Playing with Scholarship: Using Fanfiction for Research Writing and Understanding

My research in fanfiction involves a love of literature and creative writing. I’ve been reading fanfiction for eight years in multiple fandomsHunger 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.

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