I was talking to my eight-year-old son earlier. Like most boys his age (and a lot of girls, yay!), he has a serious thing for the Power Rangers. This makes me pretty happy because there are a lot of good lessons that I got from the show when I was younger, and he seems to be learning them as well. And since he has Asperger’s, I find that he’s learning absolutely everything that he can about his heroes, and all the seasons that have come before. It’s endearing and wonderful. It really brought me back to when I was 11, and when I was just starting to get serious about this idea of being a writer. One of my pet projects was “Power Rangers: The Next Generation”. I wish I could find copies of any of them, but I probably threw them away when I got to high school and it wasn’t cool to like the Rangers anymore.
But thinking about my fanfiction from early years got me thinking about the role of fanfiction in the formative years of a writer’s career.
I wrote a lot of it when I was younger. Particularly Power Rangers, Animorphs, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Ninja Turtles, Sailor Moon, Dragonriders… (Yeah, I am totally dating myself here as born 80’s and raised 90’s.) If it wasn’t for fanfiction, and more importantly, if it wasn’t for my friends reading all my fanfiction and wanting more, I don’t know that I would be where I am today.
When I was young, we didn’t have Fanfiction.net. Internet service was paid for by the minute through services like AOL and Earthlink, and if your parents wanted to use the phone, you had to get off the internet. We had one computer in the house, and I had to share it with my parents and my two brothers who were much bigger gamers than I was. Needless to say, my audience was a lot smaller than a lot of fanfiction writers these days can manage to reach. Just look at Fifty Shades of Gray, for example, which started life as a Twilight fanfiction. But my audience, while consisting of about 5-15 friends/classmates at any one time and a couple of awesome teachers, was dedicated. More than that, they were encouraging. They always wanted to know what would happen next, and they kept me feeling like my writing actually meant something to someone besides myself.
That, I think, is one of the most important functions of fanfiction. You already have a built-in audience of people that know and like the characters you’re writing about, and these days, a lot of those same people are willing to offer constructive feedback in venues like Fanfiction.net. It can be a powerful tool for learning the craft of writing. In my case, with the Power Rangers, I learned how to write short episodes that added up to a larger work. I learned how to be true to the voice and the personalities of the characters. In imitating the structure of the stories I had seen on TV, I gained a greater insight to the flow of plot than I ever did later on in creative writing classes. These classes helped, yes, but so much of the talent that impressed teachers early on came from imitation of what I watched, and more importantly, what I read. (I wish I had developed that talent a little further, but that’s a subject for another time!)
You will find a lot of critics of fanfiction in general. You will find those authors who absolutely forbid people from posting any sort of fanfiction on the internet under threat of lawsuit. I can sort of see where they’re coming from in regards to intellectual property issues. Characters are also like your children, and some of these fanfiction authors will take your children and do crazy, crazy things to them. But I do think that fanfiction plays a very crucial role in the development of a young writer’s talent, and ought to be encouraged within reason.
I haven’t decided yet what my stance is on fanfiction of my work. This is, of course, a moot point until I actually get published, but it’s something I’ve thought about. It sort of makes me cringe to think about the ways that my characters will be put into situations and relationships that were maybe never intended for them. But if I can inspire even one young writer to pick up that pen and grow, then I think even the weirdest of slashfics might be worth it.
But even more than that, I think it might be time to take up writing fanfiction again myself. I have a certain eight-year-old who wants to read more about the Power Rangers, and if I can encourage his growth as a reader and a storyteller and a writer? That makes everything worth it.