How fanfic makes kids into better writers (and copyright victims)

Here's an amazing Technology Review piece about how kids are writing Harry Potter fanfic and editing one-another's stories in order to become great and prolific writers. The author, Henry Jenkins, characterizes this as an "unconventional" way of teaching creative writing, but I think that fanfic is more conventional than he credits (the first story I wrote was set in the Star Wars universe; I was six — and the first long-form work I wrote was a Conan pastiche, at 12). The biggest difference between the kids' fanfic of yore and that of today is that back in the old days, kids had no way to readily collaborate with one another on their creations — nor to expose themselves to copyright infringement liability from overzealous rightsholders who indiscriminately shut down kids' sites with threatening letters.

FictionAlley, the largest Harry Potter archive, hosts more than 30,000 stories and book chapters, including hundreds of completed or partially completed novels. Its (unpaid) staff of more than 200 people includes 40 mentors who welcome each new participant individually. At the Sugar Quill, another popular site, every posted story undergoes a peer-review process it calls "beta-reading." New writers often go through multiple drafts before their stories are ready for posting. "The beta-reader service has really helped me to get the adverbs out of my writing and get my prepositions in the right place and improve my sentence structure and refine the overall quality of my writing," explains the girl who writes under the pen name Sweeney Agonistes?a college freshman with years of publishing behind her.

Like many of the other young writers, Agonistes says that Rowling's books provide her with a helpful creative scaffolding: "It's easier to develop a good sense of plot and characterization and other literary techniques if your reader already knows something of the world where the story takes place," she says. By poaching off Rowling, the writers are able to start with a well-established world and a set of familiar characters and thus are able to focus on other aspects of their craft. Often, unresolved issues in the books stimulate them to think through their own plots or to develop new insights into the characters.


(via /.)