The Critical Fan Toolkit

“I’m Going to Tell the Story You Didn’t”:
Fan Authors' Perspectives of Fandom Politics, Genres, and their Uptakes

Table of Contents

To write fanfiction is to engage in political action (carrington, 2013; Booth, 2015; Lothian, 2018). All writing is political, embedded in particular ideologies and values about how we interpret the world, society, others, and ourselves. When we write, we engage with specific text types but we also engage with texts to perform actions. Texts do things for us. Such a rhetorical view of genre asks us to consider the potential of texts to be shaped as much as they shape us. As Kittya Cullen and the five other fan authors who were interviewed in this study describe, writing first in fanboard discussions and writing satirical reviews, she says she moves from “passive consumption to active consumption” of texts, not merely watching, but partaking in the textual production of fan communities, and more largely, shaping how fans interpret and respond to the original canonical text. When we participate in fanfiction genres, we are engaging in particular socio-rhetorical constraints that are bound in political values and our positionalities.

In her interview, Aria asserts the role of politics in writing fanfiction and participating in fandoms. Aria says, “People write political theory when they write fanfic, like a lot of fanfic is political theory, a lot of fanfiction is political.” For Aria, engaging with particular storylines is a method for engaging in different types of politics. Aria describes her experience writing “Through pain and oppression” as part of her political transition, moving towards more radical politics. At the time, she was reading about Stonewall and began running a queer resource center at her college; she was learning about herself and the world, how the systems of America were constructed, and who was harmed or benefited from these systems. For her, reading about Stonewall and watching The Legend of Korra (TLOK) inspired this fic; she wanted to entangle real “radical politics” into a fictional world, exploring what revolution means both on a larger social scale as well as an individual scale as Korra begins to understand her own sexuality. Aria states that writing her fanfiction allowed her to explore her own political values, values that both resist and reimagine dominant ideologies.

While Aria states her political motivations explicitly, she believes politics are everywhere in fanfiction and fandom; the politics of each interview participant are fairly clear, too, as they describe their particular choices and their fandom journeys. For Valk, writing their fanfiction was a way to explore their gender identity and challenge the heteronormative narratives entangled in Game of Thrones romantic fics between Jamie and Brienne. For Kittya, engaging in fandoms and writing fanfiction has been about connecting her to her birthplace as well as exploring her sexual and gender identity. For Dialux, her racebent fic is meant to celebrate her own cultural and ethnic identity while also carefully navigating the potentially harmful racebending genre. For Gillywulf, she engages with writing prompts in ways that mirror her own values, refusing to participate in particular storylines that celebrate harmful power dynamics, including slavefics and teacher-student fics. And finally, for WriteGirl, she weaves feminist and antiracist thinking and storylines as she imagines what she argues as poor writing choices in GOT. Each interviewee indirectly or directly states their political ideologies. Some of these are embedded in the “Additional Tags” they use in their fics’ metadata, some are explicitly stated in their Author’s Note, some are obvious throughout their texts, or some are part of their motivation for writing their fics.

For the analysis in this section, I will analyze the correlation between the codes — or the themes I highlight from each interview using a method you can read about on the "Qualitative Coding" page — demonstrating how different codes intersect to better trace fans’ politics and perspectives. Correlation coefficients — which are available in the “Qualitative Coding Visualizations: Correlation Matrix” — takes into account the entire number of codes, how many times the individual codes appear, and how often the codes appear together and creates a correlation coefficient based on that. Correlation coefficients show how likely codes are to appear together. The closer the number is to 0, the less likely there is a strong correlation that these codes will appear or not appear together. Because the sample size is smaller, the correlations that are above 0.1 are of interest to me, as this indicates these codes are more likely to appear together in this group of interviews than other codes.

The codes with a higher positive correlation, or above .01, suggest that these codes are more likely to appear together in this corpus than other codes. Some of these codes appear much less frequently than other codes, but have high correlations because they are more likely to appear together. Below, I go into more detail about the relationships between these codes and what they reveal about fan authors’ understanding of their work and fan communal practices as well as how these are political. What makes using these different codes important is to demonstrate the interdependent networks between the source text, the canon of the source text, how fans interpret the canon, how fans build community through their interpretations, how these interpretations are political, and how individual fans then uptake these interpretations in the fan genres in which they participate.

