Everybody Wants to Rule the World (cover)Today's Tune:
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?