There’s a definite pattern to learning something creative. You find someone else’s class, pattern, or technique and complete their project. Then you find other classes, patterns, or techniques to add to your skill set. Some artists are perfectly content to continue finding others to learn from. Others take the skills and techniques they’ve learned and strike out on their own. As 2011 Campbell Award winner Lev Grossman proves, fan fiction is a writing class that can keep you swimming with the copycats or inspire you to tackle original creations.
That’s right. I said copycats, and I’ll get away with it because I have been one. Fan fiction has been vilified forever, primarily by authors who see it as copyright infringement or just an attack on their creation. (What can I say? We writers are sensitive souls wrestling with an ever-changing self-esteem.) Other authors, however, recognize fan fiction as fans interacting with and showing their love for a story in a creative way.
For those fans who pay attention and take care with their work, fan fiction can be a great way to explore an author’s techniques, to internalize them as they play with the author’s techniques, to internalize them as they play with the author’s creations. They can share their work with other fans who can help them focus and edit their work, while at the same time help others do the same. Some fan fiction writers continue to write fan fiction, growing their writing skills with each story. Others head into original fiction territory, taking advantage of connections made with other writers during their fan fiction days to keep building their writing skills.
Creating fan fiction is, in its own bizarre way, a means of learning writing from an absent master and a stepping stone to developing your own artistic vision.