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 plainlyjanie.tumblr.com (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. Plainlyjanie.tumblr.com. 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.