You Won't Believe What Kids Are Writing About Celebs, Book Characters, and Other Pop Culture Stars

Learn about the colorful world of fanfiction, where kids write and share original (but often racy) stories. By Caroline Knorr
You Won't Believe What Kids Are Writing About Celebs, Book Characters, and Other Pop Culture Stars

What if Harry Potter had ended up with Hermione -- or Draco Malfoy, for that matter? In the world of fanfiction, where amateur writers spin new tales involving famous characters and other pop culture icons, anything can happen. While it's not as popular as, say, Snapchat or Katy Perry, fanfiction (also called fanfic) has a devoted following of superfans who've generated millions of stories on the internet.

Kids writing and reading: What's not to love? Well, when it comes to fanfiction, where the possibilities are limited only by imagination, there's a little more to the story. A good portion of the fanfiction on the internet ranges in age-appropriateness from completely mild to nearly soft-core porn. And there are no barriers to reading it. Whether you're a writer or a reader, you'll come across words and images that are graphic.

If your kid is interested in writing fanfiction or just reading it, you'll want to take a look at the various sites and apps, including the most popular ones -- Wattpad, Tumblr, and WordPress -- that they might be using. Each platform has its own rules, privacy settings, and publishing tools, which you'll want to review with your young writer to keep them safe as they explore their passion. Review some of the key facts about fanfiction, important tips to keep in mind, and a rundown of some of the most popular platforms:

Fanfiction Facts

  • Fanfiction writers are fiercely protective. They know their hobby is a little nerdy and less valued in the publishing world. As a result, adherents bond over their mutual love of the subjects of their stories, as well as fanfic in general.
  • Fanfic is social. What's the point of writing if no one's going to read it? Fanfiction writers enthusiastically share their work and follow other writers. Part of the fun is the community that develops around specific characters, plot lines, authors, and subjects.
  • Fanfic can be really age-inappropriate. Not all of it is about sex -- but a lot of it is. (Get tips for managing exposure below.)
  • It could be the start of a career. Authors Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries and Airhead) and Neil Gaiman (the Sandman series) have revealed that they've written fanfiction.
  • Devotees are vocal -- and can resort to cyberbullying. While a lot of followers are supportive, the comments, feedback, and fanfic forums can be heated and even cruel.

Fanfiction Lingo

  • Canon, non-canon/fanon. When stories use the facts of the original source material, it's considered "canon." Fanfiction that introduces new ideas -- for example, imagining Harry Potter as a muggle (when of course we all know he's a half-blood) is non-canon or "fanon." Fanfic writers are divided on whether their work should be canon or whether it's OK to go rogue.
  • Shipping. Much of fanfiction revolves around shipping, which is the romantic pairing of characters. Often, there's a call from fans to "ship" specific characters -- say, Harry Styles and Bella from Twilight.
  • Real-person fanfiction (RPF). No celebrity, character, or content -- including YouTube stars such as Shane Dawson and Jenn McCallister -- is off-limits in fanfiction. Videos of famous people reading fanfiction about themselves -- usually mockingly -- are a fixture of YouTube (and often are super cringeworthy).

Check the Fanspeak Dictionary for a complete list of terms.

Fanfiction Tips for Parents

  • Encourage writing. Writing -- even if the subject matter is a little blue -- is a positive form of self-expression.
  • Use privacy settings. Each tool offers different ways for users to protect their privacy, from encouraging pseudonyms (which has pros and cons; see below) to restricting who can read your work to limiting comments. Kids just starting out, for example, should use stricter settings, sharing only with known friends. Once kids get familiar with the tool they're using, you can help them ease up on the settings.
  • Share safely. You can never predict someone's reaction to what you write. Putting yourself out there can make you vulnerable. Not every kid is ready for that even if they think they are. Try to get them to start with a small audience and grow into their hobby.
  • Talk about sex. Sex, love, and romance are a big part of fanfiction. The tween and teen years are when adolescents start getting interested in sex, and if they like reading and writing, they'll naturally gravitate toward a genre that explores this topic. If they write sexy stuff, ask them to keep it private or extremely limited. Posting it could attract the wrong kind of interest from other users, and sharing it -- say, with friends at school -- may not go over well. 
  • Don't insist on reading your kids' work. If they want to share it with you, great, but if not, let it go. Just check in every now and then.
  • Make sure kids respect platform rules. Most fanfic services don't allow porn, hate speech, or revealing personal information about living people.
  • Keep an eye on the fandom. Fanatics can become obsessive. Anything that interferes with your kid's mood, schoolwork, interests, and so on could mean that something is out of whack. Check in to make sure your kid has things in perspective.

Apps and Sites for Fanfiction and Writing

New Moon Girls Online, age 10+. The sister site of the award-winning magazine, New Moon Girls celebrates pro-girl spirit with stories written by and for girls. The content is mostly literary, but contributions include fanfiction. Girls can post questions, contribute to moderated message boards, and read or publish stories, videos, art, and poems, all of which are screened before being posted to the public. 

Figment, age 13+. Created by two journalists, Figment is a safe space for teens to experiment and get constructive feedback on their work. Fanfiction is only one of many genres you'll find here. Users are encouraged to use their real names instead of pseudonyms, which may account for the uniquely upbeat interactions on the site.

Teen Ink, age 13+. Supported by the Young Authors Foundation, this outlet for teen creativity offers a bit of everything from poetry to nonfiction with some fanfiction mixed in. There's the potential for sensitive or mature subject matter, but the material is prescreened for inappropriate language or content.

WordPress, age 14+. This tool lets users create their own websites where they can showcase whatever they want. While the emphasis is on first-person blogging, there is plenty of fanfiction. Teens can encounter everything from serious editorials about current events to pornographic images and descriptions of drug use. Parents should talk to teens about responsible online publishing and help them explore WordPress' privacy options.

Tap Chat Stories Funny Texts by Wattpad, age 16+. This app from Wattpad distributes users' stories in the form of text messages. Stories run the gamut, but there is plenty of fanfiction to keep fans coming back for more. You get a small set amount each day for free but have to pay for unlimited access. While the stories don't have the depth of literary works or novels, they're engaging enough to get teens reading. Teens can write and submit their own chat stories, too, giving them a chance to publish their writing.

Wattpad, age 16+. Wattpad is one of the most popular sites for all kinds of original writing and the go-to spot for fanfiction. It feels fairly unmoderated and has lots of explicit content, but kids can really express their creativity and develop their reading and writing skills. They also can explore the world of grassroots marketing -- such as peer-led book clubs, social sharing, and more -- to get their stuff read.

Discover more writing apps and websites.

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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (13)

Adult written by Mandy d.

Fanfiction is great if you just keep the mature filter on, I would pay good money to own some of the storys I've read as actual books. Its a great way to keep your kids interested in reading. Don't dismiss it all because some of it is mature or violent.
Adult written by Stacy M

Agree with some other commenters that AO3 and Fanfiction.net should really be mentioned here. Also, that's not what canon and fanon mean. Canon is the original work itself. A fic that doesn't deviate from the facts established in canon is considered "canon compliant." Fanon refers to a fact or trope that has no basis in canon but has become so popular and is used so frequently in fanworks that it is considered "almost" canon. One common type of fanon is names for unnamed characters from canon, or nicknames used for characters. Writers pick these up from each other and start using the same ones. A story that deviates from the facts established in canon is an alternate universe (AU) fic. Technically all canon-noncompliant stories are AUs, but many people draw a distinction between stories that still take place in more or less the same universe as canon (Harry Potter is still a wizard and goes to Hogwarts) and stories that place the characters in a totally different context (Harry Potter and his friends live on an intergalactic starship). Stories that are set in the canon universe but branch off from the original story due to a key change are referred to as "canon divergent" (James and Lily Potter live and Harry is raised as a normal child in the wizarding world).
Teen, 14 years old written by zaharex

