A Beginner's Guide to Fandom: A Fangirl's Perspective

{September 28, 2009}   Fanfiction, Part 3: The Crossover

Another popular type of fanfiction is the crossover. In my opinion, it’s one of the more interesting types of fanfic out there in terms of creativity and fandoms. A crossover, simply put, is the combination of two or more fandoms in one story. It comes from the idea of one character, plotline, etc. ‘crossing over’ into another. It’s similar to the idea of the AU (alternate universe), but instead of being a generically ‘different’ environment, the story mixes two specific fandoms together.

Popular ways of doing this include having characters from two different worlds interact. ‘What would happen if Spock met Harry Potter?’, for instance, or ‘If Buffy Summers met Edward Cullen, would they get along?’ This can be motivated from the author’s sense of curiosity (they could be wildly different characters), or it could have deeper literary significance because of some perceived similarity or productive interaction between the characters. One example that comes to mind is of Frodo Baggins and Harry Potter, who have similar character issues involving magical temptation and heavy burdens. Instead of (or in addition to) character interactions, crossover writers may also choose to insert plotlines or worlds from other fandoms. For some of the more thoughtful pieces, this goes beyond the matter of superficial environments and into questions of social commentary, moral decisions or character study. If Captain Kirk found himself with the One Ring, would he be tempted to use it? Could his tendency toward arrogance overcome his sense of moral duty?

Crossover fanfic is great for those who enjoy multiple TV shows, books and movies. Fandom operates by Murphy’s Law: if you think of it, then someone has written it. There are a lot of high-quality crossovers available, probably because the kind of person drawn to mixing and matching fandoms is more able to extrapolate the motivations and nuances of multiple kinds of characters. After all, they’ve taken the extra creative step of writing fiction for not one fandom but two (or more) simultaneously.


Fanfiction.net lets you search crossovers by wildly variant tags, including Greek mythology, musicals and cartoons. The homepage also has a box that has listings by medium, such as comics, movies and television.

LiveJournal has many different communities dedicated to crossovers. As with all fanfic, pay attention to the author’s notes and warnings before clicking on a link to a story; that’s the best way to avoid unwanted or uncomfortable stories. Note: sometimes you’ll find the same story in several places because authors have posted their stories to multiple communities.

Also, individual fans, whether on Livejournal or other Web sites, will often recommend fics they enjoy to their friends and the general public. Livejournal user daanae has a rather extensive list of crossovers from multiple fandoms. She notes the stories’ fandoms and  ratings on the page; she also gives a basic summary of the story and why she liked it, so you can get a sense of what the fic will be like before you click on it.

Again, as with other fanfiction, if you come across an author you like, read the stories he or she reads and recommends. You’re likely to have similar taste.

I’m starting a mini-series within my fanfiction series on fanfic genres. As with other literature, there are many different genres of fanfiction, but a few are more common than others. While not an exhaustive list, I’ll be going over the ones most often seen in fandom. Today’s topic: the alternate universe, often abbreviated AU.

photo credit: Shenghung Lin on Flickr

photo credit: Shenghung Lin on Flickr

Note: the picture is a reference to the butterfly effect, an idea stemming from chaos theory that adjusting small actions can lead to an entirely different universe.

The idea of an alternate or parallel universe is not a new one. The basic idea is that writers take the main concept of their show (or book, or movie) and transplant it into another environment. This can be a literal environment: fans of a 1970’s buddy cop show might write an AU in which the characters live their lives as sheriffs in the Old West, for example. It can also be a different metaphorical environment: the  world may be the same, but AU writers may create a world in which personal circumstances have been altered. Basically, it’s a ‘what if’ scenario: What if person A didn’t die after all? What if person B chose this path instead of another? The possibilities are endless because the author purposely sets out to break with the established literary canon (that is, officially published/broadcast/sanctioned work) in at least one and often multiple respects.

Why is it that fans write alternate universes when they could easily stick to already established situations? Simple- the power of creativity. AU authors seek to explore characters, themes or relationships beyond what they have been given. They do not limit themselves but rather push the objects of their fandom into new territories. Henry Jenkins, a transmedia scholar, notes this explanation from a fanfic writer on his blog:

“I find that fandom can be extremely creative because we have the ability to keep changing our characters and giving them new life over and over. We can kill and resurrect them as often as we like. We can change their personalities and how they react to situations. We can take a character and make him charming and sweet or coldblooded and cruel. We can give them an infinite, always-changing life rather than the single life of their original creation. We have given ourselves license to do whatever we want and it’s very liberating….”

In the “Supernatural” fandom, I recommend Minkmix’s fanfiction. She has several single stories as well as an ongoing AU series. Her master list is categorized by theme, so each link takes you to a listing of all the stories in that category. AU stories are so noted at the top of each page. Her writing is excellent and has a lot of variety of story type, including humurous slice-of-life stories as well as longer, plot-driven stories. Additionally, there are plenty of AU stories on fanfiction.net, but some are of higher quality than others.

