Confessions of a FanFic Writer, D&D Player

I am thinking of Andrea Lunsford’s guest lecture on performative text as I try to tie together some ideas that have come up after reading “New Literacies: Research and Social Practice,” (Lankshear & Knobel’s plenary address) and Jessica Hammer’s “Agency and Authority in Role Playing Texts” (New Literacies Sampler, Knobel & Lankshear, eds).

Like many children, when my friends and I were young, we entertained each other by writing stories set in the worlds of other texts, especially Star Wars, inserting each other as characters. I didn’t realize there was a term for these texts we created: fan fiction or fanfic. We spent recess at school acting out Star Wars-based stories we made up spontaneously, complete with sound effects. This too was fanfic—the multiplayer kind. As teenagers, we became serious D&D players, often playing all-night, sometimes making up our own rules, donning costumes, and running around in the woods while in character. Hammer would say we had the psychological agency (the sense that we were empowered) and cultural agency (the power recognized by others, namely our group) to exercise agency over the text (the D&D world) and the narrative (the scenario in which we played). Strangely, I was a reluctant writer of school papers, though out of school I wrote constantly in the service of my favorite texts (Star Wars and D&D).

In their plenary address, L&K discuss the growing recognition of preteen fanfic authors within the fanfic community and decry the lack of investigation of fanfic writing in the primary classroom because “it is rarely considered in terms of intertextuality, ‘media mixing’ and the like, notwithstanding the importance attached to such literary techniques within high school English classes in relation to ‘the canon.’” Consider this in light of Lunsford’s comments about the power that composition in any media can have when it is inspired. The subjects in the Stanford Literacy Study did not ask for permission to compose. They used composition outside of the class because they wished to. They exercised authority, borrowed images for flyers, integrated their words into the poem of another, and made professional-grade, multi-media learning tools.

If we accept as fact that the more literary events you engage in, the more literate you become, then isn’t it strange that we limit the variety of literary events valued in school? What if all acts of composition were at least encouraged and acknowledged? Think of the effect it might have on a student’s sense of agency and authority, as well as supporting the development of an understanding of one’s own idealogical situatedness as a writer and a reader, and general textual saavy.

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5 comments on “Confessions of a FanFic Writer, D&D Player

  1. Great point. Rebecca Black (Chapter 6 of A New Literacies Sampler) also writes about the phenomenon that is Fan Fiction. She shows how readers and writers exchange feedback about the stories online and, in a way, conduct meaningful, spontaneous peer review. The writers of Fan Fiction seek out peer review when the literacy event is meaningful to them, rather than dreading peer review, as they often do in school. The particular writer profiled was an English Language Learner who got lots of advice from her peers about the grammar and sentence structure in her stories– advice that was incorporated in later drafts/ stories. To me, the big question is how to make the writing in college writing classes more meaningful to students. Clearly, limiting their agency and authority turns something spontaneous into an imposition, and where’s the fun in that?

    • Fascinating! Jennifer Johns described a comp class she taught that was comprised mostly of Gen 1.5 students. They did their best writing– both in terms of invention and technical quality– for an assignment that was given to them spontaneously by Johns when she found out the president of the university, who had just announced budget cuts, would be visiting their department the following week. Johns asked the students to write letters that would convince the president not to make cuts in their department. The task was immediately relevant with genuinely high stakes, and the students rocked it. Without a lot of support in class, they simply composed letters, sought assistance from each other, and even sought outside editing help (which is a real-world solution). –LW

  2. Given what we talked about in 704, I was also interested to read about the eagerness that fanfic writers seem to dialogue with each other. Obviously the internet is renowned for people offering opinions (warranted or otherwise), but it’s still very telling to see how willing people are to offer various kinds of criticism in these communities.

    The article I annotated this week mentions that in a regular blog format, which seemed to get the students in a writing first-year writing classroom more motivated to give feedback to each other, since (the author claims) it didn’t put the same formal academic constraints on them. The teacher in the article assigned several different types of posts, but they all seemed to encourage some personal expression or reaction while simultaneously requiring serious analysis.

    I don’t really have any answers either, but as teachers what kind of flexibility can we offer in our assignments? Can we have some assignments where something like fan fiction is acceptable? Do assignments that simply require students to critically analyze (as opposed to a more creative project) something they find personally interesting about popular culture work just as well for getting people engaged? How esoteric can we allow students to get, if we still want them to be able to talk to each other about their work?

  3. One way I think fanfic, meme humor, and other intertextual products might be useful is in talking about authenticity and plagarism. People take other people’s ideas and creations (often copyrighted characters, images, sounds, etc.) and rework them into something new. Some of these often do stray (or leap wholeheartedly) into copyright infringement territory, but I think it would be worth using them to spur discussion about what is acceptable use of other ideas or materials.

  4. Pingback: These are a Few Of My Favorite Posts (Part 1) « Teaching Writing in a Digital Age

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