Apr 6, 2012

The Benefits of Writing Fanfictioin

I'll admit it, I write fanfiction. Have been for years. I know it's not popular, or professional, but I've learned so much reading and doing it I can't say I regret it. Or mind that people know I regularly read and write. But no, I'm not going to give out my penname for that ^_~

I know Mur Lafferty has advocated writing fanfiction before, especially for NaNoWriMo and when I first heard that I fell in love with her. Because the fanfiction community is huge, (I'd give you a number, but they don't list authors without a search term, and I'd count the stories, but I know that there are some fandoms with more than 500K stories for them, and there's more fandoms listed than I want to count by hand. It'd take hours. And that's just the main site I frequent. There are tons more.) and there are so many of us who want to move from published fanfiction author to published original author (anyone heard of Cassandra Clare? She used to write fanfiction under the same name). And we can because of what writing fanfiction has given us.

From Fanfiction to just Fiction by Vanessa Cohen


They say your first million words are practice, and that's just what fanfiction is. You obviously can't publish it (though you could argue people writing Star Wars books are getting paid for fanfiction) so all those words are just helping you find your voice and style. It's kinda fun, looking at the 50+ stories I've published and see how much I've improved. Granted, I've only written half of that million words, but it's coming.


There's something about the unprofessional nature of fanfiction that encourages people to play with form. I've seen stories written in entirely in the second person, others that loop back on themselves - staring and ending with the same paragraph.  There are others that play with formatting, with sequences of events, with how different people may think. Anyone know Firefly? There's some interesting fics told from River's point of view, so many ways to write the mind of a crazy person. I'm guilty of it too, I went for a cinema verite version of a first person story, refraining from using the word 'I' through out it to mimic actual first person thought. Writing fanfiction is like playing with word play-dough.

Learning What a Good Story Is

I read fanfics more than I write them, tabbing ones that sound interesting (sometimes up to 200 in a window XD) and then I go through and read them. But 200 stories is a lot, and I've learned to identify within the first chapter, nay, the first few paragraphs, which are worth my time. I've learned what a Mary Sue is (a perfect character, you don't want them), I've discovered how not to do flashbacks (or dream sequences), that you shouldn't over describe your characters, that dialog has to be sensible, that plot is necessary and things have to make sense (there's a genre of fics called 'crack' that are so bizarre and insensible it's assumed the author was on drugs while writing it). And the ever importance of formatting and spellcheck, it horrifies me how many stories lack it.

I mean there's good fanfictions out there, but probably more bad, but by comparing the two, especially if they have similar plots (Let's say...Harry Potter getting sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor) it easy to see what works and what doesn't. You learn by example. It's kinda hard to do the same type of learning with books, they've all been judged by gatekeepers to be good. And when I've compare pieces in a creative writing class, I've always been sensitive about feelings.

You Don't Have to Start From Scratch

The world, the characters, they're all there already. You don't have to make them up. And because of that, I find it's easier to come up with stories for fandoms than original stories. But because the world is there, I find that authors are using it as a foundation and build up more complex version of the world, training to build their own.  We know what Transformers look like, so people add other elements like what their natural nonverbal gestures are or why there are so many different models.

The same thing happens with character. How does the Doctor deal with the loneliness when he doesn't have a companion? Why did he steal the TARDIS is the first place? And why does the current incarnation have a fondness for bow ties?

Canon provides a backdrop for so many possibilities, and it possible to watch authors grow. Some eventually branch into well thought out alternate universe (AU), where the only thing linking the fanfiction to the original is character names and relationships. And even then they give a version of the character different than the original author created, to the point where if the names were changed the story could be sold on Amazon.

The other thing about not starting from scratch is that fanfiction makes itself perfect for short stories and flash fiction. There already is a history of character relations and plot, so words don't have to be used to set one up. Readers already know everything about a world and it's character, allowing writers to focus on a single point of time, on the emotion of moment in a piece of flash fiction (or drabbles as they're called). Or it could be a one-shot, a one chapter story, highlighting a history hinted at in canon but never fully explained.

Maybe it hints at a possible future, especially in comics and manga where new chapters come out and then leave a week, a month, or more before the next installment comes out.  So many Harry Potter fanfictions were written between the time books came out, making predictions to tie over the writer and other fans until the adventure of the next year was published.

