Digital Writer's Festival 2017: Digital Tour Fanfiction Spaces

I was a part of the Emerging Writer's Festival, Digital Writer's Festival this year talking fanfic. Here's the video as well as a transcript of the event with bonus resources and links for your interest!

I was a part of the Emerging Writer's Festival, Digital Writer's Festival this year talking fanfic. Here's the video as well as a transcript of the event with bonus resources and links for your interest!

So hey guys, welcome to Digital Tour: Fanfiction Spaces, one of the final few Digital Writer's Fest events this year, so woo!

Just starting off I wanted to say that, I am humbled and honoured to be on the ancestral lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation today. I acknowledge the First Australians as the traditional custodians of this land, whose cultures and stories are among the oldest living in human history. I also wanted us all to take a moment to acknowledge that our spaces online do not live outside of the spaces we reside in off line, but rather in connection with and adjacent to. Australia has and always will be Aboriginal land.

So yeah kicking into our talk, as the blurb says  my name’s Jes Layton, I’m an emerging and freelance queer writer here in Melbourne carving out my path here in the Oz literary scene

One of the things I feel is most important to a writing life is a sense of a writing community, so for the last decade I’ve gained a lot of experience, confidence and support from a group that isn’t always thought the best of. That being the fanfiction community.

Honestly, I could do a five-part series all about fanfiction and fandom culture, its community, it’s history, how it operates as a writing practice and as the ultimate form of postmodern literary criticism.

Yet, we don’t have enough time for all that today, but I encourage questions if you want to learn more as me may have some time in the end and throughout as they pop up.

When we talk about fanfiction we have to do a little history check, we have to start at the beginning, which is, in fact I hear, a very good place to start.



I wanted to preface this part of the tour just saying that I'm coming from a pretty westernized understanding and relationship of fanfic and fandom culture. And that every culture all over the world, everyone has different relationships and different experiences with the ideas and relationships of fanfiction and fandom culture.

For instance there's this whole separate culture in Japan where fans create their own fan manga’s called doujinshi that, while technically illegal in Japan, are really celebrated, and encouraged by manga publishing companies as a new way to market their own stories within mainstream. 

This is an example of different relationships and practises of fanfiction all over the world. So that's really important to acknowledge that my understanding, experience is western and is generally a white understanding. 

Diving more into fanfiction's history. I probably started writing fanfic before I even knew what it was. For those who don't really know what fanfiction is; fanfiction is fiction written by fans, using elements of a source text (canon), or a famous person as a point of departure. These elements include the use of characters/setting/basic premise, all sorts of things, even theme.

It's a transformative form of writing, dating back to as long as there have been stories.

Understandably, fanfiction history is as long as it is varied, so, I’m just going to touch on a few key milestones today to give you an idea of the breadth, depth and scope of fanfiction and to break down some perceived stereotypes of what fanfiction is, can be and what it was in the past.

Some of our most famous classical pieces of literature are literal fanfiction. Virgil's Aeneid which is fanfiction of Homer's Iliad (with hundreds of years between them).

Also in this vein is Dante’s Divine Comedy, which really when you think about it is is a Self-insert crossover RPF fic- where Greek and Roman mythology is crossed over with Judeo-Christian lore (and much more RPF touchstones). And really the term Mary Sue should be changed to Dante as he is just a mess.

Probably more familiar for a lot of people is Shakespeare, who adapted most of his plays directly from other works by other people, from which he asked no permission (nor was he expected to.) Which is a great example fo who fanfic back in ye'olden days was considered part of the normal professional practice, as part of creating content, as part of being a creator. 

There was a real shift after this time about peoples perceptions of originality and original creators/authors. 

Along the same vein of this with a work like Don Quixote which was considered one of the first “popular novels” as we know it today. There were all sorts of people who were writing and publishing their own unofficial fan-sequels so much so that the original author wrote into the sequel Don Quixote reading a piece of fanfic about himself and then setting out on a quest to beat up the fanfic author who mischaracterised him.

A good example we still see today of authors not always liking fanfiction spawning from their work. Awkward.

Fastforwarding to the 1920's we have Jane Austen’s work being reworked and re-distributed in the earliest fanzines.

Fanfiction reached its revolutionizing point in the modern age with the advent of Star Trek 1960’s.

