Friday, July 27, 2012

Vampire dreams, or: Why I'm a fan of fanfic

There's been a lot of chatter lately about fanfic, and whether it's a good thing or not. Some people think it's little better than plagiarism, some think it's a great starting off point for writing fiction. I'm in the latter camp.

Why? Well, probably because I used to write it.

It's no secret I'm a huge Buffy fan, and that I loved Spike's character so much I named my cat after him, so you can probably guess the nature of the fanfic I wrote. The Buffyverse gives you a lot to play with: a multitude of characters, relationships and arcs to begin with.

Here's what I really like about fanfic: you don't have to stick to the world and plots you're given. Sure, you could write another season of Buffy, set in Sunnydale, if you wanted. Why not? But how about if you take the idea that there are no vampires, Slayers and the rest, and they're all normal human beings? (Well, relatively normal). What would Buffy be like if she wasn't a Slayer? How would Willow have turned out without the magic stuff? Would Spike have even become Spike if he wasn't a vampire, or would he have remained William the Bloody awful poet?

I reckon we all daydream a bit like this. Whether it's doodling your name and that of your favourite popstar in a heart on the back of your maths book, or fantasising about being a character in your favourite TV show, it's a normal thing to do, especially for writers whose imagination is a skill to be developed.

Which is why I think it's quite a good thing for fledgeling writers to try. It's a safe playground, an apprentices workshop. I just looked back at some of the fanfic I wrote when I was just starting out, and while I can see there's some good stuff there, it's also full of rookie mistakes. However, I did see a couple of turns of phrase and plot devices I've used again, so clearly it was a useful proving ground.

But here's the real reason it's a great tool: you get feedback. Fanfic comes with its own community and they're not shy about their opinions. They'll tell you if your plot is slow or if the sex is terrific (and yes, a lot of fanfic is about sex. Since that's often one of the stumbling blocks for new writers, it really is helpful to have somewhere you can, er, practise safely...)

Sure, you can put original fiction up on these sites, but to put it bluntly, the chances of anybody reading an unknown author's story about unknown things are quite low. Whereas readers hungry for more stories about their favourite TV show, series of books, video game or whatever, well, they'll glom up anything they can.

It's not for everyone. And there are strong feelings about fanfic authors trying to make money from it. It's an etiquette thing as much as anything else, plus anyone who makes their living from inventing characters will tell you it doesn't feel good to have other people making money off it too. But most fanfic is put up for free, in return for honest feedback.

Give it a try. You might like it.

And no, I'm not telling you where my old fanfics are. There's a reason people use pen names...

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