In 2009 I began writing fanfiction as a means to jumpstart my creative process. I was so in love with the characters of the anime I was addicted to (Yu Yu Hakusho, by the way) that I wanted desperately for there to be more of their adventures and world than the complete series offered me. Burning through the entire series in two weeks’ only left that hunger festering. I was writing the first draft of a novel at the time, in between jobs and attending college. When I could no longer fill my days with the novelty of episodes I hadn’t memorized yet, I started to daydream about what could have been. I created my first original character, filled up a quarter of a lined notebook, and started an account on fanfiction.net. I began my first excursion into fanfiction with an open heart and no idea exactly how deeply writing about a show/manga I adored would affect me.
Here some six years later I realize that fanfiction has meant so much to me. It helped me to get through a rough period of my life. I was able to be a part of a likeminded community when I had no one, I could exercise creative control, I was able to seek help from peers and find an outlet for otherwise pent up negative emotions. This form of fiction writing yields several benefits that I feel sometimes go underrated, but now I shout them from the rooftops to anyone who will listen because I feel they are incredibly valid and important and I want them recognized.
Allows for Mastery of Skills
The first major benefit of writing fanfiction that I’d like to address is that it can, and does, allow the author a chance to improve their craft. We’ve all read bad (or at least poorly written) fanfiction. Stories that have no plot, no basis on anything from original source, the characters truly just have the same names as the originals but none of the substance (or entirely different substance) that we fell in love with in their original arcs and adventures. Often these are first time fics, new authors are just trying their hands as something new.
Which, by the way, is perfectly fine. Everyone starts somewhere, don’t be afraid. This is what writing and learning is all about, my friend. Embrace your cringe-worthy and hold it close to your heart. Remember your roots.
Writing fanfiction offers a unique opportunity to become engrossed in the mechanics of writing well. In order to write a successful, well-loved, highly reviewed fanfiction one needs to have the correct characterization, they have to work within a genre, they develop a world based on the building blocks left by the original creator of the story and/or characters. Or, the pick one or two of these depending on the sort fanfiction they are writing.
The characters in these stories are often consistent with how we remember and idolize them. The conflict is palpable and believable, we feel like we are reading episodes or chapters never before published. Characters can be put through situations that we as fans have never actually seen or read and we can sincerely believe that this how they’d act if they were facing these obstacles. Which can also be pretty damn therapeutic, if you ask me.
A Means of Expressive Writing
Here’s a fun fact: expressive writing has been shown to offer clinically significant improvements in trauma patients, regardless of what they are writing about. Expressive writing is writing that comes from your gut, it’s what surges out onto paper when you’re coping with the hellstorm that is life. When I was depressed, sleeping in my parents’ bedroom and a lumpy futon for almost a year because we had such a small apartment I had to, all my writing was expressive. I journaled extensively, I wrote horror fiction and I wrote fanfiction.
I spent more time on my fanfiction The Reborn Forgotten than I did only anything else. I put my original character through a lot of emotional upheaval and turmoil and cried a lot more than I like to admit when I was writing because I needed some way to outlet all of my frustration and fury. I needed an enemy to face down, because beating the futon was going to get me nowhere. I know other fanfiction authors who’ve done this as well.
It’s like the process of writing, especially when we are stuck in turbulent situations we can’t stand, is our emotional catalyst. We feel better afterwards because we actually got to hash out our baggage in a way that makes us feel safe. (PS: Reading literary fiction also helps to improve social skills for dealing with these things too). Which leads me to my next point.
Aids in Creative Problem Solving
Reading and writing fiction helps people to develop creative problem solving skills. Fiction, including fanfiction, allows for the author and reader alike to experience emotions and situations they may not normally be familiar with. Because of this, it fosters empathy and problem solving. I mean, we are putting ourselves into someone else’s life and living through it. We feel what they feel (hopefully).
In order to cultivate plot and conflict, a writer must be able to plan out how the characters are going to engage throughout the story. If you want to elicit a certain reaction from a character, you need to understand how they are developed and what situations would be appropriate to create the correct environment to get what you’re looking for. Think long and hard about reactions, and what draws them out (but use your newfound powers for good).
If you are writing a love story that involves a normally stoic and reserved character, you have to plan out how to make it feel natural for them to begin showing emotions and how that’d look on them. What little things would matter the most. This has been so beneficial to me as a writer of all types of fiction. Though, it does mean that I can guess the endings of a lot of shows now. Pros and cons, my friends. Pros and cons.
A Way to Try Different Styles to Find Your Voice
Anyone who has even dared to cross onto a fanfiction website knows that there is virtually no end to the variety one can find there. We have alternate realities, original characters, original storylines, cross overs, song fics, short and long fics, it’s endless. You want to see your favorite ship in an awkward romance comedy? We got it. You want need to cry it out by reading a tragedy about your favorite character? We got that too. I find this so beautiful it almost hurts.
Authors in fanfiction have the ability to dabble in different genres and methods to find their voice and what they want to work in. And if they change their mind later and want to switch it up? Cool. We were waiting for you to post some new stuff. Where the hell have you been? Can I review this twice?
The ability for writer’s to be free of being trapped in a niche is so liberating. You can literally do anything you want. If you always write sappy love fics but want to try your hand at serious drama? Do it. You decide that after writing mind-bending horror you want to go to work on some smut? Get it.
We’re really just here to support you and read what you write because it’s been forever since you posted the last chapter.
An Amazing Community to Work In
Speaking of things that are I’m immeasurably thankful for, let’s talk about how awesome it is to get immediate feedback and reviewing on fanfiction websites and how amazing the fanfiction community is. I mean, we have our magazine full of insightful articles about how to be a better writer, what writing fanfiction means, how it really benefits us and about the fandoms we love. There are beta readers who dedicate themselves, many for free, to helping authors improve their craft. Freelance editors cost hundreds of dollars in the fiction community and here we have friends willing to help us out because they love the craft and they want authors to succeed.
The fact that someone can write a story and post it online and immediately start getting supportive, constructive feedback is amazing. It’s beautiful and it’s impossibly important to utilize towards improving the next chapter, the next story the next arc. Sure, there are those out there who live to be trolls and flame anyone and everyone as they sit fit, but honestly, they are few and far between. There are so many more wonderful, caring people out there in this community who want to help.
I know that writer’s like me couldn’t do it without you. How amazing is it, that by taking something we love and applying our own creativity to it, we are able to create new stories from old and we can embellish while maintaining the integrity of the original works? Man, I love this job.