Fandom and fannish activity moved into the public sphere as before fans of source works mostly had relationships (or perceived relationships) with the author of a work. But with modern technology Star Trek fans began to develop relationships and connections with each other.

Mailing lists began to develop, zines, sci-fi and Trekkie conventions, fan magazines and fanfiction presses begun to develop. This evolved fandom to a more interactive, communal and formal practise and culture. Except as something down by individuals.

This is pretty much the same deal right up until the early 90’s with the internet in every home.

This made fandoms on the internet smaller and more segregated with multiple individuals forums, websites and message boards for individual fandoms. (Image Of X Files Forum from early 90's)

This was an early example of how fandom developed online and how fanfiction was archived and shared. 

In the here and now things have blown up with the internet and geekish culture as it is today. Within the fic community online, it has never been better to be a writer or reader. 

Fanfiction has bolted forward into the mainstream in the form of 'reimagines' 'adaptations', 'reboots'. Fanfiction has become not merely mainstream but one of the more dominant form of storytelling and literature. Creator sanctioned or not, these reboots and adaptations are fanfiction, functioning as fanfiction does, (Hamilton, Power Rangers Movie, Margret Atwood’s Hag Seed) they involve all the elements and differences that fanfiction does.  And yep, that lovely and not at all abusive Fifty Shades of Grey.



As for where fanfiction stands now, online it's like a buffet table with all your dietary needs and preferences, guilt pleasures spread out before you in delicious deliciousness.

The juggernauts of this space are WATTPAD, FANFIC.NET, AO3, online platforms where you can: write, read, post, share, download, customise, edit, comment on and save fanfiction. (Though there are other platforms such as TUMBLR and LIVEJOURNAL I don't have time to go into today).

Between the three biggies, there are over 9 million fics, in over 30 languages, and range from works a few hundred words in length, to the worlds’ single longest piece of literature, clocking in at over four million words (I’ll show you this fic a little later).


-       Launched in Oct, 1997

-       FanFiction.Net quickly rose in popularity, being one of the few archives at the time open to just about any kind of fandom, not just a single specific universe, anime or TV series. 

-       It is the internet’s largest online fanfiction archive

-       Featuring some of the most famous fanfic, where many authors got started (Cassandra Clare). Some of the famous fanfics on this site include:

-       Master of the Universe which you might know as Fifty Shades of Grey, by author snowqueensicedragon

-       The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest is a fanfic loosely based on Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It is currently over 4,000,000 words long. The writer started in March of 2008, and they are still going! 

-       My Immortal by Tara Gilesbie. The most notoriously bad fanfic written, set as a self-insert fic where the term Mary Sue comes home to rest. 

This fic follows the 23,000-word adventure of a vampire, Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way, who attends Harry Potter's Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, where she must travel back in time, escape pedophilic teachers and seduce Voldemort all which juggling her relationships with Draco and Harry Vampire Potter. The author of this work has been a major mystery in the online world, regardless of fandom, every fan knows of this, but much like the author Homer, we may never know.

- acts as mostly an archive now, containing fanfiction and just fanfiction. A lot of this is because it is confusing, ugly, hard to navigate, no app/mobile customization, no moderation or customization in general.

-       There are a lot of factors contributing to the downfall of, A lot of plagiarism, lack of quality tagging and (again) it is general ugly/difficult to navigate and post fic.

-       One major shift attributing to it's downfall was that eventually the website needed to employ advertising in order to keep the server running due to increasing demand and use.

-       They banned content: In 2002, NC-17 rated stories were no longer allowed (although enforcement of this policy is up to users reporting stories; there are still many explicit-content fictions to be found on the site.) Real person/celebrity fiction was disallowed in 2003.

-       Other topics such as songfic, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and non-fiction or meta have also been banned, although again enforcement is spotty at best. 


On the other end of things, that being platforms where writers go now to host and post their work are the two other biggies Wattpad and Archive of Our Own (Ao3). This is like comparing apples and oranges, discounting the fact that one is red and the other is orange. Really, as to which one you'll use depends on your experience, your audience and what you want to get out of fanfic.



-       A relative newcomer to the scene. Advertised as a free online storytelling community where all sorts of original work, not just fanfiction, can be published. As you can see from its various hosted genres.

-       It is one of the more convenient reading platforms for fans, particularly popular with teen readers/users, 30 million users, but it’s not exactly writer/user friendly.

-       Has a great app, good website design, easy to read, in line commenting and the ability to bookmark your place.

