For writers, fanfiction also falls into the same dichotomy. For some writers, it is something to be avoided or at least something that they would never do. Fearing the scorn of fellow writers, many would-be fanfiction writers hide in the shadows of Fanfiction.net and never reveal themselves to their more serious literature compatriots. Other writers wont do it all, loathing the idea of working in another universe. And then you get the writers who specialize in fanfiction and roam from failing miserably to doing outstanding works. Unfortunately, the horrendous fanfiction vastly outweighs the wonderful ones and so the treatment of fanfiction continues to be chilly at best.
But fanfiction, like any genre of literature or art, has its benefits if treated well. It is the, if treated well where most authors fall by the wayside and end up with something that most readers will trash outright and many writers will deride. If you are serious about writing the kind of fanfiction which readers will enjoy and the original creators of the work would like (if you were to ever meet him or her), then here are steps you should keep in mind.
Fanfiction is not a place where you can just break the rules of the universe willy-nilly. If the original creator of the universe has set down that women never have magic, but they have other things to make them even with the men, for the love of god, dont create the female character who will be able to cast magic and BREAK THE CHAINS OF TYRANNY FOR ALL TIME!!11!!1. There is a reason why those rules are there and you should honor them.
Fanfiction is not a place for you to play God and destroy characters or bring them back to life. If a character died in a universe, leave them that way. If a character didnt die in a universe, leave them that way.
But most of all, and this ties in all the rest of the rules of Fanfiction: Fanfiction is NOT a place for you to lay your fantasies about characters onto the existing canon for all the world to see. Want to daydream about Naruto being gay? Fine, daydream, but dont show us. The laying of your personal fantasies on existing canon characters is what spawns Mary Sues, weird romances, characters acting out of character, and the general destruction of the canon. And therein, lies the contempt because for every one fanfiction reader who loves gay Naruto, there are three or more screaming bloody murder about it. And you dont want other fans to hate your homage to your favorite author, do you?
Given that so many fanfiction writers wantonly break these rules and create so much disdain for the genre, you are likely wondering why any serious writer should bother ever doing fanfiction. Well, it may surprise you to know first off, that published authors have dabbled in fanfiction. Mercedes Lackey, author of the Valdemar series, the Elemental Masters and a zillion fantasy books besides did; Gregory Keys wrote some amazing Babylon 5 fanfiction (Based on the scripts the original creator did) and there are dozens more besides. So whats the deal? What are the benefits of fanfiction?
Assuming that you are going to do fanfiction correctly-stick with the universe rules, behave yourself with the characters, and leave your personal fantasies at the door- fanfiction has some amazing benefits, especially for new writers, but also for old hats. Just like starting out with drawing by tracing and then using a ton of reference, fanfiction is a foundation stone towards building up your house of amazing literature. But if you want it to be truly effective, you have to put the effort into it or you may not end up learning much at all. Really, if you're going to take the characters someone else has created too far out of context, you might as well skip the middleman and write your own universe.
The benefits of fanfiction are:
Fanfiction teaches consistency. If you are going to honor your favorite characters, you have to make them right. This is excruciating. Unlike your own fiction where you have to worry about the broad strokes-plot, setting, characters, rules-fanfiction forces you to focus on the tiny details and make them right while still putting your spin on it. This means you have to be consistent. And if you cant be consistent with characters who are already done up for you, how the heck can you expect to be consistent with your own characters?
Fanfiction teaches you detail work. As explained above, rather than focusing on the big picture, youll be focusing on a few dots. This means that you have a wonderful opportunity to really immerse yourself in your favorite characters and the mind of your favorite author. Then when you move onto your own work, you will be hyper aware of the little details of your characters and your universe and your work will be richer for it.
Fanfiction teaches you respect. Theres nothing like spending eight hours sweating over making a character just right to respect the work that went into making that character so wonderful in the first place! It will also teach you to respect other peoples time and effort while you use their universe to tell your story.
Most of all, just like drawing using reference and getting a good piece of work, Fanfiction will give you a boost in confidence before you set yourself adrift in the world of your own fiction. If 90% of people are genuinely in love with your spin on the canon and tell you that you are being consistent, then you know you are doing well in your writing. If you can get the original creators smile of approval, even better-though obviously this isnt always possible.
If you take absolutely NOTHING ELSE away from this, ask yourself this when you are writing your own fanfiction:
Would the original creator like it? Would the original creator say it could be canon?
If you can answer Yes to both of those questions, then youve probably done well.