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What Is Fanction and Why Are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?
Bronwen Thomas

The term fanction (sometimes abbreviated as fanc) refers to stories produced by fans based on plot lines and characters from either a single source text or else a canon of works; these fan-created narratives often take the pre-existing storyworld in a new, sometimes bizarre, direction. While the activities of fans may take many forms, writing stories deriving from one or more source texts has long been the most popular way of concretizing and disseminating their passion for a particular ctional universe. Fanctions origins have been traced back to science ction magazines in the 1920s and 1930s, but links have also been drawn with oral and mythic traditions; with traditions of collective interpretation, such as Jewish midrash (Derecho 2006); and with procs such as Jean Rhyss Wide Sargasso Sea (Pugh 2005), which functions as a kind of prequel for Charlotte Bronts Jane Eyre. Neverthe-

less, fanction remained a fairly underground and marginalized activity until the advent of digital technologies and the World Wide Web. Now fans can access vast communities of people who share their interests, publish and get feedback on their stories almost instantaneously, and challenge boundaries between authors and readers, creation and interpretation. Much excitement has greeted this explosion of fan activity, not only within particular fan communities but also within elds of academic inquiry such as literary and narrative theory, ethnography, feminism and queer theory, and cultural studies. This article sets out to explore the many nice things that have been said about fanction, revisitingand questioningsome of the utopian rhetoric found in earlier studies. I also ask what contribution narratology and literary studies might make to the research on fanction, particularly with regard to understanding the processes involved in fancs production and reception. The converse question is equally relevant: how might coming to terms with fanction require a rethinking of basic narratological methods and aims? Finally, I reexamine debates about the quality and aesthetic value of stories emerging from communities of fans. In the next section I provide a thumbnail history of work on fanction, discussing three waves of scholarship on this form of narrative practice. The subsequent section furnishes a programmatic outline of key issues and directions for future work in the eld, drawing on a range of illustrative examples. I then zoom in on one instance of fanction to demonstrate the salience of the issues outlined in my survey of the eld and to sketch strategies for addressing those issues.

A Brief Overview of Fanction Studies

Up to now, the study of fanction has been dominated by media and cultural studies, with some anthropological and psychoanalytical work focusing on the behavior and motivations of fans. Issues of methodology and particularly the relationship between academic and fan tend to dominate, and close textual analysis is often denigrated on the basis that the identities and practices of fans cannot be abstracted from the sorts of texts they write, but must be analyzed as socially situated prac2

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tices and activities. Perhaps because of the need to defend and rearticulate the previously castigated category of the fan, there is a tendency to employ a rather idealistic rhetoricfor example, in Pughs (2005) claim that fanction represents a democratic genre, or Stasis (2006) claim that this kind of writing is canny, sophisticated and resonant with postmodern textuality (129). While studies such as these at least try to locate fanction alongside literary traditions and conventions, media studies approaches consciously steer clear of any attempt to evaluate fanction based on the quality of the writing, the plotting, or the characterization, for fear of being seen to be outside or above the object of study. In his overview of fanction studies, Cornel Sandvoss (2005) claims that the rst wave of theory was heavily inuenced by Marxism and tended to assume a simple dichotomy of power in which the fans were the powerless opposing the might of the franchises and corporations that owned the rights to the characters and storylines fans loved and wrote about. For example, in one of the earliest studies, John Fiske (1987) writes about Madonnas empowering inuence on her young female followers and sets up the inuential category of the active audience. But it was Henry Jenkinss Textual Poachers (1992) that contributed more than any previous study to the establishment of a distinctive sphere of fan studies, and it remains a seminal text. Jenkins draws on Michel de Certeaus (1984) notion of the poacher to write about fans not as dupes of dominant ideologies but as renegades and subversives able to undermine commodication and corporatization through their collective power. In subsequent studies and on his blog, Jenkins continues to contest the stereotype of the fan as a socially isolated weirdo, and he draws on a wide range of theoretical sources; these sources include narrative theory, in particular Janet Murrays (1998) concepts of encyclopedic narratives and procedural authorship.1 Referring to himself as an Aca-Fan, Jenkins attempts to redene the terms on which the activity of fans is understood, and he has claimed that the kind of participatory culture created by fans could offer a whole new model of cultural production. While Jenkins does allow that not all fans are resisting readers, his rhetoric can seem overblown at times, especially when it comes to his attempt to abolish the boundary between fan and academic. Closely aligned with the emergence of audience studies, this rst
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wave of research on fanction has recently come in for criticism on the grounds of its naivety and its tendency to talk about the audience as a homogenous group, rather than as a loose afliation of conicting and competing positions and voices. For example, Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and S. Lee Herrington (2007) somewhat mockingly label the rst wave Fandom is Beautiful and reject the tendency of these theorists to treat fans as some kind of worthy cause. Meanwhile, Alan McKee (2004) accuses rst-wave theorists of perpetuating a powerless/powerful binary and of focusing unduly on the texts of fan culture, rather than acknowledging that those texts and the way they are perceived are themselves the result of larger discursive formations. The second and third waves of fanction studies take a more complex approach to the issue of power, inuenced by Foucault and Bourdieu. The second wave, exemplied by studies such as Cheryl Harris (1998) and Mark Jancovich (2002), is mainly preoccupied with responding to the emergence of new media forms that contributed to an explosion in fan activity and that facilitated all sorts of new possibilities and interactions between fans. Charting the movement of fans into the mainstream, second-wave theory sees fans not so much operating outside of social hierarchies as themselves participating in the construction and maintenance of the uneven distribution of power. Inuenced by poststructuralism, the third wave is distinguished by a greater self-reexivity about the theorists own motives and positions and by a shift in emphasis toward exploring the contributions of fans to contemporary culture. Theorists reect in a much more personal way about their own engagement with fandoms and with fan texts, and instead of fans being seen as isolated or marginal, their activities are treated as a fundamental aspect of everyday life. Prominent theorists of the third wave such as Matt Hills and Jonathan Gray are much more prepared to critique both existing terminology for fan studies and also the practices of fanspractices that may run counter to the rather utopian visions found in earlier studies. Third-wave theorists often draw on Nicholas Abercrombie and Brian Longhursts (1998) continuum model of fan involvement to more precisely understand the diverse forms that fan engagement may take, and they contest divisions such as those between high and low culture by exploring fans of Bach

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or Chekhov alongside Trekkies or Potterheads (Pearson 2007; Tulloch 2007). There is also a renewed emphasis on exposing fan-tagonisms (Johnson 2007) within and across fandoms, on understanding how fan afliations change and mutate (Hills 2005), and on exploring how the activities and practices of anti-fans (Gray 2003) may merit close attention.2 Third-wave theory turns its attention to fandoms paratexts and attempts to examine fan engagement as part of an ongoing experience. For example, Jonathan Gray and Jason Mittell (2007) examine the place of spoilers within fan communities and adopt a phenomenological approach to better understand how a well-told tale lives and thrives after its telling (18). In the spirit of the third wave, this essay revisits some of the key claims that have been made about the extent to which fanction may challenge existing notions of narrative and storytelling. At the same time, I explore how scholarship on narrative might offer new insights into fanction or new methodologies for its analysisand conversely what is entailed by adding fanction to the corpus of narratives considered by scholars of story. While studies by such authors as Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (2006) proudly locate themselves as coming out of a tradition of English studies dominated by close reading, in practice these studies sacrice depth for breadth and only rarely engage with specic narrative techniques. There is also a tendency to want to turn fans into critics or even amateur narratologists (Gray and Mittell 2007) and to highlight and celebrate only those interpretative abilities that are shared by critic and fan alike. In my own studies of fanction to date, I have combined textual analysis with a focus on the processes involved in producing and disseminating stories. Attending to these processes can illuminate how fans interact with and interpret the storyworlds to which they keep returning, whereas focusing on the text itself without understanding how it is being responded to and used by fans leaves much unexplained. Furthermore, if we are to take seriously the challenges posed by fanction, it is important to start by looking at what fans are doing, rather than trying to impose terms and values on their activities. In the discussion that follows, most of my examples are drawn from fanction based on Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice, a novel that has
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spawned one of the most prolic of literary fandoms online. The case studies I consider bring into the foreground issues of aesthetic value or quality as well as issues arising from the relationship of the fan text to its source. While Austen fandoms might be seen to pose a challenge to the notion of the fan as textual poacher, because they tend to be quite conservative and ercely protective of the Austen legacy, in actuality these fandoms exemplify the variety of communities existing online. Here too we nd plenty of diversity in the modes of engagement that fans display and in how they participate in processes of creation and reception.

Approaches to Fanction fanfiction and participatory culture

Perhaps one of the main reasons why people are saying such nice things about fanction is that it takes us away from the notion of texts as static, isolated objects and instead reminds us that storyworlds are generated and experienced within specic social and cultural environments that are subject to constant change. In online environments where accessibility and participation seem almost to be taken for granted, fanction is about far more than the writing and reading of stories, as fans engage in all kinds of social networking and community building not only within the terms set by specic sites but also frequently beyond and against these, as when fans set up their own subcultures and special interest groups. For example, Austen fans can buy Team Darcy merchandise online and even purchase patterns for creating their own nger puppet versions of Darcy and Elizabeth, closely resembling Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle from the 1995 BBC adaptation. Although some purists bemoan the hamster-wheel of posthumous productivity (Bowles 2003: 16) that has turned Jane Austen into a commodity in this manner, others (e.g., Thompson 2008) have celebrated such activities as continuing the best traditions of the cottage industry model and as conrming the limitless creativity of fans seeking out ways to display their devotion to and passion for their favored storyworlds. In short, fanction highlights the motivations and desires of readersin ways theorists of narrative need to take into account. In tra6

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ditional literary criticism and even many reader-response approaches, the reader is discussed as a monolithic entity, and hypotheses about his or her responses derive mainly from the critics own interpretation of the text. Further, fanction has the potential to reveal why certain kinds of readers are drawn to certain kinds of texts. As mentioned earlier, scholars such as Camille Bacon-Smith (1992) have turned to psychoanalytical theory in attempts to understand why it is that so many women and young girls write and read slash ction, a variety of fanction based on constructing same-sex relationships between characters, and also why fans enjoy returning to familiar storyworlds and characters time after time. Other theorists point to the complex and even contradictory motivations of fans. For example, Jenkins (1992) argues that they are torn between fascination and frustration, while Sheenagh Pugh (2005) claims that fans want both more of and more from the ctional worlds they endlessly revisit. Work along these lines suggests that fans should by no means be viewed as purely passive consumers; instead fans desires are active and indeed excessive, spilling over into the kind of powerful and transgressive force given expression in Barthess notion of jouissance (Fiske 1987). Fanction thus poses an important challenge to conceptualizations of storyworlds that focus on their universality and familiarity, demonstrating that, in fact, readers and audiences relations with those worlds are diverse and sometimes conicting. These fan-produced narratives also underscore that work focusing on how storyworlds are triggered by textual cues must be supplemented with research addressing the whole question of what readers and audiences do with those worldshow they inhabit them, transform them, make them their own.

