The Ins and Outs of Fanfiction: A Guide to Enhance Your Fanfiction Experience

November 2011 Lisette Westerveldt

Fanfiction, or fanfic, is one of the more popular and modern phenomena of the past century. Indeed, the amount of online fanfiction has soared to unimaginable heights in the last few years, garnering numerous fans and even some cult-like followings. Most of you have heard of it, many of you have probably read it, and some of you may even have written some.

But whether you are an avid reader or someone who occasionally enjoys reading a story or two, here is a guide to help you improve your fanfiction experience.

What is it?
Fanfiction, as it name implies, is fiction written by fans for fans, where characters/settings from pre-existing works (including books, movies, TV shows, etc…) are used by fans to create stories.

What is so appealing about it?
Good fanfiction is meant to excite the reader. Like a good book, it should make you laugh out loud or burst into tears—anything that will cause you to become emotionally invested in the story. One of the best things about fanfiction is that it takes the characters that already know about and love, and enhances them through new fiction.

Where can I read it?
There are many sites that have fanfiction, the most popular being and However, there are other sites that have been created for specific types of fanfiction, like, a site which contains only Harry Potter fanfiction. Other examples include,, and

For those of you who have recently begun reading fanfiction, you may have noticed there are often weird abbreviations or mysterious terms included in the summaries. If you haven’t already researched or found out what they mean, here is a list of frequently used terms in fanfiction.

AU (Alternative Universe) refers to stories where the plot deviates greatly from the original work. This usually involves an alternate timeline and/or changing a character’s personality from the way the original author wrote them.
Bashing refers to stories where the author expresses their dislike of a certain character by making them out to be a horrible person, having them do horrible things, etc…
Canon refers to the original work written by the original author.
Crossover refers to stories where different works of fiction are combined into a single story.
Fandom refers to a group of people who enjoy a specific work of fanfiction and get together online to talk about it.
Femslash refers to stories with female homosexual pairings.
Het refers to stories where there are heterosexual pairings.
Mary Sue refers to an original character in fanfiction but is unrealistic to the readers because she is too perfect.
OOC (Out of Character) refers to stories where the characters act or think much differently from how they appear in the original work.
OC (Original Character) indicates that there is a character in the story that is not from the original work, but has been created by the fan-author.
Ship (Relationship) refers to the favorite romantic couple of a fanfiction author.
Slash/Yaoi refers to stories with male homosexual pairings.

How to Find Good Fanfiction:

Let’s face it. Finding good fanfiction, especially on, is not easy. There are so many sloppily-written, boring, or utterly clichéd stories on there, that it makes finding a good fanfic extremely difficult and time-consuming.

But don’t get worried, here are some tips for finding good fanfiction:

1. Don’t use filters—they don’t work. While this is the most common way people found potentially good stories in the past, because of the increase in fanfiction stories, you’ll most likely get stuck in a sea of grammar mistakes and spelling errors.

2. Look at the summary. When browsing, look at the summary of works to differentiate between the good and bad. If a summary has numerous grammatical/spelling errors, the story is apt to be the same.

3. Find fanfiction recommendations through Google. There are lots of fanfic recommendations online. If you have a genre/plot type that you’re looking for, specify that in your search and it will make finding a good story that much easier.

4. Search for stories in communities. They’ve already picked out the good stories from the bad, so you only have to choose which ones you want to read.

5. Explore different sites. Fanfiction has lots of great fanfiction, but so do other websites. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different fanfic sites to find more stories.

6. Look at peoples’ “Favorite Stories” section. If you come across a story you really like, visit the author’s profile, and look through their “Favorite Stories” to see if there’s something you like. Chances are, if you like their writing, you’ll most likely end up liking the stories they read. This can also be done by looking at their “Favorite Authors” section as well.

All of these methods are good—but not foolproof. My personal favorite is the last method, since it allows the searcher to find the more obscure and lesser known works of fanfic. This is especially helpful for those who are avid readers that have already read most of the good fanfiction online, and want to find new stories.

However, the way you search for fanfiction is something that should be entirely up to you. Use the methods work best for you and that you feel comfortable with, but also don’t be scared to try something new every once and a while.

…And One Last Tip:
Now, before you go, remember to always keep an open mind. Just because a certain pairing or type of plotline is unusual doesn’t mean that it’s not good, so don’t be afraid to read stories with pairings that are very different from what they are in the canon. If you see a Luna/Harry or Draco/Hermione fanfic that catches your eye, don’t hesitate—try it out! You may find that you may actually enjoy reading some stories that you never thought you would. The whole point of fanfiction is for fans to use their imaginations and come up with stories that deviate greatly from the original work, so as long as you enjoy the story you’re reading, read whatever you want to read.