Fanfiction is one of the biggest phenomena on the internet, with entire websites and communities dedicated to it. Keep reading to discover what fanfiction is, where it comes from, and why millions of people read and write it.
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 who are fans of 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 wildly. Some fanfics are barely a few paragraphs long, while others have hundreds of thousands of words and span the length of multiple novels. Fanfics incorporate various existing story elements, including the setting, characters, story elements, and even writing style.
One of the biggest reasons fanfiction remains so popular is how it brings communities of fans together into self-identified “fandoms.” We previously discussed “ships,” which are romantic pairings of particular characters that frequently have dedicated fanbases of their own. Fanfiction is a way for fans of specific ships to create stories centered around their preferred pairing and share that work with others. These fans will often congregate in community-driven social media websites like Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit.
A Brief History of Fanfiction
While the idea of “fanfiction” came to 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 released A New Alice in the Old Wonderland in 1895, based on the Alice in Wonderland books that Lewis Carroll wrote several decades earlier.
The modern iteration of fanfiction began during the 1960s in the Star Trek fan community. Fans of Star Trek would publish and share around “fanzines” that contained amateur works based on the world and characters.
Eventually, with the rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, fans started to create websites that could host fanfiction. One of the biggest communities in the early years of the web was the fandom of Harry Potter, the enormously successful series of fantasy books. 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 Fanfiction
As fanfiction has developed into a literary genre of its own, 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 pairings of characters that have no interactions with each other in the original story.
- Alternate Universe: Often abbreviated to AU, alternate universe works involve placing existing characters into a different setting. A typical example is putting all the characters of a fantasy universe into an ordinary high school or workplace.
- Original Characters: These fanfics insert original characters, or OCs, into an existing world. For example, you might create a story about an entirely new student at Hogwarts. A subgenre of this is “imagines” or “self-inserts,” which use a second-person narrative style to make the reader the story’s main character.
- Canon Fics: These are works that attempt to stay very close to the original story’s plot. For example, you might retell the same plot from a different character’s perspective. A subgenre of this is “canon divergence,” a speculative story about the events that would happen if the characters of 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,” 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.
The Rise of Fanfiction
It’s become increasingly normal to read and write fanfiction on the internet. Websites that host fanfiction, such as Wattpad, Archive of Our Own, and Fanfiction.net, draw millions of users every month and host 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 Worlds,” which allowed fanfiction writers to publish and profit off their work through partner copyright holders. Amazon eventually shut down the service in 2018.
With the rise of fanfiction in the last decade, many fanfiction stories have been published and turned into multi-million dollar media franchises. The most notable example is Fifty Shades of Gray, a series of adult romance books and movies that was originally a work of Twilight fanfiction. Also, many published authors have expressed that they began writing through fanfiction before moving to original work.