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Every once in a while here at the Winchester Family Business we like to publish academic works, especially when the subject is a deeply analytical essay on Supernatural.  These pieces present theoretical elements that we don’t usually include in our typical articles.  Today we present a paper on “Fan Fiction” by guest writer Obianuju Enworom.  She has some really interesting ideas as to why fans pursue fan fiction and why Supernatural is ripe for this kind of activity.  It is our honor to share her essay with you.



- Alice

Why Write Fanfiction - A Response to Supernatural's 200th Episode

By Obianuju Enworom

Supernatural’s 200th episode, “Fanfiction,” got me thinking. Why do fans write fanfiction? It would be easy to dismiss the issue by saying that fans disgruntled with canon write fanfiction as a way to correct the show to a version of their liking. But, it’s not that simple. Fanfiction is not an act of subversion. There are deeper reasons for why fans are compelled to write fanfiction.  When the original canon offers such entertainment and meaning, what intellectual value does producing fanfiction afford?

Before we address the why, let’s discuss the how. In the episode, after witnessing the rehearsal of the musical, Dean is appalled at the way his gruff, dangerous life has been reduced to a musical number.

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He blurts out, “There’s no singing in Supernatural.” In this exclamation lies one of the central issues surrounding fanfiction: ownership. Fanfiction writers borrow characters and plotlines from the writers of the original work, then fashion them into something else. In doing this, they assume some sort of ownership over the work. How do fans have the authority to alter that which they do not own?


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Using exclusive fan jargon is a concrete way in which fanfiction authors generate ethos, or authority. For example, when Marie uses the term “Samulet,” Dean is understandably confused because Samulet is a fan-made term; Dean, a piece of canon, is not privy to the complex vernacular of the fandom. Fan language of this sort helps to differentiate and elevate fanfiction authors. Mark Duffett, a university professor who specializes in media fandom, borrows Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “cultural capital,” or “a stock of knowledge that reflects on [one’s] particular social position” and applies it to fan language. Fan language can be viewed as a shibboleth, language particular to a specific group, as well as cultural capital. For example, the last line of the summary of “Song Remains the Same”, Supernatural fanfiction written by an author with the username River Winters on fanfiction.net, reads “Cas/OFC - sisfic - S4 and on – AU”. To canon writers and non-fans, this is probably indecipherable, but long time readers understand this as quickly as it takes . Using such language creates a separation between canon writers and fanfiction writers as well as a hierarchy; fanfiction writers reign in their realm.

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Some authors oppose fans writing fanfiction about their work. They maintain that fans have no right to tamper with what does not belong to them. The fan’s defense against this claim is embodied in the stage manager’s response to Dean’s previously mentioned assertion in the episode: “Well, this is Marie’s interpretation.” Now we start to establish the “why.” Fanfiction is an interpretation of the original story. Fans know that there is a difference between the canon and fanon. They do not seek to eradicate the original story and replace it with their own version. We all love Sam and Dean as they are, but we do love to play with them. Writing fanfiction does not supplant the original media, nor would fans wish for it to do so. Instead, fans desire a way to view the stories and characters through a difference lens. After all, renowned author S. E. Hinton writes Supernatural fanfiction; and if it’s good enough for Ms. Hinton, it’s good enough for me.

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Further, fanfiction affords writers the ability to challenge temporal structures as they are in reality. While the book series ended, Marie resurrects the story through her play. In real life, time moves, moves constantly, and moves constantly in one direction. Fanfiction offers fans the ability to push back against this rigidity of time. Marie describes her play as “inspired by Carver Edlund’s books, with a few embellishments…Chuck stopped writing after Swan Song, I couldn’t leave it the way it was… So, I wrote my own ending.”

Chuck

This is an explicit case of a fan using fanfiction to continue time after it has stopped. In human life, time’s most grave and permanent consequence is death (not so permanent for Supernatural characters, but let’s pretend for a moment). Fanfiction battles conventional ideas of time by keeping an experience, something clearly mortal, alive.

Additionally, the passage of time breeds nostalgia, a very human affliction that is the consequence of this inflexibility and permanence of time. Fanfiction offers both a remedy for the symptoms and a cure for the disease. Watching a show with as many powerful past moments as Supernatural, our immune systems are especially compromised. The opportunity to travel backwards or forward in time restructuring the narrative is the perfect prescription. Fanfiction frees fans from nostalgia by providing a path with which to resist time.

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Additionally, since fanon need not, and often does not, progress through time alongside canon, fanfiction is a way to create stories that cultivate and continue a conversation about the original work. Presumably, the very reason you are reading this piece is because you hope to engage in a conversation about a beloved show. The entire 200th episode was a conversation between the writers and the fans. That sly mention of Adam was a way for the writers let us know that, despite what we may think, they haven’t quite forgotten about him (even if they have no plans to address his situation).  

