Sometimes a book you love goes in a direction that you do not like. The girl ends up with the wrong guy. The ending is lame. The gay character is the sidekick who never gets a date. You may still love the book, but it would have been so much better if … Still, what’s written is written and there’s nothing you can do to change it.
Or is there?
At YALSA’s Young Adult Literature Symposium, a panel of experts spoke on the various aspects of fanfiction. For a newbie like me, there’s a lot to learn. But more importantly, there is a lot to get excited about, realizing all the venues for creativity that are flourishing throughout the online community. For a look at the action, check out fanfiction.net, one of the larger sites connecting hundreds of fandoms.
The concept of “fandom” is nothing new. Basically, it refers to a community of people that are … well, fanatical about their shared interest. The objects of this interest can be just about anything, such as sports, music, cats, and fictional characters born from a variety of mediums. A fandom develops around an original piece of work called the canon, the source piece for all subsequent permutations. The Internet has made it possible for large groups of individuals throughout the world to share writing, artwork, or performances that have sprung from the same canon. In the presentation fandom was described as speculative, focused on relationships, creative, all about characters, and escapist fun.
Fandom communities are especially appealing to teens who are still playing with their own issues of identity. Through fanfiction, writers grow empowered to face all kinds of internal issues. Sexuality, something that can be difficult to express in the real world, is safely explored with familiar characters as hosts. Same-sex relationships are not just accepted, but actively embraced. Revenge, rebellion, and a host of destructive feelings can be released in safe settings, such as on the Quidditch field. And in so doing, writers find allies that “get” them, something that might be absent in real life.
Attendees at the YA Lit Sym learned bits of the specialized code used in fandoms. Some of the terms:
- OTP (one true pairing)
- AU (alternate universe)
- Ship (short for relationship)
- PWP (plot — what plot?)
- Gen (no romance)
- Crossovers (Buffy in Deep Space Nine, for example)
- Cosplay (costume play)
- Het/Slash/Femslash (m/f, m/m, f/f romance, respectively)
- RPF (real people fiction)
So how do authors feel about seeing their characters used to tell someone else’s story? Many embrace it and read it themselves. Others feel differently. The legal issues surrounding fan fiction lie in defining these works as either “derivative” or “transformative.” A derivative work does not alter the substance of the original piece. The author’s work is protected by the Copyright Act. Think of someone annotating 50 Shades of Grey and then claiming authorship. That would be wrong. Transformative works are not covered under the Copyright Act. If the work is deemed transformative, fair use guidelines are applied. A transformative work builds on the original, creating something new. Of course, all of this becomes moot once the original work has entered into the public domain.
Which brings us to the seemingly endless variations on novels that have long been part of the public domain. To see examples of this, go no further than the latest Monday Poll. Included in the presentation slides from this program are a number of novels, old and new, that are heavily based on earlier published works. Some of these are below.
According to a survey prepared for this presentation, 97% of teen respondents have read fanfiction, looked at fanart, or watched fanvids. A whopping 87% have written fan fiction, with 79% actively participating in fandom communities. In addition, 55% have created fanart.
Highlighting the presentation were interviews with teen fans.
The panelists for this program demonstrated both expertise in their respective areas and affection for the fandom community. The presentation that they created for this program is up on Slideshare. More information can be found on a companion handout: YA Fandom.
- Robin Brenner, a fangirl from way back, is the creator of the popular No Flying, No Tights, the go-to source for graphic novel reviews. Robin has chaired YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee, served on the Eisner Award Committee, and was nominated for an Eisner Award for her guidebook, Understanding Manga and Anime.
- Liz Burns is author of the School Library Journal blog A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, the place to contemplate and discuss young adult books. Liz is also active in YALSA, recently serving on the Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award committee.
- Leslee Friendman is a lawyer who is currently working with The Organization of Transformative Works, a nonprofit organization that works on a number of projects that works, “to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and fan cultures.”
- Aja Romano is a staff writer for the Daily Dot, where she writes about fandom and fandom culture. A strong advocate for the legitimacy of fandom, Aja can also be found online at her blog, bookshop.
— Diane Colson, currently reading Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara.