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What is Fan Fiction and Why Are My Kids Reading it?

Published: 9th September 2022

Think Your Kids Don’t Read? Think Again….



With the digital world coming in at full force over the past decade, the idea of reading has seemed like something that has been buried next to the Walkman and other hobbies of ye olden days. This is ultimately a lie as, like all other popular activities, reading became absorbed into the digital world. 


As films and TV shows became more accessible to everyone and social media allowed for fans to interact more easily, fan-based content became more common and popular, as those with niche interests could now interact…enter fan fiction.  


What is Fan Fiction, and why are my kids reading it?

Cartoon courtesy of The Guardian



Fan fiction is exactly what the name implies – it’s fiction written by fans. Usually fans of a particular series, be they movies, TV shows or books – and “Fics” have been around much longer than you might suspect. The fan fiction of Star Wars, Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes, and essentially any media that has lasted for a long time has at least a couple of 10 000 fics dedicated to them.


In general, most fan fiction is separated by the original media from which it is derived as that’s what mainly influences the themes. For example, there are currently 843,000 fan fictions on based solely on the Harry Potter cast. These stories could be about Harry Potter characters living a different life in the same world, or other characters entering the Harry Potter world. But ultimately, all these stories are focused on the canon of the franchise and its character interactions.


The reason fan fiction is so popular is because by using characters fans are already familiar with. Readers immediately recognise the people they’re reading about and the dynamics and motivations they enjoy.





To set context, the most read fanfiction on Archive of Our Own (abbreviated to Ao3) is a Harry Potter fic and has a total of 7,434 629 views. To put that into perspective, it’s more than a tenth of the UK population and weighing in at 526, 969 words, this isn’t a short story. This particular fic is roughly the same length as War and Peace. And what’s more it isn’t one of the longest fan fictions out their either, with some particularly daunting fics totalling over a million words. Now I’m sure you have doubts. After all, your child may not be able to stomach works like “To Kill a Mockingbird” which only has a 1/5  of the “average” word count.  But before you start reproaching me for my hubris, let me explain.


Thanks to the way websites work, readership is totally different online. Readers can choose what they want to consume right down to a hyper-specific detail. Basically, if they can imagine the story they want, they’ll find it. Allowing for readers to follow their “cravings” if a media left them unsatisfied/wanting more. 



Thanks to the way websites work, readership is totally different online. Readers can choose what they want to consume right down to a hyper-specific detail. Basically, if they can imagine the story they want, they’ll find it. Allowing for readers to follow their “cravings” if a media left them unsatisfied/wanting more. 



This means your teen can read anything from heartwarming stories to 20,000 words of uplifting porn. And any relationship could be chosen – it could be about Batman and Catwoman,  Bruce Wayne and Danny Fenton or even Hulk and Ant-Man.



Essentially, anything someone wants to read about, that exists in an original story, almost certainly exists in some form or another as fan fiction which is very enticing to teens. Because unlike hardcovers and physical books, we know straight away what we’re getting into, and if we don’t like what we see, we can move on – quickly and easily and without you, our parents, any the wiser.



The History of Fics

‘The Promise and Potential of Fan Fiction’, The New Yorker


Fan fiction first appeared back in the 1950s, but it didn’t really explode until the 2000s. This was partly down to the internet of course, but also because of a new pop culture phenomenon – the long hiatuses between movie franchises like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. And as nature abhors a vacuum, this prompted fans to create their own content, in a desperate bid to stay connected to their beloved characters. 


Not only did they write about what could happen or what they wished would happen. It can become a lot more convoluted. Very often they put themselves in the narrative and often one thing led to another and they ended up having sex with their favourite characters.  Or crossovers of someone’s favourite character from two different franchises could befriend each other. (Batman adopting Danny Fenton being a surprisingly popular option.) And for every fan who had thought about these scenarios and written them down, there were hundreds just like them who had thought about it too and wanted to read about it.


It wasn’t long before shows with a strong teen fan-base during the late 2000s, saw a rapid increase in membership which led to more “child-friendly” websites springing up such as  Over time though their users, needing more bespoke outlets for their adolescent fandom and fantasies, outgrew these sites resulting in huge online destinations crammed with fics, fandom and online debates.



Why is FanFiction more popular than books?

What is Fan Fiction? Here’s Why Kids Are Going Wild for Online Stories, Bark

Online fan fiction differs from hardcover novels in a number of ways. It’s generally faster paced and there are no limits as to how long it has to be.

However, its length and popularity are driven by the fact that it is born of mutual desires and fixations. So, if you are really obsessed with how Iron Man could have dealt with the traumatic loss of his father you’ll probably be happy reading 200,000 words about that, as opposed to a newly published original story that not only introduces the reader to new characters it also requires much more explanation, exposition and build-up. 


The cons of this system are anyone can post a story online, which means you can obviously end up with a million words of absolute crap. Similarly, if you dislike the original source of the fanfic chances and its canon media,  you’ll probably still dislike it in its fanfiction form.


Where Would My Kids Find this thing you Call Fan Fiction?  

Photograph courtesy of Common Sense Media

Technically, fan fiction can be posted anywhere online. I have seen and read fics on Twitter, Reddit and even in the occasional YouTube comment section. However, the two most well-known sites are Wattpad and Archive of Our Own (Ao3) with each one focusing on different fanfic writing styles. 