Not only is there a conversation with writers, but there is more often one between fans. Sociologist Sebastian Francois explores the idea of “reflexive participation” of fans. Fans not only engage in canon but also engage in the engagements (commenting on fanon); this frames fanfiction as a continuous discussion of ideas. The conversation among fans contributes invaluably to the perception of the original work, and in some cases feeds in to canon. 

SamuletfromMirror
So when Dean hangs the Samulet prop from the rearview mirror of the Impala, mission accomplished?

Obianuju Enworom is a student at Columbia University and a passionate Supernatural fan.

Works Referenced

Duffett, Mark. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print

Francois, Sebastien. Metatext and “Fanfictions”: An Example of Audiences’ Reflexive Participation., 2008. ProQuest. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

Graham, Anissa M. “A New Kind of Pandering: Supernatural and the World of Fanfiction.” Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century. Ed. Kristin Michael Barton and Jonathan Malcolm Lampley. Jefferson: McFarland, n.d. 131-45. Print.

Herzog, Alexandra. “The Power of ‘AH, E/B, very OOC’: Agency in Fanfiction Jargon.” COPAS: Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies 14.1 (2013): 1-23. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

“Shibboleth.” Def. 2a. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Thompson, Robbie. “Fan Fiction.” Supernatural. Dir. Phil Sgriccia. Prod. Jeremy Carver. The CW. 11 Nov. 2014. Television.

Williams, Kathleen. “Recut Film Trailers: Nostalgia and the Teen Film.” Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century. Ed. Kristin Michael Barton and Jonathan Malcolm Lampley. Jefferson: McFarland, n.d. 47-60. Print.

Winters, River. “Song Remains the Same.” FanFiction.net. FanFiction, 12 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Screencaps courtesy of www.homeofthenutty.com


Comments  

bjxmas
# bjxmas 2014-12-17 23:40
I especially like your comments about time and how we can go backwards and forwards. I'd like more discussion on canon writers, those who look to fill in the gaps that a limited 41 minute episode and 23 eps a season allows. For myself, I started writing fanfiction to figure out the characters (Dean Winchester initially but now all of them!). The real writers were laying down the foundation, seeding in hints to the underlying truths of their personalities and I simply wanted to fully understand them. I wanted MORE. Normally I don't look to write stories like the writers do, I write more on the emotional resonance of the characters and the inner workings that the actors hint at but because of time constraints and the general action/horror genre, they don't have the luxury of fully exploring. The "whys" of their behaviors, in missing scenes or from their youth, the things that led them to where they are now or help explain why they react as they do. Bottom line is we love our Winchesters and they are such intriguing characters, we can never have too much of a good thing! Kripke and his team of writers created such complex, inspiring characters and all our actors bring even more in their portrayals. Supernatural was the first and is still the only show that compels me to write fanfic.
BIW
# BIW 2014-12-18 04:11
A comment that hit me in the heart! I write ff stories for Supernatural for the same reasons and it's also the only show/movie/stor y that compels a writing response. The original premise of the show and the development of the characters in the first three seasons, the difficulties faced by them in seasons 4 and 5, has made for a canvas of infinite scope and possibilities that the show could never fully explore but which ff stories can.

I admit to zero interest in the "fan language" conventions, the shortcut characterisatio ns of "pie" and "Baby" and ugh, the Samulet, preferring Kripke's vision of a dark life, hunting as a "real thing" and so my "version" of SPN differs wildly from where the show went in S6 and onwards. While I write the possible hunts and the possible mythologies as backgrounds, I too focus on the characters, the whys of their lives and the reasons for and consequences of their decisions through the seasons.

FF stories give fans more of the story(ies) and more of the characters. And that, by golly, is brilliant.
elle2
# elle2 2014-12-18 08:16
This was excellent! I love articles like these. I enjoyed the deeper analytical look into they whys of fanfiction, and I agree; it's not about owning the work, but about taking it further than the show itself is able to do. It is about suspending time and/or moving backwards and forwards in time t revel in the experience, to deepen it, to broaden it, to delight in it longer.

As for fanfiction, I've penned a few stories myself -- never for Supernatural though; never felt I could tackle that one. I would love to read some of SE Hinton's work. Had no idea she wrote ff. As for bjxmas, I do believe you and I have written in a shared universe before...Magnif icent 7? I'll have to check out your SPN fics. And BIW, I'll have to look for yours. Both of you characterize your writing as the kind I look for: a deeper look at the characters. that's why I read fanfiction, and write it; the characters.

