Chances are you have already completed this first step and chosen a fandom. Or rather, your fandom has chosen you. It has been my experience that story ideas come to you while you watch or read something, or not long after. Your brain finds a hole in the original story. That hole does not have to be any kind of flaw in the original, but rather just a gap you can fill with your own scenarios:
•A movie you love includes two of your favorite characters on a days-long road trip. But it does not show any of the fun little side stops and adventures you know had to have happened along the way.
•The network just canceled your favorite television show. But the show ended with a season-ending cliffhanger and no resolution in sight.
•You read a book and realized that you liked the secondary characters better than the main characters. You start wondering what might happen if the story followed those secondary characters instead. The basics of writing fanfiction are the same, regardless of the fandom or the type of story you want to tell.
The fandoms themselves, though, can differ substantially in scope. Fandoms can be large or small or somewhere in between. The size of the fandom usually has little to do with the popularity of the original source material. The original could be a 90-minute film measured in ratings. It could be a book or television series measured in sales or ratings, number of volumes or episodes. That original source could be a short story that appeared in one issue of a magazine. However, the most popular fandoms usually revolve around cosmic horror or science fiction.
Or it could be a 30-second television commercial or a graphic novel that only sold a dozen copies. Those of us who write fanfiction like what we like. And we will expand on that canon — the original source or official story — accordingly. With fanfiction, you can make anything happen.
Many fanfic writers also love the idea of fanfiction because they don’t have to worry about some of the more mundane aspects of publishing (although if you do run into query letter issues or have a need for software, Reedy and Squibler have great guides for those topics). In general though, fanfiction writers can dodge those issues and just post online. Less headache.
Writing fanfiction for a television show can be both easier than for other types of fandom or it can be more challenging. Either way, the reasons are the same. There is usually so much more source material, or canon, available for a TV show it can sometimes be hard to narrow down a story idea. That can make the writing more difficult. In that same vein, because there is so much canon material, when you do come up with an idea, there is a greater possibility that no one in your fandom has
yet written a similar story. (Not that that would be a stopper. It is not at all unusual for similar inspiration to strike several fanfic writers. It isn’t the idea so much as what you do with it that counts.) A popular television fandom for fanworks of all kinds is Supernatural, an American production currently in its twelfth season.
Supernatural has 116,000 stories on one popular archive and more than 143,000 on another. (The count actually went up by about a thousand new fics while I was writing this book.) Even if many of these fics exist on both archives, which is not uncommon, that is still a large catalogue of works in just this one fandom.
Another prolific television fandom is Doctor Who, which has over fifty years’ worth of canon material to play with. This long-running British production has inspired audio plays, feature films, stage productions, and licensed novels.
There were at least two spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, and they both have their own fanfiction. On one archive alone, there are more than 72,500 fics listed. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find Firefly, an American television series from Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. Firefly fics span the timeline from before the series began to after the last episode ended. They cover the origins of the fictional universe, the back stories of the characters, interject scenes into episodes.
Firefly aired for only one brief, 13-episode season in 2002. In 2005, three years after the cancellation, a follow-up movie, Serenity, hit cinemas worldwide. That gave fans two more hours of new canon adventures to play with. Less than 15 hours of original material, and yet there are more than 13,000 fics written for it.
You might even remember Danger Man a more obscure TV show, but sure enough, there is fanfiction: https://www.fanfiction.net/tv/Danger-Man/
Movies can generally be considered to be “closed canon” in that there will not be anything new added to the original source. (This is also true for books or for television shows that have been canceled or otherwise have ended.)
Just because there won’t be any new source material added, though, does not make them any less rich a field in which to play when you write your fic. In some ways, because there is less to the official story, a movie fandom can be an even more fertile field to write in.
It will give you more possibilities that were never explored in canon.
But you also have movie series such as Star Wars or the Marvel and DC Comics movies. Movies like these are “open canon” in nature because the films are still in production. The canon story lines are more limited than those of a television series. It takes much longer for the next installment in the series to become available, months or even years, rather than showing up on a weekly basis.
These particular fandoms have a much wider scope than a standalone movie might because they include canon from comic books and novels.
The movie Titanic is an example of a closed canon fandom. There are a couple thousand fics written for the movie, most of which resurrect Jack, who dies in canon. (If you somehow missed seeing this film, my apologies for the spoiler.) Many of these fics explore what might have happened between him and Rose after that fateful voyage. Yet others take Jack and Rose and change their stories into something completely different. They look at ways they might have met without the Titanic. Or they show how their story might have evolved a hundred years later, in 2012 rather than 1912. Star Wars is an open canon consisting of movies, books, and cartoons.
It receives an injection of renewed enthusiasm every few months with the release of the newest film or novel or episode. It being an open canon gives the fandom a much larger presence on the various fanfiction archives than a closed fandom like Titanic. On one popular site, there are 2,600 Titanic fics versus 41,000 fics in the Star Wars fandom.
Even some indies have picked up some fanfiction to inject new creative flares to the storylines. Things like Bandidas for example.
Of course, books are perhaps the richest area of all for the fanfiction writer.
There are literally millions of options to choose from. Unlike other fandoms, if you write fic for a book fandom, with lots of practice you can match your writing style to the original author’s. In the long run, it is probably best for you to develop your own writing style before you try to mimic another. Even so, it can be satisfying to post a story and have people tell you it is just like reading the original.
As you might suspect, perhaps the most popular book fandoms are Harry Potter and Twilight. Between these two fandoms, there are almost a million fics posted to one multifandom website alone. At one time, Harry Potter was thought (or perhaps feared is a better word) to be a closed canon with the end of the book series. Not only did the movies add new life to fannish enthusiasm, but the wizarding world of Harry Potter is expanding.
There is new canon material with the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There will be yet more with the upcoming release of the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Just look at Percy Jackson. This is a book that has created one of the most popular fandoms. You can check out some stories from that fandom here: https://commaful.com/tags/percy%20jackson/
Other Types of Fandoms
While television, books, and movies account for the greater part of fanfics, they are not the only types of fandom we fans write for. Anything that sparks your imagination can be used for fanfiction.
You’ll sometimes see joking references made by people who consider themselves to be a fandom of one. The commercials of insurance companies like State Farm, Allstate, and Progressive have inspired fic. You’ll find stories on the internet based on individual songs and whole albums. Comics and graphic novels have important fandom contributions. Fans have written tens of thousands of fics for Homestuck, Batman, X-Men, and the Justice League.
There are almost a thousand fics written for the Calvin and Hobbes comic series, which ended in 1995. Anime and manga fandoms are no less attractive for fanfiction writers. Shingeki no Kyojin, also known as Attack on Titan, has more than 30,000 individual fics posted to just one fanfiction archive. Another favorite anime and manga title, Naruto, has over 400,000 works on yet another website.
If more than one of the above fandoms interests you, you can consider writing a fusion fic or crossover. A crossover is a single work of fanfiction that combines two or more different, usually unrelated fandoms. You might look at a character from fandom
A and think about how well they might fit in with the characters of fandom
B. Your fic could follow their adventures in that combined fandom. You could create a setting where the characters of many fandoms interact without needing much manipulation to get them there. Or you might find opportunities to combine two or more wildly different fandoms into one story. Crossovers force you to think about how they might logically work together in a coherent whole.
Of course, your crossover doesn’t have to make logical sense. It’s a common fannish convention to “hand wave” away such mundane concerns as logic in favor of character and story. The choice is yours. The important part is to have fun writing whatever fic you choose to write.