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  • The Paratext of Fan Fiction
  • Maria Lindgren Leavenworth (bio)

In recent years, several critics have appropriated and extended Gérard Genette’s delineation of paratext in analyses of media specificity, of authoring functions, and of altered reading habits following new modes of textual production. The present article continues these discussions by close-reading one fan fiction story, using analytical tools traditionally applied to printed works, both past and present. Fan fictions, or fanfics, are online-published, most often pseudonymously authored stories which take a pre-existing fiction, a canon in fanfic vernacular, as a starting point. Fanfic authors comment on and transform the canon through switched narrative perspectives, altered romantic combinations of characters, expansions of minor characters or scenes, or a play with the temporal boundaries in prequels and sequels. Employing the forms of novels, short stories, and poems, fan fictions represent an intermediary stage between print literature and complex, often multimodal, contemporary hypertexts which to a greater extent utilize the affordances of the online environment.

Although any canon can spark fan interest, the fictional world commonly belongs to the genres of science fiction or fantasy. The subversion of human norms at [End Page 40] play within these genres, along with already fluctuating boundaries between what is possible and what is not, arguably contributes to the heightened fan activity, of which fan fiction is one expression. The fictional worlds are often also found within the popular culture sphere and in a media climate that encourages rather than dissuades audience participation in processes of meaning-making. Interactive official websites and discussion forums are not uncommon when creating and sustaining interest in a fictional world, and fan fiction is one, rather more unofficial, result of this encouragement to participate.1 Narrative theory profits from sustained examinations of the specificities of these forms of contemporary creativity, particularly, it will be argued here, of medium-specific affordances and distinctly user-generated elements in fanfic production.

My case study, CavalierQueen’s Paradise Within: Happier Far, works from Alan Ball’s HBO series True Blood (2008–2014), in turn based on Charlaine Harris’s novels (2001–2013), about the telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse and her various romances and adventures in a world increasingly populated by vampires and other supernatural beings. The fanfic, in brief, focuses on the romantic pairing of Sookie and the vampire Eric Northman, and quickly and effectively resolves misunderstandings that are integral to both plot and characterization in the canon, thereby altering it. Initially presenting changes to the canon plot mainly through the new pairing, the later chapters also transfer the action from the canon setting of Bon Temps, Louisiana, to Eric’s previous home in Norway, and to Cornwall and the mythical realm of Avalon. Along the way, an original plot and characters from other canons are introduced.

Rather than analyzing the progression of the story, the potentially productive departure from to the canon, and the intertextual relationships it bears to other fictions, I focus on paratextual features such as filing options, tags, Author Notes (A/Ns), and an epitextual conversation between CavalierQueen and her readers. Many of these features are particular to modes of online publishing and the fanfic text form and fulfill functions which differentiate them from paratexts in printed forms of literature. A thorough analysis of them contributes to a general understanding of the nature and function of the paratext and specifically provides insights into how it can help readers navigate the text form of fan fiction along with the specific affordances of the online creative environment.2

In Genette’s definition, the paratext constitutes “a threshold . . . that offers the world at large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back” (Paratexts 2; emphasis original). Despite the seeming concreteness of the threshold image, he later goes on to specify that “‘[t]he paratext,’ properly speaking, does not exist; rather, one chooses to account in these terms for a certain number of practices and effects, for reasons of method and effectiveness” (Paratexts 343; emphasis original). A sustained analysis of different functions may thus profitably account for the particularity of the fanfic text form, but the mediation of the text through a computer or electronic reading device entails thresholds which...