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  • Writer's pictureA.R. McNevin

Considering FanFic

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

A hypothesis: The core of good writing is world-building. Good world-building generates character and plot and create a feedback loop in which character creates plot and plot creates character. This loop then continues, ad infinitum. Fanfiction is not completely anathema to world-building, but since it is essentially only editing the world rather than building it anew, the root skill is never learned.

It's like throwing a photoshop filter over the Mona Lisa. You never learn to paint the Mona Lisa, while claiming to create a new visual experience. The further one is away from fanfiction, the closer one is to creating works of your own, the greater the test of one's world-building skills. Similarly, that 10,000 hrs = expert notion; if you are trying to be a good boxer and spend your time doing nothing but jabs, you won't become an expert boxer, no matter how many thousands of hours you spent jabbing away. If you spend your time in someone else's worlds, you will never test your own worlds and never receive feedback on your own worlds and thus will never develop your skills.

I would argue that the "better" one is as a fanfic creator, the better one is at replicating another person's writing style, character, plot, world; the greater the positive feedback from recreating those elements so perfectly, the less one is improving (if at all) at becoming a writer of original work. You have refined the skill of recreation, not creation. Of replication, not originality. Sure, you can then try to file the serial numbers off of the fic and present it as an original work, but the better you were at recreation, the harder this becomes.

As the aim of FanFic is to generate something which is as identifiable to a pre-existing IP as possible, one's aim is to generate the same dialogue (clunky or succinct), structure (sprawling or focused) and vocabulary choices (verbose or simplistic). Indeed, the mark of a "bad" choice (within FanFic) is too incongruous with the pre-existing world which the author has made. As such, being too "original" is a bad thing, so the skills (and habits within those skills) will be focused on recreating someone else's work.

Outside the realm of FanFic, this is often the case with influences that have too much, well, influence on the writer's style. There is a struggle to find one's own voice, and that is without the impediment of spending your formative years writing in the voice of that influence's IP.

If the aim is to write original material, I would avoid FanFic altogether and go for roleplaying manuals; they are specifically designed to help someone build a world and tell stories in that world. They are often stylized or themed (Sword & Sorcery in D&D, Vampires in V:tM, etc.), but that provides a mutable scaffolding against which the unique world can be created rather than a mostly rigid world created by an author. (Also, in the better roleplaying manuals, there are often lists of source material one can look to, to expand your reference material. In the realm of vampires, for example, you may be familiar with the Vampire Diaries/Originals, even Anne Rice or Buffy, but you may not have encountered The Hunger or Near Dark?)

For me, the core of any good story is world-building. Hence the hypothesis. It's the generator to story, character, plot, theme, the whole nine yards. FanFic lacks this aspect so becomes the act of building without a foundation. There's a line I read once, can't remember the source now, but it went "Don't follow the masters; seek what they sought".

When other writers say they don't like FanFic being created from their work; when they say they want other aspiring writers to write their own work, this is not a slight. This is encouragement (or it can be taken as encouragement. Some just want you to not fuck with their work). They are saying that writers should write their own writing. Should they be influenced? Sure. Should they be inspired? Absolutely. But they shouldn't write another Game of Thrones if, for no other reason, it already exists.

Build your own worlds, and the rest will attend to itself.

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