Fanfiction has proven a training ground for many authors who have gone on to publish professionally. Having the available audience in the fandom community gives writers a chance to develop their skills and garner feedback on ways they can improve their craft. And just as fandom proves a good training ground for these participants, utilizing this type of writing in a classroom environment can afford beginning writers the same opportunities. They can learn how to critically examine creator works, as well as how to develop their own writing within a structured environment of ready-made characters and universes.
Writers of fanfiction take the canon that they are given and use it as inspiration for creation. What did the character mean when he said this? What might the characters be doing between points in which we see them? What events made them who they are? The same touchstones can create dynamically varied works between writers, as inspiration and interpretation affect us all differently. This can prove to be a great teaching moment for students. They could be afforded the opportunity to examine how interpretative practices can vary between readers (viewers) and how author intent (canon) is often a jumping off point for the consumption of these works.
Once the skills of critical evaluation are learned, students could produce their own creative works with the same canon touchstone as their prompt. Unlike original writing, which requires the author to come up with characters, setting, and descriptions within which readers can immerse themselves, fanfiction allows for short-cuts by way of collectively understood elements. Readers know what the characters look like, what their background is, where the canon is set, so re-exploration of these areas are not necessary. However, the same elements that are used as short-cuts to writing are also structures that must be maintained in canon-compliant fanfiction writing. Writers cannot change a character's personality, background, or looks simply because it would not work in a story. They must abide by the canon set forth for them and tell a story within it. This is a great teaching tool for those who need to learn the basic elements of storytelling, and how continuity is important for maintaining an overall plot.
After the acquisition of these skills, and the writer feels strong enough to create works on their own, they might expand out into non-canon-compliant fanfiction (alternative universes, pre-series, post-series) or even into original writing where they hold the control over how the character looks, speaks, acts, and where they came from. Fanfiction may be borrowing someone else's characters for the purpose of storytelling, but it also teaches the skills of writing that transcends the fandom community. With fanfiction as a jumping off point, there is no limit to where the author may go.
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Kell, T. (2009). Using Fan Fiction to Teach Critical Reading and Writing Skills. Teacher Librarian, 37(1), 32.
Mackey, M., & McClay, J. (2008). Pirates and Poachers: Fan Fiction and the Conventions of Reading and Writing. English In Education, 42(2), 131-147.
Thomas, A. (2006). Fan Fiction Online: Engagement, Critical Response and Affective Play Through Writing. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 29(3), 226-239.