Fan Fiction can get a bad rap but that's generally because people who've never read fanfic have only heard the bad stuff which creates a lot of negative preconceived notions about it. When in reality, the content and community that has been created around fanfic is one of the most genuine things I've ever encountered on the internet that I think deserves more appreciation and recognition. If you're like me and have always been curious about fanfic but were never really sure where to start, keep reading.
Two of my co-workers, Claire and Caroline, are avid fanfic readers and I had the chance to sit down with them and pick their brains about the wonderous and wild world of fanfic. They have gone above and beyond with sharing their thoughts and resources and even created a helpful guide for fanfic key terms (that will be bolded throughout) and bios with each of their fanfic reading habits. So if you thought you'd missed your chance to be a part of this online community, let me assure you, it is never too late to start reading fanfic. I hope you have as much fun reading this as we did making it. - Nicole
Q&A with Booksellers Claire & Caroline:
How would you describe/define what fanfic is?
Claire: To me, fanfic is where really passionate fans don’t have to leave the stories they love so much. Book hangovers are REAL. And when I’m not ready to let some characters go just yet, fanfic is there to let me stay in that world a little longer.
Caroline: In a really basic sense, I’d define fanfiction as when a fan takes any kind of pre-existing source material and does something new with it, whether that’s continuing a canon storyline, “fixing” something in the original plot, dropping the characters into a new setting/story, or something else entirely.
How did you start reading fanfic?
Claire: As a young middle schooler caught up in my own imagination and passionate love of stories, I followed my favorite fictional ships all the way to YouTube and found fan-compilation videos. This is basically when a fan just as passionate as myself pieces together clips of a ship from a show or a movie and sets it to some dramatic/angsty music. I LOVED those videos. I swear I watched them so many times and even saved some onto favorites tabs on our family’s computer. But then one day, I found a fan video where in the description it said it was a preview of the latest chapter the creator had posted on FanFiction.net and from there, I was done for.
Caroline: I honestly can’t remember how I first stumbled upon fanfiction sometime in middle school, but I do know that I have always been susceptible to getting sucked into fandoms. The first time I really dove in and stuck around a fandom was in early high school after my best friend sent me a fic to read, and I can confidently say that fanfic and the communities I found there have helped me through some really difficult periods since then.
What’s your favorite thing about fanfic?
Claire: My favorite thing about fanfic is truly the comfort of it all. In the moments of my life where I have felt paralyzingly lonely, or overwhelmed by things going on in my life, fanfic has been something I can turn to. I may be going through a reading slump (where the thought of picking up a new book feels like a chore), but I can always read a new fanfic. And if even reading a new fanfic feels like too much, I have so many favorites bookmarked on my computer that I can just read again. I love seeing different interpretations of characters I love and I love seeing their stories live on. I think it goes back to what Caroline and I have been talking about: fanfic really is a passion project. And you can sense that when you’re reading these fics. There is literally no other reason for these writers to spend all of their free time writing a story for free other than the fact that they absolutely love it. And I don’t know, something about being a part of that energy, even in a small spectator kind of way, is really special. And again, really comforting.
Caroline: Is “everything” an acceptable answer? I’m a total sap about fanfic. I think it’s wild and amazing that people write and share fics just because they want to. Fanfic is also a constant I can always count on. At some point, the characters you read about over and over start to feel like familiar friends. I really struggled with my mental health in my late teens, during which I didn’t have the attention span or desire to read very many books, but I did read hundreds of fics and make lots of fandom friends who became a vital part of my support system. On top of that, fanfic was the only place I could find the kind of queer relationships I wanted or needed to read about when I was younger for so long since fandom is such a different landscape from publishing.
I think one of the (many) other reasons fanfic is so special is because it’s one of the only forms of entertainment that doesn’t regularly get commodified in some way, the exception being certain titles that started as fanfic and have been traditionally published like E.L. James’s Fifty Shades series. Fan creators write and post fanfic because they’re passionate about these stories, and a lot of writers are very serious about their craft, posting regular updates and going through full editing processes—all without any financial incentive—and that genuineness shines through as you’re reading.
How do you see fanfiction as a legitimate contribution to the literary community?
Claire: It’s honestly wild to me that people don’t see fic as “real” writing or as any sort of contribution to the literary community at large. The way I see it, is it not the biggest compliment as a creator that readers/viewers want to live in the world you’ve created for a little longer? Like, fandoms are the reason that series and franchises survive. If you think about this from any angle, encouraging fanfic is to everyone’s benefit. Obviously from a fan viewpoint, fic is comforting and community building and just pure fun. And then if we even want to look at this from a monetary standpoint, do you want to continue making money? Let people continue talking about the thing you want to make money off of. No one shows up like a fan.
