Delane Just

Image: Pixabay. Used under CC0 Creative Commons

Though the terminology is fairly new, “fanfiction,” also known as “fanfic,” is not necessarily a new concept. It is commonly believed that fanfiction started during the age of the internet, but this is not exactly true. For instance, Star Trek fanfiction was previously distributed through “fanzines” such as “Spockanalia” (Verba 1). However, the internet definitely contributed to the increase popularity of Fanfiction as popular sites such as (FFN) and Archiveofourown (AO3) are growing exponentially. I will explore how the internet plays into the success and growth of fanfiction as well as in what ways fanfiction allows for new storytelling possibilities.

So, what exactly is Fanfiction?

Oxford English Dictionary defines “Fanfiction” as a piece of writing “written by a fan rather than a professional author, esp. that based on already-existing characters from a television series, book, film, etc.” (OED, “fanfiction”). What separates fanfiction from retellings, it seems, is the lack of formal publication and profit. Fanfiction is primarily an online phenomenon despite having its roots in fanzine publications and retellings of older beloved stories. So, while yes, Chaucer did base Troilus and Criseyde on Boccaccio’s version of the same tale, it is not quite fanfiction…Or is it?

This definition falls apart when considering Amazon’s Kindle Worlds: an online paid publishing service run by amazon for fanfiction writers. CNN writer Julianne Pepitone calls this “a big first step in legitimizing fan fiction” (Pepitone). With the possibility of publication and profit, the definition of fanfiction seems to be changing and evolving.

It is difficult to exactly define fanfiction as different from retellings because in, many ways, they work in essentially the same ways. Authors of both types of work use pre-established settings, characters, plot hooks, and storylines to create their own version. However, what is generally thought of as “fanfiction” is typically a free and online publication written by unpaid fans in their spare time. As Katherine McCain puts it, “Though all of these works are technically fanfiction, they are not the fanfiction of today. They are not, to be blunt, what one would normally term ‘fanfiction’ in a colloquial or an academic conversation despite what the definitions seem to suggest” (4). Whereas retellings and reimaginings were recited orally or are read in codex form, fanfiction is almost entirely online. What defines fanfiction of today, according to McCain is “ its communal nature, its reliance on the Internet, and its desire to combine the creative with the critical” (4). These are the areas I will be exploring in relation to how fanfiction acts as a form of internet storytelling.

Fanfiction and The World Wide Web:

The internet is what made fanfiction so widespread and versatile. Fanfiction’s online form makes it easily accessible and appealing to people who want to read on a budget. Unlike the library which requires you to physically go out and get the book, online publications are accessible from home for anyone with an internet connection. This combined with the “free” aspect of fanfiction makes it appealing. Also, the internet makes it possible for fanfiction to be posted quickly and for free. Sites like and Archive of Our Own only require you to make an account before being able to post your own fanfiction. Thus, anyone with internet access can read‒or write‒fanfiction.

The online form also allows fanfiction to appeal to a modern audience. Because of the ease of publication, fanfiction can stay up-to-date with current trends in humour and global events. While traditionally published novels must go through time-consuming stages of editing and proofreading and marketing, fanfiction can be posted as soon as the work is completed. In contrast, novels may take a few years to become published and the humour and/or political message may become outdated. For example, a novel may attempt to use modern teenage slang trends such as “swag” or “l8ter” which may have been “cool” at the time of the initial writing of the novel but are currently outdated and would be off putting to young readers who have since moved on to new slang terms.

The nature of free online publication also allows for the writers of fanfiction to experiment. Since they are not required to adhere to traditional publishing standards, fanfic authors can write about taboo subjects such as LGBTQ+ issues. While there are traditionally published novels that explore these topics, it is more common to find LGBTQ+ narratives within fanfiction (Bay 72). Because it is free and online: what you want to write about in fanfiction is open.

It is also easier for people to read about these taboo subjects freely. As Jessica Bay notes in “Re-Writing Publishing: Fanfiction and Self-Publication in Urban Fantasy,” “Ereaders also mean that women in particular can read whatever book they choose, wherever they choose, without worrying that they will be embarrassed by the cover of the book” (59). Fanfiction works much in the same way as it too can be read online discreetly.

New Storytelling Possibilities

As Katherine McCain points out in her thesis, “Canon vs ‘fanon,’” fanfiction opens up new storytelling possibilities. Because it is published online, anyone with internet access to read or post fanfiction. This accessibility within the fanfiction format makes it possible for more people to share their work online.

However, the accessibility of publishing fanfiction is also what makes it notorious for bad quality writing. This is partly because fanfiction values different aspects of storytelling. As McCains puts it, “a fic with numerous spelling and grammar mistakes may still become popular if it houses an original idea” (7), meaning that more people can have their work read and critiqued without the difficulties of the formal publishing process.

