Fanfiction: a Stepping Stone for Young Writers

Fanfiction: A Stepping Stone for Young Writers

 

It feels almost funny to be talking about fanfiction, really. There’s a touch of my consciousness now that almost feels like I’m referring to someone else’s work /or/ life, despite the fact that I started out writing fanfiction and wrote it for several years.


{ all disbelieving like: “I used to write fanfic? Really? When was this??? Doesn’t sound at all like me.” Heh. }


But, since I know there are various viewpoints out there in Internet-Land, debating logistics such as artistic license, copyright, “Fair Use” and so forth and it’s still a controversial topic—I want to go on the docket as being 100% for fanfiction, provided its done in a way that’s respectful to the copyright holder and the original work itself. {If you are gonna play with someone else’s toys, then you remain on your best behavior and return them in the same condition when you’re done. Good Netiquette.}

But, since fans are generally an artistic work’s biggest cheerleaders and fanfiction itself is generally inspired by a true love of a fandom and its characters, the desire isn’t to trash or tarnish the original. In fact, the original work is usually portrayed in a very positive light. Especially given the fact that fanficcers receive no monetary gain on fan works. It’s all done from a place of devotion and love.

I know of some authors who are against—but, speaking as an author myself, personally I’ll be flattered if a reader chose my work to fanfic (or fanart, or fansong; whichever form of artistic medium speaks to them). It tells me that I’m doing what I set out to do, sharing my beloved creations with the world and inspiring other young artists to express their hearts and carry the torch to the next generation. I cannot conceive why any true artist wouldn’t be just as delighted and humbled by this!

That all ties into my personal viewpoint on fanfiction, why I’m “Pro-Fanfic” and in fact, why I engaged in fanfiction myself all those years ago.

It provides a wonderful stepping stone for a young, inexperienced writer before you tackle your own original work and characters.

 

Listen, dear reader . . . starting an original work is a challenge for any author. As I stand on the advent of a new series now –myself—I find it a full-on challenge despite that I have 15 years writing experience to my credit. If your story isn’t standalone, then you’re building more than “a story”. You’re actually crafting an entire world—with people, places and rules that only you know about. There are plenty of tricks and techniques to help you out—but a raw, young writer cannot be expected to know that, anymore then you could set a toddler on a bicycle and just let go.

It takes time and practice to develop a style and voice that’s distinctively your own. It takes hands-on experience to become a better writer. For a young writer, just tackling that is challenging enough. There must be a learning curve involved—short of prodigious good luck, a toddler can’t ride a full-blown bike and a baby author can’t write a bestseller either.

That’s why I think of fanfiction done well as something of “writer training wheels”. It gives you both foundation and a firm starting point to set you writing (an advanced “writing prompt” if you will). Writing fanfiction has the multiple benefits of combining passion with creativity and yet taking some of the pressure off a new writer.

Suddenly, you don’t have to create the entire world anymore; you are just penning “a solo story within someone else’s world” and your fellow fans already understand the rules and caveats of the world from the original work itself. That’s a much simpler accomplishment while leaving you room to develop as a writer, with something of a template built-in from a work you already enjoy and can learn from.

It’s good for development. You can rely on your fellow fans for encouragement and (generally constructive) criticism and you get that immediately (whereas penning a novel is a long, lone journey which requires patience and dedication). I find that feedback helps keep a young writer interested and passionate, right when you most need it. At the beginning! That also helps with growth.

There’s also plenty of creativity in the process too (giving you room to expand, challenge yourself and grow). In essence, the original author said, “here’s my story as I see it” and then you, saying, “yes I love that—BUT what if it happened like THIS instead?” That’s “inspiration” right there, provided you don’t copy the original author word for word! It can be as simple as a one-scene where you proffer a different version of events or continue events from where they left off, to something as complicated as reworking the universe itself (alternate-verse, they call that).

But the foundation is there, and you just decide where you will take it, and how far. There’s plenty of freedom in that and lots of creativity!

Now I know fanfiction gets bad rap sometimes (especially from those who consider themselves professionals) but in truth, I think most of its issues stem from the fact that the majority are rookie writers and they’re gonna make a few basic mistakes along the way, be it fanfic or original writing. My first (fandom) character was such a ‘Mary Sue’ you could bend steel around her—but that’s okay! I learned to recognize it and wrote better, more believable characters over time.

I believe that we should expect these young writers to make some mistakes—it’s how they learn and grow and improve themselves! Let us professionals be kind and guide them to better writing through our example, rather than hating on them for using the ‘training wheels of fanfiction’ to improve. Don’t disregard an entire genre of writing just because it’s based on an existing fictional world. At the end of the day, there’s plenty of creativity in both—and aren’t we all basing this on fictional worlds anyway?

 

So what’s your take on fanfic? For or against? Did you ever write any? Why or why not? Please share your experiences with us in the comments!

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