Chew on This: Fanfiction as Literacy

From Lucinda Betts comes an article I reread a few times: The Future of Reading – digital or print? It examines the different types of reading that young folks (whippersnappers! oh, wait…) do these days – and they don’t mean ebooks, either. Digital reading is different from print reading, and there’s not really a sufficient methodology to examine, quantify or even include it as a different element of literacy:

Her mother, Deborah Konyk, would prefer that Nadia, who gets A’s and B’s at school, read books for a change. But at this point, Konyk said, “I’m just pleased that she reads something anymore.”

Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among education policymakers and reading experts around the world, and within groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.

As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading — diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.

But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.

The example the article focuses on mostly is this young woman who is into reading and writing fanfic – and whether her activities are equal to reading, and all the benefits and superlative statistics thereunto pertaining.

Sidenote: That’s big enough of a question, but I have one more, which the article doesn’t really get into: what is it about fan fiction that is so alluring to so many people? Is it the community of active writers who are still involved in the narrative? Is it the participation in a group world that’s evolving and changing with each new text? Is it the critique and instant feedback from readers?

But dude, at what point does fanfic start earning some modicum of respect? Because gee whiz, the girl is reading and writing fiction, actively creating, you know, words and stuff, and that’s not quantifiable literacy? Damn.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    FD says:

    Eh, I think fanfic is arguably fiction, although admittedly not one you can or should profit from.
    I think it equals reading – and as a side bar itself, I know a there are a growing number of print authors who started with fanfic.  I know this because I know *counts on fingers* 6, and that’s just within my circle of internet acquaintance.

    The appeal of fanfic?  Too narrow a question imo.  Do you mean as a reader or a writer?
    Fanfic means many things to many people.  Don’t tell me you’ve never put down a book going “Argh! No! It can’t end like that!” and gone about fixing it in your head?  Some people want to know more about side characters.  What about this unanswered question? What happened next?  What if you changed x element? Some people just want to know more.  Sometimes, there are elements crying out to be corrected in the plot and fan fic is the reader response to that.  Some people just like smut with an easy character ‘hook’ and familiar element.
    Writers of fan fic can have those and many other reasons.  It’s a good field for learners and a way for them to get validation and readership.  It’s free for the price of an internet connection. 
    It’s many things to many people.  My 2p anyway.

  2. 2
    ladypeyton says:

    But dude, at what point does fanfic start earning some modicum of respect?

    When more men are doing it.  It will never earn respect as long as it is primarily a femal endeavor, IMO.

  3. 3
    ladypeyton says:

    FEMALE endeavor, of course.

  4. 4
    Jana says:

    Sometimes I wish everyone would just the shut the hell up already. Especially all these doomsday experts when it comes to literacy and youth and the decline of civilization. Yeah, test scores are falling and all this other bad stuff—we know! It’s been pointed out to us! Stop regurtitating the available information and point out something we can do about it. Or better yet, go out there and do something yourself.

    AND STOP BLAMING THE INTERNET FOR EVERYTHING.

    And as for fan fiction; it’s harmless. If she loves to write, it might actually develop into something some day.

  5. 5
    Kaylee says:

    Of course fanfic is fiction.  The major problem with fanfic is that it’s not done with any permission from the original creator of the concept, because honestly, all those Star Wars books out there by a zillion different authors are really just fanfic that’s been condoned by the powers and that’s called fiction as well. 

    I think one of the other problems with people seeing fanfic as ‘real fiction’ is that it’s primarily done by younger people and, like anything else on the internet, it takes a whole lot of wading through the crap to find an of the good stuff.  There is so much bad fanfic out there because there’s no publishing process and sites like fanfiction.net are essentailly huge slush piles.

    I agree with FD though, sometimes as a reader you dislike the ending or just want to read more about your favorite characters and fanfic gives you a chance to do that.  Plus I think it can really stimulate creativity, especially in kids who wouldn’t otherwise be writing.  It gives people a way to test themselves without getting that ego crushing rejection letter and insteaed focus on peer responses to help learn to write. 

    Like any popular fiction, its all in good fun and, in my opinion, its a great way to get started.

