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18 November 2003 @ 12:03 pm
more rain, hold the pigeons  
I am full of blather today. Kind of avoid-y. Not that work isn't fun--indeed, it's so tingly-making and fulfilling and joyous I think the top of my head might blow off at any moment and hit the ceiling tiles with a wet, red splatter from the sheer force of my professional orgasm.

But enough about me.

I just reread this story--from an old fandom, by a writer who isn't likely to be reading this, so anyone who *is* reading this can put away their paranoia--which is good. It has a well thought-out plot, moves organically, gives proper characterization, and contains authentic details that clue you into all the author's research. It's long and meaty, but there are no extraneous scenes. The language is clear, precise, and descriptive. Overall, it has the stamp of canon. It's also a boring story. Reading a story like this is like watching a competent episode of your favorite show where nothing drastic happens to any of the characters, and we don't learn much about them we didn't already know: they converse, they copulate, they have small relationship insights, they eat meals, and we get to watch them clean the potatoes and grill the fish. Professionally, they do everything by the book--they don't drop their guns or kill anyone by accident, and their remarks about a case/mission/demon-hunt are more intelligent, detailed, and pertinent than you'd ever get in canon itself. If they get kidnapped, they try to reason with their captors. As a reader, you can never really fault the characters for what they do or say. If there's an argument about something, the tension is put to bed by the end. Emotions are...tidy. Sex comes at the end of the story, like clockwork, like punctuation. Even when it's slash, it feels like gen. Or maybe I should say: it feels like the dryest kind of gen.

So, there's nothing wrong with gen. I mean, for most shows, canon itself is "gen." It's written for a general audience; romantic relationships exist but might not be the primary thrust or A-plot--the driving mechanism--of a given episode or story. But I sometimes wonder what drives the authors of stories like this. (Of course, I should note again that this particluar example was a slash story; it just lacked the edge I usually associate with slash.) It's weird to me when fan stories seem to be taking fewer risks than the shows themselves; I've read stories by authors so scrupulous that they never color outside the lines. They're usually very good authors in terms of writing and plotting mechanics, but I can skim 90k of a story without once having my attention arrested, without tensing, without breaking a smile or snerking. I skim and skim and skim, and finish the story in seven minutes, and I don't feel like I've missed a thing.

Comedy excuses anything of course. If a story's funny, there's your point in writing it. But when you've got an interesting plot, it's usually only *really* interesting when it's working on the characters. And if you've got a relationship woven into the story, where's it going?

I'm not talking about shorter stories with a one-trick premise, or PWPs--nothing wrong with those--but the stories that obviously have ambitions to replicate canon, but lack spark, where the author is so careful to adhere to the creators' vision that she barely presents any vision of her own. There's no imprint of passion. No kink. (Gah. I can always drag the k-word into a discussion.) Fans can be more playful, and I think they should be; because with a show, we're at least getting real actors--we're getting their physical presence and their actorly nuances; we're seeing the story brought to life. In a written story, if you just replicate the bare, dry bones of a moderately interesting canon episode, but add no twist...what's the point?

If the point is *solely* to supplement a show, because we're hungry for more of the same, or because the show is off the air and we want it to continue indefinitely, I'm not sure that's enough. More of the same, without anything new and different, is like night after night of TV dinners. Filling, gets the job done, but no thrill of surprise.

Of course, sometimes it's just the writing qua writing. Sometimes the writing is just plain, has no new tricks. Transparent, competent, no-frills writing is serviceable for a lot of stuff, but if the writing is full of garnish and spice, it can disguise the more predictable elements of stories. Or dialogue--take early BtVS for example: some of those plots are ludicrous, but the dialogue shapes the characterizations and the episodes snap and zing.

It is raining, it is twelve o'clock, it is three and a half days till the weekend. Sigh.
 
 
 
Jane Bluestockingj_bluestocking on November 18th, 2003 12:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah.