I absolutely love to write fanfictions. I find that it's a great way for me to focus on my imagination rather than try to dream or think of different scenarios and then find that I've been thinking about dinner the entire time. A few months ago, I tried reading fanfiction on fanfiction.net. That was a mistake. Though I loved some of the ideas that were in the summaries, once I started reading, I found so many innapropriate things. I thought that if I used the filter and limited my results to K only, I would be okay. I was so far from being correct on that statement. If you read fanfiction, you might find yourself reading about things adults do, bad language, innapropriate topics, all things that could forever change your view on your favorite character. When I read fanfiction, I would stop reading-- no matter how good the story was-- if I saw a single really bad word (f, p, s, n words) I would stop reading that story. After a numerous amount of stories I went through, I didn't completely stop reading fanfiction until I was 21 chapters in someone's story. That's the sad thing. Fanfiction can be so addicting, that you end up exposing yourself to content that you really shouldn't be exposing yourself to. For me, I still personally write fanfiction, but I do it on Google Docs. I share my story with trusted friends and they help me write an motivate me to keep writing. We are able to bounce ideas off of each other to create a magnificent work of art that is our writing. Fanfiction is like practicing art. You become good at it, and when you do, you can actually get a job from it. Fanfiction can also lead people to write their own stories based completely off of their imaginations. Parents, if your child wants to write fanfiction, try to be interested in their work. They may be excited to show you, an if they aren't, it is still a good idea for you to be around occasionally so that you can monitor the content they are putting into their story. If the child really wants to read fanfiction, I'd recommend reading what stories that want to read first, or just tell them no. With the 'shipping characters' thing, I've noticed it everywhere and it can be hard to avoid. Sometimes it can be harmless to the mind, but still be careful because some people go a lot further that just a little kiss. I'm just going to say that personally, with my stories I really want people to read them, but I get so embarrassed by my work that I want to keep the story to myself. I know, I know, I am a walking contradiction, but some kids are like that with their stories. I would let all ages write fanfictions or read them from a trusted friend, but probably 16yrs old and up to read fanfictions online.
Adult written by TRTF FTW AH FTL VGCP

"Talk about sex?" No. Just no. That will only legitimize this disgusting trend. The REAL think you need to do, is to tell your'e kids that inappropriate content is BAD, and they should be good users. And not only not do this stuff, but be AGAINST it online!
Adult written by DrRJSB

Both my 14 year old son and I write on multiple platforms, so I was glad to see this posted. It's a very solid overview for someone new to the genre, but I'm wondering why you didn't include the largest platform--Fan Fiction. Net--or an Archive of Our Own (AO3) or DeviantArt? Those are really too darn big and important to ignore. Also, platforms such as Tumblr and Pinterest get their share of fic as well. To anyone interested in further reading, I'd suggest the set of Vox articles from last year and Rainbow Rowell's novel "Fangirl." ~DrRJSB
Adult written by Sadman

Another major one that isn't mentioned here is Archive of Our Own which, aside from being quite user friendly also teaches rudimentary HTML coding which is always good. The site is very good in rating fics from General to Mature. Although it's the writers themselves who rate their work, people are smart - you won't find someone posting sexually explicit content under a General rating for very long. I've written several dozen stories since I signed up (under another username than I use here) and I've never let them go beyond PG-13 (except for one story involving swearing that was actually about swearing). The community is quite friendly and supportive. And there have been stories posted there that rank among the best fiction I have ever read, rivalling professionally published works.
Teen, 15 years old written by youtube_and_bands973

This is definitely worth adding. I'm 15 and read fanfiction on AO3 all the time. Another thing that's good about the site s that authors can also tag what the story is about, and give information about things like the genre of the work, whether it takes place in the canon universe or in an Alternate Universe (AU), and warnings about Major Character Deaths, violence, etc. Some authors don't tag as much as they should, but since people can find fics they want to read easier works through tags, most do.
Teen, 16 years old written by PinkieCupcake

Excellent article; thank you for posting it! I am just getting started with writing some of my own and wanted to know where the cleanest versions usually are. :)
Adult written by NeversideFaerie

I'm surprised that fanfiction.net and DeviantArt weren’t mentioned in this article. I use both of these sites for posting/reading fan-fiction and they're really popular. In terms of safety, fanfiction.net has a clear age rating system, whereas DeviantArt has a mature filter which can only be turned off if you join the site.
Parent of a 15 year old written by lmneely

My daughter is on fan fiction.net constantly, and it drives me crazy. You can try to block it, but it doesn't work. She is 15, which is believe above their age limit 14), but I think it should be higher.
Adult written by GoruchDiogenes

"Trollfics" deserve mention. Deliberately bad and often bewildering themes and horrible grammar and the like for the sake of comedy, or to see if anyone is fooled into thinking it serious. Some of the most famous are Half-Life, Full Life Consequences, My Immortal, The Prayer Warriors and The Spiderses. Parents might well be horrified by the painful assaults on literacy and fail to notice the satire. IMHO, the greatest fanfic of all time is The Six Deeds of Harmony by Defoloce.
Teen, 15 years old written by Pinkpoint13

Most likely the best fanfiction OF ALL TIME is...My little pony the six winged serpent by Culublubeaver on DENVIART and YOUTUBE!

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