  6. 6
    Breana says:

    I would have to agree with FD.  Fanfiction is a way to explore side stories, elaborate on scenes, see action from another point of view or try to get those two characters, you know the ones where they tip toe around each other, to finally get together.  The reasons why people write them and the readers who read them are varied, but they are the same as anyone who writes and reads any story in the first place.

    Also, it provides a great way for a new writer to get dive in.  Writing is daunting, but if you can use a familiar world you really enjoy as a foundation, some of the pressure of “what the hell am I suppose to write about!” is released. 

    It is amazing when you look at some of these works, kids and adults alike, have created complex and engaging pieces, some are novels length.  Anything that promotes that is a great thing in my book and deserves a bit more respect.

  7. 7
    Teddypig says:

    Why is it always internet or video games or some horrible new fangled technology to blame for the obvious failure of an education system no one wants to fund?

    //Just saying

  8. 8
    willa says:

    The appeal of fanfic?  Too narrow a question imo.  Do you mean as a reader or a writer?
    Fanfic means many things to many people.  Don’t tell me you’ve never put down a book going “Argh! No! It can’t end like that!” and gone about fixing it in your head?  Some people want to know more about side characters.  What about this unanswered question? What happened next?  What if you changed x element? Some people just want to know more.  Sometimes, there are elements crying out to be corrected in the plot and fan fic is the reader response to that.  Some people just like smut with an easy character ‘hook’ and familiar element.

    ABSOLUTELY! That’s it in a nutshell, for me—it’s taking a scene you hated and “fixing” it, or exploring how certain characters would interact together—oh, nevermind, just what FD said.

    This isn’t worded very well, but: To me, fanfic basically takes what is dictated to me as a passive, nonreciprocal audience experience and makes it active and reciprocal—now instead of just sitting there watching a story unfold, I’m part of the storytelling. Writers and creators—and other readers and audiences, actually—who think that fanfic is trespassing and wrong seem to me to be saying that reading someone else’s story or watching soemone else’s show is a one-way street only, and the viewer/reader is only allowed to passively sit there and have a story and characters pressed on to them, in a way, but are not allowed to be a part of it, to be NOT passive—does that make any sense? I think fanfic is great. And “natural”—people naturally react to the things they see and hear, and are automatically a part of that storytelling process. They become a part of the story. Audiences are not passive, they are an active part of the relationship, and not all the lawsuits in the world will change that.

    That’s what fiction and movies and all are to me: a dialogue between the writer and the reader. And fanfiction is a continuation of that dialogue, where the reader is now responding in a public forum, where before perhaps it had been private. It continues the conversation between show and audience. I love it.

  9. 9
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Personally I’m ambivalent about fanfic—on the one hand, it can be a useful way for budding writers to find their creative voice, but on the other it can easily become a crutch for lazy writers who can’t be bothered to go through the whole process of world-building on their own.  I don’t write it myself; I find it far more rewarding to create my own characters and settings than to recycle someone else’s, but I can understand how the love of a particular fictional world could prompt a reader to continue a story that ends far sooner than (s)he would like it to, or to re-write an unsatisfying ending.

    Copyright is an issue.  As long as you keep your fanfic to yourself and your friends (or write about a character who is in the public domain) and don’t attempt to profit off it, fine.  Some time ago, there was a discussion on another board I frequent regarding a woman who wrote an unlicensed Star Trek novel, self-published it and put it up for sale on Amazon.  I’m sure the majority of fanfic writers know enough not to go that far, but I know that some published writers, such as Jim Butcher, have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding fanfic in order to forestall any nasty legal wrangling.

    Fanfic has been around a lot longer than the Internet;  WM Thackeray hated the end of Ivanhoe so much that he wrote an alternate ending in which Ivanhoe dumped Rowena and married Rebecca.  As to when it becomes respectable, it’s hard to say.  I should think that being licensed (as with Star Trek fiction) and published confers plenty of respectability.  Alan Gordon’s Fool’s Guild series of mystery novels, which I love, are essentially Shakespeare fanfic; and Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell novels have won awards, I believe.  However, I don’t know at what point those books cease to be fanfic and become something else—a “re-imagining”, perhaps.

