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What makes something fandomable? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
What makes something fandomable?
After doing a couple of posts on things my f-list isn't especially into (Warriors and Tom Sawyer), I got to thinking about the question--what is it that makes something "fandomable" and something else just popular? (I'm not talking about popular vs. unpopular; no accounting for that, sometimes, just kind of, what inspires these insanely talkative and creative fan communities, as opposed to being "the it book" or something along that line.)

Everything out there has some fandom somewhere, I'm quite convinced, but there's a difference. Harry Potter has 281,748 stories at the moment at The Pit, and will probably gain a couple hundred by the end of the week. Stephen King, who has arguably sold a comparable number of books, has 371. The ubiquitous Da Vinci Code has 190. John Grisham isn't even listed. The bizarrely popular Gossip Girl books rack up a total of 70, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants--movie and all--only gets to 203, and all of Georgia Nicholson's full-frontal snogging can only get her to 84, despite a lot of popularity when FFN was at its peak.

The thought of stories focused on kids occurred to me, but Orson Scott Card, who writes of little else, only has 211, while Les Mis has 1392. Warriors has more fics than Redwall, which has been around longer (but features talking mice instead of talking cats). Checking LJ comms, Stephen King comes up on a lot of sort of general discussion comms and only a few individual, while we all know how many HP-exclusive comms.

Some things that occurred to me.

Other than the appeal to kids, some of the things I can think of would be:
  • Character arcs over a long series of books. King has a solid world, but his characters for the most part get a book apiece, rarely revisited. Except when it is. JKR has written one cohesive series of books following the same characters.
  • Point of view economy. King is all over the place, into everyone's head, so people already know what everyone is thinking, leaving less room for speculation.
  • The same, on a more general level--number of things left unaddressed, for fen to mess around with.

Honestly, that's about all I can think of, and I can think of exceptions to all of them. I'd say popularity in the internet age, but Star Trek is the archetypical fandom, and it was going strong back in the days when stories were passed around on clay tablets in cuneiform scripts. Or, well, typewritten and dot-matrix hard-copy anyway.

It's not that one is better or worse, though it's a little frustrating when you're used to an HP fandom and you'd really like to start a wild, careening conversation about the possible paths of the kids in It or gripe about the bad AU structure at the end of DT7. (Sorry, sai King... Eddie's and Jake's ages aren't going to change in an AU, and their actual age spread is only a couple of years; the fact that you pulled Eddie out much further ahead in the time stream doesn't mean he's always going to be an adult to Jake's child.)

Anyway, I thought it might be an interesting conversation.

I got out a spreadsheet to sort out the most fanficced at the The Pit.
1. Harry Potter (281748)
2. Lord of the Rings (39380)
3. Phantom of the Opera (7508)
4. Tamora Pierce (6983)
5. Animorphs (3846)
6. Misc. Books (3065)
7. Outsiders (2569)
8. Fairy Tales (2170)
9. Artemis fowl (2106)
10. Bible (2100)
11. Twilight (1986)
12. Silmarillion (1968)
13. C. S. Lewis (1717)
14. Warriors (1536)
15. Les Miserables (1392)
16. Redwall (1357)
17. Mediator (1291)
18. Eragon (1203)
19. L.J. Smith (1178)
20. Series Of Unfortunate Events (1157)

Conveniently, that also ends the ones that have over 1000 fics.

"Misc. Books," of course, contains all the little itty-bitty fandoms, so that says something. Interesting how high the Bible is, given that you don't have to squirrel away public domain fic on the Pit, and can write it and publish it openly. Then again, I'm not looking at the Bible fanfic, at least not at the Pit. I'll stick to my nice Midrash collection from college. Fariy tales make the list as well, and they're public domain. Then again, Shakespeare (888, number 22) and Greek mythology (653, number 30) are also pretty popular. King is number 47. Trendy Darren Shan is 45 (386 fics). Young Wizards (312 fics) is number 49.

Anyone spotting a pattern? I'm not!
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fiannan From: fiannan Date: January 22nd, 2007 10:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Just jumping in to say that I totally agree with this. It's no real stretch of the imagination to surmise that HP gets so much fandom attention because it's a world that readers find universally appealing; it accounts for the massive popularity of the books in the first place. Heck, *I* wish I could have gone to Hogwarts. The same thing could probably be said for Lord of the Rings, and others that appear towards the top of the list.

