Fans Just Wanna Have Fun: The Case for Fanfiction [Fanfic Friday]

“As far as lack of originality goes, fan fiction is the only thing worse than tribute bands.”

“I have a definite idea of who… the characters in my books are and which direction they are heading… and I don’t want somebody else coming along and making them behave in a way that is totally wrong for them.”

“Fan fiction doesn’t allow creativity. I think of it as plagarism [sic], because you’re using someone’s ideas to fuel your own.”

A quick Google search gave me these lovely quotes from a Goodreads forum on the topic of fanfiction. An obligatory definition for those not caught up: fanfiction is a genre of writing where a writer takes stories that already exist and makes new ones with the setting, characters, and/or other story elements. For example, I could write my own story about Harry Potter and some adventure he has in Hogwarts; or some adventure he has in the muggle world; or even some adventure he has in space meeting Spock. There are really no limits to what people write fanfiction about.

You probably fit into one of three categories after hearing this:

  1. Fanfiction is awesome!
  2. Not my thing, but I can’t see why anyone would have a problem with it.
  3. This is incredibly pointless, unoriginal, and/or a copyright violation!

That’s fine. Everyone in the fanfiction-writing realm understands that not everyone likes fanfiction. The only problem comes when you have a problem with it and proceed to vocalize about it. While the quotes above weren’t directed at a specific fanfiction writer, comments like those often are. So whether you’re wondering why people would have an issue with it, looking for arguments against a flamer, or someone adamantly against it yourself, I’d like to explain the reasons why people like fanfiction and why it’s not really your a problem.

There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with fanfiction. This is the most important point through a technical lens. Fanfiction isn’t illegal, infringing on copyright, or doing anything to assault you personally. Most fanfiction authors publish their works with disclaimers reading something like, “I’m not JK Rowling, and I don’t own Harry Potter”, and even these disclaimers aren’t necessary. As long as you’re not selling the fanfiction for a profit, you are not breaking any laws. I repeat: as long as the piece of writing isn’t making you money, you’re not in the wrong. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Additionally, fanfiction isn’t “plagiarism.” Plagiarism means that you’re claiming the work is entirely your own. Again, unless you explicitly say, “I am Arthur Conan Doyle, I hope you like my new Sherlock sequel!” you are doing nothing wrong. Even if an author has expressed their dislike for fanfiction, you aren’t breaking any rules (though in that case it would be best to stick a disclaimer in there to be sure.) From a legal and moral standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with fanfiction being written and posted online.

Fanfiction is never written for personal gain. What I mean by this is that, unlike other forms of writing, no one has ever written fanfiction for any reason other than, “this sounds like a cool idea, and writing it would make me happy.” Fanfiction writers write fanfiction because it makes them happy.

They’re not writing to make money. They’re not writing to be famous. They’re not writing for a project or because they have to. Every fanfiction ever written has been penned because the author simply finds pleasure in the act of doing it. It’s a hobby like any other. You write poetry for fun? You garden? You knit little hats and scarves? Cool–I write fanfiction. Just like you wouldn’t yell at the little old lady that “no one’s ever going to wear your scarves, and also that color combination is copyrighted by Liverpool”, you wouldn’t tell a fanfiction writer that they’ll never make money or do anything productive with their stories. The little old lady didn’t make those scarves just because she wanted people to wear them, and… no, Liverpool isn’t going to stop her from using the same colors they use on their jerseys.

Yes, this mentality can (and has) resulted in some terrible fanfiction that absolutely butchers characters, stories, and human sanity. Is that annoying? Yeah. Is that wrong? Nope. I mean, there’s been worse literature published from real publishing houses over the years. Obviously, to people who don’t want to see their favorite stories tampered with, fanfiction like this can be very upsetting. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about it. There will always be bad writing in the world. The best thing any of us can do is leave a constructive review and move on.

Fanfiction is excellent practice for writers still gaining their footing (and all writers, actually.) This is the coolest part about fanfiction. You’ve probably heard all of the famous authors who got their start in fanfiction: Rainbow Rowell, Neil Gaiman, and even Orson Scott Card. Yours truly wrote a self-insert fanfiction starring Hannah Potter, Harry’s twin sister (who everyone magically loved for some reason.)

The genre of fanfiction is open for anything and everything. It gives you what you need and lets you play around with the rest. Are you bad at developing original characters? Take Sam and Dean Winchester and plop them in a new plot. Need a setting? Write about your own wizard attending Hogwarts with a completely new class. Have you always wanted to see Eragon meet Legolas? Well, you can write about that.

People who call this “copying” or “plagiarism” aren’t getting the point. These words have a negative connotation, and what fanfiction does isn’t negative–it’s incredibly positive. It’s giving the author the tools they need to practice instead shoving them from the nest and saying, “Fly! Be free! Get published!” Many other authors have gotten published without fanfiction for practice, true–but is that really relevant? They still got feedback, used it, and improved: which brings me to my next point.

Fanfiction allows for instant feedback. Once you post a chapter, thousands of readers can read it and tell you what they thought. Writers can be praised, critiqued, given advice, and asked questions all through websites like and Archive of Our Own. Writers get better because readers tell them how. Every author has gotten advice from someone; fanfiction is a fun, safe way to do it. Let me tell you, my prose has gotten infinitely better since I first started writing.

His hair was a darker brown, and he had an odd light in his eyes, though he looked normal in all other outwardly ways.

… Eugh.  Here’s a line from something I wrote a little more recently than 2011:

He flashed another smile, taking the book from her and turning it over in his hands curiously. “So if you’re not studying, what are you doing, then?”

A faint smile hinting of melancholy graced her face as she replied, “I’m distracting myself, I suppose.”

I’m not trying to promote myself or my writing at all… but I will have you know that the first line was from something original, and the second one was from a piece of fanfiction I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. (It’s between Fred and Hermione.) Fanfiction can be well-written, it can be constructive, and it most certainly will make you better as a writer–all practice does.

All points aside, obviously fanfiction can be horribly written; or you might just not like it. That’s totally fine! I didn’t write this to convince anyone to love the genre. I wrote this because I’m tired of people saying things like, “Fanfiction is a waste of talent” and “using other peoples’ characters is pointless.” In all actuality, it’s a form of writing that lets the writer experiment, get feedback, and have fun.

So this is my plea: the next time someone mentions fanfiction or you stumble across it somewhere, don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, remember its purposes and uses–and remember that it’s not really a big deal anyway. 🙂 In the end, fans just wanna have fun!

Hey, welcome to Fanfic Fridays! Fanfiction is what got me started, and I have a real passion for the genre and helping others get better at it (so that I can read all their great stories once they write them 😉 ). Thus, I decided to make it a weekly feature!

Every Friday, you’ll get an article about fanfic, some cool links and recommendations, or my own personal writing advice related to fanfiction. Just another reason to say TGIF 😉



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