Authors Answer 30 – The Validity of Fanfiction

Yes, I’m two days late. Monday was a bank holiday and yesterday… Let’s not talk about yesterday.

Number 30 already! And this one is a subject quite close to my heart: What do you think of fanfiction as a writing medium? Do you think it has credibility despite the subject matter?

The short answer is yes, absolutely.

Oh, you want the long answer? Right. The basic fact is that every writer has to hone their craft. Those debut novels of bestselling writers? You can’t convince me that that was the first thing they’d ever written. I’ve personally been writing since I was fifteen, and the first twenty years of that output I wouldn’t even read myself anymore.

So where does fanfiction come in? Simply as a fantastic tool to hone your writing skills without having to also try and come up with your own world and characters. By using someone else’s world you can concentrate on getting the story right without having to also worry about creating a credible world with credible characters. It can be much easier to think up a story about characters you already know and love than to try and think of your own.

‘But fanfiction is shit’, I hear you say. To which I reply: that just means you’ve not read any of the good stuff. I will admit that trawling through fanfic forums or sites can be incredibly depressing. For every one good story there are probably about thirty-five that you wouldn’t wipe your arse with. But that’s most likely the case on regular writing sites as well. Yes, there is a lot of absolutely dire fanfic around, but sometimes you come across an absolute gem (or, the better option, someone else does the trawling and then tells you about the good ones).

Should you as a writer stick with fanfic? No, of course not. Not if you want to achieve anything, be that money, fame or both. Amazon’s fanfic dabbling aside (which I’ve not really heard anything of since it was announced way back when), copyright issues prevent you from publishing any of it, so there’s no real future in it. But it’s still a fantastic way of getting better as a writer.

‘But what about E L James? She wrote fanfic and she’s shit!’ Well, yes. But frankly, Dan Brown is also shit, and he sells more books than E L James does. Also, the only reason Fifty Shades got anywhere is because it started off as Twilight fanfic, and Twilight fans are rabid for anything that even vaguely reeks of Bella and Edward.

Let me give you a different example: Cassandra Clare. She honed her craft with some absolutely excellent Harry Potter fanfic. (Draco Dormens, Draco Sinister and… another Draco one that I can’t remember right now.) Whether you like her Mortal Instruments books or not, she’s got talent, and I think she did pretty well out of those books. I also remember some fantastic Merry/Pippin slash that was floating around back when the first Lord of the Rings film came out. I can’t remember the author, but I believe it’s called ‘The History of Us’ and you might be able to find it somewhere still. You have to buy into both Merry and Pippin as well as Frodo and Sam being gay, but it is a pretty well-written love story.

Okay, I had to wade through reams of stories of girls marrying Orlando Bloom* or being saved from drowning by Elijah Wood** to get to that, but without doing that I’d never have come across the Very Secret Diaries.

So yes, fanfiction definitely has validity. It’s just more difficult to avoid the shit stuff.

Original post on Jay Dee’s blog can be found here.

* That story was all about this girl being pregnant with his first child and Orlando being all sweet and giving foot-rubs, and all I could think was ‘dude, to get pregnant you must have had sex with him, yet you chose not to write about that???’

** The author did some excellent thesaurus work on different words for ‘blue’. Pretty much every sentence made reference to Elijah’s cerulean/sapphire/some other kind of blue eyes, which I thought was quite an achievement to notice when you’re drowning.

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