fanfiction as transgressive practice

Because of the ways it gives readers such transformative powers, fanction has also been hailed as a transgressive force, offering a voice for marginalized groups and revealing the subversive potential of seemingly safe or familiar storyworlds. The sense of transgression may be felt even more powerfully where the source text is a canonical work of literature like Pride and Prejudice. Fanction stories often provocatively play with the various elements of the storyworlds on which they are based.
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The language employed by fanction communities amply displays their disdain for convention (PWP = Plot, What Plot?), while the system of classication used across many fanction sites openly acknowledges the potential for fan-created texts to cause offense. Slash ction provides many examples of these more controversial transgressionsfor instance, stories based on Darcy/Wickham or Darcy/Bingley pairings or ships in Austen fandoms.3 For their part, Alternate Universe stories transgress boundaries of space and time, perhaps relocating Darcy and Elizabeth to a high school or college in the United States (Ten Years by alice-in-vunderland at FanFiction.Net) or Aunt Cathy (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) to the Sunny Acres nursing home (Delusions of Grandeur by Jennifer H at Derbyshire Writers Guild). And cross-over fancs take the characters from one ctional world and cross them with another. Examples of cross-over ctions featuring Pride and Prejudice at FanFiction.Net include stories crossing the novel with the Twilight, Harry Potter, and X-Men franchises. Fans display no regard for boundaries when it comes to medium, and so a canon may encompass lm adaptations of a text, interviews with the author or cast, and even merchandising and marketing. For many fans of Austens novel, Colin Firths portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation was so denitive that it is almost unthinkable not to use the actors mannerisms and physical characteristics when writing or reading about Darcy.4 Notoriously, Andrew Daviess adaptation included scenes of Mr. Darcy in the bath and emerging in a wet shirt from the lake at Pemberleyscenes that never appeared in Austens novel. These adaptations have now become part of the canon for many fans of Austen, representing an expansion of the novels metaverse (Gwenllian-Jones 2004); in turn, this expansion has arguably helped to attract a whole new audience to Austens writing. There is even a fansite dedicated to Colin Firth in his role as Darcy (, featuring a Pond section where fans can post messages and news. Fanction also breaks down the boundaries between authors and readers, since on most fanction sites people who post stories also comment on and review stories posted by others. Indeed, it is quite common for fans to progress from reading and reviewing fanc to writing it themselves. While fans debate and even police elements of the canon, for example by complaining that a story is OOC (Out of Character),

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the term fanon is used to refer to the process whereby over time certain plot or character elements become established within the fan communityeven when those elements never appeared in the source text, or radically depart from it. Fanction is often highly reexive about the transgressing of these boundaries and displays little or no anxiety about what Linda Hutcheon (2005) terms the hermeneutic paradox, whereby readers [. . .] are forced to acknowledge the artice of what they are reading, while at the same time becoming active co-creators of the meaning of the work (494). Indeed, fans seem to enjoy aunting the articiality and surreality of their stories while also continuing to be engaged and immersed in the ctional worlds they help to esh out and concretize. However, in an effort to develop more sober and responsible assessments of fan practices, recent fanction theory has revisited both the idea of the fan as a subversive force for the good and utopian visions of the community, suggesting that certain hierarchies and boundaries still exist. For example, my own research on The Republic of Pemberley website (Thomas 2007) focuses on the ways in which the self-appointed committee members who maintain the site portray themselves as guardians of Austens legacy. Many other sites ban certain kinds of fanc altogether (especially Real Person Fiction, or ction in which real-world celebrities and personages gure), and reserve the right to exclude members if their posts or behavior are deemed unacceptable.

fan fiction as work in progress

Perhaps one of the main reasons theorists have been saying such nice things about fanction is that Fan research has been institutionally and personally convenient (Gray 2003: 67). In particular, online fanction is ripe for analysis because it makes visible the process of creation and reception as authors and their readers engage in ongoing interactions about their stories. The process of updating that takes place on many of these sites (Thomas forthcoming) also contributes to what Hellekson and Busse (2006) see as a dening feature of fanction: namely, its selfproclaimed status as work in progress. Fanction is usually published in installments or chapters, and on sites such as FanFiction.Net readers can track when stories are updated. Readers are thus likely to view
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entries as works in progress, and inevitably many stories are left unnished. While fans might urge each other on to bring a story to its climax, it is undoubtedly the case that continuity is preferred over closure. Many of the biggest fandoms online are related to serial narratives that trade on the idea of plot as an innitely extended middle (Fiske 1987). However, even with narratives such as Austens Pride and Prejudice, which seemingly closes on the most conventional of happy endings, the climax is, of course, as much a beginning as it is an ending, since Darcy and Elizabeth are just setting out on married life. A good deal of Pride and Prejudice fanction takes this ending as its point of departure, as fans imagine not only what the married life of the couple might be like but also how Darcy in particular copes with parenthood, or how the children turn out. Though fanction is often dismissed as derivative and unoriginal, fan communities proudly boast about the inuence they have on peoples engagement with the storyworlds about which they write. What this illustrates is that the relationship between source text and its reinventions is not unidirectional, but dialogic. Authors such as J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman have maintained a close relationship with their fans through contributing interviews and setting up competitions.5 Meanwhile, TV shows such as Smallville or the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood are widely believed to have emerged from ideas and storylines developed on fanction sites, and Seth Grahame-Smiths Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) clearly owes a debt to the cross-over genre of fanction. For fanction theorists, such a move into the mainstream can arouse anxiety that fan communities resistance to dominant cultural norms and practices is being diluted, and that commercial success and corporatization are in effect wresting these storyworlds away from their fans. But we might equally see the interest shown by the creative industries as testament to the contribution made by fans and as a demonstration of the durability and elasticity of the storyworlds about which they write.

