Fandom: A Reader’s World?

The other day on the Middle Earth Fanfiction Awards mailing list, there was a rather frustrated reply to an administration post about labeling reviews that contain spoilers. The writer put forth the usual arguments: A degree of “spoilage” is common when reading book reviews, so why would readers of MEFA reviews assume any differently? It’s an issue that I’ve seen come up before and that, indeed, I’ve dealt with in other contexts through my work with the SWG. It got me thinking, as it has before, how different the experience of writing and reading in fandom is from the rest of the literary world.

I have heard the criticism made against fandom before that it is too easy on writers. Even the worst stories tend to find one or two people willing to say something nice about them. Comments on stories are almost all praise, even on sites–like the SWG–where concrit is not only allowed but encouraged. We are, by and large, a community that anguishes over how to write good feedback and the ethics of when, where, and whether constructive criticism is appropriate. A common defense by flamers is that they are toughening up fan writers and forcing an honest consideration of their writing because most of their peers will not. It is true that the process of sharing fannish writings is largely different from sharing original writings, at least in my experience, and, in my opinion, largely because of the pressure to publish that comes with original but not fan writing.

But in the midst of the debate about how we do and should treat authors, the experience of reading as a fan and in the so-called “real world” of writing is often overlooked. And I think that it deserves some consideration, at least equal to that which we give to authors and perhaps more, since there are far more readers than writers in fandom. Just as many fandom participants feel that authors are coddled by the culture that has developed around fan writing, I feel that readers are likewise coddled by a culture that is hypersensitive and caters to their “needs” in a way that the broader world of creative writing does not.

The complaint on the MEFA list reflects this. Fan readers are, at times, obsessed with the idea of “spoilers.” It is an unwritten rule that story reviews that contain significant revelations about the story’s plot should indicate this loud and center at the top of the review. Software like LiveJournal lets spoilers be hidden “behind the cut” and away from the eyes of readers who don’t want to see them, and it is understood that LJ users will make good use of this tool. The MEFA’s implementation this year of the spoiler flag writes as a rule this unspoken agreement between author, reviewer, and reader.

But the MEFAs are not alone in their official consideration of spoilers. As my comoderators and I developed the rating/warning system for the Silmarillion Writers’ Guild, finding a method that would not spoil a story was a frequent point of discussion and was treated as a priority. Even our ratings policy assures readers: “We are willing to work with authors when warnings may spoil the plots of their stories.”

This is unique to fandom. In the “real” world, if you choose to read a review, or if you insist on a rating system for an artistic medium, then you should expect some degree of spoilage.

Right alongside spoilers as a frequent point of discussion are ratings and warnings. I don’t think that the SWG entertains questions and dissatisfaction about any single point more than it does ratings and warnings. We have received emails in the past from authors asking for guidance on whether we think a story is best as Adults or Teens, as though the gradation is as clear as deciding between red, yellow, and blue. The graduated system of warning for sex and violence–mild, moderate, and graphic–earns its own handwringing as authors debate what degree of explicitness nudges a story from one to the other. Yet a discussion on our Yahoo! list showed me that readers are pretty clear on where they stand on ratings and warnings: They like them, they want them, and they won’t read on an archive that doesn’t make an attempt at providing them. I think it’s illustrative that the fiction archive software, eFiction–which is largely aimed toward creating fan fiction archives–makes nearly every detail optional through the control panel, but “[r]atings are a required element for story submission.” In other words, archive owners must have the PHP/MySQL knowledge to alter the software directly to get rid of ratings altogether or else find a creative way of recasting the required rating field as something else entirely. Or, when LiveJournal developed its own rating system for journal entries, the discussion of whether this was ethical to start was as loud as the discussion of another concern: that ratings in the story body would be hidden behind LJ cuts and readers actually had to click on the story to find them.

