Fanfiction has never been more visible.
In the last few years, it’s gone from a fringe hobby that few people would admit to engaging with to something almost everyone is at least vaguely aware of. Unfortunately, with that visibility comes a lot of judgement. Too many people feel the need to comment on fanfiction without having ever read it.
Take, for example, an article that was published in the New York Times a few weeks ago, in which the author apparently discovered MPreg fic for the first time, and wrote an entire article about how horrifying the entire fanfiction community is.
Of course, anyone who regularly reads fic had two responses to this. The first response is that, obviously, that’s not all fanfiction is – most of us don’t even read the really egregious stuff. The second response is that if you think MPreg is the most horrifying genre of fanfiction, oh boy do we have some terrible news for you.
Here at Fangirlish, we strongly believe that if anyone is going to write an article about fanfiction, it should be someone who actually reads fic. That’s why we’ve decided to put together a roundtable talking about the very best and the very worst that fanfiction has to offer.
Let’s start with the most obvious question: what’s the weirdest, most disturbing fic you can remember reading?
Lyra: One time…I was reading this angsty fic where (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) the beginning of the chapter had a warning for using blood as lube between the main couple. It was so disgusting, left me feeling like I wanted to throw up, and I’ve never closed a tab faster in my life.
Lizzie: Okay, so there’s a fanfic in the Harry Potter fandom and I will not tell you the name cause you don’t want to go looking for it, but Hermione is assaulted by a Dementor and has a half-dementor kid called Snurk.
I did you not. And it’s a long fanfic too.
McKenzie: This is more disturbing to me than weird. I remember one time I was reading a fic about my favorite pairing, it was a one-shot with a really short summary that didn’t give anything away so I thought, why not? Wrong. Wrong on so many levels. To put it simply it was a sexual encounter that involved rape. The author never tagged it as such. That is the last thing I want to read about. Especially about two characters that I love. Safe to say as soon as I realized what was happening I closed the tab. Just please for the love of god people, tag your fics.
Shelby C: I have been a part of fandom for a very long time, but I can’t think of anything really weird which must mean that I have just scrubbed it from my memory or clicked off of it so fast that what I was reading didn’t register.
Beata: Like Shelby, I usually click away pretty quickly if I’m not enjoying a fic, so it’s hard to think of specific fics I’ve actually read that were horrifying. But I distinctly remember finishing Glee on Netflix, innocently looking up the most popular fics in the fandom because surely Glee would have a lot of good fanfiction, right? Well, one of the most popular fics was a slashfic about a certain character and his dad. Most of the top fics were similarly horrifying. I didn’t click on any of them, so I’m not even sure this counts, but I learned to use the search filters a little better after that.
Now, what’s the best fic you’ve ever read?
Lyra: The best fic that I ever read was 30+ chapters of these two broken people treating each other with respect, kindness, and love. They healed at each other’s side without healing for each other. And when they came together as one, a couple, dear lord was it beautiful, supportive, and one of the best fics that I’ve ever read.
Lizzie: I have a soft spot for this time travel fic for a fandom I ended up dropping, but I just have a soft spot for those future kid drops by and ends up making it so his future parents hurry up in the getting together. I don’t know why, that trope just gets me. This is also long and involved and the characterization is A+
McKenzie: There are two really great ones I’m reading right now. One is about a couple who are trying to overcome their past trauma and come to terms with their love. They are respectful towards each other and its about healing. The other one that I am reading is about two surgeons who are in love with the other. They both think that the other has no feelings for them. How wrong they are. The woman is also a secret popular novelist by night and he is the biggest fan of her books. They both try to hide their nerd tendencies from each other. It’s just a really great light hearted fic that always has me laughing.
Shelby C: I have several and there are a few I go back to read. I usually read fic about very specific tv shows that I am not satisfied with. The best examples of this are Klaroline and Bellarke fanfic. The Klaroline fandom had a few great writers who handled their relationship so much better that the show did. They did great alternate universes and fix it fics where Caroline met up with Klaus in New Orleans. If you ever need Klaroline fic recs I’m your girl. The Bellarke fandom kept me reading fic about that ship long after I quit watching the show. There were great alternate universe stories written about The 100 that I loved to read.
