Growing up, I was a voracious reader, but I only took my first steps into writing once I had gotten to college. I was a storyteller before then, certainly in my own head, but writing them down had never really occurred to me. With the lack of internet at home until about that time, and considering the way that I approach fandoms (I don’t really imagine further stories, nor do they overly interest me), fanfic has never really been a part of my world.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t dislike it, at least not in general, but I don’t really like it, either (for me – if other people like it, I am happy to let them read it as much as they want to).
Still, the writer part of me found something disquieting about it. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but there was a funny little feeling that I had about fanfic that was not quite good. It didn’t change my opinion of it (mostly neutral, with occasional puzzlement), but it was there, nagging.
And then I read this entry from a writer friend of mine and everything clicked into place. Seriously, you should go read it, because it’s pretty awesome.
Basically, my exposure to fanfic (in a writerly way) was either from people who A) Hated the idea of fanfic and looked down on those who wrote it, or B) thought it was a good entry into the writing world. I had always mostly agreed with B (and never with A), but with that slight reservation that I now understand.
I think fanfic can be a good start, because it can require less of the writer (since the world, characters, or main plot can be used from canon), which means the novice writer can feel less overwhelmed and concentrate on fewer things. With solid characters, the writer can world-build an alternate universe and plot out a story without also having to create the character that fit. Or they can take a universe and add their own characters. Hell, they can even take one universe and add characters from another canon and see what happens!
Starting from a blank slate is one of the most terrifying and overwhelming things about writing. Fanfic can help avoid that and can help improve the writer’s skills at the same time. All in all good, yes?
But, for those that want to go on to publish their own works (and I understand that not everyone who writes fanfic does, and that is fine – it can be a hobby in and of itself, with no further goals), I don’t think it’s all the writing practice that is necessary. Eventually, you have to write your own story with your own characters in your own world, from your own ideas.
I think it’s important to read outside of fanfic for this reason as well (not that I think everyone who reads fanfic only reads fanfic, mind you). We, in part, learn to write by reading in our genre. We can see what does and doesn’t work, and learn the subtle and difficult art and craft of storytelling there. Some of the criticisms in the above blog post I think are fair if original fiction retains the storytelling shape of fanfic.
Basically, in a nutshell, neither is better or worse, but they’re not identical, either. The skills overlap, but are not entirely the same.
Also, while writing this entry, Amazon announced that it has plans to monetize fanfic.
To which I say: ugh.
There is one small part of that that I like, but I mostly think that the idea is unnecessary or bad. And I’ll get to all of these by sharing another thought.
As a writer, I can only hope one day to have enough impact on readers that they go out and write more about my stories. I think fanfic can be engaging in that way, and can be all-around positive. It can foster a love of writing, keep readers in the story/world, and be pretty awesome.
My one caveat is that I don’t think that that should be a moneymaking venture for anyone but me. Maybe it’s old-fashioned (I expect comments from the internet at large telling me how stupid I am), but if I create a world or character, I expect to be the one to make money from it. I don’t think that’s unreasonable; presumably, at the point where this is happening, the money from my ideas is what is keeping me fed and housed and clothed.
Which is to say, I love the idea of fanfic with my ideas for fun, but not for profit without my say-so (which isn’t even to say it can’t happen, or that I’ll charge money for it). That’s the one thing I like about this Amazon venture: if you’re going to sell fanfic, I think the rights-holders should be involved.
The problems? I don’t think this is necessary, or even good, to sell fanfic like this. You aren’t solving a problem, as the internet has troves of fanfic, for free, a lot of it quite high quality (or so I am told). It can be read from any internet-connected device, and probably downloaded (I don’t really know – it isn’t my area).
All for free. So, why exactly are we suddenly trying to sell it, again?
To me, it’s like selling open-source software. It goes against what is awesome about open-source software to suddenly start charging money for it. It’s a community effort, harnessing the power of people doing something for fun.
I also have reservations about how this will work. If I, as an author, agree to this, how much control do I have over what comes out? What conflicts have to be resolved?
So put me down for a “no” on this, at least not without a much clearer picture of how it would work. Right now, I don’t see much benefit, and potential for less than good things happening.
Edited to Add: One of the items I missed in my perusal of the original release was that Amazon acquires all rights to your (the fanfic writer) stories for the length of copyright. That is squicky, to say the least.
And, as usual, Chuck Wendig has some good thoughts on the subject. Go read those, too.