Fanfic Writing: Some Common Specimens, Part 1

If you’re just getting into fanfic, especially if you’ve just stumbled into a big site like or Archive of Our Own, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer variety out there. It’s like walking into Disney’s Fantasia. Sure, you recognize general categories from regular fiction, like romance and action and SF, but what are all these other tags? PWP? BAMF? YAHF? X’s A++ Parenting? And are those really crocodiles ballet-dancing with hippopotami over there?

(It’s fanfic. It’s more likely than you think.)

In the interests of a more pleasant reading and writing experience, here are some species of fanfic commonly spotted in the wild.

First, if you’re looking for erotica, or specifically looking for stories that are not erotica, there are some terms you should recognize on sight.

PWP. I’ve seen this long-handed as either “Plot, What Plot?” or “Porn Without Plot”. This is what it says it is. Basically, plot can go hang, let’s just have the characters go hot and heavy at it. *Shrug* I see this tag, I generally just keep on scrolling.

Sex Pollen. It may not be actual pollen, though with Poison Ivy of Batman fame that’s definitely a risk. Be it pollen, spell, weird alien device, or tea from someone you shouldn’t have, a character or characters is hit with a nigh-irresistible aphrodisiac effect and goes after someone to scratch the itch. Nastier cases of this are referred to as “f— or die”. It generally has more plot than a PWP, but if it’s paired with tags like Dubcon (dubious consent) or Noncon (nonconsensual), be warned.

ABO or A/B/O or Omegaverse. Aaaaugh. You can tell I’m an old fan because when I got started, ABO referred to blood types. These days… if you want to look up the specifics on this biological fantasy kink, it’s on the internet. Way too many places on the internet. Real biology does not work that way, real people are perfectly capable of throttling sex drives in survival situations, and if the human race had a biological subgroup that lost their rational minds on even a semi-yearly basis, that subgroup would wind up extinct.

On top of that these stories throw a lot of canon characterization out the window and tend to resort of some of the worst “anything is okay if there’s True Love” dominance/submission stereotypes of kinky romance novels. Bleah.

(Granted, I admit to personal bias when any story brings up, “True Love solves everything!” There are some things that break your personal suspension of disbelief. That one’s it for me.)

If you’re in the mood for something not rated R+, most remaining fics tend to fall into two main categories. Stuff exploring character interactions and emotions, or stuff exploring worldbuilding and action. Really good and/or long fics may straddle both. These are awesome and to be cherished.

For emotional fics you want to know tags like Fluff, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, and Introspection. These are pretty much Exactly What It Says On The Tin. A fluff story should be sweet and light, characters having fun or taking care of each other’s emotional needs. Angst is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with characters dwelling on things. (I may write angsty characters, but I try not to write Angst.) Hurt/Comfort fics may have plot, or even considerable action, but they focus on a character getting hurt and someone taking care of them. Introspection, a character often goes through a slice of their daily life, thinking about the choices they’ve made, their regrets, and what they plan to do in the future if something else happens. X character’s A++ Parenting often falls into the emotional category as well, if the fic focuses on either someone being a lousy parent, or the effects of said lousy parenting on a character.

(Worldbuilding/action next post!)

34 thoughts on “Fanfic Writing: Some Common Specimens, Part 1

    1. Y’know, modern fiction could use a lot more of that, and more of the “this hurts/sucks/ ARRGH!” -> “here, lean on me” variety. Writerly schools of thought tend to tilt waaaay too far to the angst and Heroes Being Unheroic tropes these days. Sure, the bad guys need to be stopped, but why can’t we have more moments like Zuko’s “Take my hand!” scene at the North Pole, or Zeb and Kallus avoiding death together on a Geonosian moon? Not to mention moments like Cassie hugging Sam after Jolinar died to save her (ethics of the Tok’ra aside, that was a good scene). Characters are like people, darn it, and people need help sometimes. And other people close to them often *want* to give that help.

      *exasperated snort* I need to write some more stories with those scenes and themes…..

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I had a somewhat organized comment basically saying yes and elaborating on it, but this meme has eaten it:

        It did show up in Star Wars: Rebels, in a very good form I can’t say without spoiling. 😀

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I highly recommend The Literature Devil’s podcast “Is Superman Still Relevant?” on YouTube. He does an insightful dive into the deterioration of heroes and villains in modern media. It doesn’t touch on the lack of redeeming qualities in villains directly, but it’s pretty easy to extrapolate why villains are so badly done these days from the material presented.

