As a writer, you may have considered writing fanfiction. It’s a great way to get your feet wet, learn more about world-building and character development, and experiment with genres and styles.
I remember my fanfiction writing years fondly. I’m sure those fics I wrote as a teen in the early 2000s are still somewhere in a dusty corner of fanfiction.net, and maybe readers are still coming across them 20 years later.
So, is writing fanfiction a waste of time? Is writing fanfiction good practice for an aspiring writer? In this blog post, we will explore the pros and cons of writing fan fiction from a writer’s perspective.
Pros of writing fanfiction
Does writing fanfiction help with improving your writing skills? Personally, I’d say yes, it does have its benefits. Becoming a fanfiction writer as a kid was a crucial part of my journey, and I can say I learned a lot from it.
Let’s see why writing fanfiction is good and how it can help you get started as a writer.
It teaches you to work within the constraints of a fictional world
All fictional worlds work with established rules, just like our real world. Knowing those rules and how to keep them consistent is crucial to make your story believable and immersive.
If you’re writing fanfiction, it’s obvious you’re a big fan of that fictional world and understand how it works. So, writing fanfics lets you explore what living under those rules means and how to bend them, if necessary. It’s a fine line to cross — how do you write a story that’s recognizable as part of that world, and yet unique to you, with your own twist?
For example, in the A Song of Ice and Fire world, some magical elements like dragons, skinchangers and ice zombies coexist with detailed sociological, religious and political issues that feel very real to us. So, unless you’re writing an AU, you need a good grasp of how these elements work in that world. (Just don’t tell GRRM about it.)
It teaches you to look at characters deeply
Even if you’re creating your own characters in your fanfic, you still need to have a solid understanding of the main characters in the fictional universe.
Backstory, motivation and needs are crucial elements of every character. What has made the character what they are when your reader meets them, what do they want and need?
Because in most cases the characters have already been created, you have more room to explore the implications of those elements and how they’ll shape your story.
To use another example from ASOIAF (sorry, George) — the young King in the North, Robb Stark entered the War of the Five Kings not in pursuit of the Iron Throne, but as a way to free his sisters and gain independence for the North. It may be a subtle difference, but these motivations inform the decisions he makes in the novels, and should inform his actions in your story, too.
It gives you the confidence to put yourself out there
Fanfiction writing is rarely done in isolation. Often, writers come to it from their participation in fandoms, and the act of writing fanfic is just another way to contribute to the community.
So, posting your fanfiction on sites like Archive Of Our Own, Wattpad or a Tumblr blog gives you that motivation to start sharing your work with an audience.
If you’re posting your fics online, eventually the right audience will find it, even if you don’t promote it. Over time, you can even build a base of devoted readers waiting for a new instalment of your story. This means some of your readers will take the time to leave feedback.
Usually, reading feedback is useful for any creative. It gives you a different perspective on your work and helps you understand how your stories are coming across and what you could change to improve.
However, feedback from fandom isn’t always constructive. Even positive comments can be influenced by other factors like fandom dynamics and the reader’s expectations about fanfiction and the original work.
It teaches you to how to handle negative comments
It’s hard for any creative to put their work out there. It puts you in a vulnerable position — including the possibility of being shamed or rejected by the community if they don’t enjoy or agree with your work.
It takes a bit of a thick skin to navigate receiving negative comments. While established authors can get away with not reading comments from readers and fans, small creators and new writers are expected to build a community and interact with their audience. This means you will come across bad faith comments, even if you do your best to filter out certain content.
Learning how to handle negativity, constructive or otherwise, is crucial for any artist sharing their work in public.
Cons of writing fanfiction
Of course, there are pros and cons to everything, and writing fanfic is not the exception.
Many established writers are notoriously against fans writing fanfiction — some will even take legal measures to keep fanfiction based on their IP off the internet. Copyright issues aside, authors who are against fanfics agree fanfiction is a waste of time for new writers and encourage fans to focus on original stories instead.
Could there be some truth in this? What are the cons of writing fanfiction? Let’s have a look.
It doesn’t teach you the ropes of worldbuilding
Every story exists in a fictional world. Creating that world can be labour-intensive for writers, even when the story takes place in a world identical to ours. Think of all the elements that make up our real world — from the names of our countries to the languages, cultures, religions, political systems, races and ethnicities, histories and technologies, and so much more.
The rules of the world you create are the foundation upon which your story and characters stand. So, if their world has inconsistent rules, readers will have a hard time immersing in the story or even making sense of it.
On the one hand, working on an already existing fictional world allows you to explore its implications and teaches you how altering its elements impact the story and characters. The issue comes when it’s your time to build your own worlds.
Fanfiction doesn’t give you the chance to build a new world from scratch, which can be a setback if you plan to write original stories in the future.
It can prioritize quantity over quality
The need to build a community of readers doesn’t just pressure writers to maintain an active social media presence — it also means you have to put out work consistently.
While this can help build a steady writing habit, it also means that you can’t always take more time to share your writing once you’re sure it’s ready. It means you’re posting early drafts that could be much better with a few extra days of revising.
The problem with posting drafts is that revising your work can teach you a lot about your writing. You notice recurring issues — from misspellings that keep showing up to words you use too often or details that contradict each other at different points in the story.
By writing and posting right away, you’re skipping a crucial part of the writing process that doesn’t just make your work tighter and more engaging — it also prevents you from learning more from your work.
It won’t get you out of your comfort zone
If you’re serious about improving your writing, challenging yourself is important to develop new skills. However, fanfiction is often a fun hobby that doesn’t push you to try out new ways to tell stories.
In some cases, the pressure from your readers and the fandom can lead you to play it safe. You may get stuck using common fandom tropes that may be helpful at first, but may become crutches as time goes by. Consequently, you might not gain new skills as fast as you would with original stories.
All in all, fanfiction can be good practice for you as a young or aspiring writer. Just keep in mind that if writing fiction is something you’d like to pursue more seriously in the future, you’ll need to explore original stories sooner rather than later.
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