How can fanfiction studies enrich student learning in the classroom and within their own reading and writing practices?

  • Fanfiction and Cultural Conversations

    Madelyn Herbert's picture
    by Madelyn Herbert — Mount Mary University view

    Fanfiction, an educator may disregard the value of these works in the classroom, but the choice to incorporate fanfiction in the curriculum isn't rooted in an assessment of the literary techniques or qualifications.  Rather, the use of culturally fuelled literature in the classroom finds roots in the act of encouraging student participation in the larger cultural conversations that are spurred by television, film and literature but all with foundations in the written word.

    The written word may not always be readily seen as a viable medium to enter the conversations that are built upon pop culture. For example: a student may watch a film that is based on a novel but not consider reading the source material.  The missing link in this cycle of literature inspiring visual and more easily consumed works is the lack of understanding that the written word is the source that has spurred the cultural phenomena.  Therefore, the student is limited in participating in the cultural conversation if the source material has not been read.

    As educators, it is possible to use the novels that inspire films and fanfiction as a teachable moment.  For example: consider the cultural movement created by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.  A student who has seen the films, referenced the films and bought products based on the franchise yet has never read the books, will miss the true and full experience.  Thus, the fanfiction that has followed can be used as material to be provided to these students.

    Distributing fanfiction material to readers in this manner has a dual purpose.  The first is that the student is encouraged to read.  If the student enjoyed the novel that spurred the film or television series, the student will be likely to read more and seek more on their own.  The idea is that it teaches the student that reading can be pleasurable.

    The second purpose for using fanfiction in the classroom is that the reluctant reader can make their own connections.  The realization of what material is drawn and generated through the written word is the first step for the student to discover the power that literature has in society.

    As educators, we understand that fanfiction may not always model the best literary techniques.  However, the core of our job is to inspire learning.  For the reluctant reader, fanfiction may open the doors to discovering the power that the written word has in cultural conversations.

  • Learning from the other voice: A self-reflection as a male writing females

    Charles Dunbar's picture
    by Charles Dunbar — view

    I was a teenager when I met Colleen Lightblade. I was sitting in front of my computer with the dilemma faced by so many fanfiction authors: creating a new character when the ship pairing has become non-viable, I needed to create someone new to replace one party in the romance. In this case, she was being inserted into the relationship pairing that was the main focal point of the Star Wars universe I had been steadily expanding upon since 1997, and as such, needed to fill several roles. 


    Unfortunately, all of those roles were trope-heavy, and catered to my romantically inclined teenage mind. As a nerdy boy who had eschewed dating for the glories of fantastic worlds, I had no idea how women acted, nor how to properly write them. All that existed of the fairer sex in my mind were a series of idealisms and personal desires to which my writing catered. So when ideas were finally put to paper, the result was a girl that was part hostage, part surrogate girlfriend, and a complement to the massive Mary Sue that was my in-universe avatar.


    Looking back on it from today, I can completely understand where I was coming from at the time, but I cringe when I re-read those old stories. Prior to Colleen, I had been writing a ship featuring an established character, one with a solid personality and pre-existing traits that were simple to convey into my stories. There were hints of the idealism present, but none so much that it actively transformed the character from canon to fan-wank- I had to treat her as the author had created her, which was simple considering her straightforward nature and “party role” in the Expanded Universe. With Colleen, those templates were gone, and she sprang up from my head fully forced into the illusions of female behavior that I held, and acted according to how I assumed female would act. And as a result, she descended deep into the realms of submissive behavior and silent voice. This is a terrible way to construct or approach a character, but at the time she was new and shiny and acted like I wanted a girlfriend to act. 


    Those stories dried up not long after Colleen joined them, owing to college work and exposure to real people in a real world. But one thing that stuck with me long after was writing female characters. Colleen was only a supporting cast member at best, but in later fiction (both original and fan) I would revisit the female POV over and over, making little strides each time: first the character would lose the submissive behavior, then become more active, or assume a trickster mantle, or delve down into realms of magic and sorcery and become a powerful wizard. Rather than just live and act like a special snowflake, to be protected or admired for “demure traits,” later female protagonists would take command, replace tears with smirks, or face real world conflicts. Each one of them was still a collection of tropes drawn from reading or mass media, but they were forays into a different world that I was gradually becoming aware of. And through my writing, I was able to reconcile those voices in my head with the real people in my life. 


