Katie Behrens writes in “Why You Should Pay Attention to Fandoms” that “the thought process behind participatory fandom is simple: “I really like X, I want more of X, I will create more stuff about X!” At its core, fandom is creative.”
I never thought of myself as a creative person. My best attempts at drawing involve sad looking stick people. Other people are creative, not me, I always thought. Yes, I did think: “I really like X, I want more of X” but then that was it. An avid reader growing up, I would occasionally write a story or two for fun, but wouldn’t say I was ever part of a fandom. But now, how the tables have turned. I’m not just a devoted fanfic reader, I’m a fanfic writer as well. Never ever did I think I would be — but there it is! And. I. Love. It. I love thinking of ideas, of editing and rewriting, of offering feedback to other writers and reading feedback on my work. Some of the best — and the worst, to be honest — fiction I’ve read has been published online, often anonymously or under a pseudonym, for free. “Anyone” wrote it and anyone can read it.
And actually, do more than read it:
A few weeks ago, I came across a fic where the author had written the two main characters corresponding back and forth with each other online. She updated the story in real time over the course of several months, letting readers who had subscribed to updates “listen in” on the characters’ communications “immediately” when they occurred. Hundreds of people (literally) left comments on each chapter, letting the author know what they liked, how they loved the suspense of not knowing when another update would come, what they wished would happen next, etc. The response was huge (a quick check shows that currently the fic has 6,510 comments). People commented that they felt like the fic was becoming a shared experience, something we were all contributing to together. The author added a note that the end of the fic to explain that, while writing, she had taken into account several of the points made in the comments when deciding which direction the plot should take. It was so popular that she recently expanded it into another story. This story, however, seemed to take the characters and the plot in a direction in which many readers had not anticipated or “wanted”. Some readers commented that they felt weirdly conflicted: on one hand, they absolutely respected and reserved the right of the author to do whatever she pleased with her own story; on the other hand, they felt as though they had contributed to the creation of the story too, and felt somewhat confused by the direction the story went.
This was a very timely case study for me in the participatory and transformative nature of creation in fandoms! And one, of course, that aligned perfectly with what Petra Mayer discusses in the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, The Rise of Fan Fiction. She talks about the collaborative nature of writing fic that essentially allows for writers to “workshop” their pieces and improve their writing amongst a supportive community of like-minded people. Readers get to read more of what they like, writers get to write more of what they like. Everyone’s happy. This works, Behrens argues, because “fandoms are creative, supportive, inspiring, [and] instructive”. I couldn’t agree more and have really felt each of those elements as I’ve fallen deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Lange and Ito also acknowledge the “more socially embedded and relational dimensions of creative production” (p. 248) that are alive and well in fandoms today. The fic that I described above embodies these dimensions perfectly. While it may be somewhat unique in terms of the huge fan response, the behavior and mechanisms behind it are not. Even better, new digital tools and social media platforms — many of which you can access through your local library! — are allowing for people to engage with, remix, and reconsider “cultural texts” in ways that we just weren’t able to before. What an awesome time to be a fangirl.