Beata: I have a huge list, and I’m going to name all of them because more people need to read them. One of the first fandoms I started reading fic about was actually The Hunger Games, and the first fic I can remember really loving was My First Date with Katniss Everdeen. There was also another one called Life Through Sea Green Eyes which tells the story through Finnick’s point of view and which I consider to be canon. That’s how well it fits into the actual story. The other one that jumps out to me is a Stucky fic called A Long Winter that I read in one sitting. The fic I’m currently obsessed with is this adorable fic about Thomas and Alastair from The Last Hours series called Popsicle Stick Homes and Construction Paper Hearts. I know there’s more, but those are the ones I can come up with off the top of my head.
Which tags are an instant turn-off for you? Like, you see it and you immediately move on?
Lyra: *rolls up sleeves* Oh, do I have a list! Ambiguous/Open Ending? HELL NO! Major Character Death? I don’t think so! Rape? Bye, girl cuz I ain’t reading you. Cheating? Nope, not about that life. Self harm and suicide attempts? Ummmm, nope. Not about that life, especially with my current state of mental health. Also, screw off to the people who don’t properly tag their stuff. Shameeeeeee.
Lizzie: Incest tags, in general. No Thorki here. Or like, way older people with minors? Tony/Peter, for example. No, no, no. Major Character Death is also a big no, I’m not reading fic to suffer, kthanx. I also really don’t like anything that’s assault or dubious consent, and like Lyra, I hateeeeeeeeeee Ambiguous/Open Ending.
McKenzie: It seems like Lyra and I agree on these. Ambiguous/Open Ending, like who wants to decide for themselves what is going to happen. There is a reason you are reading the fanfiction and not writing it. Rape is a big no along with cheating. They just instantly turn me off. Self harm and suicide attempts bring back bad memories from experience and I don’t want to read that while I try to escape into something else. Incest, is another one for me. Like why do I want to read about someone wanting to sleep with their sister? Note, I am a huge Game of Thrones fan, who loves a good Dany/Jon pairing so that is my one exception. Just read tags people. They are there for a reason. I will also second Lyra, for the love of god can you just tag your fic? Please and thank you.
Shelby C: Anything negative. I’m reading fanfic as an escape, I don’t want there to be bad things in my fic. Ambiguous/Open Ending is a big no just like McKenzie and Lyra said. I need this to be resolved. That is the whole reason I am reading fic. I just want fluff so any tag that directly contradicts fluff will be a tag that gets me not to read it.
Beata: There’s a lot. As others have said, no rape or dubcon. Definitely no incest. No weird age differences, unless one character is immortal in which case I’ll allow it. I’m not big on angst or anything too serious. I just want to read something happy! Also, I generally don’t read RPF.
What popular trope can you just not get into?
Lizzie: For most of the fandoms I actually enjoy canon on, I don’t really go for Alternate Universe fics. Now, if you f*** up canon, that’s another thing. I’m not big into Accidental Baby Reveal, but in general I will try most things.
Lyra: For the life of me I just can’t get into Fake/Pretend Relationship. I don’t want to spend chapters upon chapters reading about these two people pretending to be into each other for the sake of family for them to spend ONE chapter together cuz they realized their feelings and didn’t say anything until the very end. Come on, people! Now, if it’s a movie, I’ll watch it because I don’t have to spend hours invested in it. Long ass fic, I don’t think so.
McKenzie: Tropes? Give me all the tropes. If it’s well written and doesn’t fall under one of the tags I hate I will attempt to read it.
Shelby C: Personally I will read any trope as long as it isn’t a tag that I hate. Tropes are great and they all serve their own purpose.
Beata: I think with the right author and the right pairing, I could get into just about anything. But in general, I’m not into mPreg or ABO, and I rarely go for body swap or fake/pretend relationship. My most egregious fanfiction opinion, though, is that for some reason even I don’t understand, soulmate AUs just don’t appeal to me. I DON’T KNOW WHY! They’re probably the most popular fics in any pairing, but for some reason I just cannot get into them. I pretty much only read them if they’re written by an author I already like.