In any case, it's the only thing I see the phenomenally popular fandoms like HP, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek having in common :)
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: January 21st, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've wondered about that too--I agree with you on those three points, but I've also thought that complex worldbuilding has a lot to do with it, because there's more opportunity for speculation there too. A completely new world like the ones in LotR, Harry Potter, or Star Wars gives a huge amount of room for creativity and speculation--even if you don't have any original thoughts about major plotlines or characters, you can pick some little-used corner of the world and start building something there.

No, I take that back. Good worldbuilding probably has more to do with the amount of good fanfiction in a given fandom, not the amount of fanfic in general. The vast amount of what's out there for any fandom is badfic.
riah_chan From: riah_chan Date: January 21st, 2007 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I also think that things like visualization (meaning, is it in a visual medium like TV or animated or whatever) has a lot to do with it. Especially if the characters are pretty (at least some of them.)

Also, the number of characters and character types for fandom to play around with contributes. Anime and manga fandoms like Digimon and Naruto have a ton of characters with a large variety of personalities for fandom to use, giving most people something that they could like. (Like in Naruto, I don't love the main characters but I adore most of the side characters so it keeps me interested.)
stephantom From: stephantom Date: January 21st, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Huh. I had no idea that Phantom was so high up there. That was in fact one of my major obsesions for a while. I think that what a lot of these have in common is a sort of.. folklore quality? Phantom doesn't have it's own world, but it's got a mythic sort of element to it in that it borrows from some very old stories, and there are several different versions of it. For an active fandom to grow, there needs to be the write balance of empty room to fill in, and structure on how exactly to do that. This definitely applies to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings - there are lots of things you never actually see happen, or several characters you never read about in detail, but there is a definite outline there, which, to a fan, is just begging to be fleshed out.

I haven't read a lot of King, but from what I gather, his books are pretty self-contained.
stephantom From: stephantom Date: January 21st, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
right balance. Good grief. (And "its" but oh well.)
petitecrivan From: petitecrivan Date: January 21st, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Most of those are fantasy-esque books. I'll include Redwall because it's about talking animals set in a medieval-type period. I don't know about L.J. Smith, Twilight, or Warriors (though that sounds like it could be included), but most of those are fantasy books. Maybe it's because that's what's popular right now. A lot of the stories up there seem to be current popular books...Harry Potter, Series of Unfortunate Events, Eragon, Tamora Pierce, Redwall, and Artemis Fowl are fairly new, while C.S. Lewis and Lord of the Rings are experiencing newfound popularity because of the films.

So I'm not sure, but there's an attempt to find a pattern. Hope that made some sense.
lady_songsmith From: lady_songsmith Date: January 23rd, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Pierce isn't actually all that new. Her popularity is a new thing, though. I'm surprised by the number of Pierce-world fics because when I got into fandoms other than Trek about 8 years ago, and entered the Pit, she wasn't even in triple digits. The Lioness quartet was out years and years ago - I picked them up in 4th grade. I'm 24 now. :P I think she may be benefitting from the upswing in Fantasy popularity -- with Potter and LotR converging in Hollywood at the same time, there's been a fantasy explosion. Where your average Border or B&N's "SciFi & Fantasy" section used to be 60% scifi, 25% modern fantasy, 5% vampire, 5% classic or high fantasy, and 5% just plain weird, now you're getting something like 30% classic/high fantasy, or modern fantasy with the classic flavor, like the Potter books.

Speaking as a fantasy reader, I love it. :)
lionessvalenti From: lionessvalenti Date: January 21st, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
One of the things to look at with Phantom and Les Mis, is that they're also musicals. Phantom has had several films based on the book, including one based on the musical. Les Mis only has one movie that I've seen, but it was really good film. They have a fanbase that's separate from just the books they're based on. If you go and look, while it's in the book section, because they are books (and damn good books, both of them), how many of the fics are set in the book-verse? There are so many versions, and so many retellings of them, and access to the information isn't contained to just reading a book.

Same goes many of those, but... Phantom, maybe, it was an easy read, but I can't imagine your average 14-year-old ffn author picking up Les Mis unrequired.

