If you’re familiar with the term fanfiction (fan fiction, fanfic), then you know that it doesn’t turn a profit, and it’s a hobby that most definitely takes up your time. Aside from the pleasure of writing about your favorite television/movie/book/game characters in new and exciting scenarios, is there anything the writer gets out of this type of writing? Some writing experts will say that the answer is a resounding no. These writers claim that because the process of creating an original story is so different from using an established canon to write stories, there is no comparison between the two. However, I believe there are many skills to be gained and lessons to be learned by writing fanfiction for an audience.
Lesson 1: Sticking to the Rules
A writer beginning a work of original fiction has several elements to tackle and decisions to make, but a fanfiction writer already knows the world in which they’re delving. Rules for the fictional universe are pre-established, as are the main characters. A fanfiction writer learns to work around the canon to form a solid plot. Let’s review: a pre-established set of rules, setting, and cast of characters are part of writing fanfiction. Would the original fiction writer not struggle with the exact same pre-established canon within their own work? An original fiction writer, especially one writing a series, has to obey their own rules. This is even more imperative if the writer is working in science fiction or fantasy.
Lesson 2: Staying In-Character
Another lesson fanfiction writers, at least good fanfiction writers, will learn over time is how to stay in-character. If a fanfiction writer stays IC (in-character) as opposed to OOC (out-of-character), they have managed to manipulate pre-established characters in a way that is believable to the audience. The bad guys are still bad unless they have a very believable reason for going good. The good guys still save the day, unless they hit a believable speedbump. Characters make decisions as they would have in the original canon. A spit-fire princess is still fiery, and a snarky wizard hasn’t lost his sarcasm. How can this skill help the original fiction writer? The better question is, how can it not help any fiction writer?
When a writer develops a character with depth and personality, the writer makes a promise to the audience. They promise that the character is as real as any other human being and will keep their established personality. Many times, the novice writer has a difficult time creating a full cast of interesting characters because of an inability to keep their own character IC. The characters in these stories react only to form the plot and fold to the needs of the writer. A more advanced writer has characters who move with the storyline, and who have an established profile that can be recognized by readers.
Keeping characters IC is especially important to the writer hoping to establish a series of stories. As any fanfic writer knows, there is nothing worse than characters going OOC from one chapter of a story to the next.
Lesson 3: Relating to an Audience
Feeding the audience what they want is no easy thing. A writer must provide a story they enjoy as well as something sellable to a specific group. Fanfiction writers are no different, and they have learned the secret behind this skill: write what you would love to read. The very reason for fanfiction is to watch a fantasy unfold using someone else’s established canon. Whose fantasy, you ask? Why, the writer’s!
How does a fanfiction writer know that they’re appealing to an audience? While the original fiction writer doesn’t always want to share their manuscript with the world, fanfiction is almost always posted online for anyone to read. Individuals with similar preferences for the canon, be it book/television show, can tell the writer exactly what they like and what they don’t like about the plot, the characters, the setting. Through this, fanfiction writers learn how to both relate to and please their audience, an invaluable skill when they want to write sellable original fiction.
Lesson 4: Taking the Heat
In the world of online story reviewing, a harsh review with no real criticism is called a flame. A fanfiction writer learns quickly how to distinguish negative criticism from a flame, and, if they want to continue writing, they learn to take the heat. For the original fiction writer, rejection happens; in fact, it happens nearly every time they write a new work. By learning to work with an audience and to ignore flames or learn from criticism, a fanfiction writer can get a step ahead of other amateur writers. By writing fanfiction, the young writer can quickly learn that not everyone enjoys every story, no matter how much passion is poured into its words.