Let’s be honest for a moment. Although there are beautiful, devastating, mind-blowing fanfics out there, it is not a stretch to say that the majority of fanfiction is… mediocre. Fanfiction is not designed to be published professionally and is not held to the same editorial standards that regulate professional writing (nor should it be!). As a result, the majority of fanfiction is marred by spelling mistakes, pronoun overuse, run-on sentences, convoluted plotting, and improper grammar. Trying to find an earth-shattering fic on Archive Of Our Own or Fanfiction.Net is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Chances are you will have to browse through a ton of bad fics just to scratch the surface of quality writing in your fandom.
So how do you find the best fanfiction? Here are our tips and strategies for narrowing your focus and finding the good stuff:
Use the Search To Your Advantage
Archive Of Our Own has a fantastic search engine. Instead of browsing for a fic, use the search to define your parameters: fandom, ship, trope, the possibilities are endless. After performing your initial search, use the “Sort and Filter” sidebar to narrow your focus and get organized. Want smut? Tick off the “Explicit” filter. Want fluff? Hit up the “Additional Tags” section. Before updating your search preferences, click the “Sort By” drop-down menu for more options. Sorting by “Kudos” or “Bookmarks” (rather than the automatic “Date Updated”) usually sends the heavy-hitting fics to the top of the list. Once you’ve found the perfect search, bookmark the page so you can easily return to it later.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Word count is not indicative of the overall quality of a fic. Some believe that longer fics (I’m talking, hundreds of thousands of words) automatically indicate good writing. There are myriad reasons for this, including the fact that these multi-chapter fics tend to have an obscene number of hits because each chapter released automatically pushes the fic to the top of the publishing queue. More eyeballs, more hits, more popularity. It can be frustrating to commit to reading one of these “epic fics,” only to discover 50,000 words in that the plot is going nowhere. My advice is: give novellas, short stories, ficlets, drabbles, and poems a chance. The best writing takes discipline — re-reading and re-writing and editing. Since most fic writers publish fanfiction as a hobby, many of the best ones stick to shorter stories because of the immense amount of work involved. Dabbling in shorter fics is also a great way to get a feel for which authors you enjoy before delving into their longer fanfiction. If the writer is good, their ficlets will be a good indication of what to expect in their novel-length fics.
Use Fanlore.org to Find Archives
Unless your media of choice is just getting off the ground, chances are your fandom already has an established online presence. More specifically, there are probably several fanfiction archives already in place where likeminded fans have catalogued, organized, and rated the best fics. Save time by exploring established fan rec sites, many of which can be found on a fandom’s Fanlore page. (Fun fact: the Harry Potter fandom is so large, there is a separate Fanlore page dedicated to listing Harry Potter fanfic archives.) If your fandom is big enough, there will also be more in-depth fansites for specific ships, tropes, characters, and AUs. Many of these fansites have masterlists, top 10 rankings, rec lists, or even detailed reviews. Listen to your fellow fans to get advice on where to start.
Pay Attention to Tags
If you find a fanfic you love, take note of its tags. Oftentimes, established fandoms develop their own unique tagging system that points to a specific relationship dynamic or provides light-hearted commentary. For example, in the Supernatural fandom, angsty stories dealing with how Sam and Dean come to terms with being raised as hunters are often tagged as “John Winchester’s A+ Parenting,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to their childhood neglect. Chances are, if you like one fic with this tag, you’ll like others with the same one.
Make Up Your Own Mind
Most big name fandoms and ships tend to have one or more fanfics that are collectively deemed “required reading.” For Destiel, it’s Twist and Shout. For Harry Potter, it’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. If you’re new to a fandom, reading “famous” (or perhaps infamous) fics may help you bond with other members of the fan community. However, do not feel pressured to read a fic just because it is considered popular. In my personal experience, most of these “required reading” fanfics are not necessarily the best examples of good writing, characterization, or plotting. (If we consider that the fic-turned-novel 50 Shades of Grey is the most popular Twilight fanfiction ever written, you can see what I mean.) Push beyond what you are “supposed” to read and dig a little deeper to find more underrated fanfiction.
Pay It Forward
Don’t forget to pay it forward. If you read an amazing fanfic that breaks your heart, changes your life, or makes you smile, make sure to leave a comment or a positive review so that others can find it too. Fandom is a collective hive-mind and its success depends on community participation. Sharing, commenting, or reviewing fanfiction and fan writers on social media, fansites, or archives not only makes writers feel appreciated, but it also makes it easier for others to discover it.
Did we miss something? What tricks do you use to find the best fanfiction?
Read reviews of FAN/FIC Magazine’s favourite fanfiction on our Fic Recs page.