The Fandom is Afoot: BBC Sherlock and the Impact of the Prosumer

 

Christiana Gregoriou

 

Co-written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the BBC’s much-acclaimed television drama Sherlock (2010–now) transports Conan Doyle’s characters and their adventures from their Victorian era to a contemporary, and technologically advanced, London setting. At the same time, with retro-style currently at the forefront of the contemporary fashion world, the show evokes the text’s original setting, thus serving to attract a new young and style-sensitive audience for Sherlock, while not alienating those among the viewers who are already familiar with, and accustomed to other period-faithful adaptations. The show won plaudits from a wide variety of sources, such that it was rewarded with prime-time seasonal slots and prestigious awards (such as BAFTAs and EMMYs), and piqued the curiosity of academics (see, for instance Stein and Busse 2012; Porter 2012; Gregoriou 2013; Vanacker and Wynne 2013). It also attracted legions of new Sherlock fans, many of whom have been so immersed in this modern show, and so unusually interested in it as a ‘product’, that they have transformed from being ‘consumers’ to what Toffler (1980) would describe as ‘prosumers’: producing consumers. Responding to the television show, viewing fans produced not only visual art but also thousands of narratives of their own in the form of fanfiction, a long-standing phenomenon triggered by those who enjoy the fictional universe so much that they ‘treat it as a narrative playground’, ‘writ[ing] to prolong its life’ (Vanacker 2013, p.95).

Even more so, in the age of the ‘convergence culture’ (Jenkins 2006), media producers themselves strategically incorporate fans’ creative works into new productions (Zeng 2012, p.199), with fanfiction prosumers ultimately influencing series production in various interesting ways. The Sherlock show producers do more than interact with fans via social media; they respond through the show itself, indirectly allowing fans to shape the show, hence redefining the relationship between television shows and their fans (see Lawson 2014). To draw on an example of this connivence (and a potential spoiler), series two of Sherlock ended with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes escaping death after seemingly falling from a very tall building, putting fans in the position of speculating, over the course of several months, as to how he managed to survive the fall (note how Sherlock falling from a great height to his supposed death echoes Conan Doyle’s 1893 ‘The adventure of the final problem’). The much anticipated first episode of series three metafictionally responded to fan speculation in social media, by incorporating various fans’ own theories of how Sherlock did in fact survive this fall. The episode even included a scene portraying fictional Sherlock fans discussing their fascination with the main character in the fictional world itself, fully taking advantage of Cumberbatch’s Holmes celebrity status in both the show and the real world:

Two lengthy sequences proved to be fan fantasies dreamed up by characters within the drama who were as obsessed with the fate of Sherlock as are viewers on the outside. These internal theories included elements (the medical effects of squash balls, an alleged homoerotic charge between Holmes and Moriarty [and also a scene featuring Holmes passionately kissing Molly Hooper, the show’s morgue registrar, who harbours feelings for the great detective]) that have been aired in external fan fiction. (Lawson 2014)

Similarly, the show’s producers took advantage of the show’s own web-awareness: ‘Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a consulting detective with a blog, run by Dr Watson, which has “gone viral”: everyone in the second series seems to be a reader and a fan’ (Poore 2012, p.165). As Poore (2012, p.164) puts it, the Sherlock ‘adaptors are playing cat-and-mouse with […] fans’ expectations’. In fact, for Lawson, shows such as Sherlock run the risk of turning into their own fanfiction, with future productions being skewed toward the ‘obsessives’ and no longer bearing in mind the needs of a broader audience. In short, fanfiction is viewed by many, such as Lawson, as not only derivative, but as the product of negatively connoted ‘obsessives’.