        Vathara, if I might make a request: a series of posts on how to write realistic villains and how to give characters flaws? Too often (in both fanfic and published media) villains seem to end up these one-dimensional cardboard cutouts to embody evilness without giving them any human characteristics, and their villainy is so often blamed on mental illness and/or the evil society not accepting them “for who they really are” (although the political correctness complications of at least the former is _not_ helping with overall villain complexity). Meanwhile heroes are either functionally/morally indistinguishable from the villains or given token “flaws” like being clumsy or shy while leaving them otherwise Mary Sues. It makes me want to go back and watch _Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood_ just to get a dose of genuine vice.

        (A related side complaint: villains are either the aforementioned cardboard cutouts with nothing attractive about them whatsoever or hot lady killers whom the fandom immediately falls in love with and screeches about being redeemed. One of the reasons I avoid the Voltron: Legendary Defender fandom is the ludicrous amount of Lotor love that totally ignores the fact that he murdered hundreds if not thousands of people and justifies the fact without batting an eye when challenged on it.)

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Vathara, if I might make a request: a series of posts on how to write realistic villains and how to give characters flaws?

        As a reader/wannabe?

        Number one step is to have a coherent philosophy.

        Most folks don’t go beyond “nice person.” So someone being “not nice” is a “bad person.”

        …I know I’ve done rants on “nice.” I’m pretty sure Vathara has, even if not in those words.

        To write good villains, you must understand evil.

        …I’d highly suggest, for those who are looking at a starting point, the Catholic* idea that evils are a disordered good. So, say, desire for another is a good– lust all the way up to rape is *bad*.
        Another way of phrasing it is sacrificing a greater good to a lesser.
        So, for silly, wanting a milkshake is good.
        Killing someone to take theirs is bad.
        Wanting to live is good.
        Killing someone trying to strangle you, ie, taking yours back- is not bad.

        *punnily, both meanings work; it’s both the Catholic Church and very wide-spread, thus universal

        Liked by 3 people

      4. I can’t take credit, actually came from my half-elf’s* GMing experience.
        He’s constantly getting raves about how “deep” and “meaningful” and “realistic” his characters are, even as villains.

        Based off of things as silly as “she likes butterflies” and acts like it….

        *my husband, not sure if I’ve used that nickname yet. It fits.

        Liked by 3 people

      5. Thanks for the ask; I’ll see what I can come up with the next few days!

        I’d definitely say to start with, though, that evil is what happens when, as Sir Terry Pratchett put it, you treat people like things. While villains should never be cardboard cutouts, just about every villain has lost sight of that critical fact: people are unique individuals, with their own rights and dreams. From that slip flows… well, almost everything.

        Liked by 4 people

      6. Re: Superman, I was thinking today about why Clark Kent is a reporter. I think it was to make Superman less of a vigilante, as well as getting some pokes against the idea that an Uebermensch would just discard the rules and constraints of society and live however he wanted. That’s why it was originally important that Clark had a real job, with a real boss who criticized him, and that he was attracted to someone who didn’t instantly fall for him. He didn’t want to live outside the constraints of society.

        Liked by 3 people

      7. I’m pretty sure “nice” is a villain-tier flaw all by itself. Just sayin’. I got particularly snippy about something yesterday and remarked to my husband that people need to look down the barrel of a loaded gun more often. Too many sheep who hate the rare sheepdogs.

        And yush. Catholic stuff. Great starting point, Summa Theologica. St. Thomas Aquinas _knew_ people. Just look up “X vice, Summa Theologica” on a search engine. The website New Advent has the whole thing online, and it’s a bit of a down-the-rabbit-hole place ’cause they’ve linked _everything_.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. I think it’s funny that so many of the abbreviations translate to a warning “Don’t expect too much out of this fic”

    [Long, interesting summery about complex ideas…]
    “Wow that looks interesting. There’s so much potential to unpack and examine in that premise!
    “Or I suppose you could just… not.”