the narrative structure of fanfiction

While fanction studies often draw on narratological terminology, there has been very little cross-fertilization to date between narrative theo10

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ry and media studies vis--vis stories written by communities of fans. Reception theory and the notion of gap lling sometimes feature in the literature (Sandvoss 2007), and Gray (2003) cites Fishs work on the interpretative process as a useful reference point for re-examining how fans engage with the texts they endlessly revisit. Meanwhile, Gray (2003) and Gray and Mittell (2007) draw extensively on Grard Genettes (1997) concept of the paratext in accounting for the various forms fan activity may take, while Barthess notion of the writerly text gures prominently in the work of Fiske (1987) and in Hellekson and Busses study (2006). Matt Hills (2002) also borrows from narrative theory in his development of the concept of hyperdiegesis, dened as the creation of a vast and detailed narrative space, only a fraction of which is ever directly seen or encountered within the text, but which nevertheless appears to operate according to principles of internal logic and extension (137). Hills explicitly links his term to Murrays (1998) notion of the encyclopedic narrative and to the possibility of theorizing what he calls an implied narrative world. The term has been extensively employed in fanction studies to account for the ways in which continuity and coherence may exist across texts associated with particular fandoms, and to provide a means of encompassing the multifarious ways in which fans connect to various sectors and inhabitants of the narrative spaces to which they return. In her analysis of fanction and fanvids, Tisha Turk (2010) focuses on metalepsis, or the conation or entanglement of narrative levels, and argues that Genettes (1980) original theory requires modication to account for how metalepsis works within participatory cultures and extends beyond the borders of the text. Turks analysis of specic fan texts demonstrates the centrality of metaleptic transgressions of diegetic levels, especially where the fans extradiegetic desires are allowed to intrude or impose on the storyworld. Though Turk, like many other fanction theorists, is perhaps guilty at times of overstating the sophistication of fans, her analysis does demonstrate how narratological concepts such as metalepsis can throw light on the complex modes of engagement that help drive this form of narrative. Sara Gwenllian-Joness (2004) analysis of the metaverses of fantasy and science ction suggests other strategies for promoting a closer diThomas: What Is Fanction?

alogue between media studies and narrative theory when it comes to fanction. Gwenllian-Jones argues that ctional worlds, of necessity, always exceed the texts that describe them, relying on large part on the reader who must import exterior information to and imaginatively engage with the text in order to actualize its latent aspects. The recovery of the ctional world from its fragmented and partial textual presence is a dynamic cognitive process in which textual data, knowledge of the real world, and imagination are all marshalled (92). Such an approach opens up the possibility that postclassical narratologys movement beyond the connes of the text, and particularly the work of cognitive narratology, can contribute to our understanding of how readers process narratives and of how storyworlds in turn connect with and actualize all sorts of latent desires and needs. Cognitive narratologys focus on how readers process narratives, and construct mental models that take the shape of storyworlds, is ideally situated to account for many of the activities and forms of engagement that we nd in fanction communities. In particular, Richard Gerrigs focus on how words become worlds (2005: 474) and his suggestion that narrative transports readers into other times and other places (1993) provide an obvious starting point for this kind of approach. Equally, the idea that storyworlds are themselves subject to constant revision by those who participate in their construction allows us to go beyond textual blueprints to the worlds that are made and remade on the basis of those blueprints. As David Herman (2005) puts it, storyworlds offer us mentally and emotionally projected environments in which interpreters are called upon to live out complex blends of cognitive and imaginative response (570). Although the focus of such approaches is still perhaps on how texts provoke such a response, rather than on mapping out and engaging with the environments in which those responses are enacted, work of this sort does offer the possibility of combining textual analysis with some consideration of what readers do with the worlds they fashion and refashionand also of what motivates fans to stay with and expand the storyworlds they choose to enter. Joseph Tabbi (2003) has challenged narratology to come up with a way of dealing with what he calls the processual text, and he relishes the prospect of a return to a focus on narrative as journey rather than

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goal, hailing this release from future-orientation as potentially liberating. Similarly, Peter Lunenfeld (2000: 20) has hypothesized the possibility of what he calls an aesthetic of unnish, again placing the emphasis on process rather than goal and suggesting thereby a new approach to the analysis of narrative. Certainly, this kind of aesthetic might nd support from postmodern theory, where the idea that creativity must involve originality has been fundamentally questioned, and where the pleasures of repetition and repurposing may be celebrated. It might also help explain why what keeps fans coming back is not necessarily suspense, strong characterization, or good style so much as what David Black (2004) calls in-lling: that is, the process of eshing out the backstory behind characters, situations, and events, or slightly shifting the perspective from which the familiar is to be enjoyed.

