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Home > Harry Potter News

Fanfiction helps aspiring young writers

Tasha Stoltz, Contributor, Bogor
Originally published in the Jakarta Post

Let's face it: What space is there in the Indonesian community for a preteen girl who aspires to be a writer, not of fairy tales or love stories, but of something closer to the heart? None. Or at least, very little.

Writing is not, and has never been, one of the main subjects taught in school. At least, not fiction writing. Maybe once or twice every semester, a student is told to write a short story, but not every day.

So where does this preteen girl who aspires to be a writer go to develop her writing, meet fellow writers and just let out everything she wants to in the form of prose?

When I was that preteen girl, the first place I went was the Internet. It was there that I first found fanfiction.

Being both an avid reader and a "Potteraholic", I quickly embraced the world of Harry Potter fanfiction I discovered, immediately writing some myself. In the beginning, my writing was simple. I was 10 years old. But the plots and characters grew with me.

Fanfiction, fan fiction: fiction written by fans, basically.

After reading a book or comic, watching a movie or TV show, or playing a game, I'd think immediately, something could have been different; or what happened next? Theories that elaborate on an alternative ending just burst in my head, practically forcing me to write something.

This is what happened in the minds of disappointed Trekkies in the late 1960s, when the Star Trek TV show was canceled.

This is what happens in the heads of all obsessive Potter fans as they wait impatiently for the next book or movie to come out. This is what happens with Tolkien extremists, with Harvest Moon gamers, loyal Beverly Hills 90210 or Buffy viewers.

This is what's happening in the minds of over 12,000 people of all ages in every corner of the world who enjoy writing down their own versions of the "truth".

To the average onlooker, fanfiction may not be very imaginative or creative; how can taking somebody else's characters, setting and events then writing a story based on them be creative?

In truth, it is quite the opposite. It takes a lot of imagination for a writer to get into a character created by someone else. Only the best "fanficcers" are able to tap into the same feeling as the characters portrayed by the original author. Also, a fanficcer must know the original work as if it were his own to create atmosphere, additional characters and alternative setting in the same voice as the original author.

It is not about creating original characters, original settings or original events, but is instead about writing on a character that has already been created, and making them come to life.

And, of course, it takes a lot of imagination and wit to look beyond what is in the books or on the screen.

In my English class at school, I am taught to write essays and responses and haiku; they stopped asking for short stories long ago. But I didn't stop writing them.

To this day, I am still involved in the world of fanfiction. Therefore, when I was given the task of writing a cause-and-effect essay about whatever topic I wanted, I chose fanfiction. I was greatly surprised that my friends didn't know about it, and even more so when my teacher asked me what fanfiction was.

My classmates and my teachers all know I write fanfiction; it never occurred to me that they did not know what fanfiction was.

I came to realize, however, that few of the people around me use the Internet as much as I do, and aspire to write professionally like I do.

My teachers tell me that my writing has improved, and I thought, whose wouldn't? That was until I compared my classmates' writing this year to theirs some years ago. They were the same; not much difference at all. It's not that they don't write, because they write essays and other stuff for school like me.

But I realized, for teenagers my age, fanfiction is such a great outlet if you want to write, because along with the writing, there are responses and reviews.

Not only is fanfiction a media for my writing, it is a community through which praise and critiques are sent and received. Through these thorough responses, a fanficcer can develop their own styles.

And if one should think that anyone can write bad fanfiction and get away with it, think again.

Countless times, my own stories, or stories that I have read and know are much better than mine, have gotten rejected by a fanfiction website, such as, a -- shall we say -- "high-class" HP fanfiction site.

There is a person in fanfiction communities called a beta, who is basically an editor. When I started writing, I had one. She edited my stories for grammatical errors, and I also ran my ideas by her. It's been two years since then; I'm a beta myself, now. That in itself shows how my writing has developed.

To tell the truth, I did not learn to punctuate properly, to develop my style, grammar, characterization and voice in school. Who is taught all that in school? I learned them from writing fanfiction.

I also learned to love writing through fanfiction; and because of fanfiction, I look forward to writing school essays and reports, whereas previously I loathed them.

And in this community of non-responsive newspaper publishers, a community with no respect for aspiring teenage writers, one in which writing is a chore, fanfiction is a godsend.

The contributor is a student at Sekolah Bogor Raya who aspires to become a writer, and was inspired to compose this article by Setiono Sugiharto's "Developing and teaching writing skills", which appeared in the July 15 issue of The Jakarta Post.

Published September 10, 2006

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