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Guest Content: Sturgeon Was an Optimist

Over the past couple weeks my daughter, TheChildF, has been doing some research and writing a report on it. (Why? Because I’m a monster and am not giving her a break during her school Christmas break. Monster, I tell you.) In the interest of providing some content for the temporarily languishing blog, here it is. (Why? Because I’m a monster.)

Wattpad Fanfic Report


Sturgeon’s law states that “90% of everything is crap”, and I wanted to see if that applied to Wattpad fanfiction too. Seeing as Wattpad has a reputation for badly written stories, I wasn’t expecting much. By skimming the first chapter or so of the top 5 stories in the hot category in 10 fandoms, I have concluded that out of the 50 stories I had read, 2 were good enough that I would keep reading them. 13 of the 50 were passable by Wattpad standards, a deliberately lowered bar.


I came in with the hypothesis that more than 90% of Wattpad works were awful. This is based on Sturgeon’s law, which states that “90% of everything is crap”.



  • computer
  • wattpad
  • a healthy dose of spare sanity
  • the strength to go on

First, I chose 10 fandoms to read 5 fanfics each on. Instead of randomly choosing them, I got popular and well-known fandoms, as well as some smaller ones I had heard about in passing. I picked out the top 5 stories from the hot listing, but it would have produced a better result if I had sorted by new instead because the worst stories are usually excluded from the hot list.

I read at least 500 words of each story, though inevitably some had multiple chapters of character introductions and song recommendations. Additionally, if I was unable to tell if a story was passable or not, I would read a few chapters past the first one.

I automatically rejected a story if it met the following criteria:

  • excessive capitalization, spelling, and punctuation errors
  • improper writing mechanics
  • excessive, pointless swearing


FandomPassable by Wattpad StandardsGood Enough that I’d Keep Reading
1 Direction1/50/5
My Hero Academia2/50/5
Harry Potter1/50/5
Lord of the Rings2/51/5
Game of Thrones3/51/5
Warrior Cats0/50/5


By the time I realized I sorted by hot instead of new, I had already worked through most of the stories, so I kept the same sorting and didn’t worry about it. It would probably be better to sort by new next time (if there is a next time). I also noticed that, as I read more fanfiction, my standards for Wattpad stories changed for the worse. I decided to read all of the stories first, then decide if they were passable.


Sturgeon was an optimist. Two out of the fifty stories I read were something I’d continue reading, which isn’t a good look for general Wattpad quality. The other 11 passable stories were not good enough to keep reading and were “good” only compared to the really bad stories on Wattpad.


23 thoughts on “Guest Content: Sturgeon Was an Optimist

    1. It appears to be a platform for dysfuntional graduates of our school system who, instead of scribbling on paper, put words down in any order they believe can be understood

    1. Terrible grammar, incomprehension of the use of punctuation, appalling spelling, and other low-level aspects of writing, as contrasted with plotting, characterization, and such.

      1. TNX. I had to look it up; I didn’t know the expression.. We just never progressed to the next grade until we could write, in cursive, something the teacher could read.

        1. That why you never became a doctor. 😉

          Only a pharmacist can read what they write.

  1. First, I chose 10 fandoms to read 5 fanfics each on.

    Not only have I never heard of a “wattpad”, I’ve never heard of “fandoms” or “fanfics either.”

    I have a feeling I don’t want to know about anything further 🙂

    1. Heh. It may be better not to know. 🙂

      Think of fanfic as sort of being the written equivalent of what a cover band does with music. Amateurs of widely variable talent (some good, some bad, many outright terrible) write stories set in their favorite “fandoms” — novels, TV shows, movies, and the like. Much of it is basically frustrated fans who feel the stories “turned out wrong” and write their own preferred outcomes. Think people who wanted someone different to end up on the throne of Westeros, or whose favorite character got killed off, or the “wrong” couple ended up together. (There is a lot of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ fanfic out there, for example.) Sometimes it is fans imagining what might have happened if a TV series had gotten additional seasons (lots of Firefly fanfic exists).

      1. “…and write their own preferred outcomes.

        So, they’re progs 🙂

        Thanks for the intro, maybe 🙂

        I looked up “Wattpad”. 90% of the users are age 13 to 35 and the majority are female. I now understand why I never heard of it.

        1. There is a lot of wish fulfillment in fanfic writing. A lot of it is just people playing around with “what if? scenarios that for legal reasons will never happen in professionally published work. Harry Potter shows up in Marvel universe New York and joins the Avengers, for example. The corporate cross-licensing would be beyond a nightmare, so it would never “officially” happen. But someone thinks it would be fun and writes a story where it happens. It is a similar impulse to all the people who get into geek fights over whether an Imperial star destroyer could beat Picard’s Enterprise in a battle.

          I think a lot of it is that some characters and settings are so engaging that people just don’t want the stories to end. So they write more themselves. Creating interesting original characters and doing solid world building is HARD — see Hollywood, endless reboots of every IP ever. So people use already existing characters and settings that they like and try to tell new stories. (Most of them aren’t anything really new, but every now and then someone goes off in an really unexpected and fun direction.)

          1. Gotcha. I have no problem with it, just isn’t for me personally.

            I am surprised I never heard of it, but it’s more likely I just don’t recall it as it would not have been interesting to me.

            I have read some alternate history/fiction over the years. Some of it was good, most of it poor as it couldn’t have happened. To rewrite the ending of a fiction, or continue it seems to fall along the same lines. I’d bet some small amount is good, most bad.

            1. I’d bet some small amount is good, most bad.

              As with everything. I refer you to the title of the post and of my daughter’s report.

            2. Alternate history is a good comparison, as a lot of fanfic is essentially alternate histories of whatever the original story was. “Everything the same except ___” is a huge fraction of all fanfic. When you do the same thing with real world history, you can get a nice career out of it. See Harry Turtledove, among others.

              You might not have heard of fanfic before due to it being a legal gray (at best) area. Some authors tolerate fanfic in their universes, others do not, but the publishing industry (for obvious reasons) keeps a sharp legal eye out for anyone trying to make money off fanfic. So while tons of it exists, fanfic does not exactly get promoted much.

  2. Thanks for posting this, SteveF. Interesting, and it matches my experience. I have read quite a bit of fanfic in a whole bunch of fandoms, going back at least 25 years now. (Longer if you count professionally published fanfic, e.g. authorized tie-in novels like Star Trek books and movie novelizations like Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars books and the like.) Sturgeon was indeed an optimist. 99.9% of fanfic is pretty terrible, and much of the rest is merely passable.

    But there is so much fanfic out there these days that even with such percentages being bad, there is a lot of pretty decent stuff. And there is some that is as good (or better than) much of what is professionally published by the big industry houses these days. The trick is finding the good stuff amidst the mountains of dross. currently lists about 840,000 Harry Potter fanfics, for example, and almost a quarter million Twilight fanfics. It is a fascinating phenomenon.

    1. The whole point of publishers used to be sifting through good vs dross.

      Of course, publishers don’t make money anymore so, like newspapers, their purpose is to sift through dross to find what supports the Narrative.

      If anyone remembers Throw Momma From The Train they will realize almost no one under 40 today would “get” that movie.

      1. I’m pretty sure the purpose of the NY publishers these days is to funnel bribes to favored politicians and ex-politicians and -bureaucrats. Considering that almost none of the big-name memoirs earn out their advance and the books are on the bargain table within months, if the publishers were as financially careful with politicians as they are with C-list fiction authors, the bribe — er, advance — would be less than a tenth as large.

    2. I have a few acquaintances who write fanfic that I’ll read. I’ve even edited a few of their novel-length fanfics. Those that I edited were easily in the top 1% before I got them, an admittedly low bar. I’d like to think they were top 0.1% after cleaning up punctuation and consistency, suggesting a speedup of this section, and such. Normal editing, that is, which few if any of these guys have ever seen because they’re amateurs writing as a hobby.

      Fanfic has been around for a very long time, though you might not think of it as such because by now those stories are “classics”. I draw your attention to Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, mostly to point out bad Bible fanfic that you should avoid if you can.

      1. Yes, proper editing (or anything even close) automatically moves a particular piece WAY ahead of the curve.

        Fanfic has been around a long time. Some of it is just disguised as “respectable” writing. Anyone but Doyle writing Sherlock Holmes stories, anyone but Christie writing Poirot or Marple mysteries, anyone but Fleming writing James Bond — it is essentially the same impulse.

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