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17 May 2005 @ 16:42
not quite a thinky but still slightly thinky "Doctor Who" fandom essay  
So, I've been working on this rant-cum-essay on and off all, and I've been a bit on the squirrelly side, regarding posting it... But I figure what the hell.

Okay, remember how a few weeks back I was sad, because there had been over the course of one week-end major polarisation of Doctor Who fandom, mainly in regards to the new fans versus the old fans, and the Doctor/Rose fans versus the folks who are very anti-Doctor/Companion? What bummed me out was seeing about a year's worth of fannish evolution smushed into such a small span of time.

However, in the last 2 weeks, what has really started to depress me is an alarming homogenisation of current series "Doctor Who" fanfic, particularly Doctor/Rose. I realise that the series has only been airing for 8 weeks--that's barely 2 months. And as such, long, plot-driven stories are rare because they take time to write, which is part of why I'm pouncing on them like catnip when I do find them. So we have been seeing a plethora of missing scene and episode codas posted each week.

The thing that's alarming though is the sameness of a lot of the stories posted since "Dalek." I don't know if it's a case of hive mind so much as it's writers reading each other's work and picking up trends. But there are a depressing number of clichés that have surfaced in Doctor/Rose fanfic of late. I say depressing because we're much too young a fandom to have glaringly obvious clichés already. But if you go to fanfiction.net or Teaspoon or time_and_chips (the main forums and archives for Doctor/Rose fanfic and fannish discussion thus far) you'll find increasingly common patterns:

The Doctor and/or Rose is upset. They comfort one another. They may or may not be sharing a bed due to nightmares (a plot idea that I really though had great potential when I first saw it, which now makes me cringe every time it's been cloned since) There is kissing, which leads to sex, which leads to heartfelt "I love yous." End scene.

I'm not kidding. If you were to randomly sample anything shorter than 2000 words currently up at FFN, I think 8 out of 10 would fit this bill, and that's not a happy statistic. I wish I could just laugh about this. But it's getting to the point where I'm half-way through reading a vignette and then have to walk away from my computer because they all go the same way.

Every kiss leads to sex.

Every orgasm leads to "I love you."

It's as if there's a recipe out there that everyone's following to turn out "The Perfect Betty Crocker Doctor Who Fanfic" and all the Bree Van de Kamps are lined up next to their differently-coloured iced cakes at this long table and you taste a slice from each cake and they all end up tasting exactly the same and you can't tell one from another, even if, if there had only been one cake and you were really in the mood for cake, you would have really loved that cake. And now all you can think is "I've gone off cake forever, now."

Does that make any kind of sense?

Fanfic which is based on other fanfic does not equal good fanfic.

I think part of the reason I sometimes have these conflicted feelings about identifying myself as a Doctor/Rose fan is that there have become different kinds of Doctor/Rose fans on a scale of "I love the canon relationship with all its flirting and subtext" to "OMG they are SO DOING IT ON THE CONSOLE ROOM FLOOR!andalsothedoctorswillyisginormous." And if you're at one end of the scale, you end up resisting the idea of being automatically identified as being at the other end (tho pretty much everyone admits that the one story where the NC-17 language was replaced with **** was A Very Bad Idea. Hurrah for solidarity.), and there's plenty of room in the middle, but it's lonelier there. And there's a very clique-ish "us against the world!" thing going on as well, which turns one's own preferences into a kind of fannish political statement.

What I love about the on-screen relationship I really want to see reflected in fanfic. I don't want every story's plot to be a race to the finish line of The First Kiss, or The First Fuck. I love fanfic which has the same range as the series--from humour to drama, and everything in-between. I love exploring their relationship, their reliance on one another, the giant age gap, the shared love of adventure, the rows and the sniping, the tactile nature of it, the genuine caring, the genuine frustration. I adore that, and fanfic offers a medium where you don't always need exploding aliens as an A plot to justify your character driven B-plot, because television is a visual medium and prose doesn't have the same requirements.

But I'm getting bummed at the sameness. I'm getting bummed at the volume of short fics tossed off in the hours after the episodes air, which may have a kernel of a really good idea at their heart, but aren't given time and care to develop into an actual story.

(And I'm frankly getting very tired of the Doctor's enormous penis. Honestly, with 900 years experience, don't you think it really would be all about how he uses the equipment, not how big it is?)

