Fanfic Symposium

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Name: Fanfic Symposium
Date(s): 1999-2006
Moderator: Cereta
Founder: Cereta
Type: meta
Fandom: pan-fandom
URL: [email protected]
Fanfic Symposium Discussion Site
Subpages for Fanfic Symposium:
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The Fanfic Symposium is a site hosting meta essays from various contributors, founded in 1999. The website is still online, but hasn't been updated with a new essay since December 2006.

Fanfic Symposium Discussion Site is the discussion LiveJournal for Fanfic Symposium, where all columns may be discussed.

For a list of the individual essays, see the subpage: Fanfic Symposium/Essays

The website's landing page introduces the site as follows:

If you're a new visitor, let me take a moment to introduce you to the Fanfic Symposium.

Back in the days before blogs and live journals (or at least before everyone had one), there were these things called "rant pages." Rant pages were exactly what they sound like: pages where individual fans would hold forth on various fannish topics. Generally, they were part of a larger web site that held that fan's fiction or other activities.

I loved these pages. I haunted them, checking obsessively for updates. Most of all, I wanted one of my very own. There were two problems: first, since my fiction writing is, to say the least, sporadic, I didn't have anything to draw people to a larger web site; second, even I didn't have enough to say to keep an organized essay site active on my own.

That's when it occurred to me: if I wanted a space to hold forth, maybe other people did too. And the Fanfic Symposium was born. Three years and over one hundred columns later...I'd say I was right.

A symposium is a collection of essays on a similar topic (it's also a party involving feasting and drinking, but we won't go there). The topic in this case is fan fiction, and the essayists are, well, you.

My role is that of site maintainer. I do want to stress that this site is not meant to be just about fandoms or topics that I'm interested in - it's meant to be about fandoms and topics that anyone reading it might be interested in. I do not screen columns except for general topic - they do have to be about fan fiction, fandom, or something of interests to fans. I also do not edit unless specifically asked.[1]

An Original Announcement

No, it's not another fanfic page; it's a page about fanfic. For those of you not forced to endure the works of Plato, a Symposium is a series of short speeches or essays by different authors on the same topic (it's also a feast and drinking party, but we won't go there.) In this case, the topic is fan fiction, and the authors are (I hope) all of you. The Symposium will be a weekly 'column' page on all things fanfic, each week featuring a new topic by a new writer. This forum will (hopefully) allow us to explore some of the topics discussed online at greater length and in greater depth. Basically, the Symposium will work like this: The maintainer (that's me, Lucy) will accept submissions via e-mail. No word minimum or maximum is imposed but 500-750 words is a good guideline (give or take 100).

Topics are wide open as long as they relate in some way to fan-fic. Discussions of the shows will be considered but I make no guarantees (a lot is going to depend on how many submissions I get). Fandom-specific columns are fine - I'm hoping to get a wide enough variety to keep everyone interested. I'd prefer no blatant 'sales pitches' or dissing of particular fandoms. Right now, the plan is to publish all submissions that follow the topic and aren't personal attacks, but it may be a couple of weeks between submission and publication. Columns may be on gen, slash, or both - I'll label things appropriately. Just to give you an idea of what I have in mind, here are some 'sample topics: definitions of 'fanfic'; discussion of a 'genre' (like Missing Scenes or AUs); trends or types of stories that you like/dislike, etc; the fic responses to a given episode; portrayals of a certain character in fic; feedback issues. Note: these need not be serious - humor is really, really welcome. In general, e-mail addresses of the columnists will not be provided. To keep to the spirit of the medium, responses should be in the form of a column or on the 'Letters to the Symposium' page. I will sometimes relay private responses, though. There's more info at the page, so I won't ramble on any further. Please stop by the Symposium, and consider ranting for a while! [2]

About the Site

Essays that were submitted were called "columns", and anyone could submit one as long as their column met the submission guidelines, which basically boiled down to: the topic had to be of interest to fanfic readers and writers. (There were also some formatting guidelines.)[3] The site got a whopping 40 submissions in its first year -- or first six months, more accurately, since the first essay was posted on June 9, 1999.[4] After that burst of pent-up meta, things settled down to 15-30 essays per year until 2006, when a bare 9 were posted as a last gasp of activity.[5]

The original purpose of the Symposium was to host essays about fanfic, in particular, but the scope broadened very quickly, and topics ranged all over the media-fandom map, including writing, genres of fanfic (h/c, smarm, AUs, crossovers, darkfic, etc.), feedback and concrit, zines vs. online publishing, BNFs, male privilege, recs and their purpose in fandom, Mary Sues, race and fandom, domestic discipline, POV, beta-reading,, profic vs. fanfic, slash (... lots of essays on slash...), PWPs, RPF, fannish ethics, the fannish community, and far more, including many essays on individual fandoms.

