Fanfiction is an adaption of a work that already exists. It contains the same characters and is set in the same world as a story that was created by someone else. Fanfiction is the best way for fans to create their own story in a world they like or tweak a story thread they don’t quite enjoy. Fanfiction contains already existing characters but can also contain new characters that don’t exist in the original work. In fanfiction, anything goes.
But for many, writing fanfiction is a completely foreign concept. Perhaps you have no idea where to start, or you’ve tried dipping your toes in and have become confused by the strange lingo used in the genre. Never fear, because here are 13 tips to help you write better fanfiction.
1. Choose a Large Franchise
What can you write about? Well, anything, really. I guarantee if you like a certain show, movie, or book, there is already fanfiction that exist for it. You can write about anything you enjoy—but it might not be beneficial to you if you write fanfiction about something so niche that only a small number of people will see it. It’s important to find your niche in writing, but if that niche is too small, you won’t gain any significant number of followers.
So, for your first fanfiction, think of big franchises such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, etc. You’ve probably already heard of Harry Potter fanfiction, as it’s infamous for containing some . . . strange stories. For example, there’s a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction about the Marauders (James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew) and the adventures they had before Harry ever came to Hogwarts. As J.K. Rowling hasn’t given us writings showing those times, the people of the fandom took it upon themselves to do it for her.
You can write about any franchise you desire, although I would suggest choosing one that has a large fanbase already. That way, your work is more likely to get the attention it deserves.
2. Pay Attention to Ships
Ships (the romantic pairing of two characters) are extremely important in fanfiction. Almost every work has ships, and there are at least a few people supporting each ship, but some are more popular than others. If you want to create an attention-grabbing story, and especially if you’re writing romance, you’ll want to choose a ship most people love.
For example, and let’s use Harry Potter again, a lot of people ship Harmony (Harry Potter x Hermione Granger.) If you write a fanfiction about them getting together, it’s sure to gain a lot of support. However, if you write about a lesser known, less supported ship, such as Remily (Remus Lupin x Lily Potter,) you’re not likely to get as much attention.
Any ship will have some support in every fandom, that’s a given, but if you choose to write about one that’s less prominent, you’ll get less traction, so keep that in mind.
3. Rely on Canon
One of the most annoying things about fanfiction is when they change canon (original/official rules of a world.) If Hermione suddenly has blond, silky hair in a fanfiction, that’s going to throw off the readers. At best, it will create a lot of confusion, and at worse it could turn people away from reading your story. I’ve received a lot of comments on my fanfiction about how much I adhere to canon, which I always try my hardest to take into account. It’s okay to change some things about the canon in your story—adding characters, showing side stories, etc.—that’s the purpose of fanfiction. But you need to keep it as consistent as possible with the official lore, or else you might lose readers.
4. Specify the Rules of the AU (Alternate Universe)
The beauty of fanfiction is adapting the canon to your personal headcanon (your interpretation of the official lore). This change is what makes fanfiction unique from the original work; otherwise, readers would just read the original version. If your story is going to change the rules of the original work, you must specify that somewhere within the story where the readers are sure to see it. For my fanfiction, I commonly put the AU notes within the description of the story. And most people, if they drastically change the rules of the story, will put the letters “AU” in the title or the description. This means the story takes place in an alternate universe that is similar to the original work but isn’t quite the same. If your story is still set in the same universe with the same rules, you don’t have to include “AU,” but you can put “Alternate Timeline,” although most people don’t do that.
If your story is an AU, specify the rules and why it’s different from canon. Sometimes that can be accomplished in the story itself. For example, in my AU notes, I like to specify the ages of the characters, as I always change them to be around my own age. I also always like to put what ship I’m writing about in the description, as that will help attract the correct readers to the book and avoid unneeded hate.
If your story isn’t an AU, you should probably specify in a note where in the timeline the story goes to avoid reader confusion.
5. Make Sure Your Story Is Rated Correctly
Many fanfiction websites have the capability to rate your story according to the content within, similar to the book ratings at Book Cave. These are important, as they will influence who sees your book. On some websites, if you haven’t specified the rating, it will treat the story as if it is mature, limiting the amount of people who see the story. I have made this mistake before, stunting the growth of my story, so be sure to pay attention to that depending on the websites you choose to publish your story on.
6. Make a Good Cover
As with all books, people will judge the story by the cover. Most of the time, you’ll want to include pictures or fan renderings of the characters themselves, so people can know simply by glancing at the cover who and what it is about. With licensing and copyright, that’s not always possible, but try your best. I like to put the fact that it’s a fanfiction on the cover, but that’s totally up to you. Just make sure it’s as eye catching as possible.
7. Put the Title of the Original Work in the Title of Your Story
This will help the algorithm find the people who will want to read your story, along with helping readers who see the story know that it’s a fanfiction for the work.
8. Know the Types of Stories
The most common fanfiction stories I’ve seen are canon characters and their interactions with each other, most of the time romantically. But there are a lot of other forms of fanfiction out there. Some people will merge two works together to create a whole new world. Some people will make up characters and insert them into the world, revolving the story around them.
A very popular version of story is the Y/N style. Y/N is an abbreviation of “Your Name.” Most commonly, the fanfiction community likes to do the format of “Canon Character x Y/N” or “Canon Character x Reader.” These stories will ship a canon character with the reader, allowing the reader to fill in their own name. It’s not a choose your own adventure story, though. It’s essentially a normal story, except you don’t give the main character a name or any descriptive features. This style of story is popular because it’s common in fandoms for people to fall in love with a certain character and desire to see themselves in the story. But you can also do this type of story without the romantic aspect.
Another popular story type is a one shot, which is essentially an extremely short story, generally only one chapter. People like them because they’re tiny little stories they can read them in one sitting.
And there’s also fluff (wholesome, mostly romantic, interactions). Fluff is extremely popular when it comes to two characters that either aren’t together yet, or don’t get enough time together. Fluff is interjected into a lot of different fanfictions. It’s not necessarily its own style; I simply wanted to mention it here because it’s so vital to the fanfiction community.
9. Remember to Mark Your Story as Complete
You can post your story all at once, or in pieces. If you write the entire story, and then post, say, a chapter a week, your story will move to the top of the list with each new post, giving you more chances to reach more readers. But once you complete your story, make sure to mark your fanfiction as finished—an option that most fanfiction websites have—since many readers won’t start a story until it’s finished. I’ve made this mistake before, but since marking the story as complete, I’ve received a lot more reads.
Make sure to mention in the description of the story, in your profile, and at the end of the story that you are an author, and always link to your author website. Be careful, because some fanfiction websites have rules against self-promotion, but most will at least let you put a link to your website. The main point, in my opinion, of writing fanfiction is to increase your reader fanbase, so always remember to do this.
Also, every fanfiction website I’ve been on has a kind of vote system, along with a view count. As you are writing (and once you’ve finished with the story as a whole,) encourage your readers to vote, comment, and send the story to their friends. This will help your exposure on the website.
Also, do not be scared to add author notes. I see them all the time in fanfiction, and it helps readers feel more connected to the author of the story. These are usually placed right before the first chapter (for information the reader needs to know about the work, like the AU or a summary), or at the end of the book (for information the reader doesn’t need to know but may be interested in, like more self-promotion and your reason for writing the story). Author notes can also placed at the beginning of chapters (like to include trigger warnings or an update about you or an award you won).
11. Know the Fanfiction Terms
I’ve included many of them in this article already, but there are a lot of slang words surrounding the fanfiction community you’ve likely never heard before. As such, I’ve compiled a list of terms for you to know below, including ones I’ve already defined in this article. This isn’t an extensive list by any means, but it should help you get started. (NOTE: These are my definitions, not the dictionary’s.)
AU: Acronym. Alternate universe
Ship: Noun. A romantic relationship between two characters. Example: “They’re my favorite ship.” Verb. An act of desiring two characters to be together. Example: “I ship them.”
Canon: Noun. Official or established lore of the original work. Example: “Their relationship is canon.”
Headcanon: Noun. An interpretation of the original work that isn’t necessarily supported by the canon, mostly specific to individuals. Example: “My headcanon is that he’s actually dead, and this is the afterlife.”
Fluff: Noun. Non-stressful, wholesome, mostly romantic, interactions between two characters. Example: “I came here for fluff, not drama!”
Ship name: Noun. The combining of two characters names in order to display the pairing of those two characters. Example: “Adrien and Marinette’s ship name is Adrinette.”
OTP: Acronym. One true pair. The two characters you want to get together above all else, even if you like the other pairings. Example: “Adrienette is my OTP.”
One shot: Noun. Small, chapter-length story or scene. Example: “I like reading Adrienette one shots.”
Character x character: Phrase. Another way of saying the two characters mentioned are paired together in a romantic relationship. Example: “Felix x Marinette isn’t my favorite ship.”
Y/N: Acronym. Your Name. Commonly used in fanfiction to allow the reader to self-insert into the story. Some authors use “reader” instead of Y/N. Example: “This is a Harry Potter x Y/N story.”
Fandom: Noun. A group of people who share interest in one thing such as a movie, TV show, or book series. Example: “The Harry Potter fandom is massive.”
12. Keep in Mind Copyright Laws
Since you are writing with characters that don’t belong to you, you could get sued for it, although that is very rare. Actually, as long as you stay within fair use laws, fanfiction is legal. To keep yourself protected, make sure to cite whatever work you’re basing your story on, and make it clear that it is a fanfiction, not an original work. Also know that the more original your story is, the safer you are according to fair use laws. Use your own dialogue and your plots. Be respectful of the world the original author created; in other words, don’t write something that might reflect negatively on the original book or impact its sales. As long as you’re respectful and don’t try to pretend the world and characters are yours, you’ll be fine. In fact, most creators appreciate fanfictions of their work. If an author does have a problem with a fanfiction, they are more likely to ask the writer to take it down rather than to sue them. If you are asked to do so, it will be because you have used too much of the story (plagiarism) and haven’t used enough of your own creativity.
And finally, don’t sell your fanfiction; doing so without written permission from the copyright owner is clearly illegal. While you might not endure any consequences for doing so, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer; I can only speak from experience and research!
There are a lot of things about the fanfiction community that can’t be explained in a single article, so it’s imperative you get out there and look at the fanfictions already circulating in the fandom of your choice. It’s possible the fanfiction in your corner of the internet will be different than the ones in mine.
I hope this helped you on your journey to writing fanfiction! Let me know if you have any other questions in the comments down below. Happy writing!