Fan fiction communities can help explore the complex relationships between authors and readers, offering us new opportunities to study how this reciprocal engagement affects serially published fiction.
Since 1998, well over 6 million stories have been uploaded to FanFiction.net, the largest fanfiction archive on the internet. This archive offers a unique source of data on prose writing as styles and genres that developed over centuries in published words take place here within decades, years or even week. The goal of this project is to study the development and progression of genre as we mine two decades of fanfiction in order to track both authorial and readerly influence, the development of generic innovation, and the genesis and evolution of specific archetypes and stylistic conventions.
Engaged in an interactive community, invested readers become what Frank Kelleter calls “agents of narrative continuation.” The challenge for contemporary researchers is to reconstruct those communities in the absence of concrete material evidence. Given their high publishing volume, as well as the opportunities for commenting, liking and following that the digital platform affords, quantitative approaches to the study of fan fiction can identify individual reader/author engagement and track broad trends across the archive.
Our project uses the Harry Potter fan fiction archive to ask two related questions. First, what aspects of reader engagement can predict success for a text? And, in the context of specific stories, how are authors influenced by reader suggestions for content inclusion?
The multilingual sub-project of the fan fiction project engages with fan fiction as a global phenomenon. While fanfic may be responding to the same “prompt” of a shared international franchise, the experience of engaging with fanfic can vary depending on which archive a reader uses. Different archives have different subcultures, norms, and technical affordances that influence the ways in which a reader can find and respond to texts — in addition to the ways that these communities are shaped by linguistic and cultural norms. This sub-project compares three facets of metadata across an English, Italian, and Russian fanfic archive: the conceptualization of “genre”, the material that necessitates a “warning”, and how characters are romantically paired (frequency of pairings, conveyance of agency in the relationship, and “slash-fic” or same-sex pairings), exploring the ways that these responses to Harry Potter are informed by language and culture.
Fan Fiction is a project of the Literary Lab.