Why Do Some Books Feel Like Fan Fiction?

Why Do Some Books Feel Like Fan Fiction?


What makes some novels feel "fanfic-y" or draw comparison to fanfiction? In this guide, we're going to explore the traits that "fanfic-y" novels often have.

Please remember going into this guide that fanfiction is a valid form of writing. This guide is intended to explain why some novels get this label. It's not intended to bash fanfic.



1. Structure

Fanfiction is often (but not always) written and consumed in serialised format, with chapters being released intermittently. This can lead to distinctive features like:

  • Shorter chapters
  • Many cliffhangers
  • Episodic storytelling

None of this is inherently bad or good. However, many (but not all) traditional published novels follow a more conventional narrative structure. Deviating from this can draw some comparisons to fanfic.


2. Certain Vocab

Again, fanfiction is incredibly diverse, and not all fanfic will use the same vocab. However, some words and phrases are incredibly popular within fanfic communities. When seen in novels, these terms could remind some readers of fanfiction.

This list includes:

  •  Orbs
  • "B-b-but"
  • Mewl
  • Wall of muscle
  • Battling tongues
  • Raven tresses
  • She let out a breath she didn't know she was holding



3. Lack of Exposition

Not all fanfiction stories will do this, but many will assume readers are already quite familiar with the world/characters and skip some exposition.

This lets readers of the fanfic skip to the good stuff, especially if it's not set in an alternate universe/setting.

However, in original fiction this can often be quite vague and confusing. Readers may not feel as immersed, or they might have questions that go unanswered.


4. Intertextuality

Fanfiction often engages in intertextuality, referencing existing stories, universes, characters, lyrics, etc.  

Published novels that heavily reference or allude to other literary works, popular culture, or media franchises may evoke comparisons to fanfiction.

Again (I feel like I'm going to say this a lot, but I really want to be clear that I'm not generalising or casting value judgements on fanfiction!!) this doesn’t apply to all fanfic, and it isn't necessarily bad/good.


5. Certain Tropes

It's impossible to generalise every fanfic as this label encompasses so many wildly different stories. However, some tropes are widely popular in the fanfiction community, leading to many people associating these tropes with fanfics.

The popularity of certain tropes will wax and wane with time but they can include:

  • Kidnap romance
  • Soulmates
  • Reincarnation romance
  • Getting sold by your mum

Obviously these words aren't limited to fanfic, and not all fics will use them.



6. They Were Fanfics

“Filing off the serial numbers” refers to when fanfic authors remove/change any direct references or connections that could be considered copyright infringement. It can include renaming characters, for example.

Plenty of novels started out as fanfic, including The Hurricane Wars and The Love Hypothesis. (Fun fact, they're both Reylo fics!)

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