3 warnings to keep in mind if you start reading fanfiction

Brain Bleach

By Clin Lai, Yale-NUS College ’17 – See bio

By now, I can hear the sceptical scoff of people who read Carmen Denia’s post on Why You Should Give Fanfiction a Second Chance. I can see their upturned lips and the rolling of their eyes. If you do not yet sufficiently understand what the term ‘fanfiction’ entails, I believe a Google search will yield its definition and probably a lot more.

It isn’t difficult to be dismissive of fanfiction. Especially when authors such as Anne Rice and George Martin strongly discourage anyone from writing fanfics about their work. People frown when they first learn about fanfiction. It smells of thievery and copyright issues. It makes them think of that classmate many years ago who used to ‘borrow’ their homework and end up getting better marks than they did. It gives them an instinctual urge to furrow their eyebrows and purse their lips. It makes them want to look down on those who write them. It makes them wonder: why?

However, this isn’t an article about the reasons people choose to write fanfiction. Or even why people should or should not read them. This is just an article for those selected few that are open-minded enough to stop the knee-jerk reactions that the term ‘fanfiction’ brings. This is for those curious individuals who are genuinely wondering: what is this thing that brings millions of people around the world together?

This article aims to arm these courageous few with enough mental shields and spiritual firewalls to deal with fanfiction. Hopefully, their injuries may be minimised with these warnings. Just like those sweets that have labels that say ‘choking hazard, not safe for 3 and below’, here are three labels that they ought to keep in mind when they venture in through the gates of fanfiction.

‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.

First warning: Only 10% are fit for human consumption

Reading fanfiction is like plunging your hands into a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

While I am unable to support this statistic with any particularly robust research, I have personally been writing fanfiction for the past six years and have read countless of them; the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, even the absolutely horrendous ones that make abusing a substance known as ‘brain bleach’ highly attractive. 90% of fanfiction is poorly written in terms of plot, character development, originality, grammar, syntax, flow, sentence structure, or just general coherency. In some cases, all of the above may apply. For a new fanfiction reader, do NOT randomly click on any link because 9 out of 10 times, it will be bad.  If you are really unlucky, you could just happen to pick a vomit flavoured bean with a hint of lemon dishwashing liquid.

Second warning: Possible utter destruction of a character’s image in your mind

In the world of fanfiction, we describe these characters as being OOC (out of character). Even if they share the names of your beloved characters, they might as well not. No character is spared from this ailment. There is no cure, and it has been prophesied that there will never be one. This is the feeling of having a packet of chocolate, and being bewildered when you bite into it and realise that it tastes like bittergourd and durian.

Let me elaborate on this a little. When I say that no character is spared from OOC-ness, I mean it. NO CHARACTER CAN ESCAPE; not humans, not elves, not house-elves, not goblins, not dwarfs, not vampires, not zombies, not dragons, not phoenixes, not unicorns, not owls, not demons, not gods, not angels, not devils.

Not even Death itself can escape.

Evil villains (think Darth Vader) can suddenly find themselves saying things like ‘YOLO’, and then being redeemed by the pure love of a gothic girl in the 21st century. Characters who used to be perfectly well adjusted human beings start developing speech impediments that make them sprout random Japanese phrases such as ‘kawaii!’. Minor characters could suddenly start harbouring a deep dark secret about their past (abuse from their parents is a likely candidate) and end up liking jack pepper cheese. Immortal elves act like teenage humans on a sugar high, house-elves become a mighty army overnight, hostile goblins become friendly, dwarfs start singing, Dracula becomes sparkly, zombies fall in love, dragons act like docile puppies, phoenixes turn into humans and marry the main characters (oh yes).

I would go on, but the level of toxicity in the above paragraph is too high even for me. Anymore and it’s doubtful if even brain bleach would be enough.

