What Makes a "Fandom Classic"?

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Title: What Makes a "Fandom Classic"?
Creator: Rebecca Sentance
Date(s): October 16, 2004
Medium: online at Paper Droids
External Links: What Makes a "Fandom Classic"? - Paper Droids, Archived version
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What Makes a "Fandom Classic"? is a 2014 essay by Rebecca Sentance.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Fandom Classics, what makes a fic one?
  • fandom classics have four similarities: length (long), pairing (popular), feels (lots of those), timing (when the fic was posted)
  • "if a fic contains a trope which is disliked by a large enough portion of the fandom, could that rule out its ever becoming a fandom classic?"

Some Fics Discussed, Linked To


Does a fanfic need to have been around for a particular amount of time before it attains “classic” status? Can a one-shot (single-chapter story) of less than 2,000 words be a fandom classic? Do classics from different fandoms have any common ground in terms of genre, subject matter, or type of pairing, or are they unique to each individual fandom?


It probably won’t surprise anyone that one of the most prominent characteristics of fandom classics is length. Each of the fandom classics I looked at for this article came in at over 50,000 words, with the shortest being a novella-length 62,006 words (The Progress of Sherlock Holmes by ivyblossom) and the longest, a whopping 278,881 words (Isolation by Bex-chan). It makes sense: the most beloved fanfics are the ones that transport you into an entire world, just like the books and series they came from. Longer stories give more opportunity for interesting character development and conflict, for gripping plot twists, for a nice, drawn-out, slow burn romance to build.


By “timing”, I mean everything about when the fic was posted, to how long it’s had to build up a following, to the timing of its publication relative to major fandom events. The Progress of Sherlock Holmes was published in the year between the first and second series of BBC’s Sherlock, when fandom was dying for something good to fill the void. Resurrection, Reconstruction & Redemption followed a few months after the Civil War crossover storyline in Marvel Comics wrapped up, and it probably didn’t hurt that Iron Man, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released the following year.


I was going to call this section “genre” and talk about how all of the stories I chose for this article are romantic stories with a heavy dose of angst or tragedy. Yet what it boils down to is not genre so much as feels. If you don’t know, “feels” is a common internet slang term for the emotions evoked by something online, and fanfic is a key source of those emotions. We love stories that tug at our heartstrings; so you get Sherlock and John’s drawn-out almost-romance while John is married to Mary in The Progress of Sherlock Holmes; Draco and Hermione’s fraught love-hate relationship in Isolation; Steve’s return from the dead and the bitter aftermath of a superhero civil war in Resurrection; the love triangle between Spock, Kirk, and T’Sharen in Bitter Glass.


This one is pretty straightforward, so I’ll just spell it out: popular pairing equals popular fanfic. Who here was surprised that the pairing for the Sherlock fandom classic is John/Sherlock, or that the Star Trek fanfic is largely driven by the relationship between Kirk and Spock?

When it comes to popular pairings, fandom and fanfic have a self-perpetuating, mutually-beneficial relationship. You have the initial spark: something about a pairing’s dynamic that intrigues fans, who are inspired to explore these dynamics further. Their explorations attract readers to the pairing, who create more fanfic, attracting more readers, and so on.