Fanfiction has developed a certain…reputation…over the years. The term alone can conjure some very disturbing images: gender-bending, creepy fetishes, and pregnant men. Gross stuff. Because of its oddities, some might consider it on the same level as porn. However, despite the possible weirdness present in the world of FanFiction, there are still many people yearning for interesting stories taking place in their favorite worlds and there are still as many people willing to write those stories. And that’s the beauty of FanFiction in a nutshell. What do I mean by that? In my opinion, writing FanFiction is the most effective practice for an aspiring writer.
When most people imagine a writer, they see a poorly dressed guy typing away on a laptop with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a half-empty bottle of scotch within arm’s reach. The other thing people think about when they hear the word “writer” is world-building: creating interesting characters, creating vast new worlds with deep and ancient lore, carefully molding an exciting story to draw in the reader. What most people tend not to think about is what holds all those aspects together; the thing that every reader sees, but they never notice. The craft.
The nature of FanFiction is to explore various aspects of one’s favorite popular media, and for that reason, FanFiction can make perfect “training wheels” for fledgling authors.
In the world of FanFiction, the worldbuilding is already done. You have a world, established lore, and fleshed out characters to play around with. And even better, there’s already an established audience hungry to try new works. In other words, writing FanFiction is like a starter kit for the writing hopeful.
Like I mentioned, FanFiction is the ideal playground to focus on craft. So, what exactly is craft?
A writer’s craft encompasses quite a bit. When I say craft, I’m talking about writing style. And FanFiction can help improve that craft in five important ways.
- What kind of writer are you?
Are you a maximalist writer, adding in pages of detail and description like J.R.R. Tolkien? Are you a minimalist writer, giving the reader as little as possible like Ernest Hemmingway?
- What kind of genre do you prefer?
FanFiction can help you decide what genre your talents are suited for, depending on what elements of the original work you like to focus on. Do you prefer exploring the romantic possibilities between your favorite characters? Is comedy more your taste? Maybe you prefer focusing on character studies, what makes a character tick. Or maybe you just want to write a new exciting adventure for the heroes.
- Plot Development
Since all the basic story elements are present, and the general plot structure has been developed, it’s easy to build something new. Writing new stories for the franchise will help you get used to plotting, structuring and pacing.
- Practice Consistency
One thing any FanFiction writer needs to do is keep the characters consistent with how they’re portrayed in canon. If you don’t, the illusion shatters and you might get a wave of fans calling you on it. For example, you can’t have a character who’s normally reserved randomly open up without explanation. This is especially helpful because when creating an original work, your own characters need to be consistent. This practice, in particular, helps you learn how to write different types of people.
There’s one important skill you must develop if you eventually plan to offer your work to public discourse…how to deal with feedback. As I mentioned earlier, one of the best things about FanFiction is the eager audience. So, depending on the popularity of the media you’re writing about, the chances of getting some response from the fan community are quite high. Getting praise is nice but learning how to take negative feedback is the real trick.
The obvious reason is that you’ll learn where you need work. The other reason is learning when to ignore feedback. FanFiction writers are notorious for using the phrase: “Don’t like? Don’t read.” Ignoring feedback is just the kind of arrogance you’d expect; however, in the toxic forum of the internet, some feedback is worthless or downright untrue. Sometimes worthless feedback can appear similar to helpful feedback. The ability to differentiate gets easier the better you learn about yourself as a writer.
So, despite the unflattering stigma attached to FanFiction, it’s a great place for new writers to cut their teeth. Practice their skills, develop new ones, and improve their craft. More importantly, it’s necessary for a writer to develop a thick skin. There will be hate. There will be harsh critiques. There will be unfair commentary. Writers can be fragile and even friendly constructive criticism can shatter their confidence. Getting big as a writer means inviting every kind of feedback in huge amounts. And unless you get used to the idea, get used to reading and hearing the worst of it, even if you completed a work…the fear of public opinion may prevent you from ever reaching your dream.