Mostly because it gets old hearing about how fanfic writers are unimaginative and writing it should be shameful.
The Practicality of Fanfic
- Free advertising: I got into Gundam Wing, BBC’s Sherlock, and Batman purely because of fanfiction. It’s unlikely I would’ve been interested in these sources otherwise, or at least it would’ve taken me longer (as a fan of the literature, the idea of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes seemed like…well, a bad fic). I always see people telling a favorite writer that they tried a new fandom just because this writer posted something for it and the reader thought, “Hey, why not, I’ll give it a shot.” And then the reader liked what they saw. And then they read/watched/played the original material. Suddenly, a new consumer appears.
- No cost: Fanfic writers don’t make a cent off their stories. The very few that do try to capitalize on it are generally shunned by the rest of the community until the Mighty Corporate Banhammer comes smashing down. This is because fans aren’t stupid and know that this is the fastest way to get shut down by the publishers and authors. Also, see #1.
- Writing refinement: I say with utmost seriousness that my writing has improved dramatically over the years through constant practice. Constructive criticism is a huge part of this community, and it allows people who might otherwise be too intimidated to try their hand at this ‘storytelling’ thing. (On a personal level, it’s also thickened my hide when it comes to criticism - the fact that these characters do ultimately belong to someone else made it easier for me to take it a little less personally, and now I’m confident enough to take criticism for my original stuff.)
- Some published work can also be considered fanfiction: Fanfiction is technically a transformative work, however amateur a lot of it is, and it’s everywhere. Anything based off Biblical lore could be considered fanfic, and hell, Dante Alighieri wrote what’s called a self-insert RPF fic for it. Laurie R. King has been writing a continuation of Sherlock Holmes using an original female character, marrying her to Holmes. All the official novel adaptations for Star Wars and Star Trek? Fanfic, just officially sanctioned.
- Published work is not necessarily better: Some published authors started out writing fanfiction (e.g. Naomi Novik and Cassandra Claire, although the latter has a rather poor online reputation). Neil Gaiman wrote a short story crossing over Sherlock Holmes with Lovecraft mythos. More importantly, however, being published is not necessarily a sign of Being Better Than You Internet and ‘Zine Fans (Twilight, anyone?). A lot of the sci-fi and fantasy I’ve read, whether juvenile, YA, or adult, is actually worse than a few of the amazing fanfic writers I’ve discovered over the years.
- Making connections: I’ve met a lot of amazing people online through shared interests in fandom, some with whom I’ve cultivated a friendship outside of that community. I lived in Scotland for a while, and if it weren’t for a friend I’d made online then it would’ve exponentially more difficult and much less fun on weekends. :D
The Theory of Fanfic
- Debate: You should see some of the meta discussions that go on, from politics to ethics to sexual identity to psychological analysis (“Is action [a] realistic for Character A given [y] and [z]? Is morally-ambiguous action [b] justified in this situation or not?”). It’s also a great way to learn and practice reasoned discourse, at least in the more controlled or non-dramatic forums (ha).
- Thematic exploration: Being able to discuss different aspects of source material more often than not leads to deeper, more interesting insight on certain themes or plots, which makes them feel more meaningful. Alternate perspectives or interpretations also add extra dimensions, and for someone like me who usually needs something mentally meaty to ruminate over, these different perspectives mean I’ll stick with the source material for a longer length of time and be more personally invested.
- Character sympathy: Reading or writing sympathetic narratives involving a character you may not necessarily like can change your opinion of them. Seriously, some of the characters I originally hated in the source material are now at least tolerable, if not outright liked. It’s both irritating and awesome.
- Escapism: Sometimes, we all just need to be able to forget about our Real Life issues for a while. Some people watch reruns of The Price Is Right. Others write.
Even one of my older sisters, who’s a voracious reader of adult mystery and always teased me about fanfiction, one day said, “Sometimes I’m sad to finish one of my books because I want to see what happens to the characters afterwards.” And I replied, “Dude, what do you think fanfiction is for?”
It’s not like I don’t understand why the original creators might hate the idea of fanfiction. I think about my own characters (who have never seen the light of day) and imagine what kind of fanfic they might inspire, if I were brave enough to try getting published, and the results can be horribly embarrassing or feel somewhat violating. The operative word here, however, is “can”: it can be embarrassing, it can feel violating when you find that one thing with the other thing and the horse, but there’s also something just amazing about it all. Here you have a group of people who enjoy your work so much that they spend their free time talking about it, having ~feelings~ about the characters, who write their own stories because they want to see how far they can push the boundaries of your brainchild. Here are people who take an idea that maybe you didn’t have time to explore because there were more important things at the time to focus on and raise it to the next level. If the purebloods in Harry Potter are such an insular group, what kind of subculture might they have developed amongst themselves over the centuries? Can we find a more symbolic meaning in the relationship between ‘American Dream’ Captain America and ‘American Wall Street capitalist’ Iron Man? What are the ethical implications of training children to be mercenaries in Final Fantasy VIII? When it comes right down to it, I’d be both honored and flattered to see my humble offering make any sort of positive impact on people.
Of course these kinds of questions might, and have, invited a response of, “Dear lord, people, aren’t you taking this way too seriously?” Nope, not necessarily. On top of the character analysis, you’re now inviting people to think critically about the bigger picture, about context, about textual themes, and all the other things I listed above.
And honestly it’s just a lot of fun.