One of the hallmarks of the Symposium was the way people would write essays in response to earlier essays, right from the beginning. For instance, on November 24, 1999, an essay called Joxer?!?! And Other Things I Don't Get was posted. On November 28, someone submitted Ares/Joxer? Sure!; on November 29, someone else posted Response to Joxer?!?! And Other Things I Don't Get; on November 30, a third person posted Why Joxer and Ares?. This was an active, interactive forum for broad-ranging discussion.

In addition to posting response-essays, the Symposium originally also accepted letters in response to columns, which Cereta would post on a Letters page.[6] Later, when the Symposium got more active, she added a message board for more real-time conversation.[7]

In 2008, the site's creator discussed "Fanfic Symposium," and she focused on the styles of communication of the day, and of the fannish platforms available and how these things shaped discussion:

In June 1999, I fired up my Netscape Gold Composer and created a Web site called the Fanfic Symposium (, a site that proclaimed itself a repository for essays about all things fanfic. My motives for doing so were entirely selfish: I was myself an essayist in search of a venue.

Participatory media fandom, defined as those fan activities and communities centered around the creation, consumption, and discussion of fannish product (including fan fiction, fan vids, fan art, and even detailed discussion of the source), has used a variety of media and technology to facilitate these activities and communities over its history. In 1999, fannish discussions were taking place in multiple venues, both online and offline. Mailing lists in particular were a popular choice in the fandoms I frequented. Services such as ONElist, eGroups, and later Yahoo Groups ( were emerging as a viable choice for those fans who wanted to start lists but did not have access to a server, although the days when every character or pairing had its own list, or even when individual fan writers had personal lists, were still around the corner. Lists remained fairly concentrated, with perhaps two or three discussion and/or fiction lists largely accounting for the discussion in a given fandom.

These lists were good for many things, but longer, detailed, carefully organized essays were not among them. In addition, although lists to discuss issues and themes across multiple fandoms existed, they weren't always easy to find. Perhaps just as problematic was an implied and even overt hostility to critical discussion. Any nonpositive reaction to an individual story tended to be greeted with recriminations, and even a discussion of the problems of a particular theme or genre was likely to be shouted down as potentially silencing of fiction writers, and thus unacceptable.

Several writers I knew had solved this problem by adding rant pages to their fiction sites, places where they might expound on various topics. However, because I wasn't producing anything in the way of fiction at the time, I didn't see how I could attract readers to such a site with only my essays. Then, a solution presented itself: a site where anyone could submit essays. Surely there were others like me out there, looking for a space to hold forth. And indeed there were. [8]


See the original guidelines here. They included:

  • What topics are appropriate?
  • What if it's been published somewhere else?
  • How long should my column be?
  • What file format should I send it in?
  • How should I format my column?
  • Should I include html tags?
  • Where do I send it?

Site History

Six Years Later, Changes in Fannish Platforms

The remainder of 1999 saw 38 essays posted, and although things slowed down a bit after that, the site remained active for another 6 years.

Why only 6 years? Perhaps the single most significant fannish change in the last 10 years was also the reason the Fanfic Symposium itself is no longer active (note 1): the move from mailing lists to LiveJournal (, a combined blogging, discussion, and social networking site. The Symposium was born out of a desire for a space that allowed not only for longer explorations, but also for discussions of themes and issues that crossed fandoms. LiveJournal not only allows for those discussions, but in many ways actively promotes them. The kinds of discussions that once took place on the Symposium have become the norm in LiveJournal-based fandom, and have in some ways abstracted even further. [9]

The 2008 Removal of Three Essays by Laura Hale

Sometime between July 2-13, 2008, the site's administrator removed three essays by Laura Hale from the "Fanfic Symposium" site. The removal was most likely related to the controversy and fannish anger regarding Fan History Wiki, something that had became very heated during the summer of 2008.

