Talk the Talk: A Guide to Fanfiction (Updated)

We here at the Collective love our fanfiction. I first delved into the fanfiction world almost ten years ago, when I was a quiet and introverted freshman at uni. As college progressed, I didn’t have the time to read like I once did, but once I finished grad school, I jumped right back in only to realize the fanfic ‘verse is MUCH bigger than it was 8 years ago. It’s a bit overwhelming if you’re new to it, especially if you don’t know the lingo, so here is my quick and dirty guide to fanfiction for the newbie.

Choosing the ‘verse

As I’ve said before, the beauty of fanfiction is that it showcases how incredibly creative and talented we fans can be. But, fanfiction is like a drug, and you’ve got to pick the right one that does it for you. Now, before we go any further, if you’ve been to the three biggest fanfiction websites– (FFN) or (AO3) or Wattpad–you’ve probably noticed the excessive use of the exclamation point (!) in the tags. The exclamation point denotes an emphasized characteristic of a character or of the universe in which the fanfiction is set, i.e. Possessive!Draco or Omega!verse. So when it comes to choosing the ‘verse you want to read, be aware that tags with the exclamation point are pretty much the road signs–they’ll take you where you want to go or warn you away from things you don’t want to read.

Some common terms about fanfiction ‘verses:

AU–Alternative Universe. This could be as simple as the story taking place in a coffee shop (a popular setting) or it could be one of the author’s own imagining. Either way, AU means it is not set in the canon.

This is what we call an AU.

The Canon–This term encompasses everything that defines the particular work(s) on which a fandom is based. In other words, everything created by the original author/creators. If it’s in the show/book/movie, it’s canon. Fics are usually labelled as canon or non-canon compliant. (If it’s AU, it’s pretty certain to be non-canon. Most of the time.)

Crossover–The merging of two fandoms/’verses in one fanfiction. The ultimate “what if” scenario. Sometimes this works well, sometimes it doesn’t. Some of the most popular crossovers are of the SuperWhoLock variety, in which the Doctor, Sherlock, and the Winchesters walk into a bar, somebody lies, somebody dies, and someone comes back from the dead.

Fusions–Similar to the crossover in that it includes a combining of universes, but, typically the main characters of one fandom are transported into the universe of another. I.e. Sherlock and John go to Hogwarts or Captain America is the captain of the Serenity. This is one of my favourite types of fic to write because it requires lots of world and character building to make the two fit together just right.

Imagines–A type of fic in which the reader figures into the story as a main character. Most are written in the 2nd person POV.

Omegaverse–If man-love, mpreg (male pregnancy), or non/dub-con (non-consent or dubious-consent) make you squick (disgusted), then this ‘verse isn’t for you. This is probably the most prevalent AU I’ve seen, and I can see why after reading a few of the fics. One of the best things about fanfiction is the world-building, and Omegaverse has plenty of it. In short, it is a new exploration of gender. The three primary genders are Alpha, Beta, and Omega (A/B/O), and male or female are secondary sex characteristics, meaning that you don’t have to be female to reproduce. This one has a lot of kinks! to it, so again, if it makes you squick, stay away. If it makes you squee (delighted), go and delve right in. From what I can tell, the Johnlock and Sterek ships are way into this ‘verse.

RPF–Real Person Fic. A fanfiction written about actors/singers/other celebrities rather than the characters in a canon. It has been debated whether or not this type of fanfiction can be classified under the transformative work umbrella, although the Organization of Transformative Works does classify it as such.

Sentinels and Guides are Known--This one is half crossover with the 90s show “The Sentinel” and half a ‘verse in its own right. I stumbled across this one recently, and it seems to be a burgeoning vein of fanfiction. A Sentinel is someone who has hyperacute senses, acute to the point of dangerous “zoning out.” A Sentinel’s Guide, from what I understand, is someone who prevents “zoning” because of empathetic or psychic abilities. It is similar to Omegaverse in that there are ideal pairs, or bondmates, for Sentinels and Guides, and there are crossovers between the two ‘verses. In this ‘verse, however, the bond doesn’t have to be sexual to be compatible (although it usually is from what I can tell). Lots of kinks! and spirit animals and telepathy in this verse. Outside of fanfic for “The Sentinel”, I’ve only encountered this ‘verse in Johnlock and Sterek fanfics, but there is likely more. Seems to be popular on livejournal in particular.

What Ship to Sail

If you’ve been hanging around Tumblr, then you’ve seen the term “shipping,” and no, we’re not talking freight carriers or FedEx, we’re talking about relationships. If you want two characters to be together romantically, you “ship” them. A majority of fanfiction revolves around non-canonical ships, or a (sexual) exploration of canonical ones. And a majority of that majority are “slash” ships, or ships of hunky gay love (if squick, find another ship). I reemphasize that in fanfiction, anything goes, so any and all judgment should be left out of the fandom. To each their own, right?

Now, there are a couple of courtesy rules to shipping, especially in a fandom that has many ships:

1. Engaging in a balanced debate about the legitimacy of a particular “ship” is acceptable. Purposefully blowing holes in someone else’s ship is not. (Don’t sink someone else’s ship because someone may just do it to yours.)

2. Squeeing is acceptable, but there is an acceptable time and place for it (do it on Tumblr and not Starbucks).

3. Ships must be referred to by their ship name, if they have one. Some of the major ships: Johnlock, Destiel, Merthur, Drarry, Sterek, 00Q, etc. Otherwise, they are referred to as such on the internet: RiverxTen or Severus Snape/Ron Weasley.

