When a favorite TV show ends for the season, most people watch reruns in anticipation of the new season. Some, however, take storylines into their own hands.
Reina Woods, junior creative writing major, couldn’t get enough of her favorite TV shows, so she entered a community where the precedents set by original works are never broken but bent: the world of fan fiction.
Fan fiction is a story written by a fan based off an original work.The participatory counterculture draws inspiration from many different media ranging from books and manga to TV series and movies.
Fan fiction writers fill in the gaps they have discovered in their favorite commercially produced materials because of their intense interests in the shows or books and to receive feedback from other fans.
“It was a chance to write new stories about characters I already loved,” Woods said.
Malin Isaksson, a professor at Umeå University in Sweden, spoke about gender roles in fan fiction on campus last Tuesday.
She explained that fan fiction is mostly written by amateur writers and published on the Internet, on sites such as FanFiction.net or MySpace. They are almost never professionally published.
Writers elaborate on gaps in narratives, creating entirely new storylines or adding in what they wish had happened in a scene. Fan fiction authors use characters and situations from a series to resist unpopular storylines, add their own touches to the plot or explain the actions and feelings of characters.
The modern phenomenon was popularized by Star Trek fandom and “Trekkies,” but it has become more widespread since the advent of the Internet, Isaksson said.
Isaksson talked about “femslash,” where two strong female characters pursue a romantic or sexual relationship that they didn’t have in the original series, which is called the “canon.”
Some femslash fiction can be described as erotic or pornographic, but its main purpose is to subvert gender stereotypes, she said.
Woods’ fan fiction was recognized in the 2009 Rock The House Awards, an online community competition based on the popular medical drama “House M.D.” Her 12-chapter fan fiction, which she published online, was one of the winning stories in the “House/Cuddy” category. A self-proclaimed TV junkie, Woods said she wrote fan fiction because it already has an audience – fans of the original work.
She said her story was successful in the online community that read it because she knew what fans of the show liked and wanted to read.
For example, she wrote about a romantic relationship between Dr. House and Dr. Cuddy, which is called a “het” or heterosexual pairing. Other pairings are femslash, such as the coupling of Buffy and Faith, two slayers from the show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and slash, such as the union of Kirk and Spock from “Star Trek.”
But not all fan fiction makes the cut for enthusiasts.
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Alexia Fedail, junior creative writing major. “Sometimes you find some really well-written fan fiction that you almost wish was part of the canon. But unfortunately, much of the bulk of it is not so impressive.”
Pre-teens write the bulk of the content for online fan fiction sites, Fedail said.
“As you can imagine, it doesn’t really turn out well,” she said.
But older fan fiction writers usually have more mature writing, so their works are more enjoyable to read and more plausible plot-wise, Fedail said.
“I wouldn’t be able to read [fan fiction],” said Shelby McDonald, freshman sociology major. “That’s not the original story. As much as we would want it to be, it’s just not.”
McDonald attended Isaksson’s lecture for extra credit points in an anthropology class. But she was captivated by the analysis of gender roles in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a crime novel by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, her because she had read the book.
Many fans of Larsson’s novels have published fan fiction about his character Lisbeth Salander, a woman who defies gender typecasts.
“Harry Potter,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Twilight” are also popular series in the fan fiction community, and some authors even write “crossovers,” which combine two series.
Darienne Orlansky, sophomore theatre major, goes to Comic-Con every year but has never read fan fiction.
“I may be a fan girl, but I don’t go that far,” she said.
Woods said that she writes stories for her own characters now but misses the supportive community of fan fiction.
“You get a lot of positive feedback [on fan fiction],” she said. “But it is what it is, and it’s not really yours.”