The Canon

The fan authors all tie their generic and rhetorical choices back to the canon, or the source text. Because fan communities are extensions of the canon of which members are fans, the canon is central. Fans’ interpretations of the canon appear in their uptakes, and also demonstrate the dominant ideologies that they are often pushing against.

The canon critique code has a semi-high correlation with the racism (0.11) and sexism (0.14) codes as fans were critiquing how the canon reinscribed sexism or racism. Both Kittya Cullen—who identifies as Black—and Writegirl—who identifies as mixed race—point to the racism perpetuated in the source texts they love. For instance, Kittya Cullen argues that the Supergirl “uses [the] Black character.” Even the use of the word “the” demonstrates how few Black characters there are in the show. Writegirl also critiques how the GOT writers decide to kill of Missandei, one of the only Black characters on the show. As for sexism, both Writegirl and Valk, who write GOT fanfics, point to the sexism embedded in the show. Writegirl critiques how a scene from GOT in which Sansa, a young woman, is cornered by Sandor Clegane, who is someone she trusts; Writegirl says it feels “a little stalker-y.” Valk points to a different scene between Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth: “Jaime and Brienne kissed each other and Jaime was suddenly taller than her.” Brienne is known to be taller than Jaime and most of the characters on the show, yet she is suddenly shorter when they kiss, reinscribing the notion that women must be feminine in order to be desired — really, that they must be smaller and more petite than men.

Fan authors also celebrate when the canon seems to represent more feminist and queer forms of storytelling. The codes “feminism” and “canon compliment” have the highest correlation coefficient at 0.32, appearing 9 times together in the interviews. Dialux and Valk both celebrate feminist moments in GOT, moments that inspire their fanfics. Dialux, for instance, believes that GOT depicts “sexual liberation for women,” referring to how several women characters have ownership over their sexuality and partners, including not wanting any at all. She points to Sansa, who is the most popular character in the GOT AO3 fandom, as a powerful feminist figure: “in the end [Sansa] got power, and the ability to make sure that nobody hurt her.” Similarly, Valk points to Jaime’s “affinity for femininity,” from the canon and how this affinity inspired them to reimagine Jaime as gender questioning.

The pattern of fans celebrating queer and feminist representation is also seen from TLOK fans. In a follow-up email Kittya Cullen sent to me—which I am sharing with her permission—she writes:

Korra, and that universe will always have a soft spot for me; as a gender-nonconforming AFAB person who saw herself validated in Korra's body, and her complete confidence in it, despite its lack of "softness"; as someone who dealt with her own mental health issues (and yes, used Asami to explore one aspect of it); as a bi/pan aro-ace-spec person who delighted in seeing fanfiction recognise friendship as both a journey unto itself, and a foundation for other possibilities. I wanted to write something that would honour my love for these characters

Kittya was drawn to Korra because she “saw herself validated in Korra’s body,” as she is a “gender-non conforming AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth) person.” Korra has darker skin, large muscles, a deeper voice, and openly expresses her emotions. In the show, itself, there are moments where characters point to how her gender performance and actions resist conformity, such as when her ex boyfriend’s grandma says “You are very muscular for a girl.” During the actual interview, Kittya backs up this statement when she says, “With gender roles in particular, I think it's fascinating that within the Avatar universe, we got to see all these really powerful girl and women characters who were, for the most part, respected, at least in later years.” This moment is tagged with both the canon compliment and feminism codes. For Kittya, the canon reflects the type of queer and feminist representation that resonates with her own lived experiences.

Gillywulf also affirms the importance of queer representation in TLOK. When talking about TLOK’s final scene, when Korra and Asami walk hand-in-hand into the Spirit Portal, Gillywulf describes her reaction: “But it was incredible. I couldn't believe it. I was like, ‘This is happening, right?’ Yeah. I was like, ‘Jesus.’” While there has been some queer representation on television shows, such as Queer as Folk, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The L Word, a lot of these shows were targeted at more adult or mature audiences. Meanwhile, TLOK—a children’s show—took a step towards reimagining what content is labeled as mature. Queerness and bisexuality is not a mature concept, and TLOK makes this statement. After Korra and Asami become canon, several children’s television shows follow suit, such as Steven Universe and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Gillywullf’s reaction demonstrates why representing lived experiences—especially those that are often ignored or suppressed—is so important.

For all six of these authors, feminist—and queer—representations of gender performance, challenging toxic masculinity by embracing femininity, and representing strong women and queer characters each draw them to the canon. Fans notice how the canon resists or reinscribes dominant ideologies; they not only notice, but also take steps to then celebrate forms of resistance or reimagine these ideologies.