toward an aesthetic of fanfiction

More generally, engaging with issues of aesthetic value and judgment is necessary if we are to move away from the current dilemma facing theorists of this mode of narrative practice. The dilemma is that it has become impossible to criticize fanction for fear of being accused of importing values and criteria from elsewhere and stiing the creativity and forms of resistance displayed by fans. Yet being too nice about fanction may also prove counterproductive if, as Charlotte Brunsdon (1997) has argued, this only leaves the eld clear for the pronouncements of others. Similarly, Toby Miller (2004) makes the point that by turning fans into acionados and heaping praise on their ability to do the kind of interpretative work valued by the academy, we may be covertly replicating the kinds of evaluative discourse that claim to be able to distinguish between good and bad stories or storytelling practices. In media studies circles, such binaries have long been contested, and instead Gray (2003) proposes that we focus on a range of values that allows for challenge and change, and that may be modulated according to genre, medium, and so forthrather than continue to use debates about quality as a barrier to engagement. It seems, therefore, that when it comes to trying to talk about the aesthetics of fanction, we may need to explore a new understanding of aesthetic value that reects the decentralization of contemporary culture. At the same time, this approach to aesthetic
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value could build on models that, like David Bleichs (1978) and Patrick Colm Hogans (forthcoming), embrace subjectivity and affect, rather than marginalizing or ignoring such aspects of readerly engagement. What I have described as the third wave of fanction studies has brought issues of aesthetic judgment to the forefront, fostering some welcome skepticism about earlier theorists elevation of the reader to a position of absolute supremacy. In particular, Sandvoss (2007) directly confronts media studies tendency to shy away from such debates, and argues that much is to be gained from engaging with literary-theoretical approaches and models. At the same time, Sandvoss makes the point that whereas literary texts are often valued for their ability to defamiliarize the everyday, fans seek out texts that give them the pleasure of familiarity and that fulll rather than challenge their expectations. Yet he also stresses that it is problematic to try to stipulate what sorts of stories fans seek out and what meanings they nd in those stories. Sandvoss points out that the notion of what constitutes a text for fans may itself be contentious, and calls for what he terms a functionalist denition of value in which we focus on what texts are for; from this perspective, any discussion of value must engage closely with what actual readers and audiences do, as manifested by their participation in fan communities. Sandvosss focus is on what he calls the affective bond between text and reader, and he calls for an approach that captures the full complexity and dynamism of the process of reading, rather than smoothing over disagreements or forcibly aligning contradictions and complexities in readers ongoing responses to texts and their intertexts. In the same volume that contains Sandvosss study, Hills (2007) attacks what he calls the distant reading tradition of media studies; in this tradition, according to Hills, it is acceptable to comment on media texts without actually bothering to watch or read them. Hills also points to the problems of using an approach in which the scholar is meant to be objective or detached in order to study fan communities in which enthusiasms may be excessive and beyond control. Indeed, academics who are also fans (or aca-fans) are likely, according to Hills, to project their own interpretations onto the fan texts being analyzed. Interestingly, the fanction community itself displays no scruples about hunting down and exposing examples of badc, with sites such

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as Fandom Wank and Crack Van directing users toward the good stuff while reveling in the worst excesses of the bad. But these assessments are not premised on a centrally held set of criteria; rather, they grow out of an ongoing debate and discussion about what merits reccing (recommending) and what does not. Hence participants always have a right to reply and an opportunity to contest and challenge the values and interpretations of others. Once again, if an aesthetics is constructed purely on the basis of what fanctions are, rather than on the basis of what fans do with these texts, then the only options remain a kind of whitewashing, where we pretend that the writing really is not as bad as it seems, or a crude selection policy, according to which we only consider for discussion those examples of fanction that meet the mark in terms of specic sets of criteria that must by their very nature be inexible. A more productive approach is suggested by Sandvoss (2007), whereby instead of focusing on the value of a specic text, or abandoning altogether any notion of value, we focus instead on what he calls the spectrum of textuality (31) to encompass the broader effects and inuences that the text may have and go on to have. Thus, rather than imposing a set of values, analysts can focus on what makes this kind of narrative practice distinctivefor example, by exploring how it provides different perspectives on a familiar ctional world or set of events or allows fans happily to move in and out of various storyworlds and also between the storyworld and the real world of their day-to-day existence. With fanction it is also important to recognize that what may be valued by one community or fandom may not hold equal value for another. For example, my studies of The Republic of Pemberley website (Thomas 2007) or fans of the author Mark Danielewski (Thomas 2011) have shown that these fans are quite prepared to pass judgment not just on the merits of the texts they discuss but also on others responses to and interpretations of those texts. While other fandoms may be much less hawkish and intimidating, nevertheless reviewing and critiquing are an intrinsic part of all of the fanction sites that I have visited, and indeed the constant dialogue between authors and their readers, and the fact that these roles are so readily interchangeable, make it impossible to fully appreciate fanction without looking at how the stories
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are received and talked about within the specic communities in which they are located. In the illustrative analysis that follows, I use a fanction based on Austens Pride and Prejudice to weave together many of the strands of my discussion up to this point. I also aim to demonstrate how an integrated analysisone that combines close attention to the text and a focus on the wider processes of production and receptioncan offer valuable insights into what fanction is for and what it does vis-vis those who are involved with its production, interpretation, and recontextualization.

