I talk to a lot of people on Twitter who have no idea what fan fiction is. I suppose that I got so used to writing it myself (from an early age) that I assumed everyone knew. All of my friends either wrote it or read it (or both) and it’s been a common term for me since I was a young teenager. It made me realize that not everyone gets into TV shows, movies, music, and anything else “Fandom” related enough to want to write stories about it. It may have never occurred to them to try. Except, this is where many writers got their start and even continue to excel today.
To start with, let me explain what fan fiction is, or can be.
Let’s take for example, a TV show that I really like (X-Files). To write a fan fiction for The X-Files what I (or anyone else would do) is come up with my own story and use the already created or canon characters to write out what happens in that story. It’s not a universe I made myself so much as borrowed and it’s good practice for people who eventually want to craft their own stories. Now, back in the day I did write X-Files fan fiction. A lot of people did (and still do). It’s a popular show to do it for. It’s not that hard to do for that show or any show, really. You just take a few of the characters you like, attempt to keep them in character, and essentially write your own “episode” of the show but as a story.
This concept can be done with literally anything you can think of. There is fan fiction about musicians, movies, real life actors, comic books, cartoon characters, if you can think of it and it has a following it probably also has someone writing fan fiction for it. There’s even a thing call RPF (real person fan fiction) where you specifically write about a real actor (or several). This is most common in the music genre because typically when people write band fan fiction they are using the real people from those bands to put them in a fictional setting. A lot of those stories are god awful too. They get popular though because, as much as I hate to admit it and face reality, writing has become a popularity contest.
Things like Mortal Instruments and Fifty Shades Of Grey started out as very popular fan fiction. Both of these things are obvious rip offs of the things that they started out as which is probably why they made so much money. They mimic things that were already popular like Harry Potter and Twilight and since the authors didn’t get sued off their asses like they should have for profiting from fan fiction, they get to be called authors. Am I bitter? You bet. This was the last thing the literary genre actually needed. In fact, I’d never heard of Mortal Instruments or City of Bones until I saw the movie trailer for it. I laughed and remarked “This is like Harry Potter but with vampires”. Come to find out yeah that’s exactly what it was. *Cringe*
Of course, because fan fiction is also associated with hideous writing, poorly worded smut, and erotica just for the sake of living out a fantasy it has a bad reputation. I will admit, there is a shit ton of fan fiction that only exists for the sake of smut and masturbation. It’s written by teenage girls (or bored lonely housewives) and they have about the same level of audience which is what gets them popular. This is not all fan fiction, though, far from it. Some of the best writers I know got their start there and I’m included in that. Not that I think I’m one of the best, more that I ventured into writing fan fiction first.
I still write fan fiction now, it doesn’t get posted, it’s more of a private hobby for me but I do write it. It’s relaxing. When you have all the elements of a story already created for you it’s like playing in a sandbox. The characters and world are already there and now you get to muck around in it. Make them do what you want. Live out plot points or episodes that never happened in reality. Movie sequels that will never see the light of day. That sort of thing. It’s why it’s fun, and popular, and very addictive but it helps so much with practicing the art of writing. Everyone needs to start somewhere, right?
For me, it was the Saw movies. I really didn’t like how the franchise ended so I decided to write my own ending. This meant including an original character. Someone who was not part of the Saw universe but someone that I made up entirely to fill in a gap that needed to be filled in order to change the ending of the movie. It is not uncommon for people to use original characters in fan fiction but most of the time they are Mary Sue (which is another topic for another day). I’ve hated Mary Sue characters from a young age so when I was creating my original character for this fan fiction I went out of my way to have her be the opposite of that.
Surprisingly, to me, people really liked not only the continuation and different ending but they like the original character. Over time, I grew her, moved her from one fictional universe to the other. Worked on her personality, traits, and backstory. Gave her a history. Made her more than just a plot device. To a point where really, she could have had her own universe. In fact, people started to tell me they liked her so much I should write her story, give her something that wasn’t fan fiction but was a canon all of her own. That is exactly what I did. I could literally credit the ending of Saw being so bad to me being a writer as of now.
That is the thing, though, fan fiction is useful and it’s a jumping off point. Fan fiction also doesn’t mean someone isn’t a “real writer”. I’ve read fan fiction that was better than the actual show, book, or movie that I watched. As I said, there is a countless cesspool of smut and terrible purple prose stories written by idiots in the fan fiction universe, but then there are the diamonds in the ruff. The people who make the gems out of the stack of trash a lot of these fandoms become. The thing is, that writing is just writing. I wasn’t perfect when I started out either (especially not in fan fiction). Over time I learned from my mistakes and I was able to grow and grow until I broke out into my own original universes and series. If you’d have told me 10 years ago I’d have ever created a world like Birthright, I’d have thought you were joking.
Maybe some of it is bad, but as a lot of those people continue they get better. Not all of them but, writing is also in a lot of way subjective. It also should be fun. Writing can be anything you want it to be. Fan fiction is just one portion of that puzzle. If you never considered how helpful the practice is (or didn’t even know what it was before reading this post) now you know. I just ask that no one look down on fan fiction or not take it as seriously as original content. Everyone writing it from teenagers to grown adults are at least trying to create content and that’s something that I’d never want to stop anyone from doing. Regardless of how good or bad it is. At the end of the day no one is forcing you to read anything you don’t want anyway….right?