Is Fan Fiction A Productive Use Of A Writer’s Time?

Here’s some common opinions of fanfiction:

  • Fanfiction is all, ahem, erotic.
  • Fanfiction is badly written.
  • Fanfic authors who go onto to be published authors write really bad books.
  • Fanfic is dumb.
  • It’s a hobby for awkward young teens.

Basically fanfic is viewed as a lesser literary form – if we dare call it literary at all. It’s something that should be mocked, laughed at, and grown out of. Fanfiction baaad.

I’m not going to say that fanfiction isn’t flawed, or problematic, or isn’t any of what it is described to be. Fanfiction, like any part of fandom, like anything on the internet, can be toxic.

However it can also have some benefits, especially for aspiring authors.

So let’s talk about them.

You Understand The Importance Of Tropes

There is no place more friendly to tropes than the fan fic world.

Some writers think tropes are a bad thing. These writers don’t understand what tropes are and what purpose they serve.

However if you’ve been in fanfic writing circles, you know that readers are hungry for tropes – and if you’ve been in the fanfic world long enough you’ll pretty much be able to name all the tropes.

Why does that matter?

It’ll help you market for one thing.

When people ask you what your book is about, it’s more more exciting to say ‘It’s an action-adventure featuring a slow burn enemies-to-lovers” than it is to say ‘Well it all starts when Sally is late to work…’

Understanding tropes will also help you write smarter.

If you know what tropes you want to use, and know how they’ve been used in the past, you’ll also know how to add twists and turns to shake those tropes up a little.

And if you think tropes are a negative thing, instead of calling them tropes let’s call them Reader Expectations. Because that’s essentially what they are.

Teaches You To Gauge How Different People Will Interpret Your Writing

I recently posted a chapter of one of my on-going fan works in which a major character appears to have lost their life. This resulted in a couple of upset comments. Funny thing is, I never intended for this interpretation. The character was mortally injured, but never once did I say he had died. In fact, I thought it was clear that he was still living and the characters around him had lost hope. I must have done too good a job at the hopelessness!

(I, naturally, had a bit of a panic thinking that I’d written my chapter wrong, until I realised that this reaction is a lot better than what I’d hoped for. I had to really hold back from going ‘No, no, no, no, it’s not like that!’)

When writing an original novel intended for publication, you don’t get this kind of feedback until very far in the process, whereas fan-works get instant feedback, especially if you are writing a work-in-progress and publishing each chapter as you complete them.

Luckily, I’m pretty happy with the reaction I got – as in, I don’t have to take the chapter down and re-work it because it wasn’t functional – but I still think it’s an important lesson and will be reviewing the chapter to see just what sparked that response, and to make any necessary changes to future chapters.

Learn About Your Process

Until I completed a novel-length fanfiction, I didn’t really have any clue about my writing process. For years, I’d tried and failed to outline, abandoned one project after another (including other fanfics), and nearly gave up on my writing dreams a dozen times. Not only has completing a novel-length fan-work taught me that it is possible for me to achieve my dream, it has taught me so much about what motivates me to finish, how I craft my stories, and the common mistakes I make.

Offer A Much-Needed Relief From Your Other Projects

Sometimes writing your original work can get a little tough. There’s more expectations put on original work than fanfic, so switching to a fanfic for a little while can offer a relief.

When writer’s block rears its ugly head, working on another story – especially one where the characters and world have been built for you – can be just the thing to unblock you and, if not, you’re still getting in your writing practice.

Gives You A Template For Inspiration

Let’s be frank: Writing a novel doesn’t get any easier.

In my experience, starting a new project is very much a process of… well, not re-learning (hate that term) as much as it is rediscovering and reminding yourself of how to write. When you’re in the hazy idea phase, it honestly helps to turn to a project you have already completed, like a fanwork, and say to yourself Hey, you did that, and you can do it.

If you’ve written a multi-chaptered fic, you can revisit what you wrote, how you chose to evolve the story, and in some incidents what you would do differently and why, and that can be a huge help to your original works.

Writing Experience

Jumping off the point above, fanfiction is a great way to get writing experience. You can build up your skills in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, plot structure, and descriptive writing.

That is so valuable!

It’s FUN

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Writing is supposed to be fun! It’s supposed to grip you, excite you, and make you want to write more and more. Fanfic is fun. It’s a creative en-devour, and it’s completely free. Why wouldn’t you want to do it?


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