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Read This Fanfiction: Commaful's slideshow fanfic is the future of the art form
Welcome to Read This Fanfiction. Once a digest, now a deep dive into the world of fan-created written works. Join us twice a month as we examine authors, platforms, trends, scandals, and more from every corner of the fanfiction universe.
From snail-mailed newsletters and zines to Yahoo Groups to LiveJournal to Dreamwidth and Fanfiction.net, fanfiction has had many homes over the years. With the rise of Hugo Award-winning Archive of Our Own, many migrated there, with its dedication to protecting fanfiction writers and astounding tagging system. While AO3 may be the big platform for fanfic these days, it's not the only one. People are finding other ways to post and present their fics, and one such platform doing it quite a bit differently from any other site is Commaful.
Founded by Sydney Liu and Ryan Choi, Commaful came about as a reaction to their friends only skimming their writing and as an experiment to see if presenting work in a more visual manner would be more compelling for those with short attention spans. Spoiler: It worked.
Hundreds of thousands of monthly readers and over 100,000 pieces of original written work and fanfiction later, Commaful has quickly grown to be a force of nature in its own right.
Commaful uses slideshows to showcase the original writing, poetry, and fanfiction of its users and community. Liu and Choi call it "multimedia storytelling," but essentially they're like PowerPoints or picture books. It's a medium that is particularly attractive to younger people, a fact Liu confirms, citing that their userbase is mostly used by those between age 14 and somewhere in their early 20s.
"However, the site has readers and writers of all ages, from senior citizens sharing old war stories to college professors and high school teachers," Liu tells SYFY WIRE. "You'll find pretty much any age over 14 on the site."
It's also geared toward those who may have difficulties reading long chunks of text or don't read or write in a traditional manner. Liu says multiple users have told them they have never read a book outside of school but find Commaful a lot of fun to use. It's also starting to attract major attention from professionals. Kobe Bryant's new YA novel promoted on the site through exclusive snippets, for example.
"For many people who love having daily writing habits, these short format is a great medium for them to express themselves," Liu explains. "As an example, Steve is a high school Spanish teacher who has written for over 180 days in a row, posting a poem or short story a day."
Fanfiction makes up a leading portion of the works on Commaful, with romance being the leading category (of course). As far as the most popular fandoms, Harry Potter and Star Wars take the lead, unsurprisingly. But what is writing fanfiction on Commaful actually like? What is the community there?
"Many of the most popular fanfiction pieces on the site are short, making drabbles, ficlets, and one-shots very popular on Commaful," Liu explains. "Many fanfic writers get very creative with how they format their stories and bring their fics to life."
The platform definitely favors shorter stories, given the fast nature of flipping through images and text, but Liu assures that many long-form stories have done very well on the site. As to the format itself, Liu says that it's led to a number of unique takes on fanfiction.
He cites this Detective Pikachu and Avengers crossover using PowerPoint and the Commaful creator tool and this work wherein the creator partnered with a photographer on Facebook to make a Spider-Man story using adorable Spider-Man toy photos.
Liu really drives home the community aspect of Commaful, claiming it's one of the friendliest around. Comments encourage engagement and interaction, and users can private message one another to brainstorm story ideas, collaborate, and become friends. That said, with a younger audience, the community's moderation rules are extremely important, especially when it comes to harassment and abuse.
"Throughout Commaful’s early days, we have focused on removing destructive feedback and abusive behaviors from the site," Liu says. "Sharing writing publicly is an extremely vulnerable thing to do, so we want to make sure people have a safe place to do it." He says there's a "report" feature available to all users and that all reports are reviewed manually. They also have someone monitoring the site, looking for abuse, spam, and other violations.
"We currently hide most mature stories on the site from public view for our younger readers and plan to introduce more complex rating systems in the future to allow for a wider range of audiences and stories to be discovered on the site," Liu says, explaining that right now the tagging system on the site is relatively simple. Creators tag their stories with the fandom and genre, as well as anything else they might find pertinent. People can filter or discover via these tags, and they're working on fandom-specific feeds that feature popular and trending stories.
As an image-heavy platform, Commaful is dedicated to making sure all images are sourced and credited responsibly, working with artists directly for some images and utilizing some built-in partnerships with image providers that automatically attribute images. When a user uploads or uses a photo that isn't attributed, Liu says they take DMCA requests seriously and make sure there's an amicable solution for the creative.
So, what do Liu and Choi want people to get out of Commaful?
"For readers, the hope has always been to provide a place for people to fall in love with great stories, despite busy schedules and tons of distractions," Liu says. "For writers, we hope Commaful will help them stretch their creativity and find new audiences. We’ve been told by a number of writers that the format really pushes them to think in new ways, taking advantage of unique aspects of the format to tell their story. And with unique stories come unique audiences. With Commaful, we hope people will find the stories fun and less intimidating to start. Easy to fit in during quick breaks or on a commute."
So next time you're on the subway or stuck in line at Starbucks, why don't you swipe on through a piece of fanfiction? You may be surprised at just how fun it is.