This is for all you intellectual snobs out there…
I understand why you look down on writers and readers of fan fiction. I really do. Any hobby/enthusiasm/obsession (regardless of severity) looks kind of lame to an outsider who does not feel the same level of appreciation. For example, I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would voluntarily choose to crochet… for fun. To my non-crocheting ears, that just sounds like a cry for help.
And if you were to go to one of the sites that serve as free-for-all fan fiction “dumps,” odds are pretty good that any story you were to randomly select would be either trite, badly written, or both. To the uninitiated, the system of recommendations and reviews seems completely incomprehensible and overwhelming, but this system will lead you past the painful to the enjoyable once you have mastered it. Until you have, please do not attempt to judge the overall quality of these works.
The truth is, a lot of these stories are really good – like worthy of publication in their own right, good. But more about that later.
Now, I want to tell you why you should not mock the stuffing out of a friend/family member/coworker when they admit to writing fan fiction.
No. 1 – and this is the most important, in my opinion – Writers write because it makes them happy, satisfies their creative impulses, and generally makes the world a better place… for them. When we write, we do want others to read and enjoy our work, it is true. We want to not suck at it, the same way that you want that casserole you just made for your mother-in-law to be a miracle of tastiness. Should you be dissuaded from cooking altogether once your fifteenth casserole comes out of the oven looking like a mutant charcoal briquette? Heavens, no! And why not? Quite simply, if you enjoyed the process that led to the creation of that mutant casserole, you should be allowed to continue producing those charred lumps as long as doing so makes you happy. You know that you run the risk of having people criticize your cooking if you serve it to others. Similarly, the fan fiction writer knows that they are opening themselves up to criticism of their writing if they choose to post it.
No. 2 – There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing something frivolous. The U.S.A. is, in my opinion, a land of television-watching zombies. The popularity of reality shows alone proves that Americans will become obsessed with just about anything that is presented to them in an on-screen format. I really don’t see how a person taking that enthusiasm and channeling it into fan fiction is any worse than supposedly well-adjusted people routinely dropping everything because “their shows are on.” At least the writers of fan fiction are attempting to engage their higher thought processes in connection with those enthusiasms. They may even occasionally turn the T.V. off.
No. 3 – My favorite books are the ones in which you become so enamored of the characters and their world that you can’t stand to see “The End” printed on that last page. Fan fiction is a response to that heartbreak and frustration. Readers who reach the end and still want more are being proactive and creating that “more” for themselves. And as a public service, they are sharing the “more” they created with the rest of the “more-seekers” at no charge. They cannot profit from it; there is nothing to compel them to share it, and yet they do. That’s altruism right there, folks.
No. 4 – What we in this age of separation lack is a sense of community. Fan fiction brings people together in ways we never could have anticipated even twenty years ago. Real, meaningful, and often crucial friendships are being formed every day in the fan fiction communities. And these people really support each other. Nothing will make a group band together like being ostracized by everyone else. Fan fiction writers come from all walks of life – all social, economic, racial, and educational backgrounds imaginable. It may be the only place on earth where we have learned to see beyond our prejudices. That is no small accomplishment.
No. 5 – Good writing. As I mentioned earlier, some of these stories are amazingly well constructed and written. The characterizations are fresh and vibrant, and the plots are gripping. No, not every single one – but often enough that reading these stories is more like a treasure hunt than an exercise in futility. Many fan fiction writers are also published authors; for others, fan fiction is an avenue that leads to publication. It is totally unfair to mock a publication because of its roots in fan fiction; it would be like mocking a band whose beginnings were based on their love of, say, the Beatles. Fan-musicians often develop into notable musicians in their own right, drawing from the influences of earlier artists. Why can we not accept that fan-writers are also capable of taking their literary influences and using that inspiration to create great works themselves?
Lastly, I will say this – fan fiction is not encumbered by projected sales, genre classifications, or any of the rules of the publication game. And I can’t help but support any forum that allows you to incorporate talking ninja squirrels into a story whenever the mood strikes you.