So what has fanfic taught me? Well, I read HP fanfic -- and nothing else. But when I was a kid, I always made up my own fanfic stories (usually with myself inserted, btw) to put myself to sleep at night. I'd choose my current favorite book and contemplate what came next or how the story would continue to play out. I never wrote any of them down.
In college, I got hooked on the Star Trek books -- Next Generation, that is. There are a number of them which are pretty well written, and I'd read those -- especially during finals' week. I wasn't studying them, wasn't reading while contemplating why I liked them -- I just enjoyed them.
Right around the time HP7 came out, I discovered HP fanfic through sarahtales's LJ. I was fascinated, as I'd been quite ignorant of the fanfic community before then. It never occurred to me that people would sit down and write out stories about characters (other than Star Trek) from books. Since then, I've read a great variety. Some of it's meh, but some of it is very well done.
As a writer, what has it done for me? Simply this: when you know the characters (inside and out), and when the world is cemented in your mind, the only thing to focus on are the emotions, the relationships, the various reactions to situations. For someone like me (a plotter more than a character writer), I've been able to read and watch my own reactions. When I'm feeling that wonderful tightening in the chest, when I'm excited or sad or wistful -- simply because of what the characters are experiencing -- those are the stories I read over and over, trying to break it down and see how the writer pulled out that reaction from me.
I still have to work hard to accomplish something similar in my own writing, but I can see an improvement. It's not at all easy for me to be vulnerable as I write, to allow those innermost feelings of my characters to shine through -- let alone to do it in such a way which actually draws in the reader. Fanfic has made a difference, though -- I've seen how my characters are letting down their walls a bit, especially in the last two books, when I've been spending more time contemplating how these various fanfic writers do it.
Of course, as a reader, I simply enjoy the stories and the emotions I get to experience while reading them. I also learned, through sarahtales's stories, that I loved her writing, specifically. I managed to get an ARC of her first book, The Demon's Lexicon, and I loved it. This spring, her second comes out, and I'll probably pre-order it after Christmas. Cassandra Clare is another who built a huge fan base through fanfic, though I've not read any of her fanfic stuff (she took it all down -- so did Sarah, btw).
Will I ever try fanfic of my own? Probably not...it's enough work just writing the books for worlds and characters I come up with -- but I'll definitely enjoy reading more and studying more. And in my mind, where I can just let the thoughts float free without concerns about plot or character consistency, there I can write fanfic about anything and anyone ;)
What about you? Have you read or written fanfic?