Okay, darlings, I’m getting just a little tired of this shit. Since a thing involving fanfiction happened of course we’re up for another round of arguing about the “worth” of fanfic. Because what is the internet for if not being a long distance dick about things other people like? Well, let Evil Auntie Rachael lay down some fucking truth for you.
First off, define “real” fiction. Unless you’re writing pure history or biographical stories, you are literally making shit up. Define real in that context. I dare you.
Okay, so you mean original fiction? When we’re talking written narrative fiction, I should note that original is a pretty loaded word. Everyone likes to laugh about there only being three (or five, or six, or pick a number) plotlines in the entire world, and it’s really all just about giving it a twist or telling it a new way. Are you telling me fanfiction can’t do that? Even the idea of original characters is a loaded one, since we’ve got archetypal characters for a reason, and you can make a compelling argument for nearly every character belonging to an archetype, with the serial numbers cunningly masked by, say, curly hair and an interest in bowling. (And here, we aren’t even touching the entire issue of licensed tie-in fiction.)
So do you really mean fiction for which someone would potentially pay money? First, please explain to me how assigning monetary value to art makes it more legitimate. Because here I was thinking the true value of art was actually a thing without price, namely the act of creation itself and the idea the art communicates. And second, getting paid for fiction is not that easy. TRUST ME.
But Evil Auntie Rachael, original fiction is better quality than fanfiction. Really? Give me five minutes and Google and I will find you ten fanfics that display more sophisticated writing, better plotting, and deeper characterization than Twilight. Give me a full day and some dramamine, and I bet I can find you ten Twilight fanfics that are better quality than the work upon which they’re based.
The only thing original fiction gets to hold over fanfic in regards to quality is that it’s professionally edited. (IF it’s traditionally published or if it’s self published AND the author coughed up the dough to independently hire a content and line editor.) And sometimes, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Every single one of us has read a book in our lives where we threw it on the floor in disgust and announced that we could totally do better than that.
Fanfiction is an incredibly valuable tool for learning and honing the craft of writing. I wrote fanfiction for years and years. I know other writers who wrote fanfic for years and years (and most of them have published far more than me). Some of us still do. What fanfiction taught me was how to build a plot, and how to plot long, and stay true to character while I was doing it. Writing fanfic isn’t easier or harder than writing original fiction–it’s the same process, the same parts of your brain.
And you know what? Fanfic is fun. You’re not writing it to a deadline, you’re not thinking about how many fucking times it’s going to be forcibly ejected from a slushpile, or which of your darlings the editor is going to expect you to kill. You’re writing it for the sheer joy of writing something because you like it and you can. God, and the feedback! You have an instant fanbase of people who will actually engage with you about your story! I wrote one short little fic after I saw Thor: The Dark World and in the time since I put it online I have literally received more feedback on it than I have in total for every piece of original work I’ve ever published. It’s like pure black tar heroin for the sad little twitching addict that is a writer’s ego.
Two years ago, I sat in on a panel at Worldcon where two editors from large publishing houses said yeah, they know people in publishing who keep track of fanfiction because it’s a way to find amazing writers. Patrick Nielsen Hayden said:
There is no ceiling on how good fanfic can be because it’s all unpublishable. You can find great writers.
So you can shut the fuck up about the supposed inferiority of fanfiction now.
Oh, and if a published writer has the sheer ego necessary to tell you that all fanfic is creatively inferior and doesn’t count, you tell them to go fuck themselves. Tell ’em from me, too. At the end of the day, we’re all just making shit up.