Look. Fanfiction gets a lot of flak...and you know what? There’s a good reason. You have an established franchise, maybe even a beloved, celebrated franchise and then some amateur has to come and mess it all up for you. It could just be a poorly written short story. But more than likely, it comes in the form of unrealistic pairings between two completely mismatched characters or it could just be a straight up, clumsily crafted sex romp. Just full of stuff to make you roll your eyes. Maybe you share it with your friends and you all laugh about it. Why? Because it’s so awful, and you are completely justified.
But I’m here to tell you that there are some good things about fanfiction. For real!
1. It’s Good for Practice
Every writer starts off as an amateur. Every writer has to write awful, awful bullshit before they can get any better. There’s that saying that is often repeated: You have to spend 10,000 hours to become a master of something. Can you even imagine 10,000 hours of cliches; unnecessary adverbs; run-on sentences; and flat, unlikable characters? Fanfiction can help clear the way for good writing the way prunes...well, you get the rest.
Fanfiction is a good, safe environment for this...ah...cleansing to take place. The fledgling writer knows the setting, they know the characters and there’s enough wiggle room for creativity on their end. It’s a good stepping stone.
2. It’s Happened Before
I’m talking about Sherlock Holmes. You know, the series of stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle way back in 1887? The beloved British detective solving crimes? The stories were so popular that Conan Doyle grew tired of them overshadowing his other stories so he killed off Holmes in “The Final Problem”. People were so upset that they wrote obituaries for the detective and wore black mourning clothes.
Well, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle eventually resurrected Sherlock Holmes for some more stories but as before, he didn’t do much in the way of editing. There are some major inconsistencies throughout all the stories, like how many times Dr. Watson was married and in what order the stories take place. But fans were there to pick up the author’s slack! They formed societies to bicker among themselves the particulars of the stories. It was from these groups that the term ‘canon’ was first used to describe official and genuine principles of literature other than the Bible. Nerds. Nerds never change.
Respectable authors have been contributing to the fan culture ever since. Even modern writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman have both written their own Holmes stories and have even won awards for them. Now that is some top-level fanfiction right there.
3. It’s Going to Keep Happening
I’d say the most well-known example of fanfiction right now is Fifty Shades of Grey. I mean, here’s E.L. James with her Twilight fanfiction, which was originally named ‘Master of the Universe’ that she penned under the name ‘Snowqueen’s Icedragon’. God, that sentence is amazing. I’m not even being sarcastic, I promise. But anyway, all she really did was change the names of the two main characters from Bella and Edward to Ana and Christian. Things happened as they do and then she had a trilogy and a movie. All from fanfiction.
Is Fifty Shades of Grey good? I don’t know. I’ve never read it. It’s just not my cup of tea just like Twilight wasn’t. I know it topped all sorts of best-seller lists despite being criticized for its fanfiction roots and its generally poor reviews. I’m not here to say one way or another whether it was good. I’m saying that Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t going to be the last instance where fanfiction sparks a bestseller. And hey, maybe the next one won’t be so dreadful.
I’m saying all this because I’ve written fanfiction myself and I feel that I need to defend those who write it, even the bad stuff. I mean, I was there once too. Dear Lord, fanfiction was all I did in high school. I think I was supposed to learn Trigonometry or something but I was busy exploring character development and finding different words for ‘frowned’. I was never into the slash fiction, the whole ‘hooking up’ of different characters, but, boy howdy, I wrote some atrocious things. And from atrocious, it went to not so bad, to kinda decent, to finally feeling confident writing my own original stuff.