Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why FanFiction is NOT a sin...

FanFiction is not a sin.

Of course, in my book, poorly written fanfiction is pretty close to a sin, and it's definetely a terrible habit to fall into.

But well-written fanfiction is not a sin.

"Okay..." you say. "So what is the point of pointing this out?"

It's important to point out because I don't think very many people realize the benefits of writing some grammatically correct, well constructed, well plotted and nicely populated fanfiction. I think "serious" writers tend to brush it off as "amateur" and real amateur writers fail to see how fanfiction can help them polish their craft.

I say this because I've been there, but I've also really grown from writing fanfiction and I feel it's worthwhile to encourage the rest of you to do so as well.

Last summer I was in a particularily difficult place with the novel I was writing. I had spent a year and a half on it, and had reached the 100,000 word mark, but had been told that the plot was really no good. That meant a total rewrite, which was the last thing I wanted to do at that time.

So I set my novel aside for the summer and just read a lot of books, hoping that eventually new ideas would come to me.

Well new ideas came, but not of the sort that I was expecting.

Around the end of July, beginning of August, I finally had the nerve to pick up "Twilight" and its sequels. I found myself immediatly sucked into the franchise and before I quite knew what was happening, my friends Meg and Andy and I were starting work on a Twilight - fanfic...although it dealt primarily with our original characters and didn't significantly alter the fates of any canon characters (The Cullens and the Wolfpack were setting, not major players).

It was a fascinating project, but I kept moaning that it wasn't "real writing." I desperately wanted to get to work on an original project...but my idea generator was dead. No matter how many nights I paced up and down, or how many ideas I bounced off friends, I couldn't come up with anything that "worked."

So I went back to the Twilightfic, pounded away on that, and started developing an independant sequel that would give me room to develop the relationship side further.

Well, as I worked on that independant sequel, I realized that the characters I was developing were really extremely intriguing. I loved the way they interacted...and I loved their backstory. I realized that these were characters that were worth writing about - and worth sharing with the world. I also realized that they and their relationship would fit almost perfectly into the original story I had abandoned...and by now I had a new premise that had a lot of potential.

So I put the fanfic away and started writing my original novel again...and it bloomed, far richer than it would have been without the training ground of the fanfic.

So that was when I realized that, while I didn't have time to do fanfic all the time, it was a worthwhile experimentation ground to play around on once a year or so. I can try things there that I don't have space to play with in my novel, and I have the luxury of pre-created characters and setting to make the process go that much faster.

So, here are my thoughts on the subject...

1. DON'T use fanfiction as an excuse to push off your original writing projects. That's laziness.

2. DO use fanfiction to keep your writing sharp when you are genuinely stuck on your original writing projects.

3. DON'T be tempted to write sloppily. It's easy to fall into, but it's a bad habit to cultivate. Force yourself to write the very best you can.

4. DO share your fanfic with others. Let them comment on it - and use their comments to improve your writing.

5. DON'T feel confined by the story you set your fanfic in. Use it as a chance to explore character motivations, and stretch your imagination by adding your own twist on the story.

6. DO remember that even fanfics should be about more than romance. One of my friends is writing a brilliant fanfic that IS actually a romance - but he has hidden the romance so well that even professional writer/editors have been fooled into thinking it's an adventure story. But no one wants to read a fanfic that is just a ton of kissing, angst and dreaming. Bring in the mystery, action and politics! ;)

I could probably come up with a lot more do's and don'ts, but the last thing I wanted to say is a hypothesis I have about fanfic. I have a feeling that if one wrote a really good fanfic, and had a really large following on a site like, that popularity would mean something to a publisher who looked at a submission of your original work. It's proof that you are a good enough writer to earn and keep reader's interest. Seriously. Just because you are writing a fanfic off of a popular story like Twilight, Star Wars, or LOTR doesn't mean that you are automatically going to get hundreds of followerers. Your writing and your premise have to be GOOD. So taking the time to do a fanfic well could actuall benefit your original work later on.


Matthew Bowman said...