When did Outsiders get so popular? I wrote one of the first Outsiders fics on ffn, back before there was even a category for it. I've been in that category, though, and it's pretty scary, lol.
rose_in_shadow From: rose_in_shadow Date: January 21st, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting that Tamora Pierce is that high up. I've read two of her books ('Trickster's Choice' and 'Trickster's Queen'), but wasn't *that* impressed with them. Very wordy, way too many characters, and the heroine was very Mary Sueish (she might have done two things wrong in both books).

I think someone else mentioned it already, but I think worldbuilding is a big part of it. There are so many unanswered questioned, other senarios to explore, new vistas to discover in a well-written world.

Then again, I bet 90% of the Phantom-fic is nothing more than badly written fantasy stories where the author attempts to get the two main characters in bed. (Which is why I rarely read Phantom fic any more...)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 21st, 2007 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I might've read 2 that were lent to me by a friend, and good God, is it ever stuff Suethors would read.
i_autumnheart From: i_autumnheart Date: January 21st, 2007 11:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would imaging that scope for expansion is a large part of why things get ficced...

Both HP and LotR have incredibly detailed universes that are partly familiar to us and partly exotic, and which the main plot arc uses only a part of. For HP, in particular, that world actually overlaps with the one we know and so its incredibly easy to relate our own experiences and perceptions to. Because of this detail and fmailiarity, writer have less to explain to readers about how things work, which makes both writing and reading a bit more accessible.

HP and LotR also share a solid grounding in the myths of our own cultures, which might make us feel closer to them than we would to a world which is more original and detached. This might also explain the popularity of bible-fic, and almost definitely explains the huge number of published stories that rework Le Morte d'Arthur.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 21st, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Several of the previous posts have said what I was thinking while reading your post. I too think it has to do with a combination of things. From JKR just giving us info from limited perspectives it gives us room to "speculate," imagine, project. With HP we are given mostly Harry's perspective but as the books go along we start seeing things from other character views.

JKR has given us so many character types to read about that we are bound to see ourselves in some of them or want to befriend them at the least. Harry's world is a world hiding just out of sight of those who can't see it. Just around a corner anywhere we can stretch our imaginations they could be hatching the next and/or last plan to defeat the most evil being on the planet. Cool, sign me up, like Harry says... I want to fight too.

I was asked by a client why I liked Harry Potter. I could not give a simple answer. Like JKR's books the answer was complicated and varied. Maybe it is those types of writing that leave just enough unanswered questions to keep our minds thinking and trying to fill in the landscape with our own imaginings. JKR gives us a mystery to solve and leaves questions for us to try to answer.

I am also a SW, LoR, STTNG fan too. All of these stories gave me room as a reader to fill in the spaces with my own view on the world the writers constructed. Maybe that's another part of it...making the world the characters inhabited so solid that you could feel the grass between your toes when The Hobbits are walking or felt for R2D2 when C3P0 walked away from him on Tatooine in New Hope or Feel your heart sink when Harry said "NO" to killing Wormtail.

Sorry, I know this probably doesn't help, but as a reader these are some of the things that keep me coming back

akilika From: akilika Date: January 22nd, 2007 05:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll admit, as a giant Animorphs fan when I was younger, the fact that it was a world just a few steps away, happening at the same time as our world but in secret . . . that was a huge appeal. I wanted to see it, and there were a few points where I had myself almost convinced it was real.

Other things are more individual to me--persons being controlled or manipulated is one of the things I like to read about, and the bad guys are aliens who crawl into your head and control your every action. Stuff like that. But I think that's a big part of it, what you mentioned.
kheha From: kheha Date: January 21st, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think there's a critical mass of interest, too -- HP and LotR especially are self-sustaining, simply because they are so big. I think people tend to start there before moving on to other, smaller, fandoms.

The surprising popularity of Shakespeare, Greek mythology, and fairy tales I would say are partially a result of school assignments (and maybe Bible as well, at least given Sunday school and the importance that the Bible plays in the lives of many people -- either defining themselves in accordance with it or in opposition to it). I've gone looking for Scarlet Letter fic, and just about everything I could find on ff.net was written as an assignment, then shared with friends on the ff.net interface that the kids were using to show off their HP fic.