Coppa (2006b, p.236) argues, however, that fanfiction is far from derivative in that it involves trying to make sense of, or develop, new interpretations of characters. It generally follows dramatic, or dialogue-based, rather than literary, or prose-based, modes of storytelling and, thus for Coppa (2006b, p.242) can be seen as ‘community theatre in a mass media world’, a staging and therefore a reading of a text. Derecho (2006) also rejects terms such as ‘derivative’ and ‘appropriative’ literature, and instead proposes the Derridean term of ‘archontic’ fiction, a neutral term meant to highlight the intentionally allusive nature of fanfiction. Gray (2010, p.146) in turn describes fanfiction as a ‘paratext with which fans can repurpose characters, whether by adding reflection on issues absent from the show, expanding the generic repertoire of the show (adding romance to science fiction, for instance), or multiple other strategies that reclaim ownership of the text, its characters and its meaning’. Fanfiction hence explores unexplored territory, capitalising on the fantasy universes of the immersed viewing audience the show attracts. Such fanfiction has at times even ‘been brought under the “protective umbrella” of various media firms’. Since creating paratexts entails having the power to personalise a textual world, media firms often filter acceptable content from fan creations so as to profit from paratexts or at least limit the scope of possible meanings fans can attach to a text (Gray 2010, p.165).

Despite the fanfiction phenomenon having such an important effect, challenging our narrow scope and definition of ‘adaptation’ (see Pugh 2005; Jenkins 2006; Zeng 2012), fanfiction continues to be treated as an illegitimate literary genre. Sherlock fanfiction writers even find themselves mocked by the cast and its interviewers when promoting the show, which implies that the relationship between producers, promoters, and the show’s fandom is an uncomfortable one. Romano (2013), for instance, reports on fanfiction writers’ outrage, after Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the show’s John Watson, read aloud sexy homoerotic fanfiction whilst being interviewed when promoting the latest series of their show.[1]

Founded in 1998, fanfiction.net is considered ‘the largest multifandom archive’ (Coppa 2006a, p. 57). According to Thomas (2010, p.142), sites such as fanfiction.net allow users to be eclectic in their tastes and allegiances, enabling them to navigate and browse between categories, with relaxed medium specificity (fans often switch from discussing the book to the film to the TV spin-off of the same base text). With such fiction being available online, ‘the boundaries between authors and readers’ are blurred, enabling authors to revise and update their work at will and with ease, and as part of a network community or culture (Thomas 2010, p.143). Moreover, such fiction blurs the boundaries between authors and characters, as ‘even in more restrained fan fiction, there seems to be a craving by fans to either write themselves into the stories, or to explore their own feelings about forbidden love using Holmes and Watson as ciphers’ (Poore 2012, p. 168). Most importantly, with Sherlock fanfiction being based on a multimedia (i.e. televisual) text, I explore the means with which, stylistically, the fan writers capture the show’s various ‘modalities’ in writing, whilst at the same time ‘novelising’ its universe. As I discuss elsewhere (Gregoriou 2013), Sherlock has been noted not only for the characters’ use of technology, but for the use of screen technology in the show itself, for instance when Sherlock’s thought processes are envisioned on screen. Music also signals tension, and actor choice and performance adds significantly to characterisation. The retro-style costuming includes such items as Holmes’ long, classic coat, and Watson’s old-fashioned, yet also trendy, knitwear. Much like the furnishings of the duo’s shared flat, the costumes simultaneously nod at the source text’s Victorian past whilst maintaining its contemporary retro chic. Fanfiction frequently integrates responses to these features of the show into its own self-reflexive, metafictional and narrative discourse. While adaptations and fan fiction fill in narrative gaps, they also ‘paradoxically erode the original canon by making it seem smaller in comparison — just one planet in a constellation — and by offering connections and resonances between adaptations, and between adaptations and fan fiction rather than between source text and adaptation’ (Poore, 2012, p.169). Linguistic markers to character language are also worthy of attention as they add to characterisation. Here I briefly touch on idiolect for, as Thomas (2010, p.151) notes, ‘[f]anfiction writers make great efforts to capture the speech rhythms and idiosyncrasies of the characters’.

