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318
Posted by2 months ago

Is reading a lot of fanfiction a hindrance to quality writing?

I read a ton of books growing up, but around middle school to high school I shifted to primarily reading fanfiction.

I have read a few “real” books throughout my twenties, but nowhere near as much as fanfiction.

I’ve been writing down my story ideas and begun to develop my characters, but am worried my reading habits will negatively influence my writing.

I usually only read what I consider “good” fanfiction, if there’s a ton of spelling errors, weird prose, or wacky story lines I usually can’t get past it and will move on to another.

Maybe it’s my past with heavy reading to compare with, but I’ve noticed I will make a mental note of awkward phrasing and think of how I would have worded things instead.

I don’t want to stop reading fanfiction completely, but should I start to read “real” fiction to prepare for my writing journey?

114 comments
88% Upvoted
level 1

Fanfiction often has very different pacing from published work, for a wide variety of reasons (and also sometimes has a very different take on plot and what makes a plot work.) Some of those things can work in published work, but it's really important to know what the genre you want to write in does as a standard thing - either so you can adjust, or so you can frame what readers are getting in a way that will make sense.

(I write slow burn low-dramatic-plot things under my penname, they work for many of my readers and also for me, but I also know I'm more out to the edge on some things than a lot of the genre. So the way I talk about my books reflects that, and I hope helps people find the things they want better.)

Sentence-related stuff (like the weird prose you describe) is often a lot easier to fix, and less of systemic concern for people (and it's also something editing can help a lot with, where the larger structure of the story can be more complicated to rearrange and change in editing.)

199
level 2
Op · 2 mo. ago

Thanks for the explanation.

Now that you mention it, I have noticed a lot of fanfiction favors the slow burn approach.

40
level 1

I read both trad pub and fanfic - and I write original fic as well as fanfic.

Reading fanfic can be great for characterization/voice and for different types of relationship dynamics. Read it! It can be great for more cozy feeling stories.

However, there are a few areas where fanfic tends to suffer (and that you need to be aware of and able to successfully overcome if you want to write for publication). With fanfic, you often get White Room and Talking Heads syndrome. The setting often won't be described to a great detail because the fandom already knows (whether it's on the bridge of the Enterprise, in downtown Manhattan, or the Scottish Highlands). In the case of AUs, many are already so well-loved that again, you don't describe them much (see: coffeehouse, college/high school, etc AUs). This is even more the case for Talking Head syndrome. Since the fans already know what the characters look like, fanfic usually doesn't spend much time (if any) describing them. It's writing to market, and the readers already add that in. In the case of original fiction, you have to be able to write a scene well enough for the reader to immerse themselves, and describe characters so the reader can visualize them.

Also, pacing. A lot of fanfic is slice-of-life, so you don't get the sense of pacing that you need to develop if you're aiming to write a fiction novel for trad pub. Even longform fanfic tends to be released in a serial fashion, and it doesn't tend to have the same pacing and tension as a traditionally published novel.

So yes, keep reading fanfic - but also read traditional in your genre and in anything related! For instance, I write fantasy and romance both. For fantasy, I read that of course, but I also read historical fiction and science fiction. For romance, I also read thrillers and some urban fantasy (because I write contemporary romance). My fanfic I keep in a separate identity, but I think reading trad pub has helped my fanfic writing as well.

44
level 2

This is so true! I've been writing original fiction for a few years, and when I switched from fanfiction, talking head syndrome and white room syndrome were HUGE issues for me. It took me a really long time to not only fix those quirks, but figure out the deeper issues that fanfiction never taught me how to do, such as creating an immersive world. There are some fanfic writers who do that, but a lot don't, and I was one of them.

11
level 1

Yes. If you only read fanfiction. It's like this, you can't produce a unique output if you keep consuming similar inputs. If you only absorb the same stuff, then you are only wading in the same pool of that same stuff, which means that you don't really go anywhere. If you absorb red, then you will only produce red. If you absorb a rainbow of colours, then you have 7 colours to mix from. Reading fanfiction is fine but you must also read outside your genre. Expand your reading world, go explore.

17
level 1

I view fanfiction as essentially being a creative form of literary analysis. To write it, or at least write it well, you need to have a solid understanding of the story's themes, the devices it used, and the characters (both their traits/psychology and their purpose within the narrative). So there's a lot to be learned from that, as well as the lessons you learn from good writing in general - or, like you said, from contemplating clunky phrasing or exposition. I think that's an excellent writing exercise.

So in and of itself, no, I don't think fanfiction is a hindrance. But if that's all you're reading, and you're serious about being the best writer you can be, I recommend branching out. I love fic, I write it myself, but the overwhelming majority of the time there's that extra level of polish that comes with professionally edited novels that you just won't get from one amateur and their long-suffering beta. And with the "main" story already being told and the characters and world familiar to the audience, there's skills in worldbuilding and exposition and planting/payoff that you're less likely to pick up from reading transformative works.

