Over the years, I’ve read fanfic and seen discussion of it. I’ll even admit to writing some.
For those who don’t know, fan fiction (fanfic) is when a fan of a story writes another story set in the same universe. For example, if a person likes Star Wars, they might write a fanfic about Luke hunting Womp rats.
Some say fanfic is lazy writing, but I think it depends on the sort of writing. Many published authors started out writing fanfic. Kenan started out as Star Wars fanfic and the Lunar Chronicles started out as Sailor Moon fanfic.
There is also some media that is technically fanfic, but is legitimate, such as Star Wars books and cases where a new author finishes a series when the original author is no longer able to continue it. (When Robert Jordan passed away, Brandon Sanderson had to finish The Wheel of Time series.)
Fanfic is a good way for new, inexperienced writers to get into writing. After all, someone who just started writing is going to need a lot of practice to get to the point where they’re able to write something worth publishing, so there’s no reason they can’t start with fanfic.
But is it lazy to write in someone else’s world? I think this depends on the point of view. If it’s lazy to write in an already created universe, it would also be lazy to write fiction set in any time period in the real world.
Don’t get me wrong, most fanfic is awful, but it’s not because writing fanfic is lazy. It’s because lots of people who don’t know how to write are writing it, and good fanfic takes just as much skill as good writing in any genre.
Most of these lazy writers do things that a good writer would avoid. Their fanfic is little more than wish fulfillment, often jerking characters in directions those characters wouldn’t go, for example, pairing up characters who are not a couple in the story and would never be a couple. Another thing these bad fanfic writers do is write themselves into the story by making a character that is basically themselves but better, so this character can run around with the main characters of the story world. (This is where the term “Mary Sue” came from.)
If these people were writing something original, it would be just as bad as the fanfic, but readers seem more likely to read bad fanfic than bad original stories.
Good fanfic involves using someone else’s characters and depicting them accurately. This can be very difficult to get right. The writer can’t just design characters that they want to. They have to keep each character consistent with the rest of the media featuring that character. They also have to keep track of how the rules of the world work, and if they’re writing something based off a book, they should try to mirror the author’s style. This takes talent, and sometimes, it takes talent that those who write original fiction haven’t developed.
When it comes down to it, fanfic is a form of art, but like any form of art, there is a lot of it that’s just not good, which gives the rare good stuff a bad name. It can also be a good exercise for writers and help promote the authors they love.