Fanfic 101: Getting Started For Fanfic Writers

Fan Fiction

New year, new you, right? Maybe one of your resolutions this year is to pick up a new hobby. Maybe you decided you want to get into fanfiction. Trouble is, you’re not sure where to start. Well, have no fear. Here’s part two of Fanfiction 101 – this article is for aspiring fanfic writers. Check out part one for tips for new readers!

Now, I literally study fanfiction for my degree, and I have presented on fanfiction at academic conferences, so if there is anything you want to know that I didn’t cover in this article, feel free to ask! I am always ready to talk fic. My tumblr handle is @csmithman if you ever want to chat about fanfic! I also recently started writing my own fanfic, so I’m here for any new writer chats!

Fanfic 101

Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you already know a good bit about fanfiction. If you’re completely new to the idea, I strongly suggest reading a bunch of fic before you start thinking about writing. Check out Fanfic 101 for Readers to get an idea of how to get started on that.

Now, if you’re already pretty into fanfiction, you should have an idea of what you like. That doesn’t necessarily translate to what you write, however. I love reading massive multichapter fics, but that’s probably not the best place for new fanfic writers to start out. It can be overwhelming for new fanfic writers to create their first fic.

Honestly, and this is going to sound overly simple, the first thing to do is write. If you want to start writing, you probably already have an idea in mind. If you don’t, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t think of something. Start by deciding what you want to write about. What fandom do you think you’ll have the best time writing for?

Once you’ve picked a fandom, think about what it is you want to write. Some people find outlines helpful, others do sprints (dedicated time solely writing) to get the creativity flowing. Try a few things and find out what works for you.

What To Write

Maybe you don’t know what it is you want to write, you just know you want to write something. While, obviously, I can’t tell you what to write, there are some considerations that might help you decide.

Firstly: do you want to write canon-compliant or non-compliant? Canon-compliant fics are stories that take place in the source material universe and do not contradict the source text (the canon). These would be thinks like missing scenes from canon, or maybe taking a canon scene and rewriting it from a different perspective. Or, there’s the classic post-canon: you’re not ready for the story to be over.

If canon-compliant isn’t what you have in mind, decide if you’re thinking more AU (alternate universe) or canon-divergence. Canon-divergence is the happy medium between canon-compliant and AU. You start off with the canon universe, but change things. Maybe it’s a fix-it; you didn’t like the way things ended, so you’re making your own story.

AUs are where things get fun. This is where you take the characters (and maybe, to some degree, the plot) but put them in a different universe. These would be your coffeeshop AUs, your tattoo parlor AUs, your assassins AUs, what have you. AUs let authors play around and create new things, with familiar characters/storylines as a basis.

Another thing to consider is what content you’re interested in writing. Do you want to write fluff? Hurt/Comfort? Angst? Are you interested in ships or gen fic? Do you want to include smut (sexually graphic material) or not? Answering these questions will help you come up with the sort of story you want to write.

Where To Write

Alright, so you’ve come up with your story and written it. Now what? Unless you wrote the story purely for your own enjoyment (which is valid!) you need to find a way to distribute it. First up: choose where you want to post. Different sites will have different perks, so it’s important to know where you want to go.

Tumblr is a popular choice, as people often already have some followers who might read. It also allows a degree of creative control, and no need to create a new account (though some fanfic writers do). However, Tumblr’s formatting really only works for short fics, not longer fics. Plus, with Tumblr’s new Terms of Service, a lot of fics are facing removal for content issues (even safe for work fics!).

Wattpad is the classic, stereotypical fanfiction site. It has a reputation as being for teenaged writers who don’t know their stuff, though that is often wrong. Despite its reputation, Wattpad often has good fics, and you may have the opportunity to turn your work into something more through Wattpad Studios. Wattpad is generally more for original works than fanfiction, however.

The two biggest sites for publishing fanfiction would be Fanfiction.Net or Archive of Our Own. Both have large reader bases and creative control. AO3 has greater flexibility in tagging, which gives authors more of a chance to display their voice. FF.Net, however, has greater interactive features, like direct messaging.

Personally, I have only ever published on AO3. I found it fairly easy and straightforward for new fanfic writers getting the hang of things, and it’s easy to establish yourself. Your mileage may vary, of course, and each site has its pros and cons. But AO3 is my favorite.

Understanding The Lingo

Fanfiction as a community has its own language, and it can be hard for new fanfic writers to know what everything means. This is especially difficult when it comes to tagging. So here are some terms you might see and not know.

Beta:

No, I’m not talking about alpha/beta dynamics (I will never talk about a/b/o). Beta is a term that pops up a lot. You might see writers talk about their beta in author’s notes. So what is a beta? A beta is simply someone who edits a fic. They might help with the planning process, or solely do copy editing before it is posted. However, they provide invaluable support to fanfic writers.

Want a beta of your own? There are a few ways to find them. FF.Net has beta readers listed under their own section of the website. Tumblr blogs for finding beta readers can be a great resource. You can also try talking to other fans in your fandom. Oftentimes, they might be willing to beta read for first dibs on reading.

Ratings:

You are likely going to need to provide a rating for your story, unless you post on Tumblr or a similar personal blogging platform. Ratings are a way to tell readers what to expect in your story; think of them like movie ratings.

