Fan Fiction

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= often called "Fanfic"


Description

Sebastian Mary:

"I met up with Roz Kaveney, an expert on one type of creative writing both quintessentially internet-based, and also quintessentially non-'literary'. Fanfic – or fan fiction – is any story written using the characters, settings and conventions of a fictional universe – 'fandom' - such as that of Star Trek.

I learned from Roz that fanfic proper appeared with the Trekkies. The internet made it a mass phenomenon, as fans took advantage of low digital barriers to self-publication to evolve this new way of engaging with a fictional world. These days, while keen fanfic writers maintain their own archives, Livejournal is the hub of fan activity. Across the net, fans of particular shows, characters or fandoms gravitate in online communities, share work, commission stories about particular fandoms or pairings in 'ficathons', proof-read and critique one another's stories and collaboratively generate massive archives of often elaborate, imaginative, well-written – and sometimes disturbing – narratives inspired by existing fictional universes.

Fanfic works through peer-to-peer commissioning and editing, and repurposing of others' imaginative works as the springboard for its own 'transformative' endeavors. And this collaborative and (by the standards to which the 'literary' tradition of writing holds itself) 'derivative' nature contrasts intriguingly with the fixation on originality so inseparable from literary fiction. This fixation with originality and identifiable authorship is, in turn, inseparable from the economics that have underpinned the print industry for the last three centuries.

So, predictably, in this world of fanfic money is something of a contested issue. Keen to avoid rocking the copyright boat and alienate the creators of the fandoms they love, fanfic writers self-police strictly: attempting to monetize your work is frowned upon. “Printing out a few copies for friends is one thing,” Roz says, “but flogging your work at conventions just isn't done.” Rather, it recalls Chris Anderson et al's theories of the internet as a peer-to-peer economy of abundance. Fans write it because they love the fandoms, identify with particular characters, and enjoy exchanging these nuggets of narrative passion with others of the same persuasion. Stories become transactional units in a gift economy driven by the ludic desire to requite a free gift of pleasure with a return in kind.

If the literary is the critical and isolationist superego of writing, then, fanfic is the id: messy, pleasure-driven, reluctant to censor its proclivities. existing fictional universes. It's always been transgressive, genderbending, complicatedly queer. Slashfic (erotic fanfic) appeared at the same time as fanfic, and slash stories often see heterosexual fans penning homoerotic slash; any taboo can be the subject of a slash story.

I've argued elsewhere that the net follows a fairly consistent pattern not of replicating, but of inverting the tradition of the book: boundedness becomes boundlessness, authority becomes unreliable opinion, fixity becomes fluidity, physicality becomes virtuality, the presumption of universality becomes an awareness of the contextual nature of everything written there. So I did a speculative compare and contrast between the mainstream literary world and that of fanfic. And the principle seems to hold for this most popular internet writing form: take the literary world, and turn it inside-out.

Fanfic is 90-95% female, in contrast with the canon of authors I studied at college. It's often collaborative, and engages with an existing fictional universe, while - say - literary fiction is generally written by single individuals and is fixated on the idea of originality "without realising", Roz says, "how overrated this concept has been since the Romantic era". Fanfic is structured socially around a gift economy of stories, and money is frowned upon; literature writers usuall aspire to earning a living from their work. Fanfic is pleasure-oriented; literature intellectual; fanfic is non-hierarchical and networked, while literature tends towards canons.

And last, but not least, fanfic in its current state evolved online, and is impressively well-supported in that space by its communities - a stark contrast to the modest successses of more 'literary' outputs online. Perhaps, with a long tradition of print publishing, the literary world has simply not yet paid much attention to the internet, and this will change as it becomes more familiar and pervasive. Or, perhaps, more of the attributes that constitute what we think of as 'literary' content are more inseparable from meatspace than might be immediately apparent." (http://www.futureofthebook.org/blog/archives/2008/02/the_id_of_writing.html)


Discussion

Assessing Fan Fiction

Cathy Young at http://www.reason.com/news/show/118379.html :

"So is the growth of Internet-based fan fiction a cultural development to be wholeheartedly applauded? Not quite. The good news about the Internet is that, in a world without gatekeepers, anyone can get published. The bad news, of course, is the same. Much fanfic is hosted on sites such as fanfiction.net, where authors can get their work online in minutes--which means that professional-quality stories coexist with barely literate fluff, and reader reviews will sometimes congratulate an author on good grammar and spelling. Even sites that prescreen fanfic and encourage authors to use beta readers and a spell checker tend to be quite lax with quality control, and only a few fan fiction archives are genuinely selective.

For the more sophisticated fanfic lovers, the high crap-to-quality ratio can mean a frustrating search for readable stories. The real problem, though, is that less experienced readers may develop seriously skewed standards of what constitutes a readable story. It is frankly disturbing to encounter teenagers and young adults whose recreational reading is limited to fanfic based on their favorite shows, and there have been moments when I have felt like telling some of my own readers to put down the fanfic and pick up a book. It is even more troubling, as far as educational experiences go, that a teenager can wantonly butcher the English language at fanfiction.net and get complimented on a "well-written story."

Golubchik thinks that such concerns are exaggerated. "If anything," she says, "I think that fanfic teaches kids to be more discerning. The quality stuff does tend to percolate to the top; it gets recommended and popularized." Indeed, while the worst of fan fiction can make a Harlequin romance look like Charlotte Bronte, the popular stories are at least no worse in quality--and sometimes far better--than, say, The Da Vinci Code.

The mainstreaming of fan fiction is likely to raise standards further, bringing more educated people into the arena and perhaps encouraging some voluntary gatekeeping, such as contests with input from professional writers or editors...

Perhaps, as with other cultural products often dismissed as intellectual junk food, the answer to bad fanfic is simply better fanfic." (http://www.reason.com/news/show/118379.html)


The Value is in the Process not the Product

Henry Jenkins:

"1.We should not reduce the value of participatory culture to its products rather than its process. Consider, for a moment, all of the arts and creative writing classes being offered at schools around the world. Consider, for example, all of the school children being taught to produce pots. We don't do this because we anticipate that very many of them are going to grow up to be professional potters. In fact, most of them are going to produce pots that look like lopsided lumps of clay only a mother could love (though it does say something about how we value culture that many of them do get cherished for decades). We do so because we see a value in the process of creating something, of learning to work with clay as a material, or what have you. There is a value in creating, in other words, quite apart from the value attached to what we create. And from that perspective, the expansion of who gets to create and share what they create with others is important even if none of us produces anything beyond the literary equivalent of a lopsided lump of clay that will be cherished by the intended recipient (whether Mom or the fan community) and nobody else.

2. All forms of art require a place where beginning artists can be bad, learn from their mistakes, and get better. A world of totally professionalized expression masks the apprenticeship process all artists need to undergo if they are going to achieve their full potential. A world where amateur artists can share their work is a world where learning can take place. If the only films you see are multimillion dollar productions by Steven Spielberg, then most of us will assume that we have nothing meaningful to contribute to the culture and give up. If we see films with a range of quality, including some that are, in Sturgeon's terms, "crud," then it becomes possible to imagine ourselves as potentially becoming artists. Bad art inspires more new artists than good art does for this reason: I can do better than that!

3. A world where there is a lot of bad art in circulation lowers the risks of experimentation and innovation. In such a world, one doesn't have to worry about hitting the marks or even making a fool out of oneself. One can take risks, try challenging things, push in new directions because the cost of failure is relatively low. That is why a participatory culture is potentially so generative. Right now, innovation occurs most often at the grassroots level and only subsequently gets amplified by mass media. Professional media is afraid to take risks.

4. Bad art inspires responses which push the culture to improve upon it over time. I have argued elsewhere that fandom is inspired by a mixture of fascination and frustration. If the show didn't fascinate us, we would not keep returning to it. If it fully satisfied us, we would not feel compelled to remake it. Many of the shows that have inspired the most fan fiction are not the best shows but rather they are shows with real potential -- the literary equivalent of the "fixer-upper" that real estate agents always talk about. Over time, bad art may become an irritant, like sand in the oyster, which becomes a pearl when it gets worked over by many different imaginations. Good art may simply close off conversations.

5. Good and Bad, as artistic standards, are context specific. Good for what purposes? Good by what standards? Good for what audiences? In some ways, one can argue that professionally published fiction about popular television shows is superior to at least most fan fiction -- in terms of a certain professional polish in the writing style, in terms of its copy editing, in terms of perhaps its construction of plots. But it is not going to be as good as fan fiction on other levels -- in terms of its insight into the characters and their relationship, in terms of its match with the shared fantasies of the fan community, in terms of its freedom to push beyond certain constraints of the genre.

6. Standards of good and bad are hard to define when the forms of expression being discussed are new and still evolving. This would apply to many of the forms of participatory culture which are growing up around digital media. The forms are too new to have well established standards or fixed cannons.

7. This is not a zero-sum game. It is not clear that the growth of participatory culture does, in fact, damage to professional media making. One could argue that so far most popular work by amateur media makers has been reactive to stories, characters, and ideas generated by mass culture. The two may exist in dialogue with each other. This is certainly true of the kinds of fan culture that Cathy Young is discussing." (http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/02/in_defense_of_crud.html)


More Information

  1. Case study: FanLib
  2. Moral Economy of fan fiction: essay by Henry Jenkins