    The act of writing the opposite gender poses its own unique set of challenges: acculturation while growing up sets its own strain on how we are taught to act, and frequently we are oblivious to instances when our experience contradicts those expectations, or enforces them without our realizing it. As I did with Colleen, a writer often creates the character the want to know in real life, or builds that character around an unrealistic expectation, which ultimately forces the creator to confront their own misconceptions, and hopefully evolve their craft to expunge them. When the writer acknowledges the stereotypes and makes the conscious decision to explore/reject them, it can open up whole new worlds for both author and reader, and lead to both awareness and growth, which in turn impacts later creative endeavors. One major impact to writing female characters was that it allowed me to explore the female voice in my own head, and it challenged me to not reduce her to a bundle of assumptions, but rather provide an outlet for telling her own stories. I wrote what I did not intimately know, in hopes that maybe I could begin to know it. 


    In 2013, I had found the old notebook in which all those stories Colleen had been written into were hastily stuffed, and after reading them over, decided I had done a grave disservice to the character. Yes she was a fan-fiction creation, but she was also part of my writer’s experience, and as such I felt she deserved something more than the role of hostage-girlfriend. Coming off a successful 2012, where I had written the single longest piece of fiction I’d ever done, centered around two sisters seeking to find their place in a chaotic world of politics and warfare, it felt right to take what I had discovered about myself and the craft of writing, and retcon my first creative endeavor. So I picked up a pen and began to write. But before I did, I decided to make one little change: rather than approach Colleen as the main character’s girlfriend…I made her the main character.

  • Playing with Scholarship: Using Fanfiction for Research Writing and Understanding

    Susan Roberts's picture
    by Susan Roberts — Washington State University view

    My research in fanfiction involves a love of literature and creative writing. I’ve been reading fanfiction for eight years in multiple fandoms—Hunger Games, Dragon Age, Fairy Tail, Haikyuu, and Shugo Chara. I’ve only been writing fanfiction for the last four years (Fairy Tail and Shugo Chara). It wasn’t long before I had harsh criticism on my works. Multiple users claiming I didn’t know the text and that the characters didn’t act like themselves. Criticism was harsher in Young Adult novels (such as Hunger Games) than it was in the manga/anime fandoms. When I entered college, I found that I would get the same type of criticism from my professors and fellow students. They might have been about different texts but the language was similar. Through this I questioned what was the difference between what I did for fun (fanfiction) and what was required of me as a college student.

    As stated by Katherine Howell earlier, fanfiction can be used to develop skills in research writing. In order to write a fanfiction, the writer has to be well read in the fandom/text. Just like a research has to be aware of the major scholars of a particular topic. The fanfiction writer also has to be careful of copyright laws by stating that none of characters were created by them and state that they are not profiting off any of it. A research writer has a works cited page and in-text citation to do the same thing. Fanfiction writers must be aware of possible biases of the readers (warnings, labels of ships, etc.). They need to know how to move the audience to feel with the characters and to believe the story (ethos and pathos). In other words the fanfiction writer has to be aware of audience, just like any other writer. Since the preferred publishing method is online, it also allows for instant feedback and criticism from the fandom. This community of writers grow through different interpretations of a text. Not so different than academics in the university.

    Rhetoric and Composition would benefit by using fanfiction as a medium between research writing and creative writing. My students in my English 101 class are asked to enter an academic conversation. I have them write two different papers. One paper called Defining the Conversation asks them to write on a topic of their choice and report back on the top researchers and experts in the field. Then they write a paper called Entering the Conversation, where they state their opinion based on the research that came before them. Both papers work together as one large research project. Fanfiction works the same way. A fanfiction writer must have a text or texts to start. They have to be able to define what makes each character separate from the others. They analyze the character’s traits and features, while placing them in different situations and contexts. If they create a crossover (mixing two different texts in one fanfiction) then they are synthesizing.

    To expand on this, I would suggest the idea of scholarship fanfiction. This idea came after talking with Jacqueline Rhodes, a scholar in queer theory. I brought up the topic of fanfiction and eventually we came to the notion of scholar fanfiction. Fanfiction based on how some well-known scholars might interact with theory outside their discipline. A simple example would be a student tried to write Karl Marx in the context of media literacy. How would Marx write about such a topic? Would there been be changes if he was published today? What would he have written about? In scholar fanfiction, the writer (student) wouldn't use marxist theory to analyze media but write as if they are Karl Marx. Of course this would only create an imitation but it forces the student to have a deeper understanding of the material than jsut how to apply it. 