The rating categories that AO3 has listed in their FAQ are: General Audiences, Teen and Up, Mature, Explicit, and Not Rated. General Audiences would be G/PG, Teen would be PG-13, Mature would be R, and Explicit are your NC-17 fics. Not Rated isn’t ideal to choose, as it will be sorted with Explicit fics, screening you from many potential readers.

Make sure you choose a rating that suits your material. Is this a friendly for all ages fic? General audiences. Is there some swearing or minor violence? That’s teen. Sexual content or major violence? Now you’re getting to Mature. Anything that is graphic – explicit sexual content, explicit violence – is going to be Explicit.

It’s important to rate appropriately so that audiences get what they want. Someone who is young shouldn’t be reading violent or graphic material, so you want to make sure you’re rating those fics as Mature. Often, readers will select a rating they want to read, so make sure you’re in the right category. You want to make sure no one sees things they don’t want to see.

Tagging:

On that note, let’s talk tagging. Tagging is the best way for fanfic writers to prepare their readers. While a summary might give a basic plot outline (even then, oftentimes fanfic writers use the summary for other purposes) the tags are going to give the best idea of what to expect.

Tags are good for two things: triggers and tropes. Triggers are important. It is vital that you tag anything that could be considered triggering for readers. Obviously, you can’t know everything that would be triggering. But there are consistent things that are seen as triggering and should be tagged: death, sexual assault, mental illness, etc. And listen if readers ask you to tag things.

Tropes are a little more fun. There are your basic tropes and your fandom specific tropes. Basic tropes are things like AUs (tag “coffeehouse AU” or “college AU,” for example) or plot points (“first kiss,” “fake dating;” “enemies to friends to lovers” is a personal favorite of mine). This is a chance to tell your writer what plot points they should expect to encounter.

Some fandoms will have specific tags that you see a lot. When I used to read Harry Potter fics, I would see a lot of fics tagged “epilogue what epilogue,” to indicate it was canon-divergence. Or, I’m a fan of fics tagged “Everyone Lives/Nobody Dies” for Rogue One fanfiction, since I know that it’s going to give me less angst than the movie did.

Tags are your friends, and your readers’ friends. Use them wisely. Some people say tags should be solely plot based, while others say you can put a little personality in them. It’s up to you, but make sure you use your tags!

Other Things You May Encounter

The AO3 posting page has a lot of options that could be confusing to new fanfic writers. Here are some things you may encounter:

Archive Warnings are sort of like trigger tagging. These are things that are frequently issues for readers, so this is a quick way to alert readers if your story will feature major character death, for example. Make sure you use these if they apply!

Summary is your chance to give a quick teaser. Some people write out a basic plot summary. Others use an excerpt to draw the reader in. The choice is yours, but a summary is often the way a reader will decide whether or not to check out your fic, so use it well.

Author’s notes are a way to provide a quick note to your readers. Maybe you want to tell them it’s your first fic! Maybe you want to ask for constructive criticism. Use these! They’re a good way to connect with readers.

On AO3, you can gift a work to another AO3 account. This is nice to give something to your friends, or if you participate in an exchange. There are also a lot of boxes to check: if you have a co-author, if you have multiple chapters, if this will be a part of a series. These are easy to overlook but important to read, so pay close attention!

Again, I have only posted on AO3, so I’m not sure if it’s the same otherwise, but make sure you click “Rich Text” next to the text box instead of HTML. This will allow you to format your story without using coding.

Getting Readers

So you’ve written and posted the story. Now comes the hard part: the waiting. Waiting for people to read your work can be excruciating. If you’re in a big fandom, your fic may move quickly down the archive as new fics are posted. If you’re in a small fandom, there may not be many readers. How can you get more interaction?

Obviously this is one reason why tags and summaries are important, but there are ways to get readers even after you’ve posted. If you have a personal blog, share the story there so your followers will see. (Conversely, link to your blog in author’s notes to get people to follow you so they can see new stories! Plus, interacting with readers can be great.)

See if there are any blogs that recommend fanfiction. I follow a few rec blogs that are always willing to share someone’s story. These blogs also might hint you towards events like fic fests or zines to participate in, so they’re great to follow.

One thing that is often overlooked is interacting with your readers. While comments from readers obviously are great for fanfic writers to receive, it’s also important to answer the comments. That helps the readers connect with you and leaves them eager to interact with you further. Plus, you never know. You might make some new friends or find a great beta through interactions like these.

And most importantly, remember that readership isn’t everything. Obviously fanfic writers want people to read their stuff, or they wouldn’t post it. But you are primarily writing because you want to. If you’re not getting a lot of comments or kudos, don’t despair. Just keep writing and try to build a fanbase.

Go Forth, Fanfic Writers!

Aspiring fanfic writers, you’re ready. You know what to do to get started posting your very own fanfic. Whether you’re a long time reader or new to fanfiction altogether, this is an exciting step that will change the way you interact with fandom forever.

After I started writing fic, I was always having new ideas of things to write. I’m involved in zines and fests that push me to new boundaries and to write different things. I have a Google doc with fic ideas so I don’t forget what it is I want to write. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You have the tools and the guidance to start on this new journey now. Go forth, fanfic writers. Go forth and write.

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