    AU can get pretty in depth, but a lot of the others are markers that they’re ignoring things to focus on fluff or angst or whatever.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really can’t stand Angst fics for the most part. I mean I can handle characters having and dealing with angst, it’s a nice spice for emotional character interactions and when done right can be uplifting (seeing a character deal with low self esteem or having poor self image and overcoming it, with or without the help of a love interest can be really uplifting), but when it’s Angst fic where the character just dwells and nothing gets better…I’m sorry no. Especially not this time of year when the weather sucks the sun might be seen once, for an hour or two, in a seven day span and just…

    Though I’ll throw out that while they can sometimes be fun to read “X’s A+++ Parenting” stories tend to be nothing more than character bashing. Certainly the character they’re having a go at might deserve it, such as Endeavour from My Hero Academia, but other times it’s used to character assassinate and bash someone that’s only a bad parent because you’re taking comedic effect out of context and completely ignoring the times when the character in question is portrayed seriously such as Isshin Kurosaki from Bleach who is another common target of the “X’s A+++ Parenting” ‘tag’ over on AO3.

    Actually the “X’s A+++ Parenting” and other bashing related tags are probably good fodder for talking about the Taking Things Up to Eleven trope because that’s basically what they are. 99.9% of the time they’re taking a single character flaw – or in some cases even a single instant of the character’s weakness/worst aspects showing through – and cranking it up to eleven to justifying doing some horrible, nasty stuff to that character.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thing is, I most often see the tag with Ozai.

      Who canonically has flaws as a parent, even if you discard the later supplemental material.

      And there are characters in fiction for which such stories are appropriate.

      I like fixits where Gendo is closer to decent, but Yui Ikari was simply nuts and evil.

      So this interpretation of the tag is a little alien to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Isshin Kurosaki is an interesting example because on the one hand… every one of his kids knows he’s not abusing them and never reacts like he is. They know he loves them a ton and just shows it in a weird way.

      On the other hand… Isshin comes off as hiding more secrets about what he is than Urahara does. One of them makes it… very obvious… that something odd and not-normal is going on with them and that they’re evading answering questions when certain people are around. And it’s the ex-assassin/mad scientist doing that, not the ex-shinigami captain who’s pretending to be a normal human. And when it feels like you’re keeping more secrets than Urahara is… that hints that there’s a problem right around the corner.

      While Isshin isn’t “traditionally” abusive, there’s a lot of Emotional Fridge Horror lurking in his background that his kids are going to eventually need to deal with as adults. And canon never sows them ever bringing it up in a non-action setting. So it’s ripe for fan-fic fodder.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Frankly, I think that Isshin is Fail as a parent. Because Soul Society was going to notice Ichigo eventually, and given what Isshin knows they did to the Quincies Ichigo has lived his entire life at risk of execution. And knew nothing about it.

        To me, that’s flat-out abuse by neglect.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, but I’m slightly more charitable to Isshin, because I assume that there were design changes in Bleach over the course of the run. Kubo Tite, from an American perspective, has holes in his judgement, but some of the design change problems are a bit much to /expect/ a human to pull off correctly.

        Isshin looks more correct as a parent when you only treat the earlier material as canon. And with everything considered canon to the end, even if a poor parent, his death was a bit rougher on Karin and Yuzu than they really deserved.

        I haven’t found out about the light novels yet, and the end of the manga run was enough to make me say ‘this is seriously flawed, and I am not obligated to believe it all’.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Oh for sure… my take on Bleach canon is… Fullbringer Arc? What Fullbringer Arc? (except for Urahara’s Ban Kai which is awesome and explains so much about him).

        However, even with that… We already know about the whole mess with the Quincy and how Soul Society does… really badly with anyone who doesn’t fit into their box of “how the world works”. Which Ichigo and Co. were never going to do and Isshin… knew that about Soul Society. It’s part of why he left it in the first place and yet he doesn’t think to warn his kids about it when they start getting involved??? It just… looks really bad the whole way around.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. *Points* This. We know Soul Society cracks down on the living who have power. Ichigo had it. Isshin not warning him that could get him in more trouble than just annoying ghosts is negligent parenting. Definitely reckless endangerment.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Honestly it’s like people forget that Isshin didn’t have any powers until AFTER the Soul Society Invasion arc – the one where the kids ran off to get Rukia – started. Up until then Isshin WAS Joe Normal.

        His later interactions with Uruhara also show that he wasn’t in on things until after Uruhara had dragged Ichigo into them. Before the series started Ichigo was a more or less normal human with a high level of spiritual energy (something that, while rare is not unheard of and therefore unlikely to bring Ichigo to the attention of anyone but MAYBE the Shinigami assigned to patrol the region. The later fact that he’s in a places that’s noted for producing such people makes it even less likely for him to be noticed) and there’s hints that Uruhara somehow arranged things to drag Ichigo in without Isshin’s permission or even knowledge until Ichigo was already in too deep.

        Could Isshin have made better choices once things started spiraling out of control with Ichigo? Hell yes, but there’s other things to consider as well.