  10. 10
    DS says:

    I’ve ran into some really crappy fanfic but it was written by adults who just weren’t good writers.  I don’t look for it or actively read it, but I do know about communities who critique it—sometimes brutally.  So it may result in writers who learn to sharpen their narrative skills and who have a thicker skin. 

    Fortunately, lagiarism seems to be roundly excoriated.  Accusations have followed at least one YA from fan fic into her professional writing.

    I think the difference between fanfic and franchise novels is that the franchise novels (should) go through a tougher editorial process.  The franchise novels are written by professional writers with track records.

    In the old mimeograph and snail mail days some authors with a professional career tended to keep their fanfic activities under wraps for fear of harming their career.  .

  11. 11
    Alex says:

    Well…a lot of fanfiction is arguably insane—pairings of characters who would never go together (Snape and Lupin, for example), as well as some pretty inane situations. Some of this can be fun to read and amusing, especially when someone really works at making a Mary Sue super-cool and awesome.

    And then you get someone who genuinely wants to continue the story or explore a situation, and they do their damnedest to make a worthy contribution to the world of the story and a lasting impression on the readers.

  12. 12
    Marianne McA says:

    I think the main thing I wonder about is whether it’s a different sort of literacy: not better, or worse, just different.
    My eldest daughter would, if she’s in, spend her evenings having conversations with several of her friends over MSN as she watches TV.
    The way she uses language in those written exchanges is just different from any way I ever use language. Very informal, minimal capitalisation or punctuation, lots of in-jokes, much abbreviation. She can write ‘correctly’ easily – so it’s not that she’s unaware of the conventions – just that those conventions don’t apply to that medium.
    So if you tested for literacy, you’d have to test using a different standard because: “i know!!! *winks*” might be perfectly correct English in that setting.
    (I always wonder whether there will be a sudden shift in what’s acceptable to reflect that generation’s usage – if twenty years down the road, they’ll be teaching the correct use of ‘*——*’ in schools.)

    As for fanfiction, I don’t read a lot, but the good stuff is as good as published fiction. I’d guess as you get more and more really good writers coming out of fanfiction to write their own stuff, their success will earn fanfic more respect.

  13. 13

    Hell, I *still* write fanfic, though admittedly not as much as I’d like since publishable writing takes a lot of my time.  For me, fanfic is about fun, period.  It’s easy (the characters and settings and minor players are already there and everyone knows who they are) and though I write the much-maligned RPF (real person fic), there’s still a lot less work to be done than when writing an original story.  Which makes it relaxing for me and something to do when I want to write but want something a bit easier, something comfortable and familiar.

    Fanfic can be a great tool for a young writer.  Like story-telling with training wheels.  It’s not the same as writing original fic, but it’s a good start, I think.  And if a fanfic writer wants to branch out and is looking to write for a career, well, they probably are already aware that fanfic does not equal the much more difficult to write original fiction.

    I love it.  I’ll probably always write it.  I don’t tend to share it online anymore, it’s purely for my own entertainment and that of a few close friends who will, for whatever reason lol, read a grocery list if I wrote it.  All I know is when I’ve had a long day of edits, promotion, working my ass off to create a 3D, alive world and inhabitants in my current WIP, there’s little I like more than putting aside the professional side of writing and indulging in the easy comfort of writing a PWP with a friend.  :)

  14. 14
    Alyc says:

    In response to EW’s assertion that fanfic can be a crutch for lazy writers, I think that this claim makes some invalid assumptions about the reasons that people write fanfic and participate in fan communities.  Many fanfic writers have little-to-no aspirations towards being professional writers.  They enjoy telling stories.  They enjoy participating actively in fan communities.  They write for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with honing any kind of craft, save perhaps the craft of fanfic writing.

    There is a growing community of scholars interrogating fanfic and fan cultures in an attempt to move the field past Henry Jenkins and his Textual Poachers (which, while still useful, is in many ways a very dated work at this point).  The approaches range from critiques of individual texts and bodies of work within fandoms, to ethnographies of fan interactions through the medium of fanfic, to discussions about copyright laws and issues of what constitutes a “transformative work”, particularly from the perspective that fanfic writers are not economically profiting from their works.

    One of the most interesting developments to come out of fandom recently is the creation of the OTW (the Organization for Transformative Works), which seeks to provide an open and safe forum for fan activities as well as a venue for academic fans.  The inaugural edition of their peer-reviewed academic journal is coming out in September 2008.  People who are interested can find out more here: http://www.transformativeworks.org/

  15. 15

    I think my one reservation about FanFic is the obvious one: no one’s editing it, so its educational value is somewhat diminished because, as many others mention, it’s written by young people and it’s ridiculous to try and wade through all the crap. I would argue that FanFic alone—that is, if the “whippersnapper” is not reading much else—would be a terrible model to enhance or reinforce English writing & reading skills. However, you can’t argue against the creativity side of the coin.

    I say this, by the way, as a good writer myself who spent much of her 13th year writing and reading—brace yourselves—Horatio Hornblower FanFic on the A&E;message boards. (Didn’t know it exists? Oh. My. God. Yes. Scary.) So while my creative life was flourishing, I couldn’t have gotten so much out of it if I wasn’t an otherwise avid reader, and an educated, discerning one, to be able to look at most of what I was reading and understand that it was (and why it was) crap.

    The “doomsday” prophesies about reading are, to me, not nearly as scary as the observable fact that no one can bloody WRITE in this country. Of course, the two are intertwined like… I dunno, [insert some romance cliche here].

  16. 16

    *I should have added that not all FanFic is written by young people (of course) and that even if it was, not all young people are bad writers (of course). And the lack of fluent, capable writers is not limited to FanFic or unpublished stuff (of course).

    Defensive, nervous disclaimer over.

  17. 17
    Jenna says:

    The only way to learn to write well is to keep writing. Fanfic provides an excellent workshop environment if the writer is willing to take advantage of it, which is often not the case. A lot of writers, of various levels of experience, can’t be bothered to even learn how to construct a sentence and it’s very discouraging to those of us who take language seriously.

    As for myself, I’ve been writing fanfic since 1996 (earlier offline—I was making up stories about Star Wars when it first came out) and as of last year I’m published. I know, despite years of writing for myself and for creative writing classes, that without the experience of writing for an audience I would not be the writer I am now.

    The original fiction gets the lion’s share of my energy now but I still write fanfic. It’s like stretching before going for a run.

    As for its continuing allure, I agree with those who said it’s a way for the audience to participate. We’re storytellers by nature, and we want to contribute to the story and participate in it, not just be fed it passively. And you know you’ve touched somebody when they want to be a part of your creation, not just an observer.

  18. 18
    Leslie H says:

    Oddly enough fanfic is a lot older than people realize. In the 70’s and 80’s the best stuff was put into fanzines. My friend Jackie Kramer edited a StarTrek one (after the series but before the Motionless Picture) that was very impressive.

    Copyright aside (a VERY big aside) Fanfic is a kind of authorial immortality. If the story world you create is so vivid, so engrossing, that fans want to not only live there but make it their own, congratulations you are the proud parent of Literature.

    I think as a writer I might get a lot of good feedback from it; although to avoid plagiarism I would make someone else read it for me. One author I can think of, could have discovered her hero-heroine thing was an abusive relationship about 3 books earlier in the series.

  19. 19
    Awasky says:

    As people have pointed out above, there are a lot of reasons why fanfic. Ask fifty fans, you get fifty different answers. Yes, it is about “fixing” source material we have problems with, but that’s not the only thing fic does. It’s also about continuing to have adventures in a world we enjoy—have you ever had book grief? That feeling you get when you finish a novel and you’re just sad you can’t hang out with these cool characters anymore? That’s when I go to the internet and start trawling for fic.

    But that’s not the only reason for fic, either. There have been reams written on this subject already (there are approximately a billion fans in academia who have analyzed this to death), but here are a few of my thoughts. I lot of the appeal of genre fiction in general, not just fanfic, is the repetition of certain well-loved story tropes. What fanfic allows is many authors to take those tropes and try them on different characters from different source material. Heck, I’ve read hundreds of stories with the same trope and the same source material—if it’s a story that you love, reading different authors’ takes on it can be very enjoyable.