As of the end of October 2014, the fanfiction.net site dedicated to Sherlock (https://www.fanfiction.net/tv/Sherlock/) consisted of 39,900 pieces of fanfiction dedicated to this TV show alone, although this total does not include forums and texts which ‘cross over’ into other shows, films, and so on and so forth. Filtering down through the ‘favourite’ Sherlock fanfiction in English, I selected the top 15 stories to look at in stylistic detail (see Appendix). I restricted the data collection to those stories under 5,000 words, noting that much fan fiction is in fact, book-length, with over 100 results for the fan fiction category reaching over 100,000 words.

All 15 are classified as ‘complete’, having been published on the site over the 2010–2012 period. They have been generated by what appear to be 12 different authors, Jennistar1 having produced three of the 15. As Hellekson and Busse (2006, p.10) note, ‘within fan fiction itself, a number of subgenres are well recognised [...] particularly because many fandom-specific categories exist’. Some of the stories under analysis are classified under hurt/comfort. These are stories that revolve around one character being hurt with another comforting him or her and ‘frequently climax with the lead characters consummating their relationships’ (Graham and Garlen 2012, p. 30). Others cover humour, family, romance, friendship, angst, supernatural and drama, with most stories falling under humour alongside at least one other category. Jennistar1’s Explosions, Literal and Otherwise, the most popular story in this study, lists ‘angst/hurt/comfort’ under ‘category’, for instance. Seven of the stories are rated ‘T’ (13 years plus, i.e. ‘contains content not suitable for children’), six ‘K+’ (nine years plus, i.e. ‘some content may not be suitable for young children’), with the remaining two rated ‘M’ (16 years plus, i.e. ‘contains content suitable for mature teens and older’) (ratings from http://www.fictionratings.com). As Graham and Garlen (2012, p.30) note, fanfiction authors are not shy about placing characters in sexually charged situations and often depict intimate moments. Despite my having chosen fanfiction.net so as not to concentrate on slash fiction, much of the ‘favourite’ fiction in the small corpus I have compiled is suggestive of sexual tension. Not to mention the assumption, made by the writers, that the show’s two main male characters are indeed gay (despite the co-creators signalling otherwise), or that the two characters are coming to the realisation that they harbour sexual, or at least somewhat romantic, feelings for each other. I return to this ‘bromance’ related point later.

Due to copyright-related media firm restrictions, most of the fanfiction I collected was accompanied by disclaimers confirming that the author does not own the material upon which their fiction is based, though these disclaimers are usually expressed in a humorous fashion:

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything.

patster223

Disclaimer: Not mine, although I swear, if he doesn’t stop being sexy, one day Cumberbatch WILL end up in my cellar….

Jennistar1

Disclaimer: If Conan Doyle was still alive I’m certain he would just love to give me the rights to Sherlock. Must work out this necromancy thing… till then, not mine.

immaculately-flawed

Various authors’ notes are positioned as prefaces or epilogues to the texts. Here, the fiction is accompanied with warnings (‘Quite a bit of swearing. Quite a lot of angst’, ‘Swearing. Adultery and all that’ — Jennistar1), spoilers (‘Spoilers for TRF’ [the episode ‘The Reichenbach Fall’] — immaculately-flawed), and/or quotations (‘The most dangerous word in any human tongue is the word for brother – Tennessee Williams’ — Anonymous Eli). In such notations, some authors make direct reference to what inspired them to write the pieces:

Fic inspired by ‘Waiters and Traitors’ Iphone [sic] crack fic “Texts from Last Night”

AristaHolmes

Has anyone ever watched those videos of soldiers coming back from their tours and surprising their family and friends? [...] Anywho [sic], these videos are what inspired me to write this. Hope you enjoy!

PeaceRoseG’ladheon'

[T]he inspiration for ‘Sherlock kissing John with his arms pinned above his head’ came from an amazing piece of artwork by reapersun: time to go to bed, which is linked, with kind permission, on my profile page.