Maybe in 2 months time, when we're faced with months and months wait between the 13th episode and the Christmas special, and the only way to get new Doctor/Rose or "Doctor Who" current series adventures is from fan fiction, that is when we'll really see that kind of variety, of stories of every stripe and colour, length and complexity, and startling simplicity become more than the exception, but the norm. These first two months have been a shakedown cruise, after all, for many of us--first time writing in a new fandom, first time writing for many, and the series is new and shiny and feeling its way along just as we are, so maybe that's a big part of it too.

But when I see people complaining about the quality (or lack thereof) of fanfic based on the new series, my initial instinct is to leap to my fandom's defence and point out the wheat among the chaff. But lately, it's been harder to deny that not only does the chaff exist, but it's getting harder and harder to find those kernels of goodness among all the chaff. And I worry that there's an element of "if I write a certain type of fic because there's an audience for it, then I will get positive feedback, because I'm giving people what they want" rather than writing a story for the sake of the story, and not giving people what they want, but managing as a result to maybe give people what they didn't realise they wanted until they got it. There's no real challenge, giving people what they've said they want. That's easy. That's working at McDonald's, handing out Big Macs and fries. And as we all know from "Supersize Me" one cannot live on McDonald's alone, forever. Sure, you crave it once in a while, but as a steady diet, it kills you a bit at a time.

Clichés become clichés when they go from something true in the moment, to something over-used and commonplace and taken a short-hand for truth, in lieu of establishing truth. But it's getting to the point where a lot of us are feeding on each other's fan fiction, instead of the series itself. So we're getting a fuzzy Xerox copy of the characters that subscribes to whatever "popular" view of the characters presented by a handful of influential, prolific authors. Whether its conscious or subconscious, the end result is a depressing sameness to the output of the sub-fandom.

As for clichés, hey--I'm as guilty as the next gal of jumping onto moving bandwagons. I've written "chipfic." I've written a post-"Dalek" hurt/comfort coda. It's not as if the same ideas that have occurred to many of us at once aren't valid ideas, worth exploring, and that no one has explored them well. It's that so many people all seem to be saying the same thing, with little variation to make them stand out. It's gotten to the point where, if I have a post-ep story idea, I have to stay away from the fandom until I've finished it, and once I have, I am seriously debating posting it because I don't want to end up just another anonymous vendor of generic fiction.

(and before anyone laughs, I was actually delighted to have been completely mistaken for Ponygirl, after "Dalek" aired, because I quite like Ponygirl's work. But it doesn't change the fact I do worry that my work stands out not one bit.)

But not every story has to end with the Doctor and Rose going off for chips. Or falling into each other's arms. Or screwing like space-bunnies. Or declaring their undying love. There's room for taking things one step at a time, instead of jumping straight to the end. Cause the journey really can be the best part.

ETA: I'm not trying it single any one writer out. This isn't about pointing fingers and assigning blame. What I'm getting at is that it's not just one writer. It's the trend appearing in a large number of writers' work that's depressing me. My show is too damned young to have this many fanfic cliché already.
Tags: ,
mood: depresseddepressed
Rachel Cobleighreveilles on 18th May 2005 14:24 (UTC)
"OMG they are SO DOING IT ON THE CONSOLE ROOM FLOOR!andalsothedoctorswillyisginormous."


...writing a story for the sake of the story, and not giving people what they want, but managing as a result to maybe give people what they didn't realise they wanted until they got it.

Yep, the eternal balancing act of mass media (which probably explains why most of it is such low quality): if they don't want it initially, it's hard to get the money to make it. Joyfully, fanfic writers don't need money to write fanfic and don't get paid for it anyway, so their only excuse for bad fic is pathetically low standards or (generously speaking) a complete unawareness of how truly bad their writing is.

In the grander scheme of the fanfiction world, rj_anderson pointed out that FFN is not a particularly good source of fanfiction or quality reviewing. There's good work up there, but like you said, it's swamped by the mounds of chaff. I don't tend to go there looking for good fanfic to read. :) In the grander scheme of the fanfiction universe, I'd estimate that something like 85% of the stuff out there is smut in one form or another. That the new DW fandom has descended into cookie-cutter smut is expected and predictable. The really good stuff comes out in bits and pieces over time--because as you pointed out, the best stuff takes time to write. Most post-episodic drabble is called "drabble" for a reason. It's the quick dribblings of the fannish brain, not the well-thought-out, patient crafting of a writer committed to producing something of quality. So what if the quick dribblings of most unsophisticated viewers are basically "SEX!BIGWILLY!"? Let 'em clog up their low-quality fanfiction gutters with the stuff. You can't expect the fandom to be producing a lot of really good fic within only 8 weeks of re-starting.

