Writing Fan Fiction: The Breakdown You’ve Been Waiting For

There’s an elephant in the room, and we HAVE to talk about it. That’s right, fan fiction is the elephant, and I’m talking about the ins and outs of it.

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Hi, my name is Gracie, and I’m a fan fiction author. Yes, I use a pen name, and no, I will not be linking my accounts in this particular article (maybe later if you’re good). Though I’m sure this shocks no one, seeing as how obsessed I am with romance and how opinionated I am about covers looking like they came from 2012 Wattpad. Today, I’m getting some things off my chest. I’m talking stigmas, common mix-ups, and anything else that pops into my head. Let’s break down and give some much-needed explanation on a controversial topic: fan fiction.

To start off with, I’m just going to answer some basic questions that I know are rattling around in your head. I would assume since you clicked on an article that has fan fiction in the title, you know what it is, but if you don’t, let me tell you what you’re getting into. Fan fiction, by definition, is by the fans for the fans. These are fictitious situations that we, the fans, are putting our favorite fictional characters in because one of two reasons. One: they died too soon (most recently Eddie Munson from Stranger Things) Or two: we simply want more (literally any character ever).

Like any other form of literature, fan fiction is just as complex, falling into all the standard genres and hundreds of sub-genres. While I typically stick to writing romance fics (big shocker), many other (more talented) authors venture into mystery or sci-fi and world-building aspects. But I’m getting ahead of myself because we need to start at the beginning– meaning we need to choose a platform.

Fan Fiction Websites

While I would like to list out all of the fan fiction sites ever created, I don’t have the willpower. Instead, we’ll focus on the top fan fiction sites (as ranked by the fans here).

fan fiction, author, breakdown, stigma
cr. Wikicommons

Archive of Our Own

Ao3 is a website that hosts over 51k fandoms with a whopping 4.8 million users worldwide that have created over 9.6 million works.

I don’t care what list you’re looking at or who developed it. If Ao3 isn’t at the top of it, they’re wrong.


It’s a toss-up between Wattpad and Tumblr for spot two. I’m placing Wattpad higher for one reason. Wattpad cares about its creators (you can learn how much here!).

Wattpad offers a space for inexperienced authors to try their hand at creating something that other like-minded individuals will enjoy.

fan fiction, author, breakdown, stigma
cr. Wattpad
fan fiction, author, breakdown, stigma
cr. Unwrapping Tumblr


As I said, Tumblr and Wattpad are tied. Back in the early 2000s and 2010s, Tumblr was labeled as a cringy website, similar to Wattpad.

Tumblr is a social media as much as it’s a site for fan fiction. Tumblr has its influencers too (and they’re just as annoying as any other social media).
But when it comes to publishing works on a site, I’m always going to lean toward Tumblr.


FanFiction.net is very, very similar to Ao3 in website design. The only difference between the two is that Ao3 allows for MA-rated publishings, and FanFiction.net doesn’t.

However, it is the older of the two. Kind of an OG when it comes to the fan fiction game.

FanFiction.net also has a leg up on Ao3 because they have an app while Ao3 has yet to release theirs. (Please, just give it to us, we’ve waited long enough.)

fan fiction, author, breakdown, stigma
cr. Wikipedia
fan fiction, author, breakdown, stigma
cr. Quotev


We might have to revoke my right to be a fan fic author because this is the first I’ve heard of Quotev.

The second I opened Quotev, I immediately thought of Wattpad. Quotev allows people to create original content and stories but has a specific section of the site for fan fiction.

A plethora of fics have been presented to me, and I will be unavailable for the next three to five business days, thanks.

Okay, now that you’ve chosen a site to publish your work on, what do you write? That’s the fun thing about fan fiction– the answer is you can write literally anything, and there’s going to be an audience for it. Don’t believe me? Check out these five Harry Potter fan fictions, but the ships get progressively weirder the longer you read. If you’re wanting a bit more specific answer, then you can write to supply a specific trope, like the following.

Popular Fan Fiction Tropes

Alternate Universe (AU): Basically, the characters are taken out of their original universe and the story clearly deviates from the canon. Several examples are: soulmate!au, highschool!au, pirate!au, genderswap!au, and so, so, so many more.

Coffee Shop AU: This is a crazy popular one that I see a lot. It’s typically paired with one MC being a tattoo artist? Readers seem to really like the juxtaposition of characters, same as the grumpy/sunshine pairing.

Fan Verse: This is when an author creates a pairing of characters or universe standard that is carried throughout several fics. It’s very similar to an anthology series.

Hurt/Comfort: Hurt/Comfort: This one will have quite a bit of angst but have a balancing amount of fluff. It’s going to place emphasis on the emotional aspect of things.

Only One Bed: …always intriguing. Many fic tropes are self-explanatory, this one included. Two characters are stuck in a room with just one bed and they have to reconcile with that, which usually ends with spicy cuddles.

Fix-it Fics: These are most popular when fans think that characters died too soon in canon. I’m seeing this a lot with Eddie Munson right now. People are not happy with that ending.

Fan fiction has its own language. Though it’s not as extensive as Klingon or Dothraki, there might be some confusing abbreviations or terms that stick out. The secrets of the fan fiction world are steadily bleeding into the traditional publishing world because of the rise of self-publishing.

Common Fan Fiction Terminology

Bang Symbol (!): Short form of expressing a trait or defining quality of a character in a fic.