Interesting theory. Perhaps this winter you can convince Regina of its truth, and then encourage anyone from the forum who wants to submit anything to her to casually link to the comments/reviews page on their fanfics. ;)

That friend of yours sounds like a really good writer, too. ^_^

Hannah Nicole said...

Yeah, I've been writing a FF for some time now, (actually only about three months) and I'm celebrating over 200 replies. :) (some of which, are obviously my own.) It's very encouraging because the other people are exclaiming over the quality of my writing, so that's very encouraging. It's also nice because then I can see what people think of my writing style without being afraid of plagiarizing. :D


Christina said...

You do have some good reasons for your idea, but is the chief reason that you've found these reasons because you decided to write some?

Matthew Bowman said...

@Christina: Do you mean in the same way that one's liking for a particular sort of food is a direct result of actually trying it in the first place?

If so, then yes. Advocating fanfiction as a writing tool is a direct result of actually trying it out. ;)

Christina said...

No, not exactly.

Clarification: Are you thinking up these reasons because you've tried writing fanfiction and you've found that you enjoy it?

i.e., regardless of whether fanfiction is "acceptable/good" or not, are you writing this post to defend it simply because you like to do it, rather than because you think it's a worthy kind of writing?

To put it in crude terms, a sinner will defend his way of life simply because he is mired in it and wants to justify his own actions, regardless of whether they are good or not.

(I'm not saying that fanfiction is a sin. I just thought it'd be clearer if I showed the extreme.)

Matthew Bowman said...

Okay. Then let me ask a question as well: Is there some reason why you object? I have to assume you are, or else why bring it up?

Elena was using that title as both attention-capturing humor and also as hyperbole to illustrate the opposition attitude.

It isn't a question of "trying fanfiction and finding you enjoy it." It's a question of writing something you enjoy. Writing fanfiction versus writing original fiction (I've done both seriously, and am under contract for an original novel) is like swimming in a pool versus swimming the English Channel. It's possible to do both, but the latter's a lot more work.

There is a very logical, practical reason to write fanfiction where you can concentrate on writing techniques and not have to worry about a multitude of details built from the ground up. After perfecting your writing and having a chance to play around with the established details of another setting, it's easier to then go build your own.

Is fanfiction of a lower order than original fiction? Yes. Is fanfiction not worth your time? No. It's not of a lower order like a child's scribble versus a Picasso. It's of a lower order the way using training wheels are compared to a champion winning the Tour de France.

You could start out with those high standards, sure; you could demand that everyone learn the same way. You could even demand that everyone learn to write the way that every major author in history had learned -- and at that point you would be wrong. We don't know exactly how every major author in history got their skills, but we do know that a bunch started out writing with others' works. Many were even published, long before copyright laws and even social sensibilities made that taboo; and many works of literature are considered classics and wonders of writing even though if they were written today they would be considered "just a fanfic."

In college, we had a joke about fanfics: the tradition is at least two thousand years old, starting with Virgil's Aeneid. Every work of literature based on folklore or legend or even real history is a fanfic. Great art can come from anywhere; not because anything can be art, but because art can have humble beginnings.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

Ditto to what Bowman said.

I also think it's fairly clear in my post that I did honestly get benefit out of taking time to write fanfiction. I did not exaguate that. My novel leapt off the ground ONLY after I had tested out my ideas in a fanfic. It was NOT a result I espected - hence my post describing my experiences to the world.

This post is also my own way of asking people "If you're going to write fanfiction, could you please do it for the right reasons and WRITE IT WELL? Because I'm so sick of the common poorly written crap that has completely blackened the name of fanfiction."

Christina said...

Just a moment there! I was only asking out of curiosity, and to play the devil's advocate. I actually enjoy fanfiction. I was just curious as to your reasons why you wrote the post, searching for something a bit more. I think you've given me that, but I'm not quite sure cause I have to read it again.

I'll respond more later- my family and I are celebrating christmas and I don't have time to right now.

Unknown said...

Very good posting. Having had a mostly unfavorable view about fanfiction, this has helped me to see it in a new light.