Fanfiction: Teaching New Writers How to Write


Fanfiction.  Just about every single author has an opinion on it.  Some authors are steadfastly against it.  Anne Rice launched a full out legal campaign that started the “please don’t sue me, I’m poor” disclaimers that can still be found on top of many fanfictions.  George R.R. Martin thinks writing fanfiction is lazy.  Diana Gabaldon maintains that fanfiction is illegal despite the fact that most people aren’t making money from it.

However, many authors hold a more favorable view on fanfiction.  J.K. Rowling welcomed fanfiction for her Harry Potter series.  Neil Gaiman also encourages it as does Meg Cabot.  In fact Cabot has an entire page devoted to the subject on her website.  She writes, “I think writing fan fiction is a good way for new writers to learn to tell a story.”  Quite frankly, I can’t help but agree.

I started writing at the very young age of 13.  I had no clue what I was doing.  My very first manuscript, which I dug up not that long ago, is written in a hanging indent.  Its format is the least of its problems.  Creating characters, a world, and a believable plot was completely foreign to me.  Little Artemis had zero clue.  Thankfully, I discovered fanfiction shortly after I began writing thanks in part to a close friend.

Like Cabot says, fanfiction offered me the perfect opportunity to hone my skills as a fledgling writer.  My first fan work, an awful Phantom of the Opera story, turned into a sandbox of possibilities for me.  I had a set of characters, a world, and even a plot already provided to me.  So what did I write about?  I made changes to the setting, I reimagined the characters as younger (closer to my own age), and I experimented with changes of point of view.  The plot was essentially the same as the original novel and the base characteristics of my main cast did not change.

Kind writers who clearly had more experience than I gave me more than ample constructive criticism.  That made it possible for me to actively examine my story as I wrote.  Even when I didn’t receive constructive criticism, the comments were overwhelmingly positive and made me want to continue writing.

Taking out a handful of elements made it possible for me to focus on the remaining elements exclusively.  Eventually, I started incorporating other elements one at a time.  I began creating original characters, not that they were very good but that’s okay, and inserting them into my fanfictions.  As I got better with character creation, I began trying my hand at world building.  Even that started out as making small changes to the world of the story is was writing fanfiction for.  What if Phantom of the Opera took place in a modern setting?  Or how about if the worlds in Kingdom Hearts weren’t separated by space?  Or if the heroes had actual weapons and not just oversized keys.

Finally, I turned my attention to original fiction again.  Plot came with more practice but that, again, is okay.  I never fully walked away from fanfiction though.  Before, I started a new story I almost always thought of it in terms of how it would fit in a fanfiction.  Without fanfiction I honestly never would’ve grown as a writer or come as far as I have.

I will never disparage writing fanfiction no matter where my journey as a writer takes me.  I’ve been writing stories for nearly 10+ years and good portion of that has been strictly in the realm of fanfiction.  To condemn it would not only be hypocritical of me but bad advice.  Remember that sandbox analogy I gave earlier?  It still rings true.  To learn you have to be able to goof off and play around with your writing.  Fanfiction gives a writer, from the most seasoned author to the most inexperienced newbie, a chance to practice their skills.  I highly encourage all authors to at least give it a try!

What do you think?  Have you ever written fanfiction to practice your writing?

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