        1) Ichigo was almost grown by that point.
        2) He had two preteen daughters to look after.
        3) He had no idea that Ichigo was a freak of nature. Had the exact sequence of events that led to Rukia coming through his window that very night and him being “loaned” her powers, Ichigo probably would have lived a normal human life, died, gone to Soul Society and become a Shinigami.
        4) Hollow powers and Quincy powers COULD NOT CO-EXIST until Ichigo did the impossible…and that was such an obvious and stupid retcon in such a shitty, half-assed arc that I don’t even count it really. It was obvious that Kubo wanted to end the series by that point.

        Basically, there was no reason for Ichigo to learn about Soul Society until Rukia showed up in his room because if they were discovered, his knowing about it would guarantee that the hammer fell on the whole family, but if he (and his sisters) didn’t, then it was only Isshin that would be in trouble.

        Coming clean afterwards? It’s made very clear that what should have happened was that the powers borrowed from Rukia would fade as her own powers restored themselves. It was only Uruhara’s interference that stopped that from happening so the best bet for the family as a whole (two preteen daughters remember) was to keep his head down and wait for things to play out…assuming he was even aware of what was going on before the mess in the graveyard.

        After Ichigo lost his powers and started working with Uruhara to regain them…if we’re solely looking at Ichigo and disregarding the daughters then yes that’s a good time to come clean. If we’re looking at it from a more pragmatic viewpoint…then he’s got to consider the well being of all his children and unless he thinks he can convince Ichigo to NOT go and try to rescue Rukia (and he’s not so dumb to think he can…or that he can physically stop him) then it’s probably one of the WORST times to come clean because even with Uruhara and Yoruichi helping out the chances of them succeeding are pretty low and there’s a good chance that Ichigo might end up spilling that information whether he wants to or not, and there’s a big difference between dereliction of duty and treason. One would probably get him in trouble. The other could get his family in trouble.

        It’s only after they return from Soul Society that things begin to reach a point where the benefits of disclosure begin to tip the scales away from the dangers/disadvantages…and in all honesty I feel like Isshin probably chose the best point to re-enter the scene he could – a time when his help was direly needed and would likely earn…if not forgiveness, then at least would be officially overlooked.


      6. *interested* Haven’t seen the show, but additional support for this justification is also that, emotionally, not doing something is a lot easier than “I did something and it got my kids killed.”

        … especially little girls. As opposed to adult-in-all-but-legality boys.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. Isshin having powers isn’t the point. The point is that he has knowledge his kids desperately need to know to not get Soul Society’s attention.

        Point 3 (Isshin not knowing Ichigo is a freak of nature) is the reason why the argument never works for me. Point 3 makes Isshin out to be so…. uninterested… of his own household that he has no idea what his children are gong through at all. Which… is a completely different problem than him not telling them, but one that is just as bad. And we know Ichigo and Karin have been seeing ghosts since forever. So Isshin either comes off as knowing what was going on and not saying anything because it’s “too hard”… or not knowing what was going on because he was never interested in what his kids have been doing or talking about since they were children. None of them really try to hide that they can see ghosts from him either. So neither option is good.

        Thinking you can ignore a problem and it will go away isn’t great excuse either. Ichigo has never been good at not poking his nose into where it doesn’t belong. The odds are crazy good that he would eventually see a shinigami taking souls into the afterlife and given Ichigo’s personality… I really can’t see him doing anything but interfering. Which would never go well. So either Isshin knows Ichigo has his meddling personality and doesn’t say anything… or he’s so disconnected from his son that he has no idea what his son is like so he doesn’t know to tell him.

        I’m not exactly going off anything from Fulbringer Arc and forward because… man… that was some of the most contrived stuff I have ever read. But the stuff from before that is just as illustrative as to why people think Isshin isn’t a great parent. He simply knows too much for him not to tell his kids about it and has kept quite this whole time. Or he’s so negligent of what his kids are like that he hasn’t realized he really should tell them.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Well, assuming that Soul Society is basically feudal society, which it normally is, the kids of an exiled official were pretty much regarded officially as “invisible.” Unless you went to court, or to a daimyo’s place. And even then, if you could go under a false name or not officially talk about your parentage — well, even if they knew darned well that you were X’s kid, there could be consensual mutual pretense by everybody that Ichigo the Part-Time Soul Reaper has nothing whatsoever to do with any exiled captain. The only Isshin who’s related to Ichigo is some mortal doctor, right?

