EDIT: If you like this journal entry, check out The Sarcastic Guide to Writing ebook www.amazon.com/The-Sarcastic-G… for exclusive content on world-building, character, and dialogue!1. Don't write it.
Seriously. Just don't. You are a million times better off working on your own original ideas, no matter how awful, then to attempt fanfiction. Even the thinnest expy of fanfiction is better (but not by much.) Fanfiction creates numerous false sensibilities about world-building, characterization, and plot; it creates false ego and confidence in the author. Fans of whatever you happen to be writing are predisposed to love you because you're writing about Link, not because you do a good job of it. They will love you because they "agree" with the way things should've gone, the person their hero should've ended up with, not because you're creating tension or relevant stakes. The totem pole of professional fiction writing can be imagined thusly: literary is at the top, genre fiction is at the bottom. Genre fiction is broken up by methods of publication: professional on top, self- publishing at the absolute bottom. Where is fanfiction? Underneath the ground of the totem pole, where no one ever, ever sees it or talks about it. Are you starting to get the idea yet? The barest, barest
exception for fanfiction is writing in a template world, like the annuls of a D&D character or a werewolf in the World of Darkness. But even that carries such a hilarious stigma you're better off not mentioning it outside of the Internetz. If you feel like fanfiction is the only thing you can write: you need to read more. You haven't been exposed to enough wonderful, inspiring, original literature and are in deep danger of regurgitating the exact same kind of story you're fangirling over. (Most writers and readers of fiction are female, so nyeh.) Eragon
proves that on a near cosmic scale of pain.2. Constantly refer to rule number one.
Fanfiction can never be treated seriously. Whether by the fandom or by the author of the fanfiction, you cannot take it as serious literature. Yet a lot of people do. Color me baffled over the kind of vitriol and death threats that spew forth over slash fics, or fix fics, or Mary-Sue fics. Apparently everyone but
the fandom has heard of the adage "It's just fanfiction." I suppose a lot of fandoms and fanfiction serve as escapism for socially crippled folks, and to see their pure, beautiful escapes besmirched is enough for a near-psychotic episode. Fanfiction lends itself to acceptance, way more than regular writing does. It has a built-in creative support community, somehow, while the rest of us sadly acknowledge that writing is, indeed, the loneliest profession for a reason. Fanfiction writers timidly step up, whisper their name, and are welcomed as a brother, a sister, long-lost kin (provided you're writing in the right place.) As long as the author of fanfiction doesn't take themselves seriously, I suppose the writing of it can kinda be okay. But ultimately, if one wants to get serious about writing, you cannot write fanfiction. You have to learn how to characterize without using the traits of a figure so well-known that even if you screw it up people will get their motivation. You have to learn how to world-build, to make your rules of magic and fantasy abide by an internal logic; in fanfiction all that is already done for you. You're playing by pre-established rules, not figuring out how to establish them and
make them relevant to the plot. (And if you take these pre-established rules and supposedly stick them together with "original characters", believe me: someone's gonna notice.) And your plot has to consist (hopefully) of more then who goes to bed with who and why we should care. 3. Seriously, don't question it.
Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments
is probably the most shining example I can give of why a fanfiction background is a bad idea. She wrote a Harry Potter fanfiction where Ron and Ginny had the hots for each other and Draco was a charming anti-hero. Incest-fic, ho! She got super popular, despite some plagiarism accusations (which were true). Then she got published professionally. First of all, her debacles in fanfiction had already given her a built-in Fan Wank/Hatedom. Second, her story is a thinly-veiled expy of her own fanfiction
. That's right. I dare you to read her fanfiction, then Mortal Instruments
without seeing Jace as Draco. (At the very least! Cassandra Clare
and the main character is named Clary!?) While some parts of her published trilogy are original, too much of it is derivative, and her world-building and plot have some serious issues. Her built-in fandom created blowback for her professional career. And the coup de grace? Clare has taken down all of her fanfiction. Tried to hide her shameful past (and failed miserably, I might add, you can still find the Draco Trilogy online.) Whether due to pressure from her marketers or because she genuinely wants to separate herself from it is anyone's guess. (Secretly, I maintain that Clare's Internet presence is what got her published, since publishers do take the author's ability to market themselves into account when deciding whether or not to take them on.) I firmly believe that Clare's writing talent and perception of craft were heavily tainted by her fanfiction background. She was warped into thinking things that the average writing group would nix were acceptable. Her perceptions grew crooked from the start. And while she was in the same writer's group as Holly Black and Libba Bray, her fanfiction background shows painfully when put next to her compadres. Yeah, it's possible to ghostwrite and get a career out of fanfiction; but guess what? Your competition is those who didn't
write fanfiction.4. The Internet is not an excuse.
Unfortunately, the Internet creates false comradery in a lot of its communities. DA here is a perfect example; someone can be an awful, awful artist, but they come here for validation, friendship, and acceptance; and by and large, they get it no matter how much they might suck. On the other hand, if you're serious about art, you go out into the real world to get some unbiased critique. The same can't be true of fanfiction. If you take fanfiction out into the real world, serious writers will spout Rule#1 at you. If you happen to find any Ideal Readers for your fanfiction, odds are they're around you're age and just as inexperienced as you. Plus, fanfiction can't be professionally published without the original creator's permission (unless it's a parody, which can walk a fine line.) Since fanfiction has little to no professional value (except within a very slim margin of ghost-writing for a series), the only other value it can possibly have is in teaching you to write. But wait! Fanfiction communities don't critique like real writers. They're already inclined to, in a word, luuuuurve
your fanfiction, because it's about their favorite thing ever! Therefore, they are willing to forgive nearly anything, from hackneyed dialogue, to dues ex machinas, to stupid, stupid ideas. Unless you make Sonic sleep with the wrong person, then you might get savaged (which is not a viable critique of plot; or, well, anything.) Need I invoke My Immortal
for the best of fanfiction? We're talking someone who can't even spell with that one. Once again, the readers of your fanfiction are probably your age and, failing that, within your level of reading exposure and writing prowess. 5. See rule number two.
Fanfiction reminds me a lot of drawing in the anime style. If you're young, and you start using it as a tool without exploring other options, sooner or later it will become a crutch. It will trap you because your confidence extends only as far as your sense of familiarity. There are many, many blogs out there authored by people who grew up writing fanfiction, never learned how to handle real critique, and will never have a writing career beyond their blogs. (I suspect this is because they don't have enough confidence in their own ideas, or their own ideas are so stupid the ridicule aimed at them is well-deserved.) They feel safe in their bubble of acceptance, and it's so much easier to stay inside where it's warm and cozy. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as long as their fanfiction doesn't get all over my writing group. The appeal of writing fanfiction lies in that all the problems of writing are solved for you; you don't struggle like the rest of us. Which is why real writers get their hackles up when fanfiction writers bounce into the room. You stand on the shoulders of giants and squee "Look what I wrote!" while we've spent the last five weeks banging our heads against a wall trying to get connective causation into our world-building. We know you didn't create Wolverine or his backstory, and we know you didn't create the Sailor Moon world he's currently visiting. Even for the most painfully shy writers looking for acceptance: I advise you not to write fanfiction. Write something original and hide it away, rewriting again and again until you feel like maybe, just maybe, it's good enough for someone else to read. The world of literature doesn't need any more hacks. It needs more stories told from the heart, more truth drawn from the pain and joys of personal experience. (Which is what any writing worth its salt is supposed to be about.) If writing is real life, fanfiction is a playground, or an amusement park. It's okay to go there maybe once in a while, but it's not your home. If you live there, odds are you're some kind of carnival freak. Don't be surprised when you get treated like one. Hose yourself off and join the rest of us. We'll be glad to see you.