By Rose Simpson, Community Technology Librarian
Maybe you’ve been in a situation like this before: you just finished a popular young adult novel and you want to read more books like it, but you’ve already read all the similar books the librarians recommend. Or perhaps your favorite series just finished and you’re so excited about the characters that you want to read more about them. Or maybe you want to get your friend to read more prose books, but all they want to read is manga (Japanese graphic novels). If any of these situations sound familiar, then fanfiction might be what you’re looking for.
What is fanfiction?
Fanfiction, also called fanfics, are fiction stories written by fans of a particular work. That original work can be anything: a book, TV show, movie, video game, even a gaming podcast. Fanfiction authors will take one or more elements from that work (such as characters, setting, or plot elements) and write new stories combining those elements with new ideas. The stories can vary wildly in scope: they can be small scenes that could fit within canon, such as a conversation between Sherlock Holmes and Watson while they relax between cases. The fanfic could have a large difference that changes the entire story, like having Harry Potter placed in Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. A fanfic take one story element and put it in an entirely new context, like having the main characters of Naruto be pirates instead of ninjas. Or a fanfic could combine elements from two of more unrelated works, like having Doctor Who use his TARDIS to travel to the worlds of many different TV shows. Anything is possible, and writers can be extremely creative with their story concepts.
Where can you find fanfiction?
Since fanfics are derivative works that use elements from copyrighted works, you won’t find them published by any major publishing company. Instead, most fanfics are posted for free on the internet. Some fandoms have their own dedicated sites with fanfiction archives, but if you’re looking for a large collection of fanfics from many different fandoms, the two biggest websites are Archive of Our Own (called AO3) which can be found at https://archiveofourown.org/, and https://www.fanfiction.net/ (called FFN). They each have millions of fanfics available for you to read, spanning many different interests, and they’re all available for free.
How can you find a fanfiction that interests you?
Both AO3 and FFN allow you to search by various terms, such as keywords, fandoms, or the length of the work (in words). Fanfiction authors can categorize their works with various tags, such as age rating or major characters, which readers can search by in order to help them find stories that interest them. For example, readers can exclude works rated M (for mature readers) if they only want works rated T (for teen) audiences and younger. AO3 also has a more robust tagging system to help readers refine their search. One important thing to remember is that AO3 allows works rated E for explicit content, so if that does not interest you, be sure to exclude it from your search.
Both sites also have ways for readers to express that they enjoy a work and would recommend it to others. AO3 allows readers to give a work a “kudos”, while FFN readers award “faves,” both of which are similar to “likes” in many social media platforms. Readers can also leave “comments” on AO3 or “reviews” on FFN. AO3 allows you to sort a search by number of kudos that works have received (in descending order), so you can quickly find which works readers recommend the most. If you’re not sure which of the two websites to try, AO3’s more robust tagging and search features may make it easier to finds works that you will enjoy.
Is fanfiction any good?
All fanfics are essentially self-published stories. Like any self-published story, they can vary widely in quality. Some fanfics have creative, well-developed plots with compelling character growth, surprising twists that keep you eager to read more, and impeccable spelling and grammar. Some fanfics have shallow plots, bland characters, stilted dialog and are full of typos. Still more works have excellent concepts but poor writing quality. Sorting through the many posted stories may take some effort, but there is so much available that you are sure to find something you will enjoy. Looking at works with the most reader reactions (kudos/faves and comments/reviews, as well as “Bookmarks” on AO3 and “Follows” on FFN) can help you start to determine which works other people enjoy, which are a good place to start.
Who writes fanfiction?
Anyone who wants to can write a fanfic. If you find yourself inspired, you could even write one yourself. Maybe you’ve never really liked the ending to one movie and have an idea for how it could be done better, or you thought that the characters from two different works would have some fun conversations together, or you thought that two characters from the same work would make a cute romantic couple. Whatever your idea is, go ahead and write it! The fanfiction community tends to be very supportive and welcomes new ideas. Even if you’re not sure if your writing is any good, or if anyone will be interested, post it anyway! Everyone has different interests. It may be exactly the kind of story that some reader likes, and then you’ll have made their day.
So, is fanfiction worth reading?
Absolutely. If you’ve ever loved a story in any form of media, you can find someone else who’s loved it and wants to share their love of it by writing a new story about it. It may take a bit of hunting to find a story you enjoy, but there’s something out there for everyone. Give it a try, and you may find that a whole world of new stories are open to you.
Looking for ideas on where to get started?
Here’s a few fandoms that you may want to try out. And if you want to read or watch the original works these fandoms come from before you start, you can check them out from the library!
Manga and Graphic Novels:
Movies, TV Shows and Theater: