Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fan fic as a preview of fiction's future

Fan fiction calls into question the very "authority" of "authorship," which might, in fact, be mostly a 20th Century construct. Shakespeare, of course, recycled plots from classical myth and from lesser contemporaries. The Odyssey has spawned a long list of spinoffs, from the Tennyson poem "Ulysses" to Joyce's novel to – just in the last decade—the novel Cold Mountain and the film Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? Jane Austen (especially her Pride and Prejudice) has inspired a dozen or more related stories, including the popular Bridget Jones novels and films, and even a series with Austen as a detective in Regency England (and now a version with zombies). Whedon himself has frequently used myth and fairy tale (his musical episode, Once More With Feeling, borrows extensively from the Persephone myth, for example). Some fanfic even follows Shakespeare's lead and borrows from classical literature. One of the most prolific and talented fanfic authors, Lady Paperclip, re-does Arthurian legends in contemporary settings. (For a chastening experience, google her and read some of her Torchwood fic—she's only 18, and she already writes that well!) But by ignoring the "gatekeepers" of producers, moneymen, and publishers, fan-fiction also returns authority to the author, turning the observer into a participant, and recycling discarded materials into a new form.
Fanfiction more than other forms of art prizes connection, between the new story and the original series, between the writer and the reader, between prose and other media, between the unknown future of fiction and the long past of story.

The biggest objection presented against widespread self-publication on the Web-- the inability to sort wheat from chaff-- proves not that big a problem in fan-fic. Readers make their reading decisions based recommendations by trusted sources, archival on particular websites, and targeted contest wins. (There are literally dozens of award sites for Buffy fiction on the web, where fans nominate and judge the best stories in certain categories, like Best Alternative Universe and Best Angst.) The enormity of the offerings – so many fandoms, so many ships, so many styles—requires the reader to decide priorities quickly, discovering that, for example, the level of prose control can be discerned in a single paragraph, and that only certain ships ring that personal bell.
The fan-fic phenomenon is the forerunner of a massive increase in web-based art. And just as fan-fic has sort of sorted out (everyone soon figures out who the best writers/vidders/etc are in any fandom), there is a conscious rebuke to the notion of the "gatekeeper" which has kept many literary agents employed while keeping good but unrepresented writers out of the bookstores.
Fan-fiction, freed of the demands of the marketplace and the priority of moneymaking, is explosively creative and has invented many new forms and recycled others. In fact, the very limitations of fan-fiction—the inability to make money, the legal uncertainty, the relevance of canon, the use of someone else's characters—become paradoxically liberating.
"Where is the money?" is the question many writers will ask. With fan-fiction, there is no money, of course, and writers could get into legal trouble if they tried to charge for their writing. However, television and radio have turned into major industries without charging directly for their content, and so, perhaps, can web-based art.
But the future of fiction can be seen in fan-fiction: Niche-driven, edgy and perhaps outlawed, with the use of new technology to create multimedia experiences and innovative experiments in form and language, a community of writers and readers engaging in collaborative work, with emphasis on linked stories and shared universes, and above all intense interactivity. This is fiction at its most elemental: No limit, no fear, and no net.

Works Cited

Blasingame, Katrina. “'I Can’t Believe I’m Saying It Twice in the Same Century . But Duh . . .’ The Evolution of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sub-Culture Language through the Medium of Fanfiction." Slayage 20, May 2006.

Buck, Peter. Liner notes for "Everybody Hurts." In Time - The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.

Casey, Bernadette; Neil Casey, Ben Calvert, Liam French, and Justin Lewis. Television Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge Books. 2008.

Chaney, Keidra, and Raizel Liebler. "Canon vs. Fanon: Folksonomies of Fan Culture." Presented at Media in Transition 5: Creativity, Ownership and Collaboration in the Digital Age.

Edwards, Lynne; Elizabeth Rambo, James South. Buffy Goes Dark. London: McFarland. 2009.

Gileswench. "Fanon Terms." 6 April 2009 .

Kirby-Diaz, Mary. "Story-oriented and Series-oriented Fans." Buffy and Angel Conquer the Internet. ed. Mary Kirby-Diaz. London: McFarland. 2009. 62-86.

Kustritz, Anne (September 2003). "Slashing the Romance Narrative". The Journal of American Culture 26 (3): 371–384.

LJconstantine. "Reality by Consensus." .

Meades, Rob. The Drabble Project. 09 March 2009 .

Melusina, "More than You Ever Wanted to Know about Canon and Fanon." 8 April 2009 .

Mendelsohn, Farah. Speech. World Fantasy Convention. 1 November 2008. Calgary, Alberta.

"Five Things." Octaves of the Heart archive, 04 April 2009 .

Onishi, Norimitsu. "Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular." New York Times. 20 January 2008. . 1-2.

Stafford, Nikki. "Buffy, We Hardly Knew Ye." Toronto Globe and Mail, April 26th, 2003. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from

Fan-art and fiction cited:

Fan-art and fiction cited:

Anna S. The Spander Stories. 02 April 2009 .

Anna S. Season Noir. 02 April 2009 .

Cummings, Barb. "A Dark and Stormy Night." 3 April 2009 .

Dibble, Nan. Enemy of My Enemy. 31 March 2009 .

Dibble, Nan. Old Blood. 02 April 2009 .

Fallowdoe. Spiegel Im Spiegel. 02 April 2009 .

Herself. "Who Am I?" 05 April 2009 .

Jo the Librarian2003. "Vampyr." 25 March 2009 .

Leslie, Magpie, and Lori. Eyes Only/Watching Over. 8 April 2009 .

Martin, Cyn. "That Layla Berk." 25 March 2009. .

Martin, Cyn. The Code of the Watchers. 26 March 2009 .

Nwhepcat. Pentimento: 52 Moments That Never Happened to Dawn (and One That Probably Will). 03 March 2009 .

Quinara, The Spikeid. 08 April 209 .

Rose, Anne. Buffy and Spike, Lost in Cyberspace. .

Slaymesoftly. "Who Needs Five Gold Rings?" .

Snowpuppies. "Dawn Summers, Matchmaking Genius." 3 April 2009 .

St. Salieri. "Vampires and the Women Who Love Them II: The Vampires Speak." .

Stultiloquentia. "Campfire Tale for the End of Days." 2 April2009 .

Tales of Spike. "A Reckoning." 21 March 2009 .

The Green Chick. "Rhymes with Gleaming." 31 March 2009 .

Wesley Girl, Magpie, & Byrne, Tea and Biscuits. 3 March 2009 .

Special thanks the fan communities of Livejournal and Tea at the Ford, who shared their insights and examples of canon, fanart, and other topics.
Also, thanks to for the use of their transcripts of series.

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