I’ve been listening lately to various debates about fan fiction. In my earlier post I mentioned that as a child I’d written many adventures with Huckleberry Finn. These days that would have been considered fan fiction. It appears many writers seem to think fan fiction isn’t ‘real’ writing. Yet if you look up fan fiction websites, there are thousands and thousands of stories out there. And if you go into a book store you’ll find fan fiction taking up shelf space. Just look at all those Star Trek books. Personally, I find the books written by Lee Goldberg, about the TV Series ‘Monk’ to be some of the few books that make me laugh out loud while reading them. I think so many writers denigrate fan fiction because there’s less work involved. The characters and universe of the story are already created. Basically all the author has to do is write another episode. It’s like if you don’t have to sweat over creating the story it can’t be writing.
But not having to work at creating a completely original piece doesn’t let the author off the hook for good writing. The dialog, plot arc, pacing, etc., are still important. That’s obvious if you dip into fan fiction and do some reading. Like with any body of writing, some is excellent and some is terrible. I came across a 13-year-old who asked if it was okay to write fan fiction. My thought was, isn’t anything that allows a person to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, a good thing? Should people be blowing off someone as not being a real writer simply because they are not in the elite club of creating original fiction? I’m not sure I like the idea of belonging to that sort of group. I’d rather belong to that larger gathering of writers who recognize that it’s all about the dream, the interaction with words, the act of writing, the ability to lose yourself in the story. I’d rather encourage a young person to write, to start learning the craft, even if it’s in a known world they find safe. You can bet that after writing fan fiction for a while, that 13-year-old is going to start itching to spread her wings and create her own unique story.
Have I ever written fan fiction beyond those childhood stories? Well, at the risk of being considered not a real writer, sure I have. And here’s what I like about it. When I open up the laptop, I open two documents. One is my original work, and one is my fan fiction piece. I start with the fan fiction, using it as a way to get stretched out and warmed up for the harder work of writing in the other story. Later, when working in my original story, if I find I am getting stuck, I’ll flip over to the fan fiction and take a break. Being able to write without having to think too hard somehow breaks open the dam, and allows me to see where I got blocked. It never fails that after playing for a little while, my subconscious mind will nudge me into seeing what I need to do, and then I flip back to the original work. In those instances fan fiction allows me to keep my fingers working and warm, while my mind goes away to think on its own for a bit.
There are places for fan fiction and personally I think those who turn their noses up at it might want to consider giving it a try. Think of it as collapsing on the couch, kicking off your shoes and relaxing. Or pulling out a box of old childhood toys and taking some time to rummage through them and play with them again. Sure, fan fiction will probably be nothing you publish or even show anyone. But where’s the harm in goofing off once in a while? Which reminds me. I also, as a child, had a crush on Davy Crockett. Bet there’s a story in there somewhere…