Wattpad employs more of the juvenile aspects of fan fiction and is well known for its social media-like mechanics and high number of Y/N or “your name” fics. This is where the story’s main character is you, the reader – hence your name substituted for the Y/N. These plots are fast paced and the action is generally very dramatic. 


Ao3 is generally viewed as the Gold Standard for serious fanfic devotees as it utilises “tagging” – a detailed system where short universal descriptors inform readers of what to expect from a story (more on this later). It also boasts the more mature aspects of fan fiction and has a larger variety of available fics.


For honourable mentions, we also have Tumblr, Deviantart, Quotev, Commaful and  Each one has fan content communities, but I’m excluding them as they’re not as oriented to fan fiction or particularly active these days. 


My Kids Are Actually Reading Something…Great.  What  More Do I Need to Know?

FanFiction isn’t a phase, it’s a community – Arizona Press

Should you make the mistake of asking your child what they’re reading, they will probably (after a massive eye roll) ramble on at you in a language you won’t recognise – leaving you baffled, exhausted and none the wiser. And, by the time your child has finished, you’ll be lost somewhere between “hurt/no comfort” and “crack treated seriously”.


This is because AO3  triages its fics by inventing new words to describe more complex writing content. I won’t go over all the different tags, because that will make us both cry but here are some basics you should know. There are three/four main categories or flavours used.


You have angst, which makes you want to sob into your pillow til 6 AM and release all those emotions you’ve been repressing lately. Think ‘Batman crying over murdered parents’. If you want to be less damaged find “angst with a happy ending” tag, which does exactly what it says on the tin.  On the other hand, if you’re a masochist add in  “Major Character Death” tag to really give those tear ducts a workout.


Next up is Fluff  which is really Angst’s polar opposite. It’s the highly sappy sweet romance or the the ‘seeing two ducklings kiss and melt into a puddle of caramel’ kind of fic. Tags that relate to it, include “Fluff and Angst” if you want to have your tears be from both happiness and sadness and “Tooth Rotting Fluff” if you want to just skip to the cavities. You’ll find most stories mix fluff and angst into the actual plot of the fic.  


We then have Smut – which is, as you can probably imagine, smut or sex. This ranges from ‘climax of a romantic arc with passionate descriptions of how they love each other’ to ‘something to put 50 shades of grey to shame’. Usually for the less freaky fics, the author puts some kind of warning at the beginning of relevant chapters such as, “we’re going to horny town now, buckle up”.


For those that are mostly just porn, you’ll sometimes find the iconic tag of “Plot What Plot?/Porn Without Plot” . So, prepare for no plot, maybe a little angst or fluff, but mostly just salacious descriptions. Finally we have the last flavour – Humour (or Crack). This is the insane “what ifs”. Think character interactions lifted from Shakespeare Comedies (the good ones), resulting in the need to put your phone down so you can shriek with laughter like the insane banshee you are.


These four flavours generally mix in varying degrees with different stories and different deviations. For example the combination of Angst and Smut could have the tag “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat” – a tag used to indicate that some gross and disturbing stuff happens so don’t engage if you aren’t prepared for it.


The tag “Fluff and Angst” means the story is going to be an emotional rollercoaster. “Hurt/Comfort” indicates you’re going to cry from sadness then cry with relief. Be aware that tags can become incredibly detailed but ALWAYS, I repeat, ALWAYS READ THE TAGS. People like weird stuff because hey, people gonna people, so before you click on any fic READ THE TAGS. That way you won’t feel the need to throw away all your book binders because every time you see one you get flashbacks to someone’s weird bedroom interests.



Ratings and Warnings

Does fan fiction violate copyright? – The Finery Report

Out of everything I’ve shared here the most important thing to remember is…ratings and warnings should be used appropriately.

Each fic has an age rating:

The green (G) rating means General Audiences. This is the safe stuff, think lighthearted Disney and Found Family content.


Most fics fall in the yellow Teen and Up (T) rating.  Here you can expect some violence with a slight chance of sex references. The orange Mature (M) rated fics are slightly heavier – so expect brief descriptions of gore or sex. Basically think Bond film or every light teen-horror movie that’s ever been made.

Finally the red Explicit (E) is very heavy in either angst, gore, horror or sex. Explicit is weird though because it has both “Hunger Games” and “365 Days”  kind of content in the same category, both being very mature and heavy in different ways. So, if you’re ok with your kid reading gore-hound like content but would rather they stayed away from the sexy stuff (or vice versa) wait until you’ve checked the tags before you go berserk.



To sum up, yes we do read, but in ways you’ve probably never dreamed of. And just like you when you were our age, we love a good story that’s not always well written. The difference is we can fashion the narrative via tags and in this world of instant gratification, our entry points are characters we’ve watched in the movies and on TV. 



If you need more explanation, I’ve been told to tell you to think back to your adolescent years and those novels by Jackie Collins, Harold Robbins and James Herbert. Often characters would appear in several books – Flowers in the Attic anyone? And often, I’m told they’d be rude bits. Well we’re pretty similar. Admittedly it’s not Oliver Twist – but I’m pretty sure there’s a fan fiction with him, Fagin, Dodger and Nancy that Charles Dickens never dreamt of and it’s just a click away.

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Musician, Pre-med and poor soul who thinks he’s funny, I am an expatriate who has lived in each northern continent. I am in a band and have been practicing both guitar and bass for nearly a decade. Trained emergency responder, tutor, amateur producer and budding doctor, the only thing you need to know is I can’t sit still.