Writing fanfic is like speaking a language. The vocabulary of that language
depends on the style of fanfic - for some, the language is the events of canon as
broadcast. For others, the language is the infectious ideas of fanon. Canon people
may denigrate a fanon story in which the characters are stunningly out of
character. Fanon people more often express a sentiment of boredom when reading
canon stories in which none of their own familiar chords are struck.
To make a random analogy, canon fanfic is like historical fiction, where the
challenge is to fit a story to the historical record. (An AU would be like alternate
history.) Fanon fanfic is more like
romance novels, in which the overall plot and emotions are rather standardized,
and the challenge is to do that popular turbolift theme in your own personal way.
Neither canon nor fanon is much like the mystery novel; that much
concentrated, mandatory plotting would be hard to reconcile with the
language of either fanon
or canon. Science fiction and fantasy depend upon writing a new language
(for the new world) and then convincing the reader that she speaks it. That’s
the opposite of fanfic, even for sci-fi shows.
I meant to blog about communication in fandom more generally, so
let me see if I can connect the dots. The language of fanfic is similar
to the language of general fannishness - a canon writer knows the nits as
well as any nitpicker would. A fanon writer knows the classic episodes for
her preferred fanon pairing, even if only second-hand. A complaint about the
show itself leads to a fanfix.
There is no question of civility in fanfic itself - you can snark to your heart’s
content, and as long as you phrase it as a story, there is no arguing with you
directly. Someone might write her own counter-story, but such exchanges
are rarely violent. There’s quite a lag in writing stories, and there’s a bigger
one in reading them - if you read them at all. What J/C fan would read our
C/7 fic to find out what we’re saying about J/C? There’s a dialogue going on
there, but it’s between the writer and the fanon, not the writer and the reader.
There’s no question of civility when talking about the show, either, because
such discussions are always a bloody (and I mean that literally, not Britishly)
religious war. Kill them all and let Roddenberry sort them out.
Just walk into
#jetc and start talking about C/7 and you’ll see what I mean. Or read the
TrekBBS on any topic. These are topics on which we agree to disagree
violently, repeatedly and irreconcilably.
Sometimes, we’re not writing fanfic and we’re not talking about the show.
Those are the meta and the diva times - talking about fandom itself, or
talking about our lovely selves. Meta and diva cause the most controversy
(as opposed to formalized name-calling).
Is someone else’s ideas about, say, the Muse a legitimate meta discussion or
a claim to divine standing?
Is an email about your important diva doings, when crossposted to a generous
smattering of lists, just helpful information or annoying mass-marketing? Is
meta interesting at all? Is snark cruel? Does merely having opinions turn you
into a diva?
At the meta-diva level, we’ve lost our common tongue of Trek or Vamp
or whatever it might be, and we’re thrown back on our native languages.
Where I come from, sarcasm is never a faux pas, but
self-promotion always is. If someone is clearly stupider than you are, you don’t
point that out. You never, ever, ever condescend. It’s fine to go slumming but
you can’t rub his face in it, and
you’re not going to get any sympathy from your friends after the breakup.
But I digress. The point is that there’s a grammar. Some of the rules
are national, some local, some class-based, some individual. It’s not a matter
of print coming across differently than voice would - the sentences themselves
mean different things in different languages.
The Basic English of fandom is always to say thank you for feedback and
never to voice a negative opinion. It’s a starveling tongue, but I doubt there’s
a bigger intersection between the various languages out there. As I get older,
I find that not much can be conveyed in Basic Fannish, and not much of what
can interests me. I’d rather talk to someone who speaks my language than
dance around someone who doesn’t.
Disclaimer for speakers of foreign languages: Note that
I never said canon was better than fanon, or that New Englanders were better
than midwesterners. Nothing I said means that canon is better than fanon or
that I am better than you, not even if you would
have meant exactly that if you had written the above.