Illustrative Analysis: Ae Fond Kiss

The story Ae Fond Kiss appears on Mrs. Darcys Story Site; this site lists twenty-one female authors of fanctions based on Pride and Prejudice and includes, in addition, special features, a store, and a message forum where users can post their reviews and comments. The site also features stills from movie adaptations of Austens work as well as links to various sites that explore aspects of her life and works. The community appears tight-knit, referring to each other as dears, but the site is in many ways less open than others, since it does not explicitly invite contributions or make visible its guidelines and protocols. Ae Fond Kiss, which rst appeared on the site in 2006, is categorized as WIP (work in progress) and R (restricted, has some adult content). Systems of categorization are common across fanction sites and help users to navigate in terms of genre, favored pairings of characters, and so on. Ae Fond Kiss falls into the category of AU (Alternate Universe stories): it imagines Elizabeth Bennet working as a schoolteacher in present-day Glasgow, while Jane Bennet is recast as a social worker, and Bill Collins is an irritating mature student whom Elizabeth meets at a training college. Twenty-one chapters of the story were posted before the author, Carol, mysteriously disappeared. Subsequent message forums record appeals for her to get in touch as well as readers disappointment that the story has been left incomplete. The last chapter posted introduces an unexpected complication in the Elizabeth/William (Darcy) relationship, with Elizabeth suspecting William

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of becoming involved with Caroline Bingley. This turn of events might explain why those posting on the message boards are so desperate for Carol to continue, despite the fact that we last hear from Carol in 2007. Indeed, messages were still being left for her in January 2010, demonstrating the tenacity of the fans as well as their commitment to the idea of community. What is more, it appears that for users of the site tracking Carols story and interacting on the message boards, the updates on her health are as much a part of the story as the chapters that she posted on the site. Unlike some other fanction sites, which provide biographies and links to authors websites, Mrs. Darcys Story Site simply lists the rst names of the writers and provides a link to the stories they have authored. Similarly, while other fansites separate complete from incomplete stories, Mrs. Darcys Story Site does not; nor does it provide information about when a story was posted or updated, although this can be deduced from the message boards. As was suggested earlier, for fanction readers, being able to track the evolution of a story seems to be at least as important as having access to the completed version, once again suggesting the importance of process in this kind of narrativeat multiple levels. While the site does not give explicit information about Carol, references to specic locations in Glasgow and the storys use of Scots dialect suggest some familiarity with the locale, and on the message boards Carol reveals that she was born in Aberfeldy. There is also plenty of evidence to indicate that the author is very familiar with the teaching profession. Compared to, for example, most of the contributions to, Ae Fond Kiss displays a very mature and condent writing style and makes informed references to many other literary works (Shakespeare, Norman McCaig, the Burns song of the title), as well as to Austens larger oeuvre. The story also makes extratextual references to real people, such as the actor Iain Glen, and to rock bands such as Pearl Jam and Bad Company, resulting in the kinds of metalepsis Turk (2010) notes in her analysis of fanvids. In keeping with a lot of AU fanction based on classic texts, the language is a mix of homages to Austen and contemporary slang (Mr arsehole Darcy; SOB), and the story also resembles other fancs in its
Thomas: What Is Fanction?

knowing humor (for example, recasting Mary Bennet as a goth). In terms of the aesthetics of the form, therefore, it is important to recognize that what might otherwise appear as clumsy gaffes and anachronisms are in fact deliberate, and as Turk (2010) has argued, it is exactly this clash of diegetic levels that contributes so much to the pleasure to be derived from such stories. Rather than being wholly transported (Gerrig 1993) into another world, the fan keeps one toe in the realm of the real world, with the banal and the mundane rubbing up against the fantastical and the surreal. An examination of the structural and stylistic features of Ae Fond Kiss conrms that it is a relatively typical fanction. Although most fanction is written in the rst person, Ae Fond Kiss is told in the third person and shifts between focalizers, both male and female, though Elizabeths is by far the most dominant perspective. Ae Fond Kiss also includes many examples of in-lling (Black 2004), particularly in its eshing out of minor characters such as Georgie (Darcys sister) and Mrs. Reynolds (Darcys housekeeper). The story also relies on a number of plot twists (Elizabeth is seeing Charles, Jane is with William Darcy) and expansions (new characters such as Roddie Graham, Elizabeth narrowly escaping being raped by George Wickham, a sex scene involving Darcy and Elizabeth). Readers responses to the story are a mix of the intimate and the playful, as when Rene O confesses that due to the Scottish setting now I see Colin Firth in kilt all the time (November 13, 2006). The comments also reveal the intensity of the readers engagement with the charactersto the point where the boundaries between the textual and the extratextual threaten once more to collapse, as when one contributor advises Carol about the correct management of Elizabeths frizzy hair. In line with reviews on other fanction sites (see Thomas 2011), most of the comments are complimentary, with many readers commenting that the story has convinced them that modern takes on Pride and Prejudice can work well. But although many of the comments may appear rather supercial, they do bear out the claims of theorists such as Turk (2010) and Debra Journet (2010). These scholars argue that in formulating their responses to and engaging in discussions about specic texts, fans frequently engage in the kind of analysis preferred by literary critics,

