Seven Reasons Writing Fanfiction Can Make You a Better Writer

Disciplines in the writing field that were once considered frivolous wastes of time have become respected and appreciated by our society. Journalism, novel writing, and poetry are all prime examples. One sizable genre this maturation process has yet to encompass is fanfiction.7_Reasons_Writing_Fanfiction_Can_Make_You_a_Better_Writer

Many authors view fanfiction as a blight on the modern literary world—a scourge of copyright infringements and abuse heaped upon beloved characters. But they are incorrect in assuming that this is a modern phenomenon. The Aeneid, a poetic epic written in 20 A.D. and a magnificent work of Latin literature, is in fact a Roman fanfiction of Homer’s Odyssey.

As an author who has deeply enjoyed both reading and writing fanfiction, I believe that fanfiction is a perfectly acceptable way to hone writing skills, as long as you acknowledge your work is fanfiction and it doesn’t bring you any material gain. Here are seven reasons why.

1. Fanfiction Gets You Writing

Anything that pulls you off social media or Netflix and motivates you to write is a good thing. The pleasure of writing about characters you already love can mute the trepidation that accompanies tackling a new project. This is especially true for younger authors (I can name at least four young writers whose first large projects were fanfiction).

The typical fanfiction format is to publish one short chapter at a time, and this can embolden you to finish a project you otherwise would have abandoned. A few years ago, I wrote a 58,000-word fanfiction that I never would have completed under normal circumstances. Bite-sized writing chunks can help you build discipline.

2. Fanfiction Provides Much-Needed Encouragement

Eventually you reach the point in your writing life when your supply of free beta readers becomes exhausted. Your friends stop responding to your invites to comment on Google Docs. Your mom no longer has enough time to keep up with the volume of proofreading you need. And the initial surge of encouragement that followed your first writing attempts fades away to nothing.

On sites such as fanfiction.net, this doesn’t happen. If you write in a popular fandom and your skill is tolerable (and even if it isn’t), the feedback readers leave on each chapter can provide you with an endless source of encouragement. And who doesn’t enjoy hearing compliments on her hard work?

I’ve found that interacting with my audience and replying to reviews can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing fanfiction. Reviewers are also not shy about sharing ideas for future chapters, so asking them for suggestions can harness inspiration. 

3. Fanfiction Helps You Focus on the Plot and Timing

Because fanfiction derives from existing characters and worlds, it can give you the chance to concentrate on other aspects of writing, such as plot and timing. This should free up mental energy to develop intricate plots and improve the overall quality of your writing.

The reality is that readers of fanfiction are attracted to a story for one reason only: they love the original characters. This causes most fanfics to be character driven to a fault, so if your story is equipped with both an interesting plot and accurate character depiction, it will stand out as a precious gem.

4. Fanfiction Prevents You from Editing as You Go

The nature of fanfiction online release (writing one chapter at a time and immediately publishing) presents some interesting challenges to authors. When writing a book, you have the freedom to go back and make drastic changes, but with fanfiction, doing more than minor edits to previous chapters will irritate your readers. I actually enjoy this constraint, as it forces me to work within the confines of an already-established narrative.

If the perfectionist editor in you can’t be restrained, you can avoid this situation by first writing the entire story and then publishing chapters once a week to build readership. But without the encouragement of your reviewers, you’ll likely abandon the story as soon as your interest in that series or movie wanes. And you’ll miss out on the lessons you could have learned from completing it.

5. Fanfiction Strengthens Your Style

A wise person once said, “Read at the level you want to write at.” Since adults never really outgrow their childhood tendency to learn by imitation, this is demonstrably true. If you associate with people who frequently swear, you will probably begin to mimic this behavior. After reading Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I unconsciously began inserting expressions such as “I reckon” and “it ain’t me” in my everyday speech.

When you immerse yourself in a fictional world, you will unintentionally absorb the language and speech patterns of the characters. If the writing style is worth emulating, you can then take this learning process to the next level by writing fanfiction that imitates the novelist as closely as possible. Note the range of vocabulary he uses, the amount of details he provides the audience, the adjectives and adverbs he flavors his writing with. Observing another author’s strengths and flaws will teach you to recognize your own.

6. Fanfiction Helps You Focus on Characterization

Wait, didn’t I just say that fanfiction is an opportunity not to focus on characterization? Well, yes, it can be. Or it can be a chance to dive deeper into a character’s mind and explore the thoughts behind her canonical actions. If you are writing fanfiction based on a movie, it can be especially fun to explore a character’s internal monolog.

What was Steve Rogers thinking during Peggy Carter’s funeral? Or Peter Pevensie as the White Witch’s army charged toward him in his first battle? And would that dwarf/elf romance in The Hobbit have lasted if the Sons of Durin hadn’t all died untimely deaths?

These are exactly the sort of entertaining questions you can investigate in fanfiction.

7. Fanfiction Helps You Rediscover Why You Love Writing

Writing is hard, plain and simple, and fanfiction is no exception. I’ve written myself into more than a few corners after publishing chapters that weren’t as adequately plotted out as they could have been. But perhaps fanfiction’s most useful purpose is how fun it is. Authors can get bogged down with everything from deadlines to mental blocks, and writing exclusively for amusement can be tremendously freeing.