Fan Politics

The dominant ideologies reinscribed or resisted in the canon source materials may also appear in fandoms, themselves. This section takes time to analyze how fans describe politics within their fandoms, and how these politics may also reinscribe or resist dominant ideologies.

Fan Politics and Fan Practices Uptake

The fan politics code and the fan practices uptake code both relate to meta understandings of how fanfiction genres and discourse communities are shaped; according to the adjacency matrix, these codes are used 22 times together and have a correlation of 0.22. This high correlation demonstrates how fan uptakes—the common practices that are found when engaging in fanfiction communities—are political and reveal the politics and values of fandoms, just as ideologies are embedded within uptakes across different contexts. For fan politics codes, authors discuss how both external politics and ideologies resonate in fanfiction writing as well as some of the politics of writing, reading, and publishing fanfiction. For fan practices uptakes, the authors refer to uptakes only really found in fan communities, especially fan communities where writing fanfiction is the main source of interaction.

These two codes appear together often because fan authors demonstrate a meta-awareness of how their communities function. For instance, Aria points to the notion of “fanon,” which is specific fan vernacular of ideas that are so often circulated in fandoms, through fanfiction or other ways, that they are almost considered canon. The creation of specific vernacular that is agreed upon and used often by the community demonstrates the values and politics of that community. To have a word—fanon—that is used when a fandom overall agrees with a particular idea about the canon that is not actually canon demonstrates how fans resist capitalistic notions of ownership and intellectual property.

Tagging practices when publishing fandoms, such as using Additional Tags, also reveal the political values of fandoms and an almost habitual action to reach audiences or find fanfiction to read on AO3. Dialux, for instance, points to using a Jodhaa Akbar tag so her fanfic could be discovered by Jodhaa Akbar fans, not just GOT fans. For Dialux, she not only commits to fans of the film, but shows how she cares about her own culture. Jodhaa Akbar is an internationally acclaimed film; it is also an Indian film, so a lot of the fans may either be Indian themselves or have an appreciate for Indian history and cultures. Dialux reaches beyond the GOT Western and potentially White-dominated fandom to find community that embraces another aspect of her fan identity as a Desi fan.

Fan authors’ meta-awareness of fan politics and fan uptakes suggest that they take this awareness into their own fan uptakes. Analyzing fan-specific uptakes—like shared vernacular and tagging practices—reveals political values embedded within fandoms, including how tagging can be used to create community or reach potential audiences or how fanon resists notions of ownership.

Queer Politics in Fandom

The prominence of feminism (32 codes) and LGBTQ+ (53) codes as well as the high correlation coefficient between these and other codes demonstrate how fandoms are often carved out by queer people to examine and reimagine heteronormative systems. Queer politics run deep in fan communities, as Lamb & Veith (1986) and Russ (1985) demonstrate in their first-wave fan studies articles.

The high correlation coefficient between LGBTQ+ and identity-bending (0.26), for instance, demonstrates how fan authors restory characters’ identities to explore their own lived experiences and share this. This high correlation may come because Valk’s entire fanfiction identity-bends Jaime Lannister’s gender identity. In GOT, Jaime is portrayed as a cis-man, and Valk reimagines Jaime as exploring his gender identity and performance. In their fic, Jaime buys and tries on makeup, and when his roommate Brienne accidentally walks in, she winds up teaching him makeup tips in an intimate scene. Valk touches on how this fanfiction resonates with their own lived experience; for them, the fanfic is a “self-fulfilling fantasy” when coming out to their friends did not go well.

Gillywulf also mentions that fanfiction was important for her to explore the possibility of coming out. In fact, she cites the Korrasami fandom as one of the spaces that helped her come out: “I'm meeting a community where this is accepted and this is encouraged even." So, I had decided to come out.” The choice to come out is the first step; the next is the action of coming out, an action that can reoccur over and over again across different spaces and communities. However, she was specifically preparing to come out to her parents. Her fanfiction of 400 one-shots, she wrote different scenes of Korra and Asami coming out to their parents or interacting with their parents as she prepared to come out to her own family. As she describes building up towards coming out and writing her fanfictions, she explains that her one-shots “these became sort of two parallels of, "It could be this, or it could be that.” Fanfiction and storytelling are crucial for queer authors to tell their stories outside of heteronormative, oppressive spaces.

