This first post will give be an overview of fanfic, the dominant genres and pairings, and some thoughts on how and why it is what it is.
The second will give an overview of four years of Big Bang fic and the last post is a look at RPF in the fandom.
But let’s start with a pretty pie chart. This is what we write:
The major repository for Supernatural fanfiction is on LJ and fanfiction.net which between them probably host about 80,000 stories about Supernatural. There are a few fan fic Archives, but these are very small. The pan fandom “Archive of our Own” includes about 3,000 Supernatural fics, most originally posted on LJ.
The spnnewsletter on LJ links to fics across communities. A database of these links, over 35,000 stories, has been compiled at the Supernatural Fic Link Archive on Delicious, currently up until November 2009. This magnificent project originated and maintained by black_samvara allows a great insight into fic in our fandom. The data used in this meta come from Samvara’s analysis here and some of my own.
Anal footnote type comments: the fic listed on the newsletter represents a majority, but not all, of the fic posted on LJ, as it excludes fic that doesn’t meet certain requirements such as listing the pairing or rating. This analysis also excludes all the fic on fanfiction.net as well. However even given those exclusions, I think the data here are representative of the fic we write.
Analysis of writing based on this sort of quantitative analysis is inherently crude. It obviously pays no heed to quality. A three hundred word ficlet gets as much weight as a 60,000 word multi part fic. Stories may be counted based on their main pairing, but have significant secondary pairings. This is particularly true in RPF – Jared and Jensen tend to be a lot sluttier than Sam, Dean or Castiel.
Fitting in the Box
Any analysis of the genres in fanfic requires some understanding of the ways we categorize stories. As with most fandoms, its common practice to label fics usually at least by the pairing (central relationship) in the story, or as Gen which is generally accepted as fics where the romantic or sexual aspects of a relationship are not central to the story.
Based on the pairing, fics are then usually classed as slash, het or femslash, the main purpose of this being to guide readers in choosing what to read. There has been very little controversy over fic classification in the fandom, although they are not unproblematic. A good example arose in the codas to Swan Song. Many featured Dean’s life with Lisa, although they were classified as Gen. And of course if Sam or Cas shows up, it seems the slash pairing takes “precedence” in terms of listing over the het one.
The very existence of these categories influences writing. The use of terms like “pre-slash” or “wincest if you squint” indicate writers trying to fit their work into a genre. Some writers have a perception that gen fic is less popular (will get less comments), or at least may feel their potential audience has many readers who have stated they only read slash, and may categorise it as slash, even though there’s not a cock in sight. I am sure these perceptions may also influence what people choose to write.
The ironic thing is with a show based on intense emotional relationships there is often very little difference between Gen fic and slash. Hell there is often little difference between the Show and slash!
Another anal footnote: Observer bias. I didn’t set out with any particular hypothesis to test; I did this because I’m a nerd. Give me some data and I love to see what it tells me – or doesn’t. I read fanfic across all these genres, and what little fanfic I write is spread across them as well. I do however find the categorizing of fic into these categories a somewhat frustrating fandom tradition
Real versus fiction
It will come as a great surprise to many people, but RPF makes up only about a fifth of all stories in the fandom. In April 2007 RPF consisted of 16% of the total, rising to 22% by August 2009. This is reversal of what we see in the Big Bang, where RPF dominates.
One explanation for this may be that any glance at the newsletter will show that RPF has many multi-part/WIP fics, and in this classification system they will only count as one story.
RPF is a broad term covering two main tropes. There is what I call canon RPF which are stories using the basic elements of reality in terms of Jared and Jensen being actors on Supernatural. I’d include in this category future!fics which take this premise as a starting point. The other is RPF AUs which are original fic essentially “cast” with actors from the show and people they know.
In my next post I look at the themes of RPF fics written for the Big Bang, and while I only have my own gut feeling on this, I would expect that RPF genres as a whole are similar to the Big Bang. That is that “canon” RPF stories are very much in the minority. I’ll discuss this more in my post on RPF.
Over time the pairings in RPF have remained remarkably stable. Around 85% of RPF is J2. About 10% is other slash pairings and 5% is het. Femslash is so rare it gets lost in the rounding. The pairings making up “other slash” will have shifted a bit over time but in approximate order of popularity there are Jensen/Jeff, Jensen/Chris Kane, Jared/Jeff, Jared/Chad, Jensen/Jared/Jeff, Jared/Chris Kane, Jensen/Chad, Jensen/Misha and Jensen/Steve. Jensen and original male characters are also a significant pairing.
As mentioned above, RPF often features multiple pairings amongst both characters from the main pairing, and the minor characters.
The het pairings are unsurprisingly Jared/Sandy, Jensen/Danneel and Jared/Genevieve.
As of August 2009, Supernatural fic coded on the newsletter was about 46% slash and 36% Gen fic. Compared to two years earlier, there is a slight (3%) rise in slash but as this is a cumulative analysis it masks the magnitude of the recent shift.
This graph allows us to pinpoint a change in the numbers of both RPF and SPN Slash being written to the late 2008, after Season 4 was underway. Season 4 attracted many new fans to the show and they were attracted to writing in these two areas, and particularly to the new pairing of Dean/Castiel.
