Many people look down on fan fiction (or fanfic) as the scribblings of wanna-be writers, of those who don’t have the creativity to come up with their own ideas. Here are four reasons why writing fanfic is actually a good thing.
1. Writing Fanfic is Less Overwhelming.
It’s a bit like having training wheels when you’re first learning how to write.
My neighbor’s daughter wants to be a writer. The other day I invited her over to talk for a bit about the writing process. It was with obvious embarrassment that she admitted, “I’m not that good; all I’ve really done is write fanfic.” To which I immediately answered, “That’s how I got started too; there’s no need to be ashamed.”
If you are a new writer, world-building and characterization can be daunting tasks. But with fanfic, the world and its characters already exist. This leaves you free to focus on such things as “what makes a good plot” or “how to write realistic dialog.” Writing fan fiction also provides a preexisting critique group. Fellow fans can offer canon-correct suggestions when you get stuck, and point out places where your story doesn’t work. Later, once you’re more comfortable with the writing process, you can take off those training wheels and strike out on your own.
2. Mary Sue/Gary Stu Doesn’t Need to Die.
She (or he) just needs to grow up.
Oftentimes a writer will start writing fanfic as a way to become a part of a beloved world. And that’s okay…to start with. But characters–like most living things–will fight to break free from the box they’re originally put in. Given half a chance, your characters will grow and mature and become real. All you have to do is let them.
Starla Anderson, the heroine of An Uncivilized Yankee, was originally an “author avatar”. I was only nine or ten when I first created her. She found herself repeatedly dumped into various and sundry worlds. From Star Trek (a true Mary Sue!) to Middle Earth, 21 Jump Street to Sherlock Holmes (yes, I wrote Sherlock Holmes fanfic way back in the 80s)–any movie or TV show or book that caught my fancy soon had Star running loose in it. But as I tried to make her more realistic, she began to change. Eventually, she outgrew those fanfic stories and demanded a story of her own, in a world of her own. That’s how my own books, the world of Legacies and Legends, started.
3. All Stories (and Characters) are Derivative.
As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.
I once read that there are only two stories in the world: Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk. If you think about it, there’s a lot of truth in that statement. There are only so many story elements out there–it’s how they’re mixed and matched and mashed together that makes each story unique. The same thing goes for characters. That’s why knowing the different character archetypes is such a useful thing.
Fan fiction may seem like mere imitation, but if you cut apart a story and sew it back together in a totally different way, is your story still an imitation? Or has it become something new and different? I’d say the latter is true.
For example, a while back a reader contacted me for more information about a minor character. She wanted to write a story about her. I was beyond tickled to receive such a request, and I gave the reader as much information as I could (without revealing too many spoilers). The reader later came back and admitted she’d changed the story to her own characters instead. That pleased me too. What started as a story in my world was now something new and different and entirely her own. And that was A Very Good Thing.
4. Writing Fanfic is Fun.
Plain and simple.
Even if you’re already a successful writer, the creator of worlds and characters all your own, writing fanfic stretches your brain, forcing you to think on completely different characters and scenarios for a while. It also immerses you in a world you love, without the stress of making sure everything is perfect for your readers.
In fact, I need to go to write some fanfic myself. My daughter and I watched the The Secret of NIMH last week. I pointed out a major plot hole I’d never noticed as a kid. Instead of ruining the movie, it made me go, “But…how?” Ideas immediately started popping around in my head. Now I desperately want to write the story of how a super-intelligent lab mouse named Jonathan Brisby got his paws on such a powerful magic amulet in the first place…