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particularly where they attempt to back up their interpretations with reference to the text or to existing scholarship. For example, Margaret F (January 22, 2007) offers a nuanced analysis of the character of Fanny Bennet and contrasts the depiction of the character in Ae Fond Kiss with those found elsewhere. Thus, while I have argued that fans powers of analysis have perhaps been exaggerated, and that there is a danger of elevating such skills at the expense of other strategies for engaging with texts, the evidence suggests that fans take their role as reviewers seriously. In her interactions with her readers, Carol reveals some of the inspiration for her ideas and also shows a willingness to respond to her readers comments and suggestions (Now why didnt I think of that, February 8, 2007). A close affective bond of the kind described by Sandvoss (2007) is established between the author and her readers, based on a complex mixture of sympathy for Carols real-world problems, on the one hand, and dependence on her as the source of further installments, on the other hand. As on many other fanction sites, comments are interlaced with emoticons and a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks, compensating for the lack of face-to-face contact and helping to reinforce the intensity of the exchanges. The message boards therefore provide us with invaluable insight into the emotional journey that the readers undergo and suggest that their engagement with the narrative entails much more than merely processing the words on the page, encompassing their interactions with the author and with each other as the discussions unfold. Indeed, the fans may be said to participate in a form of collective intelligence (Jenkins 2006), as they work through elements of the plotting or share insights into aspects of the Scottish setting that may be unfamiliar to others. In male-dominated fan communities built around texts that present readers with some kind of puzzle, this collective intelligence can mask a certain amount of competitiveness and point scoring (see Thomas 2011). In predominantly female fan communities, however, collectivity is as much about emotional support as it is about intelligence, and on Mrs. Darcys Story Site fans are careful to welcome new members and seem genuinely to look out for one another, as is evident in the concern displayed for Carol when she drops out of contact.
Thomas: What Is Fanction?

What my analysis of Ae Fond Kiss demonstrates is the inappropriateness and impossibility of focusing solely on the fanction text, without taking into account how aspects of the interface and website design impact upon the reading experience, or how that experience is shaped by the responses and discussions generated by the stories. Both the writing and reading of fanction demonstrate how narrative is additive (Perez 2000); in other words, wanting more of (Pugh 2005) the storyworld that is the object of the fans devotion can hardly be sated by just one narrative, and the design and navigation of fanction sites is all about selecting and reading across stories, often in a random rather than a directed fashion. The notion of the inexhaustible story (Douglas 2001) thus poses a challenge to models of narrative that insist on dening the story text as a stable and nite thing. As I suggest as well, the processual, malleable quality of fanctions also has implications for how we assess the quality of narratives. In this context judgments made about story design, characterization, and writing style cannot be made in the abstract, without recognizing the signicance that these narrative elements may have for a particular community of readers, thanks to the contexts of production and reception in which a given narrative circulates. Nor can assumptions be made about how all fans engage with the storyworlds at issue. For all the fans who actively participate and interact on these sites, there are others who simply lurk or who it from one story and one fandom to another without displaying any particular attachment or commitment. But perhaps the largest lesson of fanction is that it is time to call a halt to the mutual suspicion that still seems to persist between narratology, which emphasizes ne-grained analysis of textual features and patterns, and media and cultural studies, which have traditionally focused more on audiences, reception processes, and issues of ideology and the place of textual practices within broader social formations. In particular, dialogue between these elds would seem to be productive in allowing us to debate the aesthetic value of new media forms and explore how storyworlds are put to use as well as constructed and processed. For fanction studies, this sort of dialogue might result in a middle

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ground emerging between those who have perhaps exaggerated the potential signicance of fanction and those who dismiss it as adolescent trash. What is undeniable is that many of the challenges posed by fanction are replicated across other kinds of new-media narratives, and so we ignore these challenges at our own peril.
1. See Henry Jenkins, Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Ofcial Weblog of Henry Jenkins, <>. 2. Examples of anti-fan activity can be found at I Hate Harry Potter, <http://www>, or I Hate Star Wars Club, <http://ihatestarwarsclub.>. 3. Examples of Darcy/Wickham slash are much more common. See, for example, Truth Discovered by Jadecastle6 or Two Sides of the Same Coin by Lizard2, both on FanFiction.Net. For an example of Darcy/Bingley slash see Concerning the Pianaforte by DragonRawr, also at FanFiction.Net. 4. Whysuddenly admits to having Colin Firth in mind when composing The Wedding Night and Conversation in the Morning, published together at FanFiction.Net. 5. See R. Lyle Skains (2010) for a discussion of interactions between authors and their readers online.

