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Today, I’d like to talk fanfiction.

Fanfiction has been a thing for a long time and the definitions of what is or isn’t fanfiction has changed throughout the years. One of the most popular fantasy offerings of all time, the Forgotten Realms books, started off as an imagining of what various authors’ Dungeons and Dragons games would look like in print. A newer offering of successful fanfiction can be seen in 50 Shades of Gray, which began as a Twilight fanfic. Other modern writers, such as Neil Gaiman, have also written fanfiction to great effect.

So, it’s no surprise that new writers are a bit confused about the conflicting opinions on fanfiction in the writing world. Do serious writers write fanfiction or is it a waste of time? Well, that’s what I’d like to talk about.

Fanfiction is a giant playground. And that’s a good thing. Anime, TV shows, videogames, bands, books, and cultural icons can all become blended together with fanfiction. The possibilities are, quite literately endless. Do you want to write about Harry Potter becoming the newest member of One Direction? There’s a fandom for that. Do you want to see what would happen if Riku from Kingdom Hearts became a serial killer? Go for it! Anything and everything is allowed. This freedom of ideas can be liberating, especially if you tend to stress out about your writing skill.

The characters and worlds aren’t yours. This can be a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, not having to create characters and worlds from scratch can be a huge timesaver and load off of your mind, especially as a new writer. Being able to use another person’s characters and ideas as a starting point can help you learn how to handle different character archetypes and explore how different personalities, cultures, and ideas mesh without the pressure of full creation.

That said, using characters and ideas that aren’t your own can also become an exercise in imitation. If you only use certain characters and situations without adding your own thoughts and ideas, your writing could stagnate. Like all writing, some originality is required if you want to be effective.

Fanfiction is a way to bring creators and consumers together… I like to think that most of the people who write fanfiction do so because they love something about their fandom. They want to see more of that world, those people, than what the creator is able to produce.

Piers Anthony, the creator of the wildly popular Xanth series, remarked that he got tons of letters from fans about how they wanted to see this character or that character as the star of the book (I personally wish there were more stories with Bink!) but that he doesn’t have the time or inclination to write those stories. Fanfiction is a great way to get that little bit extra that you’re looking for from a series or character.

…but it isn’t marketable. As a serious writer, being able to create work that you can then submit to publishers is a necessity. Fanfiction uses people and places that are copyrighted by their individual authors. While there are some fandoms which allow writers to overlook this in the course of publication—such as Star Wars or the Cthulhu mythos—most do not. Fanfiction is almost always going to be a labor of love, not a career move.

So, what should a serious writer do? To fan or not to fan?

In my personal opinion, they should write.

If you want to write fanfiction, that’s cool. Try to look for something deeper than the content you’re using. Find the answers and questions that are inside of you and then translate those into someone else’s world. If there’s some aspect of another work that you don’t quite understand yet, explore that and see where it leads you.

If you want to write original fiction, that’s also cool. But, try to remember that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time. Look around you, to the stories and lives of great people and make use of what they have already discovered. There’s so much variance in our culture and in our race that there’s always something you haven’t thought of yet or that exists outside of your sphere of influence. Go out and find those things!

Most of all, write. One story isn’t going to make you or break you. This week, I’m writing Dragon Age fanfiction about my OC and Leliana. I’ll post it somewhere for #write1sub1 and then next week I’ll probably do some original fiction. But, it’s all writing and it’s all a learning process. There are many paths to get where you need to go as a writer and fanfiction can be one of those paths, if you use it in a constructive way.

So, go out. Learn new stories. Write amazing things. Repeat.

Quit worrying so much.