I get written off as "just" a 'shipper all the time in fandom ("written off" may be a bit harsh, but probably it's accurate, and for the same reason I think sometimes I get a following because so much of what I write revolves around certain 'ships and so I get identified as writting romantic "shipper" fic even when I personally don't think I am) but I think for me it's being about characters more than romance a lot of the time. Because to me, 'ship is short for "relationship." As in, I dig the dynamics between certain people, and want to see them explored. Both in fannish consumption, and creation.
I have had (and continue to have) the hardest time explaining to people that when I say I'm craving, for example, Clark & Chloe fic, I'm not necessarily looking for a) sex b) a white picket fence ending or c) romance fiction. What I want is stories which explore their relationship, or at the very least, show some reasonable facsimile of it since that friendship (with the hook of the possibility of more than friendship) was really my hook into the series itself. And I am always desperate for fiction which explores Clark and Chloe's relationship precisely because the series has let me down over the years, and when it does come through (which it somewhat surprisingly did a few times last year and this year) it just whets my appetite for MORE. And so I turn to fandom. Or, when I get bit by the bug, I write. That's just who I am. But I don't really think of it as "shipperfic" so much as just, well... fanfic.
It's like with Firefly. If you asked people, 9 out of 10 would call me "just' a Simon/Kaylee writer. But the truth is, I am ALL ABOUT Mal as well--in fact, a huge chunk of what I've written is really about Mal. And it is the only Whedon series where I give a damn at all about the lead, which is HUGE for me, but more than that, it's a true ensemble in a way that "Buffy" and "Angel" never were for me. And I am fascinated by the group dynamics, and how these people relate to one another. And even when I write about Simon and Kaylee, it's not that I think they ought to be together forever, or would be, or even should be. Actually, to be realistic about it, I don't think it's that kind of love. It's NOT marriage and 2.3 children love. But that doesn't mean it's not love, or capable of actually being worthwhile, even if it's not "forever." It's that the juxtaposition of these two very very different people, from completely different backgrounds, with completely different life experiences, interest me and drew me in. And frankly, Kaylee's crush did a LOT to make me care about Simon. Cos I think if that element hadn't been there, I prolly wouldn't have cared about him as a character they way I ultimately did.
(as for Mal/Inara, I do think that's another doomed one, but I still love it because of the way Mal needs Inara and what that says about him as a character. But I'd have to say that if there's a Mal 'ship that I find fascinating, it's actually Mal & River. Ever since the end of "Objects in Space.")
But to me, the characters and relationships are the hooks into an ongoing series. And yeah, A LOT of those relationships are romantic. But a lot of them aren't.
I love Mal and Kaylee. BIGLY. I also love Zoe and Mal, and how Wash fitted into that picture on the series and in the movie, and I am always prolly going to wonder what might have been had the series stuck around for another 9 episodes. I adore the father & son relationship and generally fucked up dynamics of Chuck and Neil Taggart in Odyssey 5. Like, WHOA. I love how Adama and Roslin's relationship has changed MASSIVELY over the first two series of BSG. I adore Stormer Phillips precisely because she is sort of stuck between two groups of people and has relationships with both, at times with the audience being her only witness, and how many more layers her character has than most of the other characters for me. Also, I love the fact that in a series where most of the characters lvie in manions and drive fancy cars, she lives in a little ranch style hosue in the 'burbs and appears to drive a beat up Toyota. This interests me.
I love how two fucked up people like Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne can be better together than apart, even they know they will ultimately ALWAYS be apart, that doesn't stop them from trying for together now and then. Even if it's only for a moment of comfort. I love how deeply Benton Fraser cares for both Rays, and how that kind of friendship is so rare. I love how incredibly bizarrely everyone on Vr5 loves Sydney yet she never comes off to me as a horrific Lana-esque Mary Sue. I love how Chloe Sullivan is still the most interesting person on SV for me even when she's stuck with no plotline and almost no scenes outside either the Torch or the Planet. Because like Padme in Star Wars, Chloe is just about the only character we don't know the future of, and so that to me makes me want to know where she'll end up precisely because we DO know where the rest of the story is going.
I love the Doctor and Rose and Jack like mad, and I love watching the relationships on new Who shift and change. I am AMAZED how MUCH was packed into the 14.05 eps we've seen thus far. I still can't quite believe how much I love Mickie and Jackie, but I can't stop thinking about how smart the characterisation is, even when RTD's plots suck like a Hoover. In fact, it's precisely because I love the character dynamics that I can forgive the incredibly bad plotting on some series. Because I get blinded by the love. But also, because the emotional TRUTH of the thing becomes so much more important than the niggling details like why exactly Pete Tyler's life being saved causes a massive temporal instability while a 4 year old named Jaime lived when he originally died, yet with zero negative affects apparently.
(we won't get into the part where actually Pete Tyler being alive shouldn't ought to have had a thing to do with causing the wound in time--it was the Doctor and Rose being there twice that actually did it, and it BUGS ME to this day that the ep is structured the way it is, and just don't get me started on the stupidity and lack of logic of the temporal mechanics of Doctor Who. It's just a BAD PLAN.)
Yes, I like romance fiction. But that's mainly because a) I am an incurably romantic at heart and b) I am an emotional VAMPIRE who absolutely is drawn to stories about people and how they interact. I dig relationships. I dig group dynamics. They interest me. So when you combine these two, yeah--a lot of what I read and a big chunk of what I write tends to revolve around relationships.
But I think there's this idea out there that there that fiction about relationships is only ever really about ROMANTIC or sexual relationships. And that it only comes in two flavours: angst and fluff. And that BUGS me. Mainly cos people and stories can and are interesting if they're told well, and stories about people's relationships just happen to be catnip to me. And I don't want them watered down and doused in saccharine, or conversely darkened to the point of "13 year old girl listening to goth industrial music while writing bad poetry" operatic drivel. Both extremes are toxic, so far as I'm concerned.
I just want them to be well-written, and interesting, and feel true. And truth isn't pretty. It's usually messy and awkward, and I like messy and awkward, me. I want to read a story and believe in it.