The endless possibilities of fanfiction is something that never amazes me, and I love trying to come up with pairing and plots that haven't been seen before. And not having to worry about creating world or character, allow writer to really work on developing plots. Which is still a weak point for me -_-'

Instant Audience

Even if your fanfiction is the worst on planet, you're guaranteed readers. People love the canon (original) characters and world of what your story is based on so they'll read it just for that. You can always count on readers to open your story.

Ego Boost

Because people like the original world so much, there's people who like anything do with it. Stories get lots of positive reviews, more so than negative ones. Even a simple review like 'this is awesome!' makes me smile and reinvigorates my writing. But it's also common to get specifics in a review, people telling you what in particular they like, and nothing makes me glow more than hearing something I wrote emotionally touched someone.

Different sites also all tracking of stories, and I always feel giddy when I have 70 readers wanting to get an e-mail when I update. 


When I write original fiction, I like to have it all finished before I share it. That's a rare person in the fanfiction community. Most stories are written chapter by chapter, and posted chapter by chapter (hence my currently abnormally large WIP count) and it's a great push to actually finish a story, knowing people are counting on you to update.  The guilt of not doing it, and the risk of angry fans, is a great thing to hold you accountable. 

It's something I really need in real life, as I end most of my stories right before the climax. I know the ending at that point, and what's the point of finishing if no one else needs to know/is expecting an update? Fanfiction is helpful im getting me into the habit of proper, timely writing habits. 


While all sites have some version of tracking stats, I'm most familar with those on fanfiction.net and I'm obsessive compulsive about checking them.You can see how many hits and visitors a story get, per month or over its life, and see that data broken down by chapter. You can see how many reviews you've gotten per chapter, read them, reply to them. You can see what country readers hail from. You can see how many hits and views your profile has. Other users can also add your story to a community, a collection of fics they find worthy enough to share with others. And you can keep track of who selected your story as a favorite, who selected to have chapter updates set to their e-mail, and who is not just following individual stories but you as an author.

When I upload a new chapter, I'm checking my hits several times that day and the few afterwards. And even then, I normally check my stats once a week. It's a great way of seeing which stories people seem to like more. 

Fan Base

Fanfiction Flamingo
People who follow your fanficition writing are doing so because they like your writing, not the subject matter.  There are so many Transformers fics about Sam Witwicky during into a Autobot, that if a reader doesn't like your version they can find one that they do.  Thus, if they favorite or alert (follow) you as an author, they're a loyal fan base. They get e-mail updates every time you upload or edit a chapter because they just want more of your writing.  And when you have a book sitting in a bookshelf, these people are likely to get a copy. I know that when fanfic authors I follow finally sell a manuscript, I'll buy it because I love their writing so much. And I know I have readers who will do the same. The fan base you collect writing fanfiction is a group you can sell your original writing to.

Prepare to cut your tongue on this one:
The friction of fiction. 


  1. You ROCK! I never expected to see anyone singing the praises of fanfiction, but a few years ago, I would have done the same. It's how I practised writing and realised that I am not nearly as bad at it as I thought! I don't read or write it now because I don't have the time, but I don't understand why so many people frown on it.

  2. I love you! These are my thoughts on fanfic entirely. I've been reading and writing it for, oh god, ten years! And I still read and write it now, though not as often because of lack of time.

    It's an excellent place to cut your writing teeth, and learn new skills, without all the pressure.

    I know I wouldn't have taken my writing this far without writing fanfiction first.

    If (when) I'm published I will happily admit I wrote fanfic and encourage other people to write it too.

    I hate all the bad press writing fanfic gets, as though you're not a real writer. It's insulting and not true.

    Hats of to you for admitting to it, and being proud of it! :D

  3. My 12 year old, just this week, has started writing his own Batman story. I am so impressed, and so excited to read it. The snippets I've seen are so good.

  4. My daughter writes fanfiction. Mostly Batman characters (although she doesn't write about Batman. She likes Joker and Harley Quinn). I love that she does this, I think it's an excellent training ground for her.

  5. I agree with all the points you made! Fanfiction is a wonderful tool as well as a creative and entertaining playground. Write on!

  6. What a cool post!!! I've never read fanfiction or thought about writing any, but I might have to look into some. Definitely sounds like a great writing excercise!