        Of course, if you have an enemy without any honor, you’re in deep doodoo. But most of Soul Society does seem to live officially by the rules and honor codes, with unofficial stuff being kept unofficial.

        So Isshin might have figured that it was safer to stick to the official rules of his exile, not telling no mortals no nothing. That way, if the kids came to official attention, they could honestly say they didn’t know nothing ’bout nothing, and interrogation wouldn’t change that.

        (I could be wrong about all that. Japanese exile from royal courts is something I never understood, because it’s like they assumed people would just die within the year, even though a lot of exiles lived long lives away from court.)

        The other factor is that he might have been bound by spells, devices, or oaths in some way that kept him from talking, which I could readily believe of Soul Society if they thought you’d be a dangerous and talkative exile. And honestly, Isshin is as talkative as Ichigo at exactly the wrong moments, so I’d readily believe that various folks might want him magically shut up while on Earth, or even back as far as when he was still in Soul Society. (Such as if he were bound when he first became a Soul Reaper, to shut up this dangerous trainee.)

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Eh, maybe. But there’s also plenty of stories in Japanese history and folklore where someone sends the ninjas after some clueless guy who’s the last remaining heir to a bloodline he never knew about. Onmitsikidou. ‘Nough said.


      10. Yup, lots of people are not honorable.

        So yeah, given how much mind control seems to be flying around Soul Society, I would say mind control wouldn’t be a cheat.

        However, and given that Isshin’s powers of comprehension are… variable (although to be fair, the same is true of his kids), it’s also possible that he just has some kind of mental/psychological block going “lalalala” in his head all the time. It happens to smart people too.

        The other way you could write it is that there was some kind of spell/device protecting the kids at Isshin’s house, and it only worked under X conditions, and thus Isshin was afraid to break those conditions. His wife was away from its protection or broke the protections for her, somehow, and therefore he was even more paranoid after her death.

        Of course the Doylian explanation is probably that Isshin was initially not in on the secret stuff and never had been, and that his secret past was probably having been an awesome martial artist with solely physical powers.

        A propos of nothing:

        One of the interesting things about being pregnant and “nesting” is that apparently it also makes you paranoid. Suddenly all the little potential dangers of normal life become obvious and scary to women coming up on giving birth, and they are driven to Take Steps. (Although some are just sort of happy and busy. You never know how hormones will affect people’s switches.) I think this is one of the drivers of “kill all the other women’s kids” in harems.

        And I don’t think it’s something that happens to men, just like women have strong territorial/possession stuff and men are mostly hierarchical. (Although men can get “This isn’t my kid, so I can do what I want or make them a sexual target”, or even the rare and twisted “This is my kid, so it’s totally okay to make them a sexual target.”)

        Liked by 1 person

      11. One of the interesting things about being pregnant and “nesting” is that apparently it also makes you paranoid. Suddenly all the little potential dangers of normal life become obvious and scary to women coming up on giving birth, and they are driven to Take Steps. (Although some are just sort of happy and busy.

        How secure/safe they feel in the first place seems to be a big difference. It feels a little like being sick, but you don’t feel sick– or like being seriously injured, but without pain.

        Not the same as the panic attacks that are another possible pregnancy/first year issue, because there’s always a reason for the fear, an obvious triggering event, it’s just outsized to the response.

        Even when it’s a really stupid reason to have a response, like “my husband’s grandfather died and I AM ABANDONED BECAUSE’S GOING TO THE FUNERAL!
        (Didn’t know I was pregnant at the time, we spent money we didn’t really have to make sure husband made it because his grandfather half raised him, so I figured it was a miswired grief response.)

        Contrast to when I was very heavy with son1/child3, and husband was deployed for training– I had people local although asking for help would cost obligations I didn’t want to pay, we were financially stable, I had a doctor I trust, so while I was extremely vulnerable to fear-based manipulation I wasn’t close to the “KILL IT WITH FIRE, THREAT THREAT THREAT!!!” response.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Supernatural fans, the ones who came up with ‘Omegaverse’ (it doesn’t even work that way for wolves, ‘alphas’ are just the parents!) are so cringe that the actors called them out in-show as being creepy vultures. More than once.


    Liked by 2 people

      1. I only really caught portions of the series on YouTube, but I still remember very vividly the clip of Sam and Dean finding out they’re being written about in published books, and the fanfiction thereof…

        Heh. Those actors did a great job just by facial expressions alone.

        Liked by 2 people

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