What If? How Fan Fiction Creates An Interactive Media

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Title: What If? How Fan Fiction Creates An Interactive Media
Creator: by J.P. McLaughlin
Date(s): 1998
Medium: online
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What If? How Fan Fiction Creates An Interactive Media is a 1998 essay by J.P. McLaughlin .

Some Topics Discussed

The Essay

Fan developed fiction based on a media source product is a way to resolve the conflict between the producers' need to find a large, generalized market for their show and the consumer's desire for a story that is more specific to their individual outlook. By manipulating the characters and plots, fan fiction re-creates the source product in a new and personal form. It allows fans to interact with the source material and provides a forum for minority points of view and "What if..." scenarios, while at the same time opening a dialog with other fans. It can also enlarge the core audience for the source product by introducing potential fans to the show in these modified versions--especially in fan fiction's present incarnation on the internet. But fan fiction predates it's cyber version by quite a bit, and developed in a very different environment.

Maybe it was those ears...

Fan fiction as we know it emerged at the intersection of two burgeoning phenomenon: the growth of fan communities and the renaissance of science fiction as spurred by Star Trek. The fan community that grew out of the cancellation of the original Star Trek became a perfect incubator for the fan fiction that kept the source product 'alive' by producing new 'episodes' even after the show's cancellation. Other source material (such as the British "Blake's 7") also inspired most of it's fan fiction after it's technical demise. Fan fiction was distributed directly at fan conventions and through subscription-based "fanzines" and developed it's own sub-genres and classifications. Ranging from brief vignettes to full-blown novels, it was typed by hand, photocopied and mailed without financial reward for writers or publishers. Many other source products were embraced by the writers and a new type of fan fiction, the cross-over, grew as writers combined the characters from different sources in one work.

So then Kirk says to T.J. Hooker...

The cross-over (or cross-universe) is such a popular type of fan fiction that it's no longer a sub-genre but it's own class. At it's core it simply mixes characters from different sources together. At it's extremes it provides endless material for spoofs (such as Captain Kirk meeting T. J. Hooker--two characters portrayed by William Shatner -- who spend the story refusing to recognize the similarities between them), to elaborate time-travel tales that put one set of characters into an alien environment where they are helped or hindered by another set of characters. Science fiction has always worked with the concept of interacting 'universes': the conventions of 'reality' that a story takes place within. Fan fiction often takes this basic pattern and pushes it to it's max, creating alternative universes where the characters have adventures unlike anything imaginable in the source product.

Much fan fiction also takes place, however, in a universe parallel to the source show's. Here the writers keep the conventions and character relationships of the source intact, but create stories that run simultaneous to them. This type of fiction often introduces new characters into the source universe which the author uses to fill a perceived lack in the original--the strong, independent women so rarely present in mass media, for example. My own fiction falls into this category. Again, the interactive quality of the fan fiction is allowing the writer to remake the source in a way that more clearly addresses their own perspective.

It's a slash thang...

Relationship fan fiction is another sub-genre. Freed of the constraints of prime time TV, fan fiction can give characters the romances and sex lives so much television only hints and teases about. On this level the fan fiction actually gives the characters more humanity than the source does, filling in the parts of their personalities and lives the show has chosen to ignore.

This category ranges from romantic and soft-focus right up through hard-core, plot-what plot? fiction and encompasses both heteroerotic and homoerotic work. Most sexually explicit fanfic will carry a code, such as m/m, for male/male, that describes it's content. The term "slash fiction" is derived from these "/" marks, and the original slash fanfic, which was Kirk/Spock. "Slash" has come to imply homoerotic content, by the way, even though there is just as much male/female fanfic being generated. Ultimately, all sexually graphic fiction takes the characters most forcibly out of the TV context and modifies our modern mythology by making it more real, more human and, well, more "interesting".

Where no fanfic has gone before...

The development of the World Wide Web is changing the nature of the fan community in revolutionary ways. Fans once needed to invest large amounts of time and money traveling to fan conventions or distributing fanzines. By it's nature this created a small community-- you needed to be pretty passionate about the source product before taking on the required commitments of membership. The internet has made fan fiction hugely more accessible, not to mention providing forums for fan discussion, such as Bulletin Boards and Mailing Lists. But the realities of the actual creation of fan fiction has not changed-- it's still produced by a small number of individuals for the entertainment of many others. It's cyber incarnation is providing a faster growth and availability than previously dreamed of, and the ability of readers to communicate directly with the fanfic writers has opened the door for a truly participatory, interactive modern mythology even wider.

Fan fiction is created in the spirit of diversity and sharing, as a tribute to the source products and their producers, and as an active exercise in participatory myth making. Read and enjoy!

References