In order to better understand what fic was being written, it’s necessary to take a snapshot of this data. Looking at fic written from April - November 2009, we can better see the increase of the proportion of slash fic being written.
For fic written up to late 2007, over 90% of slash was Wincest. By August 2009, this had dropped to 82%. In the seven month snapshot shown above, Wincest made up around 46% of fic with Dean/Castiel stories now comprising 47% . The remaining 7% was other slash pairings.
While proportions of the genres have shifted, absolute numbers of fics have increased as well – the growing popularity of Dean/Castiel has been additive rather than substitutive. As the line graph above shows, the rate at which Wincest and Gen fics are written remains steady. The snapshot period here had nearly 30% more fic being written per month than in early 2008.
It’s hard to find figures from other fandoms, but I’ve found quite a few posts that talk about the lack of Gen fic in many fandoms. Supernatural seems to have quite a significant and strong Gen fic tradition. Some of this was undoubtedly due to some writers not wanting to write incest slash when the fandom started. As I’ve said, there’s often little difference in the emotional landscape of Wincest and gen anyway. Of course some writers turned to RPF, many for the first time, leading to the phrase “Supernatural fandom – where RPS is the high moral ground”!
Many aspects of a fandom’s culture are set early on, and I think the fact that many of the prominent early writers wrote both Wincest and Gen affected the amount of Gen written, and the fact that it was not as marginalized as it seems to be in some fandoms.
It’s hard to easily say more about the composition of Gen fic over time without a thematic analysis. Get onto that will you?
There’s more about Wincest and its history Wincest on the Super Wiki
and particularly its mentions in the wider media, as well as in canon, so I won’t rehash that here. The biggest shift I would say has occurred in Wincest is that there are now less first time fics, or fics that explore why Dean and Sam would have sex or their guilt/angst over having an incestuous relationship. Not dissimilar themes were seen in early Dean/Castiel too.
I do find it interesting that our two main pairings in this fandom each pose a challenge to writers – to convince readers why two brothers, or a guy and an angel would have a sexual relationship.
Gripping him tight
Season Four saw not only the arrival of Castiel on the scene, a new and also quite an enigmatic character, which gave writers more latitude for characterization. Season Four also saw the arrival of a new wave of fans, many of whom were drawn to Castiel. In some ways this made the Dean/Castiel fandom a new fandom within a fandom.
Castiel features in all genres of fanfic Gen, Wincest and he even gets some wing-time in Het with Anna. The largest body of fic is Dean/Castiel as we’ve seen and this genre has been shaped by being dominated by writers new to the fandom.
We see this demonstrated if we look at the top/bottom dynamic in the pairing. Dean's role in Wincest had long been predominately as the bottom, to the extent that warnings are often seen for the deviant top!Dean or bottom!Sam. Yet in Dean/Castiel, many fans had not been writers or readers of Wincest, and so came into the pairing unhindered by this trope.
I don’t think a fixed role has been developed yet for Dean and Castiel in this pairing - Castiel is usually written as topping when he’s being powerful BAMF angel, or as a bottom when the fic focuses on his sexual inexperience, especially losing his virginity to Dean.
As a comparison and in contrast, Dean’s role as bottom in Wincest is often explained as being related to him needing to make sure he is not “imposing” himself on Sam, or because of his need to half one part of his life where he gives up control. The way fandom maps different meaning onto these roles fascinates me.
And in conclusion...
The data here gives a very broad view of what we write. It's generally what you might expect - the stories based on pairings represent pretty well the main relationships on the Show. Except for Bobby – he ain’t getting no loving, and Ruby and Sam were certainly under-represented in fic given the significance of their relationship in canon.
What doesn’t show up in this figures is what I think is an increase in the diversity and probably the quantity of other slash pairings, driven by the appearance of a greater number of recurring male characters in Seasons 4 and 5 (including Lucifer, Gabriel and Chuck) and of course Sam/Castiel.
The early writers shaped this fandom. Gen fic maintains a strong base. RPF, still not acceptable in many fandoms, got a strong foothold as slash writers sought a non-incestuous pairing, and Jared and Jensen's epic love for each other supplied rich material. Dean/Castiel fandom was shaped by a new influx of writers.
And so what will Season 6 bring? While I think Lisa will feature in fics, she's likely to be sidelined by the appearance in both slash and Gen fics of Sam or Castiel. In our fandom, I wouldn't expect a slew of shmoopy domestic het fic (so I will of course feel compelled to write some).
I will be interested to see how Sam/Castiel develops as a pairing, especially if Castiel is involved in his release (some more tight gripping perhaps?) However given the playful origins of Sassy in fandom, I'd be surprised if it took a right turn into angstville. Dean will be splitting his time between his hot brother, that hot angel and his giant ball of angst.
There is if course much more to say about what we write. It’s is now such a huge body of work - we’re a bloody productive and creative lot – that only multiple points of view can start to capture some of its richness and complexity. The crack we write, our favourite tropes, why there is no centaur fic, and of course what our favourite kinks are.
I know many people post about fic and its tropes occasionally, and I’d love if you can link more to more.
Next up – I bang on about the Big Bang!