And on a writing standpoint, sure, not everything is beautifully written--that’s also the case for printed books! Fic is so lovely because people are given the space to practice writing, to practice critiquing, to practice plotting. Users will give feedback on what’s working/vs not, they will offer suggestions for future chapters, but also, they will offer praise and encouragement to new writers. It’s really beautiful to watch that collaboration in real time.
Caroline: Is reading fanfiction not reading? And is writing fanfiction not writing? As far as I’m concerned, reading and writing are still the same activities, regardless of what the content is. Generally, a person who writes regularly is going to get better as time passes, and that’s not even considering the built-in community of feedback and encouragement or active writer/beta-reader relationships! I don’t think we should be shaming anyone for reading or writing, especially if that’s someone’s spark to reading and writing more.
Claire & Caroline's 3 Reasons to Read Fanfic:
1. Diverse stories
While traditionally published YA has shifted drastically in the last five years to produce more inclusive and diverse stories, the rest of publishing has not really caught up. For a long time, fanfic was the only place people could find diverse stories because it’s such a different space for storytelling, considering its collaborative nature and lack of gatekeeping. And even with YA catching up slowly but surely, fanfic remains a beacon of diverse and inclusive storytelling.
2. Not for profit
Fanfic is really one of the few creative mediums where people are creating and producing at a massive scale, but they’re not doing it for any type of profit. People are literally creating because they love to create. It’s nice to be surrounded by passionate people who are doing what they love for no other reason than they just love to do it.
3. Warm Hug
With the world being as chaotic and uncertain as it is these days, reading fanfic can be like covering yourself in a warm blanket on a dreary day. In the low moments, where doing anything new can feel exhausting, fanfic--and returning to a cast of characters and world you adore--is always there to gently welcome you home.
FAQs About How to Start Reading Fanfic:
-What's the main website?
Claire: While I initially used FanFiction.net to read fanfic, these days, I read fanfic on my phone but I use the AO3 website (Archive of Our Own). There’s no particular reason that I switched platforms other than at the time that I was looking for stories about a particular fandom, there were more on AO3 than FanFiction.net. Here’s an interesting article about the pros and cons of each.
Caroline: My original introductions to fanfic were through LiveJournal.com and FanFiction.net, but I started using ArchiveOfOurOwn.org around 2012 and never looked back. I loved the layout of the website and it seemed like all the fic writers I kept up with had transitioned to AO3. You can still catch me with way too many bookmarked fics to read on my phone at any given time.
-How do I search for stories? By character/source material?
Claire: AO3 can be overwhelming at first. The tags are kind of a lot to look at initially. But here's a step-by-step guide for getting started, which we would suggest trying on a laptop first (before jumping to a browser on your phone) so that you get a better scope of the website and the features it has.
1. Go to the home page
2. There is a box that says “Find Your Favorites” with broader categories like “Books” or “TV”. Just click on whatever you’re interested in exploring.
>For example, if you’re interested in Avatar the Last Airbender, click “Cartoons & Comics & Graphic Novels” then click the “A” button and scroll down to “Avatar the Last Airbender” which will have a number next to it in parentheses which indicates the number of stories that have been written about this particular fandom.
3. Once you’re on the fandom page, you can either just scroll through the list of stories--which is sorted by what’s been most recently updated--or you can go over to the box on the right of your screen that says “Sort and Filter.”
>You can sort by rating, relationships, specific tags, really whatever you want! Then when you figure out what you like you can just keep adjusting tags to narrow things down.
4. Now just start scrolling to see what sparks your interest!
Honestly, I read most fic on my phone, but getting a feel for the website is probably easier on a laptop initially. I’ve also found stories just by googling “[insert ship here] fanfiction” and seeing what pops up.
Caroline: I usually get fic recs from trusted sources at this point! But if I’m venturing out on my own, I start at my preferred ship and filter the results by some combination of completed works and then by any tropes or AUs I’m looking to read. I also love looking at fic rec tags or posts on Tumblr if I’m feeling adventurous.
Other Fannish Resources
Caroline: AO3 is run by the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), which is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing access to and maintaining the history of fanworks. The OTW publishes the Transformative Works and Cultures, a journal promoting the academic analysis of fan works and culture, twice a year. The OTW also maintains Fanlore, a Wikipedia-style website that offers all kinds of definitions and information about fandom, fan works, and fan culture. The coolest thing about all of these resources is that they’re all run by and for fans, which just further showcases that fans are involved in a passionate community that generally exists outside of a capitalistic structure.
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Edited by Nicole R.