Fandoms, of course, are not totally separate from heteronormativity, but queer politics are celebrated and evoked much more often in fandoms than outside of them. Fan politics (110 codes) and LGBTQ+ (53) has a bit of a lower correlation (0.09) because there are so many of both codes. However, I want to mention the ties between these codes is important to capture a better understanding of fans as queer spaces. For instance, before Asami and Korra’s romance became canon in TLOK, fans were already reimagining their relationship as romantic; the data in the “Fandom by Numbers” section shows this. When Gillywulf and I were talking about these results she says: “I and a lot of the people in the fandom seem to agree for some reason, so I'm just going to go there and enjoy that while I'm doing it.” For fans, the canon is just a jumping off point, especially since queer representation is severely lacking in mainstream culture. Kittya also brings in the importance of queer fan politics, especially for fans who may not feel safe exploring their gender and sexuality in certain spaces. Kittya mentions how she originally was worried about publishing her fanfiction that mentions Korra and Asami’s romance as she knew people “outside the slashfic community” may read her piece. Fan politics center queer romance, carving out space for queer-identifying folks who often need welcoming, non-normative spaces to express themselves.

In terms of how queer politics appear in specific genres, I look to the “fluff” genre, which both Aria and Gillywulf celebrate. Both Aria and Gillywulf believe “fluff” is one of the most popular genres, especially when depicting queer romances by queer writers, because often stories about queer romances are about “our destruction as a moral point, or the echoes of authority,” as Aria argues. As Aria argues about the romanticization of “destruction” of queer people, Gillywulf also creates fluffy fanfics because “things are just not good a lot of the time…so I really like reading things that are just soft and maybe things aren't so terrible.” When Aria and I were discussing why “fluff” is one of the most popular tags in TLOK fandom, she argues, “If women who love women retell stories of women who love women, they're going to tell a lot of stories that are about being happy, at least in my opinion.” This moment reveals important aspects of both the fluff genre and the importance of queer folks telling stories about their lived experiences.

Fandoms, especially for these fan authors, can be spaces to tell queer and feminist stories, either continuing from the canon or subverting the canon entirely. These spaces are important for fans to perform their identities in safe, brave communities where they are each embraced for who they are.

Heteronormativity in Fandoms

A well-versed understanding of queer politics also leads fans, especially queer fans, to recognize how heteronormative ideologies may plague fandoms. Heteronormativity and fan politics have one of the highest correlations at 0.29, demonstrating that several of these authors address heteronormativity in fandoms. For instance, while Aria and I discussed the “relationship” tags in TLOK, she says, “I'm really interested in the fact that Korra and Mako becomes more common after Korrasami happened.” She is talking about the uptick in Mako/Korra relationship tags after the show’s finale. While Mako/Korra was a popular relationship within the fandom, this uptick demonstrates how certain fans became more invested in them after Korra and Asami’s relationship is confirmed, almost as reactionary to this queer representation.

Metadata results from “Fandom by Numbers” suggest heteronormativity is more prevalent in GOT and TLOK. While Mako/Korra’s higher numbers suggest TLOK is not completely separate from heteronormative ideologies, heteronormativity seems to dominate GOT. When Dialux and I discussed the significantly higher number of straight “Relationship Categories” in GOT than in TLOK, Dialux says, “But I think that they make sense, to a certain extent, because there definitely are a lot more heterosexual relationships within this fandom than I've seen in a lot of other fandoms. And I think that's probably because we don't have one main character and one side character that's like the sidekick to the main character, both of them being male. You don't have that here.” When she says, “we don’t have one main character and one side character…both of them being male,” she refers specifically to the notion of slashfic as an uptake of relationships between two close men characters in a canon text. Russ (1985) argues that women write slashfic because they want to reimagine heteronormative spaces, while Jones (2002) suggests that slashfic is actually a subtextual reading of these types of relationships depicted in canon. In a sense, if the canon subtext already resists heteronormativity by encouraging readings of a romantic relationship between men, then fans are more likely to uptake that subtext to make it explicit. For GOT, though, as Dialux says “we don’t have that here.” The show does not invite queer readings, and fans’ uptakes of the show may reinscribe this heteronormative ideology.