Hell, even on the show itself, if it's at all character-based (as opposed to, say, a cop show that's entirely about the case of the week) -- if there are no surprises, nothing new ever thrown into the mix, it becomes stale and flat. And people start to talk about how good it was back when it was still creatively interesting. And then it gets cancelled, and they say, "Thank god it got put out of its misery."

Anna S.: muldereliade on November 18th, 2003 05:41 pm (UTC)
Ha. Very true, yes. In Sentinel once, I made the mistake of taking a very boring episode as the basis for a story--and used the entire freaking script. I still boggle at my massive misguidedness.
(Deleted comment)
Anna S.: spuffy_kisseliade on November 18th, 2003 12:40 pm (UTC)
Hee. Well, I won't complain about that. *g* Thank you!

And see, here's the thing: I think that BtVS canon is, for the most part, compelling and brilliant and twisty and full of kinks that I love--here, using "kink" to mean not necessarily sex stuff, but kinks of emotion or that giddy high we get when we see a plain Jane (i.e., Willow) dressed up in a leather bustier, playing a bad-ass, or see Xander face down Jack as the clock ticks down toward zero on a bomb that could kill them both. But there are times when, inexplicably, writers will take the show as their guiding recipe and yet end up with dry cake. I think they leave the salt out, or something. Though usually there's plenty of vanilla....
lightning rod for criticismannakovsky on November 18th, 2003 12:49 pm (UTC)
Agree about Season Noir - but of course, while it is very episode like and while its relationships are canon, the whole thing takes place in a world where demons have taken over the entire town of Sunnydale, the Scoobs live underground as resistance fighters under a Nazi-like regime, and the outside world has entirely forgotten their existence. So one could argue that it's not EXACTLY canon. :-)

And that's what I love about fanfic - it can do things that the show couldn't have done, take it new directions. Though I could actually see ME possibly doing Season Noir, had they been feeling frisky.
Anna S.: luminous_dancerseliade on November 18th, 2003 12:57 pm (UTC)
I forgot to answer your question, I just realized--answer being yes, I do try to make the noir stuff as episodic as possible. And I should note too that my post actually reflects back on myself, since I worry a lot about keeping it interesting, and often times feel that it lacks the level of zing I want it to have. So some of the things I'm complaining about in my post aren't unfamiliar problems to me as a writer.
Brassy Hag: spikemiggy on November 18th, 2003 12:36 pm (UTC)
I've seen so many people chided for taking their fanfic "away from the show." There's a largish contingent out there who think fanfiction should consist entirely of "unwritten scenes/episodes," where nothing happens that contradicts later developments or everything is carefully reset to the status quo. They think that's the only purpose of fanfic and to do anything else is to pervert the creators' intentions in a shocking display of arrogance.

Well, maybe or maybe not, but fanfic that takes risks is actually interesting to read. So I guess I'm a big ol' pervert.
Brassy Hag: spikemiggy on November 18th, 2003 12:47 pm (UTC)
And I've seen this in Trek fics and anime fics as well as BtVS/AtS, so it's not just a fandom-specific thing. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing.
Anna S.: scary_girleliade on November 18th, 2003 05:38 pm (UTC)
I've seen so many people chided for taking their fanfic "away from the show." There's a largish contingent out there who think fanfiction should consist entirely of "unwritten scenes/episodes," where nothing happens that contradicts later developments or everything is carefully reset to the status quo. They think that's the only purpose of fanfic and to do anything else is to pervert the creators' intentions in a shocking display of arrogance.

Wow, that's like...the fundamentalist end of the canon religious spectrum.
Brassy Hag: annoyedmiggy on November 18th, 2003 05:40 pm (UTC)
Their stories are almost invariably dull as shit and written in script format.

I know. Shock.
Tuesday Has No Phonesthebratqueen on November 18th, 2003 12:37 pm (UTC)
It's weird to me when fan stories seem to be taking fewer risks than the shows themselves;

Veddy interesting. Dunno why but this line really resonated with me. Maybe because here in the wilds of LJ land I'm exploring ideas with stories that I'd never touch with a hundred foot pole in the "real" world of mailing lists and archives.