Literature outside of fandom is so far untouched by the ratings bug that has made a color-coded alphabet soup out of movies and television in many countries in the world. Perhaps it is assumed that if you are mature enough to pick up a novel for entertainment, then you are mature enough to handle the fact that it might represent real life in some degree of explicitness, including sex and violence. Or perhaps rating literature inches too close to censorship in a culture that still feels the heat of past book burnings (a phenomenon that we haven’t entirely thwarted in this century either). Or maybe it is assumed that you really can judge enough about a book by its cover (and the blurb on the back) to discover whether its content will be to your taste or not. Or maybe fan writings are really that much more explicit overall than original writings, making meticulous ratings and warnings a far greater imperative.

There is a movement among fan writers to shuck the system of ratings and warnings. I am among them: My homepage The Midhavens does not include a single story rating and uses warnings only when I think that a story contains something that might work as a “trigger” to victims, such as those affected by rape or suicide. But we are in the minority, and, even among us, it is understood that scrapping ratings on public archives is an impossible dream. In reconsidering the warning system used by the SWG, a member wrote to me to say she thought it’d be best to get rid of it altogether … but that she understood that readers would never go for it. Yet, briefly, we entertained the thought of an experience where the reader would judge a story on its merits and not which warnings it could be shelved under.

But what is the point of all of this? Surely, pleasing readers and site visitors is not a bad thing.

And I agree that it’s not, just as I agree that the more delicate and tolerant treatment of authors in fandom is not a bad thing either. But gripes about how things are handled in fandom compared to the “real writing world” tend to focus almost exclusively on the kid-glove treatment that the author receives. Very few fandom readers–when making a loud show about spoilers and ratings and the other luxuries they enjoy here but not elsewhere–seem cognizant of the differences between fannish and original literary communities and the burden that creating an absolutely flawless reading experience puts on archive owners and, more importantly, authors. I have heard complaints about the sorts of reviews attached to barely coherent stories that invoke such bland, vague praise as “great grammar!” or “you really use your canon!” just so the reviewer has something nice to say. Yet this requires no more verbal gymnastics than does the sort of warning I remember from my early days on “warning for slash (well, maybe, Maedhros and Fingon do hug each other in one scene, but they’re cousins, so you could see this as slash or not, depending on how you want to look at it, but I thought it safer to warn anyway).”

Or when a MEFA reviewer writes, “Aragorn and Arwen are my favorite canon couple!” without using the spoiler tag, and a reader huffs and puffs that now the story is ruined because the writer could not possibly carry the story on skill alone now that the story’s pairing is revealed!

Fandom is ridiculous at times. Anyone who has been around it for more than a week generally knows that. But, as an author and an archive owner, I find myself caught between wanting to please everyone who supports my writing and my site and tossing their more ridiculous requests in the bin where my own judgment says they belong and start treating my writing and that of my peers more like literature and less like that despised label evocative of squealing, irrational children: fan fiction.


18 Responses to “Fandom: A Reader’s World?”

  1. Niki says:

    Sometimes I wonder how much the demand for ratings on fanfiction but not novels/writings published on paper is due to the medium–internet vs. books, that is. I think people are quicker to assume that internet = porn than that novel = explicit material of any sort, plus computers can record what web sites you’ve visited (and how long you spent at each page). I think I’d be less hesitant to take a chance on reading romance novel* at work than to click on an unrated fanfic that might contain explicit material while using a computer that doesn’t belong to me, myself.

    (*Assuming the romance novel isn’t, like, titled “Lovers’ Passion” with large cursivey font and a pink cover with a picture of a naked lady entwined with Fabio under some red sheets or something…)

    That’s just me sort of bringing something up, though–I don’t think it’s a huge point compared to people just wanting the search for fanfic that is to their tastes to be that much easier. 😉

  2. Dawn says:

    I agree with you completely. It’s a pretty complicated issue, and the Internet = porn connection is definitely, I think, a relevant point and certainly one reason why people like ratings. (Personally, I don’t read stories at all at work anymore, even the most innocent G-rated stuff, but that’s probably just my paranoia at play … and my lack of time. 😉 )

    The people that intrigue/annoy me are the ones who demand a certain compliance with ratings and warnings because, omg, they might see boys kiss or married people having sex or any number of things that, as grown-ups, we shouldn’t be horrified by even if it isn’t our first choice of reading material.