Verityburns

Also in notations, somewhat metafictionally, authors reflect on their writing, invite reviews, justify any plot holes, and explain their rationale or motivation:

NB: Okay, so there used to be a chemical factory in East London but the morons we call the government just had to go and demolish it a few years ago didn’t they, leaving me with a huge plot gap. So I’m using poetic license to re-imagine it into being.

Please do the same. Thank ye!

Jennistar1

Author’s note: I hope you enjoyed my first venture into the fandom. Do let me know how I did; I adore reviews!

Anonymous Eli

A/N: I wasn’t planning on posting this but I changed me [sic] mind, so this is for anyone who (like me) can’t take the angst anymore. This past week I kept running across Reichenbach Falls images and mini fics that made me want to curl up and die and I finally couldn’t take it anymore. Here is my own NOT angsty Post Reichenbach Falls mini fic. So there, take that, silly mortals that write gut-wrenching fics.

Immaculately-flawed

Interestingly, many of these texts appear to be a response to other fan work. The authors recognising what instigated and what frustrated them, necessitating the need for their own texts to be produced either to complement or alternatively ‘better’ previously-generated fan crafts. Some of the fanfiction also appears to have been prompted by ‘kinkmeme prompts’: kinkmemes are Livejournal community blog requests, where fans post ideas for (usually homoerotic) stories others can opt to materialise into fanfiction:

A/N: Again, written for a prompt – Sherlock and John, World War Z.

Silver Pard

Summary: Filled for this prompt here on the kink meme: Sherlock is possessed by some sort of demon. [...] John doesn’t even notice the difference. 

Patster223

This story was written for my very dear friend staceuo, who asked for ‘dancing… and sex in the toilets.’ I’m afraid I cheated a little, but she still loves me :D

Verityburns

Noticeably, most of these kinkmeme prompts revolve around Sherlock and John’s sexual/romantic relationship in one form or another. Also, the writers here openly share their work, acknowledge each other’s contribution, and negotiate their part in the relevant network community or fan culture. Even more so, and in turn, some of these texts appear to have generated other forms of fan art:

EEEK! The wonderful and very talented Talitha Koum has drawn fanart for this story! Even better? She’s making it into a comic! […] I’m going to go into a corner and explode with happiness now.

Immaculately-flawed

Translations

There are translations of this story available in: Chinese and Korean[SG5]  […]

PODFIC [audio fanfiction]

With the help of the lovely staceuo, I have now recorded a podfic of this story.

Verityburns

Providing further evidence for these fictional works having been generated by a community of creative fans, there is reference to the pieces having been edited by others who are sometimes called ‘Betas’. ‘A beta reader (or betareader, or beta) is a person who reads a work of fiction with a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and the general style of a story prior to its release to the general public’ (fanfiction.net):

Thank you to Rheadyn […] you’re a wonderful beta.

Edit: Thank you to SarahKnight for pointing out my British English failure (what can I say? I’m Canadian). So the milk has been fixed. YAY! :)

Immaculately-flawed

Fin:

AN: As usual, a round of applause for my wonderful beta, ginbitch, who’s been very good about me pestering her with fic even though she’s so busy.

Blind Author

As such notations indicate, there is often clear acknowledgement as to whose prompt was responded to, and who the ‘beta’ of a story was, but the community also consciously blurs concepts such as ‘writer’ and ‘reader’ to the extent that they may be seen as redundant. The stories appear to be the product of a network, whilst the identities of the individuals contributing to the fanfiction are protected by their usernames.