Movies and popular buzz also help -- I remember being on ff.net around the time the Matrix came out, and that fandom was quite popular at the time (and has since died off). I wonder how much Eragon has grown recently.
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: January 22nd, 2007 01:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh, I have a short Tale of Two Cities fic--because yeah, it was a school assignment. Posting Bible-fic and other things that are actually publishable might just be another way of getting a slightly wider audience; it's a place to submit it where people can read it. That's probably most of it there.
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: January 22nd, 2007 12:21 am (UTC) (Link)
I think a key part is the size of the universe and difference from our own. When there are lots of minor characters, you find yourself wanting to know more about them. Different rules also make you more interested - twelve out of your twenty can be considered based on the past (I counted LotR and Tamora Pierce, that sort of thing).
hymnia From: hymnia Date: January 22nd, 2007 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting question. I decided to look at the numbers for anime/manga to investigate further. Here are the top ranking series (all those with 5 digits):

1. Inuyasha (68440)
2. Naruto (60783)
3. Yu-Gi-Oh (40708)
4. Gundam Wing/AC (37607)
5. Digimon (27827)
6. Dragon Ball Z (27775)
7. Sailor Moon (23302)
8. Yu Yu Hakusho (19637)
9. Card Captor Sakura (19430)
10. Full Metal Alchemist (15912)
11. Beyblade (15737)
12. Rurouni Kenshin (14313)
13. Fruits Basket (11220)

I notice that kid appeal seems to be a factor—Yu-Gi-Oh and Digimon, more kid-oriented than most anime, rank very high. The “big, fantastic world to play in” factor is there, too—that’s probably a lot of what gave Inuyasha its boost to the top. It’s not surprising to me that shonen (geared to males) outranks shojo (geared to females). Sailor Moon is the highest-ranking shojo series at number 7. The series vs. self-contained story issue is also present. Miyazaki’s very popular films don’t boast many fics. The highest-ranked was Spirited Away with a measly 1279. All of the ones on the 5-digit list that I recognize are not only series, but fairly long ones, at least in manga form. One factor I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned yet is longevity. I’m sure that helps the ranking of shows like Sailor Moon and Ruroni Kenshin, which have been around a long, long time. Compare their numbers to a show like Bleach, which is very popular right now with its recent debut on TV in NA, and has a lot of the markings of a fandomable series, but only has 4338 fics. I’d be very surprised if that number didn’t become much larger within a year or two.

There’s something missing, though. I adore Fruits Basket, and I find it fandomable myself. I’ve been in Harry Potter fandom for years now, and only written one fic for it, and had ideas for maybe 2 or 3 more that I never used. But for FB, I feel like I have a new idea for a fic almost every day. I probably have at least ten stories in the planning/outlining stages, and three in the partially-written stages, and I’ve only been in that fandom since last March or so. And clearly, it ranks pretty high. But…I can’t really tell you why, other than it’s a good story with lots of interesting characters. It’s not kid-oriented, it’s not that fantastical (it does use a few fantasy elements, but it takes place very much in “the real world”), and it’s shojo. The manga is pretty long, but the anime, which is what draws most fans in to begin with, is only 26 episodes. As for longevity, I’d say it’s been around a moderate length of time. I feel like there needs to be some other reason, but I can’t put my finger on it.
fiannan From: fiannan Date: January 22nd, 2007 11:13 am (UTC) (Link)
In regards to Fruits Basket, I'd say that there's a heap of factors that attribute to its popularity and concurrent "ficcability". Most obviously, there were a lot of things left unexplained that Takaya introduced at points throughout the series. There's mysteries regarding the pasts of the numerous characters, as well as questions about the nature of the curse that immediately lend themselves to inspiration for writers; I can't even begin to count the number of fics I've seen based upon the breaking of the curse alone. As for the characters, despite the fact most of them are actually related, the exact nature of their relationships and feelings are so ambiguous for much of the series that you can pretty much 'ship anyone you like (a trait it seems to share with HP!). Take the Kyo/Tohru/Yuki triangle, for example. It's immediately apparent that both boys share an interest in Tohru, but since the true nature of her own feelings weren't determined for three-quarters of the manga, fans had free-reign to imagine whatever romantic situations they felt like. It's no surprise that the majority of Furuba fic is Kyo/Tohru, Tohru/Yuki, or Kyo/Tohru/Yuki centred :)

I hope this makes sense!
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: January 22nd, 2007 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you get a better overall picture if you don't just restrict it to book-based fanfic, maybe? By including everything (except the crossovers listed under "Misc") there are 201 fandoms with 1,000+ fics, and 28 with 10,000+. The top 50 are:

