When I just hear the word “fanfiction,” I think of smutty romances and fan theories that make no sense. (And, unfortunately, the search trends for fanfiction reflect the same ideas.) That’s really sad (and I sincerely apologize to any fanfiction writers here). However, when I’m thinking about fanfiction, and thinking about writing fanfiction, I remember I started with fanfiction. I think instead of creativity and development and inexperienced (but still admirable) writing.
Before we get into the actual benefits, I’m going to tell you a story. My “first good novel,” The Half-Elves (if you’ve been here a while there’s no way you haven’t heard of this before), started out as a fanfiction of The Legend of Zelda, or more accurately its spin-off game Link’s Crossbow Training. With Link’s Crossbow Training you don’t see any of the characters except Link, you just see the world. The world is really interesting, so seven-year-old me decided it would be cool to write a story set there. Link, of course, played a crucial role, and I looked up who Zelda was to see how she’d fit in as well. Anyway, over the course of 4-5 years a 17k novella was born (which I thought was a novel, at the time). Every one of the characters was original aside from Link and Zelda until I finally got Twilight Princess for my birthday one year and ended up inserting other game characters, and the world was vague enough (thanks to poor description) and the characters were different enough that it became easy—once I realized that you can’t, in fact, publish fanfiction like a normal novel—to simply change names and make it original fiction. Even before that, I’d been writing “novels” heavily based on the Magic Kingdom of Landover books by Terry Brooks. (Younger me really did not grasp the concept of a novel; my earliest “novels” were something like five pages long each, with big handwriting.) Now, nine years later, I’m rebuilding that whole universe so that I can make it even better, rewrite those novels (so that they’re actually novels this time), and eventually publish them. Fanfiction can become much more.
Okay, long-winded story finished. Now let’s get into actual concrete benefits.
An Established World Lets You Practice Character Development
Characters are my favorite thing to work on, and I wonder now if that’s thanks in part to having used established worlds for so much of my early career. When you’re working in an established world, you can turn your attention to the characters (and plot, but since I have trouble writing about plot I’m not going to cover that) and make deep, well-rounded characters. I’m not saying you’ll become an expert on your first try (the majority of my characters when I was writing fanfiction were little more than names and faces), but if you practice with characters you’ll get better at characters, and it’s easier to focus on one aspect of writing when others are already taken care of and you don’t have to divide your attention.
Copying the Greats Helps You Learn What Works
When you write in someone else’s world or about someone else’s characters, it’s like borrowing their expertise. You borrow what they know about writing deep worlds and well-rounded characters by writing about those they’ve already created and developed. You learn how details and flaws and everything work in practical terms and affect the story and whatnot, even if you don’t know that’s what you’re doing.
If You Decide You Want to Do Something More With It, It Poses a Fun Challenge
If you decide you want to publish the fanfiction you’ve written but you want to make it original instead of fanfiction, you’re given an intriguing challenge to make everything your own. When I was eleven and wanted to make The Half-Elves original, all I did was change the names (I still haven’t settled on a new name I like for Link); now as I try to make it even better and use all I’ve learned in my nine years of writing to make the world deeper and the characters more intricate, I’m rebuilding an entire universe from bare bones. Two planets, nine countries, quite a few stories… all of these will need to be rewritten. Some shifts require more work than others, but it’s a really fun (if tedious) challenge.
Have you ever written fanfiction? Was it writing practice or just for fun? Have you ever considered turning it into something new? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. :)