Fans on Twitter Are Creating a New Kind of Story You’ve Never Seen Before
These elaborate multimedia fanfictions are more intimate than traditional works—and they’ve acquired their own enthusiastic communities
On July 1, 2020, in the middle of worldwide lockdown, fans of up-and-coming indie rock band The Runners were posting selfies of outfits they were wearing to a maskless, non-socially distanced live concert happening that night in New York. At the encore, lead singer Eddie Kaspbrak confirmed yearlong speculation of his romantic involvement with a fan, Richie Tozier: he announced that the next song would be a tribute to Tozier, closing with “I love you. Happy to do it.”
This concert didn’t actually happen. And the band doesn’t actually exist. But everything else—including the fact that “HAPPY TO DO IT” was the 16th trending US topic for a few hours on Twitter—was very much real.
This all happened in updates 358-382 of The Runners AU by @richietozxer, a work of fanfiction based on Stephen King’s It. Fanfiction is a thriving genre; the popular fanfic clearinghouse Archive of Our Own lists more than 14,000 related stories. What sets The Runners AU apart from other fan-created works, however, is that it’s told entirely through phone screenshots. On Twitter.
What are SMAUs?
Twitter is no stranger to literary experimentation. The broad category of Twitterature covers various explorations of its capacities as a text-limited, collaborative medium—from Twovels to haiku bots to shitposts that gain an aphoristic patina as they transcend Weird Twitter to become mainstream PSAs. But one particular form especially pushes Twitter’s boundaries and limits as a multimedia storytelling platform, both in how stories are told and how they’re consumed—namely, the Social Media AU.
AU is a fanfiction term for an “alternate universe” story, one that changes the genre or fundamentals of its source material. AUs transpose existing characters into contexts and genres that are often completely divorced from the source material (or “canon”)—new settings range from academia and philharmonic orchestras to spy heists and outer space. Alternatively, some SMAUs extend the source material beyond its official ending to “fix” or examine unaddressed parts of the world. Familiar characters serve as conduits to explore and develop canonical relationships and themes through new angles.