Romance, Love and Sex Part 2: What’s Your Excuse (for Writing It)?
La Belle Dam Sans Merci
No, Hell Did Not Freeze Over
Romance, Love and Sex Part 2: What’s Your Excuse (for Writing It)?
That, and I’M BAAAACK!!!!
Where have I been? What’s going on? And why in the flaming blue hell haven’t I updated since the freakin’ summer?
Well, aside from job searching, life in general and massive writer’s block unlike anything I’ve had in a while … I HAD NO DECENT INTERNET SERVICE. It had been so-so after I got home from the Cape, but following the phenomenal Halloween blizzard (I’ve lived in Taxachusetts for 29 years now and I have seen a lot of insane storms, but never in October—and if somebody brings up the end of the world or global warming I swear to God that I will kill you) I completely and utterly lost all Internet access in my house until last week. From what I understood, our repeater burned out again, and we have a new now one that’s working all right. Now that I’m not wasting my time getting frustrated waiting for pages that never load (and struggling to convince myself not to break the monitor over somebody’s head) I feel more motivated to start the blog again.
That, and, I like I said before, I developed writer’s block unlike anything I’ve seen in a very long time. This was stress-induced, and when I couldn’t focus on the blog I went to work on other writing projects. Naturally, those took up my attention and for a short time I totally forgot about the blog. Not happy about that, but hey—at least I’m doing something now! And maybe my Creativity Demon would lay off on the guilt trip for a little bit!
That, and SOPA had me worried.
So anyways, I started talking about romance and erotica in fanfic. The last post was basically about what romantic fiction is versus erotic fiction, who writes it and whatnot. Now I’ll move into Part Two of the discussion, which is what we’re here for: the Mary-Sue in Romantic Fanfic.
(And please note that I’m still treading veeerrry carefully here. If the response is good enough, I’ll post the more “complete” version of this someplace else, if ya know what I mean.)
Sorry if it seems disjointed … it’s been a long time since I last posted & my notes were mixed up.
PART 1: THE APPARENTLY UNSPOKEN BUT SOMEHOW WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED PATTERNS IN A MARY-SUE/CANON CHARACTER ROMANTIC FIC.
Let’s take a second to recap what romance and erotic fiction is, and compare them with their fanfic counterparts.
In romantic fiction:
1. The main character is usually a woman. Like 98% of the time.
2. She’s basically physically perfect. She’s supposed to be our ideal beautiful heroine.
3. She hasn’t been in love with or found true love with anybody for specific and often tragic reasons.
4. She changes her location or situation.
5. During this transition she meets a shockingly handsome and sexy man. He’s generally what all women are supposed to want their men to look like.
6. They usually fall in love at first sight, but they don’t say it out loud because they deny it/are afraid of rejection/don’t initially like each other.
7. Something dramatic happens and the woman needs to be saved. She is rescued by the hero, who then takes her away to someplace safe and magical and exciting. There they profess their love and have sex in as few descriptive words as possible.
8. Typically, something happens to the woman and she is taken away from her lover or her lover spurns her, or she dismisses her lover for any myriad of reasons. One or the other works hard to regain their love and trust.
9. Then they live happily ever after.
Based on what I’ve read, romantic fanfic goes kind of like this:
1. The main character (between a majority of the time to basically almost always) is a girl or woman.
2. This character suffers from either Mary-Sue Syndrome (too perfect), or Anti-Sue Syndrome (deliberately made too imperfect in order to become perfect.)
3. The character is either really an original character, or is a self-insert (where the author has very clearly stated themselves as being a character in the story), or a veiled-insert (meaning that it’s the author but she or he has changed details of themselves to disguise themselves in their fic without being persecuted for self-insertion.)
4. More often than not, the original character (an MS, self-inserter or veiled-inserter) is from a different place, i.e. time period, dimension, country, city, planet and so forth. If they’re not from the area where the story is going to take place (let’s say from Pandora,) then they go there for a very specific and dramatic reason, not just ‘cuz. These original characters are on a mission of some sort, going to find a lost relative in the wilds of the Pandoran jungle, going on a mission of revenge, to seek guidance for their burgeoning powers, was working as a mercenary, for combat training, for redemption, was lost and somehow wound up there, made a wish and was magically transported there, banged their head and woke up there, or was somehow taken away. These are the top reasons for moving from a previously boring location and situation to someplace new and exciting.
5. They usually find their prospective canon character lover right away. Often the MS character (referred as such for now) is suddenly in danger and then is rescued by the soon-to-be canon character lover, or they might find this lover under attack and rush in to save him.
