What is Fan Fiction?: An Overview of Fanfic

Fanfiction at the Guardian

Fan fiction (sometimes spelled fanfiction and shortened to fanfic or fic) refers to creative writing derived from an existing work. These are usually stories based on the characters or settings of that work, but can also include poetry, vignettes, parodies, and other forms of creative fiction. As the name implies, it is written by fans of the existing works, rather than the original author.

Marias Fanfic
Fanfiction is story based on characters with creative fiction – image by aragonoutlook.org

Most fan fiction is unauthorised, although there have been examples of officially sanctioned and professionally published fanfic, such as the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Fan Fiction Online

The popularity of fan fiction has swelled with the growth of the internet, which has allowed fanfic writers to find a wider audience and receive rapid feedback. Readers and writers enjoy greater interactivity in the internet age, and a number of fan fiction communities exist online to feed this demand.

Some of these communities, such as FanFiction.Net, include fanfic based on a wide range of books, television shows, movies, plays, and games.

Fanfiction.net website – image by says.com

Others, such as FictionAlley, are centred on a specific work or series of works (in this case, Harry Potter). There are also communities dedicated to specific romantic pairings, whether real or imagined, within a work (such as Mulder and Scully in The X-Files). Some communities may focus on a particular genre of fiction, such as slash.

Fictionalley.org – image by giftawayoftheday.com

Blogging community LiveJournal is also home to a range of fan fiction communities, while many fanfic writers publish their work on blogs and personal websites.


Common Fan Fiction Terminology

  • A/N – Short for Author’s Note. An additional note that is sometimes placed at the start or end of a chapter to explain or elaborate on the particular chapter or story.
  • AU – Short for Alternative Universe. Refers to fanfic in which canonical events or situations in the existing work are purposely altered. Authors may warn readers in the summary or author’s note that the following work will be AU.
  • Beta reader – Someone who reads and edits a fanfic prior to publication.
FEATURED IMAGE New York Book Editors    What You Need to Know About Working With Beta Treated
Beta reader – image by nybookeditors.com
  • Canon – The officially accepted “facts” of a particular work.
  • Crossover – A fic that combines the characters or situations of two or more existing works.
  • OC – Short for Original Character, i.e. a character created by the fan fiction author.
  • R&R – Short for Read and Review. Fanfic authors may write “R&R” at the beginning or end of a chapter to encourage readers to provide feedback.
All New All Different Avengers Annual  review featured
Fanfic authors encourage readers to provide feedback – image by nerdist.com
  • Shipping – The development or reinforcement of romantic relationships between two characters. These relationships may or may not exist within canon. “Shippers” may denote the pairings in their fics with a forward slash between the two characters’ names (e.g. Tony/Ziva in NCIS) or by blending the two names together (e.g. “Tiva”).
A couple shipping – image by iowalum.com
  • Slash – A type of fanfic centred on a pairing of two characters of the same sex. These pairings are usually non-canon and the stories may be quite explicit.

More fanfic jargon and definitions can be found at the archived Fanfiction Glossary.

Legal and Moral Issues

There is debate over whether fan fiction is acceptable under the doctrine of “Fair use” in the United States (where most fanfic is hosted or produced) or if it is in fact a breach of copyright. Most fanfic authors include disclaimers in their stories, acknowledging the authors or copyright owners of the original work.

Some authors, such as J.K. Rowling have given their support to fan fiction, while others have made moves to remove any fanfic derived from their work.

J.K Rowling (Harry Potter writer) support fanfiction – image by uol.com

A particularly controversial type of fanfic is Real Person Fiction (RPF). In RPF, the central characters are real life celebrities as opposed to fictional creations.

The legality and morality of RPF is questioned more than that of traditional fan fiction due to its potentially defamatory nature. Writers of RPF go to great lengths to emphasise that their portrayals of people are not meant to represent their real life counterparts in any way.



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