Creation of ffsymposium

When Trickster, the server the Symposium is hosted on, crashed in 2003, Cereta lost the message-board program, and never recovered it. Instead, she started up a livejournal community called "ffsymposium" and invited people to talk there, posting a link whenever a new column went up so that people could discuss it in the comments. While the comm did have some conversation, it never generated as much steady discussion as the message board had.

Cereta's announcement:


Some of you know that in the Great Trickster Fall of 2003, one of the things I permanently lost (entirely through my own carelessness) was the program for the Symposium message board. Given the choice between leaving the Symposium down until I could find a replacement/alternative and putting it up without one, I chose to put the site back up sans message board, with the intention of working something out this summer.

Well, clearly summer has come and gone, and I don't have a replacement, so we're going with alternative. With a fair amount of reluctance and a full awareness of all the possible objections, I've set up a live journal community. It's maybe not the best solution, but it's the best for right now given certainly realities of my own life and programming skills (or, rather, the lack thereof).

So: I hereby announce the creation of ffsymposium, a community for the discussion of columns posted at the Fanfic Symposium.

Here's how this will work: as columns are posted, I will announce them to the community and include a link to the general board at the bottom of the column. That post can then be used for discussion, as anyone with or without an account can reply to the post.

Any community member is also free to initiate a thread on an older column not announced, or if the announcement is way back somewhere.

Anyone without an LJ account who wishes to initiate a thread may send their comments to the Symposium mail account to be posted. Please be sure to indicate a name or pseud I should include with your comments.

Finally, anyone who would like an LiveJournal account can email me for a code.


The Fanfic Symposium was also associated with the mailing list FCA-L (the Fanfic Critics Association), which sometimes discussed or even sparked Symposium columns, although it carried on a lot of other discussion as well.

The name lives on in The Symposium, a section of the peer-reviewed journal Transformative Works and Cultures, and gave its name to the associated Symposium Blog (now Fanhackers), published by the Organization for Transformative Works.

Site Redesign

There was a site redesign between March and August 2004.

The home page of the old site.

Some Fan Comments

In 2006, when complimented on her meta essay, a fan wrote:

Well, see, this is why I had to go and get a second LJ. I found that I often wanted to write out my thoughts on something, but for some reason, I didn't have the mental space on my LJ. And though there's the Symposium, I feel too much like I have to have something finished, polished, and perfect (damn perfectionism, anyway) to go there. Here? I've given myself the freedom to rant in imperfect ways as I figure out what I'm trying to say....

I think it's partly in that name. I mean, Plato is all about the dumb one and the smart one, with the dumb one being led around by that carefully planned series of questions.

If you don't have Socrates to lead you around, and you're asking the questions without knowing where it will end, it's far more intimidating. You want to be Socrates, and end up feeling like Glaucon.

Maybe it's because the Symposium is an archive instead of an LJ? So it's not quite the dinner party the name suggests? [11]

Further Reading/Meta


  1. ^ pretty early but the date is unknown: Welcome to the Fanfic Symposium!
  2. ^ from DIAL #10
  3. ^ Fanfic Symposium Submission Guidelines, accessed November 21,2008.
  4. ^ Column index from early 2000 listing all the 1999 submissions, including two removed later, via Wayback Machine. Accessed November 21, 2008.
  5. ^ Symposium Columns by Year, last updated December 28, 2006. Accessed November 21, 2008.
  6. ^ Symposium Letters page from December 1999, via Wayback Machine, accessed November 21, 2008.
  7. ^ Symposium Message board from January 2000, via Wayback Machine. Accessed November 21, 2008. (Sadly, the very active pre-2000 messageboard was completely purged in a cleanup -- see the "Admin cleanup" post on the page-- and no Wayback record exists of the earlier messages.)
  8. ^ On symposia: LiveJournal and the shape of fannish discourse
  9. ^ On symposia: LiveJournal and the shape of fannish discourse
  10. ^ Announcements (August 23, 2003)
  11. ^ metamiri in the comments at The Homophobic Remix Rag (August 2006)