Way back in March when I had decided on what my honors college capstone was going to be about, I knew that in talking about postmodern popular culture I had to talk about a contemporary popular book. This was right around the time when the The Fault in Our Stars movie was coming out, and I was really interested as to why so many people were interested in this young adult fiction novel. In my project proposal, I said I wanted to talk about how the mythology of death figures into the story, and left it to revisit in the fall after writing the first essay about Kanye West. As part of my research, I read the novel (and really really really disliked it, but that isn’t the point of this post) and some Roland Barthes and started to think about what I was going to write about.
In one of my many really interesting and enlightening conversations with my capstone advisor, I brought up the idea of how today’s readers engage with texts in unprecedented ways, one of which is writing fanfiction and posting it to an online forum. We both thought it was a really fascinating phenomenon, and after three different incarnations of a draft over the past two months, I turned in the final paper this past Sunday night. Ultimately, I talked about how The Fault in Our Stars fanfiction writers’ collective creativity is stifled by the digital structures of the forums they use, specifically FanFiction.net, and how there are socially and digitally constructed limits on what these writers can and cannot do.
As you might imagine, this was quite the adventure.
Delving into the fanfiction community was a very interesting experience, to say the least.
I know a few people who write and read fanfiction, but this was brand new territory for me. I spent a lot of time combing through The Fault in Our Stars fanfiction to see what these people were writing about, and what their community is like. (Their community is imagined, but it is still sort of a community by digital constraints.) Culling information and data for this paper was really difficult, because so much of fanfiction operates under anonymity.
I also read a lot of scholarship about why people write and read fanfiction, and that was interesting too. I’m sure that they probably wouldn’t appreciate my paper or my ideas, but that’s part of the deal in doing research.
I have an entirely new understanding of the postmodern reading experience.
I’ve read quite a few books, and while there were a couple where I wished for more story, I’ve never felt the inclination to write more about them. A lot of fanfiction writers in the The Fault in Our Stars camp really wanted more story, especially about the main characters and their intertwining lives. I had to read stories about unplanned pregnancies, imagined conversations, and even one where Hazel met the Doctor from Doctor Who. It was really wild and interesting research, and I was definitely on the outside looking in. With the advent of the Internet, it is very easy for people who are dying for these extensions of the story to write/find them. All in all, I’ve come to understand that fanfiction is a valuable source of information for theorists and researchers who are interested in reader engagement and what makes something culturally significant. Even though the paper is done, I’m still thinking about what I found.
Writing about things where there is very little research done for you already is both fun and difficult.
Despite FanFiction.net being a very popular fanfiction website, I found only one source that briefly mentioned it. A lot of what I found about fans and fandom weren’t expressly about fanfiction, so most of my paper is all me. This was cool but also very very hard. I had to make it work, and I think I did okay for having a limited amount of time.
My next and final paper will be on NBC’s Community, which I am “researching” by rewatching the whole series over again and analyzing how the series incorporates meta. Will that paper actually be about meta, considering my track record with the previous two papers? Probably not, but we’ll see how it goes.
Want to discuss fanfiction? Let’s talk about it in the comments.