Fan fiction (also fanfiction, or fanfic) is a type of fan-created content. It entails writing a story with the characters and/or setting of a show, movie, or other pieces of media.
Where Is Fan Fiction?
I’ll admit I’m a little biased when it comes to fan fiction hosting sites. Nevertheless, here are some of the most popular.
Archive of Our Own (AO3): This is the most widely used fan fiction hosting site in the circles of the internet I frequent. It doesn’t seem very user-friendly at first, but once you know how to use it, you will find all of its features really useful!
Fanfiction.net: I haven’t used this one since they banned adult content. It’s kind of like AO3, but without some of the features and no protections from censorship.
Tumblr: Posting fan fiction on Tumblr can be difficult. You have to fiddle with the formatting, and writing directly into the post editor risks losing your work. Tumblr used to be a great place to get more exposure for your work, but these days, people aren’t really sharing things to their Tumblr blogs anymore, which is how you gain viewership on Tumblr.
Wattpad: Wattpad can be useful. Its features are easy to use, and it’s very widely used for browsing fan fiction.
Overall, I recommend AO3 and Wattpad for posting fan fiction, but there are lots of good sites, including these, for finding it.
Alternate Universe (AU): A story that takes place in a universe other than the one the source material is set in
Angst: A genre of fan fiction defined by physical or emotional injury to the characters
Author’s Notes (A/N): A note from the author at the beginning or end of the fan fiction or chapter
Canon: All the elements of the source material
Canon Compliant: A fan fiction that can fit into the setting and plot of the source material
Canon Divergence: A fan fiction that takes a different direction from the plot of the source material at some point
Crack: A concept or fan fiction that is absurd by its very nature
Crossover: A fan fiction that brings two pieces of source material together
Drabble: A fan fiction that is exactly 100 words long
Fanon: A concept that is so pervasive among fans that it is almost considered canon
Ficlet: A fan fiction that is longer than a drabble but usually under 1,000 words
Fix-It Fic: A fan fiction that “fixes” an element of the source material that the author, or fans in general, dislike
Fluff: A genre of fan fiction defined by sweet, happy moments for the characters
Fusion: A variety of crossover that brings one source material’s characters into the other source material’s setting
Headcanon: A concept that is not canon that a fan considers true about a character from the source material
Hurt/Comfort: A fan fiction genre that starts with angst but allows for the character(s) who were emotionally or physically injured to be comforted and cared for by another character or characters
One Shot: A stand-alone fan fiction with just one chapter; usually refers to a piece longer than a ficlet, but can encompass ficlets and drabbles
Original Character (OC): A character that is not from the source material but made up by the author
Out of Character (OOC): Refers to the characters acting unlike they would in the source material
Rarepair: A ship (see next entry) that is not popular among fans, usually with only a few fans who make content about it
Ship/Shipping: A relationship between characters that fans make content about; almost always has a romantic context
Slash: A term that has largely fallen into disuse for same-sex ships in fan fiction
A Brief History
It’s impossible to know where fan fiction really began. But the popularization of fan fiction is often attributed to the Star Trek fandom, specifically back in the days of The Original Series, or TOS, as it is often called online. This was before the advent of the internet, so this fan fiction, instead of being typed out and posted on the internet, was handwritten and compiled in binders. These binders were passed around groups of housewives who were fans of the show. This spread to different groups in different towns and, eventually, to different shows and other media altogether.
With the information age came new problems. By publishing their fan fiction online, people opened themselves up to attacks from the creators of source materials. One prominent example is when Anne Rice, author of The Vampire Chronicles, sent cease and desist orders to many fans for posting their fanfiction because they were using her characters. Censorship also became a big problem, as fan fiction hosting sites could pick and choose the kind of content they wanted to host.
These days, fans can find protection from legal action and censorship on AO3. AO3 is called an archive for a reason. It is run by volunteers to archive fan fiction without censorship. They also have a legal team to protect the authors that post on their site.
Significance of Fan Fiction
Fan fiction has been a part of fandom culture since the very beginning. It is a way for fans to express their love for the source material and to show their creativity. It is so integral to their enjoyment of the source material for many fans that they cannot enter a fandom with little to no fan fiction. I know I’m one of those people! Some of my very favorite pieces of writing are fan fiction. People create fan fiction out of pure passion; they get very little compensation, or none at all. Humans love to create, and fan fiction is part of that long tradition. From cave paintings to fan fiction, look how far we’ve come!