As I mentioned last week, I’ve been considering whether to write the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic idea I’ve had on the backburner for a while as my NaNoWriMo project for this year. Indeed, the project that I won NaNoWriMo with back in 2010 laid the groundwork for what will be ‘episode 1’ of that fanfic. If I continue with the fanfic for this year’s NaNo, I’ll probably get another couple of ‘episodes’ written by the end of November.
So, what’s the problem? Why don’t I just go ahead and write the fanfic, since I already have the idea for it? One word: GUILT.
Writing fanfiction - and just writing in general - causes me guilt for a number of reasons. I’ll go into the reasons why writing in itself causes me guilt next week, but for now I want to look at the reasons why amateur writers like myself might write fanfiction, and why it might not be such a good idea (and the reasons why fanfic writing in particular causes me guilt).
It’s easier to write fiction in an established setting, with existing characters, and so it’s a good way to practice writing as a craft if you’re a beginning writer. The best way to get to grips with grammar, story structure, tone, and pretty much discover your own writing style is through practice. By starting with fanfiction you can get used to the technical aspects of writing before you commit to your own original ideas. By the time you decide to write original fiction, you’ll have established your own technique, and you’ll be able to just focus on the creation of fresh ideas.
It’s also just fun to write stories based on the settings and characters that you love, but which you know will probably never actually make it into the setting in question. This is why crossovers are so popular within fanfiction. And if a series ended abruptly or in a really unsatisfying way, you can put forward your own idea of how it should have ended. Or maybe you just want to explore what happens after the original story ended.
For starters, it’s copyright infringement. We can put disclaimers on our works and proclaim that we’re not making a penny off of them, but at the end of the day we’re playing in somebody else’s sandbox without their permission. Some creators are fine with fanfiction and even encourage it, others are firmly against it for some good reasons besides being protective of their own intellectual property. Others have no opinion, at least none they’ve made public. But, generally speaking, it's probably safer to avoid writing (or at least publishing online) fanfiction, in order to avoid a potential legal dispute with the creators.
Also, as I mentioned before, it’s EASIER than writing original fiction. So, while it may help when developing one’s technical writing skills, it may also be dangerous because you’re not exercising the full potential of your imagination. You’re not creating your own worlds, mythologies or characters. Well, you may have original characters in your fanfiction, but they always run the risk of becoming Mary Sues. The point is we’re not challenging ourselves by writing fanfiction, not really. The real challenge comes when we’re writing something entirely from scratch. And if we get too used to the convenience of writing within an established world, then when we start to look at creating our own worlds, the task could seem more daunting and fanfiction writing might end up being a crutch which we find ourselves falling back on when our confidence in our own work falters.
And if you've got your own original ideas to work on, wouldn't the time you spend on writing fanfiction be better invested in something of your own? A story which is uniquely yours, one which you can show off to your friends and your family like a proud parent with a newborn baby. A story which, if finished and edited thoroughly, you might even be able to sell to a publisher? There we go, there’s the guilt rearing its ugly head. Can you hear all those poor neglected ideas in the basement of your mind, screaming for you to let them out? That’s the feeling I have every time I sit down to work on a fanfiction project these days. Even though the project in question is something I’m interested in writing, I still feel bad about it because of the other potentially awesome ideas that I could be writing instead.
Besides, if you want to be a published author, you’ll probably have to give up on writing fanfiction eventually. It’s probably something that would be frowned upon by publishers and your writing peers, unless you happen to have been hired to write for a particular franchise like Doctor Who or Star Trek.
I went into this post without intending to have any real opinion on fanfiction one way or another. But as I wrote it, I found I had convinced myself to give up on writing fanfiction, with one caveat: I'll still allow myself to write it for NaNoWriMo. That's because NaNo is about writing for fun, not necessarily for publication, and so I'll feel like I can give myself permission to write something I have no intention of publishing during November. So, November is for fanfiction, the rest of the year is for my own original work. I think that's a reasonable compromise, yeah?
I'll write the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic for NaNo 2013 and continue with it until it's done. Then I'll move on to other things. And then, maybe next year, I'll write another fanfic for NaNoWriMo. Or maybe I won't. We'll see what I'm in the mood for when the time comes. In the meantime, until NaNo 2013 starts, I’ll work on editing the ‘episode’ I've already done while plotting the next bunch for November. I’ll also work on getting some flash fics done, if I can.
Yay, I have a plan for NaNo! Roll on November! (Well, not too quickly, let me get some plotting done first! D:)