Fanfiction 101

It should be pretty obvious to regular listeners that Renata and Kait are strongly pro-fandom and pro-fanfiction. In fact, fandom is how we met sixteen years ago! Not infrequently when recommending alternatives to the books on this podcast, we tell our listeners to seek out fanfiction instead. While that may be easy enough for some of our listeners, the fandom subculture is still only just inching its way into the spotlight and many of you might be wondering where to begin. Below, we’ve put together a short guide for newbies seeking out fanfiction.


  • Fanfiction (aka “fanfic”, or just “fic”) is fiction written by fans! It’s any kind of story, ranging from a 100 word drabble to a 100k word epic, written about established characters from books, movies, TV shows, or anything else, by fans who did not create (or get official permission to use) those characters.
  • Often, fanfiction gets a reputation for only being about sex. There’s a lot of that, but it’s certainly not the only kind of fic there is! If you’re not interested in fic about the romantic or sexual relationships between characters, you’re looking for “gen” fic, and there’s plenty of that. There’s also “het,” which is about straight couples; “slash”, which is about queer men; “femmeslash,” which is about queer women, and “poly” or “multi”, which is about threesomes and beyond.
  • You might have noticed that fandom, like most hobbies, has its own distinct terminology, which might take a while to get used to. If you come across terms you’re unfamiliar with (like “mpreg” or “dubcon”), try looking them up at Fanlore.
  • Archive Of Our Own has its own FAQ, which may seem overwhelming to a new reader, but may also be helpful if you have specific questions.



  • There are a lot of different places that fanfiction is archived on the internet! In early days, it was mostly on people’s individual websites (RIP Geocities) or on fandom-specific archives. These days, the best way to find fanfiction is through large, multi-fandom archives, especially when you’re just starting out. FanFiction.Net is one you may have heard of, but we recommend skipping that one and directing your search to (AO3). AO3 allows for better filtering and more specific searches. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that AO3 requires an invitation to create an account! If you add yourself to the invite request list, you should get one in a day or so. Also, you can read most fanworks as a guest, without an account there.
  • If you already use Tumblr, you might have seen fics and fanworks on your dashboard. If not, you might try searching Tumblr for the character or pairing you’re interested in. Tumblr users will often tag fics with a portmanteau name, which can be confusing. For example, fics about Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr from X-Men will often be tagged “Cherik.” If you don’t already use Tumblr, we don’t necessarily advocate it as the place to start looking for fics. AO3 is more straightforward. (There, a pair is indicated by a slash between two characters’ names, like “Charles/Erik.” That’s where the term “slash” comes from!)


  • A good way to start might be to find a fandom and character or pairing that you like on AO3 and then filtering those stories by popularity, aka “Kudos.” Not every story that gets a lot of Kudos is necessarily good, but it’s a more targeted way to wade into fanfiction for the first time.
  • AO3 uses a tagging organizational system where you can tag your stories with the tropes used within, eg: hurt/comfort, sharing a bed, domestic fic, and different kinks and sex acts (BDSM, spanking, rimming, anal sex, oral sex, etc). If there’s a particular trope/sex act/kink you like, you can click on that tag and it will show you everything in the archive that uses that trope.
  • Find authors you like and stick with them. If you have an account on AO3, you can “subscribe” to an author and get an email when they update.
  • AO3 also has a bookmark function. Not everyone uses it, but if there’s an author you really like, check out their bookmarks–they might like the same kind of fic they write, so that might be a good jumping off point to find new things.
  • Heed the warnings, tags, and chapters of a fic. The warnings outline material that you might find upsetting or offensive, such as sexual assault or character death. The tags will list different things that might happen in the story, like sex acts or particular tropes, making it easy to seek out or avoid stories with your favorite or least-favorite subjects. The chapters let you know if it’s complete or unfinished. Be warned that frequently projects are abandoned without being finished, so if you’re someone who HAS to know how something ends, stick to stories that are labelled complete!
  • Don’t be afraid to back-button out if a fic isn’t working for you… just because you clicked on it doesn’t mean you’re committed to it.


  • The truth is, there is a TON of fanfiction out there, and just like there are excellent books and garbage books, there is excellent fic and garbage fic. The way some people in fandom talk (including us on the podcast sometimes), it might seem like every piece of fanfiction is a shining beacon of perfect characterization and well-written sex scenes, but the fact that it’s a hobby that anyone can pick up without having to pass a test or meet certain standards is both the best and worst thing about fandom. While it is great that fandom encourages people (largely young women) to put words on the page and create art regardless of skill level, it does mean you have to do some selective sifting in order to find things that are a) about the characters you want to read about; b) using tropes you enjoy; and c) well-written.
  • But the other thing about fandom is that it’s super subjective! Your favorite author might be my least favorite author, and that’s okay! Believe me, in the large and varied world of fanfiction, there is something for everyone, so go your own way, dive into AO3, and hunt down the stories that appeal to YOU 🙂 And if you’re not finding the exact fic you want to read, it could just be a sign that it’s time for you to write your own!


Further reading:

If you have more questions, feel free to tweet us @worstbestseller or email us at worstbestsellers at gmail dot com, and we’ll be happy to try to explain things as best we can. Fandom can be intimidating to start, but it can also be a lot of fun!

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