4 Ways to Get Started Writing Fanfiction

If you've ever thought about writing fanfiction, these four areas to explore will get you started and make you a better overall fiction writer.

Diana M. Pho, writing for
4-minute read
Episode #806
The Quick And Dirty

Fanfiction is a great way to experiment with writing nuanced characters and their deep human interactions.

You can develop your fiction writing skills through all sorts of experiences, and (contrary to some advice floating around on social media) you don’t have to have a specialized degree to learn to be a great writer of any kind.  Communication skills are part and parcel in many fields, including the STEM industries, education, journalism, and any kind of administrative and white collar work that involves the all mighty pen (or computer!). And as you’re honing your skills at work, you’re also developing skills that will make you a better fiction writer. But today, we’ll talk about what can you learn through the casual writing hobby known as fanfiction.

Fanfiction, usually spelled as one word or affectionately referred to as “fanfic,” is defined as creative writing inspired by pre-existing media, whether it be books, television shows, games, films, or toy and media brands. In our age of longstanding franchises like Star Wars, Disney films, and the Marvel and DC comic book universes, it isn’t surprising that many people are drawn to creating their own stories based on their favorite characters and worlds.

Notable respected and award-winning science fiction and fantasy writers have also had their start writing fanfiction. Nebula and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award-winning author Naomi Novik, for example, is also the founder of fanworks website “Archive of Our Own.” Other famous writers, such as Hugo Award-winning fantasy writer Seanan McGuire, “New York Times”-bestselling author Lev Grossman, and bestselling queen of YA fiction Meg Cabot, have also talked about their past dabblings in fanfiction before writing their own original works.

Even if you have no experience writing or creating fanworks, there is still a lot to learn from fanfiction writing culture that you can apply to your “original fic.” 

1. Fall in love with your romantic tropes

While romance is its own genre and market with a specific set of standards, fanfiction writing culture has adapted the romance genre’s tropes and applied them to stories about superheroes, manga and anime stars, battle-hardened warriors, and space adventurers. Since most pre-existing media tends to focus heavily on the action of the story, a lot of space is left in the margins for fanfiction writers to speculate on the more emotional side of their characters.

Hence, in fanfiction culture, readers get addicted to reading the romantic tropes about their favorite pairing (also known as their “ship” — short for “relationship”). In fact, some tropes have become so common in fanfiction, they have increased in popularity for genre books of all types. Some well-loved romantic fanfiction tropes that are becoming more popular in general fiction include:

  • Found Family, where a group of strangers or friends become a second family to each other.
  • Enemies to Lovers, when two polar opposites have a contentious but charged attraction to each other before finally getting together.
  • Hurt/Comfort, when a character gets injured, ill, or mentally or emotionally hurt, and then is comforted by another character.
  • Marriage of Convenience or Pretending Dating, when characters form a fake relationship for plot reasons, which then slowly becomes genuine.

2. Embrace your characters’ quiet moments 

Writers often get told that publishers want to see plot-driven stories and assume that this means the action has to be nonstop. However, some popular fanfiction subgenres only focus on smaller story stakes and slice-of-life scenarios. Readers enjoy these downtime moments as a chance to really get to know characters outside of tense or life-changing plot situations. You can also look at incorporating these sweet and soft moments in your own novel to help readers really cheer your characters on.

Coffee Shop Alternative Universe

For instance, “The Coffee Shop Alternative Universe” or “Coffee Shop AU” is the idea that characters work in a common service industry job. It focuses on everyday interactions, people getting to know each other through chit-chat and maybe enjoying a pleasant cafe atmosphere! 

Holiday fic

“Holiday fic” (also "holidayfic") is the name for stories that center around major holidays, like Christmas, Halloween, Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving. Authors also use fictional holidays that fit in that world’s universe, like “Life Day” in Star Wars. Major themes of these stories focus on the bonding between family and friends while sharing true moments of joy and fun.

Roadtrip fic

“Roadtrip fic” is similar to holidayfic, and lets characters relax with each other through scenic travel, beach trips, or camping. It is also an opportunity to put your characters in interesting situations that reveal new facets of their personality without putting them at great risk. Just think about all of the memorable moments that happened the last time you went on vacation and how your characters can benefit by doing the same!

3. Dig into the emotions of your character’s narrative voice

In fanfiction writing, what readers really crave is writing that can capture the “true voice” of the characters they see on TV and film, in video game scenarios, and in books. A common expression fans embrace is “All the feelz!” when fanfiction achieves that perfect blend of in-character voice and a new level of novel emotional situations for the characters. Likewise, you can consider how to bring a heightened emotional and conversational tone to your story as part of its narrative voice.

4. Write the book of your heart, especially when it comes to representation and inclusion 

Most importantly, fanfiction culture frequently is in reaction to “canon,” a.k.a., the known facts presented in an established fiction universe. In particular, fanfiction writers — especially those from marginalized backgrounds — like to write so they can include people like themselves into the media narrative. Queer folx, people of color, people from the disability community, people from marginalized religions, and other minorities tend to appear often in fanfiction to make up for their lack of presence in canon. 

More and more often, media series and entertainment franchises have been criticized for their problems with representation and inclusion — and rightly so. The advantage as the creator of your own works, of course, is that you’re creating your own “canon”! So don’t hesitate to make it as wide and representative as you want, without limiting yourself to a preconceived norm of what a story “should” include. 

By keeping these tips in mind, fanfiction may help broaden your own creative imagination when writing your stories! So thank you inner fanfiction writer for touching on the things you should care about to make even your original book richer and more fulfilling.

Image by cometstarmoon at Flickr. CC BY 2.0

About the Author

Diana M. Pho, writing for Grammar Girl

Diana M. Pho is an independent scholar, playwright, and Hugo-Award-nominated book editor. She has a double bachelor’s degree in English and Russian literature from Mount Holyoke College and a master’s in performance studies from New York University. Learn more about her work and editorial services at dianampho.com