There are still more reasons to try your hand at fanfiction. You can use it to find closure after the death of a beloved character by writing long variations on “and they lived happily ever after.” Or you can even create a unique birthday present for a friend by writing a self-insert fanfic with him as an awesome Mandalorian warrior (in my experience, this will be received favorably).

For those who still aren’t convinced that fanfiction is a legitimate form of writing, remember that all literature can be considered “fanfiction” of the Author of Life (Acts 3:15). Just as artists practice by copying great painters, writers can improve by imitating great authors.

Have you written any fanfiction? If so, what has your experience been with it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Sierra Ret is a homeschool student who spent nearly her entire childhood with her nose buried in a book, and consequently decided she wanted to write one of her own (preferably filled with dwarves and elves). Actually getting her thoughts down on paper regularly has proven to be a far greater challenge than she first thought, but Kingdom Pen was kind enough to step in and give her some much-needed deadlines by honouring her with a temporary spot on their writing team. When not hermiting behind a laptop screen, Sierra enjoys gallivanting across Canada and adventuring near her home in rural Ontario with her family. Currently her chief fantasies include making a living as a travel blogger and someday moving to New Zealand. But above all, her chief aim is to live a passionate and meaningful life for the glory of God.
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Comments

  1. YAY! It’s here! An amazingly wise and well-written article defending fanfiction. And by our favourite fanfiction queen, too. *tricksy, knowing grin* Awesome job, Lass 🙂

    • Thank you, Master 🙂 *bows humbly* If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably still be blissfully ignorant of fanfiction.net’s existence.

  2. Great post, Sierra! I personally don’t write fanfiction (I like coming up with my own characters), but I know people that do. I’m curious, though, what fandom do you write fanfiction about? 🙂

    • Thank you! Nearly all of my stories are set in Middle Earth, though I have done a few in the Star Wars universe from a Mandalorian perspective. My little sister is also begging me for a self-insert How To Train Your Dragon story, which I might have to start on before her birthday 🙂

  3. Such a fun article to read Sierra! I’ve dabbled in a tiny amount of fanfiction myself over the years and it is quite fun. Another job well done girly!

    • Thanks! What fandoms have you written in, if I may ask?

      • A little bit of everything really, I wrote a short story with my friend many years ago that contained my own characters, Narnia characters, Percy Jackson characters, a little bit of Hunger Games, several others I can’t think of right now, and it was all tied together because of Doctor Who. It was entertaining for sure.

  4. yes yes yes yes yes yes. I started writing fanfiction a year ago and have grown leaps and bounds, and met several writing friends through my account. It has improved my style of writing and my approach to different types of writing. Plus, I’ve read fanfictions better than some published books. I fully support the idea of fanfiction.
    Nice article!

    • I know! So much good to be gleaned from the experience. And I completely agree about some fanfiction being better than published work. There’s a 600,000 word behemoth I’m following that would make an incredible movie saga.

  5. This article is probably the only piece about fan-fiction I’ve read that has actually made me consider writing fan-fiction myself… Very nicely done. Reasons #3 and #6 are really good.

  6. I love this. I got my start in writing writing fanfiction. It’s not the greatest, but it’s a great record of my writing style and how it’s evolved. And my OCs *hugs my babies* Already having the world and plot set out for me, I made my characters (who were basically self-inserts at first) and placed them in the world, but then they grew and developed without me having to bother working on world building or too much plot organization. To this date they are my absolute favorite characters ever and the most real out of all I’ve written.

    Another thing fanfiction does is it forces you to finish. I mean, you /can/ be mean and just up and abandon your story, but if you have people leaving reviews and begging you to update (or death threats. I got death threats once), then you’re motivated to finish the darn thing. *glares at uncooperative work in progress*

    Also – while there are amazing writer-ly benefits, there’s also the community. You find other fans of the source material, and even of your own work. And, for me at any rate, I met my best friends through fanfiction.net and we’re actually going to meet up this year. In real life. And I can’t wait.

    • Hooray for OCs! 🙂 And yes, I love that extra motivation to finish. Though death threats are a -bit- much.
      That’s fantastic you’re going to meet up with up with your fanfiction friends! I hope that goes well 🙂 I’d love to meet some of my favourite authors, but I’m afraid most of them live in the UK…

  7. Ah, I love this. Makes me feel a lot better about writing fanfiction all the time… xD Thanks for sharing some awesome wisdom as always, Sierra! Keep it up! 😀

  8. Kayla Lawrence says:

    I can agree with this article because of personal experience. The kind of fanfiction I wrote, on the other hand, was a little unusual. My friends and I once put together a little movie, the script of which was James Bond fanfiction provided by some website out there. We added our own tweaks to the story as we went. I didn’t (and still don’t) know a whole lot about James Bond but I liked the movie that we made. So I wrote sequels and even my prequel for it (with my friends’ happy approval). That really helped me learn to write better and see where I messed up in my craft. I stopped writing fanfiction three years ago and have been conspiring and writing my own novels ever since.

    • Yes, it’s great to ‘graduate’ from fanfiction and move on to your own novels and plots (which will likely be of a far better quality since you’ve had practice). Though I still love occasionally coming back to my old fanfiction worlds and inserting my own characters in them just for fun 🙂

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