Works Cited

Crack Van. <>. Derbyshire Writers Guild. <>. Fandom Wank. <>. FanFiction.Net. <>. Firthness. <>. Mrs. Darcys Story Site. <>. The Republic of Pemberley. <>.

scholarly works
Abercrombie, Nicholas, and Brian Longhurst (1998). Audiences: A Sociological Theory of Performance and Imagination. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Bacon-Smith, Camille (1992). Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P. Black, David A. (2004). Character; or, The Strange Case of Uma Peel. GwenllianJones and Pearson 99114.
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Bleich, David (1978). Subjective Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978. Bowles, Kate (2003). Commodifying Austen. Jane Austen on Screen. Ed. Gina Macdonald and Andrew F. Macdonald. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1521. Brunsdon, Charlotte (1997). Screen Tastes: Soap Operas and Satellite Dishes. London: Routledge. De Certeau, Michel (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven F. Rendall. Berkeley: U of California P. Derecho, Abigail (2006). Archontic Literature: A Denition, a History, and Several Theories of Fan Fiction. Hellekson and Busse 6178. Douglas, Jane Yellowlees (2001). The End of Books or Books without End: Reading Interactive Narratives. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. Fiske, John (1987). Television Culture. London: Routledge. Genette, Grard (1980) Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP. (1997). Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Gerrig, Richard (1993). Experiencing Narrative Worlds. New Haven, CT: Yale UP. (2005). Psychological Approaches to Narrative. Herman, Jahn, and Ryan 47074. Grahame-Smith, Seth (2009). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. Gray, Jonathan (2003). New Audiences, New Textualities: Anti-Fans and NonFans. International Journal of Cultural Studies 6.1: 6481. Gray, Jonathan, and Jason Mittell (2007). Speculation on Spoilers: Lost Fandom, Narrative Consumption and Rethinking Textuality. Participations 4.1. <www>. Gray, Jonathan, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington, eds. (2007). Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. New York: New York UP. Gwenllian-Jones, Sara (2004). Virtual Reality and Cult Television. GwenllianJones and Pearson 8397. Gwenllian-Jones, Sara, and Roberta Pearson, eds. (2004). Cult Television. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Harris, Cheryl (1998). A Sociology of Television Fandom. Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture and Identity. Ed. Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander. Creskill, NJ: Hampton. Hellekson, Karen, and Kristina Busse, eds. (2006). Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. Herman, David (2005). Storyworlds. Herman, Jahn, and Ryan 56970. Herman, David, Manfred Jahn, and Marie-Laure Ryan, eds. (2005). Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative. London: Routledge. Hills, Matt (2002). Fan Cultures. London: Routledge. (2005). Patterns of Surprise: The Aleatory Object in Psychoanalytic Ethnography and Cyclical Fandom. American Behavioral Scientist 48.7: 80121.

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(2007). Media Academics as Media Audiences: Aesthetic Judgments in Media and Cultural Studies. Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 3347. Hogan, Patrick Colm (forthcoming). Affective Narratology: The Emotional Structure of Stories. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P. Hutcheon, Linda (2005). Reexivity. Herman, Jahn, and Ryan 49495. Jancovich, Mark (2002). Cult Fictions: Cult Movies, Subcultural Capital, and the Production of Cultural Distinction. Cultural Studies 16.2: 30622. Jenkins, Henry (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. London: Routledge. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP. Johnson, Derek (2007). Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom. Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. New York: New York UP. 285300. Journet, Debra (2010). Literate Acts in Convergence Culture: Lost as Transmedia Narrative. Rhetorics and Technologies: New Directions in Writing and Communication. Ed. Stuart A. Selber. Columbia: U of South Carolina P. 198217. Lunenfeld, Peter (2000). Unnished Business. The Digital Dialectic. Ed. Peter Lunenfeld. Cambridge, MA: MIT P. 623. McKee, Alan (2004). How to Tell the Difference between Production and Consumption: A Case Study in Doctor Who Fandom. Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson 16785. Miller, Toby (2004). Trainspotting The Avengers. Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson 18797. Murray, Janet (1998). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT P. Pearson, Roberta (2007). Bachies, Bardies, Trekkies and Sherlockians. Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 98109. Perez, Gilberto (2000). The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. Pugh, Sheenagh (2005). The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Bridgend, Wales: Seren Books. Sandvoss, Cornel (2005). Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Cambridge: Polity. (2007). The Death of the Reader? Literary Theory and the Study of Texts in Popular Culture. Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 1932. Skains, R. Lyle (2010). The Shifting Author Reader Dynamic: Online Novel Communities as a Bridge from Print to Digital Literature. Convergence 16.1: 95111. Stasi, Mafalda (2006). The Toy Soldiers from Leeds: The Slash Palimpest. Hellekson and Busse 11533. Tabbi, Joseph (2003). The Processual Page: Materiality and Consciousness in Print
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and Hypertext. Journal of New Media and Culture 2.2. < nmediac/fall2003/processual.html>. Thomas, Bronwen (2007). Canons and Fanons: Literary Fanction Online. Digital Dichtung. < thomas.htm>. (2009). Gains and Losses? Writing It All Down: Fanction and Multimodality. New Perspectives on Narrative and Multimodality. Ed. Ruth Page. London: Routledge. 14254. (2011). Trickster Authors and Tricky Readers on the MZD Forums. Mark Z Danielewski. Ed. Alison Gibbons and Joe Bray. Manchester: Manchester UP. 86102. (forthcoming). Update Soon! Harry Potter Fanction and Narrative as a Participatory Process. In New Narratives: Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age. Ed. Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P. Thompson, Allison (2008). Trinkets and Treasures: Consuming Jane Austen. Persuasions On-Line 28.2. < thompson.htm>. Tulloch, John (2007). Fans of Chekhov: Re-Approaching High Culture. Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 11022. Turk, Tisha (2010). Metalepsis in Fan Vids and Fan Fiction. Metalepsis in Popular Culture. Ed. Karin Kukkonen and Sonja Klimek. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. 87107.


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