Next I turn to consider the content of the stories themselves. As the titles and summaries supplied with each story indicate, this fiction is not really about crime or a concern for detecting criminals at all. At best, detection gets a passing mention — see Wrong Order story’s [SG6] reference to dead children, for instance — but mostly, detection, or indeed crime, is not what these texts are driven by. Though the given fanfiction is firmly placed within the modern Sherlock universe (where the two men live together, John is the one that always shops for groceries and so on), the texts focus on characterisation rather than the duo’s collaborative efforts toward actually bringing criminals to justice. Waiting for John, for instance, is explicitly written as a ‘series of short character-focused pieces’, each featuring the point of view of the series’ central characters, including not only Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, but also Inspector Greg Lestrade, Sergeant Sally Donovan, and forensic expert Phillip Anderson. As the author, LadyNyxRavus, herself admits, she wanted to get a better ‘handle on them as characters’. Most importantly, and as touched on above, the stories also focus on establishing the nature of the (often romantic or sexual) relationship between the major story characters, culminating with the two coming together at the end:

And then, on a darkened dance floor, with half of Scotland Yard to witness, Sherlock Holmes finally dropped the mask which he had worn for so many years and lowered his head to kiss the only man that he would ever love [John].

The applause was deafening.

First Night Out

The hurt/comfort fan stories most often revolve around either John or Sherlock getting hurt, the other coming to their rescue and/or coming to the realisation of their love for the first in the process. The relationship between other pairings also features: see Lost and Found, for instance, which deals with Sherlock’s bond with his elder brother Mycroft.

Further to such fiction assuming the reader’s prior knowledge of who the characters are, the stories exophorically[2] reference other sources that readers are assumed to have prior knowledge of, some of which are Sherlock-specific and some of which are not. References to ‘the taxi driver’ (Explosions, Literal or Otherwise) presuppose the reader having watched the series’ first ever episode where, to spoil the ending, an unnoticed taxi driver turns out to be the killer everyone is after. Similarly, Mycroft’s ‘encrypted note’ reference to the need to protect Stephen Fry from a zombie attack (A Brief Account of Life with Zombies) assumes that the reader knows who Fry is, and what his reputation is like. Also, it hints at Fry having played the same character, Mycroft, in the Guy Ritchie directed film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), hence the need of this BBC Sherlock-specific Mycroft to protect Fry. In making reference to fictional ‘universes’ other than the Sherlock one, the texts also assume other universe-specific schematic knowledge on behalf of the reader. In two of the 15 stories, the last example included, the reader is asked to suspend his or her disbelief further, and draw on prior knowledge as to the existence, and nature, of such supernatural entities as zombies and demons for instance, despite such beings being inconsistent with the show’s fictional universe:

Anyway, dead body in the bath - so far so normal, as life in 221b goes. It stopped being normal when the corpse sat up and tried to eat me.

A Brief Account of Life with Zombies

As the demon rifled through this man’s (Sherlock, it picked up as it scanned through his memories. This demon had been around for thousands of years, but even it could admit that the name was fairly ridiculous) mind, it grinned. Oh, this was rich. Somehow, it had just found the one person on Earth who was stupid enough to summon a demon by accident.

How to Accidentally Summon a Demon

The fan fiction responds in detail to the show’s concern with technology. As noted and discussed in a previous article (Gregoriou (2013, p. 50-1), not only do the show’s producers employ various current film-making and screen technological techniques, but in the show itself Sherlock relies on modern technology (computers, mobile phones, modern forensic science, and satellite navigators) to aid him in solving crimes, something that John subsequently blogs about in celebration. In turn, the fan fiction heavily draws on, and relies on prior knowledge of, the style, and workings of, various genres of social and other digital media. These include Facebook Twitter, blogging, emailing, texting and video conferencing, not to mention supposed ‘encrypted notes’, online news reports, and video descriptions of CCTV camera recordings. Different graphologies are used to lay out each text’s style accordingly:

From: MH

To: G Lestrade

Subject: SH and JW

Attached: 23.05Vid

I believe congratulations are in order, Detective Inspector; today is your day, is it not? This footage was taken from the CCTV camera outside of Baker Street [...]

From: G Lestrade

To: All departments

Subject: Fwd: SH and JW

 Attached: 23.05Vid

HOUSTON, WE HAVE LIFT OFF!

I think you all owe me a tenner. [...]

Re: Inter Office Gossip

 

Sherlock resumed his spying and his texting.

