From the CAO’s Desk: FFI- A Subjective History of Fan Fiction Reading
I first started reading and writing fan fiction, as many others on ffnet (www.Fanfiction.net). The first fandom I fell into was Kingdom Hearts, a Japanese RPG videogame of which the protagonists travel from an origin of a small, isolated island to distant worlds themed after Disney films. It is important to note that my introduction to the medium was of a fandom of videogame origin, since many writers now fall into fanfic via American TV and film fandoms. It has been my observation that fandoms and the type of media that spurns the most fanfic is constantly evolving. In 2010, I remember Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts both occupying spots in top ten list of amount of works on the site.
After exhausting Kingdom Hearts stories, I stayed in media of Japanese origin: investigating similar stories in Final Fantasy and then Naruto fandoms. Once I was done with those stories, I jumped into original fiction posted on ffnet’s sister site, Fictionpress.net. It would be three years until I would find another site that would offer free community published works, and only then through my association with local writers in the Nanowrimo movement.
In 2013 I learned of Archive of our Own from a fellow local community chorister who is also a Whovian and Merlin fan. The site was (and currently is) in beta (read:developmental phase) so gaining an account to post and review required (requires) an invitation. Reading, however, is open to everyone. This site is American media-centric. Through reading stories posted there, I developed a taste for Merlin, Supernatural, Suits, and, most recently, Teen Wolf and Hannibal.
There is a tangent I should mention here. One great element of fanfic is the wonderful manner in which fanworks cross pollinate not only source media, but secondary media as well. Through AO3, for example, one can read a story that has elements of a source TV show’s narrative, but also integrates songs from a fanmix on 8tracks. Someone else may make fan art for the story, which the author can also link in the notes at the beginning of the story. Reading such stories have not only inspired me to watch the shows, but also buy mp3s of the songs featured in the mixes/OSTs.
The concept of fan fiction working as marketing for source work is not going unnoticed. Authors, (noticeably Orson Scott Card,) academic institutions, and even companies are becoming increasingly aware of the positive influence of fan work on the exposure and guerilla marketing of products. Most days, I’m an unabashed Teen Wolf fan (other days, it’s a mere guilty pleasure .) MTV not only has the episodes online for free streaming, but in the same queue has multiple promotional videos, including an interview show with the actors and an informal after-show with young avid fans who show fanshared videos and offer reaction commentary on what is going on in the show.
To return to the idea of literary consumption, the production of fanfiction has gained validity on two notable publishing websites. WattPad is a community publishing site for serious, professionally minded writers. Reputably, this site receives more attention from publishers than other sites. It has recently added the genre of fanfiction among categories for selection. The second website of note is the well-loved behemoth that is Amazon. Kindle Worlds, established in May 2013, offers fanfiction writers of certain fandoms to professionally publish and sell their work. A limited amount of fandoms are licensed by Amazon, but the idea has gained momentum and at least one other website is deliberating on copying their idea.
When I began reading fan fiction in 2010, they were mere black words on a white page website with no graphic and only the language to recommend it. In four short years, this genre has bloomed into a true mode of fanwork exchange, linking art and often music to literature and sourceworks. Moreover, it has gained credibility and significance in the literary and commercial worlds. I can’t wait to see how dynamic and empowered fans will contribute to our society’s culture next.