6. The canon character lover is described fairly close as how he would appear in his video game/comic book/movie/so on. The physical details are sometimes awkwardly and overly-described, with sappy things thrown in often (last time I read a Darth Maul story where his bold eyes glittered with intensity, with the force of a thousand exploding stars, but shimmered with a love so intense that it made the MS’s heart swell, I almost puked.) Their personalities are usually at least a little bit different (since when was Darth Maul so damned talkative and sweet?) to suit the authors’ desires. More on that later.
7. In traditional Mary-Sue style, the canon lover is immediately attracted to the MS. They begin to flirt right away and very quickly become friends. The MS is introduced to the other characters of this universe and might be accepted right away, though there might be some friction between the MS and who was/could have been the OC’s potential lover in their canonverse (e.g. Jean Grey to Wolverine.) A really lousy fic would have this jilted lover giving up immediately, or suddenly become uncharacteristically bitchy and make life for the MS a living hell until the rest of the cast comes to the MS’s side and then basically gang up on the dumped character. Here, the OC relents and happily gives her blessing.
8. There will be more battles against their enemies with one of the two characters being hurt and miraculously saved, with one scene being especially dramatic and heart wrenching. All is well and ends well. There usually isn’t a hint of sex.
9. In true Anti-Sue style, the Mary-Sue and potential canon character lover meet and absolutely hate each other. They bicker and insult one another, and this goes on for a time until the MS is harmed in some way and the OC rushes in to save her. It’s here that the OC admits that he’s been in love with the MS from the moment they first met. The “being rescued and battling enemies and what not” is the same as the MS style above. Again, there’s really no hint of sex, but all is resolved and they live in eternal bliss.
In erotic fiction:
1. Erotic fiction is about or has scenes of sex in addition to the story.
2. Erotic fiction sometimes has a better storyline and more complicated characters than in romantic fiction. This makes them more likeable and relatable to the people who read them.
3. The character is striking and sexy in ways that make us attracted to them. Some of them are gorgeous Aphrodite incarnates, or just attractive girls or guys lined up at the counter at McDonald’s. Romance generally has the extremely beautiful characters while erotica has either or both.
4. The sex scenes can happen immediately or build up to it, which creates more and more tension. The sex scenes are more graphic than in romance. This can range anywhere from being vulgar, (e.g. dirty and sometimes offensive language,) to being well illustrated or poetically described (e.g. more emotional and mentally engaging, written descriptively in a tasteful fashion. This does not need to be explicit all of the time.)
5. Character conflict is much more intense than in most romantic fiction. The characters are not one dimensional. They have depths and feelings and fears and needs like we all do. These are people, dammit, and we relate to them.
6. There can be lots of drama in erotica. Not so much as to drown the erotic scenes completely, but enough to blow every Danielle Steel novel out of the water. A good erotic story has a plot.
7. The couple doesn’t necessarily have to be in love in order to have sex. It could be that they’re just extremely attracted to each other physically. Who knows? As long as it’s a good story, and again, THE SEX MUST BE CONSENSUAL.
And in erotic fanfic …:
1. All of the same rules pretty much apply. BUT,
2. For a majority of the fics, the sex scenes are the highlight of the story only … making for a crappy story. People, you can’t write a bad story just to find an excuse to write the sex scenes. There must be a legitimate storyline in order to have a really great scene. A few years ago I had the serious misfortune of coming across a Darth Maul fic where he essentially orders pizza in order to get laid, and then the next five pages was basically what was supposed to be going on while Emperor Palpatine watched. Eeugh! (The only reason I skimmed beyond the third paragraph was to see if the story got any better. I guess I got suckered into that one.)
3. It seems that some people (*cough* newbies *cough cough*) feel obligated to write something like that. It’s a combination of feeling pressured by the amount of erotic stories already out there, and the misguided belief that, well, sooner or later it’s going to have to be done. Another driving factor is many of the erotic fanfic authors are young people—particularly girls—who are being overcome with new desires and need a way of testing them out, that, y’know, isn’t going to get them pregnant or give them an STD. Another idea to be discussed soon.
4. Apparently, there are many original characters that are out there gallivanting around, sleeping with God knows how many canon characters and not becoming pregnant until they “settle down and marry.” This A) shows a little bit of insertion by the author, whether they realize it or not. B) It’s another factor in the Mary-Sue Syndrome problem, and/or C) this author might be totally clueless. Wake up and go back and take a sex ed class.
PART 2: GETTIN’ SOME OF THE ACTION—SELF-INSERTING
One of the big trends in romantic fanfic writing is the appearance of the author actually inserting herself or himself into their stories as, well, themselves, or disguising themselves as totally different characters, which I call veiled insertion (I talked about this way back in Week 2—read up for a refresher!)
