A lot of fic was either on fanfiction.net or private archives. People would also post things to fic communities or private journals on LJ. (Which was a whole…thing, with some people friends-locking their work because they were afraid of sporking/flames or they were just pretentious.) ff.net had a whole HOST of problems, like a variety of terrible ways your formatting could get borked (like you couldn’t use repeating characters, which made line breaks hard; that’s why you’d get increasingly “arty” line breaks that could be…cringey), policies against allowing any fic of media created by people who didn’t like fic (see: Anne McCaffery, Anne Rice, other crazy Annes, etc.), puritan anti-smut policies which often got applied to slash fic more than het fic, and just…in general, terrible fic. Private archives were often manually curated by their owners, which could be fine or it could lead to cliques and circlejerks. The Harry Potter archives seemed to get especially crazy with this and some truly epic wanks came out of that. You’d also see people hosting fic on their own sites (usually angelfire or something) with big slash warnings and IF YOU’RE UNDER 18 GET OUT warnings. A lot of fic archives wouldn’t host slash or porn, and you were liable to get in trouble in fandom or otherwise if you didn’t strongly label LGBT/18+ themes. Especially if the fic in question contained both. Like. I don’t like the OTW for many reasons, but I have to admit that AO3 is basically a godsend. We lost a lot of fic to purged LJs/deleted websites.
SUPER purple prose. Older fic in general tended to be a bit more “literary” and purple and it sometimes read like J.R.R. Tolkein was having a stroke. By the time the ‘90s/’00s rolled around, you’d just get this sort of halfway point where people would have generally unornamented text except for things being thrown in like this character’s cerulean/azure/periwinkle eyes. The shade would change by scene, and you’d always know because there’d be a lot of stuff like “the cerulean-eyed man shook his head”. EVERY CHARACTER IN THIS SCENE KNOWS HIS NAME, USE HIS NAME. Or they’d refer to a character’s glimmering green orbs or something. It was painful.
In anime fandom especially, you’d get a lot of these epithets that referred to their abnormal hair colors. People saw “brunette” and were like “shit, I can adapt that” so you get ravenette and bluenette and silverette and pinkette and kill me now. Some people got pissy about like -et/-ette endings re: gender, but after you’ve gone to the bluenette place, it doesn’t even fucking matter anymore. Grammar is dead.
Anime fic also tended to have a lot of so-called “fangirl Japanese”. Writers would just sprinkle in any Japanese words they knew for no goddamn reason, which would usually end in glossaries at the end like *kakkoi means cool! *aoi means blue! and goddamn guys, these are all words than have legit English translations.
Script fic. Just… script fic. More on that at the bottom bc I had to use some special formatting.
“Crack” fic. This would be fic that was purposefully OOC (out of character) for comedic effect. Tended to utilize “omg so random!!” humor. It usually was pretty much only comedic to caffeinated 13-year-olds. This was literally all Invader Zim’s fault and you know I’m right.
The “disposal” of female love interests in slash fic. Used to be much more of a problem than it is now. Now, I’m not talking about fics that just don’t talk about female characters or retcon a relationship or are like “they broke up!!! moving on!” I’m talking about fics that turn all female characters into shrieking homophobic harpies that would probably rather their canon love interests be dead than fuck a dude. This was applied even to like the nicest characters in the world, or even to characters who weren’t in canon romances with the male characters but were deemed to be threats. They often got smacked around or died or whatever. Things were a lot more sexist in fandom back then. There was a yenta trope that kind of arose as backlash to this but was really just as annoying in a different way. That usually involved a canon love interest going full yaoi fangirl (for some reason) and shipping her love interest with another guy, then involving herself in their love lives to a truly creepy extent so she could hook her boyfriend up with another guy. These were also sexist. Both situations tended to make the female characters incredibly OOC and prevented them from having any real human reactions/emotions.
Mary Sues. Now, the term has lost a lot of its effect in recent years. Mary Sues (or Gary Stus) used to have a really specific meaning. They were OCs (original characters) that were the prettiest, smartest, most powerful, popular characters in the whole world that had glittering orbs for eyes and usually had some kind of special magical power that made them better than all the canon characters. These were self-insert characters – in other words, even if they didn’t have the same name as the author, they were wish-fulfillment characters wherein the character was used as a stand-in for the author, who could then write all the canon characters loving them. Now people just use the term for any female character that’s powerful and central to the plot, so…it’s not a useful word anymore. As for the old school Sues, well… I don’t necessarily think they were bad, but I will say it’s a hell of a lot more fun to write a Suefic than to read one. That really goes for most fanfics with OCs that have been elevated to a prominent status. People generally read fanfic because they want to read about the canon characters they love, not shallowly-written OCs that take over the fic. I don’t think OC-driven fic is bad to write… But again, yeah, it’s usually much more fun to write than to read. I think it’s helpful to be cognizant of that.
