Cross Fertilization of Fan and Professional Writing
Kass’s "On Swinging Both Ways: Fannish and Pro" brought to my mind a related topic: how these two types of writing could influence each other for the better. I shall restrict myself to only half of this flow—what benefits fan fiction could derive from professionally-written fiction. After all, this symposium is devoted to the former and not the latter.
I have felt for a while that some fandoms are rather closed-in, and wondered whether certain writers only read the works of one another. This notion first surfaced because certain locutions appeared so much in the fan fiction that I read that they were driving me crazy. One such expression was “smirk”. Jamie and Ste in some Beautiful Thing stories were constantly smirking. Perhaps the writers did not realize that “smirk” was a negative term. Another one was “roll his eyes”. In a JAG archive, I read some very well-written stories. However, I almost gave them up because in almost every one of the stories, at least one character and sometimes more rolled their eyes. Then there were an inordinate number of stories in which “cause” was used instead of “because”, leading me to conclude that the writers did not know the word “because”. The prevalence of such curious language use led me to think that fan-writers must have influenced one another’s diction because they read so much of one another’s writing, with the result that they incorporated the idiosyncratic as the norm.
These are only surface manifestations. There are deeper phenomena. The foremost is that the world inhabited by the characters in some fan fiction reflects the limited experiences of the writers. Frequently, the culture is middle-class American in which pop-psychology runs wild. For example, characters believe that the only response to problems is to talk about them, that one must praise constantly, that love can only be affirmed by a verbal “I love you”, etc. etc. There is nothing wrong with this if the characters are from the American middle class. Unfortunately, many popular shows feature people not acculturated in such a milieu—Methos, Duncan MacCleod of the Clan MacCleod, Benton Fraser, Harry Potter, Snape, Tom Paris, Chakotay, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon. . . . Consequently, the specter of these characters spouting psychobabble is disconcerting, to say the very least.
It is even more so in the case of slash. After reading some stories, I wondered whether the authors knew any homosexuals. I need not point out the infelicities here, as others have derided these stories as “shopping for curtains”. What I would like to say is that reading slash occasionally makes me feel that my world has been hijacked. (I am aware that men have done this far more, such as producing “lesbian” pornography for the titillation of straight males.) I just wish I could give these authors a guided tour of this world.
It is here that professionally-written fiction can help. Because it is not restricted to a limited number of shows, movies, and books, the world depicted in such fiction is far more varied. By reading it, writers can visit alien cultures, meet unfamiliar characters, and acquire a more nuanced diction. This is especially so for those who want to write about love between men. To be authentic, the writer needs to know more than what is inside a sex manual. How a man becomes attracted to another man, how his mind is preoccupied with getting together with his beloved, how he responds to sexual stimulation—such emotions and feelings are not the same as those experienced by women. Thus if a woman wants to write about these things, which she cannot know because of differences in physiology and psychology, the best way is to read about them in authentic stories.
By “authentic”, I do not mean “written by a homosexual”. What I mean is that the story should be recognized by gay men as an authentic recounting of their experience. Some of the greatest novels about love between men were written by women. I particularly recommend Mary Renault’s The Charioteer. One of my friends read it recently because I am always talking about how great it is. He said that he had not read Mary Renault before because he was afraid that her homosexual characters would be feminized. After reading the book, he told me that his fears were unfounded. Indeed, The Charioteer is a model not only for women who want to write about men loving men, but for homosexual authors as well.
For those who are not slash writers, a wide reading of professionally-written novels and stories is still invaluable because they can widen one’s horizon and provide better perspective. One of my pet peeves about science fiction is that much of it is nothing more than a regurgitation of the history of Western civilization. Unfortunately, we do not have any books written by aliens. The only thing that one can do to step out of the confines of one’s background is to read books from other cultures, especially those very different from European and American cultures.
Finally, a perusal of books edited by professionals should enable to observant to see what the current accepted usage is. I hope that a salutary effect is the reduction of non-standard spellings, which make the stories of certain fandoms particularly hard to read.