Fanfic, published novels, short stories, poetry, song lyrics, essays, nonfiction - there's something to be learned from all of it, and we're better at any craft when we examine and love the whole breadth of it.

188
level 2

I’ve never thought about it that way but analysis is a super interesting way of looking at it! there’s a ton of deconstruction and reconstruction, which I find really engaging as a writer, but like you say, not necessarily the same extent of pure ‘construction’, especially in terms of worldbuilding. lots of overlapping skills but very distinct approaches for sure

35
level 2

This is really good framing.

2
level 1

I just watched Sarah Z's video on fanfic, and I thought she made really good points. She's someone who likes fanfic and likes books and tends to consider multiple sides of an argument. I've also been listening to a lot of Rite Gud, which takes a pretty hard anti-fanfic line (not just that she doesn't like fanfic, but that she thinks fanfic is making books worse).

I'm more inclined to agree with Sarah Z that fanfiction is a different medium than novels. Not necessarily better or worse, just that you wouldn't compare a photo to a painting even though both are art.

If you're planning to write novels, you should be reading novels. It doesn't mean you have to stop reading fanfiction, but you can't just read fanfiction. There are overlapping skills, like being able to craft a sentence, plot, write distinctive dialogue, and keep characters, well, in character. But there are other skills required for novel writing, like creating your own characters, structural editing, and worldbuilding, that tend to be less commonly used in fanfic. There are also some quirks that you pick up in fanfic writing that you should probably not use in novel writing.

And then there's the big one, which is that when you write someone else's characters, and your primary audience is a fan of those characters, you don't have to work as hard to make the reader like them.

Anyway, bottom line is you should read widely. Nothing is bad to read as such (I'm currently reading a published novel that I think is garbage so far because it's necessary research for the industry) and you can learn a lot from fanfiction, but not everything.

62
level 2

I second all of this but particularly the part about the quirks! Fanfic has its own community, most people who write it also read it, and that’s led to a shared language of sorts? There are metaphors/descriptions/techniques that are only found in fanfic, and when I see them outside of fanfic it always throws me for a loop.

23
level 1

Reading anything helps you as a writer. You learn structure and conventions. As long as you understand some of the cliche elements of fanfic, you can avoid them. But having that reader's ear is so helpful both on the sentence level and the structural level.

64
level 2

Sorry, I have to disagree. The quality of what you read is important. Reading higher quality stories will produce better writing.

31
level 1

I find some fanfictions really well written and can expand on some unexplored concepts.

How good they end up being is on the writer tough.....

5
level 1
· 2 mo. ago
Self-Published Author

If you only ever want to write fanfiction, then your current reading habits are fine.

If you want to write your own original stories, and publish them commercially, you will need to broaden your reading.

4
level 1

The biggest difference I find in fanfic vs trad published books is character and plot setup. Usually the first chapter or 3 of a trad published book has significantly more character and plot setup than a fanfic just because fanfic authors heavily rely on the reader already knowing and living the established world. This is true even in AU fics.

The other main difference is length. If you're reading 300k word fics, just keep in mind you most likely won't be publishing a 300k word story. That's longer than the longest Harry Potter novel by like 30k words.

I don't think there is anything wrong with fanfic being your primary reading source, but I would recommend you read a few trad published books a year so you are able to assess the differences between fanfic and trad publishing to taylor your own work accordingly.

5
level 1

You should definitely be reading the type of stuff you aspire to write, because what you read will influence how you write.

14
level 1

I read a lot more published writing than fanfiction, so my approach is a bit different, but fanfiction often lets me appreciate good writing more. As long as you can recognize the difference between good, mediocre, and bad writing, I see nothing wrong with reading fanfiction.

That said, I would read at least a few professional works that are similar to what you want. When I'm writing, I try to read similar stuff. If I'm working on sci-fi, I'm reading classic sci-fi. Historical fiction, I'm reading history books and era pieces. It helps me understand the style of the genre, and often gives me inspiration.

Final note, if you're having trouble reading published works, have you tried audiobooks? They have been a game changer for me. I have mild ADHD, so it's difficult for me to sit and just read. It's allowed me to get through a lot more books than if I just sit and read.

Happy writing!

4
level 1

Fanfiction is often not publishable quality, but I wouldn't say reading it is a hindrance. Your own standard of writing doesnt come solely from what you read; it just helps you figure out what works, and just as importantly, what doesn't work.

Writing fanfiction doesnt necessarily mean you are a crap writer either. I know plenty of people who started practising their craft on fanfiction, but are now publisher authors.

4
level 1

My hot take. Fanfic is more a delivery system with a low barrier to entry.

Use someone else’s characters and world? If that’s published it’s a sequel.

Use the world but not the characters? You wrote a spin off.

Change the characters names and tweek the setting? Now it’s an original work.

Yes some is crap, but a lot of it is very good. The same thing that can be said about all the books in every book store.

Just because an author doesn’t charge for their work doesn’t lessen its quality.

3

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