Fanfiction can be a wonderful way to keep enjoying a story long after the book, film, or TV series it’s based on has come to an end. Trying your hand at writing fanfiction is also, unquestionably, one of the best ways to flex your own creative muscles. How do you get started, though, and what do you do once you have written your very own fanfic?
Fanfiction — also called fanfic, fic, or simply FF — has exploded on the internet in recent years. This particular genre has, however, existed for a very long time, and fanfiction can be defined very simply as fiction that was inspired by an existing work of fiction, written by someone else in an unauthorized capacity. Fanfiction is famous for being written by amateur or novice writers, though there are exceptions.
Examples of types of fiction that often inspire fans and artists to craft their own spin-off works include:
- Novels and book series.
- Films and film franchises.
- TV shows.
- Comic book series.
- Video games.
Some fanfiction is based on non-fictional events, as well. Within this sub-genre, writers may craft stories around historical events — typically involving known historical figures — or celebrities.
What sets fanfiction apart from other types of fiction? Fanfiction takes tangible and immediately apparent inspiration from existing works, a journey that is almost always undertaken by people who greatly admire a work of fiction and who have been so stirred by it that their minds have sprouted unique story lines based on the original work.
Elements from the original work or franchise that are often found in fanfiction include:
- Characters — in which case side characters may be given the chance to shine, as the fanfic author tells the story from their point of view.
- The setting. The author of the original work has already done the world building, allowing the fanfic author to write within an established framework. This is one of the reasons why fanfiction is such a great way for budding writers to hone their skills.
The plot, however, is usually entirely novel. Fanfiction may continue where the base work left off, exploring what might have happened next, or it may be set in an “alternate universe”, allowing the fanfiction author to take a plot in a completely new direction.
Types of Fanfiction
Fanfiction is considered to be an entire genre. Within the genre of fanfiction, however, a multitude of sub-genres have developed. Among the more established sub-genres popular in fanfiction are:
- Alternate universe fanfiction. This sub-genre includes a few sub-genres of its own! Did you absolutely love a book, but do you wish a certain plot twist had never happened, and do you wonder what might have been if the author had taken a different path? You can find out by writing fanfiction. Do you wonder how the cast of your favorite vampire show would have coped in a world without magical creatures? You can make your ideas come to life through fanfiction!
- Original character fanfiction. This sub-genre allows writers to add their own characters into an established universe.
- Crossover fanfiction, wherein the fanfic writer merges two different universes — think Spider-Man meets Stranger Things!
- Canon fanfiction, in which fanfic authors try to carry on the original vision of the author, without deviating from any established “rules”.
- This is the most popular type of fanfiction on the internet today, and it centers around romantic relationships characters have — most often, relationships that never even came close to happening in the work that inspired the fanfic, based on the choices fans would have made. This type of fanfiction can sometimes get quite graphic, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be!
Do you find yourself inspired by something you’ve watched or read? Do you have a story idea for a fanfiction that doesn’t fall into one of these popular categories? You don’t have to constrict yourself to existing sub-genres, and can write whatever you feel like!
Why to Write Fanfiction?
People write fanfiction for three primary reasons. Some simply love the universe — they’re superfans — and engage in the fanfic community as a way to share and explore their love of the original work with other fans in large online communities. Others are “struck” by creative ideas of their own, and would like to see how the story would have played out if some aspects of the original work would have been different.
Yet others are aspiring writers who think of fanfiction as a gentle way to begin their writing careers. The fanfic community is active and supportive, and it is fairly easy to get critical creative feedback on a work of fanfiction, which can help budding authors develop their writing voices. What’s more, it is hard to create an entire world from scratch — but when you are working within a pre-established framework, it becomes easier to focus on developing plot lines.
A Step-by-Step Guide
Would you like to try your hand at penning a work of fanfiction yourself? Writing fanfiction is a low-pressure way to dip your toes into fiction writing. There are few rules, and your fanfic can be as short as a few well-crafted paragraphs, or as long as a typical novel.
Some aspiring fanfic writers already have their source of inspiration, and already know exactly where they would like to take their story, but others also decide to write fanfiction without even knowing what work they are going to use as the base.
Whoever you are, we hope this step-by-step guide to writing fanfiction can help you get started!
1. Reading Other Works of Fanfiction (Optional)
Are you completely new to the world of fanfiction? In that case, you may want to begin by reading some of the other works of fanfiction people are publishing on the internet, and exploring different “fandoms”. If you are hoping to publish your fanfic online, for others to read and comment, it is good to know that each fandom has its own atmosphere — and different sub-genres are popular within each. Consider getting to know the community, and interacting with it by leaving comments on other people’s works of fanfiction, before posting your own.