4. And this is the most important rule of fanfiction: if someone tells you their OTP (One True Pairing), they’ve given you a precious and guarded piece of their soul. Under no circumstance is okay to mock someone’s OTP if they can hear/see you. Again, a time and a place for everything. Go into your closet, turn off the light, and cackle if you must, but OTPs are special and are fiercely protected by their followers (mock Destiel and you’ll wish you had sigils to ward against me).


So what if you don’t have an OTP? Is it okay to ship more than one ship?


I ship many ships; I have a veritable armada. Read some of my fanfic recs, if you’re interested in trying new ships. You can ship as many as you like, but, WARNING, the more ships you ship, the harder you’ll find it to keep up with the endless flood of fanfiction. Meaning that soon you won’t have any life at all if you’re not careful.

Characters, Kinks, and Other Things

A note about characters in fanfiction: sometimes they stick very closely to how they’re portrayed in the show/book, and sometimes they don’t. Usually the author will tell you up front what to expect in how their story is labelled. So, if you know what you want to read, READ THE TAGS. Don’t hate an author because you didn’t bother to see that she warned you that the fic would have major character death.

Some helpful terms:

Big Bang Fics–Every year, there are competitions (of sorts) for avid fanfic writers. The most common is the Big Bang (we’re not talking creation theories here), which is when a group of writers will sign up to write a longer fic, usually at least 20,000 words. The story is then paired with an artists, who creates artwork to go with the fic. The stories are then all released on the same day, creating an inundation of fanfiction for readers to delve into for the next year. There are BBs for almost every fandom and ship, and the collections are usually assembled into one post or index after they’re published. Handy for those who don’t want to have a life outside of reading fanfiction. (What is real life anyway?)

Fluff–a happy, sunshine and puppies, kind of fic. Read this if you only want good feels. Fluff can be tagged by characteristic such as Domestic!fluff or ToothRotting!Fluff.

Het–Heterosexual relationship. This is usually explicitly labelled when the fic includes smut (sexy times). Friendship fiction or platonic relationships are usually tagged as such, rather than being labelled as “het” or “slash.”

Lemon–This term is pretty much used solely on nowadays. If a fic is labelled as containing a “lemon,” it means that there is an explicit sexual encounter in the fic. So, don’t read it at work.

Lime–Another FFN term that refers to a fic where characters “fool around” but do not engage in sexual intercourse.

OOC–Out of character. This means that the canonical characters will act differently from the way they do in canon. Again, this is usually labelled with the dominant trait followed by an explanation point, i.e. Insane!Watson.

OMC/OFC--Original male character/Original female character. This character will be of the author’s own creation and is not based on any character from the canon, although they may be related to one.

Podfic–An audio recording of a fanfic piece. The audiobook of fanfiction. The solution for wanting to finish the NC-17 Destiel fic you started last night but shouldn’t read at work. Warning: listening to lemons in public may cause uncontrollable blushing.

PWP–“Plot what plot” or “Porn without plot.” Self-explanatory.

Slash–A majority of fanfiction is slash. The term stems from the visual representation of pairing tags in fanfiction archives. Characters in a romantic relationship will be labelled as “Draco/Harry” (using a slash!), while friendships will be noted as “Draco & Harry.” A “slash” pairing is a romantic pairing of two characters of the same sex. The term most commonly refers to romantic relationships between men, but the broadest use of the term encompasses all same-sex relationships. Slash pairings between women are sometimes referred to as “femmeslash” or “femslash.” Same-sex relationships involving manga or anime characters is referred to as “yaoi.”

UST–Unresolved Sexual Tension. Here, have a graphic illustration:

A note about kinks: kinks are…well…the fetishes of fanfiction. If a story is labelled with a kink, you can bet your ass that there will be some smut/lemons (sexy times). Again, it is very important you read the tags, because authors are very considerate and tell you what you’re getting into. So if you’re not into dom/sub play, wing!kink, or any such, stay away from the NC-17/NSFW sections of fanfic. Also, another helpful note, anything labelled PWP…don’t open it at work. PWP is Plot-what-plot or, more commonly porn-without-plot. Very NSFW.


This brings me to the kink meme. A kink meme is a site (usually livejournal) where you can advertise requests (prompts) for kinky fanfiction, and someone will write it for you. The kink meme is where the smuttiest of the smut lives; it’s the dark underworld of porny fanfiction. Most writers (and visitors) to the kink memes are anonymous, but I still advise you to enter at your own risk. The lemons and kinks on FFN and AO3 are tame like puppies in comparison to the smut that exists in the kink meme.

Lastly, for every good fanfiction, there are a hundred bad ones. The great ones are even more difficult to find, but every once in a while, you’ll read one so good, you’ll want to punch someone until it becomes canon. It’s a good thing to remember, as you sift through the hordes of fics, that each author is putting their mind-child into the public eye. So if you review (and I encourage you to do so), be kind and don’t “flame” the author. And for Chuck’s sake leave the trolls in the cave where they belong. Write constructive criticism and gently prod them into the direction you’d like to see. Happy authors mean more fanfiction. You don’t want to scare off the next J.K. Rowling, do you?

Go forth, my minions. Read, review, repeat.

-The Collectress

Disclaimer: I can take credit for none of these lovely edits. If one is your work, please let me know so I can give credit. 🙂