I said it: Fanfiction makes you a better writer, and I have seven ways to prove it. For far too long the elites of the literary world have snubbed this form of artistic expression, using it to justify sexism, classism, and a hetero-normative society. No more! See why below.
1. Read more, write more.
Fanfiction encourages recreational literacy. Sustained silent reading, the practice of taking 10-30 minutes of your day to read a selection independently, has been linked to increased fluency, comprehension and vocabulary skills. It’s such a valuable practice that recreational reading is becoming a mandated part of public education in the U.S.
The biggest obstacle has been finding reading selections that capture the reader’s attention. As anyone who has stayed up till 3 A.M. ploughing through that 150,000 word slow burn college AU can attest, fanfiction hooks readers by giving them easy access to a fictional world. Established characters and settings mean that the reader is more easily drawn into the story.
2. No Beta, we die like men.
Many authors rely on beta readers to act as editors for their works, particularly for longer series. Beta readers are generally fans in the community and fellow writers. Their responsibilities might include checking for Out of Character (OOC) actions or dialogue, continuity errors, or basic grammar/sentence errors before publication. Often these authors will trade roles and edit for each other, increasing their own knowledge along the way.
Even those authors who do not utilize beta readers self-edit using a variety of techniques. Re-reading, highlighting, reading the selection aloud, etc. all help writers to develop better practices that carry over into everyday writing.
3. Feedback Whore
Shared fandoms mean that readers are encouraged to participate in communities by leaving kudos or comments. This means that readers are evaluating writing samples on a regular basis- something that translates into a more discerning eye for their own writing projects. Unlike original works which can be difficult to share comfortably, fanfiction has many easily accessible and anonymous ways to share work and feedback. Who doesn’t love logging into AO3 and seeing that shiny new Inbox alert?
4. My BFF Google
Let me tell you: I know so much about flower language and tattoos that it’s not even funny. Fanfiction requires specialized knowledge about a particular work. Sometimes these universes have rules and limitations that push authors past their basic skill set. What’s the ideal temperature for jasmine green tea for that coffee shop AU? Try writing a Food Wars! fic without a cookbook handy. Don’t even get me started on sports anime fics that use the actual sport. Even for fantastically themed works, fanfic writers often need to know myths, legends, and previous works in order to story build. Fanfiction sets up regular research practices.
5. Don’t Open: Deadfic Inside
It’s happened to the best of us: we click that Tumblr fic rec list and get lost in a 14/? story that hasn’t been updated in five years. Serialized entertainment is always at risk of dying out. Manga, comic runs, TV shows- heck, even PT and Silent Hills was hand-waved into oblivion. Fanfiction is a way for writers to feel accountability. Fans subscribe, leave feedback, follow on social media- all in the hopes that their writer will continue producing work. Positive reinforcement means that writers are more inclined to keep on writing. Practice, after all, makes perfect.
Fangirls get a bad rep. Crazy, obsessive, unreasonable, overbearing- yet as any casual observer to the Rick and Morty Schezhuan Sauce debacle of ’17 will note, fanboys ain’t much better. While fanfiction is genderless, the stereotype for fanfic writers and readers is that of bored and lonely teenage girls. It’s an interesting fact that teen girls tend to predict pop culture sensations. Pop sensations like The Beatles and paranormal romance powerhouses like Twilight gained their first foothold with the adolescents of the generation before being widely acclaimed. In the same way that home cooking is ‘women’s work’ while the number of professional high end chefs remain overwhelmingly male, fanfiction is the ‘women’s work’ of “real fiction.”
In many cases, fanfiction exists to address a shortcoming or missing element in a beloved series. Many of these shortcomings fall under romance. There are many factors involved, but one of the largest is the poor development of female characters. Personally, I chalk it up to a writing staff that is overwhelmingly male and fixated on heteronormative romance to optimize ratings. Even when a popular romance is series canon, the route to the finish line is so needlessly complicated that the audience often loses interest (hey Bones, I’m looking at you).
Writing fanfiction creates an opportunity explore sexuality and relationships in a way that otherwise might be uncomfortable or even impossible for the authors. While fanfic writers should always be mindful to avoid harmful stereotyping or fetishization of certain groups, it is overall a positive outlet for creativity and self-discovery.
7. Tale as Old as Time
Half of the classics you read in school were fanfics. Romeo and Juliet is fanfiction of Greek Myth Pyramus and Thisbe. The Odyssey is fanfiction. Paradise Lost is fanfiction. Dante’s Inferno is self-insert reader fanfic- possibly the most derided category. Most writing has an existing basis and to categorize highbrow away from the fanfic is disingenuous. All writing is valuable- and looking at works like Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, all writing can be profitable, fanfiction or no. This world has too little joy to let someone tell you your writing and reading is bad. So go forth and fanfic!
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Gamer, cat lady, nerd of all trades. Probably can beat you at trivia.