Insertions are especially rampant in romantic or erotic fanfics. Why, you may ask? Well, we’re attracted to heroes and other chosen canon characters largely for their looks, but also because of their personalities and values, sometimes dark and mysterious though they may seem. We’ve grown up in a society that puts a ridiculously huge emphasis on finding “the one” and staying with “the one,” and since we’ve come to know all of these characters intimately, the canon characters represent something that the writer wants in a partner but cannot obtain in this accursed real life. Because we already know how they act, we find comfort with them. Many of us can’t find what we want or need in the real world, so we find it in fan fiction.
SELF-INSERTION: An obvious self insertion is the author clearly stating their presence in this universe, like me in my Meeting the Wolverine series. They’ll describe how they met this character, oftentimes because they already live in this world, they are somehow transported from our world into another, they get bumped on the head and wake up somewhere else, or made a wish to be in that particular place. The writer is still clearly her/himself in the story, and they don’t usually enhance any of their physical traits or give themselves extra powers or abilities or whatnot. They can be nervous or shy around the CC because they either believe that this is how they would really and honestly be in this situation, or they’re doing the Anti-Sue thing on purpose (giving themselves less than ideal or attractive features or behaviors in order to appear less Mary-Sueish). Or they might be friendlier and more assured because this is their story and dammit, what they say goes.
Sometimes if the self-inserter is female, she makes herself flirtier with her chosen CC, and male self-inserters tend to be a little more bold and open, and while the inserters don’t describe themselves as staggeringly handsome or devastatingly beautiful, they give themselves an air of confidence which would attract the honeys in this world. You’d be a little dense to look at these two kinds of self-inserts right now and not realize that the people writing these stories like this are in some way nervous and shy about people they’re attracted to in real life; the boy who doesn’t have the guts to ask out the pretty girl in his class might suddenly have Nikita pawing all over him, or the intimidated girl who has a crush on the gloomy but gorgeous guy in her art class suddenly has Vampire Hunter D cradling her against his chest. Or vice versa, of course.
The self-inserter usually states that she or he is basically accepted by everybody pretty much immediately. And while this could be evidence that these authors basically just don’t know how to write a decent story (conflict, people! Conflict! Rising action! HEL-LO?), they might be suffering from a lack of friendship or confidence in their real world, or (and this is quite frequent and it drives me nutty,) the self-inserter writes that they’re accepted by everybody right off the bat because they want to skirt around the acceptance issues to get straight to the romantic part. That’s a really cheap and half-assed way of writing. Bad fanfic writer! Very, very bad!
It’s extremely rare to find a self-inserted fanfic with any scene of or even a discussion of sex. There may be sexual tension in there, but self-insert authors are not at all comfortable describing themselves having an erotic encounter with their chosen CC. It’s not impossible to find, but they’re rare because, well, it’s embarrassing!
Unless you’re a member of our second category!
VEILED INSERTS: A self-inserter is a story where the author very clearly states that they themselves are a character within the story. A veiled-inserter, however, is when the author places himself or herself into the story, but deliberately disguises themselves with different names or races, living in different locales and maybe having one or two or fifty way cool character traits that they don’t have in real life.
The insert formula is pretty much the same, though the storyline is longer and more intricate, and sometimes the veiled-inserters take greater liberties with their “character’s” powers and traits because that’s what they want and they assume that they can get away with it. They might add a little tension to the perspective romantic partner, and they might not be readily accepted into the CC’s group. They’re a little more Sueish, often with traits of having a poor history, being extremely tough though with a hidden fragile side, having many extreme abilities, and so on.
There are a few exceptions to the veiled-inserts though; because the author is essentially in literary disguise, they not only have greater powers but can be stronger in personality too. They don’t need to appear helpless to get the girl/guy. Hell, they can hold their own in a fight, and more often than not the veiled-inserter and the desired canon character clash emotionally. The veiled-inserter has already fallen in love with the CC, though the CC might be oblivious to it. The inserter usually has to work to earn this character’s respect and trust, and very frequently they discover that this CC had fallen in love with them a long time ago.
But the real difference might come out as a bit of a shocker: because the author is a veiled-insert in the story, they often have no problem describing at least one scene where their veiled character is having a sexual moment with their chosen lover. The veiled inserters are writing what they would like or want as an erotic encounter with this canon character. The authors don’t worry about what people might think of them, because it’s not “really” them in the story.
PART 3: OKAY, I GET THAT MUCH. BUT WHAT ABOUT EVERYBODY ELSE WHO DOESN’T USE INSERTION? WHY DO THEY WRITE ROMANTIC STUFF?