When I spoke with Valk about their interpretation of the higher amount of straight couples, they look specifically at Jaime and Brienne. While Valk ships Jaime and Brienne, they see their relationship as more queer than is often depicted in other fanfictions. Valk explains how they see heteronormativity seeping into Jaime/Brienne fanfics: “There's a lot of, again, fanfic already out there of them being intimate, but it was all very incredibly heteronormative. Just their gender roles and Brienne being vulnerable and weak and all that stuff again.” Even though Valk interprets their relationship as potentially queer, or at least non-normative in terms of how they resist gender conformity, they argue a lot of fans just uphold heteronormative gender roles. Brienne—who in the canon refuses to conform to the gender roles prescribed to her—is depicted in fanfiction as “being vulnerable and weak,” as if she was just waiting for a man to make her feel like she could conform.

Fan authors demonstrate an acute awareness for how queer politics and heteronormative ideologies play out in fan genres. Hunting (2012) examines how heteronormativity is pervasive in fandoms, even fandoms of a queer canon. As TLOK fans’ commitments to Mako/Korra and GOT fans’ commitments to reimagining Brienne as more feminine, fandoms are not inherently queer.

Racism in Fandoms

Fan authors demonstrate an acute awareness for how queer politics and heteronormative ideologies play out in fan genres. Hunting (2012) examines how heteronormativity is pervasive in fandoms, even fandoms of a queer canon. As TLOK fans’ commitments to Mako/Korra and GOT fans’ commitments to reimagining Brienne as more feminine, fandoms are not inherently queer.

There were several authors who brush on racism in fan politics, such as Aria and Gillywulf. Gillywulf mentions that slavefics make her feel uncomfortable, and Aria sees the “character of color” tags being used less over time in TLOK fandoms as potentially a gentrification of the fandom. Dialux, who identifies as Desi, and Writegirl both also talk about racism fandoms. Dialux, for instance, critiques the racebending genre, even though she herself participates in it. Racebending, according to Dialux, “can be, very racist if not done in a very respectful manner.” For Dialux, her racebending fanfiction reimagines the GOT universe as historic India and she reimagines all the characters as Desi. Even though she herself is Desi and she is writing about her culture’s history, she is still wary of reinscribing stereotypes and merging traditions from different ethnicities. Because she recognizes that racebending may reinscribe racist ideas, instead of challenge them, she pairs her fanfic with an annotated list explaining some of the specific details she includes.

Writegirl also points to the racism in fandoms, specifically about how even when Missandei is in a fanfic, she is “absent from things.” Missandei’s representation in fanfics, according to Writegirl, is more “window dressing” where she is there to affirm Daenerys, rather than have any agency. Writegirl’s fanfiction about Missandei is partially a response to the injustice of her character’s death in GOT as well as her erasure in the GOT fandom. These critiques are more about general patterns in fan communities, such as critiques of white supremacy are often targeted at institutions, rather than individual people. However, as fan authors, it is up to us to enact critical uptakes when we write fanfiction, recognizing how our writing can challenge, rather than reinscribe, white supremacy.

Critical Uptakes

The critical uptake code has higher correlations with a few codes, including antiracism, canon critique, and motivations. Critical uptakes are the habits of response in which the actor, in this case the fan authors, are critiquing the dominant ideologies embedded in either the original genre or in common uptakes of that genre. The critical uptake code having high correlation with several codes demonstrates how these fan authors are carefully thinking through the ideologies embedded in both fanfiction genres and the canonical genres.

The critical uptake code has higher correlations with a few codes, including antiracism, canon critique, and motivations. Critical uptakes are the habits of response in which the actor, in this case the fan authors, are critiquing the dominant ideologies embedded in either the original genre or in common uptakes of that genre. The critical uptake code having high correlation with several codes demonstrates how these fan authors are carefully thinking through the ideologies embedded in both fanfiction genres and the canonical genres.

The critical uptake code also has a higher correlation with canon critique (0.15); when fans are critical of the canon about which they write fanfiction, their fanfictions will reflect that criticism. For instance, Aria critiques how PTSD is portrayed in TLOK and carries that criticism into her fanfiction. She argues that the canon represents PTSD as “something you recover from,” but points out this is not always the case. Through her critique of the canon, then, her critical uptake involves reimagining how the canon represents trauma, specifically, “through the context of being something you come to live with, and come to integrate, and come to find becomes a part of you life.” Similarly, Writegirl expresses her frustration with the GOT canon, especially the execution of Missandei, one of the only Black women who appears consistently in the show. Her frustration led her to the creation of her fanfiction chapter about Missandei choosing to sacrifice her life to stop the war, dying “on her own terms,” as Writegirl argues, instead of “in chains, basically in a pissing contest between two White women”—referring specifically to Queen Cersei and Daenerys Targaryen. Aria and Writegirl’s critiques of show come from critiquing how the generic conventions embedded within the show—a hero needing to recover from her trauma in order to continue being a hero and a Black woman’s life being used for White characters to gain or maintain power—reflect harmful dominant ideologies. Their criticisms lead to their uptakes subverting these generic conventions often found in fantasy narrative arcs.

