Yesterday, we talked about our favorite fan fiction. (Or, rather, I danced around doing that, and Cassy kind of did it.) But what is fan fiction? I am here to help the perplexed, because despite the fact that I don't read it, I know my fair share about it.
Lesson One: These are amateurs (for the most part). Fan fiction is, by its very definition, written by fans of famous things (novels, movies, games, whatever). They do not pay editors to help them find all the typos and fix all the errors. A lot of them don't even have friends do this, because of my next point, or perhaps because they don't think they write well enough to let people they know read their work. So give them a break on this... to a point. (If every single sentence has errors, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.)
Lesson Two: It's not all NSFW. Fanfic has an enormous reputation for being pornographic. This stems from the fact that people can't tell the difference between the larger category of fanfic and the subset (albeit a large one) of slashfic. Slashfic gets its name from the "/" that goes between two characters' names, indicating that they have a romantic relationship in this adaptation, like "Kirk/Spock" or "Harry/Snape." So you're basically writing your own weird character mashup fantasies (which is why some people publish anonymously or under pseudonyms and are too ashamed/shy to have people who know them check for typos in a sentence like "Then Shape brushed Harry's hair aside, tracing his fingers along Harry's strong jawline, lingering momentarily at his luscious, hungering lips." I'll be honest, I feel a little dirty after writing just that one sentence.)
Lesson Three: Not all authors like it; not all authors hate it. There are some authors who love to read fanfic of their work. J K Rowling has been quoted as saying that she was flattered by HP fanfic; Stephanie Meyer links to some fanfic on her website. Other authors, however, hate it. George R R Martin is very vocal about his distaste for Song of Ice and Fire fanfic, and Anne Rice prevents fanfic of her work at every turn. Like I mentioned yesterday, fanfic is legally considered "derivative work" because you're using elements that someone else created to make something new. If you drop Mickey Mouse and Katness Everdeen into Westeros and have them fight Smaug with lightsabers,
you're skipping a lot of the work that goes into writing: character creation and development, setting description, even fighting style unless they use lightsabers in some new and unusual way. I can see why authors would be upset by fanfic, but I also think it's important to have it around...
Lesson Four: It's a great exercise. I mentioned in Lesson One that this isn't a professional thing to do (although many professional writers actually write fanfic on the side, for fun). You don't, as a rule, publish fanfic. (Mostly because of that problematic legal stuff I was just talking about.) But it's a great idea to write it. If you want to practice pacing or dialogue or other more abstract concepts of writing, it allows you to focus on that one element without having to get all the other ducks (like characters, setting, names) in a row. Just don't expect your fanfic to make you world famous... at some point, you should start creating your own characters to share with the world and inspire another future writer to write fanfic.