OTW Guest Post: Lauren Rouse

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Lauren is a PhD student at the University of Central Florida in their Texts & Technology program. She’s been writing fan fiction since age 11, has recently become an avid indoor gardener, and probably can be found with a cup of coffee in her hand. Today, Lauren talks about her recently completed research on fan responses to fanworks.

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

I first found out about fandom through the Harry Potter fandom. I hated how Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (the book) had ended, so at eleven, I took to my Word document to rewrite the end of Dumbledore’s life and Harry’s time at Hogwarts. Because this was 2006, I ended up stumbling upon Fiction Alley a few weeks after writing my ending and started reading fanworks there (I spent all my time in Schnoogle because the romance fiction scared me: I was 11, boys were disgusting).

From there, I was hooked on fanworks. My mom limited my computer usage to an hour a day, but I probably spent that whole hour on the computer reading updates and new fics. I’ve been a part of many fandoms (Harry Potter, Twilight, One Direction, Kingsman, Star Wars, Teen Wolf, Fleabag, the MCU, and Sherlock) and have written in many of the fandoms.

What made you interested in analyzing comments made to fanfiction posts?

Part of my research was understanding the link between fan fiction and increased critical analysis skills that readers can use in their classrooms. Rebecca Black, a fan studies scholar, largely commented on the correlation between these two in her work, Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction, but I wanted to see if supplemental material can also provide this correlation; thus, I looked at comments and multimedia (fanart, reading guides, mood boards, etc.). Additionally, fan studies scholars are always saying that fan fiction should be included in classrooms (because it provides rich interactions with media, texts, and allows students to create pieces they normally wouldn’t), so I wanted to see if my data would provide any useful feedback on this.

What were the most expected and unexpected things your research revealed?

I completed data analysis on the comments and while I was first looking for term frequency (how often a word comes up in the comments), I ended up seeing a lot of great correlation between topics in topic modeling. Topic modeling is a form of data analysis where a certain word is selected and then the data analysis program (I used R) generates related words that appear in similar comments. From these topics, certain conclusions can be drawn about how fan fiction readers better understand and learn from the work that they are reading.

For example, I noted a large frequency of the word “like” in one work. It was the biggest word in the world cloud and is used over 60 times in the comments. This made me wonder what the usage of the word was: was it used for a comparison or was it used in more colloquial terms? After looking through the data, I found that “like” was used 24 times as a verb, 21 times in citing the content of the story, 14 times as a comparison tool, and 4 times as colloquial language. I was interested in the use of “like” as a comparison word: readers compared characters to other characters, to their own actions, and to the television show and the world at large. These connections (often referred to as “text-to-text”,”text-to-self”, and “text-to-world”) are commonly used by teachers and professors when teaching analytical and close reading. For example, one reader makes a text-to-text connection between the work and the world of Supernatural, as well as connections between the work and other AUs:

Okay so I don’t know Shadowrun and I don’t read a lot of AUs like this, but they sound in-character enough and the world interesting enough that I think I’ll like it. I despise All-Human/No-Powers (or Modern AU for LotR, Game of Thrones medieval stuff) Basically stripping everything interesting about the world and the characters. HOWEVER, this world feels very SPN-like if that makes any sense? Dean sounds very Dean and all the little things you’ve added to make it recognizably SPN like Sinclair being the old art guy really makes. Also, glad he still has Baby! Anyway, it was riveting, and I was actually annoyed when my brother came home and wanted to talk so I had to take a break from reading. Can’t wait to see more. Also, that cover art is AMAZING.

The use of “like” in this comment acts as a form of mixture description, or “descriptions of target documents defined by their likeness to mixtures of other documents,” according to Peter Organisciak and Michel Twidale. These descriptions often act as more informative understandings and relations of a text, as it helps readers make the connections between the original text and the transformed text. For this work, these mixture descriptions happen frequently in the comments, showing the expanded frame of reference from fans in this fandom. Another reader stated:

OH. MY. GODS. WTF JUST HAPPENED??! THAT WAS FASNIATING!! Okay girl calm down for a minute breathe for sec. The imagery of the caretaker walking into pool of blood and leaving red footprints everywhere was very unnerving. Poor lady! Glad they rescued the people that were snatched. Are they all like assassinations or is it more a programmable thing like on Dollhouse? I can’t wait to find out aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here, the reader makes a connection to Dollhouse, another sci-fi show. These connections through the text, whether the readers realize them or not, help develop their own intertextuality (a relationship between texts) for a work.

These conclusions and more led me to the conclusion that while fan scholars say that teachers should incorporate fanfiction in the classroom, readers are incorporating the classroom into fan fiction. Fans identify literary terms, use close-reading techniques, and discuss works through intertextual connections that they make to canon literature (the Western canon of literature). If you want to take a look at the data notebooks, here are their links.

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

I’ve been reading fanfiction on AO3 since 2014 (ish?). I had bounced around on different websites as a fan and ended up on AO3 one day and really enjoyed the platform. As a fan studies scholar, I found out about the OTW through Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) which has issues every year on different aspects of fanworks. The OTW does so much behind the scenes work for fans and fan scholars and I’m really indebted to all of their work.

Some of my research in my thesis comes from TWC and the journal is very accessible and talks about all aspects of fandom (fan labor, racism in fandom, queer female fandom, to name a few) and I recommend it to any fans or scholars.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

The dynamics of fandom has always been very inspiring to me: both the “good” and “bad” parts. To see people from all over the world connect and discuss and debate about their fandom and other fandoms is the most amazing thing.

I think that I am most inspired by some of the “bad” things that happen in fandom—like gatekeeping, racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia: it might seem weird to be inspired by all of this, but it shows that there’s discussions we need to be having about these aspects of fandom as both fans and fan scholars, like how we exclude fans of color from conversations about race; how white fans refuse to recognize their privilege on the internet; how slash doesn’t reach its original intended “mission” anymore because it almost always excludes everyone who isn’t white or male or homosexual. These “bad” things, or things that we (the white majority) don’t talk about in fandom, inspire me to do more research, to look at the ways that I view fandom, to check my privilege, and help me expand my ships in fandom and horizons in research.

On sort of the opposite hand from above, I find that the communities formed in fandom are extremely inspiring. The sheer amount of labor put forth by people who are doing multiple other things in their lives to make fandom the inclusive space that it often is, is amazing. I found a home in fandom, in all of my fandoms, and was able to grow my reading and writing skills throughout my time in fandom. I remember the first time I published my works: my mom (a college professor) found it on the Internet and instead of being angry at me, she hugged me and told me that she was proud of me. She said that it takes a lot of courage to share a part of your heart and soul with the world, and fans continue to be some of the bravest people I’ve ever met.

Catch up on earlier guest posts

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