With that said, which tags and tropes would you say are your favourites?
Lizzie: FIX IT FICS. I apparently pic a lot of fandoms that need fix-it fics, but fix-it fics are the best fics. I also like Mutual Pining, Established Relationship, Domestic Fluff, (Main Character) Has a Heart, Emotional Hurt/Comfort, Soulmates, and the type of fics that go into familial dynamics, like for example, one of my favorite MCU tags is “Tony Stark Acting as Peter Parker’s Parental Figure.”
Lyra: *rolls up sleeves again* I absolutely adore Fluff, Everyone Lives/Nobody Dies, Time Travel Fix-It Fics, (Main Character) Deserves Nice Things, (Other Main Character) is the Nice Thing, and Angst with a Happy Ending. The world is sad and crazy enough that I want guaranteed stories where there is a happily ever after. Why do you think I read fanfic so much?
McKenzie: I have so many but these are my absolute favorites. Fluff, Everyone lives/Nobody Dies, Time Travel Fix-its, Angst with a Happy Ending, Alternate Universe, Friends to Lovers and Slow Burn because I like to torture myself. My reading nowadays is mostly fanfiction. I’m obsessed.
Shelby C :I have so many, but my favorites are fix-it fics, slow burn, enemies-to-friends-to-lovers, fluff, and alternate universes. I also love crossover fanfiction. Some characters are just meant to meet and I love the creativity of the writers who blend the stories together seamlessly. Now I don’t mean those crazy stories you see on Ao3 with 100 different types of media tagged, but one that takes two different entities, or even things that are happening in the same universe, but never intersect and write about it in a way that works.
Beata: Oh man, there are so many. Slow burns are the shit. Friends to lovers. Fluff. Weirdly, I love enemies to lovers in original works but don’t love it in fic. Crossovers, as Shelby said, are amazing. Getting together and established relationship are equally elite. Bedsharing? Inject that into my fucking VEINS. I like kidfic just because I love kids and I’m too young to have my own so they haven’t been ruined for me yet. Finally, if I’m reading AUs, they’re usually either coffee shop or college AUs, because those never get old.
We’ve talked about weird fanfiction, and tropes we don’t like, but sometimes you click on a fic that sounds like something you’d hate, and end up loving it instead. Has that ever happened to you?
Lizzie: I usually don’t click – but what I have found is that some fics about smaller, less-well known characters that when I’m filtering I don’t even get to see, can be amazing. This has especially happened to me in the HP fandom, where I’ve found that there are amazing authors that can create a world around characters that have only been mentioned once, and make us love them.
Lyra: Oh my god, yes. One time I was scrolling through Arrow fanfiction and someone wrote a Felicity Smoak/Laurel Lance fic. It also had a tag of Oliver Queen/Felicity Smoak, that’s why I found it. Apparently Olicity fell through and Felicity started becoming real close friends with Laurel. Let me tell you, before I knew it, I was reading a fic where they fell in love and…I LIKED IT! I know, crazy right? But they did such a good job!
McKenzie: No, but I filter the hell out of my tags. Then I read the summary. So right off the bat I know whatever I’m reading will appeal to me in some shape or form.
Shelby C: Not really, but I read all the tags before I ever think about reading the fic. If I’m going to be reading something I want it to be exactly what I want. Like I said I prefer to read fix-it-fic and alternate universes, so I want it to accomplish the happy ending that I desire. The only time that I can remember is this great Vampire Diaries fic where rape was a major factor in the storyline. The saving grace here was it was all about the characters recovery in the aftermath. The fic is just so well written and believable that I was willing to read it despite the content that I hate.
Beata: It’s happened a few times, and always for one of three reasons: 1) I got really bored, 2) An author I really like wrote a trope I don’t like and I begrudgingly clicked on it because their writing is just that good, or 3) the fic came so highly recommended that I caved and read it. Like I said, the right author can convince me to read a soulmate AU, and I’ve enjoyed some of the ones I’ve read. I’ve read a few fics about pairings I didn’t like in canon. I also once ended up reading an RPF and really enjoying it, though I still feel weird about RPF in general.
What are some of the best and worst fanfics you’ve read? Let us know in the comments!