As I wrote in my last post, I am a fan fiction veteran. Part of me is embarrassed by this fact because there is a lot of stigma attached to fan fiction. A lot of fan fiction is trashy and filled with characters who only exist so that their creators can imagine having relationships with their fictional crushes, and so part of this stigma is warranted. But if you dig, you can find some good fan fiction stories and writers as well. I like to think (and hope and pray) that at least some of my old fan fiction would fall into that category.
As I look back on my fan fiction years, I see some positive things. As Neil Gaiman said when one of his readers asked, “I’m not sure where the line gets drawn — you could say that any Batman fan writing a Batman comic is writing fan fiction. As long as nobody’s making money from it that should be an author or creator’s, I don’t mind it. And I think it does a lot of good.” So here are my four reasons that fan fiction is a good thing:
1. Fan fiction builds community.
Clare and I became best friends in part because of fan fiction. We are both aspiring writers, and both thrive on stories. Newsies was one of those stories, and together we wrote a Newsies fan fiction throughout high school. We loved talking about our story and characters, and we bonded so much through that experience. Fan fiction allows you to connect with other writers who love the same stories and characters that you do.
2. Fan fiction teaches you how to write.
One of the most daunting things about writing is coming up with a plot and characters that are compelling enough that they make you want to sit at your computer and write about them for months on end. With fan fiction, the plot and characters are provided for you, and so a lot of the pressure for new writers vanishes. Instead, a writer can focus on what makes different characters compelling, what motivates them, how they think, speak, and act. A writer can learn the ins and outs of every plot, how to build tension, and how to continue a narrative without the pressure of creating an entire world.
3. Fan fiction helps build confidence.
Because a lot of the pressure of writing vanishes with fan fiction, I found that it was easier to sit down at my computer and just… write. I looked through my old fan fiction folders and tabulated my word and page counts for every piece of fan fiction I ever wrote. I wrote 137,776 words and 463 pages of fan fiction in high school. Those are 137,776 words and 463 pages that I would never have had the confidence to write if I had been trying to write my own story. And while those words and pages may have been about other peoples’ characters and stories, they were still practice.
4. Fan fiction allows the story to continue.
One could argue that fan fiction started centuries ago, when Virgil read Homer’s The Iliad and wanted to explore what happened to one Trojan at the end of the Trojan War. As Michael Chabon wrote in Maps and Legends, “All literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction…through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us.” Fan fiction allows people who are passionate about certain stories an outlet for that passion, and allows cherished characters and stories to stay with those people.
I was able to find my own voice and hone my writing skills through writing all of those stories, even if they will never see the light of day. I learned so much about how to write a good plot and create engaging characters. I believe that fan fiction is a valuable thing, if used correctly. Fan fiction should be used for private entertainment and practice, and as a way to outpour your love for certain characters and stories. And thanks in part to what I learned from fan fiction, I now have the confidence to put my own words and my own story on the page.