Before Fifty Shades of Grey was breaking best-seller records, you might be surprised to hear that it was a Twilight fan fiction series. Before E.L. James became one of the most successful authors in history, she was posting her work in online forums under the name “Snowqueens Icedragon.” With the recent, meteoric rise of James’s series, it seems that fan fiction has officially made the jump from internet forums to mainstream pop culture. And while Fifty Shades-style erotica may not be quite your thing, the process of reading and writing fan fiction can be a pressure-free way of exploring the elements of a relationship that you consider particularly important, reasoning out real-life relationship woes via a proxy, and tapping into your creative. That’s why we’ve written a beginner’s guide to fan fiction.
What is fan fiction?
In its basic definition, fan fiction is a derivative story written without permission from the author and without intent for profit. “Fanfic,” or FF, has a tendency to emerge from essentially every cultural event – anything from a One Direction song to the recent Olympics. However, the most popular “canons” – the original work from which fanfic pieces are written – tend to be book and television series, as they provide the most creative fodder.
A defining characteristic about most fan fiction is its romantic element. Fifty Shades has gained notoriety for its explicit sexuality, and while there are certain fanfic subgenres that do feature erotic plots, similar to the way that the dating scene has become increasingly varied for our generation, so has the romance in fan fiction. If you have a specific kind of relationship or a specific pairing of characters, someone somewhere has written about it.
The fanfic trend blossomed with the rise of the internet. The increased access to books, television, music, and films combined with the internet forum phenomenon allowed readers and writers to establish an online community. Now, more than ever, fans can converge to discuss their favorite “what ifs.” Sites like fanfiction.net have extensive message board and forum listings that allow you to search for a particular canon or character pairing within that canon. These sites also provide writers with the opportunity to share and receive feedback on stories in progress, bounce ideas off one another, and even talk more generally about their own creative processes. Though the internet can be notoriously harsh, the level of respect within the fanfic community is notably high. Nobody is writing to make money or become famous. In order to actively participate, most of the fan fiction sites require you to create a profile. To do so is free, and there’s very little personal information required.
Talking the talk
The world of fan fiction is incredibly complex, and within the FF-sphere, there are a number of subgenres. The following is a basic rundown of terms for all you first-time fanfic readers and writers. It should be noted that specific canons have their own idiosyncratic slang, but for the sake of brevity, we’ve only included lingo that applies to all canons.
Alternate reality – Fanfic stories that place characters into situations or settings entirely different from the original canon, like writing Disney characters as high school students.
Alternate universe – Fanfic stories that explore the results of changing canon timelines, like if Hermione and Harry Potter had dated.
Angstfic – Vignettes, usually in first-person, that focus on the failure of a character’s relationship. Talking through the voice of a fictional character can help make sense of your own heartbreak.
Basherfic – Fanfic stories written as a way for the author to take out their anger or revenge on a particularly reviled character; great for addressing residual feelings over an ex.
Crackfic – Fanfic stories so ridiculous and crazy they make you wonder if the writer is “on crack.” Perfect when you’re in need of distraction or a good laugh.
Denialfic – Fanfic stories which reverse a tragic canonical event, like the death of a character. It’s the do-over button you always wanted for that summer fling.
Erotica – Though this term is highly subjective, erotica refers to “classy” pornography.
Lemon – Fanfic stories which feature heterosexual sex scenes.
Lime – Fanfic stories featuring homosexual sex scenes.
“M” – The “M” refers to the “mature” rating for stories with explicit sexual content.
Ship – Short for “relationship,” “ship” applies to the relationships you wish had happened within a canon. Unrequited love is no more.
Slash – Referring to the “/ ” in between names, this subgenre refers to the homosexual (usually male) pairing of two characters, like Harry/Snape. The female/female pairings are oftentimes referred to as femmeslash.
Songfic – Fanfic stories based entirely around song lyrics. Ever wondered how your favorite One Direction song would function as love story?
Why read it?
The main reason is simple: it’s entertaining. In picking a canon with which you’re familiar, there’s no need for the requisite “character introduction,” allowing the story to move at a quicker pace. Many of the plots, both within and out of the canon, tend to be more lighthearted and fanciful.
Explains Harper, a college student and long-time FF reader/writer, “I do read fic for the romance at times. Part of that has to do with my personality and the characters I gravitate towards. I’m a romantic. It’s sweet. It’s outrageous. And you know what you’re reading so your suspension of belief is higher, granting characters the ability to be more romantic and grand.”
Why write it?
Writing fan fiction is an activity that anyone can participate in, and it can be a great stress-free emotional outlet. Didn’t like how your favorite TV series ended? Irritated with a two-dimensional female character? You’ve got complete creative control, and it can be incredibly empowering.
The communal aspect of sharing your work without fear of ridicule or harsh criticism is one of collegiette Jenn’s favorite elements of writing fan fiction. Says Jenn, who runs thegrrlgeek.tumblr.com and regularly contributes to fanfiction.net: “I’m by nature more of an introvert and in a way, I find writing fanfic as a way to put myself out there and be involved in an activity without pushing too far out of my comfort zone.”
Exploring the kinds of relationship ins and outs via writing can also help improve your real-life romances. Luce, who writes a One Direction fanfic Tumblr, says, “In my fanfic I do show what I think is important in a relationship, like faith and trust, and being able to tell things without being judged.” By using beloved characters as sort of “love proxies,” you can experiment with what kinds of relationships and romantic interactions you feel comfortable with.
Finally, the creative power to alter characters is an idiosyncratic way of establishing and expressing your political and social views. Says Harper, “The fandom community is largely very feminist. We analyze characters and don’t accept [bad] writing and [shallow] female characters being used as plot devices. Often, even when it is rampant in the original work we do not accept it in fiction because we believe that we deserve better when writers are not strictly tethered to the canon.”
The world of fanfic is so heterogeneous at this point that there are essentially unlimited opportunities for both readers and writers. Whether you want to work out your feelings about a new relationship or read some good old romance about your favorite Harry Potter character, go on and get your inner fangirl on.