Third warning: Work in progress (that never ends)

Even if you manage to find a good fanfic among the 10% mentioned above, and the characters have not been butchered beyond belief, there is still the matter of it being one of those fanfictions that never gets completed. They are like potato chips in the real world, except a lot worse. You buy a big packet of chips, and more than three quarters of it is air. Then when you go out to the store to get another pack, you find out from Twitter feeds that the potato chips manufacturing factory has just closed down.

If you have just started reading fanfiction, this warning is something of extreme importance. Unless you wish to end up with a broken heart and minor clinical depression, do not attempt to read the really good fanfiction that seem unlikely to ever be updated again. With original fiction, you can be rest assured that even if the author never finishes the 20 books that he or she intended to write, at least you have a finished book and a completed story. Even if the author never writes a word of the story ever again, you can be comforted by the possibility that should you ever have the money, you could easily take the airplane to the author’s house and demand him or her to write again. At pen and pencil point if necessary.

However in the world of fanfiction, if a good author disappears it is often forever.

They never come back to the story. You could have the main character falling down from a three storey building and never ever know if he or she lives. You could be reading about the beginning of the final confrontation between a powerful sorceress and an angel of destruction, and then end up frustrated when there isn’t a button that leads to the next page. You could be reading wide-eyed at the moment of truth when the trusty sidekick walks out with a bomb jacket, the gun is pointed at the antagonist, and a dozen other suspicious laser points appear on the main character’s vitals and …

And nothing.

Because nothing. Without any rhyme or reason, the author does a vanishing act and evaporates into something thinner than air molecules.

You are left with the feeling of something clenching your heart and airways.


The warnings, I should clarify, are not to deter people from trying fanfiction. If anything, they are to encourage them. Even if 90% of fanfiction is awful, it means that there is still 10% waiting for you out there, inviting you to think of ‘what ifs’, enticing you to different battles than the ones fought in the original stories, to see a familiar story unfolding through the eyes of another character.

Of course, it’s not going to be easy to find that 10%. You would have to look at the summary, the genre (the romance section is where you get the worst of the bulk, generally), the reviews, the author’s profile, the pairings, the number of words, the status, the last date of update, and then carefully read the first chapter before determining if it’s worth it.

But then again, when has anything worthwhile ever been easy?

So bearing these warnings, you brave souls, now march into the world of fanfiction without fear. Because curiosity may have killed the cat. But satisfaction brought it back.

If you survive the encounter with the monsters, there are multitudes of exciting parallel universes, alternate timelines, and expanded multiverses to explore.

So come join us, if you dare.


  1. Keller Scholl

    Safety advice, to add on to your fantastic post: Longer fanfiction tends to have less really bad fanfiction, in my experience. Using fanfiction.net’s search for trick for only the longest fanfics can be a useful filter for the worried tyro.

  2. Jaein Shim

    I don’t know that writing OOC is such a problem. I, for example, tricked the system by writing an original story and merely switching the names to encourage people to read my story. My readers have noted that my characters are very OOC–and some have been bright enough to call me out on my trickery–but they also tell me that they connect more with my version than the original’s.
    Arguably, even common techniques such as writing in a parallel universe or adding a few years to the characters’ ages will and must cause OOC-ness because people change according to their situations and rising levels of maturity.

  3. Hi, Clin! I’m a Brazilian fanfiction writer and found your article after someone having copied and pasted part of it as a comment to my ff. I was intrigued as this comment didn’t fit with my story in anyway, so I searched into google to know where it came from. It was a delightful surprise finding your article and I’m thanked to the anonymous person who guided me here. I’d like to invite you to read my ff (based on Harry Potter series): Flora Riddle. It’s a little long, but I tried to sew the story to not leave loose ends. I’d love to read your commenting about it if possible. You can find the full story in three different sites: fanfiction.net, snitchseeker.com and contosdasmasmorras.com. To leave a comment in the snitchseeker site you must subscribe it before. ~ Ivana R or Mrs Borgin

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