The Good and Bad for Writers
First, the Good for Writers
Have you ever read a book and wished you could change a few things? Did your favorite character die? Do you wish the protagonist had chosen a different path? The most beautiful thing about writing fan fiction is the ability to take your favorite universe and mold it into your own design. Most fan fiction writers love their fandoms and try to stay true to the spirit of that particular universe. Fan fiction writers ask and answer one of my favorite questions: What if?
Some famous authors (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling, to name a few) welcome fan fiction based on their books and believe it to be flattering. Gaiman and King wrote fan fiction themselves during the early part of their careers. I think savvy authors recognize that fan fiction feeds their fan base, which leads to increased reader engagement, which is basically free advertising and marketing, which leads to more sales.
The blank page is a scary thing if you want to be a writer. Fan fiction is a way to kick start the writing process by using settings and characters that are already well-developed, allowing the beginner to work almost exclusively on plot. This is especially helpful for young writers and students. Using their favorite fandom as a writing prompt can open up the floodgates to a sizable story, even for a reluctant writer. What better way to tap into a student's writing potential than to let them write what they know.
Ah, yes. Writer's Block. Some say it doesn't exist. Some suffer from it on a regular basis. Whatever you want to call it, sometimes the words just won't come. It happens to me, occasionally. I've never tried writing a fan fiction story to get the gears moving again, but after diving into the fan fiction realm, I may just try it next time. Writer's advice columns are filled with writing prompts which run the gamut from benign and boring to overly pretentious and I've never found them particularly helpful. A fan fiction writing prompt might trigger a great idea about character aspect, setting, or plot. I like to think it's akin to a shower thought, some of the best ideas come to me while I'm thinking of something else.
The Bad For Writers
Writers of fan fiction may someday dream of becoming the next E.L. James, the author of 50 Shades of Grey, but it is not very likely. James' books were originally Twilight fan fiction. Before publishing, the manuscript had to be edited and scrubbed of all references to the vampire books. Copyright usually only comes into play if a writer intends to seek profit from the fan fiction, which means most fan fic sites are safe zones from litigation. That being said, technically, all fan fiction is copyright infringement.
I found a pretty good explanation of the issue, with examples, here:
There is a danger for popular fan fiction to become "canon", which might, at the very least, annoy the originating author. I have no idea what J.K. Rowling thinks of the popular Severus Snape/Hermione Granger story on FanFiction.net titled Fixing a Family. I do know, however, that ever since I stumbled upon the first few sentences of the first paragraph, I can't scrub the idea out of my head. I'll never see those two characters the same way again, and I haven't read the rest of the story!
I try to imagine how I would feel if someone wrote fan fiction like that about any of my characters. I think the above example bothers me more as a reader than as a writer. For the most part, I would feel flattered, and although I might disagree with the direction the fan fic writer took, I could look at it as a separate, parallel universe sort of thing. I'm good at compartmentalizing.
The last bad thing about writing fan fiction is the critics. Constructive criticism is essential to improvement, but when you open your work up to a rabid fan base...Look Out! Fangirls and Fanboys are extremely protective of their favorite characters and respective fandoms. Everyone has an opinion, and they can be vicious, so a fan fiction writer must develop a thick skin and learn to distinguish helpful advice from trolling.
If you're confident enough to dive into the mosh pit of fan fiction, have at it!
I write novels and poetry and this blog.