I am at work. I have no thoughts to share which aren't too long winded for me to type, but wanted to say that line resonated with me and made me go "Hmmm".
lightning rod for criticismannakovsky on November 18th, 2003 12:44 pm (UTC)
This has always puzzled me, too - I never understand the point of fics that are completely, absolutely the same as the show. Not the kind of fics that fill in canon blanks, or explain or explore what characters are doing/have done in canon, but those that are written like a straight-up episode, without twists. What drives people to write these?

I'm not much for plot-driven fic in the first place, I guess - I didn't watch X-Files or Buffy because I was so fascinated by, you know, aliens or werewolves or whatever it was that week - so maybe sometimes people just want fic that tells other stories that the show never got a chance to tell?

To me, though, if I want really good story and plot, I'll read a book - if I want deeper exploration of the characters I love in a certain fandom, I'll read fanfic. So any fic without that character focus doesn't seem to have much of a point. But maybe that's just me.
Valancyvalancy on November 18th, 2003 04:33 pm (UTC)
To me, though, if I want really good story and plot, I'll read a book - if I want deeper exploration of the characters I love in a certain fandom, I'll read fanfic. So any fic without that character focus doesn't seem to have much of a point. But maybe that's just me.

Manic nodding with a side of Yes. :)
tesserae_ on November 18th, 2003 01:25 pm (UTC)
Reading a story like this is like watching a competent episode of your favorite show where nothing drastic happens to any of the characters, and we don't learn much about them we didn't already know

I sometimes think that these stories are the flip side of the stories that go way beyond the show's parameters of characterization - I think that perhaps they're allowing the author to fulfill a personal need, whether that's seeing another episode of the show or taking the story to someplace that requires personality transplants for the leads...(I'm not talking here about AUs, or about works that push us into new understandings of characters whose outlines are well-established in canon, but about stories whose characters seem to share little more than names with the folks on the shows.)

I read far more than I write, and when I find an author I like I try to read all of their work - profic as well as fanfic. I wonder if the piece you're talking about is early or late in the author's work, and if she hasn't learned to take greater risks with her writing?
Anna S.: storytellingeliade on November 18th, 2003 01:39 pm (UTC)
I wonder if the piece you're talking about is early or late in the author's work, and if she hasn't learned to take greater risks with her writing?

I usually see these as coming from writers with a solid body of work behind them. "Solid" being the key word. But of course that doesn't mean they can't continue to develop. I've seen at least one writer I consider a bit staid suddenly start flowering a bit, shooting some kinks into her writing. I wonder, though, if it's at root an issue of sensibility, a lack of vision. The thing is, it has nothing to do with prolificness (is that a word?), because there are plenty of writers who can just churn out "solid" and fairly boring stuff by the reams. Vision and inspiration being two different things I guess.

But all this helps illustrates a problem I worry at constantly, which is how to measure one's own progress as a writer, and how to measure the distance between what we *think* we're writing versus what we actually are writing (as readers perceive it). Do we hit the mark we aim for? Are we compelling? Is our fervent engagement in a story a true measure of its success? I don't think it always is--I *know* that there are people out there driven to a froth by their kinks and what comes out the other end makes me shudder, because they're just not good writers. But they do have *fire* in their bellies. On the other hand, I've written stories that I in large part plodded through and by the end I was sick and tired, very uninspired by the material, and yet I've had people say that those were their favorites. So...madness! It can be hard to measure success.
Valancyvalancy on November 18th, 2003 04:36 pm (UTC)
Too lame to search out next post on rain, pidgeons, life. Commentary: *sniffs*.

There are a few days in my life when I can manage that, but I sometimes suspect that's because my life is so jammed in the cracks right now, so between worlds, not-student, not-parent, night-writer (*chortles*) and exhausted. So those moments when I do steal to the coffee shop, when I am walking through the park? Sometimes does feel like a victory.

Anyhow. Yes. Most thought provoking thing I've read for day. Also, *sniiiiffs*. :'I