Reasons for Fanfic and Impact on Characterization
by Lorelei Jones
Recently on the Prospect-L list, someone brought up the topic of slash for The West Wing and gave a URL for an archive. As a fan of West Wing, I decided to pop over and check it out. Despite my conviction that there is something very slashy going on with Josh and Sam, I found myself rather disappointed. Not really in the stories, though none of them captured the wit and edge that make the show so good in my estimation, but more in the focus of the stories. They were almost…too personal. Which got me thinking about why I read fanfic and what I expect out of it.
In most of my fandoms, I don't read or write fanfic to get more of the show. I read fanfic to get what was *missing* in the show. I read for a favorite character who didn't get enough screentime, I read for overt declarations of love or physical intimacy, I read for realistic consequences to actions, a sense of continuity, deeper exploration of a theme barely touched on in the show. I read for the things I wish had been in the show and weren't.
Sometimes, though, and West Wing seems to be one of these cases, I seek out fanfic because I *do* want more of the show. I want more of that snappy dialogue, the interweaving intricacies of politics and people, the working relationships and intensity of purpose, and the beautiful undercurrents that will occasionally let something surface, but not for long and not completely. I guess you could say this is one show where the subtext is so satisfying, I have no desire to see it become text. Rather like the Mulder/Scully relationship, I prefer what lies between these people to remain a deep, unspoken something that lends extra depth to other situations, but is never brought to light itself. I suppose I'm talking about the fanfic equivalent of UST. Pre-slash? Proto-slash? Probably not even that, as I don't want the relationship to be the focus of the stories. At the same time, I don't want any possible relationships ignored or even denied, as sometimes happens in gen.
As for how this relates to characterization, I have found that the reason I come to fanfic for a particular fandom affects how I judge the characterization. In fandoms where I want what was missing, I recognizethat it's often required to tweak the characterization slightly. The "you can get there from here" approach to characterization, where I can see how the author extrapolated their characterization from the characterization we were given. I see this in Francesca's TS fic, Jane St. Clair's TPM fic, and a host of others. While I don't consider these canonical characterizations, I do feel they're good characterizations. I can easily identify them as the characters they are meant to be, and they get the job done within thecontext of the story.
I'm a little more picky when I come looking for more of the show. In those cases I want an author who has dead-on characterization for everyone in her story. Someone who can capture the flavor and every nuance of the show itself, someone who can write dialogue that rings exactly true. Is such a thing really possible? If so, I have yet to find it. When I'm looking for what's missing, I actually enjoy finding authors with their own distinctive style. I enjoy looking at the characters through the filter of their writing. When I'm looking for more, I want an author who disappears as soon as I start reading. I want the characters undiluted, mainlined, the way I get them in their primary media. Raw data as opposed to interpretation, if you will.
The conscious realization of this dichotomy is a bit of an eye-opener. While I still believe a show should be easily recognizable from the fanfic written about it, and while I will continue to regard certain things ascompletely unbelievable, I do now have a broader view on where these things come from. Sometimes, canon is not the point. Sometimes, delving into those unspoken things is, or getting that hug the show couldn't give you, or reconciling conflicting facts about a character with more care than you know the show's writers took. Canon is a great jumping-off point for these and all kinds of interesting issues, but sometimes you have to venture outside of canon to find an answer that satisfies you as an author or a reader. As long as I see how you got there from here, and as long as canon does not encompass what I want, I'll follow that detour. But now, I'm not following blindly.