Caterpillar: “Who are … YOU?”
Alice: “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
The characters drive the narrative, she asserts firmly. After all, there have been hundreds of cop shows, shows about private eyes, presidents, or doctors, military units, resurrected vampires, and aliens taking over the Earth. They’ve been set in San Francisco, Hawaii, Cascade, Cheyenne Mountain, the Moon, Deep Space 9, Collinsport, and LA County. But it doesn’t matter if it’s set on the most beautiful island beach, in the creepiest Victorian mansion, or on the mean streets of a little town in Washington state, if it’s populated by police or FBI or alien chasers or firemen or strong shouldered officers – fanfic writers are not inspired to put pen to paper because of any of that.
It’s Johnny and Roy and Mike Stoker. Barnabas and Josette. Jack and Daniel and Sam and Teal’c. Jim and Blair. Doctor Bashir and Garak. It’s the particular characters and the odd little families they make on our screens every week that drive the imagination.
Let’s take a look around fanfiction.net (you should – click on a show that resonates with you and sit in wonder at the number and variety of stories). That’s where fanfiction is posted, by and large. Pick a show. How about a show that bajillions of people have watched over the years in its many forms and manifestations – Star Trek. Great. Let’s go.
Hmm, in this story, Spock is best described as a weepy teenager whose angst controls his actions and who sulks in his quarters when he doesn’t get his way. That’s odd. Not how I would describe the stoic Vulcan. Okay, bad example. Moving on…
Oh, my. In this story, Troi convinces Riker that their relationship is more important than his oaths to Star Fleet and the two run off together. Huh.
Kira Nerys has been a Bajoran double agent for years and has been sneakily subverting both Star Fleet and the Kardassians so that they kill each other and leave the space station to her home-world of Bajor. And, at the end, she’s pronounced Queen.
Caterpillar: “So, you think you’re changed, do you?”
Alice: “I’m afraid I am, sir. I can’t remember things as I used–and I don’t keep the same size for ten minutes together!”
Here’s the thing – if character is everything, if it’s the great writing and acting in these shows that inspire us to give these characters more chances at life through our stories – if that’s the case, why is the characterization in much fanfiction so far from accurate that, without names, we would never recognize Dr. McCoy, or Uhura, or Seven of Nine? If we love these characters, why do we get them so wrong so often?
‘Tis a puzzlement.
I’m not exactly innocent. I’ve written my share of out of character pieces, believe me. I’ve gotten my favorite people into situations they’d not be caught dead in. I’ve placed words in their mouths they’d never say. So, I’m not setting myself up as the Great Keeper of Character.
Or, maybe I am.
Caterpillar: “What size do you want to be?”
Alice: “Oh, I’m not particular as to size, only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.”
The important question is: why do we do it?
In my personal opinion, it’s exactly that. Personal. Intensely personal. Writing can be a way to work out the writer’s issues and needs. It can be cathartic, or empowering, or a way to get the people in our real life to fit into patterns and make sense. Sometimes it’s wish fulfillment (see Mary Sue) – this is how my father – brother – uncle – husband – son should act. Sometimes it fills a horrible void; it takes an all-consuming loss and allows trusted characters to help us through it. When strong male characters show profound emotion, cry or scream, act foolishly or selfishly, maybe we’re allowed to do the same.
And, when these strong characters do wrong to each other, when we write them that way, doing and saying things they never really would, and then we write them coming together to reconnect, to communicate and empathize and show love to one another, well, maybe that means there’s a chance for us to do the same.
Alice: “But I’m NOT a serpent, I tell you! I’m a–I’m a-”
Pigeon: “Well! WHAT are you? I can see you’re trying to invent something!”
Alice: (doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day.) “I–I’m a little girl”
So, I’ve learned not to judge. That might not be the way I’d write a character. Might not be the words I would imagine coming from Worf’s mouth, or the way Captain Archer would handle an issue. But, I don’t have to read that story, either. I can simply click that little back-arrow button at the top of the screen and try again.
That’s one of the beauties of fanfiction – it’s free. Try as many as you like and feel no guilt about shaking your head and trying something else, instead.
And I hail all the great fanfic writers out there that have inspired me, shocked me; made me laugh and cry. And helped me hold on tight.
You know who you are. 😉