There’s a dead mouse under your bed. Is that an experiment? – JW

Of course not. My experiments are always carefully stored. – SH (deleted)

The new tenant is friendly. I don’t like him… God, I’m turning into you. – JW

Text Me When It’s Over

Here, technology is used as a modern literary vehicle multi-textually triggering and assuming familiarity with various generic mediums, all of which are employed for fanfiction narrative storytelling. Unlike conventional prose favouring narration along with speech and thought presentation or conventional drama opting for face-to-face conversation, fan fiction capitalises on the modernisation and technology foregrounded in the show to which it responds. To further describe the medium of fanfiction manifested here I shall briefly turn to Emmott’s (1997) frame theory, which informs my stylistic analysis.

Emmott’s (1997) theory of narrative comprehension provides an analytical framework that hypothesises about the mental stores and inferences that are necessary to create and keep track of contexts and characters when reading a narrative text. According to Emmott’s model, the reader would turn any situation he or she encounters into a ‘contextual frame’ which would restrict (that is, ‘frame’) their expectations and mental representation of the circumstances containing the current content. The reader would then, accordingly, monitor the group of characters in particular places, times and circumstances. ‘Frame switches’ refer to moves from one frame to another, while ‘frame recalls’ refer to the return to a previously ‘primed’ (i.e. highlighted, or drawn to) frame; ‘Where a frame switch occurs over a short or parallel period of time, the unprimed frame is potentially available for frame recall’ (Stockwell 2002, p.157). Frame switches and recalls can either be instantaneous or progressive. Fleeting frame switches into such things as thoughts or passing memories are said to constitute ‘frame mixes’ instead. The Sherlock show’s fanfiction relies on frame switches, mixes and recalls. By relying on familiarity with different technologies and their related genres and communicative media, the reader is invited to keep track of how and where characters are framed, not only in the fictional fanfiction universe, but also the relevant cyber universe of that world.

To stay with the fanfiction’s response to the Sherlock show, one encounters much show-specific stylisation in the texts that the fans generate. The texts are backgrounded against London-related settings (‘He is drenched, as if he has been swimming in the Thames’ — Explosions, Literal and Otherwise) while, with respect to characterisation, there are references to character physicalities mirroring that of the actual Sherlock actors, Cumberbatch and Freeman. In the fanfiction analysed here, readers encounter a Cumberbatch-like tall, thin, pale, curly-haired Holmes, and a shorter, stockier, Freeman-looking, limping military veteran Watson, with appropriate show-specific costuming:

It is quite refreshing for John to see Sherlock in the same state as most of the other people around here; usually he is swanning around in his great coat, pale skin as free from imperfection as ever, looking a goddamn ivory statue. [...John] closes his eyes and concentrates instead on [...] the turfs of Sherlock’s hair that are tickling his ear [...]

Explosions, Literal and Otherwise

When Moran first saw John Watson, he hadn’t been so impressed. An inch or so below the average height, a forgettable face and a body that was going soft at the edges without the discipline of the army [...He] is still wrapped in one of those ridiculous jumpers that look like they were made for him by his grandmother.

Deceiving Appearances

The stories allow point-of-view access and viewpoint shifting into various characters’ minds, something that the televisual storytelling mode also allows in places, for example, where Holmes’ clue-like thinking is visualised on screen. It is in such contexts that self — and other —  description of characters contributes to characterisation, highlighting most often Sherlock’s extraordinariness (brilliance, arrogance, sociopathic behaviour) against John’s ordinariness. Sherlock for instance, self-describes his mind as ‘great’ (Text Me When It’s Over), and is other-described as ‘cold-hearted, cold-blooded’ and ‘psychotic’ (Homecoming), and as one to whom ‘normal labels’ do not apply (Re:  Inter-Office Gossip). Contrastingly, John is other-described as ‘so, so very normal’ (Waiting for John), a demon wondering whether ‘sociopath’ Sherlock ‘has gotten himself an actual saint as a roommate’ (How to Accidentally Summon a Demon).

