In a lot of respects, I was a late bloomer, but when it comes to fan faction, I was way ahead of the curve. I wrote my first fan fiction story when I was six years old. I don’t remember the specifics, but there were two horses involved, and they were playing out a story I’d seen in a cartoon movie around that time.
I didn’t know it was fan fiction at the time.. I don’t even believe the term was in popular use. What I did know is that I loved a story, and I made it my own using characters that were already developed (if subjected to an equestrian treatment.)
It doesn’t matter if you’re six or sixty; fan fiction is a way to let your imagination explore. Reading stories is how you learn story structure. Certainly you can study stories on a more intellectual level, but humans grasp stories instinctively. The fact is that it’s much easier to borrow established characters than develop new ones.
Fan-fiction is a bit like training wheels. It’s a writing exercise. “How would I have had this character develop in this world?”
Now, there is this little thing known as Intellectual Property. I don’t claim to understand the fine print but the basic idea is “I thought it up, it’s mine, and you can’t make money off of it because all that money belongs to me.”
Ostensibly, this is to protect artists. It’s hard enough to get paid as an artist, and having someone stand on the shoulders of giants is a little offensive at first blush. I could absolutely see being annoyed if someone took my protagonist and wrote a story and *gasp* sold more copies than me. However, I’d have to look very closely at this other writer’s work, and see what he or she did to succeed with my character that I didn’t do.
I think that as a consumer culture, we need more stories. There are 7 billion humans now, and we all need entertainment, not as much as food or shelter but certainly it’s a human need. And while it can take a year to write a book or 6 months to make a movie, it takes two to three hours to watch a movie and a week or two to read a book. Creation is slower than consumption. That’s how it’s been since humans learned to put wood on fire to keep it going.
I don’t know how I feel about fan fiction as a consumer, on the other hand. I can square with it from a writer’s perspective, but it’s hard to find a good book even when the writer has the backing of a professional house and the marketing team and editors that go with it. To me, fan fiction smacks of reading someone’s homework. It might be a labor of love, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy it. My son’s kindergarten career brought home a metric ton of creations over the course of the school year. I kept five of the best pieces and let everything else go recycle. I love him more than I love another human being but that doesn’t mean all of his practice scribbles have attained Jackson Pollock status.
I want to encourage writers to write. It’s therapeutic; it’s good for the soul. However, I’m an elitist when it comes to my personal reading for enjoyment. What I read in my spare time for fun has to reach a certain level of awesome or it gets abandoned on the side of the bed, to be twice-sold or gifted or donated as is appropriate.
I think the world is always looking for more forms of story, and I respect that. Fan fiction is the place a lot of good novelists begin. In my eyes, however, fan fiction is a stepping stone to the real deal.