Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Fanfic: What Is It Good For?
During my writing group on Sunday, we talked about various things, some of them only marginally related to writing, some of them not related to writing at all. Two of the members got to talking about how they used fanfic to build up writing momentum. One of them was writing some fanfic now, and sharing it, while another was writing very short real-person fics that she wasn't sharing. I thought I should post about the use of fanfic in learning to write, because it can play a role.
Before I talk about how it can help, though, I want to make sure we're on the same page. If you don't ever write for anything else, I'm not calling you a fake writer. I think the fanfic community is an important piece of fandom. It's often fanfic that keeps up the interest in the series while fans wait for the next installment, and it helps build a sense of community around shared interests. There's no shame in choosing to write only fanfic for the rest of your days.
To those of you who don't know what fanfic is, it's short for fan fiction. It's unauthorized stories written and usually shared online about books, TV shows, movies, comics, even celebrities that spark fans' imaginations. When I first heard the term, most fanfic was of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though the phenomenon goes back to the original Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. If you include published literary work in the definition (and many fans do), you can trace it back to Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimms, and Shakespeare, who all pilfered from other sources.
Publishing houses are generally opposed to fanfic based on the "intellectual property" argument. It's hard to point to any lost revenue, though, as fanfic is exchanged for free and may contribute to a growing fandom in the slump between installments. There are those who credit the Harry Potter franchise's success on fanfic, though I would hesitate to do so, as it's a difficult thing to prove.
Some authors shy away from it, lest they're accused of plagiarizing from a fanfic piece. Others support it, again without setting eyes on it. Still others are horrified by its very existence, and can't stand that other people are playing with their characters. As some fanfic pairs up characters who don't appear on the page (or screen) together, and some depict sexual acts which would never have occurred in what the writer originally depicted (called "canon" by fandom), sometimes, authors are offended by what seems to be fans thinking they know better than the creator.
I used to have a much harsher view toward fanfic, but, as with most things, I've relaxed my opinion. Part of it happened when I was getting myself motivated to write my trilogy, and I wondered aloud what fanfic of it might look like. As my friend proposed more and more ridiculous scenarios and pairings, between my giggles, I remarked that I should be so lucky to have people like it enough to write fanfic about it.
I also learned of several authors who'd gotten their start in fanfic, and I got to thinking about how it might've helped them become stronger writers. That will be my next post, because this one is already running long.
I will not write fanfic, myself, but I do think there are far worse places to start for those who wish to write professionally. I'll outline why in my next post.