Fanfiction has a messy reputation in the writing world. Some authors are very vocal in their opinion that it’s a waste of time, while others consider it an honor to have their works written about.
Even if people are okay with it, and maybe sneakily write some fanfiction of their own on the side, it’s still often considered as a subpar activity to ‘real’ writing. It’s treated as entertainment, not art. But sometimes, writing fanfiction can be more beneficial to a writer than working on an original work, and here are four reasons why this is.
First of all, fanfiction is “fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, [book], etc.” So it’s by fans, expanding on an already established universe, for fans. Doesn’t that make writing fanfiction a waste of time? It’s not like you can publish the final product for money. It’s just for fun.
But fanfiction can actually provide a writer with several important skills that they may not get from writing a completely original piece.
1. Analyzing a World
Fanfiction often explores a corner of a universe that isn’t already established. Maybe a group of beloved characters go grocery shopping, or perhaps two people from different series meet. Maybe you’re curious as to why a character acts a certain way, so you add backstory for them. Maybe you think a character’s anger issues aren’t given enough time in the story, so you write them getting into a fight.
Whatever the case may be, fanfiction encourages you to dig deeper into a world, exploring how the universe itself operates and figuring out what makes the characters tick. This is excellent practice for thinking about an original work. You’re already used to analyzing character motivations and expanding on world building, and those skills are super important for your own stories.
2. Encouraging Experimentation
I used to write fanfiction fairly regularly. One of my longer fics was a Star Wars AU (alternate universe) were Anakin never turned to the dark side, so he and Padmé had to raise Leia and Luke and do normal things like hire a babysitter and fight off bounty hunters. For some reason, I decided to write each chapter from an extremely different point of view, like three year old Leia, awkward teen Boba Fett, and grumpy Yoda.
At the time, it was just a fun way to tell a story, but looking back I see how good it was for me to experiment with so many different voices. I would never have written an original story in that format- I wouldn’t have been interested in that many characters and I probably couldn’t have created such a varied cast by myself. But it was totally possible within the established Star Wars universe. Fanfiction can encourage you to try new things that stretch your skills and make you a better writer.
3. Inspiring Dedication
If you do decide to publish your fic somewhere (not for money, of course- you all know better than that), it’s a great way to put yourself on a schedule. Often, longer fanfiction is published chapter by chapter, so you need to write while people are reading the rest of your work.
This is extra motivation to stay dedicated and actually finish what you started. Figuring out and sticking to some sort of schedule is important for getting into a professional mindset regarding your writing- or at least, it works well for me. Having an outward motivation to write regularly can train you to write regularly even when no one sees it for a long time.
4. Finishing a Story
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of finishing books from time to time. So many projects are abandoned halfway through. Just getting in the habit of completing what you start is invaluable for many writers.
Because people normally write fanfiction for what they’re already super excited for, that excitement may be better at carrying them through the end of a story than an original work. After all, with original stories it’s easy to get caught up in doubt if the premise is good enough, if the plot is complex, if the characters are three-dimensional… With fanfiction, those worries go away and it’s just fun, which is much easier to power through and finish.
Fanfiction is not a subpar writing exercise. Sure, it may not be the end goal (or if it is, that’s totally fine too), but it’s a valuable training tool for writers.
What do you think about fanfiction? Have you written anything like that?