Self Insert

Expectations

This column is reprinted from Unwinnable Monthly #126. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Examining trends in fanfiction.

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There are certain expectations lent to the form of derivative fiction.

A friend sent me an update on a piece they were reading. In the last 500 words of the fourth fic in the series, she gets narratively body checked. Or as she put it, “Today in fanfic, fluffy sweet ‘insecure character doesn’t know they are being courted’ VERY ABRUPTLY turns into ‘insecure character’s parents were both just murdered by the secret hitman.’”

She did what any good fanfiction reader would do. She rechecked the tags. Nothing. No warning of minor or major character death, no warnings for murder or violence. Just suddenly, death. An unforeseen narrative turn.

“I would not have been phased if this had happened in a book.” She followed, but she’s right to find it surprising. There’s a different expectation in books versus fanfiction; one predicated on tags and warnings. Few types of fiction warn you from the outset what the pairings will be; you know going in who the romantic couple is going to be, if there’s infidelity or it’s actually the end of the world now. Occasionally a narrative change in a book can be an unwelcome surprise, but there’s not the same expectation of form that you find in fanfiction.

Occasionally a narrative change in a book can be an unwelcome surprise, but there’s not the same expectation of form that you find in fanfiction.

It’s an interesting system, one built for years in Livejournal and blog postings where underneath the title there would be another line item for “pairings” and “ratings,” self-made and occasionally woefully inadequate. Below that, in the good fiction community anyways, there was another line for tags and warnings. Fanfiction.net never had the space for proper warnings and tags, and is probably why there are so many abbreviations (Harry Potters’ EWE or “Epilogue What Epilogue?” comes to mind). With Archive of Our Own, tags are codified. You can search for them. (One of the major reasons for AO3’s Hugo Award win was because of its exceptionally detailed and robust tagging and filtering system.) And in the same space where you would find notifications of the couples featured in the fiction, or of the type of alternative universe that you’ll find yourself in, you can now find warnings, spoilers even, for the entire content of the story.

Fanfiction is often about expectations; while it can often surprise the reader, its ultimate goal for reader and writer is about meeting expectations. Readers often settle in to read everything from fluffy bandom fics to filthy kinkmeme fills, but they do so after reading what’s on the tin.

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Amanda Hudgins is an occasional writer, former rugby player and wearer of incredibly tall shoes.

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