I began writing fan fiction in around 2008, when I was 11 years old. So, since I’m 24 now, that’s more than half of my life ago! It was then that I loved Twilight and a few other fantasy novels so much that I was desperate to find more stories in that universe and Google searched for that exact thing. And to my surprise, there were tons of them on a magical but now outdated site called “Fan Fiction Dot Net.”
Through middle and high school, I wrote fanfic for a ton of different fandoms but mainly The Avengers. Fan fiction not only helped me practice character development but also come to terms with my queer identity through pairings I enjoyed, especially since I grew up in a fairly conservative area where being queer wasn’t something I could share without losing friends.
These days, I’m a reader of fanfic more so than a writer of it — in part because I have other writing projects that take up more of my time, and a day job, and non-writing hobbies that help me avoid burnout but also take up time, et cetera, et cetera. But I still enjoy reading it for stress relief and a reminder that writing can be purely for joy and personal fulfillment if you want it to be.
Fan fiction became my gateway to writing original stories. I’m adamant that it can play a positive role in practicing things like character development or even just finding a love of writing. These six tips will help you get started writing fan fiction if you’re a beginner and get the most out of your project.
1) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
If you feel an impending sense of pressure to make your fanfic perfect before you’ve even begun, don’t. Unlike writing original fiction, which can sometimes be driven by success or money, fanfic is all about writing what interests you — whether that’s a certain pairing or a new ending to a series you love.
Think of fan fiction like a creative sandbox for you to try out new ideas. Rather than worry about writing the best fanfic you can, start with a storyline that interests you and build from there. If you like angsty stories, write angst. If you enjoy a certain pairing and wish they’d gotten together in the canon, write a story where they do.
2) Decide whether you want to write in-universe or an alternate universe fanfic.
Fan fiction usually falls into two big categories: in-universe and alternate universe (AU). In-universe fan fiction takes place in the same general setting and plot line as the original story. It could be, for example, a prequel or a story that follows characters that aren’t focused on as much in the main plot.
Alternate universe fan fiction explores different settings or plot lines for characters within a fandom. This can be anything from a fanfic where a character who dies in the original story lives or an alternate setting where all of the characters work at a coffee shop. AU fanfics are great for if you want more control over your storyline or want to explore an entirely different setting with characters you already love.
3) Read up on tropes.
Tropes are plot elements or themes that help readers know what to expect from a story. They can also make for great story inspiration or jumping off points. One popular fanfic trope, for example, is “hurt/comfort” — which describes a story where one character is sad and another character (usually a love interest) helps them feel better.
For a few examples, check out this guide to romance tropes or read up on fan fiction terminology for the fandom you’re planning to write in. You may be able to find tropes that are specifically popular within that fandom.
4) Choose a platform.
Right now, there are two main platforms for fan fiction: Archive of Our Own (AO3)* and Wattpad. The beauty in AO3 is its simplicity in design as well as its tags, which makes finding fan fiction for a certain pairing or trope easy. Because it is a nonprofit, it’s also 100% free — though it does take donations to keep the site running.
Wattpad allows for more creativity in presentation. You can, for example, make a cover photo for each story you upload. It’s also more popular among original fiction writers, which can be useful if you write both. Wattpad also uses tags, but AO3 is more well-known for it.
Tumblr has also been a venue for posting fan fiction for the past decade but, in recent years, has fallen in popularity. Often, Tumblr users will link to their AO3 fanfic rather than upload it directly to the site.
Fan Fiction Dot Net was extremely popular during the 2000s, but is less used these days (partially because their site looks about the same as it did when it began in 1998). But, as discussed by Rioter Dana Lee in a previous post on fan fiction, it’s got a large collection of fanfics from the past few decades. It’s great for reading stories from fandoms that have been around for a long time but not necessarily for finding new readers.
I’ve been using AO3 exclusively since 2012 or so, because I like its tagging system and frankly am too stubborn to figure out any other sites unless I have to. That being said, I have friends who seem to get a lot out of Wattpad. It all comes down to personal preference.
*Editor’s Note: AO3 doesn’t automatically filter out triggering content and shows all fanfics for a specific fandom by date.
5) Add tags to help other people find it.
Once you’ve written a standalone or first chapter of a longer project, upload it to your preferred platform and add fandom, trope, and/or pairing tags. One of the most enjoyable parts of writing fanfic is finding a community of writers who enjoy the same fandoms you do. Tags will help other readers find your stories and help you organize your writing.
6) Update regularly, if possible.
Generally, readers prefer longer stories that update on a regular basis. Nobody wants to get invested in a story that will never finish, after all. But, as discussed earlier, this is all up to you. If you want to update every Tuesday, go for it! But if you don’t have time for a set schedule or lose interest in a project, don’t feel pressured to keep writing.
Interested in learning more about fan fiction? Check out this list of the most popular pairings in fan fiction history (including the ship that started it all: Kirk/Spock).