Monday, January 27, 2014

On the Pros and Cons of Fanfiction for Writers

The Pros and Cons of Fanfiction for Writers


I don't write fanfiction. If I'd had access to the internet at a certain age, I most definitely would have, but the fact remains that I discovered fanfiction at around 20. By that stage I had already muddled through about five first drafts of my first original story, and then four sequels, and then two other original works.

The mere idea of using someone else's character's terrifies me. I don't know them. Not like I know my own. I could probably give it a go, but honestly, I feel like I should leave it up to those who are already good at it.

I do, however, read a lot of fanfiction. Namely because I find the dynamics between characters within interesting. There is some excellent fanfiction out there. I've read fanfiction that I enjoyed more than published and paid for stories. In fact, there was about an 8 month period in which I read nothing but fanfiction.

Why? Because I knew exactly what I was getting into. Twists related to the plot and the worldbuilding, not the characters. I read primarily for the characters. Your plot could be amazingballs and spectacular and be shooting rainbows out of it's third eye and if I did not connect with your characters? I would stop reading. On the opposite side of the coin, I've been known to ignore gaping-size-of-the-pacific-ocean plot holes if I like the characters in something. All is forgivable if I'm in love with your characters. Except the worst of prose. Or racism and sexism. That tends to send me running.

So what are the pros and cons of fanfiction for writers? Obviously, this is only my opinion, but it's something I've thought about a lot, especially as there are writers who make the transition to original fiction, some who don't, and some who just want some good old fashioned respect from the rest of the world. Fanficition does tend to get waved off as teenage girl crap (which is an issue in and of itself - who the hell made "teenage girl" synonymous with "no cultural or story relevance"?)


  • The Sandbox Argument
Fanfic gives a writer a place to experiment. She/he can focus on one aspect of their writing without having to worry about others. They can fiddle with language, with sexualities, with different narrative POVs. I've seen a bit of second person in short fiction, but more of it in fanfic. And some of it is horrible, but a lot of it isn't.
  • Community
 You meet people in fanfic. People beta your work because they love the characters and the worlds you're writing about as much as you do. You get cheerleaders and find other people who finally get you, you meet people who have the same crazy ideas you do, you rework each other's pieces, mix things together, translate works you've loved into your own language, create audio versions of work you've loved... It just goes on and on. It's a nice place to be. Also, instantaneous feedback. There's no 20 drafts before you let someone see it, then only letting certain people see it, then waiting six weeks for a publisher to get back to you to say they didn't like it.
  • Fun
This is inherently connected to the topic above. Fanfic is done for the love of it. It's fun. It's something you do to unwind and relax. If people don't like your work, they tend to just not comment or kudos, most of the feedback is positive, because this isn't a space for line by line critiques. It's a space for figuring things out and having fun with characters that you love.
  • Narratives outside the male, white and middle aged
This is one of the big reasons it took me so long to get back to reading original fiction again. For all the shortcomings that fanfiction can have, it does tend to be rather inclusive. Here you get queer narratives, the narratives of young teenagers, the narratives of women with kids, the narrative of their kids - it's a welcoming space. You want your two main characters to pair off, despite the fact they are of the same sex? Go ahead! Want to have a minor character rise up and be the hero? Go ahead! The world is your sandbox.


  • Less set-up required
 This is partially what makes fanfic so useful as a sandbox - you don't have to worry so much about introducing your worldbuilding and characters. Everyone knows your characters already. Exposition is not the issue it is in original fiction.

On the other hand, this also means you don't get much chance to practise weaving exposition into narrative. You also don't get much chance to world-build or create original characters. Like anything, these things take practise to do Fanfic skips this set-up and exposition for the large part.
  •  Back-scratching
As mentioned before, fanfic is done out of appreciation for the original material. People write because they enjoy themselves, because they find it a way to wind down, because they wish to contribute to the community.

As such, there's not much in the way of constructive criticism. If a person doesn't like a work, or how it's written, they tend to just click on or not comment. No-one wants to be the wet blanket. (And by constructive critique I mean a line by line - this sentence didn't work for me because of a, b or c reason sort of thing). This is partially made up for behind the scenes with beta readers and the like, but not everyone has a good beta reader.
  • Bad reactions to cannon events
Like any community, fanfic can be a bit... disturbing sometimes. Witness the death threats to the actress playing Mary Morstan in Sherlock because she would "get in the way" of the major pairing in fanfic, John/Sherlock. Witness how Uhura is often sidelined and made a horrid person in some Spock/Kirk fanfics. GinnyBashing is a tag on A03. The Internet exploded when they realised that Tauriel was included in the second Hobbit movie. Then there's showing porn that you've written/created from edited together vids to the actors involved (linkage here to the esteemed Rachel Acks tumblr ). Although to be fair, members of the media have been known to do the same, and this hardly accounts for all of fanficerdom. Most fanfic'ers don't do this stuff. But there is a visable presence that does act out in the oddest ways. Like anywhere I suppose.

So yeah. Fanfic can be awesome, it can be difficult, it can be a useful place to learn, it can be overly hand-holding, it can be a way to express yourself when you don't fall into the dominant narrative space. If I ever do decide to write it, I will be joining a cohort of people who write primarily for fun, and that's not necessarily a bad thing

1) Sourced from: Attributed to: Bradley Strong 

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