Omegaverse: Refers to Alpha/Beta/Omega dynamics. Typically seen in werewolf!au fics.

A/N: An author’s personal note on a fic, if you’re looking for a laugh there’s a whole section of TikTok that reads unhinged A/Ns.

Dark: A fic that contains dark!characters, usually behaving in a manner that could be potentially triggering (often paired with dub-con or non-con).

HEA: Refers to Happily Ever After.

Rule 34: “If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.”

Masterlist: A collection of a writer’s entire works.

Multiple Partners: Polyamorous relations between characters. (aka: reverse harem in modern terms).

Shipping: Involves promoting the relationship or pairing of characters.

TW: Refers to Trigger Warning. A list of the events or actions in a fic that could cause a negative reaction from readers (aka: CW: content warning)

PWP: Refers to Plot? What Plot? This is always associated with stories that have little to no actual plot. They’re mostly porn/smut.

OTP: Refers to One True Pair.

Point of View in Fan Fiction

Of course, you also have to keep in mind the different styles of fan fiction writing. Exactly like writing a normal novel or another work, you have to decide if you’re going to write using first or third point of view. However, some fan fictions explore the less popular second POV, these are commonly called reader insert fics.

First Person

Pronouns: I, me, my, mine, myself, we, us, ours, etc

You’ll see this a lot with original characters that authors create. They want to pull you into the story while not using a second or third-person voice and pronouns.

Second Person

Pronouns: you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves

As I mentioned, this one is most common for reader insert fics (a controversial topic because you can’t just casually read reader insert fics). This is when the author wants readers to place themselves directly into the story.

Third Person

Pronouns: he, him, she, her, herself, they, them, their, etc

For this, it’s almost like the reader is watching a movie play out in front of them. The disembodied narrator is telling the actions of Character A and Character B.

I see tons of fics that flip-flop through each perspective because, as a new writer or inexperienced writer, it’s hard to stay in one POV if you don’t have the proper training to fall back on. Most authors spend all day writing exactly as they think, and I don’t know about you, but my brain is a jungle gym that I don’t have the energy to sort through.

If I were working at Bookstr just last year, I would not have been writing this article. When I say there’s a stigma around fan fiction, I mean that it’s shamed and not in a funny, joke way. I’m talking, you can find real people who can’t get with the program. It baffles me that fan fiction (an industry primarily dominated by women) is shamed when things like fantasy football (a man’s industry) is celebrated. Maybe y’all aren’t ready for that discussion yet, though. Nonetheless, let me disspell your concerns around fan fiction.

The Stigma of Fan Fiction

Fan fiction is all about the sex.

A few years ago, even mentioning the idea of fan fiction would warrant something similar to social suicide. It was seen as something you would do in secret and not let anyone else know about it. And while that ideology still rings true with some people, the majority of fan fiction readers and authors have adopted a new stance. Fan fiction has steadily gained traction and clung to the reputation it’s always had of being overtly sexual.

Despite this being partially true, it’s less of a thing now. Why? Because even published authors aren’t shy about including excessively smutty scenes in their works. I mean, look at traditionally published authors like Katee Robert or Tessa Bailey or any other author who isn’t afraid to delve deeper into the romantic vortex that is smut writing. For many people though, fan fiction is just an outlet that they can explore, as a way to answer the burning questions within. Many authors will write to a prompt meant to comfort more than excite.

Oh, so you’re only in this for the viral sensation?

The prospect of a fic going big is hardly ever the goal of a fan fiction author. Becoming something that everyone knows about is a nice cherry on top of the idea of creating joy for a niche group of people. However, many fan fiction authors run their own Twitter pages or continuously update their socials to let their readers know their status on current works. It never fails that if a fic does gain more traction than usual, the author will post regular updates when a new chapter comes out.

That being said, it’s not uncommon for fan fiction to go viral or make it big enough in media so that traditional publishers pick them up. Companies like Wattpad have made this possibility a little more accessible for the new author. The best examples I can give you are works like After by Anna Todd. It was originally posted on Wattpad as a Harry Styles fan fiction, or Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James originally a Twilight fan fiction.

Aren’t fan fiction authors all thirteen-year-olds with nothing to do?

One thing I hear a lot from people is that fan fiction authors are just horny teenagers with too much time on their hands. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Plenty of authors on any fan fiction site are open about being in their twenties, thirties, or older. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some fifteen-year-olds writing the most age-inappropriate fics ever to see the light of day, but they’re few and far between. Most authors I read have been writing since their teens, but they still maintain full-time jobs or a full college course load.

Isn’t that illegal?

Technically? Yes… but there’s loopholes that fan fiction falls through. Why? Because fan fiction is a derivative work of an original creative character which completely violates copyright laws. Most fics don’t gain enough traction to warrant the time or effort it would take to prosecute them. If they do (like in the case of After and Fifty Shades), names are changed, descriptions altered, and any evidence that the work was a derivative in its original form is scrubbed from the public eye. But the Internet never forgets. However, there have been cases like the Bridgerton musical that don’t work out in favor of the fan fiction authors.

My point of this article is to further promote the idea that fan fiction should be recognized for what it is. Fan fiction is another form of writing that takes just as much effort and time as a regular novel. And just because these authors aren’t published traditionally, it doesn’t make their work any less immaculate than those who are.

I’m pretty sure I’ve covered the majority of questions I get asked when I tell people I write (and enjoy) fan fiction, but keep an eye out for a second part to this article if anything else comes up!

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