Fanfiction, or "fic," is fiction created by fans of books, movies and TV shows, in which plots and characters are re-imagined and rewritten. Once perceived as the preoccupation of nerdy fans with too much time on their hands, now, as fic and fan culture enter the mainstream, it's sparking scholarly interest. Anne Jamison, University of Utah professor of English, was introduced to fanfiction through Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What started as a teaching interest grew into an academic fascination as she observed the creativity and analytical skills of fans in their discussions. Jamison's book, Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, provides an overview of the fan authorship.
What sets fanfiction apart from other literary genres?
In some ways, fanfiction is very traditional. Before copyright and intellectual property changed how we think of authorship, stories were told about a common cast of characters and legends, simply as a matter of course. Today, the online, networked and community nature of fanfiction seems very different from the single-authored text produced in a single volume. It doesn't claim to be autonomous; it usually assumes knowledge of its source, so it can start anywhere.
People have been rewriting and retelling stories for a long time, yet fanfiction has acquired a unique notoriety that other genres lack. Why is that?
It's confusing to people that fanfiction is written down. If this were an oral tradition, it wouldn't seem as transgressive. Copyright makes these stories of dubious legality, which delegitimizes them for many. And, of course, most fanfic writers are teenage girls, women, queers—often writing about sex—that's easy math.
Does fanfiction's online presence help make it more, or less, legitimate?
While its online presence might, at first, have made [fanfiction] seem more marginal, online life is becoming more mainstream. But the single factor most responsible for mainstream interest in fanfic is Fifty Shades of Grey, which was first posted as a Twilight fanfic. E. L. James changed the names of the characters from Edward and Bella to Christian and Ana, and boom! publishing changed.
Why study fanfiction?
It's crucial for people who study literature to pay attention to this way in which writing is now being produced and disseminated. It's crucial for us as literature professors, because so many of our students will have read and written this way, [and have] learned to critique and engage this way—even if they sometimes won't admit it. It has had and will have an effect on published books, but it is also where we first see how digital, networked texts are changing reading and writing habits and expectations—as well as the texts themselves.
What is one of the strangest or unusual fanfiction tropes you've run across?
The strangest trope I enjoy is characters re-imagined as cute animals. Dr. John Watson as a cat, or Sherlock Holmes as a parrot, that kind of thing.