Fanfiction is often underrated. It's not hard to see why. Some pieces can, admittedly, be written poorly and some even come across as raunchy or unnecessarily crude. Wattpad, for example, has earned a reputation of low-quality content, as many of its top stories are filled with grammatical mistakes and are written about One Direction.
Regretfully, low-quality stories usually get the most press, and such stories are used as examples of why fanfiction is a waste of a writer's time and talent.
However, there are beautifully written and fascinating fanfics to be found all over the internet, and it can be a thrilling exercise to sit down and try penning one yourself. In fact, some well-known and published authors have written fanfiction, from R.J. Anderson to Lois McMaster Bujold, to the author of The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot. In fact, on Meg Cabot’s blog, she even mentions, “I myself used to write Star Wars fanfiction when I was [a] tween. I think writing fanfiction is a good way for new writers to learn to tell a story.”
So, why should aspiring writers bother dabbling in fanfiction? Let's explore the potential benefits of using another author's work as inspiration for your own stories.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Do you know what a writer's worst enemy is? A blank sheet. It makes an author feel stuck, and deprives him or her of the practice required to improve key writing skills.
So, sitting down and writing a thrilling story, even if it's based on someone else's fictional world and features already defined characters, is a fabulous first step!
Sometimes it's hard starting from scratch, and worldbuilding is among the most difficult challenges a writer faces. Having a cornerstone to begin with makes taking those first few steps much easier. For example, if the writer is penning Harry Potter fanfiction, he or she doesn’t have to worry about building a universe. The laws of the wizarding world and the setting of Hogwarts are well-defined already, and characters don’t need to be designed from scratch. The writer can thus focus on the plot and storylines.
Once you feel more confident about your writing skills, it's easier to take that leap of faith and develop a unique and fresh story. In the meantime, practice makes perfect! What's important is that you start writing and continue to do so as often as possible. You can also use plot generators and other tools to get new ideas if you’re drawing blanks.
It Gives You an Audience
As amazing as your narrative is, people might not be initially interested in your original story. There is, however, already a loyal fanbase ready to savor fanfics featuring its favorite characters. The sky's the limit when it comes to the size of the fanbase, as E.L. James discovered. Her Twilight story reached millions of people before being turned into the world-renowned book and movie now known as 50 Shades of Gray.
Not only does it feel great when other people clearly enjoy your work of fiction, but it helps you improve your grammar and plot development skills. Fanfiction readers will undoubtedly notice errors in punctuation and syntax, as well as holes in your narration, and are often quick to point them out. Their reviews and opinions will allow you to improve your talent bit by bit. Don't get offended by their constructive criticism. Learn from it!
Publishing your fanfiction on websites dedicated to these kinds of stories allows you to get a handful (if not more!) of beta readers for free. Not sure what beta readers are? They’re basically editors of sorts, who check your work for mistakes before you post. This will provide you with invaluable opportunities to improve, so be sure to pay close attention to your readers' opinions!
It Allows You to Put Your Work on Display
Yes, technically we already addressed this benefit, but let's explore it from another angle.
Aspiring writers, especially young or inexperienced ones, can be shy or hesitant about showing their creations to the world. Fanfiction allows them to introduce their stories to a community that enjoys the same genre and characters as they do. It's a great stepping-stone that helps them get used to the spotlight and handling other people's opinions, even when they aren't always positive. It also serves as healthy encouragement, since feedback will usually appear within the first few days after posting.
Seeing people react to their work and reading reviews will drive new writers to keep publishing , and learn to enjoy the attention, both negative and positive. Commaful, for example, has a fanfiction section that is dedicated to promoting fanfiction works to its audiences. There are also dozens of other places to write fanfiction that you can explore.
No Strings Attached
Though there are authors out there who've used pseudonyms to publish their first novels (Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and even J.K. Rowling, to name a few!), there is nothing more anonymous than the internet.
If an aspiring writer is too worried about negative feedback to provide his or her real name, fanfiction websites are ideal. They’re also perfect for those trying out a new genre or content they don't feel comfortable exploring out in the open, like erotic stories. Writers will be able to hone their new skill sets without risking others knowing who's actually typing away behind the screen.
In fact, an entire book and field of research has been formed around the concept of sharing feedback anonymously within the world of fanfiction. The book Writers in the Secret Garden focuses on a detailed study of how sharing feedback works within fanfiction communities. They used the term “distributed mentoring” to describe the feedback shared by readers to writers, and were able to note improvements over time in writing quality from that feedback.
Fanfiction, best of all, is completely free to read and to write. The audience doesn't have to make any commitment or pay for these stories, so anyone can enjoy them. On the other hand, the writer doesn't have to make sure every chapter is entirely error-free. Though, it's a good idea to double-check for grammar mistakes on your own, even if you also have a trusted beta reader willing to give it a look before you publish, too.
People can read hundreds of hours of free content and even follow their favorite fanfic authors. Those penning the stories get to sharpen their creativity and improve their abilities, while earning both an audience and honest reviews.
Plus, it's just plain fun for all involved.