So, how about writing in someone else’s world?

I know a lot of authors – and a lot of writers – deride fanfiction as childish, easy, vainglorious crap. (Ok, paraphrasing, but I suspect the sentiment isn’t that far off). It’s a teenage thing; it’s riddled with Mary-Sues, perfect characters, unnatural romances (of course Harry Potter would fall for a completely unknown student with beautiful hair and no apparent personality!) It’s the source of a lot of AWFUL writing, even worse love stories, absolutely abysmal erotic writing, and generally wince-inducing results. Both writers and readers also hate it because it puts something there that isn’t already – I believe it’s George RR Martin who complains that if he wanted to show that part of the story, he would have written it.

Me? I love fanfiction.

I can’t confess to liking the abysmal writing or awful erotic scenes, I have to say. But I love the concept. I entirely support people writing it, both as a writer and as a reader. Aaaand here’s why…

– Fanfiction is an expression of love. I don’t have any issues with other people using my characters or world – after all, they’re creating their own images by reading the books! – and it’s no different to a film adaption, or character drawing. It’s a jealous writer who can’t let go of his creation, and I appreciate the diversity of the fan world outside there: hell, if I got a tiny percentage of the variety of ideas that the fan world generates, I’d be in heaven! I admit some of them are a bit…unusual? Not workable? But hey, I’m not going to stop that creativity.

– It’s also a desire to get more of the story. There are parts that I don’t write – either because they spoil the flow of the current book, or I’m just not great at writing those bits, or I’m not personally interested. But if someone else is: if someone else does want to know what happens with Neville while Harry’s running around the UK, if someone else does want to write about Rose’s life before she met the Doctor, if someone else does want to wonder what could have happened if one little word had changed or in that gap between paragraphs or if everyone lived in a steampunk world – then go for it. It’s not taking anything away. It’s immersing someone so fully in the story that they want to see more of it, or in some cases be part of it: and I can’t argue with that.

– It is in many ways easier to use someone else’s world. You don’t have to worry about the way it works, the details, the other characters, the interactions. All you have to focus on is a few characters and the way they work. You can hone one element without having to worry about the rest. So, for a writer, it’s a dream – it’s nice to be able to look at one thing without constantly worrying about filling in details

– However, despite that, I also have real respect for anyone writing in someone else’s world: it’s f***ing difficult! You have to get it right: you have to use the right setting, the right motivations, otherwise it falls flat..

– …and you can twist it, yes – but you have to twist it within what works. Some of the best fanfiction I’ve read has been alternate universe (AU), where the setting, backgrounds and some motivations have been entirely changed, but the characters are the ones I love from the original books, and are true to the original writer – and THAT is skill.

– And, I suppose ultimately, fanfiction is practise. I challenge any writer to tell me their first stories weren’t shit. I challenge any writer to tell me that they haven’t taken elements from something they loved. My first stories were ones where I was the central character; mine were escape, were daring, were me as the hero. And they’ve changed as I have written more, as I have learned what makes good writing. No matter how abysmal fanfiction is, it’s still practise – it’s still writing a story. And I’m in favour of anything that gets someone writing, particularly if it’s something they love.

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.