Fanfiction as playable media
This dissertation offers one way to reconcile what can sometimes seem like an increasingly wide division between text-based and more consciously multimodal composition practices in digital environments. Drawing on Lev Manovich’s theory of digital production, I demonstrate that fanfiction replicates the material structures that produce it: the internet. In this model, a fandom’s canon knowledge is a database, and fanfiction is the interface through which we approach the canon. I continue by examining the virtual linking mechanisms that ground fanfiction reading and writing practices. While the hyperlinked structure of internet environments is frequently considered destabilizing, I argue the conceptual hyperlinks that ground fanfiction are navigational structures that allow for and require significantly different literacy practices than reading and creating traditional literary works such as novels. Instead, these works operate more like aural and visual compositions. Fanfiction is grounded in invention, memory, and arrangement, viewing all texts not as content to be absorbed, but as material that can be connected to other ideas and transformed into something else. These texts emerge from ongoing conversations, relying on extant context from both creator and audience while simultaneously adding new layers of context and conversation. Finally, I position fanfiction as a useful part of new media rhetoric and composition pedagogical practices. In looking at fanfiction as an inherently rhetorical genre, my dissertation differs from existing conversations on fandom and new media writing, which often center on fanfiction as a form of feminist rebellion, and digital writing as either remix writing or decentered and destabilized texts. Countering the common assumption that fanfiction is derivative or childish, my dissertation proves it creates readers and writers who can easily shift perspectives, think carefully about their audience, and critically analyze social narratives. Although fanfiction draws upon long traditions of storytelling, its persistent concern with its own medium separates it from other genres. Fanfiction is a kind of storytelling that is always pointing to something outside of itself, to its source texts and its own materiality. In this way, it creates, in textual form, a dynamic representation of process-based understanding and composition.