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

In addition to fanfiction, fanvids are one of the most common creative projects that fans take part in. A fanvid, or fan-made video, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like- a video made by a fans for or about their fandom’s TV show or film. In many respects it’s similar to fanfiction in goals, but it uses visual and auditory cues rather than the written word.

Henry Jenkins commented on fanvids in a response to a widely circulated Star Trek fanvid. He commented that they have become much more common in recent years due to technology making it easier not only to make videos (using digital software) but to distribute them (using sites like YouTube). He noted:

“YouTube is the place right now where work travels from one grassroots community or subculture to another. There are real advantages to such a site since it results in cross-influences and more innovation, experimentation, and diversity, yet there are also losses to this process of decoupling amateur media from its original contexts of production and consumption.”

As with fanfiction, fanvids viewed by people outside the fandom can misinterpret or simply not understand what the fan is saying or why in the video. This is particularly true involving videos depicting romantic or sexual relationships. However, some fans have taken the technology posing this potential problem and turned it into a positive fandom project. A YouTube channel, Are You Watching Supernatural, contributes to fandom by making short promotional videos of Supernatural designed to attract more viewers to the show. Fans enjoy them because they are well-made videos that echo literary and social themes in the show and emphasize reasons Supernatural is great to watch. However, by targeting non-fans, the videos are also able to reach across the social lines a closed fan community can sometimes create in order to connect with those unfamiliar with the show and the customs and practices of fandom.

In addition to promotion of the fandom, fanvids let fans tell visual stories using methods unavailable to the fanfic writer. The combination of picture and sound produces a different effect on the viewer than a story does in its reader. For example, the video below (by KrokiRefur) edits clips from Supernatural of the characters’ car and pairs it with a song about a car-turned-serial-killer. A fanfic of this nature would be difficult to take seriously, but the video works because of the way she put it together.

This kind of video is what Jenkins calls a “constructed reality” video. The most sophisticated fanvids are not the ‘music video’ equivalent of a TV show or movie; instead, they use digital media to create an original story. As he puts it,

“…It creates a new story by linking together shots from the original series as opposed to using those shots simply to interpret or provide an alternative emotional perspective on events already depicted in the aired episodes.”

Another option afforded to fanvids unavailable to fanfiction is commentary on the show or movie’s cinematic style in the show’s own medium. For example, Ash is a fan who made this video to link Supernatural to various film traditions it employs in the show.

The resulting video is both entertaining and thoughtful to watch, as she uses the video to comment on Supernatural’s visual and historical ties to the Western, horror and film noir genres.


Searching on YouTube with a TV show or movie as the keyword is a quick way to discover many, many fanvids. One simpler way to do it, however, would be to use ‘vid rec’ communities such as this one, which is specific to Supernatural, or this one, which has multiple fandoms represented.

I would also recommend Deirdre-C’s fanvids. She ranges from funny to serious and is very good about matching clips to appropriate audio. She also has an ongoing list of recommendations which are helpful for me. I’ve found that often the best people to recommend fanvids are those who make videos themselves; they’re attuned to the visual cues which make a video great that I might only be subliminally aware of.

{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 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.

et cetera