can fan fiction improve your writing?

| Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Today's Tune: Everybody Wants to Rule the World (cover)

Fan fiction. Man, are there some stinkers out there. Mary-Sues, thinly-veiled attempts at inserting oneself into a fandom universe, totally inappropriate and/or non-canon sexual relationships, cringe-worthy grammar and purple prose... fan fiction has it all.

So, is it all just unoriginal emo-vomiting and bad erotica? Can fan fiction actually be good? Better yet, can writing it actually help improve your craft?

Yes. I believe it can be good, and I believe it can help you improve. To a point.

Confession: I used to write fan fiction, way back in my early writer days. Dawson's Creek, Roswell, and Harry Potter fan fiction, to be specific (SHUT UP RIGHT NOW). Many of us start out that way, even if it's not consciously fan fiction that we're writing. My first forays into writing were mimicries of some of my favorite stories - Bruce Coville's aliens, Tamora Pierce's magical girl protagonists, a splash of Lois Lowry's The Giver. I wasn't copying storylines verbatim or anything, but I was borrowing. Heavily.

These writing experiments are either long gone or ferreted away in boxes, but they were valuable to me. They helped me learn the structure of a story, and they got me writing. I could hone my writing ability within the framework of a universe that had already been created for me. I already knew the characters, so their personalities and actions came naturally. No complicated world building or extensive from-scratch plotting involved -- only creating new adventures for beloved literary (or cinematic) friends and the freedom to just write.

This is where fan fiction can help us improve. While writing, we (hopefully) improve our craft. We (hopefully) learn to draw a character with words. We (hopefully) learn how to describe a world and submerge ourselves in it. Even (hopefully) some basic plotting practice while we create an entirely new storyline that is our own, though it's usually still connected to the author's original universe.

It's nice, playing with someone else's creation. There's no real pressure there. Unless you decide to share it with the rest of the fandom, anyway. Then they'll tell you exactly how you screwed it up, but that's not important. It's fun. It's practice. And it can actually be very, very good. Plenty of Big Name Authors have played with retelling a popular story (how many Pride & Prejudice remixes have we had now?) or writing a "tribute" to another author by borrowing their characters (Neil Gaiman's short stories featuring H.P. Lovecraft's universe come to mind).

However, there is a point where we have to branch out from the sort-of crutch of fan fiction and stand on our own two feet. Writing within the safety lines of an already-built universe can be fun, but it's not your own. Once you have the building blocks, it's time to take off the training wheels and create something that is 100% you. If you do write fan fiction, enjoy it for what it is, but use it as a tool to help improve your craft and not just as a "guilty pleasure."

Did I use enough childhood/growing up metaphors in this post, do you think? Yeah. Do you write fan fic? What are your thoughts?




5 comments:

{ Simon C. Larter } at: January 26, 2011 at 6:40 AM said...

I never wrote fan fiction, per se, but I borrowed a LOT. Tolkien, Weis & Hickman, Lawhead...pretty much anyone who wrote high or epic fantasy.

Nowadays I still borrow, but it's phrasing from Hemingway and Woolf, whimsy from Gaiman, and pacing from (*wince*) Brown. But hopefully I do a bit better at filtering it through my own personal style, these days. Hopefully. Yeah. *shifty*

{ Meredith } at: January 26, 2011 at 7:29 AM said...

You're right: any type of writing helps us grow as writers. I'm sure you learned a lot about plot from writing fan fiction, even if the characters had already been created. And yay for Roswell! I miss that show :)

{ Old Kitty } at: January 26, 2011 at 9:20 AM said...

I've never attempted any fanfic but I do enjoy others who do write these - esp if it's from shows I really like - there'a a whole swathe of erotica Star Trek that sees Mr Spock and Capt Kirk really fall in love with each other and they're great - real heartrending love stories!!!!

So I'm all for this!! I'm also all for striking out and finding your own writing voice, style, plot and original ideas too. But writing fanfic does get one's creative juices flowing!!! Take care
x

{ Matthew Rush } at: January 26, 2011 at 10:02 AM said...

My kid spends more time reading and writing fanfic than I would like, and I do encourage her to write completely original works (she has plenty of OCs), but she just enjoys the fanfic more. She's only 15 so I suppose it's fine for now.

I'm sure there is amazing fanfic out there, but I don't have the time to find it.

{ February Grace } at: January 26, 2011 at 12:33 PM said...

I did many years in the trenches in RPG- fan fic's kissing cousin, so to speak, and I'm not afraid to say it because of the way I always did it.

To be clear- I've written fiction based in the Star Trek universe since early 1997 and I'm not ashamed to say it- because I've always used original characters, written with people who tried at least at the beginning (and whom I insist, now) use original ships and crews. Aside from the basic confines of Starfleet and a couple familiar alien species (though we've really tried more to create our own there too) we have written stories I am not at all afraid to call very strong and that I am not afraid to keep up on the web now that I write more 'seriously' as well.

Social commentary, swashbuckling adventure sequences, complicated interpersonal relationships, time travel- I've learned about creating characters that live and breathe working this way. It is something that definitely carried over into developing characters in my own novels (which as women's fiction so far, cannot possibly have borrowed much from Trek *laugh*)

I have my own 'crew' now, all experienced writers, only five of us, and we write the series online as a serial- and being we all write for each other's characters like you would on a TV show, say, we are NOT RPG and haven't been for ages.

So I say yes, it can help, especially when you're young or wanting to try your wings at genres or characters you've not written before.

Also, I'll tell you this, after doing admin duty in several groups over the years, I have a lot of sympathy for what agents go through with slush, and I maintain that voice in writing, like in singing, cannot be taught. It must be in someone.

(sorry that was so long! I'm passionate about this as you can tell, brave post! Will retweet!)

~bru

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