2. Choosing What Work to Base Your Fanfiction On
Many aspiring fanfiction writers don’t have to ask themselves this question at all — if you are a huge fan of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, and your main motivation in writing a fanfiction is to engage with other fans and to develop your favorite characters further, you will already know exactly what universe your fanfiction will be set in. You may, indeed, only want to learn about writing fanfiction because you have a great story idea.
If that’s not you, and you’re hoping to write fanfiction with the goal of becoming a better writer, you may not know what medium to choose as your base, yet. Pick a work you genuinely love and know a lot about, so that you can start writing as soon as possible. Consider re-reading the base work, or watching it again, and taking notes as you do so.
3. Developing Your Fanfiction
From hereon out, it is best to approach your fanfiction in the same way you would if you were creating your own world from scratch; the very best fanfiction has well-developed plot lines, and three-dimensional characters. Many authors make notes and outline their chapters before they settle down into the writing process. It helps to keep in mind that all novels should contain:
- Compelling characters, both main characters and minor characters. Since you’re writing a fanfiction, some of the characters will be shared with your base work, in which case it is important to make sure their backstories and behavior are consistent with their previous appearances. If you are introducing original characters, find a good way to incorporate them into the existing universe.
- An interesting plot. Briefly, your story should have a beginning, middle, and ending, and your arch should feature a struggle for your main characters to overcome, followed by a resolution.
- A setting — and it’s entirely up to you whether you retain the original setting or move the characters to a new setting!
- Dialogue between two or more characters.
- A narrator. Fanfiction may be written in the third person or in the first person. Either way, fanfiction authors need to decide whose point of view they follow in their work.
In writing fanfiction, you are borrowing elements from an existing work of fiction — and in some cases, relying on those elements heavily. Nonetheless, if you are writing any work of fanfiction that is longer than a few paragraphs, such as a new novel or short story, keep in mind that the same fundamental ideas that make any fiction a pleasure to read extend to fanfiction, too.
4. Writing Your Fanfiction
Are you writing a short story — perhaps showcasing a plot twist you would have enjoyed in the original work? Penning your fanfic may not take that long, and if you are feeling inspired, you may even complete the fanfic in an afternoon. Fanfic authors who would like to write original novels inspired by others authors, however, will need to develop a creative process. Writing a novel is hard work, and you may want to:
- Commit to writing a certain amount of words or pages every day.
- Use book writing software to jot your ideas down, so you don’t forget later — don’t say we didn’t warn you; it’s a very real risk.
- Share chapters with other fans as you finish them, both to gain motivation to keep writing and to get feedback on ways to improve your story.
5. Editing Your Fanfiction
Writing and editing are two separate processes, and most authors cannot do both at once. Write as much as possible during the height of your creative flow, without stopping to second-guess your word choices or to proofread your chapters for typos and unfortunate sentence constructions.
Once a section of your fanfic is complete, however, go back over it. Analyze every detail, in stages:
- First, consider whether you are happy with the plot, and whether it makes sense. Make any changes you feel you need to make.
- Next, consider whether your story line is as consistent with the original work and characters as you want it to be. Make changes where necessary.
- Once you’re done with both those things, you can agonize over individual sentences and vocabulary choices.
- The final stage of editing is proofreading — ensure that your writing style is consistent, and weed out pesky typos. To get the best results, give your brain a rest before you do this.
6. Sharing Your Fanfiction with the World (Optional)
Many people find great joy in sharing their works of fanfiction with other members of their fandom, or with other budding writers. Others simply write to satisfy their own creative curiosity. If you are hoping to gain recognition or to get feedback, you will definitely want to publish your fanfiction online, though! This can be one of the most satisfying aspects of writing fanfiction, as others may enjoy reading your fanfic as much as you loved writing it.
Can you make money from your fanfiction?
Many popular works of fanfiction rely on copyrighted works as their source material — something that can create legal complications and require permission from the original author. This isn’t always true, however. Terry Prachett’s novel Strata, for instance, could easily be considered a fanfiction — it took immediately-apparent inspiration from Ringworld, by Larry Niven. If you are in doubt, and you would like to formally self-publish with the goal of making money from your fanfic, you would be advised to consult a lawyer.
Why is fanfiction mocked so often?
Artists have always drawn inspiration from the things they encounter in their lives — and that includes other works of fiction. Fanfiction has gained a reputation for being poorly-written, or even “cringe”, in recent years, but that is likely because of its association with “ships”, or specific types of slashfiction that focuses on relationships. This reputation is undeserved, as every work of fiction was inspired by something. Indeed, nearly all historical dramas, from The Crown to Six Flying Dragons, could be considered to be fanfiction. Don’t let the naysayers stop you! If you feel inspired, write!