What, do you really have to ask?
I find that there are at least seven reasons why so many of us write about the good stuff (besides just liking it, at least):
1. We just had a great idea for a story.
Kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Sometimes we’re just struck with an awesome idea for a story, and we’re not motivated to write it for any other reason aside for that. And once in a while these great ideas are romantic … or more so … but they’re just written to tell the story. That’s all.
2. We’re kind of sick and tired sitting around waiting for the canonical hero and the canonical heroine to finally get together—BECAUSE IT’S NEVER GONNA HAPPEN— and we decide to do something about it.
Show of hands: how many of you can think of at least one canon universe where you knew that two of those characters were going to fall in love? You know because of they act around each other, by all the flirting and the angst and hesitation. You can see they’re in love. They might as well be walking around in sandwich boards that proclaim, “I am in love with so and so and one day we shall be together!”
AND THEN IT NEVER HAPPENS!!!
I’m like that. I get fed up. I wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, and then I get impatient. I get bored. And then what’s supposed to happen never happens. The guy never gets the girl, but will pine for her for the next 60 episodes or 500 issues. The girl will be in a thousand different relationships but is never able to be with “the one” for whatever repetitive dumb reason, and I’m left tearing my hair out.
One day I had enough with Wolverine loving Jean Grey from afar. I don’t know what caused the snap, but I was just sick of it. How many girlfriends has he had? And yet he still wants Phoenix, knowing full well he can never be with her? I understand unrequited love, I really do, but after four hundred issues it gets real old real fast. Come on, Wolvie, wake up already!
I don’t really remember how I created Tigress exactly. She was kind of an idea I had in the back of my head, but all of a sudden, she was now Wolverine’s friend turned girlfriend turned wife. In her human form she was almost the exact physical opposite of Jean Grey: a pretty, petite Indian-American woman with black hair and brown eyes. Late twenties early thirties. Initially not as outgoing as Jean might be, but warms up quick. Quirky. Kind. Very smart and is a veterinarian specializing in feline health. Not much like Jean Grey, but that’s the way I wanted it.
Wolverine thinks Tigress is cute, but it passes. The more time they start spending together as X-Men or not, the more he starts to like her become more attracted to her; his tastes run more towards redheads and Japanese women, but Wolverine is really starting to take notice of Tigress, and Tigress is starting to take notice of Wolverine as well. Relationship grows, turns into love, they get married, have a daughter, and Wolverine finally gets over Jean Grey and goes on with his life.
3. We think that our favorite canonical character deserves somebody better than the person they’re paired up with.
I know there are a lot of you out there who agree wholeheartedly with this. I know that you can all think of at least one character that you really, really like who’s been paired with somebody that just isn’t right for them. I don’t mean compatibility-wise, per se, but just that they just don’t feel right together. It might not feel realistic or genuine … or maybe we just friggin’ hate the other person for a myriad of reasons.
Regardless, sometimes we don’t like this other character, so we come up with one that we think would be perfect for our favorite OC.
4. We feel bad for the CC who hasn’t found anyone to love yet.
Oh, come on, I know you’ve felt this one.
There are so many stories where there is a character who is worth loving, but for some reason they either can’t find it, lose it, are denied it, or have it taken away somehow. These are great characters, but they’re suffering! Enough’s enough!
Many of these luckless lovers are great people. They’re the ones that have 20 kabillion friends on Facebook. They’re smart and funny and charitable and brave. They’ll give it hurts. They’ll tutor kids and rescue kittens from trees and throw awesome parties. We love these people!
And still, they suffer.
Nightcrawler is one of the most badass X-Men in the comics. He’s funny, talented, kind, generous, virtuous, loyal, brave, sly, an amazing fighter and acrobat, a bit of a practical joker, caring, intelligent, philosophical, with a winning smile and a body of a Greek god. In a swordfight he can use both hands and his tail to fight, and he can teleport, blend in with the shadows and skitter across the walls and ceilings so fast he almost puts Spider-man to shame.
Nightcrawler’s amazing as a friend (he’s Wolverine’s best friend, as a matter of fact), and could always provide kind words and hugs when needed. He can pull anybody out of a depressed slump with his cheeriness.
SO WHY THE HELL HAS HE HAD SUCH A CRAPPY LOVE LIFE?
(And why did they cancel his comic book?!?!)