    Fanfic is a largley romance-driven genre. What this also means is that when I start a story, rather than having to be convinced by the author to like the characters, as in an original novel, I already like them. Since they come from a source that fanfic authors try, with varying levels of success, to be faithful too, these characters have an established dynamic between each other that I’m already familiar with. That means that if I’m looking for a romance story with characters who have been friends for a long time and are beginning to fall in love, or if I’m looking for a story where they’re rivals and sparks are flying, I know exactly where to go to find it. If I was looking for the same in an original novel, I’d have to sift through a lot of back cover copy and reviews and hope that they accurately reflect the book.

    So, for readers of fanfic like me, who know exactly the types of story we want, fanfic can be a really effective way of reliably finding stories we’ll like.

    There’s also the aspect of community, as some have pointed out. In a fanfic community, I can have a dialog directly with the author of a story as a peer, which is usually not possible with professional writers. I can also see a dialog between writers, as certain ideas are taken and changed and reinterpreted. (There’s actually a standard challenge called the “remix” where one author reinterprets another author’s story, with that person’s permission.) I’ve heard people at sci fi conventions talk about how in the golden age of sci fi magazine publishing, this same dialog of ideas was happening, but that’s pretty much died out with the modern book publishing model, as novels get longer and the so does the time it takes to write them.

    I write fanfic as well as professionally. If I write a fic, I usually hear from a dozen fans within a day of posting what they think. For my professional writing, I have gotten feedback….oh, never. True, I got paid, but sometimes it’s nice to hear that people actually are reading what you’re putting out there.

    I’d also like to point out that many fanfic writers don’t want it to be widely acknowledged as legitimate. The feeling is—we have a lot of fun playing in our little playground, we don’t need the approval of the rest of the world, and too much outside attention might mess it up. As someone else mentioned above, a lot of fanfic writers aren’t trying to be professional writers. Fanfic is an end unto itself.

    Also to address the argument that most fanfic is crap—absolutely true. But most published fiction is crap, too. Most of everything is crap. And like romance novels have communities and blogs like this one that can point readers toward the good stuff, fanfic has communities that function in the same way. I’ve managed to effectively tailor the communities I watch so that I read fanfic I enjoy 90% of the time, which is a far better rate than I get by picking up books in the bookstore.

  20. 20
    LindaM54 says:

    I got my start writing fanfiction.  I still dabble in it.  And a lot of now famous NYC authors got their start writing it (Sue Krinard, for one.)

    Yes, you have to dig through a lot of junk to find the jewels (in terms of good writing and decent stories), but IMHO, anything that catches a child’s fancy and hooks them into reading can’t be all bad.

  21. 21
    Antonia says:

    I think fanfic is the fundamental storytelling impulse.  1000 years ago, people didn’t sit around the campfire making up brand-new stories with original characters every time; they told stories about Robin Hood, or King Arthur’s knights, taking elements of the familiar—the legend everyone knew—and adding twists and characters and elements of their own.  If those additions caught the imagination of enough people, they became embroidered into the legend too. 

    The idea that the only correct outlet for storytelling is pursuing publication, and that anybody who does not aspire to write professionally has no business telling stories, is both recent and wrongheaded, IMHO.  It’s capitalism trying to commodify a human impulse.  Fanfic—on the border of legality, done for the pure love of community experience, derided because it doesn’t fit onto a balance sheet—is an expression of that impulse.  People want to tell stories, and they are drawing upon the familiar because that’s something storytellers do. 

    So why reading and writing it on a computer doesn’t count as literacy, while reading a Sweet Dreams paperback from the 1980s would, makes no sense to me.

  22. 22

    I had the pleasure of studying fanfic as literacy in a class when I was working on my BA.  A great resource for reading fanfiction as literature is The Democratic Genre: Fanfiction in a Literary Context by Sheenagh Pugh.  It explores some of the motivations behind fanfiction, particularly as a community-based pastime for women and… argh, it’s been an age since I’ve read it.  But it’s a really fascinating book if you want to take a deeper look at the phenomenon.

    I’ve been writing and reading fanfic for about ten years now, and I think that aside from being fun, it’s also a great writing exercise.

  23. 23
    WendyC says:

    Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion, fanfic readers and writers aren’t limited to young people of the female gender. I know of quite a few mature aged women and men who are active fanfic writers, with work that is as good, if not better than some of the published stuff.

    I don’t know why fanfic isn’t considered good enough to be classified as proper reading or writing. I agree that there is some truly terrible fanfic out there but there’s also a lot of extremely good fanfic, just like with books, there’s the crap shit, and the good stuff. You just have to look for it.

    And as to what is so alluring about fanfic? Well, it’s fun, anyone can try to write it (whether they’re good or not is another matter altogether, but there’s always room for improvement with fanfic) and it’s also because of a love of the fandom. At least those are my reasons.

  24. 24
    Catherine says:

    The only way to learn to write well is to keep writing. Fanfic provides an excellent workshop environment if the writer is willing to take advantage of it, which is often not the case. A lot of writers, of various levels of experience, can’t be bothered to even learn how to construct a sentence and it’s very discouraging to those of us who take language seriously.

    I like to read some fanfic, so I’m glad to those that write it.  That being said, I don’t think that it works as a great tool to sharpen new writers’ talent.  I have found that most of them throw a hissy fit if you try to offer honest constructive criticism.  They say it’s fiction and not a real book so people shouldn’t be critical.  Then they trow in the “why don’t you try writing it” argument.  Forgive me for for suspending my disbelief when they have a character have a c-section and a few minutes later she’s just fine hanging out in the hospital nursery.

    Anyways, my point is that I would respect it more as a tool for people who crave to write or who want to fix something that they hated about a book if they would actually throw a little reality into it.  That includes not making slash fan fiction with characters who were never presented in that light.  Ugh… pet peeve.

  25. 25
    Vyc says:

    I absolutely agree with Antonia. Not everyone wants to become professional authors, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Fanfic is a great way to interact with fans you might not otherwise talk to, extend the universe of the creation in question or examine side characters (my main motivation for writing the stuff), and generally to explore stuff that the author of the book/movie/TV show/videogame/etc. didn’t have enough time to include.

    I’m in the middle of working on my first (serious) novel right now, and without having practised my skills as a writer for nearly a decade on fanfiction, it would be a lot harder going than it is right now. (Not to say I’m finding it easy, but….)

    It’s easy (the characters and settings and minor players are already there and everyone knows who they are) and though I write the much-maligned RPF (real person fic), there’s still a lot less work to be done than when writing an original story.

    I’d have to respectfully disagree that writing fanfiction is easy. On one hand, yes, it is, in some ways—you have an entire world handed to you on a silver platter. All you might want to do is make minor adjustments, but aside from that, all the major work is done. On the other, you have to be damned good at understanding the motivations and reactions of a character you didn’t create to write well. For someone as anal as me, that involves spending a long time analysing speech patterns, dissecting motivations from actions (and when you write for a videogame or TV fandom, that means you usually don’t have an inner monlogue to help out), and figuring out relationship dynamics (“While Character A acts like this when Character B is around, what happens when you throw Character C into the mix?”).

    Admittedly, not everyone is as obsessive about this as I am, but some of us are. We get headaches out of love for the creation. Or something.

    I think my one reservation about FanFic is the obvious one: no one’s editing it, so its educational value is somewhat diminished because, as many others mention, it’s written by young people and it’s ridiculous to try and wade through all the crap.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. A sizable minority of fanfic authors, at least in my current fandom (Doctor Who), use what are called “beta readers.” Basically, they’ll find someone who is demonstrably proficient with the language in which they’re writing and ask them to edit their fanfic before posting it for general consumption. I both beta and, on occasion, make use of a beta myself, so there’s an educational opportunity right there. It’s simply peer-taught, rather than educator-taught, so while there’s a greater chance for error, there are still educational opportunities.

  26. 26
    robinr says:

    Long time lurker/reader, rarely commenting, but I must leap in here because fascinating article and interesting discussion. A little background (hopefully to show my years of interest in the topic not just flaunt my aca-credentials, though I know it’s hard to walk the line between those two).  I’m glad to see more discussion of how media literacies/digital literacies are being discussed in academia.

    I’ve been an sf fan all my life, and am an academic (my areas are creative writing, critical theory, new media).  I can remember in my childhood and undergraduate days that sf was dismissed as trash (romance novels are still dismissed as trash by many academics!).  So being contrary and loving sf, I devoted ten years of scholarship to feminist sf. I came back into fandom (online Lord of the Rings) in 2003 and am happily writing fanfiction as well as scholarship on fan fiction.

    My friends and colleagues in composition are fascinated with the structures fans create for themselves (including beta readers, awards, challenges, and other community standards for writing—is a lot of fanic badly written?  Sure, Sturgeon’s law applies—a lot of popularly published fiction is badly written, ditto a lot of popular film and television, bad writing!).  One reason I so enjoyed coming back into fandom was that people write! For love of writing! And anybody who has ever taught first year composition knows how resistant people can be to assigned writing, so the question of what fandom can teach composition teachers is one that fascinates me.

    The debates over fanfic often break down about whether it’s good or bad, although there are other ways to debate it (popular vs. elite cultures, active vs. passive reading/viewing). There are some new scholars in some academic spaces who draw on new theories of rhetoric and ethnography to explore fandom (as well as many other cultural groups) for the literacies that are important within those groups (as opposed to the limited set of literacy skills that the academy/academic disciplines focus on—and literary in academic bilogy is different from literacy in academic literary studies!).  One of my colleagues is working on prison literacies.

    What a lot of people ignore is that “literacy” has always been defined as different sets of skills at different times (for example, in the early Middle Ages, one was not a literate individual unless one could read and write Latin—literacy in English did not count!). In industrialized cultures nowadays, computer and electronic literacies are increasingly important (and rarely “taught” in public education, or at least not in the areas I’m aware of which are largely rural—I’m in rural Texas).  Putting a computer or two in a classroom or even a lab in a school is not teaching digital/media literacies.

    A lot of new scholarship in composition studies (not my area, but I work with friends in it) is trying to break away from the literate/illiterate binary to focus on different types of literacies, while acknowleding that in some institutional settings (educational, but also legal, medical, etc.) certain literacies are valued over others. 

    Young people’s literacies/literatures have historically been dismissed by the establishment; women’s literacies/literatures, ditto.  Any social group whose members are marginalized and excluded from centers of power will experience their literacies/literatures as being dismissed (and this carries over into other cultural creations—jazz is now fairly respected, but go back a century and it was dismissed as low-class, vulgar, inciting crime, and restricted to juke joints, not played in symphony halls).

    SF fans are not of course equivalent to those groups (sf fans historically included a number of white males although internet fandom is a lot more diverse than I remember my corner of Trek fandom being during the 1970s), but their cultural productions have been studied for some years, and Henry Jenkins, the best known scholar, is involved in major work at MIT coordinating with K-12 education to incorporate media and digital literacies into education. His argument in his latest work, Convergence Culture is that the literacies of fans (early adopters of a lot of the technologies) are not specific to fandom but are useful for everyone in a digital age and need to be taught!

    The internet is one of the technologies that has made all this possible because although the internet is not accessible to everyone (still huge questions of privilege, economics, involved in access), it’s allowed publication of work (textual and visual) that could not have happened before.

  27. 27

    I think it definitely counts.  I’ve got like, four published novels out right now in a respectably popular vampire series… and I learned how to write from fan fiction.  I started sharing my fanfic in a community with other fans online when I was about fourteen, and two ladies would always volunteer to edit it.  Is the stuff I was writing perfect?  Heck no, but it was a learning process, and it introduced me to the mechanics of crafting a good story.

    Today, I still write fanfic and post it under a pen name on fanfiction.net.  And I recently got an email from someone saying they wrote fanfic for MY series.  It was the ultimate ego boost, because I know how much I care about the fanfic I write, and the time I put into it.  Also, because I know that if this kid is writing fanfic, they might someday wind up with some published original fiction, supporting themselves with their “hobby”.  That’s a very nice position to be in.

