This was initially posted to the NaNoWriMo Facebook group:
I’ve never understood why fanfic gets so denigrated. There are a lot of really good stories that I’ve read in various fandoms; I’ve read a lot of good fanfic writers that can best quite a few “original pros”. The only difference between “fanfic” and “media fiction” (ie, fiction you see on the shelves that’s based on a TV show — like the Star Wars novels) is that the media fiction writers are paid. Diane Duane got her start doing Star Trek fic; Mercedes Lackey wrote Darkover fanfic. What is so wrong with that? We don’t denigrate musicians for playing others’ music; some of the highest paid musicians in the world are those who play classical compositions written by other people — those musicians give their own interpretations, but it’s still someone else’s composition & work. We don’t look down on a new musician who learns to play his instrument by copying what he hears on his iTunes. We don’t insult a new artist who learns to draw by using photos (as we did in my high school art classes); it’s still a technique in some art schools overseas to have their students paint their own version of others’ masterworks (like the Mona Lisa). So WHY do we look down on *writers* who learn their craft by playing in others’ worlds?
(Why do I have the awful feeling that sexism is behind it, since most fan-ficcers are perceived — wrongly — as women?)
FanFic HELPS writers. It lets new writers play in an already-created world — they don’t need to struggle to figure out the whole of world-creation & character creation at once. They learn the mechanics of story-telling & coherent plot; by writing others’ characters, those new writers also learn how to do dialog, how to describe & make the characters come alive. They then start adding in their own OCs, and figuring out how to make them acceptable & believable.
For those of us who are not so new, fanfic lets us play around in a sandbox. Maybe we’ve got a story trying to come out, but the characters aren’t so clear right away — so we jump to characters set by others as a short-cut, an analogue to what may be in our brain, but not able to get out at that point. By letting your brain relax by playing in someone else’s world, you allow your own mind to free up. And by posting those tales over at places like FanFiction.Net, it gives the writer feedback, and confidence to keep writing. Isn’t that what we’re all about? Encouraging literacy & creativity, no matter the source?
Yes, there are legalities. The fanfic writers aren’t getting permission to write about those other works. The whole matter of fanfic falls into that gray area of how the original writer responds to it. Some writers don’t want to discourage their fans; they see it as praise; they view it as encouraging people to write & be creative. George Lucas has that attitude, in fact — as long as people don’t make money off it, he encourages young filmmakers to make Star Wars fan-films; he’s also come down HARD on folks that have been caught publishing SW fanfic to Amazon. Some writers harness that & make their own money off it — Mercedes Lackey publishes anthologies of Valdemar fic written by fans & pro-writers alike, and there were many Star Trek fanfic anthologies back in the ’70s (again, Gene Roddenberry chose to work with the enthusiasm of the fans). The legality depends on the writer’s reaction.
BTW, I’m zenfrodo over on FanFic.Net, and I’m proud of it. I usually write in the Hardy Boys fandom for my fanfic works (though my published work is original). Come over & say hi!