I wrote an article about a year ago when I was still writing for the (now defunct) Girls Like Comics website about the various things American publishers could learn from Doujinshi culture in Japan. I’ve been thinking about that article again, and how it talks about some of the benefits Japanese publishers saw in the distribution and creation of Doujinshi based on their titles. Lately, I’ve been getting sucked into reading a series that was a hug part of my high school life, a series of dark fantasy novels that pushed me into writing fanfiction during the craze that was Fanfiction.net. I found my brain returning to that state of mind, crafting new characters and scenarios that could work in this pre-established world. But my time studying creative writing in college constantly goes against these instincts, shouting that I could be writing my own characters, my own stories, that writing writing fanfiction is a waste of creative energy.
In some ways, I agree, but in the end I do think that the act of writing fanfiction has its merits both as a writer and as a fan. In the end, I think the ultimate goal for any writer is to create great pieces of original work, but I think how a writer gets to that point can, and in some respects, should involve a bit of fanfiction from time to time. So I’d like to talk a bit about some of the positives I see in writing fanfiction tonight, namely:
- It helps you test out new characters: There have been multiple times where I’ve come up with a cool character for a fanfiction and then tried to figure out some way to transfer them into an original story. Fanfiction can act as a nice breeding ground for creative character ideas simply because all the background and story is already written for you. Instead of having to focus on worldbuilding, major plot points, and story mechanics, you’re free to play with different types of characters within a pre-established world. I honestly feel like this would be a great tool for teaching someone how to craft a character without all the stress of building an interesting world at the same time.
- It can help with writer’s block: Writer’s block can be such a frustrating condition, but really the only way to overcome it is to keep writing. Sometimes just a little bit everyday can help, as long as you’re writing something. What better way to get back into writing than revisiting a favorite story and writing yourself or a new character into the world. It’s a great way to engage your “what if..?” muscles as I call them. Picking a point in the story and asking, “What if it happened like this? Then what?” It becomes a great writing prompt to work off from while not being too thought intensive as to seem daunting to someone already feeling frustrated by their writer’s block.
- It helps you engage with a community: Fan content is all about community building. Fan art, fanfiction, AMV’s all help fans interact with other fans and with the content they love. For the original creators, it becomes a beneficial way to create a strong community, and for the fans, it means a place they can return to where they’re passions are respected and gives them a way to feel like they’re contributing to something. Although the sale of these items can toe the line or outright cross into copyright violations, I’ve never thought the act of creating them and sharing them with other fans was a bad thing, even now that I spend 8 hours a day dealing with copyright at work.
- It lets you practice essential writing skills: Along the same vein as points one and two, this one is a bit more general. Like I said above, the ultimate goal that I at least always keep in mind is to eventually create original stories and creations of my own. Over the years, fanfiction has allowed me a place to test out writing styles, develop an understanding of dialogue, and practice basic prose writing without feeling daunted by coming up with a world and story from scratch. It’s basically the same with any other skill, the more you do it the better you’ll be at it. And in some ways, I can credit my current level of writing skills to the days and weeks I spent back in high school creating fan fiction of my own.
I don’t think I’ll ever engage as much with the fanfiction community as much as I did back then, but I do recognize the benefits it can have for those writers that do love to write fanfiction themselves. The Japanese and American publishing culture is fairly different, but even if we look at the success of Doujinshi culture in Japan, we’ll see many of these authors moving on to creating their own popular and creative works, most notably CLAMP. So don’t hold yourself back the next time you feel the urge to dive into a story you love and create some new story or character. It may just end up being that push your creative muscles need to think up your next original story, or maybe you’ll find a great community to interact with.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever written fanfiction and if so, what books, shows, or stories were they based off of?
~~Thanks for Reading!~~