Fandom Then/Now presents research conducted in 2008 and uses to facilitate fan conversations about fan fiction’s past and future. In my last round of posts I was focusing on things I noticed as I read different works of fan fiction and commercial romance. So far, I’ve touched on narrative arcs and world building and character relationship development (p1, p2). The last story elements I noticed were trends regarding seriality and narrative instability (p1).
Here are some of the differences I’ve been noticing in ways that commercial romance and fan fiction “do” seriality. What do you think?
Three: Seriality & Instability (p2)
Although the serial is seeing a rise in popularity in commercial romance today, this trend wasn’t as visible to me when I was reading popular commercial romances in 2008. At that time, the commercial romance stories I read seemed to focus more on creating a series of linked stories set in one story world. For example, at the time J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series was very popular. In this series, the stories focus on one couple at a time, one book at a time. This series more than serial approach seems to convey a stronger sense of stability and permanence to the relationship each book focuses on. Even if the characters appear again in a later story, their reappearance often takes the form of an update, rather than an entire revisiting of the relationship. The more serial works of fan fiction I read provided a significant contrast to this approach. Many of these stories returned again and again to the same set of protagonists, constantly building and rebuilding their relationship based on what challenges the source-text might throw at fan authors.
What’s your take on the different types of serial storytelling we see in commercial romance and fan fiction?
Fandom Then/Now presents research conducted in 2008 and uses to facilitate fan conversations about fan fiction’s past and future. In my last round of posts I was focusing on things I noticed in 2008 as I read different works of fan fiction and commercial romance. So far, I’ve touched on narrative arcs and world building and character relationship development (p1, p2). The last story elements I noticed were trends regarding seriality and narrative instability.
Here are a few core tendencies I noticed as I read:
Three: Seriality & Instability (p1)
In 2008, I noticed a heightened feeling of seriality in the popular works of fan fiction I read, particularly when compared to the popular romance novels I was comparing them to. Many of the works of fan fiction I read had sequels or were part of a larger series. Reading these stories, it felt as if the characters were part-way through a larger journey. This felt different from many of the commercial romances I was reading, which often stood alone and had a clear sense of closure at the end. This may be influenced by the medium itself. As I’ve already discussed, an individual work of fan fiction feeds off of a larger story-world that keeps changing. From season to season, a television show will introduce new plot developments or characters to challenge it’s protagonists. These changes continually introduce new obstacles for a fan writer to deal with. This environment may facilitate a greater sense of seriality within fan fiction.
However, as a reader I didn’t only experience this feeling of seriality when I read fan fiction from fandoms where the source-text was still being produced. Irregardless of the fandom, many of the fan fiction authors I was introduced to were working on extensive follow-ups to their initial stories. A work of fan fiction contributes to much a larger body of fan work, a network of stories being continually produced by fans. An individual story joins both this broader network of stories, as well as potentially being affected by a source-text that may still be developing its own version of the story. These larger networks of stories work together to reinforce the sense of a continually changing story-world, one always filled with the potential for new conflicts. Essentially, even if one individual work of fan fiction ends with a happy couple, there is always a layer of instability within a fandom’s larger story world. This deeply affects the sense of finality fan fiction readers may get from an individual story’s happy ending. It may also drive fan authors to keep revisiting characters and working to restore them to a moment of stability and happiness.
What do you think about this idea that fan fiction often tends to feel more serial? Do you notice anything like this when you read commercial or fan romances today? Does fan fiction feel any more serial to you today than it did in past years?
As transformative work, fan writing always, in a sense, begins in the middle of a relationship, a conflict, or a world. Even in fan fiction where the story depicts characters meeting for the first time, those characters have a pre-existing relationship in the source-text and in the minds of readers.
Within commercial romance, a similar process occurs. In commercial romance, genre archetypes also serve as pre-existing types of characters and worlds for an individual story to build on. As with all literary genres, each romantic hero or heroine’s story leans a little on the ones that came before it. Like fan fiction, commercial romance sub-genres are also organized around common story-worlds and motifs (the regency, the paranormal, the contemporary western, etc.). Both commercial and fan authors rework these archetypes and storytelling traditions, contributing their own ideas about romantic conflict and their individual voices into these larger connected pools of stories. In this way, both styles of writing engage in the practice of remixing and transforming pre-existing work.
What do you think? Do you buy the idea that the production process for commercial romance has such similar properties to the production of fan fiction/transformative work? Comment at Fandom Then/Now.
Fandom Then/Now presents research conducted in 2008 and uses to facilitate fan conversations about fan fiction’s past and future. In my past few posts I’ve asked what similarities/differences you see between commercial romance and fan fiction. Now, I’m going to start talking through the things that I noticed in 2008 as I read different works of fan fiction and commercial romance.
[With] fan and commercial romance authors producing so many stories each month, it is not possible to definitively map out either writing space. Instead, I decided to think about these things as tendencies within each zone of production, rather than story elements that “define” either commercial romance or fan fiction… These patterns help us better understand the role that production environment can play in the construction of erotic and romantic stories, as well as how production environments organize different communities of readers.
Here are a few core tendencies I noticed as I read:
Two: Character & Relationship Development
In [fan fiction’s] approach to character and relationship development, attraction often emerges out of an existing partnership rather than hitting like a bolt of lightning at the first meeting. This, in turn, opens up the possibility of shifting some of the emotional intensity of the story from one aspect of the narrative (the meeting) onto other kinds of interactions. Preexisting characters and story-worlds may also impact the ways that romantic or sexual tension is established. By shifting away from that charged first meeting and with the characters already acquainted, the author potentially needs to spend less time introducing the characters to each other and rapidly escalating their relationship.
I hesitate to go so far as to call one approach more realistic than the other. It’s hard to think of Hogwarts, Atlantis or Mordor as particularly realistic settings. However, this shift away from a charged meeting may lend itself to different narrative foundations for relationships. It may also allow authors to experiment with different and potentially more mundane relationship conflicts. (For example, ‘You didn’t pay the electric bill!’ versus ‘You were kidnapped by werewolves!’.) This leads me to suspect that both the preexisting relationships/storyworlds fan fiction is typically built on and the prevalence of stand-alone stories within commercial romances are facilitating some of the variations between these two storytelling forms.
What do you think? Do you notice relationship-focused fan fiction using different types of narrative conflict or developing tension differently than a classic romance novel might?