What is fanfiction?

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Fanfiction is one of the biggest phenomena on the internet, with entire websites and communities dedicated to it. Keep reading to find out what fanfiction is, where it comes from, and why millions of people read and write it.

Stories made by fans

Fanfiction, or “fanfic”, is a type of fictional story based on another work of fiction. These stories are published on the internet by amateur writers passionate about the existing property. There are also fanfics written about non-fictional settings and people, such as celebrities and historical figures.

The length and content of these stories can vary greatly. Some fanfics are just a few paragraphs long, while others are hundreds of thousands of words long and span several novels. Fanfics incorporate various existing story elements, including setting, characters, story elements, and even writing style.

One of the main reasons fanfiction remains so popular is the way it brings together communities of fans into self-identified “fandoms.” We previously discussed “ships,” which are romantic pairings of particular characters who often have their own dedicated fanbases. Fanfiction is a way for fans of specific ships to create stories centered around their favorite couple and share that work with others. These fans often congregate on community social media websites such as Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit.

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A brief history of fanfiction

Closeup of a pile of Harry Potter books

While the idea of ​​”fanfiction” has gained prominence in the internet age, the actual genre predates the web by over a thousand years. Authors have been writing fanfiction since the 19th century. For example, Anna M. Richards published A New Alice in Wonderland in 1895, based on the Alice in Wonderland books that Lewis Carroll wrote decades earlier.

The modern iteration of fanfiction began in the 1960s in the star trek fan community. Star Trek fans would post and share around “fanzines” which contained amateur works based on the world and characters.

Eventually, with the rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, fans began creating websites that could host fanfiction. One of the largest communities in the early years of the web was the fandom of Harry Potter, the smash hit fantasy book series. Harry Potter was instrumental in the rise of fanfiction authorship and readership, and it remains one of the biggest fandoms to this day. Other massive fandoms include Marvel, Twilight, and Supernatural.

Types of fan fiction

As fanfiction has evolved into a literary genre in its own right, various subgenres of fanfiction have emerged. Here are some common types you can find in fan communities:

  • Slash Fiction: This is the most common type of fanfiction. These stories feature romantic relationships between two characters, or “ships”. Slash fics can range from canonical pairings to character pairings that have no interaction with each other in the original story.
  • Alternate Universe: Often abbreviated as AU, alternate universe work involves placing existing characters in a different setting. A typical example is to place all the characters of a fantasy universe in a high school or an ordinary workplace.
  • Original characters: These fanfics insert original characters, or OCs, into an existing world. For example, you can create a story about a brand new student at Hogwarts. A subgenre of this is “imagine” or “self-insert”, which uses a second-person narrative style to make the reader the main character of the story.
  • Canon fic: These are works that attempt to stay very close to the plot of the original story. For example, you can tell the same plot from the perspective of a different character. A subgenre of this is “canon divergence”, a speculative story about the events that would occur if the characters in the original tale made different choices.
  • Crossover fics: These are stories where different source materials converge. Crossovers tend to happen when two characters from unrelated franchises get “shipped in” and fans want to see them have romantic interactions. For example, many stories feature Elsa from the Disney movie “Frozen” and Jack Frost from “Rise of the Guardians”, two characters with magical ice powers.

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The rise of fanfiction

It has become more and more normal to read and write fanfiction on the Internet. Websites that host fanfiction, such as Wattpad, Archives of our ownand Fanfiction.net, attracts millions of users each month and hosts hundreds of thousands of stories. Virtually every media property, including books, movies, TV shows, and video games, has a fan community built around it that has fanfiction.

Some creators actively encourage fans to create fiction set in the same universe. In 2013, Amazon launched a platform through Kindle called “Kindle Worldswhich allowed fanfiction writers to publish and profit from their work through partner copyright holders. Amazon eventually shut down the service in 2018.

With the rise of fanfiction over the past decade, many fanfiction stories have been published and turned into multi-million dollar media franchises. The most notable example is Fifty Shades of greya series of adult romance books and movies that was originally a work of dusk fanfiction. Additionally, many published authors have stated that they started writing through fanfiction before moving on to original work.

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