Writing Fan Fiction
The writing community has some wide-ranging opinions about fan fiction, and many people who write it themselves have conflicted feelings. “Is this stealing?” some ask. Others grapple with how much time they spend on it wondering, “Is this a waste of effort? Is this just distraction?” Essentially, the question comes down to whether writing fan fiction is worthwhile.
This is an opinion question, a personal choice on the part of the fan/creator. This subject has been very close to my mind and heart. I’ve been wanting to delve into it for years, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
The internet allowed for a fanfiction culture to form. It’s also brought mainstream writers, original content creators, into contact and communication around the world. I put some feelers out in some of the groups I’m in to get some in-depth perspectives on fanfiction from those who read it and write it. I’ve learned much, and I’ve been encouraged.
I write fanfiction. I write other things, but that’s where I started. That’s where a lot of writers started. This brings me to the first of four major attractions fanfiction has for people who love to write.
A fanfic allows for free practice of writing skills.
“For me, fanfiction was a way for me to practice my writing skills in a universe I didn’t have to make up. Everything was there for me, so all I had to do was play with the pieces.” (Anon)
Most fans are very deep into the material they love, so writing with these established works means they are committed to getting things “right”. If they’re adding an original character (OC) or putting existing characters into an alternative context/universe (AU), they typically work very hard to make the other elements loyal to the versions they love.
When they don’t set out to change things, just add some more material to their favorite franchise, plotting can be a kind of obstacle course. Mia McCroskey wrote her fics based on a TV show, so plot-bending is something she knows well.
“I’ve written and posted 25 stories of varying lengths. After the reunion and stories that followed it, I went back to a “how they first met” story. And then challenged myself to write stories set during the series, working around the actual episodes. … When you really dive in on a body of work and begin to inhabit the characters, you can’t help but discover the flaws — the time sequences that don’t work, the plot holes. Especially where I’ve interwoven a story within an episode … I have to invent rationale for the problem. It’s fun.” (Mia McCroskey)
Many people assume that it’s easier. In the beginning, it is. Once into a fic, especially after sharing it and pushing yourself into more complex projects, it’s no easier than writing original content. It’s simply another genre of the same medium with an audience that is just as demanding.
Fanfiction is an active outlet for a largely passive passion.
Franchise owners and production companies are responding to fans now more than ever. There’s money in merchandise, steady viewership, games, etc. as long as the audience is guaranteed.
Before web companies made social media marketing a necessity, and made it possible for franchises to keep in constant contact with their fanbase, all that energy of passion and enthusiasm didn’t have much of an outlet outside of making more of what you love yourself.
“What originally drew me to fan fiction was resolving a sense of loss. But also a feeling of “I can do this better.”” (Mia McCroskey)
“Honestly, I was looking for continuation. My biggest fandom was Harry Potter. I read fanfiction almost the entire time I was reading the series. This was when we had to wait for every book to come out. So a lot of my stuff was “Oh, what’s going to happen now that Quirrel is dead and Voldemort is on the loose?”” (Kiko)
The end of a book/series can be emotionally debilitating, no matter how well resolved the conflicts are. Fanfiction/fanart means never having to say goodbye. It also means fixing something you disliked, bringing back a favorite character who was written off or killed, even attempting to fill in the gaps while waiting for the next official installment.
To share fan fiction is to join a community.
Writing fan fiction doesn’t require a thing. You write it out, love it, keep it, reread it, maybe even have a specific friend or two read it and your crew can have joy together.
Once shared publicly, it can become part of the collective voice. Others can read, comment, critique, share, follow, etc. Certain names are seen often. A fan of a fic writer’s work can message them right there and tell them. In returning favors for critiques, your reading tastes often expand and so do your contacts.
“I was drawn to fanfiction for the sense of community. I made friends, got to explore giving and receiving criticism on stories, and got to explore all the stories the canon didn’t have the time or ability to tell. I left fandom in 2005 when I had a baby and my attention was diverted elsewhere. Around 2011, I fell in love with a new canon and went looking for fanfic for it, which led to getting sucked back into fandom.” (Anon)
“More people involved in the community means more creativity, more ideas, more activity and, sometimes, more unity. It also tends to really unite the fandoms. For instance, when someone who was a fan was cyber bullied on Twitter to the point that they committed suicide, the fandoms banned together to combat cyber bullying.” (Kiko)
The internet, and the world in general, isn’t all sunshine and roses. Over time and due to growing participation, the world of sharing fanfiction has become just as competitive as any other publicly shared writing, only this time with fiercely passionate readers and fellow writers looking for high quality, taste-specific work.
“I guess I miss the way fandoms were small groups of people who became friends ten-fifteen years ago than the huge masses of people that they are now. There was still some shipping wars and some hostility, but it was nowhere near as bad as some fandoms are today. … I’ve seen fandoms get way more hostile these days than they were before. I’ve seen wonderful artists get turned on by their own fandoms because they drew a character “wrong” or the fandom didn’t like their stylistic choices. … I think the higher quality makes it harder to get in. I feel like that’s why so many people use beta readers now, because they’re afraid of backlash. I also feel like people aren’t as willing to give constructive criticism anymore.” (Anon)
Fanfiction is a place of self-exploration.
Again, there is a distinction between writing, exploring, and privately sharing an exploratory fic.
Cody Thomas was good enough to share some of his experience. He’s been writing and reading fan fiction for decades, and spent much of that time writing what would be considered by many the material that gives fanfic a bad name.
As this is a genre governed by personal taste, there will be those who write material not everyone feels comfortable with. Websites do work to enforce systems so readers don’t end up finding what they’re not looking for, but there are always places to share your work, no matter what you write.
“There has been an uglier side to fandom lately that I don’t like. This newest generation is very socially conscious, and I understand why, but they are trying to impose that on fandom. They are trying to police and censor what they don’t like because it’s not politically correct or problematic or deals with issues they don’t like. Tumblr is a perfect example, it’s the worst for it. The Sherlock fandom was hit incredibly hard a few years ago. A group formed of fanatics that literally stalked a bunch of people and even doxxed about 20-30 people because of the content they wrote, dark fic, and child abuse, etc.
Fandom has changed because it’s not the sites that are preventing it from being a safe place, it’s some of the current people, which is a real switch from when I first joined. Back then you had to worry about your account being deleted for adult content, and making sure to back up your stories. Now you have to worry about a story inciting someone to hack you and put out your personal information and report you to your job and family. I miss the days when an original author issuing a cease and desist was the greatest of my fandom problems.”
Filtering and content marking systems exist for the protection of the websites, the writers, and (down the line) the readers. In all fairness, if someone wants to read/watch/get something, there will always be a way for them to get it.
Fanfic, whether written to share or kept for personal reading, is often where writers (especially teens) experiment with sexual questions, themes, and conflicts.
A large percentage of fanfic is exploring alternative pairings, unlikely or novel sexual encounters, and wish fulfillment on the part of the creators. The same way sex sells in mainstream work, setting up and executing a titillating pair of characters can attract more readers to your fic. Of course, that’s the popularity contest side of things. Writing with your favorite characters for your own pleasure is intoxicating this way.
All the boundaries that were there for the cannon material aren’t there on your blank page. As one of my interviewees said in reflection, “Actually, the first few years, it was mostly just smut. Then I started getting into other things.”
In the exploration side of things, another writer/reader said, “I was 16 when I discovered slash, and it was right at a time when I was figuring out I was not as straight as I thought I was. I clicked that ‘yes I am of legal age’ button a lot even when I wasn’t.”
Like I said before, those guardian programs online are there to protect the company first. When sharing your explicit work, understand it’s likely minors will read. There are no secrets on these platforms.
I’ve gone on long enough here, and I hope at least I’ve given some voice to those who write fanfiction. These works have a purpose different from the purposes of writing original content. There are virtues and vices any way you look at it, but so does any art form. So, make your fandoms your playground, work on your skills, find your tribe, and fantasize responsibly.
See below for places to read/write/share fanfiction, as well as links for participating fanfic writers:
Special thanks to those who participated and shared their experiences!
Kiko: (no links)
Mia McCroskey: www.mmvn.net/reborn/fiction/indexcreative.html