Part of me couldn’t take it anymore. I felt bad that such an awesome (albeit imaginary) guy was all alone, and I set out give Nightcrawler somebody to love. In my X-Men fics, Dara Gibson was a runaway mutant that the X-Men saved. She was paranoid and almost crazy from PTSD, but Nightcrawler made several deliberate attempts to calm her and coax her out of her room. He succeeded and Dara, soon called Nyx (not the comic book one, for God’s sake), frequently sought him out first for comfort, and then just to hang out. In time they began to fall in love with one another, but kept it secret for fear of rejection. When the truth finally slips out, they begin a whirlwind romance until the pair finally married and had children of their own (the first being Kurt Junior, or “Baby Kurt.”)
Hey, Nightcrawler deserves to be happy!
5. We’re bored.
Hey, we have time and a semi-interesting idea that we either just came up with or have been inspired to write. That’s really all it takes for some of us to come up with something … interesting. For me, one day out of boredom I started to write out a random scene about a pre-diced Darth Maul trapped on a crashing ship. I had him escape and crash land on the planet Dathomir, ruled by a matriarchal society where only the women are Force-wielders. Here he is attacked and captured by the young witch El’kanna, who has been ostracized by her tribe for her “evil misuse” of her powers. When I saw the, ahem, “potential” there, I just ran with it.
It took care of the boredom.
6. We hate predictable couples.
What I mean by “predictable couples” is that obnoxious pattern where the two characters fall in love because they’re supposed to, not because the story brought them together. I’m talking about the jock getting the cheerleader, the knight marrying the princess … you know, your clichéd type stuff. “Predictable couples” are the ones that we know within the first ten minutes of their meeting are destined to be together and quickly come together as a couple with as few problems as possible. We the audience have already figured out what’s going on, and spend the next couple of hours waiting in exasperation for them to get the show on the road, only to find that they’re doing everything that we expected them to do.
I hate that, and I know that a lot of other people do too. If we’re presented with a canon couple that we can’t get excited about because they’re not doing anything special, we get bored with them—and then we start writing to do something about it. (And if we decide to sex it up some, even better!)
7. We didn’t mean for it to happen, it just did.
Let me reiterate this right now: I. Did. Not. Intend. For. Link. And. Vanessa. To. Fall. In. Love.
And if you don’t believe that, then go back and crawl under that rock, ya troglodyte.
There are times when we set out to write a story with our own original character, and, well, somebody falls in love with somebody, and we never intended it to happen. That’s what happened with Link and Vanessa. I didn’t sit down to write the original version of Lamia’s Revenge just to get the two of them together. It just happened!
Honest to God, I didn’t want Link to fall in love with Vanessa. There was physical attraction of course, but the original idea had Vanessa dying, Zared getting the heave-ho, and Link and Zelda eventually marrying, because the hero and the princess are “always” supposed to be together. In the original story, Vanessa and Link never openly expressed any kind of romantic love, but Vanessa was supposed to die and stay dead, and Link was supposed to be devastated, only to recover resolutely and press on.
It was a really grim ending and I found myself constantly going back and rewriting notes and sections of story. I kind of saw Vanessa & Link falling in love early on, but I couldn’t make up my mind if they actually should. And as I’ve said before, I’m not always a fan of predictable pairings, and the Link/Zelda thing, while traditional, didn’t sound as interesting as when I first outlined the story. In fact, having Link and Zelda be together was done so often that it was boring—worse yet, predictable. I remember sitting back and drumming my fingers on my desk, debating, debating, debating.
What began to change my mind is when I started getting several emails from total strangers asking me when are Link and Vanessa going to fall in love? Odder still, these emails grew more and more insistent, and I was amazed; I thought that there would be a lot of people upset with me for creating an OC that falls in love with Link, but the three to eight emails I got in my mailbox a week told me otherwise.
Still, when I got to the first kiss scene I hesitated. I wrote it three times at least, and deleted them every time. I just didn’t know what to do. I knew what I wanted to do, though; I had gotten so attached with the idea of these two falling in love that I really, really wanted to write it.
I finally decided to have them fall in love—it would make the ending more horrible, I thought. I’d have them fall in love and kill her off anyways …
But then I liked how much they had grown together, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it! I couldn’t stand the thought of taking Vanessa away from Link. In the end, I brought Vanessa back, and kept the pair together. It wasn’t what I had intended, but I decided that I liked it.
Great … I can hear my Creativity Demon cackling in glee over that one.
That’ll do it for this segment for now. Part 3 will discuss a few trends in romance/erotic fanfic, and that should be the end of the Romance blog. I have to admit that this topic was the hardest I’ve had to write about, but I’ve been struggling to get it done.
With that point, I’ll add that I want to get onto a regular Monday posting schedule, but I’m going away for the weekend, so next Monday’s blog might be delayed.
See ya next week!