One of our club members began e-mailing us episodes of an Avengers fan fic this past week, much to everyone's delight. It got me thinking about the benefits and uses of writing in someone else's imaginary universe.
When you write fan fiction, the world and the characters are already there. No need to spend a lot of time developing back-story, building scenery, hammering out a magic system or inventing new technology, anything like that. You can focus on other aspects of the writing process, like pacing, dialog, and character interactions. Get right to the high-level stuff.
And fan fiction is fun! It is fun to write, and your friends will probably have fun reading it since they know and love the characters you're working with.
You may have so much fun writing fan fiction that you never get around to doing your own stuff.
Don't do that.
You can't publish fan fiction. It's illegal, unless you get hired by the owners of the intellectual property to write it. Some people make good money writing novelizations of popular movies, but they've been asked to do it, or else they asked permission to do it by submitting a book proposal and having it approved. If you really want to know more about the process, I know some authors you can talk to.
For most people, writing fan fiction as a career is not an option. I wouldn't even post fan fiction on the internet as a hobby. Some intellectual property owners are cool with it, but others are not. And besides, you don't want to be known as a writer of fan fiction.
You want people to write fan fiction about the characters and worlds YOU create.
Writing fan fiction is GREAT practice. In fact, most artists begin by copying other artists that they admire. The goal is to keep writing and reading and writing and reading until you develop your own style, something unique, something that others will admire and want to emulate.
Today, the fan. Tomorrow, the challenger.