does writing.

I was a terrible writer when I was younger. An avid reader who longed to pen a novel, but all of the times I spent practicing my skill were disappointing, leaving me with a sinking feeling. No one would want to read this, I told myself. So I wrote fanfiction. Stories were it didn’t matter if no one wanted to read them because they were more for me, anyways. I would never get them officially published and at best, they would sit online and get read by the occasional fan, and at worst, they’d get tucked away in my notebook.

Fanfiction writing built my confidence. I published my stories on fanfiction.net, and I was amazed to actually get reviews when it started. Ten years I’ve been writing and sharing my fanfictions, and improving my writing with fanfictions.

In addition to improving my confidence, it has improved my skills. I test out a lot of writing styles, story ideas and specific sort of scenes. I have used fanfiction to figure out different ways to write fight scenes, for example. Story details, character traits and different styles can be toyed with in fanfiction, where details such as the setting, characters or history may already be established enough that you only need to worry about the details that you are trying to work on.

Because, in the end, fanfiction is fun. That’s part of why it’s so much fun to write fanfiction, and why I’ll support the writing of fanfiction when it comes time to publish a novel. Even if they end up butchering my characters.

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4 thoughts on “The Argument for Fanfiction

  1. A good argument in favor of fanfiction. I have yet to dip my authorial toes into that particular pool, but I think that it’s 1) inevitable in an Internet world, where so much of the online culture revolves around the modification of previously created content, of making said content your own and 2) a good writing exercise, especially if you use it as a sort of thought experiment (how would characters x and y interact with one another, were they to meet?, etc.)

    • That is a good point, though I don’t think it’s just because of the internet that fanfiction is popular. I think that people have been doing for awhile, I just think that the internet has just made it more available.

  2. I agree with you that George RR Martin is off base when he says fanfiction is not a good exercise for aspiring writers. Why wouldn’t fanfiction help a writer develop her/his craft? After all, painters learn a great deal “copying” masterpieces.

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