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generic tendencies: narrative arcs and world building

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Sep. 17th, 2014 | 02:44 pm

Fandom Then/Now presents research conducted in 2008 and uses to facilitate fan conversations about fan fiction’s past and future. In my past few posts I've asked what similarities/differences you see between commercial romance and fan fiction. Now, I'm going to start talking through the things that I noticed in 2008 as I read different works of fan fiction and commercial romance.

[With] fan and commercial romance authors producing so many stories each month, it is not possible to definitively map out either writing space. Instead, I decided to think about these things as tendencies within each zone of production, rather than story elements that "define" either commercial romance or fan fiction... These patterns help us better understand the role that production environment can play in the construction of erotic and romantic stories, as well as how production environments organize different communities of readers.

Here are a few core tendencies I noticed as I read:

One: Narrative Arcs & World Building

By its very nature, fan fiction is part of a larger story-world. It is explicitly intertextual. Fan fiction builds on a source-text which has already done its own world-building and character development. In this source-text, narrative events are already unfolding and characters typically have some preexisting relationship with each other. Whether they are friends, coworkers, or enemies, the characters are already generally acquainted. Given this, it is common for works of romantic fan fiction to build romance/sexual attraction into a preexisting relationship. Through the course of the narrative, the two protagonists move from an already established relationship (friendship, enmity, professional, etc.) towards a more sexual and/or romantic one.

This pre-existing story-world lends itself to a different narrative starting point than many popular romance novels. In romance novels, the start of the story is often marked by a highly charged first encounter between the two main characters. This moment is incredibly important. In her definition of romance, Pamela Regis identifies this as "the meeting," one of eight narrative elements typically found in romance novels (Regis 2007). In a romance novel, rather than the narrative building on a pre-existing relationship, the protagonists are often encountering each other for the first time. Attraction hits hard. The characters are often instantly drawn to each other physically and feel compelled to protect or be near the other person. However, at this early point in the narrative, the characters may not understand why they feel this way or feel that it is possible to act on their feelings. To come together as a couple, the protagonists often need to work through significant internal or social barriers preventing their relationship (Regis 2007). Slowly, over the course of the story, the reality that they have found a life-partner begins to reveal itself and, importantly, the social and/or emotional obstacles keeping them from each other are overcome.

What do you think of my findings? Have you noticed this difference too? Also, does this seem like a narrative tendency that continues today? Read the full write up on fan fiction and romance here. Share what you think about this on the Fandom Then/Now website or respond in the comments section below.

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