  1. Harry Potter (281763)
  2. Inuyasha (68440)
  3. Naruto (60783)
  4. Yu-Gi-Oh (40708)
  5. Lord of the Rings (39381)
  6. Gundam Wing/AC (37607)
  7. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (30422)
  8. Digimon (27827)
  9. Dragon Ball Z (27775)
  10. Sailor Moon (23302)
  11. Yu Yu Hakusho (19637)
  12. Teen Titans (19605)
  13. Card Captor Sakura (19430)
  14. Kingdom Hearts (18605)
  15. Star Wars (17210)
  16. Final Fantasy VII (16227)
  17. Full Metal Alchemist (15912)
  18. Beyblade (15737)
  19. CSI (14715)
  20. Pokemon (14560)
  21. Stargate: SG-1 (14457)
  22. Rurouni Kenshin (14313)
  23. Fruits Basket (11220)
  24. Pirates of the Caribbean (11108)
  25. Wrestling (11108)
  26. Gilmore Girls (10966)
  27. X-Men: Evolution (10947)
  28. Final Fantasy VIII (10802)
  29. Zelda (9311)
  30. Charmed (8491)
  31. Sonic the Hedgehog (8193)
  32. Ranma (8160)
  33. X-Men (7696)
  34. Shaman King (7602)
  35. Phantom of the Opera (7507)
  36. Angel (7287)
  37. X-Men: The Movie (7214)
  38. Stargate: Atlantis (7030)
  39. Avatar: Last Airbender (6990)
  40. Tamora Pierce (6983)
  41. Smallville (6770)
  42. Weiss Kreuz (6626)
  43. X-Files (6294)
  44. Power Rangers (6235)
  45. Supernatural (6044)
  46. Tennis no Ohjisama (5828)
  47. Danny Phantom (5750)
  48. Newsies (5455)
  49. Gravitation (5405)
  50. Doctor Who (5127)

Looked at that way, the key determining factors for number of fics seems to be simply popularity with the younger set who churn out write the most fanfic, and the strength and activity of the general fandom, regardless of whether there's a rich background to develop in -- I mean, eleven thousand Wrestling fics and eight thousand Sonic the Hedgehog fics!?! O_O

A better guide to "fanficcability" might be the number of good fics, of course, but with such numbers that's practically impossible to measure even if you were willing to use one person's judgement as a rough guide. I think it is well worth debating what features make for good fanfics and therefore make a fandom fanficcable in that sense -- for what it's worth, I'd say an interesting background world, a fairly wide range of characters, and enough that's unclear to enable writers to explore, all of which are present in HP -- but unfortunately that's bound to be highly subjective. Sadly, I don't think raw numbers are all that helpful in this context. :(
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: January 22nd, 2007 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm amazed Gilmore Girls is that high up, too. I'm sure it's a good show, but what most of the others seem to have in common is some SF/F element (which is probably partly why people write fic in the first place: it's a bit different from our everyday world), and that show doesn't at all. Really, if you're going to write fic based in the real world, why not mix it up a bit more and make it into publishable original fic? That's harder to do with other fandoms.

(I also have to say I'm pretty chuffed to see Doctor Who in the top 50...even if it is number 50. That's such a great fandom for fic--I'm sure most of what's in it is badfic, because that's true of all large fandoms, but since the Doctor does plenty of traveling between episodes and the TARDIS can go virtually anywhere, the possibilities for playing in that world are almost limitless.)
shiiki From: shiiki Date: January 22nd, 2007 12:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I think it may have to do with the characters - how adaptable are they to fanfiction. As in how 'writable' are they, that they can attract people to want to get into their lives.

I haven't read all those series/books on the list, but I just know that it says a great deal about Harry Potter that it's miles ahead of the rest!
krytella From: krytella Date: January 22nd, 2007 01:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I think there's a difference between fandomable and fanficcable. For example, I'm on an active email discussion list for a series of books which only has 23 stories at ff.n. I can think of several things about a book or series that can promote fandom. A continuing story with mystery aspects can get a lot of fandom activity out of speculation. A story with a large cast of characters that are varied and interesting gives good material for fanfic. A story with an interesting world to explore also invites speculation. A story without romance promotes fanfic, because there are more possible romantic stories to tell (HP and LoTR both benefit from this). And of course, it never hurts to be very popular.
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