A Beginner’s Guide to Fanfiction

Welcome, my friends, to the world of fanfiction. Like Alice, we are about to venture down the rabbit hole, except instead of meeting jabberwockies and caterpillars we’re going to be talking about the likes of ships, slash and smut.

The bulk of my adolescence was spent reading fanfiction. While normal teenagers experimented with alcohol and sex, I read about fictional characters doing those things instead. Fanfiction was the socially awkward teen’s risk-free alternative to actual human interaction and to this day it’s one of my guilty pleasures.

If you’ve never read fanfiction before and don’t know where to begin, this blog will help you to understand the basics. In case there is any terminology you aren’t familiar with, I have included a handy glossary of fanfiction jargon for you to refer to at the bottom of this post.

What is Fanfiction?

A fanfiction, or ‘fanfic’, is a written story that is based on an existing piece of fiction. The story features the same characters and established plot as the original work, but may also include entirely new characters and storylines.

Fanfiction encompasses a large variety of fiction, from book series and TV shows to films and comic books, and spans many genres. Familiar with Rule 34 of the internet? Well, it also applies to fanfiction. Some fans even write fanfiction about real people, like their favourite bands and celebrities (Directioners, I’m looking at you).

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me in person that my go-to fanfiction is Harry Potter. With more than one million stories combined on the two largest fanfiction websites, Harry Potter is easily the most popular fanfic fandom. Other fandoms with substantial cult followings include Doctor Who, Twilight and Supernatural.

Most popular categories on Fanfiction.net

What’s so great about it?

Explore non-canon relationships

So you read the Harry Potter series and always felt that Harry and Hermione had more chemistry than Ron and Hermione. Or maybe you prefer the idea of a love-hate relationship developing between Draco and Hermione or even Draco and Harry. Regardless of who you felt should be boning who, there’s a fanfiction author somewhere on the internet who agrees with you. Just because your OTP never became canon, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on reading about their relationship.

Override bad plot decisions

For Harry Potter fans, those bad plot decisions tend to involve the death of a much-loved character. Hedwig, Dobby, Lupin, Tonks, Fred, Snape… J K Rowling essentially went on a cull during Deathly Hallows. Fanfiction allows you to continue living in denial and still get your Harry Potter fix, as you can choose to only read stories where that character survives.

If you’re looking for fanfiction about a TV show or comic book, this is also a big benefit. How many long-running shows have a season or several that most fans agree just isn’t up to scratch with the rest of the show? You will find plenty of fanfics that simply skip over a subpar season and continue the story from the last episode of the season before.

More of your favourite side characters

A great piece of fiction wouldn’t be the same without a strong cast of side characters. Often it’s the supporting characters who end up being our favourites, yet frustratingly they rarely get the airtime they deserve. Well, fanfiction is the solution you didn’t know you were looking for. Let’s say your favourite character is Neville Longbottom – after that sword swinging action in the final film, who could blame you? There’s just something about watching a hot guy behead a snake to save the wizarding world from eternal doom that I can’t quite put my finger on. In the HP series, Neville may have had to wait 7 books and 8 films to get his moment of glory but fanfiction authors have been writing epic stories with Neville as the protagonist for years.

Erotica galore

Did you know that 50 Shades of Grey was originally published online as a Twilight fanfiction? That’s right, fanfiction can get freaky. Personally I never read 50 shades – call me vanilla if you will, but abysmal writing and poor character development were never going to get me in the mood. Then there’s that infamous scene involving a tampon… I’ll pass. Nevertheless, if it’s erotica you’re looking for, fanfiction is a goldmine. There’s thousands of stories to browse and they are all available to read online for free.

However, tread with caution – when it comes to fanfiction, anything goes. I had a sleepover with my equally nerdy best friends at 12 years old where we decided to search for the most disturbing HP fanfiction we could find and we were not disappointed. Stories of Lucius Malfoy impregnating Harry and Filch getting it on with the Giant Squid (who would really want to deal with that many tentacles at once?) continue to haunt me more than a decade later. Needless to say, Fanfiction authors aren’t exactly fussed when it comes to the working logistics of unconventional romantic liaisons.

OK, you’ve convinced me. Where can I read good Fanfiction?

The two largest online sources of fanfiction are Fanfiction.net (FF.net) and Archive of Our Own (AO3), so start there.

The biggest downside to fanfiction is that a lot of it is badly written, full of cliches and containing countless plot holes (and I’m not just talking about the stories I wrote as a teenager). I have found the quickest and easiest way to find fanfiction that is actually worth reading is to sort by reviews and favourites (FF.net) or kudos and bookmarks (AO3). It’s not very often you’ll find me advising people to follow the masses, but a substantial number of reviews is usually a good indicator of a readable story.

I would also advise you to stick to reading fanfics that have been marked as ‘complete’; there’s nothing worse than discovering a great story, only to find out on the 15th chapter that it was abandoned back in 2012 because the author randomly decided to get a life offline (frankly, rude).

I don’t want to read about Harry Potter getting pregnant with Lucius Malfoy’s baby, but somehow the thought of it hasn’t put me off fanfiction entirely. Where can I find stories that won’t leave me feeling violated?

Have no fear, fanfiction websites have rating systems to help you find exactly the type of story you’re looking for. Although you can never be entirely safe from disturbing story lines where fanfiction is concerned, you’re definitely a lot less likely to stumble upon them if you stick to fics that are deemed suitable for general or teen audiences.

Fanfiction.net Archive of our own
K (Kids and up)General
T (Teen and up)Teen and Up Audiences
M (Mature)Mature
Fanfiction ratings

Fanfiction jargon 101

Ship – an abbreviation for relationship.

Crossover – two or more fandoms combined in one story. Think Luke Skywalker duelling Harry Potter.

OTP – an acronym for the term ‘one true pairing’. OTP describes your favourite romantic relationship/s in a particular fandom.

Headcanon – facts or backstory that have been widely established as true within a fandom, even if they aren’t technically canon.

OC – an original character created by the author. Beware, unless well-written, many OCs become mary-sues or gary-stus.

Canon – the actual film, TV show or book the story is about. If a fanfiction is canon, you can trust that everything in the story will match up to the original work.

OOC – refers to a character from the original work that acts differently in the fanfiction.

Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu – Perfect characters that can do no wrong and are therefore boring as hell to read about. You want to avoid fanfiction that includes these characters, unless it is a parody.

Slash – All of the gay romance. Lupin/Sirius is a fan favourite in the HP fandom.

Slow-burn – The opposite of smut. A fanfiction where a romance between the characters takes a while to develop.

Smut – The female nerd’s alternative to porn. Very little storyline, but lots of wand action (I couldn’t resist) to make up for it.

Have you read fanfiction before? Would you consider reading it now or have I put you off for life? Let me know in the comments.

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