There’s a lot of derision against fanfiction in the writing community. Harsh claims fly around like slings and arrows, claims such as: People need to be creative enough to come up with their own characters and stories; It’s such a waste of time; Fanfic writers are just lazy; It’s so poorly written.
I don’t agree with any of these claims. I’m going to break the claims down one by one and talk about why I write it.
1) People need to be creative enough to come up with their own characters and stories.
Most well-written fanfiction is created by authors in their spare time. The two authors I follow on fanfiction.net are a published writer and a college professor. The published author uses an established story to insert her own characters (who fit into the ‘verse very well) to explore them in ways they don’t get used in her books.
As you all know, I’m avidly working on my own stuff. But sometimes the plot bunnies run rampant in my head. I’m watching my favorite shows or reading my favorite books, and an off-handed idea will pop into my head. “What if…” Fanfiction is all about what ifs. What if the character had acted on that comment? What if they had ended up here instead of here? What if something more happened behind the scene that we, as an audience, didn’t get to see? When the plot bunnies run rampant in my head, I can’t focus on my own stories. I need to get the idea out in order to move forward. And what better way to get them out then to share them with other people who will enjoy it?
2) It’s such a waste of time.
Well, yes, but name one hobby that isn’t a waste of time?
And even then, “waste” is completely subjective. It’s wasteful if you look at it in you can never make money out of it. You can never get your fanfiction professionally published (at least not in the US).
But if you look at the other aspects, it’s not a waste of time. For me, writing fanfiction is an exercise in voice. I will not write a story unless I can capture the established character’s voice. The stuff I watch and read is very different from the things I write. I can get practice in writing separate voices, and that can translate into my books.
I also get practice at keeping my readers enthralled. Fanfiction is a way to quickly publish and get immediate feedback. If something is not working, I can find it out quicker than I would with my normal fiction if I didn’t have a critique group.
3) Fanfic writers are just lazy.
I know quite a few wannabe writers who also suffer from this disease. They don’t bother to check their continuity. They don’t bother to check facts. Some writers forget or refuse to do these things. Others live by the book of making their work completely accurate. Generalizations do not stand here.
The same can be said for fanfic writers. Some are lazy and just slap things together, throwing reality, continuity and facts to the wind. Others are meticulous, checking all sources of canonical/fanonical facts to get their story perfect. The good stories, the ones worth following, take the time to make their stories good. And then there’s the helpful readers; betas, who also work for free, will fact-check for you. So will readers that just feel nice enough to leave helpful reviews.
4) It’s so poorly written.
Once again, that is an unfair generalization. Yes, you will have to sift through a large amount of poorly written stories thanks to the ease of publishing in fanfiction forums. It’s just like self-publishing and e-publishing: People can easily publish crap. But those that really care about their craft will make sure it’s up to standards before they even show it to anyone.
It’s all about the standards of the author. There are a lot of crappy writers out there, I will admit to that. But there are also truly gifted and passionate artists. Fanfiction gives them a chance to build a fan base within an existing fan base. They have a chance to practice their craft as I’ve mentioned above.
Debunking the previous ideas aside, my biggest reason for writing fanfiction is pure love. I love the characters and worlds of which I write. I’m saddened by the limited amount we get with them. I cannot paint or draw. But I can express my affection for these stunning and well-crafted characters by continuing them in short vignettes and funny little stories. (Plus, as I said before, I get these ideas of what could happen and an intense desire to see it. Musical episode of Doctor Who, anyone?)
So the next time you think about degrading a fanfiction writer, make sure you sort out how much of your opinion is reasonably based and how much of it is unfair generalizations. Just like fan art, fanfiction is a way to express love for a character and explore abilities. In my opinion and experience, fanfiction is well worth the time and effort to write it—and if you enjoy it, worth the time it takes to sift through poorly-written stories to find those gems.