Dancing around Fanfiction & Fandom

by , Monday September 25, 2017
Dancing around Fanfiction & Fandom

Dancing around Fanfiction & Fandom 

A crash course in what fandom is as seen through experiences and research


One way of defining fanfiction is to look at it from the point of view of story-longevity - as in the continuity of the story - but most of all, we are talking about an "emotional continuity" as beautifully explained in this tumblr post.


Quite possibly the most misjudged conception about fanfiction is that it involves only two (or more) characters, more often than not of the same sex, in a sexual relationship. But please allow me to disagree with this statement. I can agree with the fact that every fandom has, if not an enormous, then a fair amount of slash fiction that is nothing more, nothing less than PWP (Porn Without Plot; attention, though: PWP can also mean Porn With Plot, so in case you use these acronyms, make sure to specify which is the case:) but even in this case, you still get emotional connection and depth that the word 'porn' as we know it today does not evoke.


However, I will disagree (rather firmly and viciously) with the fact that the only purpose of fanfiction is to sexually gratify the author and their audience. The sexual part of it is a package deal; something like marriage is, you get the beauty and awesomeness you fell in love with, but you also get the nasty and the difficult that is a part of that person. The author can choose to focus only on exploring their feelings (budding, or already established), without even purporting the need for physical intimacy. Or the characters can get down and dirty for as long or as little as you want. In both cases, one thing is perpetually expressed: the emotional link the characters have and the journey they take reaches, if not a climax, then at the very least firmer ground.


Fanfiction explores the catharsis (as a dear fannish friend of mine once explained to me) of a relationship, the whys and the hows of said relationship; meaning it focuses on love and the many forms and shapes love takes. It is a study of love, if you will, and many fics look and sound very much like thesis papers ready to be exposed and explained in front of a board filled with people that take themselves too seriously.

Not that fanfiction writers do not.


On the contrary, and that's because fanfiction as we know it today exists thanks to academic people – scholars who you wouldn't peg for even thinking about writing slash - let alone between two characters of the same sex or famous people in real life - have taken their favorite book/historical characters/tv shows/movies/etc. to the next level. I hear that the oldest modern fandom belongs to our friends in the Sherlock Holmes fandom, who “[held] public demonstrations of mourning after Holmes was "killed off"” (source) as far back as 1893, and they didn’t even know at the time that they'd created the first fandom!

However, it was the Star Trek fandom, nicknamed Trekkies, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E fandom who helped flesh out the subculture. This only attests to the fact that fanfiction was not created and developed by teenage fangirls and fanboys. Believe it or not, grown up men and women alike with degrees in various fields (fields that take themselves way too seriously too) were writing fanfiction and gushing over characters with other fans (secretly or not).


But why modern fanfiction/fandom? Surely it is something relatively new in our society, like the first camera or Edison's electric lightbulb back in their respective eras. It is my duty to disappoint my audience in that regard and point my finger towards the Victorian age. Shocker of all shockers, right? Who would have thought that fanfiction as an idea started to take root during the 18th century?


What do you mean John Jasper's Secret (1871) wasn't written by Dickens? What about Will Eisner, the American cartoonist who retells the story of Fagin from Oliver Twist (1837-39) in the graphic novel Fagin the Jew (2003)? Or Diana Meyer and her Evrémonde?


However, the words 'fandom' and 'fanfiction' are not of that period, but of contemporary origins. And the author to have inspired many people to write spin-offs or to radically change the ending, was none other than our acclaimed Charles Dickens. As it is explained on this page, before Dickens knew what hit him, he had such a large fanbase, that when "[he] turn[ed] into the street [in America], [he was] followed by a multitude."


But those few examples aforementioned are only a taste, a mostly innocuous idea that later will bloom into what we know today as fanfiction and fandom. And it has become such an intrinsic subculture that you cannot talk about one without the other; they're like Siamese twins inhabiting the same space and time.


More than anything, however, fanfiction breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds comfort, and because of that familiarity it has become such a big subculture that the world cannot ignore anymore. At some point during my few years since officially being a part of a fandom (which started roughly in 2014 with my first Tumblr account), I wondered what makes fanfiction so addictive. Why are people pouring so much energy and time into writing it? They're not getting paid for it and most of them don't even become 'famous' within their fandom. Of course, this was my narrow-minded self who just dipped her toes into fandom and fanfiction.


After three years of being among fannish people, with something close to 500 fanfics read (most of them reread) and 20 fanfics of my own under the belt, I finally realize what all the fuss is about. Ironic that I needed so much time to get it, right? But you don't get a fandom guru to walk you through the steps like you get a teacher to make you see between the lines of To The Lighthouse or Justine or Metamorphosis. You don't get that kind of help. Sure, you might have a friend that gets you up to speed with certain fandom jargon like "I ship that" or "OTP/OTP3," but the rest is entirely up to you.


Fandom is diversity.

Diversity means that each individual experiences it differently.

Which is why there are no guidelines to help you through.

I was talking about familiarity a couple of paragraphs ago. There are actual cases when fanfiction helped people get through traumatic episodes or emotional turmoil. This only brings to our attention the fact that fanfiction is more accessible than a book, in the sense that the reader knows the characters and each of their backgrounds and that makes it easier for the author to place them in different contexts and explore their relationship. It makes it easier for the reader to get to the part they're interested in (i.e. the moment they meet, which then goes on to show how they come to fall in love) without having to be put on hold until they get to know the characters and the history that shaped them as is the case with original stories.


A beautiful and on-point explanation of this is offered by tumblr user valnon in the post "On fanfiction" found on the tumblr blog Fandom Research:

"It was a solace to people who needed solace. And because it was fanfic, it was easier to reach the people who needed it. They knew those people already. That world was dear to them already. They were being comforted by friends, not strangers."

This is why fanfiction is so sought after. That familiarity - to which every human being is attracted to like moths to a flame - is what makes reading fanfiction so appealing in times of inner turmoil or outer strife and conflict. It is therapeutic to write\read stories where you get to see a situation resolved or with a happy ending, where you mend what in reality has been irremediably broken.


Original stories and fanfiction go hand-in-hand, if you take all of the above into consideration, and all the bashing on fanfiction writers (fan people in general, really) that has been going on for decades is pointless and simply exists to annoy other people. A story lives through its reader/listener, and what greater achievement can one have, if not inspiring other people to continue the story? So go ahead, write about those characters in alternate worlds or in the same world but in different situations.


Thank you to DeeundDrang for writing this blog and Laura G. for designing the banner

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