    When it comes to the Western literature canon (or any canon), fanfiction helps1 students to enter the conversation that had started long before the students were born. Allowing the students to create fanfictions in the framework of a literature class (or rhetoric and composition class) gives a space for expanding the original canon and a different perspective. It also allows for discussion between appropriation, adaptation, and fanfiction. Tumblr user copperbadge, who writes fanfiction and novels, states that “Appropriation is about taking without knowing; Adaptation is about knowing and changing; Fanfiction is about knowing, changing, and expanding” (copperbadge). Fanfiction requires the students to know the work, make changes based on what they want added, and thus expanding the world of the canon.


    Works Cited

    Copperbadge. “Appropriation, Adaptation, and Fanficiton”. The Sundry Times. Tumblr. 2013. 13 April 2015.

  • Fanfiction and Creative Writing in the Classroom

    Scott McDonald's picture
    by Scott McDonald — California State University, Stanislaus view

    Getting students of any age and educational level to read can be difficult. Even when students are allowed a hand in their reading assignments, unless that reading is done in class or carefully encouraged, it seems to more often be the case that students do not read, or if they do, it is done grudgingly. To problematize this further, even getting students to write about what they read can seem like a Herculean task.

    What I propose is a fanfiction project done in class with low-stakes/high-interest texts. These can be books assigned by the curriculum, but I suspect that it works best when done with books, graphic novels, video games, movies, etc. with which the students engage outside of the classroom. I think an instructor would be surprised at the levels of knowledge the students have regarding the material with which they spend their free time. This assignment would be very open and an instructor would be encouraged to allow whatever the student suggests provided that it is limited to appropriate material for their age, maturity, and perhaps it may be best to try and avoid controversial materials.

    The level of sophistication would be dependent on the student. For example a second grader may write about a scene she makes up for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, while a seventh grader can write one page about the thoughts going through the mind of his Call of Duty character as he begins a match, and incoming Freshman at a university can turn in an alternate ending to Divergent running at 6-800 words.

    The theory behind this assignment is not necessarily meant to get students to engage in deep and extended critical thought, though this could certainly happen. Instead, it is an opportunity for these students to engage in an extended discourse with the text and the world that it represents. Are their character’s choices somehow consistent with the motivations of the characters from the source material?  Are their character’s dialogues similar to the dialogue created by the author? This has an opportunity to move beyond wish fulfillment, which tends to be the sad fate of much of fanficiton, to a point that allows the writer to interact with the text and accept limitations while pushing the boundaries of material with which they have already, or do engage.

    Along those same lines, this is an opportunity to share interests with fellow classmates. While three different students may write about Harry Potter, they will likely come up with different materials. This assignment would allow and encourage students to justify their writing choices in a way that lends validity to their borrowed subjects while giving them practice with defending ideas as well as conceding points and accepting other points of view.

    As the instructor works with the students during this assignment, the instructor has the opportunity to ask the student questions about their source material and draw the student into having a stake in the assignment. That’s much of what this assignment is about; getting students to involve themselves in a text and place a stake in those characters and that world.

  • Fandom in the classroom: Fanfic as/is pedagogy

    by Amy Lea Clemons — Francis Marion University view

    (co-written with Katherine Tanski)

    This survey has demonstrably presented the benefits of “using” fanfiction in the classroom, but what is often missing from these discussions is the idea of fandom itself as a classroom; while Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse’s Fan Fiction Studies Reader includes “pedagogy” as a sub-field, their collection is lacking scholarship in that area. In an age when collaborative and digital writing are becoming increasingly prominent, it is time we as writing instructors look at how fandom writing practices relate to those we want employed by our students.

    For this discussion we’ve chosen to focus on betaing. The entry for “beta” on the Fanlore Wiki credits the coinage of the term to tech communities, “in which an unfinished version of the software (the beta version) is released to a limited audience outside of the programming team."  At first glance, this description seems to simply be another version of peer review. However, the ways in which the process is discussed by fanfic writers indicates that good betaing differs in attitude from the traditional editing process in several distinct ways.

    First, betaing involves transparency about collaboration. Betas are usually thanked and acknowledged in the accompanying author’s notes, revealing how betaing creates a dialogue between partners who are equally invested in the fic’s outcome, emphasizing the collaborative nature of writing. For example, one author writes:

    "This story would never have been posted if it weren't for Karin the fearless and mighty Beta Queen. Thanks bunches and great big hugs for your patience, encouragement, and kind but honest advice. [….]." (as posted on the page, citation #13 ).

    (For an extended view into a beta-author relationship, we recommend Speranza’s DVD commentary for her fanfic “Kowalski is Bleeding").

    Second: because it’s embedded in these collaborative relationships, betaing also offers a different approach to the review itself, recommending a more holistic, social view than what we often (necessarily) assign in class. Fic (and pro) writer Astolat, for example, has written advice on the process:

    Don't look so much for "mistakes" (eg typos, plot holes, canon errors, wandering POV, unrealistic physical actions, passive voice, show-not-tell, etc). Instead, look for things that are not yet GREAT [….] Try and come up with concrete suggestions to fix them, and reasons for those suggestions, but if you can't, at least point them out to the author, and try and figure it out with her.

    Third: in addition to the benefits of betaing for the writer, betaing can provide valuable insight for the beta as well. In analyzing the strengths and struggles of a peer’s work in a supportive capacity, they may become aware of their own strengths and struggles, and feel less self-conscious about admitting them within an atmosphere that encourages self-improvement. After all, how often is it said that to really learn something, you must teach it?

    By viewing fanfiction writing communities as being not entirely dissimilar from our own classrooms, writing instructors may gain insight into our own pedagogical practices. Other fannish composition practices, such as author notes and concrit, may be equally instructive for us, and we’re aware that we’re probably missing a whole host of other possibilities. We invite you to share your own experiences and observations about fandom as writing classroom.

  • Fan Writing, Remix, and Research: Engaging Students With Genre, Context, and Transformation

    Katherine Anderson Howell's picture
    by Katherine Anderso... — George Washington University 7 Comments view

    Fanfiction, in one view, can be seen as finding solutions to problems or questions raised by the canonical text. In my first year writing classroom, I encourage my students to write adaptations (or remixes, as Stedman discusses) of Jane Eyre and base these remixes in a “what if” question, to address a problem or imagining wild possibilities for the characters.  Rather than asking them to become a “fan” of the text, I ask them to use fan practice as a model for research Jane Eyre. Contrary to what students imagine for creative work, fanfiction requires research in three major areas: genre, context, and ethics. Students, like fan writers, must first understand the demands of their genre and their audience. They must have enough contextual information from and beyond the origin text to create a believable world, and they must understand the boundaries of adaptation, pastiche, homage, and plagiarism.

    Students can be confused about what purpose genre serves in writing. Even if they understand that all writing happens in genre (research paper, Tweets, slash), they generalize about what the expectations of a particular genre may be. We explore academic genres and audiences together as a class using Jenkins, McGee, and other scholars of fandom and adaptation. However, when asked to explore fan works on their own, they begin to see more clearly how all forms of writing participate in genre. I suggest starting their research into genre in three ways: reading genre-based works and observing the common factors; looking into genre-based style guides or organizations; or reading fan works and paying careful attention to the labeling (AU, slash, crossover etc…) and structure of these works.  

    In terms of context, or background, students initially expect that they only need an understanding of the origin text and that their reader will have the same understanding. However, in order to answer their “wild” what if questions, they must write like fans, and see beyond the text, either by delving into the history of or by exploding the canon. Fan writing gives them a way to push themselves to develop an in-depth understanding of how contextual information helps writing.  For example, student Jacki wanted to modernize and identify with Jane created a (shared with permission; if prompted, password is bronte); in order to do this, she explored how tumblr works; examined how young girls used social media; and chose appropriate language and images through a mix of research modes.  

    Even as they find fan writing legitimate, students can have black and white concepts of academic plagiarism. I provide them with some specific academic essays and journals (Rich, Zabus, Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, and Transformative Works and Culture) to start their exploration of what they can do to plots and characters. They begin to put it together when they explore concepts of “transformation” in past students' adaptations. They participate, often more than fan scholars, in focused concepts about what actually constitutes transformation and where the lines of ethical remix may be; by developing ideas of what one “can do” to an origin story, they begin to see their own use of sources as transformative, and begin to understand the roles that gender, race, sexuality and class may play in remix and research.

    When they see their research in transformative ways, students understand research as neither a fill-in-the-blanks exercise in finding quotes, nor a slog through the inaccessible language of academic journals. Instead, research becomes a conversation, one taking place beyond academia, beyond the library, and beyond assigned readings. They come to appreciate the multiple modes of research required to write in different voices.   



    Jenkins, Henry. "Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching." Critical Studies in Mass Communication. 5.2 (June 1988): 85-107. Communication and Mass Media Complete. Web. 22 August 2014

    McGee, Jennifer. "'In The End Its All Made Up:' The Ethics of Fan Fiction and Real Person Fiction." Communication Ethics, Media, and Popular Culture. Ed. Phyllis M. Japp, Mark Meister, and Debra K. Japp. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. 161-180. Print.

    Putnam, Jacklyn. Plainly Janie. April 2014. Web. 13 April 2015

    Rich, Adrienne. "When We Dead Awaken" On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978. New York: Norton, 1979. 33-49. Print.

    Stedman, Kyle D. "Remix Literacy and Fan Compositions." Computers and Composition. 29(2012): 107-123. SciVerse Science Direct. Web. 9 June 2013

    Zabus, Chantal. "Subversive Scribes: Rewriting in the Twentieth Century." Anglistica 5.1-2 (2001): 191-207. PDF File. 

  • Helping Fan Studies Scholars to Enter the Burkean Parlour

    Jamie Henthorn's picture
    by Jamie Henthorn — Catawba College view

    As I read through the wonderful responses to the question of fanfiction and pedagogy, I confess that I am thinking about helping fan studies graduate students. As Kimberly Workman notes in her submission, fan studies does a great deal to teach students about narrative development. This is an activity that can be just as rewarding for graduate students as it can be for undergrads. However, graduate students who begin to focus particularly on fanfiction as an avenue of study may find it challenging to connect with mentors who specialize in the field at their own institutions because these networks are still developing.

    So, where do we send the graduate student who wants to engage in fanfiction research? There are several conferences that have developed rich conversations around Fan Studies. The Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) has an active Fan Studies community and they are potentially the most active Twitter users at the conference. Fan Studies scholars are working on establishing a Special Interest Group (SIG) at SCMS, which helps to legitimize and make visible the field. PCA/ACA and its regional conferences also provide rich communities for academic conversations around fan fiction.

    Another great resource, that might not be readily apparent, is the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop (FSDW). FSDW is a weeklong writing workshop that takes place asynchronously and entirely online. Individuals are put into workshop groups with four other scholars who are addressing related topics. Writing can be conference papers, journal articles, dissertation chapters, or even webtexts. FSDW welcomes professors, graduate students, and working professionals. What FSDW, and events like it, offer that conferences do not is time. Instead of receiving a few questions immediately after a panel presentation, three other scholars spend a week on one’s work, helping the writer to develop stronger arguments.

    In my experience, FSDW’s emphasis on Gender Studies meant that while not every member of my group was a Fan Studies scholar, my workshop colleagues were adept at honing in on the issues of race, gender, and sexuality in my own writing that Evelyn Deshane and Rukmini Pande address in their contributions to this survey. In the months since FSDW, it has been rewarding to see how the pieces our group workshopped became journal articles and dissertation chapters.

    Pushing Fan Studies scholars to consider their work is in academic conversation with other scholars in and out of the field is integral to helping budding academics position themselves within the Burkean Parlor. Building on active and aligned networks is one way to help grad students get the feedback they need. FSDW is currently open for registration. You can find out more about the project here.

  • Race and the classroom: Resistant fan practices

    Rukmini Pande's picture
    by Rukmini Pande — University of Western Australia view


    Fanworks are increasingly integrated in pedagogical practices, especially in the disciplines of English and Cultural Studies, and more broadly, in the Humanities. These engagements are usually textual in nature, as reflected in the survey question itself. But fanworks cannot be divorced from the communities that produce them. Fan scholars from Jenkins (1992) to Hellekson and Busse (2006) have stressed upon the self-reflexive nature of media fandom communities, which has spurred the production of subversive fanworks that reframe dominant societal norms.

    These analyses have so far primarily revolved around the practice of slash fanfiction, but I would like to talk about how the interventions of non-white fans to combat the lack of diversity both in source texts as well as mainstream fandom practices can offer strategies to teachers who wish to tackle the difficult topic of race in the classroom.

