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

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: theĀ  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.

et cetera