{September 20, 2009}   The Fandom/Twitter Saga Continues

In my last post, I explained how a misunderstanding between “Supernatural” fans and Twitter users caused a confrontation between fans using the #luciferiscoming hashtag and followers of P. Diddy using the #godishere tag, leading both to be banned from appearing on the Twitter Trending Topics list. While this was unfortunate, I felt like the publicity generated (as well as the continued use of the #Supernatural tag) was an overall positive example of the collective power of fandom to promote the show.

Misha Collins, a regular actor on the show with a large Twitter following, has continued to comment on the situation. I should note that his tweets are frequently sarcastic and silly, and his comments should be taken with a grain of salt. For example: he calls his Twitter followers “minions” and frequently references his plans to use them for world domination. Additionally, when P. Diddy started his #godishere rally, Collins challenged him to a cupcake-eating contest on horseback. Since the incident I previously described, Collins advocated Supernatural fans using the tags #pdiddyisscaredofhistv and #Twitterisafraidofmishasminions.

This BuddyTV article by John Kubicek has good evidence that Twitter banned these from their Trending Topics as well, since they do not appear on the list despite having enough mentions to do so. I’m going to come right out and say it: good for Twitter.

I’m the first person to admit I follow Misha Collins on Twitter; he’s hilarious. I also praise the Supernatural fandom for using Twitter to promote the show. However, these tags are not promotion; they represent a confrontation with P. Diddy and his followers that brings no real benefit to the show. In fact, there’s more potential for harm than for benefit because this kind of collective action amounts to a large-scale personal attack that fans shouldn’t be encouraged to engage in.

Twitter’s recently updated Terms of Service page makes it pretty clear it doesn’t condone personal attacks against other users, so Twitter is perfectly justified in banning these activities or even suspending users who repeatedly attack others. Think about it: if you’re doing something against the site’s policy, it’s not only harmful to you but to the cause you support. If other users see Supernatural fans being suspended for their online activities, how does that reflect positively on the show?

Kubicek sums it up perfectly:

“The lesson from this week is probably that while it is pretty darn funny, petty feuds and catty hash tags aren’t the way to go if you want Supernatural to dominate the Trending Topic list.”

By using its collective power to launch attacks on other users (even if it starts out as a well-meaning joke), fandom is wasting the technological potential a site like Twitter has to offer. Fans have the chance to reach a very wide audience, so don’t waste it by proving that every bad stereotype about screaming, crazy fangirls is true.

I’m taking a break from the series on fanfiction to address a recent phenomenon in my fandom. The season premiere for Supernatural was Thursday, September 10, and several fans of the show decided to try to get a Supernatural-related tag onto Twitter’s trending topics in order to promote the show. Since last season’s finale ended with the beginning of the Apocalypse (a storyline a long time in the making), they chose the tag #luciferiscoming, along with #supernatural and a few others.

Thanks to fans worldwide, #luciferiscoming and #supernatural made it to the top of the trending topics list:

photo credit to supernaturalwiki.com

photo credit to supernaturalwiki.com

Once at the top, it naturally received a fair amount of attention, as fans intended. Unfortunately, however, some people who didn’t know the show’s context interpreted the tags as the work of religious people, rather than fans. Rapper P. Diddy led a large group that reacted by promoting the tag #godishere. The subsequent clash led Twitter to stop posts with God and Lucifer tags from appearing in their trending topics.

The story was mentioned in many national news outlets. One of two important points, in my opinion, was that much of the uproar happened because people didn’t know and didn’t seek out the context for the tag. An article on Associated Content says:

“Those who actually knew why the tag was so popular were easy to spot. They also used the #Supernatural tag in their tweets, indicating the name of the show which caused this mass hysteria.”


“A very simple search of the tag which is on clear display under trending topics would show what all the fuss is about, but people do not seem inclined to do this.”

A second important point was that unconventional or not, fans managed to gather a lot of attention for the show. Eclipsed Magazine put it eloquently:

“This massive push by fans to promote the show garnered a lot of buzz and attention among many people who are active on Twitter and no doubt brought more attention to the premiere. It also goes to prove a personal point of my own, which is that scattering things on numerous LJ’s doesn’t have the kind of impact of fan based promotion for the show as it does when fans and viewers come together in one central location, easily accessible by other fans, media and those involved directly with Supernatural. When everyone comes together on one place, it creates a more cohesive force and gets more voices of support heard.”

This story overall serves as an example of what can happen when fans and popular culture interact. On the one hand, many people (as P. Diddy shows) misinterpret their actions because they fail to understand their underlying context. Often, a simple search will help explain what on the surface appears to be extreme.

On the other hand, as Eclipsed noted, fans can do far bigger things as a unified group than any one person could hope to accomplish. Fandom is not an exclusively inward-focused group. They seek to interact not only with each other but to collectively make an impact on the larger world. And I say, more power to them.

{September 9, 2009}   Fanfiction, Part 1

One of the most important elements of fandom is the work they create to celebrate it. Fans are all about user-generated content- visualizing, producing and editing creative works related to their favorite TV shows, movies and books. Fanfiction, commonly abbreviated as fic or fanfic, is one of the most common and well-known types of fan products.

Fanfiction differs from original fiction because authors are not using new material they have created themselves. Instead, they use the raw material from a book, TV show, etc. as a starting place to write their own story. Fanfiction, by definition, is a mixture of borrowed and original material since fans take what authors have given them and take it in new and different directions. Fans use the medium of fanfiction to explore characters and situations beyond what the film or book shows. For example, many fanfiction authors will put their favorite characters in situations which do not exist in the original canon in order to express how they think the characters might respond to different circumstances. Another common type of fanfiction is a story in which authors experiment by establishing or extrapolating a relationship between two or more characters.

Note: This is the first of several planned posts about fanfiction; I’ll go into more detail later about different types or genres of fic as well as some of the creative and legal issues fanfiction entails.

Where to Start Reading

Fanfiction.net is a site exclusively dedicated to fanfiction. They have communities, which are archives of user-selected favorites. The site also has a search function that divides stories by author, genre, maturity rating and fandom. I should note that as a site populated by non-professional writers (often younger people), it of course includes stories of dubious quality, but there are good, high-quality stories as well. I’ve found the best way to navigate the site is to find an author I enjoy and read the authors they list as favorites; usually good writers read other good writers.

Television Without Pity has a forum where members continually recommend specific stories they have read and enjoyed. Nearly all the stories listed there are of very high quality, so it’s a good place to discover authors who appeal to your taste. Each fandom has their own separate category on the site, so if you’re looking for a fandom other than Supernatural, you’ll need to click on the show you’re interested in under the “Forums” button on the site’s main menu. (For example, they also have a fanfiction recommendation page for The Office and House.)

LiveJournal has quite a few communities dedicated to all types of fanfiction. You can modify the search terms to look for a specific type of story, fandom, etc. Communities are useful because people post their own stories as well as recommend them. They are usually policed by a moderator, so the community usually has behavioral and screening standards.

Another Note: It’s very important that you read any authorial notes before you start to read a story. At the top of the page, fanfic writers put a brief paragraph of information about the story that includes its type, maturity rating and a brief summary. Authors warn for any explicit or adult content they may have in their fic as well as any spoilers they may include. (A spoiler is any information pertaining to the show that has not been aired or published yet, such as the identity of upcoming guest stars or future plotlines.) Authors often put the story under a cutline so a reader can see the description but must click on a link to read the actual fic.  Pay attention to the warnings at the top of the page. This will save you from accidentally viewing something you’re uncomfortable with or not interested in reading.

Remember: this is supposed to be fun! Approach fanfiction like any other literary genre- find what you like, and enjoy your reading.

{September 3, 2009}   My beginning as a fangirl

Have you ever heard of a Star Trek convention and thought, “I wonder what they do at those things?” Or maybe you’ve heard those kinds of fans are pretty weird and said to yourself, “Those people can’t possibly be normal- can they?”

I was once that person who looked at fans and thought, “I have no idea what that world’s all about.” Then, I started going online to look for things to read about my favorite TV show. I found insightful commentary, colorful characters and inspiring creativity. I was hooked.

The idea of fandom is that a group of people come together to celebrate a book, movie or TV show they care for. They talk about what makes it good, they speculate on what could happen or might have been, and they take what authors have given them to create their own artistic visions of the show. In the process, they enrich their own and others’ creative experiences with the material they love.

From an outside perspective, fandom can be intimidating. I was certainly unsure of myself when I started exploring what fandom was all about. But the more I saw, the more I was fascinated with this unique subculture. Are there ‘crazy’ people? Of course; there are a few nuts in every group, after all. In general, however, I’ve found most fans to be a group of passionate, fun-loving people who put a lot of time and effort into a hobby they love. Do fans engage in weird behaviors? By some standards, yes, but almost any group of people will do something that others see as strange.

Here in this blog, I’m going to outline some of the basic parts of fandom for the uninitiated. I’ll be looking at things like fan-created works (including fanfiction), the communities that fans build with each other and certain behaviors standard in online fandom that differ from behavior elsewhere. Much of my experience is with the fandom for the TV show Supernatural, a smaller show on the CW network about two brothers who fight ghosts and other monsters from American urban legends, but I’m also familiar with other fandoms. (I should note that fans aren’t always exclusive; they can be in several fandoms at once.) My goal is to make the idea of fandom less intimidating and foreign and to explain how it works for those of you who know nothing or only a little bit about fandom.

By many standards, I’m still a rookie in fandom. Despite this, I’m proud to call myself a fangirl, and I hope my experience helps you have a better understanding of what it means to be in a fandom.

et cetera