Fanfiction. Feared by all. Mothers hide away their children, teenagers joke and laugh or run for the hills. Most people probably won’t even know what it is.
But I do 😉
Of course, I’m joking, fanfiction isn’t really that bad. It is not a monster of any description, nor is it dangerous or evil, but it does have a bit of a bad reputation.
Before, when I was an ordinary person and not part of the so-called Sherlock fandom (a group of people who obsess over the BBC show – something I’ll get into another time) I didn’t really know what fanfiction really was, so here’s the definition for you:
Fanfiction: fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, film, book, etc.
So there we go, it’s as simple as that.
The fact is, no matter what way you wrap it, shape it, or slide it slyly into a conversation, fanfiction just ain’t cool.
Which is a shame really, because it’s the best thing I ever started writing.
The things people generally associate fanfiction with are nerds, weird sex, weird storylines, and generally very poor writing. While all of the above can be true in many cases – and hell, I have definitely read some weird and awful things – that’s simply not the truth about it.
Fanfiction is creative writing. It is taking characters or a setting that people already know and doing your own thing with it, and that is SO much fun; both for the readers and the creators.
I have read tragic love stories, fast-paced action, historical fiction, thrillers, you name it, if you want it from your favourite TV show, it’s probably out there waiting for you – you just have to find it.
And the best bit is the majority of it is not bad – not by any stretch. Some of the stuff I’ve read is actually better than the original work it was created from. The writing can be excellent, the stories can match the length and depth of any bestselling book, and it’s all created by talented volunteers who do it for free – simply for the love of writing.
Isn’t that great? Shouldn’t we be celebrating that?
I definitely think so, but for some reason it’s not talked about – or not in a good way at least. I guess with popular shows such as Sherlock it might be becoming slightly more mainstream, but I think we’ve still got a long way to go yet.
So, the next question is, where can you find these alleged pieces of art?
Well here is a list of popular fanfiction websites:
- Archive of Our Own
This is the main site – and the one you really want to be using because it’s where everyone and everything good is. A non-profit organisation that was established by fans in 2007, the site was literally created to serve and share the many forms of fanfiction. It’s mainly for writing, but you can also upload and view fan art among various other things.
Now, as a website, it can seem slightly complicated at first, but trust me it’s really great. You just have to stick with it. This is where you’ll find the highest quality and longest stories. You can search by the amounts of kudos (likes) or hits (views) to filter the best from the worst. You can also search by specific ships (couple pairings) or fandoms (TV shows/films) to get exactly what you want.
The best thing about this website – meaning it ranks higher than anything else in my opinion – is that it uses a list or news feed based system. So no matter how many subscribers you have or how many works you have previously posted, when you publish something, even as a complete and utter beginner, it will go on a certain list based on its tags and/or fandom and get views.
This is really great for creators because it means everyone gets the opportunity to interact and engage with an active and friendly audience – regardless of follower count or experience. The bottom line is, if your work is good, then it’ll probably get read.
This is where I do all my writing and reading and I would definitely recommend it over anything else. You can also upload original works too! It doesn’t even have to be fanfiction at all if you don’t want it to be.
I didn’t really know what this was until people on Instagram started mentioning it, and to be honest I’m not really a big fan of this particular site. But I’ll tell you about it anyway.
Wattpad is a fairly recent creation. It’s more of an app than a website (although it can be used as both unlike Ao3), and it has a much larger following than any other writing-based app out there.
It gives anyone the opportunity to write and publish their own story online. The difference is that it’s centered around original works and novels rather than fanfiction (possibly why it has a much larger readership) which means there are all kinds of stories avaliavble – but fanfiction is still a prominent section.
The app is much clearer in its setup for writing and reading than any other and it’s generally easier to use. It is much more simple, compatible, and appealing, but sadly (in my experience at least) it is let down by a few major flaws.
-The writing quality is generally very poor. I don’t want to be rude but all the top works I’ve read on there are just awful, they really are – yet some have thousands of views. This is a mystery I am still yet to solve. You’re probably thinking it’s just me and my judgment, but honestly, check some of the works (specifically in the fanfiction section) and I think you’ll understand.
-When you upload a story it seems to get lost in the internet void. Unless you have a large social media following to promote your work, your story is unlikely to get views. It will just sit there forever, floating silently in the abyss, oblivious of any possible audiences or interactions. You will have to actively bring people to your website/profile if you want to get anywhere.
So this is definitely an option, and it does seem to be the latest thing people are talking about. But I’ve tried it and my personal advice would be not to bother.
Now I don’t know too much about fanfiction.net and I’m not going to pretend that I do. I know it functions well as a website and is fairly clear and easy to understand, but I don’t think it offers anything particularly new over Ao3, and when I joined a few years ago, it seemed like it was more for children rather than adults – if you get what I mean. I just didn’t like it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for you if the other two didn’t appeal to you.
So those are the main websites I’ve come across. If you do actually want to start reading or writing fanfiction or just try something new, then perhaps test them all out and find what’s best for you, because I am only speaking from my own personal experience here and some people really love Wattpad and hate Ao3, so I suppose it’s just down to the individual.
But, websites aren’t the only places you can find fanfiction. People literally write and produce it for a living. Don’t believe me?
These are all famous examples of works that originated from an earlier idea/book/story and are essentially fanfiction. They are all highly successful and popular in their own right.
So if there are people out there earning an actual living from it, why is it still considered shameful? Why do I brace myself for the good-natured teasing that inevitably comes when I admit to someone I enjoy reading and writing fanfiction (and why have I used the word ‘admit’ as though I was guilty of something nasty?) Why is it the good-natured intent of the teasing still makes me feel like I’m doing something I shouldn’t be talking about in public, let alone admit to enjoying?
I don’t really know the answer, but I wish it wasn’t like that, because for all its stereotypes and flaws fanfiction can actually be very good. It’s what really got me into writing in the first place, and now I want to be an author and create my own original work. My dream is to publish a novel or write and direct my own screenplay. I enjoy reading and creating more than I ever did before, and more than that, I want to share this part of myself with people. I want to say to them, look at this story I’ve just created, without them thinking ‘oh, what a loser’ inside their head.
Above anything else, I want more people to give the bloody thing a chance so they can see its depth and beauty for themselves. There are so many talented authors out there, and so many people with the potential to grow into one. That just wouldn’t have happened to me if it wasn’t for fanfiction. I simply wouldn’t be so inspired to do what I do today: write.
“I think fanfiction, or as it should be called, ‘Fiction’, is a wonderful thing and a brilliant way to start and continue writing, because it’s not self-indulgent in any way. Oddly enough, it’s the opposite of self-indulgent. You’re writing this, generally speaking, fan fiction for other people. You’re trying to entertain someone. You’re actively engaging in the business of storytelling. You will learn more from writing fanfiction or doing fan art, any of those things; you will learn more from doing that well, than you will from any writing course you go on. Because writing fiction of that kind is the job. It’s not like the job; it IS the job.
“Writing is not defined by whether or not you have successfully monetised it, although successfully monetising it is ace, it’s defined by whether or not you’ve written or created something people want and like. It is a brilliant and wonderful thing, and it is a joy to be involved in something that promotes and creates so much of it.”
-Steven Moffat, showrunner, writer and executive producer of the television series Sherlock and Doctor Who.
(I do not own copyright to any photos used in this article)