At the same time the fanfiction commonly features such narrative techniques as analepsis and prolepsis (commonly known as flashbacks and flashforwards), disrupting the normal chronology of events:

Lestrade approaches carefully. He has no doubts that Sherlock has already noticed that he has arrived but he does not look up from his apparently concentrated study of the debris-littered ground. […]

He should have thought. He is Sherlock Holmes for God’s sake, he should have thought and thought and thought. But he didn’t, didn’t even try to, he just –

They’ve reached a crossroads in this warren of a factory [...]

Explosions, Literal and Otherwise

Here, the reader needs to keep track of what goes on in the actual scene, with Lestrade slowly approaching Sherlock. Simultaneously, the reader must grasp what goes on in each character’s ‘belief’ frame, meaning what characters believe to be true as to the nature of frames (Emmott 1997). ‘Belief frames’ here cover what each of them know or understand to be true — at this moment the erroneous presumption that Watson is dead — but also what each of them understands the other to know; Lestrade here thinks that Sherlock has noticed Lestrade’s presence already, for instance. As for the narrative structure, the narrator shifts from Lestrade’s viewpoint to that of Sherlock’s, while the latter analeptically reflects back on a factory explosion that may have killed John. The italics graphologically indicate that the present time is actually blended with the recent past ‘mixing’ frames further, again in Emmott’s (1997) frame theory terminology. In effect, whilst Lestrade attempts to interact with a distressed Sherlock, the latter’s mind wanders to the earlier explosive scene, and the reader is required to keep grasp of both frames at once, along with the two characters’ belief frames.

To stay with Emmott’s theory, ‘frame repair’ (1997, p. 225) refers to instances where a reader becomes aware that they have misread the text, either because of lack of attention, or because the text is potentially or even deliberately ambiguous. In Text Me When It’s Over, Sherlock writes, and subsequently deletes without sending, various text messages to John, whilst the latter believes Sherlock to be dead. When Sherlock sends one text message by accident, John starts sending several of his own texts in return in the hope of convincing Sherlock to admit that he is alive and well:

 

Molly has an abnormal body. – JW

I’ve already seen it. – SH (deleted)

Not HER body. Just a body. In the morgue. – JW

I didn’t assume you were making a crude remark in the first place. It’s situs inversus, very interesting but she won’t let me take it. – SH (deleted)

Text Me When It’s Over

This excerpt features a likely frame repair where the reader’s understanding of Molly’s ‘body’ is concerned, though the two characters, unbeknownst to John, are so well connected intellectually that Sherlock does not misunderstand the intention of John’s reference to Molly’s body.

If the reader/viewer has deliberately been misled over a long stretch of text, the repair could instead be classified as major and hence more of a ‘frame replacement’ (Emmott 1997). Chow Mein, Deductions and Realisations features such a replacement, a repair so large that it merits re-reading the text (whether literally or figuratively) to fully interpret the scene. Here, Sherlock makes deductions as to a ‘loved-up’ couple nearby with John becoming conscious of this couple’s connection sounding exactly like theirs. It is toward the end, when John kisses Sherlock, that the latter admits to having manipulated John’s initiating of the romantic gesture by hiring actors to play a loved-up couple. Fanfiction employs the use of repairs and replacements to generate pleasurable surprise relating to characters’ relationships and emotions, a strategy which is particularly effective in the case of short stories.

Finally, to touch on idiolect, the fanfiction features lexical choices typical of characters in the show’s own televisual universe (an area that, admittedly, would merit in-depth linguistic analysis itself). Sally Donovan is often portrayed as referring to Sherlock as a ‘freak’, for instance, something that other officers also mirror:

“So,” Donovan droned. “You’re dating Freak? You?”

Homecoming

About the new guy. John, James... something like that. That doctor who hangs around with The Freak – I mean, Sherlock?

Re: Inter Office Gossip

“What has the freak done now?” [Anderson] asked, taking in her stormy expression [...]

