If you’ve been on the internet a while and are interested in artistic endeavors like books, movies, and television, you have probably heard of fanfiction. You may have even heard of some of the most notorious ones like My Immortal, or ones that were ultimately traditionally published like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Fifty Shades of Grey.

If you have not read any fanfiction, it can be difficult to grasp. So we’d like to explore the basics of fanfiction with you: What is it? Why do people write it? Why do people read it? Where do they post it? What do all these tags mean? Where is the line drawn, legally?

What is fanfiction?

Fanfiction is a piece of fiction that uses elements from a published, and often well-known, canon (and sometimes is about famous people, often members of band). Fanfiction asks what if? What if I took these characters and put them in an entirely different situation? What if X happens? What if Y never happened? What if instead of Y, Z happened? What if A and B fell in love? What if we had the exact same story, but werewolves/zombies/demons were there? What if the story taught a different set of values?

People write fanfiction for a variety of reasons. They may do it to express their creativity. Or maybe they had a thought and felt compelled to share it. Sometimes, they might write fanfiction to explore a “ship” (basically, a pairing of two existing characters) they love that they know won’t become canon. (We will explain ship and shipping more below).  It can be a form of wish fulfillment. Also, oftentimes series end too soon, and people want to know what would happen next—or what will happen to the characters ten years down the line. Fanfiction offers a place to speculate.

People read fanfiction for many of the same reasons. They want to see the characters they love in a new situation or speculate on “what would have happened if . . .” They may also ship a set of characters, making the fanfiction more like a wish fulfillment process for the reader too. Alternatively, they might not understand why someone would ship those characters, so they read fanfiction about them in hopes of understanding.

Why fanfiction?

Fanfiction is a way to express yourself by creating something around art you love. With the internet, communication has changed. It’s no longer just media broadcasting to passive consumers. There is a feedback loop.

Fans create communities around their favorite media. Fanfiction is just one of the ways they generate content celebrating the works. People also make art, music, parodies, trailers, videos, and more. These communities offer more than just a platform to share your creativity and enjoy others’—they foster friendships with people all over the world who share your mutual interests.

Where can you read fanfiction?

While you can find fanfiction all over the internet, some of the biggest archives and communities can be found at the following sites: