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Fanfiction and Fandoms: A Primer, A History

This article was originally published on our parent site for the book publishing industry, Publishing Trends

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The Magicians Trilogy author Lev Grossman in his 2011 Time article summarized the mentality surrounding fanfiction in mainstream culture as “what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker.” Now don’t get Grossman wrong—he is pro-fanfiction, but he also acknowledges that to outsiders, it’s an odd world of what some might call extremists. Despite being considered a niche subculture, fanfiction has been steadily growing in popularity, particularly over the last three years.

Fanfiction is divided into “fandoms,” which are fan groups for movies, TV shows, comics, books, celebrities (called Real Person Fiction or RPF), cartoons, anime, manga, games, or plays. The posts can be long form fiction, short form, drabble (100ish words long) or a one-shot (a standalone chapter). When fans start a story, they can choose to put the characters in a completely different setting in what’s called an Alternate Universe (AU). They can re-characterize a literary figure completely, making them Out of Character (OOC) or introduce a new character of their own to a familiar fandom, known as Original Character (OC). They can choose to honor the fandom’s tradition couplings (Canon) or change it up with a non-canon same-sex couple (Slash). These are just to name a few fanfiction colloquialisms that writers use to describe their stories within the fan communities.

The limitless aspect of these fan rewrites draws in writers and readers. They take something the fandom loves and make it new over and over again. That’s a major part of the appeal of the fanfiction community: it’s driven by the fandom. The fans run the websites, they write the words, they edit the chapters, and they review the stories. Because it’s completely fan-sustained, the content is heavily influenced by what the users want to read or by what they sometimes wish the fandom’s creators had done originally.

Fans get to actively participate in the fanfiction world through comments and reviews. The communities are an exchange of ideas, often viewed by both budding and established authors alike as a viable and free forum for feedback on work or as a comfortable place to exercise their writing chops. Most fanfiction websites give readers the option of favoriting a chapter, story, or author. Aside from the occasional flame (a bad review), the community is largely helpful and encouraging. Reviewers can give guesses and hopes for the plot as the serialized chapters are posted, which might possibly help a writer tweak their timeline to better cater to the public’s interest.

One of the recent trends in fanfiction is fiction written by teens, stated Wattpad Head of Content Ashleigh Gardner. Peer-to-peer writing is different from traditionally published YA and New Adult content, because “when teens are writing for their peers, we see stories that are far more true to life, and often include themes important to the life of teens today, like the complications of social media and impact of technology on their lives.”

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