Thanks for sharing this article. It was an excellent addition!
elle2
# elle2 2014-12-18 08:53
Hey, BJXMAS, just read your ff profile and it appears I was wrong about alternate fandoms you write for. Must be that I have been a part of SPN's for so long, and read so many of your comments over the years on various articles, that I got confused and thought we had conversed much further back in time. :-)

I was just watching Dream a Little Dream of Me and Mystery Spot last night (I DVR'd them, despite having the DVDs, off TNT yesterday) and had a moment to realize that, oh, my gosh, Mystery Spot is the very first episode I ever watched and it is still fresh to me today...six and a half years later! Just wow how the time has flown.

Ah, well, I digress. Anyway, your entire Fanfiction page is saved to my desktop and I will be spending this winter hiatus as I often do, reading fanfiction...th is time yours!
bjxmas
# bjxmas 2014-12-20 14:49
I hope you find something you enjoy in my body of work! I watched Magnificent 7 and need to revisit my DVDs, but no writing in that fandom. I've actually considered writing in a few other shows that I enjoy but it all comes down to Supernatural INSPIRES me! Sam and Dean and the rest of the characters COMPEL me to dig deeper into their psyches! That truly is the best aspect of Supernatural, that they don't tell us everything and what they do tell us isn't simple and clear-cut. They drop hints, leave enough to the imagination we want to play in that universe and there is always internal conflicts, what they feel, what they think, what they struggle with on a human level! As complex as the characters are, I feel comfortable getting into Dean's skin, letting Jensen show me the way almost on an organic level. Jensen is just that good at drawing you into what's not explicitly shown and also making you question what you do see! Sometimes I might veer too much into the touchy-feely stuff, but with these characters you often have to force them to open up a bit to what's bothering them!
ThisOldBag
# ThisOldBag 2014-12-18 10:35
It hits me more each season that I would love to write Sam's journal. I've not written any sort of ff since high-school (70's) but this show has made my mind whirl with thoughts more than any other. Perhaps it would be a good exercise to get me back into the writing mood. Great essay! Thank You.
JL
# JL 2014-12-18 13:17
People are fans of a show for a hundred different reasons and I think all those reasons can inspire a hundred different worlds of fanfiction. It's fascinating in its own way and i very much appreciate those who are inspired to write and share their stories! To have a show that acknowledged the fans like SPN did was something I don't think we'll ever see on any other show. Great topic!
gata113
# gata113 2014-12-19 06:54
Great article! I agree that fanfiction, as well as all sorts of meta written about the Show, are basically a continuing conversation about it. And they offer different viewpoints - I often see things in a different light after reading others' thoughts, and I like this plurality of opinions. :)
Bevie
# Bevie 2014-12-19 11:36
Read a lot of fan fiction, and there are thousands of them so probably will miss a lot in a lifetime. But if you like canon fanfic to fill in the gaps between shows, and want to continue an episode that seems to stop too soon, K Hanna Korossy is a good writer I have enjoyed for years now. I love that her work is canon, unless it is in some context that is negated by future canon. Not often though. She really gets the dialogue of the brothers and you can hear their voices as you read it. I even wish she was a writer for the show, She could bring some of the emotion that seems to be missing since Sera stopped writing for it. I love how she portrays the brothers! You won't find any Wincest, slash or AU, so if that is your bag, skip her stuff.

I'd like to try bjxmas's stories. Is that your pen name? If not, what is it please? Also, BIW?

I don't suppose anyone knows S. E. Hinton's pen name?

Supernatural is the only show I have ever desired to read fanfic for. Just can't get enough of it!
bjxmas
# bjxmas 2014-12-20 14:56
I'm bjxmas everywhere! My stories are all posted on fanfiction.net. I've never gotten the time or inclination to hop onto Livejournal, altho I do have the acct there. Susie Hinton won't reveal her fanfiction name. She has let Kripke read her stories and says he enjoys them. I love that she's a fangirl too, one of us!

I too miss Sera and Raelle and a slew of other writers from S1 and S2. I miss the insightful, inspiring writings from Ben Edlund and Jeremy Carver in his early days! Kripke said it best in the Retrospective, that when the stories revolve around Sam and Dean and THEIR journey, Supernatural is at its best!
Bevie
# Bevie 2014-12-20 15:15
Thank you so much for the reply. I'm going to print out and read your stories. Thank goodness you've done quite a few. (though never enough. Please don't stop.)

So I guess I'll be commenting. (just got a whole crate of printer paper :p:) Fanfic is amazing! In fact, my favourite fanfic writers can write rings around the pros who are published!:p
Waqas
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Bert Hawkes
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