Wrong Order

Fanfiction Sherlock and Watson’s speech patterns also echo the TV show. It is in Gregoriou (2013) that I analyse the primary duo’s first interaction in the show in terms of, amongst other things, politeness strategies (Brown and Levinson 1987). Much like that first interaction, the fanfiction also features Sherlock as his typically face threatening[3] abrupt self, even when narrating, with John often linguistically responding to Sherlock’s revelations with awe:

(18:01) Wrong. SH

A Brief Account of Life with Zombies

 “It’s not your fault,” says Lestrade. Wrong.

“It’ll be ok,” says Lestrade. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

Explosions, Literal and Otherwise

John stares at Sherlock. “Brilliant. That’s brilliant.”

Chow mein, Deductions and Realisations

Not only does the characters’ linguistic behaviour fittingly reflect their idiolect in the television series, but it adds to characterisation. Specifically, the speech patterns add to the impression of Sherlock being antisocial and unfriendly, with John being linguistically and socially polite and responsive.

In this essay fanfiction is presented as a form of fandom prosumerism, as a genre generated by networks and as interpretative of the show to which it responds. A ‘collaborative, democratic and ever-open phenomenon’ (Vanacker 2013, p. 95), it can be seen as ‘archontic’, or as a paratext fans use to develop a sense of characters and relationships between characters, rather than focussing on aspects of the show’s crimes or detection. Most often revolving round Sherlock and John’s supposed sexual or romantic relationship, the fandom responds to the show’s technological concerns by borrowing from the style of digital media whilst being reflective of the idiolect/speech patterns displayed by characters in the show. The fan fiction further allows access to, and shifts in and out of, characters’ minds, mixing, recalling, repairing and replacing various kinds of frames (including those of ‘belief’), most often for humorous purposes. Most importantly though, Sherlock fan fiction capitalises on the show’s subliminal homoeroticism, teasing producers to the extent that the latter respond through future editions of the show. Thus, Sherlock itself becomes self-reflexive and metafictional and, in cahoots with the activities of its own fandom, self-mocking.

 

References:

Brown, P and Levinson, S 1987, Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Coppa, F 2006a, 'A Brief History of Media Fandom', In Hellekson, K. and Busse, K. eds. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, MacFarland,Jefferson. N.C, pp. 41-59.

Coppa, F 2006b, 'Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fanfiction as Theatrical Performance', In Hellekson, K. and Busse, K. eds. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, MacFarland, Jefferson. N.C., pp. 225-244.

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Notes:

[1] The present article takes a close stylistic look at some Sherlock fan fiction itself, leaving aside the more explicit, same-sex, so-called ‘slash fiction’ embedded within it for the time being. For slash fiction, see, for instance, the homoerotic fan work at http://fuckyeahjohnlockfanfic.tumblr.com/, where ‘straight characters are reconfigured as gay or bisexual, and the unwritten sex lives of the characters take centre stage’ (Poore 2012, p.168). As Vanacker (2013, p. 98) highlights, ‘critics of fan fiction […] are very clear about the Barthesian impulse behind all this writing. [For them at least] [f]an fiction is the unambiguous, dynamic, and active expression of reader [or, in this case, viewer] desire’. Regardless of the drive behind it, fanfiction writing is intrinsically interesting as a literary phenomenon of the digital age. Note how the highly popular Fifty Shades erotica book trilogy by E. James (2011-2) evolved from Twilight fanfiction published by the same writer on www.fanfiction.net (Warner 2012).

[2] Cataphora refers to ‘textual references pointing to subsequent information in the text’ and ‘shape[s] the viewers’ scope of expectation’ (Wulff 2009, p. 2).

[3] In Brown and Levinson’s theory terms, ‘face threatening’ speech acts are those that ‘attack’, or go against, either one’s need to approved of and liked (known as positive face threatening acts), or one’s need to not be imposed upon (known as negative face threatening acts).