You've got to be patient and wait...don't try to get the satisfaction of a good outside-the-canon Who fix immediately. Wait for kerravonsen's picks, at the KatSpace NetFic Reviews. Wait for rj_anderson to write something or recommend something. :) Look to the trusted Who authors from previous series and see what they're saying and doing, what new authors they're pointing at. Give the fandom some time, and don't worry about the legions of pre-teen (if not in age, at least in emotional maturity) Who fans who are tossing bad fanfic out there. :)

You're right about the general degeneracy of the human race as it is rapidly being evidenced in the new Who fandom...but don't let it get you down. There are some grains of salt out there worth waiting (wading?) for. :)

My $.02, and my best... :)
Weasy: Hell Yeahheck_weasy on 19th May 2005 10:33 (UTC)
I don't want to repeat what lots of people have already said...
but I confess that your entire article is one of the reasons I haven't read much Who fanfic (I've actually only read morbid_sparks' so far) and have just been thinking of my own ideas.
It's funny... I find in a lot of fandoms authors write almost-characters... that almost fit the characters of the show (or book or wahtever) except that they'd jump at the chance to dump their current boyfriend and screw the hottest guy on the show isntead. And because everybody writes it, fans start to forget that that character isn't actually like that... and there's an entire made up character sporting the same name as the one from the show... but that no longer acts like them n any way as each writer takes them further and further away from the original.
At least Dr Who is a relatively small fandom, and with a little bit of guidence (and helpful essays like yours, I confess I've been going through your archives!) it's actually possible to curb it before it gets to bad.
I find that everything really goes haywire when the writing Gods retire to different fandoms, and newbies come in with nobody to check them.

In some ways, that's what might happen after this series finishes. I hope not... but there is a risk of it.
harmonyfb: T is for Thumpharmonyfb on 21st May 2005 11:56 (UTC)
::smooches you::

Give me some good Dr Who adventure stories (with a tad of subtext) any day! :) Danger! Plot! Excitement!

Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that the only reason this Doctor is all touchy-flirty with Rose is that she looks an awful lot like Romana. ;)
harmonyfbharmonyfb on 21st May 2005 12:21 (UTC)
Only slightly on-topic
I'd like you to do a panel or workshop at the next Writercon, if you're attending and interested. :)
ljctaraljc on 21st May 2005 14:21 (UTC)
Re: Only slightly on-topic
Absolutely! I had such a blast on panels last year. Any idea where and when the next one will be? I'd love to help out.
harmonyfbharmonyfb on 21st May 2005 16:22 (UTC)
Re: Only slightly on-topic
Kewl! I'll let you know when we get a time and place worked out. :)
Weasy: Strange Dreamsheck_weasy on 22nd May 2005 08:12 (UTC)

do you mind if I write that on an icon?
Rashka the Demon (wolf in the cave): CopyNinjaKakashi facerashaka on 24th May 2005 04:38 (UTC)
It's pretty much unavoidable now, I think.

I've noticed that since Livejournal has become so popular for fannish stuff, fandoms have become homogenized, especially when added to the overall ff.net effect on fandom. Now, when there's a new show, there's instant fandom. Someone starts a community within a week or two. Someone starts a site.

I can see it with this new Dr. Who, with Veronica Mars, with Lost, Firefly, etc.

And fanfic has just become more popular every year. The result is you get a lot of fanic and a lot of fanSTUFF very fast. The internet has become fastfood fandom.

Which has benifits and downsides.

As for your complaint... I can see it, but I don't think there's anything to be done. :S :) You're gonna have to suck it up. I know the frustration, though. One of my favorite anime series, Fruits Basket, is this beautiful, intelligent series. And it has the dumbest ficdom ever. Browsing fic for that show breaks my heart. It's not just sameness, it's plain out badness. The normal amount of decent to good quality fic for any fandom series... cut that into 7ths and that's how much FB has. It just makes me hurt, trying to figure out how such a smart series can breed such dumb fic.

Don't lose heart or give up on your fandom just yet. As you theorized, it probably will settle into what used to be the "normal" pattern for fandom once there's some breathing space between new airings.