-       Plain impossible to copy and paste a story into an editing window. It strips all of the formatting including paragraph breaks. WTH?

-       Wattpad is at its best when it you just crank it open in the app or your browser and start typing a story. It’s not designed for people who crafted their story out on another program (scrivener/word) and want to import it.

-       Or for authors who want to engage with readers on any other level than story content as the comment feature, as I said, entirely in text.

-       For writers who like statistics Wattpad reads are inaccurate, every time a new page is loaded/turned or a new chapter is made, that counts as a 'read'. It’s not an accurate reflection of readers, which can be bothersome.

I feel so in general that Wattpad comes from the direction of a consumer, a reader where AO3 from the direction comes from the persepctive of a creator.



-     Archive of Our Own (AO3) first launched in beta-testing on November 14, 2009. It's not uncommon for large scale platforms like this to be in beta for a long time.

-       AO3 is a project of the Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit organization which promotes the legitimacy and transformative nature of fan works including fan fiction, fan vids and fan art.

-       Building upon the troubles had, mostly as it was made by fans for fans:  Open to all kinds of fandoms, including Real Person Fiction. Open to all ratings of fan-fiction, from general audiences to adult as well as allowing users to host meta fandom writings as well as fiction.

-       AO3 has grown slowly, as one requires an invite code to join. If you request one, it can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months to receive an invite. It did not take me long to get an invite code, a little under two weeks.

-       Preeminent site for fanfiction and fanfic writers, due to user friendly, tagging system and breadth/depth of work

-        A warning system for common fannish triggers and controversial subjects - which an author can choose or choose not to use

-        Ability to lock story visibility to only other AO3 members only, to minimize search engine inclusion (some authors don't want their stories showing up in general Google searches.)

This all being said there's a real definite western media bias in terms of how work is tagged/categoriazed. And how the Organization for Transformative works functions on an international level. Is pretty western/white. Which is disappointing and is something we need to combat as creators online, be the change to make it a more inclusive space. 


Busting some fanfic myths


One: fanfiction is all just shitty writing by shitty writers.

Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety Percent of everything is crap. I’d argue that there’s plenty of terrible professionally published fiction out there as well; the only difference between it and fanfic is that there are more boundaries for writers, more impenetrable walls and that it has generally been better edited/proofread as they've had access to those resources outside fandom betas.

Two: It's all just dirty kink like Fifty Shades

We’re not all trying to write the next Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with people who include sexual content in their writing.

Now, fanfiction does have a real problem with the sexualisation of homosexuals males which is a deeply rooted, underlining problem I can't go into now, but writing sexual content is not bad. Particularly when it's marginalised people, queer people, young people and women writing their sexuality or exploring their sexuality through writing. That can actually be really empowering, impressive and it can be really beautiful too.

Three: The question; iS fAnFictIon a LeGitIMatE FoRm oF WriTInG/liTERaTuRE?

I dunno friend, if it's conveying ideas and story through the craft of the written language I think that's legitimate. It’s studied academically now (not that academic study defines legitimacy) researchers have looked at its relationship with feminismdisability, the LGBTQ world, and much more, which is a far cry from when it was dismissed as a subculture for people who resembles excitable puppies or old horny cats.

Particularly in recent years fanfiction has deliberately inserted intersectional feminist discourse, gender theory, and class commentary into their stories to make complex academic theories accessible for all readers.

Fanfiction can be very political, it's subversive, it's radical. Writing Harry Potter as an amputee, Hermione as black, or Ron as transgender exposes people to narratives written from the perspective of marginalized communities. Often by those marginliased people themselves. 

The final thought I wanted to give was that I pretty much grew up on fanfiction. As a queer kid in a rural town, in a public school, I got my sex education from fanfiction online, I learnt my own identity, and got the courage to share that with others by virtue of seeing it represented and explained through fanfiction.

I’ve bawled my eyes out at 3 am over some of the stuff I’ve read online, I've laughed much the same.

I’ve had and continue to get lovely, thoughtful and touching emails and messages from other young queer kids finding some reflection of themselves in my work online. 

Fanfiction has been a positive force in my life. In order for me to find myself in literature, I needed to make that space for myself online, and that is a creative force. And I hope, if it catches your interest, fanfiction can be a positive force for you too.

**struggles to end the video**

Bonus resource to check out

Fanlore a wiki about fanworks and fan communities.