Another key element of fanfiction is community writing. As McCain states, a central aspect of fic is “the sharing and overlapping of knowledge” (5). Fanfiction is based on pre-established settings and characters and a collective fan experiences, such as “headcanons” which are “elements and interpretations of a fictional universe accepted by an individual fan, but not necessarily found within or supported by the official canon” (Wiktionary, “headcanon”) of the source material. In fandom terminology, “canon” means the official and accepted elements of the original work that fanfiction is based from. For instance, the fact that Harry and Ginny Weasley are married in the epilogue of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows is part of the series’ canon. Contrastly, a fan’s “headcanon” could be that Harry and Hermione were romantically interested in each other throughout the novels. While this idea is not officialized in the books themselves, one could make the argument that they were interested in one another through using evidence from the narrative to support their conclusion. For example, Harry and Hermione dance together in The Deathly Hallows which can be construed by fans as a romantic act which would support the aforementioned headcanon.

Like how Medieval authors used well-known myths to situate their narratives (ie. the usage of Ovid and Virgil’s texts in much of Chaucer’s work), fanfiction authors use a text’s “canon” as the base for their own stories. Through this overlapping of knowledge, fanfiction communities adopt vocabulary related to both the primary text as well as internet slang. Fanfiction writers write to be read by other members of their fandoms, meaning they can rely heavily on fandom jargon and slang.

This layering of knowledge is what makes fanfiction so popular. Fanfiction allows readers and writers to think longer about characters and worlds they already love but in a new and creative way. As Carrie Bebris, author of the “Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries” says, “the books we love the most are the ones where you close the book and you’re still thinking about those characters…we want to be drawn into their lives again, because we didn’t get enough the first time” (Contrera).

Infinite Possibilities:

Like the novel, fanfiction has infinite possibilities. Genres in fanfiction can range from romance, to sci-fi, to epic fantasy. Through fanfiction, writing and publishing becomes more accessible for people online. Overall, online fanfiction acts as a innovation in storytelling through the way it invites writers to play with narrative conventions in order to recreate a beloved story into something new.

Works Cited

Abrahamson, Megan B. (2013). J.R.R. Tolkien, Fanfiction, and “The Freedom of The Reader”. Mythlore, 32(1), 55.

(AO3) “Archive of Our Own Beta.” Archive of Our Own, The Organization for Transformative Works, Accessed Jan. 8th, 2019.

Bay, Jessica L. Re-Writing Publishing: Fanfiction and Self-Publication in Urban Fantasy, University of Lethbridge (Canada), Ann Arbor, 2014.

Chandler-Olcott, Kelly, & Mahar, Donna. (2003). Adolescents’ anime-inspired “fanfictions”: An exploration of multiliteracies: The authors explore “fanfiction” as a valid literacy practice in the context of the multiliteracies framework (New London Group, 1996). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(7), 556-566.

Contrera, Jessica. “From ‘Fifty Shades’ to ‘After’: Why Publishers Want Fan Fiction to Go Mainstream.”, 24 Oct. 2014.

Counter, Rosemary. “How to Be Almost Famous, by Anonymous: the Unnamed Author of Twilight Fan Fiction Gets a Seven-Figure Book Deal.” Maclean’s, vol. 125, no. 36, 2012, p. 73.

Garcia, A. (2016). Making the Case for Youth and Practitioner Reading, Producing, and Teaching Fanfiction. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,60(3), 353-357.

“Headcanon.” Wiktionary, Wikimedia Foundation, 2017,

Jenkins, B. (2015). I Love You to Meaninglessness: From Mortal Characters to Immortal Character Types in P&P Fanfiction. Journal of Popular Culture, 48(2), 371-384.

McCain, Katharine E. Canon Vs. ‘Fanon’: Genre Devices in Contemporary Fanfiction, Georgetown University, Ann Arbor, 2015.

Monica Flegel, Jenny Roth; Writing a New Text: The Role of Cyberculture in Fanfiction Writers’ Transition to “Legitimate” Publishing, Contemporary Women’s Writing, Volume 10, Issue 2, 1 July 2016, Pages 253–272.

Natasha Simonova. “Fan Fiction and the Author in the Early 17th Century: The Case of Sidney’s Arcadia.” Transformative Works and Cultures, vol. 11, 2012, pp. Transformative Works and Cultures, 01 September 2012, Vol.11.

(OED) “Fanfiction.”Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Pepitone, Julianne. “Amazon’s ‘Kindle Worlds’ Lets Fan Fiction Writers Sell Their Stories.”, 2013,

Verba, Joan M. Boldly Writing: A Trek Fan and Fanfiction History, 1967-1987. 2nd ed., CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2003

Waters, Darren. “Rowling Backs Potter Fan Fiction.” BBC News, 2004,

Wild, Nickie Michaud. “The Active Defense of Fanfiction Writing: Sherlock Fans’ Metatextual Response.” European Journal of Cultural Studies, Aug. 2018, doi:10.1177/1367549418790453.