    It is no secret that to talk about race and racism in any context is to enter extremely dubious territory. In classrooms where white students form a majority, studies (Martin 2010, Haltinner 2013)  have repeatedly shown that conversations about race are framed in either antagonistic terms or met with uncomfortable silence. While in most cases it is important for us as educators to create safe spaces in which to explore “dangerous” topics, what happens when it is necessary to introduce discomfort into the equation? How can students be encouraged to confront their own privilege in a way that engages them? I found my inspiration in the fannish practices of racebending and re-casting.

    The long established practice of “live-casting” a canon text with one’s favourite actors (once found in book fandoms but now common to most media texts) has gained new currency with tumblr as a fannish platform driven by visual material. Fans re-imagine a source text in all sorts of ways, often genderbending characters to forcibly include more women in a given narrative. Racebending occurs when fans attempt to counter the dominance of white characters.

    My tutorial on Race and Popular Culture deployed a number of strategies. I asked my students to read Peggy McIntosh’s marvelous essay, “The Invisible Backpack”, to frame the discussion in notions of privilege. I played a short video where Nelson George discusses the problem with movies like The Help, which are ostensibly about racism, but buffer the audience from discomfort by setting the narratives in the distant (and safe) past. The last exercise I did (taking inspiration from a live re-casting  of The Lion King I saw on tumblr) was to ask my students to come up with names of actors they would cast if making a live action version of the film.

    The tutorial went quite smoothly, almost too smoothly, as students nodded along to the points made in the essay and also expressed disapproval at Hollywood’s racist strategies in filmmaking. I could see, however, that the problem of race in popular culture was still on the “outside,” practiced by “other people.” It was when we got to the casting exercise that things suddenly got a whole lot more engaged. As I asked for casting suggestions and wrote them down, it became increasingly obvious that majority of the names suggested were of white actors. When I asked why there were so many white actors in a story very clearly set somewhere in Africa, suddenly the reality of racist casting practices went from something done by “people in Hollywood” to something enacted by the students themselves. The rest of the class, while not smooth at all, produced an extremely engaged debate as students had to confront their own biases.

    Did everyone walk out of that class feeling comfortable? I would say no. But I think that discomfort was productive. Fan communities often get “disturbed” when fans of colour start to point out the biases in a beloved text or indeed, in fannish practices themselves. It is from this disturbance and discomfort that I believe new forms of engagement can form, both within fandom and in the classroom.



    Busse, Kristina and Karen Hellekson, ed. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of The Internet. NY: McFarland, 2006. 

    Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fan and Participatory Culture. NY: Routledge, 1992.


  • Fanfiction As A Training Ground: Critical Evaluation And Creative Expression

    Kimberly Workman's picture
    by Kimberly Workman — University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill view

    Fanfiction has proven a training ground for many authors who have gone on to publish professionally. Having the available audience in the fandom community gives writers a chance to develop their skills and garner feedback on ways they can improve their craft. And just as fandom proves a good training ground for these participants, utilizing this type of writing in a classroom environment can afford beginning writers the same opportunities. They can learn how to critically examine creator works, as well as how to develop their own writing within a structured environment of ready-made characters and universes.

    Writers of fanfiction take the canon that they are given and use it as inspiration for creation. What did the character mean when he said this? What might the characters be doing between points in which we see them? What events made them who they are? The same touchstones can create dynamically varied works between writers, as inspiration and interpretation affect us all differently. This can prove to be a great teaching moment for students. They could be afforded the opportunity to examine how interpretative practices can vary between readers (viewers) and how author intent (canon) is often a jumping off point for the consumption of these works.

    Once the skills of critical evaluation are learned, students could produce their own creative works with the same canon touchstone as their prompt. Unlike original writing, which requires the author to come up with characters, setting, and descriptions within which readers can immerse themselves, fanfiction allows for short-cuts by way of collectively understood elements. Readers know what the characters look like, what their background is, where the canon is set, so re-exploration of these areas are not necessary. However, the same elements that are used as short-cuts to writing are also structures that must be maintained in canon-compliant fanfiction writing. Writers cannot change a character's personality, background, or looks simply because it would not work in a story. They must abide by the canon set forth for them and tell a story within it. This is a great teaching tool for those who need to learn the basic elements of storytelling, and how continuity is important for maintaining an overall plot.

