In addition to being a writer, I am also a musician. I enjoy playing concerts and shows, but my best performances aren’t in front of an audience. Most of my best work is played on the piano in my living room, to an audience of no one but my cats. Even though I adore performing and writing my own music, I no longer feel the need to publish my music, and I don’t really want to perform in public anymore.
I don’t feel like my music is worth any less because it isn’t performed or monetized. The fact that a song has existed in the world for a few minutes is precious, even if I’m the only one who hears it.
This is also how I feel about writing, especially fanfiction. Even if something is not traditionally published, it holds value as art. Fanfiction is a wonderful genre of writing, as it is one of the only genres of writing that is almost fully separated from monetization (of course, there is a rising trend of some authors who chose to traditionally publish their fics and change the names).
In my opinion, it’s a fun way of “low-stakes” writing. If there’s no money to be gained, there’s also none to lose. Not to mention, most fanfiction writers use a pseudonym, so you don’t have to worry about your name being attached to anything you write. It’s essentially complete creative freedom. It’s the writer’s equivalent of playing with Lego. You already have all the pieces, and there’s essentially no limit as to what you can create.
Genre rules tend to be less strict in fanfiction and other self-published works, as opposed to traditionally published works. Books that get published traditionally tend to follow one specific genre, to make marketing easier and establish a target demographic audience for the book. However, genre boundaries tend to blur together and get crossed when writing fanfiction. AUs and other pieces can completely transform the original works and defy any genre labels at all. Fanfiction writers can create fluffy rom-com stories from cosmic horror, or create cosmic horror stories from what was originally a fluffy rom-com.
Many fanfiction works tend to have sub-genres that are far more niche than those in traditional publishing. Categorizing pieces into “fluff” “angst”, or “hurt/comfort” can help readers filter through the specific emotions that they wish to read. The search and filter systems on the popular fanfiction site Archive of Our Own helps readers find the specific pieces that they’re looking for. There are other common tropes that can be tagged and searched for as well, like “enemies-to-lovers”, “friends-to-lovers”, and the ever-popular “Coffeeshop AU”
Having these tropes already laid out gives a sort of blueprint or rough outline for a writer to work from. That can function as a creative limitation, which can ultimately be more helpful than just staring at a blank page. When you already have characters and tropes set out in front of you, it can be far less daunting as a writer than having to confront a fully empty document and figure everything out yourself. Many writers also choose to abandon tropes or merge them together. However, having these sets of tropes and sub-genres in your “creative arsenal” gives you a helpful jumping off point from which you can let your creativity take you in any direction you want.
Fanfiction is a great way to practice prose, structure, pacing, dialogue, atmosphere and tone.
Fics that are slow-burn friends-to-lovers stories require very intricate pacing. Readers love the pining aspect, the repressed the feelings, all leading up to the italicized “oh” as the characters realize that they’ve been in love the whole time. Jumping the gun on any of these plot elements destroys the allure of this trope, so writers who attempt to recreate it have to become well versed in the art of pacing (and they already have a full library of fics with this exact trope, that they can easily find and look to for inspiration).
Another trope that requires mastery of pacing and tone is the hurt/comfort trope. It’s exactly what the name suggests, having Character A go through something awful, or be reminded of an awful event from their past, in order to be comforted by Character B. It mainly serves as a form of catharsis for the reader, so the timing has to be just right. If you focus too heavily on the “hurt” aspect, your reader will just feel like crap. If you get to the “comfort” part too soon, the catharsis element gets lost, since there’s no real buildup of emotions.
All fanfictions, regardless of genre, sub-genre or trope, force writers to hone their prose and dialogue skills. When writing dialogue about already existing characters, it is important to try and capture that character’s distinct voice and apply it to new situations. It’s a good way to practice getting into another character’s head, and you can use what’s given in canon to interpret how a character would react to events in the story you’re creating.
Mastering prose is equally important no matter the fic you’re trying to write. Having your piece read smoothly is important, even if it’s being shared with a few friends or a whole fandom. It’s a good way to practice keeping your prose simple but elegant, without too many bells and whistles, but also not being too blunt.
Ultimately, fanfiction is a great low-stakes way to improve your skills as a writer and to get creative with characters you already know and love. The lack of monetization – and thus the lack of need for marketing –, as well as the anonymity that many fanfiction sites offer, allow for a free reign of creativity for writers of all ages and skill levels.
is a young writer from Ottawa, Canada. When he isn’t in school, he enjoys reading, writing, crochet, and playing with his two cats. Their favorite genres are horror and fantasy, and they enjoy all things strange. You can find him on Instagram at @nate_fahmi
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