A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Fan Fiction
Sometimes you might have a hard time entering a fictional new world or returning to the real world because your head and heart are so attached to the world of the book, TV show, or movie you just completed. . This is where the fan work comes in. I love all types of fan-made content: fan mixes, fan videos, fanart, and fan fiction. Reading fan fiction is a really fun and rewarding part of fandom. There are so many talented and dedicated people creating art inside and beside our favorites. Here’s a helpful beginner’s guide to help you get started reading fan fiction.
So why fan fiction? Maybe you want to see characters in different situations, time periods, relationships, or even different fandoms. Sometimes shows get canceled too early, endings don’t meet what you expected from the story, maybe you didn’t see yourself portrayed. Or you felt a deep connection with someone who was just a secondary character and you wish they could have adventures at the main character level.
There are so many reasons we seek out fan fiction, but it’s mainly because we love original works and just want to spend more time with them.
Where can I find fan fiction?
Archive of Our Own or AO3 is my go-to site for fan fiction, for the sheer volume of works and the complete tagging system. Tags allow you to easily sort fandoms, ships, content warnings, ratings, relationship categories, characters, and more. You can really drop down to your favorite weirdo level, which is just a nice thing. The card catalog never could.
Other popular fan fiction reading sites include Wattpad, a story-sharing platform for all types of stories, not just fan fiction. Their site is set up as a bestseller list, showing trending stories. Fanfiction.net is an older site with a simple interface and a very good collection if you are looking for a fic for an older show, movie, or work.
Tumblr is also a good source of fan fiction. I love browsing a short fic on Tumblr because I usually come across it when I’m not actively looking for it and a lot of it includes images or gifs that add to the story. Beyond fics posted directly to Tumblr, this is also a good source of fandom content and you can often find other people who recommend fics or post masterlists for a particular fandom or vessel.
If you’re new to fanfiction or feel intimidated where to start because you’re not attached to any particular fandom right now, there’s a great newsletter called “The Rec Center”. It’s a weekly digest of fandom, fanart, and fan fiction stories.
Fan Fiction Terms: The Basics
I’m going to be your personal Julie Andrews, sitting on top of a mountain with a guitar teaching you the basics so you can go, understand and enjoy the world of fanfiction on your own terms.
The most basic and useful fan fiction term to know at the start is cannon. Canon is the source material, the original story.
So, now you can understand terms like canon-divergent, which is a story that begins in canon but diverges from the events of the original at some point. You can also see the term cannon, which generally refers to an individual fan’s idea of why something happened in canon that isn’t necessarily supported by the source material. My favorite headcanons are the ones that explain the motivations of a character. So interior monologue fics or fics that could have happened offscreen, like a time jump or a car ride. When a headcanon becomes widely accepted within the fandom, this is called dewlap.
Another basic term to be aware of at the start is boat. Ship is the abbreviation for relationship, and in fan fiction it’s the term used to describe a particular romantic relationship between characters. In tags, it is usually separated by an “x” or “/” such as “Darkling x Alina” or “Crowley / Aziraphale”. ANP is another term that is commonly associated with the ship. It means “a real pairing” and basically refers to a ship that is the end of the game for you.
Read Fan Fiction: Types of Fic
Now that you know where to find fan fiction, understand some basic terms, and you’re ready to start reading, here are some terms that will help you explain the basic types of fic.
First of all, there is the fic to repair, where the fiction writer seeks to fix something that happened in canon. This is the kind of fictional you’re looking for if the end of the canon didn’t quite work out for you or a couple you dispatch didn’t reunite or a favorite character dies. They’ll usually be divergent, going back to the original setup and tweaking things to get your preferred ending.
And sometimes you are looking for a fix fic to have your favorites kissing already!
AU or alternative universe refers to works that take characters from the canon and change their setting and / or circumstances, such as taking characters from a fantasy world and placing them in the real world or taking your adorable sci-fi babies and setting them to university. One of the most popular AU is the “AU cafe”; you can probably find at least one in every fandom, but I’d like to bring to your attention the burgeoning “AU food truck”, a subset of the classic “Chef AU”. Start exploiting your fandom for the silliest food truck name, this could be the new “cafe”.
Let me tell you, there is nothing more exhilarating than reading an AU fic and stumbling upon that first line of canon, but in a whole new setting and context. This is the right thing.
A blow are essentially what they sound like, a short work, usually a single chapter, not to be continued in a longer form. HE HAS is the abbreviation of “Happily ever after”. Other types of fic include anxiety, fluff, pain / comfort, smut, crossbreeds, etc. Depending on the size of the fandom you currently live for, you can use types and tags like these and many more to reduce your browsing time.
For more fan fiction terms and definitions check out our Guide to Fan Fiction Terminology or check out sites like Fanlore.org or that absolutely complete old back internet site.
Read Fan Fiction: Tools, Tips & Tricks
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start reading fan fiction, as well as some tools and tips.
- Check the condition. You can check the author’s tags and notes to see if something is a work in progress (WIP), if it is in progress and how many chapters the author expects to write, and if a work is. already finished. You can also subscribe to a favorite work or author. So you will still receive bill payment reminders and ‘hope this finds you well’ emails in your inbox, but you will also receive that sweet and pleasant ‘released a new chapter’ note.
- Bookmark. Don’t be messy like me, use these “mark for later”, “bookmark” and “follow” tools instead of maximizing your Safari tabs (Did you know there is a 500 tab limit !? the boldness !)
- Screen lock. Look, I’m not saying most people read fanfic while lying in bed staring at their phone screen glowing in a dark room, falling asleep after a stressful day with their latest OTP antics, but in case that’s you, try activating the orientation lock screen on your phone so the pesky landscape mode doesn’t interfere with your fandom appreciation.
- Automatic locking. Ditto with the automatic lock on your phone screen. I am a slow reader and hate it when my screen freezes in the middle of reading. You can go to your phone’s settings and change your screen’s auto-lock sync or even turn it off completely.
- And lastly, be sure to leave some kind and encouraging likes and congratulations and comments on your favorite fics.
some recs from me
I will now very kindly recommend some of my favorite fics.
Fandom: Game of Thrones
Ship: Jaime x Brienne
Every time I think of the way Game Of Thrones finished, well, you know. Luckily, I’ll still have that early days fic “A Septa’s Advice” by Currawong, written at the start of the series and mostly relating to the book Jaime and Brienne. I feel like you could have read this fic at any point in the series and enjoyed it. And knowing how things turned out, it’s definitely a safe haven for my ragged sender heart. You can also check out this article on Book Riot: 50 Must-Read Fan Fiction on Game of Thrones.
Fandom: BBC Ghosts
Ship: Captain x Havers
Ghosts is pretty darn healthy, and no, I wouldn’t rephrase that. A couple move into a dilapidated country house where a group of ghosts from across the property’s history are stuck. Only one of the new owners can see them. Excellent. Now please watch it and come back here to read “An Office Needs a Key” by hbub1201 on how a WWII captain can get his happy ending even when he’s already dead.
Ship: Flynn x Lucy
Timeless on NBC ended too soon and my god I miss Flynn and Lucy, being agonized over AF’s top to bottom American history. This fic, “Remember, Remember” by SecretNerdPrincess, explores what might have happened if Lucy was looking for a way to save Flynn after the finale.
Ship: Henry x Jo
Forever was a healthy show about a man who can’t die living in the modern world and trying to hide his secret while working as a forensic pathologist for the NYPD. It was canceled after just one season and technically the ending wasn’t a total cliffhanger, but Euphrasia’s “Long Story, Cut Short” fic really provided me with the vibe for Season 2, Episode 1 of which I needed to close.