    After the acquisition of these skills, and the writer feels strong enough to create works on their own, they might expand out into non-canon-compliant fanfiction (alternative universes, pre-series, post-series) or even into original writing where they hold the control over how the character looks, speaks, acts, and where they came from. Fanfiction may be borrowing someone else's characters for the purpose of storytelling, but it also teaches the skills of writing that transcends the fandom community. With fanfiction as a jumping off point, there is no limit to where the author may go.

    Further Reading

    Black, R. W.(2005). Access and Affiliation: The Literacy and Composition Practices of English-Language Learners in an Online Fanfiction Community. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(2), 118-128.

    Kell, T. (2009). Using Fan Fiction to Teach Critical Reading and Writing Skills. Teacher Librarian, 37(1), 32.

    Mackey, M., & McClay, J. (2008). Pirates and Poachers: Fan Fiction and the Conventions of Reading and Writing. English In Education, 42(2), 131-147.

    Thomas, A. (2006). Fan Fiction Online: Engagement, Critical Response and Affective Play Through Writing. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 29(3), 226-239.

  • Rewriting Diversity in The Classroom Syllabus Through Fanfiction

    Evelyn Deshane's picture
    by Evelyn Deshane — Waterloo University 1 Comment view

    Patricia Bizzell and Mary Louise Pratt have spoken for years about re-conceptualizing what an English syllabus could look like. Most of their criticism comes from the fact that our curriculum itself is very narrow; we draw what we call “great literature” from specific sources that are often steeped in white, cisgender, and straight identities. When it comes to teaching a standard syllabus, there are lots of ideological choices and structures that get rehashed, and remain unquestioned by admin and instructors. I purpose that instead of placing the onus on re-conceptualizing the syllabus solely on the instructor, by utilizing fanfiction as a pedagogical practice, the students can attain the agency to rework and restructure a given text to something that benefits their learning.

    Henry Jenkins has described fan practices as oscillating between fascination and frustration. By framing engagement this way, Jenkins allows for both the celebration and critique of a source text to become part of its reconstruction. If instructors can encourage the same fascination and frustration with the texts on the course syllabus, then the students can begin to participate in actively rethinking and re-envisioning these texts.

    So what could fanfiction as a classroom practice look like? Let's take the novel The Great Gatsby as our source text. Some students may have a hard time engaging with a text they can't relate to or one which contains language they find out of reach. If students rewrite scenes—or conceive of completely new scenes altogether—about The Great Gatsby in the context of a Modern Fannish Alternative Universe, they may begin to connect with the class issues the novel presents on another level. Moreover, if we're concerned about texts on the syllabus not having enough diversity, we should turn over the power to recast the narratives to the students' writing where they’re allowed to envision different looking characters who directly confront the racism, sexism, or classism in the book.

    Engaging with fanfiction—moreover, taking it seriously as an act of learning and creativity—is especially important for LGBT students. The way in which many queer students come into contact with the LGBT narrative is through the confessional story (such as the coming out narrative or the critical branch of identity politics).  Many students who are still working out their identity may not want to participate in a genre that asks them to proclaim an identity that is still forming. What fanfiction as a practice does is allow for students to engage with their own questions of identity but recast them in a fictional world. By engaging and critically assessing what they produce, not only does a student have the chance to understand a source text better, but by ‘shipping’ Jay and Nick, or Jordan and Daisy, an LGBT student may feel welcomed in a classroom and recognized in a way they may not be within a standard syllabus.

    According to Kristina Busse, fandom creates an "ambiguous space" online where fans can be both creator and participant in a source text; this liminal space also allows for an exploration of identity (208). Some people don't spend long exploring their identity, but others spend years online finding out what they like and who they are. By taking this "ambiguous space" from the online world and bringing it into classroom settings through the use of fanfiction as a teaching tool, it is my hope that other marginalized students will be given a chance to explore and express themselves in a safe learning environment. 




    Busse, Kristina. “My Life Is A WIP on my LJ: Slashing The Slasher and the Reality of Celebrity and Internet Performances.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of The Internet. Ed. Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson. NY: McFarland, 2006.


    Jenkins, Henry.  Textual Poachers: Television Fan and Participatory Culture. NY: Routledge, 1992.



Kimberly Workman's picture

Fandom As An LGBT Safe Space

I would also offer than fandom as a community (in my experience) is very welcoming of LGBT issues and exploration of identity, so the ability to utilize that safe space as a means of exploration outside the classroom structure is also valuable.