Reviewer participation fic. Mostly an issue on ff.net. It used to be that there was no way to reply to comments on ff.net, and as I’ve said before, there was a strong comment culture back then. Just not replying to reviews could be interpreted as very rude. (It would be unfathomably rude on LJ, which was more community-driven.) So to get around this, people would include a section to reply to reviewers at the beginning of the next chapter or their next one-shot or whatever. So you’d get long interminably long fics on ff.net with like 40 chapters in which nothing happened, and to get ideas, they’d ask reviewers. Worse, sometimes people would try to incentivize readers to review by offering to put their loyal reviewers in the fic. So you’d have this long section at the top of the chapter which might have a conversation that’s been going on between them and a reviewer for the past 8 chapters (and hell, they might’ve made a new chapter just to reply to them) except multiplied by however many reviewers there are, and then the reviewers worm their way into the fics, too! Oh my god.
Passive-aggressive fic. This was especially an issue on LJ as a personal response, but would show up on ff.net as response to wider fandom tropes. These would be fics where a character is like “WOW I WOULD NEVER DO X, THAT WOULD BE SOMETHING I’D NEVER EVEN CONSIDER DOING. WHAT KIND OF IDIOT WOULD THINK I’D DO THAT?” And X is usually (a.) something a reviewer told them would be more IC than what was in their previous fic, (b.) something another writer just put in their fic, or (c.) a ship they don’t like. (This would also extend to fics where characters would be like I’M NOT GAY, I’D NEVER FUCK A DUDE, EWWW!! as anti-slasher rhetoric.) Back then, you could reasonably expect that people in your fandom would at least see, if not read, your new fic. On LJ, you saw basically all the fics because they were posted in wider communities, and fandom was, as a whole, more community-driven back then. If you insulted another member of the community via fic, they’d know in about ten minutes. It was throwing down a gauntlet. lol
The crack fic genre also extended to crack pairings. It wasn’t unusual for people to dare each other to write weird pairings (often characters who’d never met), the more bizarre the better. This was the era of Hogwarts/Lake Squid. These fics were often sporked, but in a more delighted way than usual. There really was more of a sense that people could and would write anything. Some people came to actually ship these pairings like legit and ship wars would ensue. And sometimes some cracky pairings just became really popular for assorted reasons and that made other fans really mad. This still happens, honestly.
Ship wars now are often dressed up in social justice terms, which is a trend that I find frustrating bc I feel like it denigrates important issues. Ship wars in the ‘90s/’00s, on the other hand, were just balls to the wall insane. I still refuse to engage in ship wars because damn, man, the shit I’ve seen. People were much more open about the fact that they hated people who shipped other pairings because they just shipped something else or were squicked by the pairing or whatever. The Harry Potter shipwars got particularly fucking weird. So it wasn’t generally a slash vs. het thing, like some people will have you think. Some of the worst ship wars I have ever seen were het shippers at war. Never again the harmonian times.
Frankly a lot of other things that my mind is rebelling against remembering.
Script fic (often with author interludes) was eventually banned from FF.net, which kind of killed it in fic because that was the main posting venue back then (unless you wrote slash or porn, which could be taken off if people reported it; technically slash wasn’t against the rules unless it was explicit, but they didn’t often check the reports carefully). What I mean by script fic is like
Karamatsu: wow I sure like these sparkly pants Chibita: I don’t (A/N: I do!!!!111 I have a pair like them at home!) Karamatsu: let’s fuck now Chibita: but offscreen because we want to preserve our soft M rating!
The A/Ns (author’s notes) could get really in-depth sometimes, with an author often RPing the characters OOC or using them as their “muses”. So sometimes you’d get a mess like
Karamatsu: gosh it sure does suck that everyone treats me like dog shit Chibita: true (A/N: serenaxkittyx755: That’s not true, Karaboy! Choromatsu: Yeah, we like you less than dog shit. Ichimatsu: Way less.)
Except my example was honestly more IC than most of these tended to be. You’d often get “muses” saying “ewww” or “that’s hot” during romance scenes, even when this made no sense whatsover. Or offering commentary on some random non-karamatsu character’s fashion choices or something. Purposeful “crack” was considered not just okay but in fact desirable back then.