because it’s Saturday morning and I can do what I want, that’s why.
And I was thinking about how, as far as fanfiction and it’s “rules” can be considered the structure for a community, fanfiction writers engage in an incredibly contentious community. If you look at the rules on any livejournal…
I wonder about this myself. Patch and I talk about it, and she said that you would at least be able to see if a book contained rape, etc. because it would be mentioned in reviews of the book… but I don’t know.
I’m a careful warner in fanfic, because we do write on some really sensitive topics and I don’t want someone thinking they’re about to read fluff and getting, IDK, self-harm or something. On the other hand, it does minimize the emotional impact of those scenes, knowing ahead of time to look for them.
I always warn because it’s the polite and considerate thing to do in fandom, and I greatly appreciate people taking the time to read. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to warn, though.
Sometimes you can see if there’s rape in a book. But again it depends on how prevalent it is within the context of the story’s greater theme. If you’re reading The Lovely Bones or Lolita, yes, you will have been warned ahead of time about rape, underaged themes, etc, because it’s a huge part of the book.
If you’re reading, say, Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, or something more popular even, House of Silk, the new Sherlock Holmes novel by Anthony Horowitz that made a huge smash b/c it was endorsed by the ACD estate, you don’t get any warning at all that there might be upsetting themes within. (And I won’t tell you what themes are touched on by those books either, because that’s spoilers, and oh hey look, there’s you point.)
Fanfiction sort of necessarily covers itself with spoilers, thus removing some of the fun of the twists and turns of a story, in order to avoid harming or offending its readers. And I have definitely before, as you mentioned, found myself in a position where I was wondering how I could keep a twist intact without also breaking the rules of fic-warning? And it’s those times when I find myself discontented with all this tip-toeing. All this careful prodding across common ground. Because it takes away some of my freedom to just shove a reader off a plot-cliff; (which as a writer I cannot deny my desire to do.)
But then, how much of that are we really losing? Look at projects like Redemption Road (a fan run, fan written season of SPN). Warnings everywhere. And yet they still manage to surprise their readers, to bring them to tears. Clearly, on an emotional level, fanfiction still manages to engross and surprise. And, as burningfairytales said, the spoilers are, on the one hand, an opportunity to be completely honest, and thus to write about subjects we might otherwise avoid.
So what’s being lost and what’s being gained?
I think the main that that is being gained is maintaining a social contract. Fandom is exclusively self-policing, fandom has developed its own culture, and new fic writers especially (which I still consider myself to be) need to respect the culture they’re writing in.
I came into fanfiction writing in a sort of ass-backwards way. I didn’t start off with any involvement in fandom prior to beginning writing fanfiction; Patch grabbed me by the wrist about a year and a half ago and pulled me off a cliff with her. I still don’t feel like I have a good handle on fandom and fandom culture sometimes.
My background is in RPG writing, specifically horror RPGs. RPG writing is a lot like fanfiction writing, almost deceptively so, sometimes. Both involve writing within someone else’s pre-established worlds while observing their canon and universe-governing rules. The big differences are the places where RPG writing is more flexible (you really are making a mini-world with any given supplement and you shape the canon as you go) and less flexible (but no, seriously, you HAVE to observe the canon and follow those universe-governing rules, or your editor is kicking it back at you). RPG materials don’t tend to have very detailed warnings, either; surely you know what you’re getting into when you pick up (or these days, download) a dark fantasy/horror supplement.
Now, White Wolf, the company I wrote for, does have a line specifically for the much darker/adult content materials. Black Dog is the imprint they use for anything that is extremely graphic (sexually or violently) or disturbing (including Charnal Houses of Europe: The Shoah which I still consider to be the bravest supplement ever published by an RPG company; addressing the Holocaust in a dark fantasy/horror setting is beyond risky). Still, other than a “this work contains potentially disturbing situations,” the warnings are pretty minimal. The genre and imprint are enough to let you know to proceed with caution.
The first time I started looking at the fanfiction communities, I was surprised by the type and extent of warnings on fic. Warnings for sex (especially gay sex)? Shouldn’t that be inferred from the pairing and rating? Warnings for violence/blood? Wasn’t that implied by the “genre: horror” label? The trigger warnings made more sense, but again, coming from a background where the genre stands alone as the warning, I was surprised at the depth/extent of warnings on fic. However, it wasn’t my culture; I was the outsider coming into it, not a long-term member influencing it.
We warn extensively. We joke sometimes that we made an art form out of warnings on our zombie apocalypse Glee fic, Dead in Ohio. We used the warnings almost as a summary, and I don’t think we lost anything by doing so. I think there are stories were the very act of including a warning gives away the resolution of a plot twist, however.
On the one hand, I agree with you about fandom being a safe space and that giving someone enough warning/control to be able pick and choose exactly what they read is a wonderful escape from some of the less pleasant day-to-day realities. And yeah, because I can’t control who looks at my fic, warnings are a good CYA if a minor chooses to read them.
I think the other side of that coin (and my god, the metaphor mixing!) though is that it goes too far sometimes and the result is Special Delicate Snowflake Syndrome and people who are indignant you didn’t warn for every possible trigger, wherein “trigger” in this instance really means “something I don’t like.” How far do we have to go to create a safe space and what’s an acceptable level of warning? Fandom culture seems to be trending towards more and more warnings, towards greater DETAIL in the warnings, and I think we’re approaching a point where some groups’ expectation level for warning does result in a loss to any sort of built up, plot twists, etc. in a story. Maybe this is a trend that waxes/wanes; I haven’t been in a fandom long enough to attempt to make any sort of authoritative statement.
What’s the line and how far do we go? Is there an acceptable line between respecting/protecting the readers and deciding for them what they should/shouldn’t be offended by?
I sometimes also just wonder, beyond even “Special Snowflake Syndrome” if there’s not some social responsibility to ourselves that we are undercutting. Because as you say there are ratings and there are genre labels on fic sites (or in communities on LJ). And further, on sites like AO3, there are archive warnings: “Graphic Violence”, “Major Character Death”. So why do we feel the need to warn further?
What worries me about the most specifically, is that we end up labeling the difference between even what should be benign things. We give the pairing, we specify whether it is “het” or “slash”, and while I’m really pleased that both labels do and would appear (as opposed to “slash” alone, thus distinguishing it as outside the norm) by labeling them we’re still treating them as fundamentally different.
I don’t even know if that’s a legitimate concern, or if perhaps there’s some condition within the fandom which better accounts for it. Or if the simple existence of slash (which none can doubt is pervasive) sort of makes up for this difference labeling.
But it was something I wanted to bring up because your questions and concerns made me think of it.
By labeling everything, aren’t we necessarily outlining differences and giving them importance and power?