Fan fiction has a fairly shoddy reputation on the internet, and I’m not going to deny that a lot of that is deserved. Far too often it’s no more than an excuse to produce badly written smut which doesn’t do the genre – if I can call it a genre – any favours. I have absolutely nothing against smut if it has a context; still, I’m not particularly interested in reading it just for the sake of reading it. And badly written smut sometimes has some comedic value, but that’s the best that can be said for it.
But if you dismiss fan fiction out of hand, you’re missing some reading treats. Yes, it’s a case of searching for those, but there are plenty of resources out there, and some of the submissions are very high quality. So if you’re interested in reading new tales based around Tolkien’s work – for example – search ‘Lord of the Rings fan fiction’ in Google and see if you find anything that appeals. Do be prepared for that smut I mentioned, however. A lot of fan fiction is based upon something called ‘shipping’ which is basically creating and/or expanding on relationships between certain characters. Legolas and Aragorn, for example. These aren’t always romantic or sexual relationships, but they often are. But the sites are obliged to flag any adult or mature content so you shouldn’t be unduly shocked unless that’s what you’re looking for.
I enjoy reading certain pieces of fan fiction. Some of the ones I’ve found have been little pieces of genius. Some have been novel-sized and held my attention as well as most novels I buy. But it is definitely a case of searching through a lot of less than excellent nonsense to find the gems.
But my fondness for fan fiction is mostly born out of my appreciation of it as a writing tool. It provides writers learning their trade with a framework and ideas that they can build upon and exploit. It also provides them with a ready made audience who’ll give them feedback. Sometimes you might be given to wonder how valuable that feedback is, especially if you’re part of a community where everyone just likes everything any of their members create. Validation is great, but if you start to doubt that it’s trustworthy validation, it can become more of a problem. But if you write a piece of fan fiction, and it garners plenty of likes from people you don’t know, you are probably doing something right.
Johannes Vermeer: Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid
It’s hard to undervalue the usefulness of ready made characters, ideas, worlds and so on to the novice writer. Any kind of writing is a valuable part of the learning process. Working out how to create dialogue and motivation that’s believably ‘Gandalfian’ is just a step on the ladder to creating dialogue and motivation for an original character you have created yourself. Bear in mind, though, that any kind of fan fiction is derivative and is therefore liable to action on the part of the original author should they feel so inclined. Most writers, film-makers, game designers and so on, don’t bother policing fan fiction sites, but if you decided to try and profit financially from a popular piece, they would be completely within their rights to demand you desist. Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey began as a piece of fan fic, but all the derivative elements in it were removed before it was published.
If you are interested in either reading or writing fan fiction, my favourite site is An Archive of Our Own. Have a browse for your favourite categories – you’ll see there’s a vast number – or try your hand at writing something about your favourite characters. It’s a great place to scratch an itch you have to hear more about Legolas, Lara Croft, or Luke Skywalker. Of course there are plenty of other sites out there as well. Fan Fiction is another good one.