  28. 28
    Lauren says:

    When I initially read this I kept thinking of the Lee Goldberg vs Fanfiction entries on Fandom Wank (and the awesomeness of his brother Tod)
    I’ve been reading and writing fanfiction for going on thirteen years. My first years of writing were complete and utter mutilations of grammar that now would make me cry in a corner of grammatic shame.
      I slowly got better through reading and the continuation of writing throughout my teenage and into my early adult years. I think having been into writing fanfiction this long definately helped my writing skills in college. My advisor often praised my writing skills.
      I know males in their early to late 30s who write fanfiction. One of my good friends who I met through fanfiction circles is in his early thirties and writes a lot of Harry Potter satire fics.
      I’ve made a lot of good friends through fanfiction which in turn led me in ways to end up on staff for Otakon (largest anime/manga/Japanese culture convention on East Coast, second largest in US) which I love doing and can’t wait to go to next weekend.
      Should fanfiction authors be paid for their work? No.
    But is fanfiction fiction? Yes it is, fiction written by fans of series/fandoms they like.
      I know Anne Rice hates and has forbidden any fanfiction of her works, but other authors actually are okay with it. I believe JK Rowling, despite the current legal issues over the HP Lexicon, has been perfectly okay with fanfiction of her work (as long as people don’t try to make money off it)
      Then there’s Alternate Universe fics, which really is just you’re using the characters’ names/physical traits/ and MAYBE retain their personalities but throw them in a world of your own creation. Sailor Moon fanfiction has this as a common norm.
      I kind of see for me, fanfiction is way to practice and hone writing skills and learn to execute a plot and finish it out. It’s like a test of your skills, and sometimes I get pissed at my writing when I feel it isn’t flowing well or I’m straying too much, BUT these things help me grow.

  29. 29
    Ms Manna says:

    People write fanfic for many, many, many reasons.  Even one person might write for many different reasons.  I could probably list a couple of dozen that are true just for me.

    There is bad fanfic, and good fanfic.  Because there is a lot of it, there is a lot of bad writing, but also a lot of good.

    Because people write for so many different reasons, your definitions of bad and good might well not match up with someone else’s.  That used to make me cranky.  Now I just take a deep breath and tell myself that other people are not like you, and that’s okay.

    Some people find that writing original fiction is harder than writing fanfic.  Some people find that writing fanfic is harder than writing original fic.  (No, seriously.)

    Some people treat fanfiction as a stepping stone to writing original fiction.  Some people enjoy it purely for its own sake.  Some people do both at different times.  Some people are already pro writers, and still write fanfic as a hobby.

    Some people who look on fanfiction as a hobby take still it very seriously indeed, and spend a lot of time and effort on making it as good as possible and improving their craft.  Some people who look on fanfiction as a hobby don’t take it seriously at all, and don’t have any ambitions to improve as writers.  I don’t believe that either of these approaches makes you a better human being.

    Some writers welcome all concrit. Some people welcome concrit from sources they trust.  Some writers don’t want any at all.  And there’s really no reason why they should.

    Generalisations about fanfic, or fanfic writers, are mostly useless, and usually result in people arguing at cross purposes for a very long time.

  30. 30
    Anaquana says:

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. A sizable minority of fanfic authors, at least in my current fandom (Doctor Who), use what are called “beta readers.” Basically, they’ll find someone who is demonstrably proficient with the language in which they’re writing and ask them to edit their fanfic before posting it for general consumption. I both beta and, on occasion, make use of a beta myself, so there’s an educational opportunity right there. It’s simply peer-taught, rather than educator-taught, so while there’s a greater chance for error, there are still educational opportunities.

    I have to agree with you.

    I am actually an admin on the forum side of a fanfiction site that has very stringent posting rules for fanfiction. All works must be beta’d and if there are still to many errors, the submission will be rejected and the reasons stated as to why and how they can be fixed.

    I also know of one Livejournal community that was set up specifically to help fanfiction writers with their grammar questions.

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