Why College Writers Should Embrace Fan-Fiction (Seriously)

You may encounter a few pre-pubescent “One Direction” fantasies, but the world of fanfic has a lot to offer the budding novelist.

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You may encounter a few pre-pubescent “One Direction” fantasies, but the world of fanfic has a lot to offer the budding novelist.

Harry and Sirius

Fan-Fiction: A Writer’s Secret Weapon

You may encounter a few pre-pubescent “One Direction” fantasies, but the world of fanfic has a lot to offer the budding novelist.

By Courtney Taylor, Northeast Lakeview College


I confess.

Fan-fiction has been a passion of mine since I was about 13-years old, and I don’t see that changing any time soon (for those not familiar with this practice, see an explanation here). As embarrassing as it is, my first fan-fiction was a rather unremarkable story featuring characters from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. It was published on a message board roughly around 2005, and marked the beginning of my future involvement in the fan-fiction community.

My poor excuse for a story contained an excessive amount of ellipses, an abundance of plot holes, and exhibited an overall lack of planning. It was later abandoned and left incomplete, and continued to gather internet dust for several years. Eventually, the forum that I published it on passed out of existence, meaning that that monstrosity of a tale would never see the light of day again.

Keira and Johnny?

It doesn’t take much to realize that my first attempt at my new hobby was a rather pitiful one. But, on the bright side, I still credit fan-fiction with helping me to improve as a writer. It has kept me tinkering with my imagination for a number of years now, to the point where I constantly keep a notebook handy just in case inspiration strikes.

Even though I’ve been taken with the world of fan-fiction since I first discovered the medium, it’s not surprising to me that a number of people wouldn’t consider it to be a worthwhile use of one’s spare time. I can recall a conversation I had with one of my peers about fan-fiction, and he was under the impression that the works were produced by (and I quote) “A bunch of horny teenagers in the bowels of the internet”.

Heh heh.

Well, I’m not going to pretend that has no basis in reality, but really, I don’t feel it’s much of a stretch to find fan-fiction writers who are mature, functioning adults. Not all of us are puberty-battling tweens wanking over “One Direction” stories. Seriously, it’s not like that (I promise!).

On the contrary, I’d like to think of fan-fictions not as immature ramblings but as works of art, just like any other form of literature. And like any other art form, there are those who are lousy at their craft and others who are the cream of the crop, although the potential to create art lies not in talent, but in the ability to express oneself.

Besides, having a work bound in hardcover and displayed in overpriced bookshops isn’t what makes someone a skilled writer. Just like any other craft, dedication and learning from one’s mistakes is what sets a seasoned expert apart from a novice. Having said that, I would like to point out that some potential benefits can be reaped from writing fan-fiction.

Let’s have a look at some of them.

1. It Helps Your Writing

My conscience enjoys nagging me about the accomplishments of other online writers. “NotARealUsername123 has published close to twenty new works in the past year!” it taunts me without mercy. “And how may have you posted?”

None, I realize. I currently have a 70,000-word story sitting in my files, badly in need of a solid ending, several revisions and a decent motivation for the antagonist. But, had I never gotten into writing fan-fiction, I may not have known I was capable of writing so many thousands of words. Published or unpublished, having enough focus to sit down and churn out that much of my imagination is something I consider an accomplishment. When you consider that writing even three pages can be comparable to pulling teeth to many an average college student, 70,000 words doesn’t seem like such a shabby feat.

2. It Opens You to Constructive Criticism

Any veteran of the fan-fiction community has no doubt heard the word “beta” or “beta reader.” For anyone who isn’t familiar with this term, a beta is basically the equivalent of a proofreader. Betas will voluntarily read your story, checking for inconsistencies, misspellings, grammatical mistakes, anything you can think of. This is a wonderful tool for writers, as it allows them to examine their work from a different view point.

One of the most crucial steps to improving writing skills is to get over the fear of letting someone view your work, and betas can aid budding writers in overcoming that obstacle. The service helps a person to focus not on the embarrassment of being critiqued, but on how much more polished their work will turn out in the end.

3. It Encourages Research

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scoured the internet to find answers to obscure questions such as “How much vocal cord damage will cause loss of speech?” or “How long would a person be unconscious for if they sustained X injury?” and all of this for the sake of adding intensity to my fan-fictions. Perhaps it doesn’t seem all that important for me to be so precise when I’m working on a piece for no pay, but hey, I have pride in what I do.

As far as fiction writing goes (of any kind), the more you can gain a reader’s suspension of disbelief, the more they will enjoy your work. Besides, lazy writing is little more than a waste of time, and does no one, especially the writer, any favors.

4. It Shows Your Progress

Ahh, I can think of few things more cringe inducing than reading the works I penned in junior high. My first fan-fiction was scribbled into a green, glue-bound notebook, and the two of us were inseparable.

Page after page was filled with my scrawl, and I had established a weekly routine of typing up and posting a new chapter to an online message board. I was proud of my story. I thought my prose was superb, possibly even superior to what I’d read from other fan-fiction writers.

Now, flipping through the pages of my old green friend leaves me, at best, mildly unimpressed.

What I created so passionately a decade ago seems like little more than drivel now, and boy, my 13-year old self was full of crap.

But even if I can’t stomach the silly babble of my early teenage years, I can still appreciate how far I’ve come. Due to experimenting with new vocabulary and ideas for all this time, I’ve gained a lot of experience with manipulating the English language, which has paid off nicely where my composition classes are concerned. Considering that term papers don’t need to be any more of a pain in the ass than they already are, I’d say I did myself a favor.

I feel that whether you’re playing around with fan-fiction, submitting to a college newspaper or even typing up obituaries, almost any form of writing practice is bound to pay off. Seeing results just takes time, patience and a genuine love for the art, all of which is worth the trouble in the long haul.

So the next time you run into someone who lists dabbling in fan-fiction as one of their hobbies, resist the urge to laugh at them and write them off as someone who has no life. Just remember, they’re not wasting their time, they’re honing their craft, and they’re improving themselves. Give respect, bro.

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