Maybe some people look down on fanfiction, both as being unprofessional and unoriginal. It is a backdrop that allows access for writers to create without having to make a fully fleshed out world to play in which means that it’s a platform which allows a lot of bad writing to be created. This causes a lot of friction because what is and is not good writing is very much a subjective thing. Sometimes certain fandoms can adopt trends and toxic behaviors towards these creators. It can create environments, debates and absolute hate that trends through fandoms. People can show a lot of their preferences that go strictly against what an author intended or warp the stories they based on to fit certain themes and trends that are not in line with what is considered polite or realistic character or story depiction.
This doesn’t stop me personally being an avid fan though.
The truth is lots of people who create stories based on worlds they themselves didn’t create are in fact incredible creative times for what they add and expand on through their own initiative. The what ifs, the plot hole fillers, the interesting crossovers and differing character interpretations have always been fascinating to me and the best part is, I was never without reading material.
Some people who write say the best way to get better is to read, though I suppose most people don’t suggest you read fanfiction because it’s not always well regulated or edited properly. I would say very simply that in that case it doesn’t really matter.
I’ve read lots of formal novels like the Discworld Series, Dresden Files, Scott Westerfield as well as lots of short stories, but most of those things I started or had better access too when I was in middle or in high school (though the Discworld series I started later as an adult). Especially since the sheer variety caused by the accessibility is massive.
While libraries are always an option, in a busy adult life with no money because you only have a minimum wage job nothing is more comfortable than reading material you can access with just an internet connection. No subscription needed, no payments given, just a link to a website and content, free, continuous content about this story is there. It doesn’t even have to be a story I personally love. There are LOTS of fandoms where I adore the fan generated content much more than the actual stories they spring from, partially because while the actual stories are not to my taste the worlds created by them are so fascinating especially when put through the scopes of other writers.
People who look down on fanfiction probably haven’t gone through and sampled some of the really good ones. There are a LOT of fantastic concepts that are explored about worlds through fanfictions, I could list dozens of them but for now I’ll just use one example. In this case Harry Potter and the Natural 20.
This fanfiction is a crossover fanfiction between Harry Potter and Dungeons and Dragons. More specifically it isn’t Harry Potter characters in a dungeons and dragons world, but what if specifically a Dungeon and Dragons wizard gets pulled to go to Hogwarts. It’s hilarious because it doesn’t try to force either magic system to comply with one another, instead it shows both magic systems in play as the character from the DnD world only uses magic from that world in Hogwarts which a completely different system. It helps to examine the failings of both settings as well, but in such a way that is very charming since the characters are awkward and sincere.
It isn’t in fact an anomaly either. There are thousands of fan written stories which are excellent explorations of character, the interactions of other stories whether they fit together well in concept or not, and the different roads that could be taken outside of canon. To fans of a particular story it can be a way to revisit a world already set to an end by the author. To those who aren’t, it can be a way to let them enjoy a story in a different tone when the original story couldn’t match it. Lots of fan stories have more depth and explanation about the world than the original story ever actually explains and it’s always interesting to read because you’re essentially revisiting a fandom through new eyes, that is the eyes the new authors take.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should just read any fanfiction. I usually find my fiction through friend recommendations, or tvtropes.org which for every major fandom will have a separate page called Fan Fic Recommendations. These pages are often very well sorted as well if you’re looking for very specific content.
So to sum up, you should read fanfiction because there are great writers out there who express their works in pre built worlds. They breath new life into these worlds and give fresh perspectives that shouldn’t be ignored just because it’s not wholly original content. Plus it’s free, it has to be because of copyright laws, which given some of the sheer amount of work and quality put into several fics is absolutely amazing. Also of course, be sure to support fanfiction creators with reviews and praise if you enjoy their content, because as I’ve mentioned, validation for work they put in to produce content you consume for no cost is a good way for them to keep going.