Critical uptake has a higher correlation with authors’ motivations (0.13) for either writing their entire fanfic or specific choices they made when writing. Fan authors share their motivations for their critical uptakes, what drives them to uptake the canon or fan genres. Aria, for instance, argues “There's a study I think that says that when you get into rational arguments about things you don't convince them, but if you tell stories you can. And I think that I'm in that place, arguing about politics in the fiction space of the internet.” Aria shares how to part of her motivation to tell stories to persuade people who may not agree with her, specifically to invite them to understand why radical, queer, anti-racist politics are important. Instead of arguing with them, though, she turns to storytelling.

Several other fan authors also tie their motivations to critically uptake fan genres or the canon by pointing to how the canon inspires them. Part of Writegirl’s motivation is her critique of Sansa’s character development. She points out there “was a glimpse of a darker Sansa, a more politically savvy Sansa, a more adult Sansa. And then, for whatever reason, they backed off of it. And then the next thing we see her, she's just kind of sitting there asking questions, looking dull. And that was a little irritating to me.” She refers to a specific moment halfway through the show. Writegirl interprets the writers’ choices as writing Sansa as more passive, muting the power she was slowly gaining before. This “was a little irritating” to Writegirl, and this irritation became her motivation to critically uptake how the writers fail Sansa and reinscribe oppressive gender roles.

Several other fan authors also tie their motivations to critically uptake fan genres or the canon by pointing to how the canon inspires them. Part of Writegirl’s motivation is her critique of Sansa’s character development. She points out there “was a glimpse of a darker Sansa, a more politically savvy Sansa, a more adult Sansa. And then, for whatever reason, they backed off of it. And then the next thing we see her, she's just kind of sitting there asking questions, looking dull. And that was a little irritating to me.” She refers to a specific moment halfway through the show. Writegirl interprets the writers’ choices as writing Sansa as more passive, muting the power she was slowly gaining before. This “was a little irritating” to Writegirl, and this irritation became her motivation to critically uptake how the writers fail Sansa and reinscribe oppressive gender roles.

Finally, critical uptakes have a higher correlation with fan politics (0.12), demonstrating that political values embedded in fan authors’ community practices align with their critical perspectives. Several authors talk about their community practices more generally, describing community values at large. For instance, when Aria describes why fans’ queer readings and interpretations are important, she says” People they were like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to tell this story, I want to finish this story.’ And there's a degree to which it a queer reading, there's this political tendency to look at fiction and say, I am going to tell the story you didn't.”’ She first begins with a more general definition of fandoms: “I want to finish this story.” Fans approach writing fanfiction with this goal, specifically within the “subtext,” as Aria argues. Fans recognize the subtext and want to make it explicit in their uptake. Aria also points to fans’ “queer readings,” in which the subtext allows for queer interpretations. She specifically refers to this as a “political tendency” in that queer readings — even if the fan author is not explicitly citing politics — is political. Finally, Aria ends by says, “I am going to tell the story you didn’t,” the “I” referring to the fan authors queering the canon. This moment of defiance demonstrates how Aria and other fans invested in or dabbling in queer politics commit to challenging the original writers, calling out the stories they overlooked, intentionally or not. Gillywulf backs up what Aria says when she says, “And a lot of the purpose of fandom is to sort of explore beyond what we're just given.” Gillywulf’s phrase “explore beyond” and Aria’s statement of defiance demonstrates how fans’ approach their fanfiction writing — their uptakes of the canon and fan genres — with the notion of “exploring beyond” the canon.

As fan authors participate in fan genres, they are enacting critical uptakes. They play with fanfiction generic conventions, resisting the dominant ideologies either within these conventions or in the genre conventions in the canonical show. Their critiques of the show and fandom can motivate them to then enact a critical uptake by composing fanfiction. Fans’ critical uptakes —their commitment to “tell[ing] the story [the canon] didn’t” — comes from their investments in queer, feminist, anti-racist, and other critical politics.