    Also, you totally had me laughing out loud with your asterisked statement because I have seen book covers that look just like that before! 😀

  3. linda says:

    I enjoyed this article very much. I guess I rely on my betas for tough concrit, though I tell readers I am happy to accept it.

    I try(underline) try to create something of literary merit in my LOTR stories.

    I like ratings as anything explicit makes me queasy.I recall when younger remarking to my Mum that books should be labelled like films.

    I would never consider hugging slash unless the characters were in a sexual relationship and the story made that clear.

    The whole MEFA spoilers thing seemed much ado about nothing. I click the spoiler tag, but would not fuss if someone forgot.

  4. Oshun says:

    I was sort of giggling when I read this because I one of the greatest complainers about people complaining about spoilers–hey, I have subscribed to the Sunday New York Times for years and always read the Book Review. I complain sometimes that summarizing the entire plot of a book is lazy writing, but not about the fact they are all filled with spoilers. (The joke around here is that pretentious people read the Times Book Review and pretend to have read the books!).

    I feel the same about ratings. I don’t need them and I always watched my kids. Didn’t expect anyone else to do it for me. If it squeeks me I can stop. Although, I was thinking of asking you (jokingly!) to rate your October horror stories — Terrible Things Happening to Small Children!

    On lack of negative comments on LJs, etc. I tend to send private emails, if I really care about the writer and want to tell them something that bothered me or I think they would like to correct. If it is a tiny obvious typo that they have missed, then I might quickly mention it (just so I won’t forget). I don’t consider that embarrassing, but rather a favor. In the real world, if I don’t like something, I don’t write the author and tell them, I just don’t buy any more of their books.

  5. Niki says:

    The people that intrigue/annoy me are the ones who demand a certain compliance with ratings and warnings because, omg, they might see boys kiss or married people having sex or any number of things that, as grown-ups, we shouldn’t be horrified by even if it isn’t our first choice of reading material.

    Yeah, definitely. In this case, I think a person’s personal reasons for looking up fanfiction comes into play–wanting to read more about the characters of the original canon source that they fell in love with. Only in a way, what they actually fall in love with is their interpretation of the original canon source, and don’t want to see anything contradicting that interpretation. I often find I have to give myself the reality check, “You click on any and all fanfiction at your own risk” because (IMHO) it can be surprisingly easy to forget that fanfiction isn’t just more canon, it’s another author’s interpretation of canon (or fantasy or weird idea that they didn’t want to turn into an original story).

    (Not that some readers of original fiction don’t have their own weird demands, of course–there are often one or two “special” critics in creative writing classes who have issues if they read something they weren’t prepared for/warned about, I guess. ;))

    I also think it’s interesting that some archives not only let you exclude certain ratings/warnings, but let you search for them, the same way you can search for certain characters or genres. So ratings in fanfiction aren’t just about avoiding smut/gayness/whatever, but finding it as well. (And I guess one would feel more discreet looking up smut on the internet than purchasing a book with a blatant NC-17 rating on its cover at Borders…)

    Erm, yeah. I meant to say I totally agree with you in like, two sentences, but my mind keeps wandering. 😉

    (Btw, has anyone set up an RSS/Syndicated account at LiveJournal for this blog so people can read new posts on their friends pages? If not, would you mind if I set one up? (I understand if you’d rather I didn’t.))

  6. Dawn says:

    Linda: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it! :)

    I think your remark about “much ado about nothing” really hits home on my point because we all, as readers, have preferences. I think it comes down to reaction in fandom a lot of the time. I mean, the mainstream literary world has been dealing without spoilers and ratings for … well, forever! So I find it rather funny when I see someone freak out over these things, as though it is impossible to have a writing community without perfect adherence to them rather than understanding authors’ and site owners’ willingness to go along with such things a luxury, really.

    Oshun: I thought of you when I was writing this! I think we’ve snickered behind our hands together at people’s obsession with spoilers on fanfic reviews before. It seems a pretty simple matter, to me, that if you don’t want to find out about the story beforehand, then don’t read the reviews beforehand.

    Personally, I find it more of a spoiler to read “criticism”-type comments–i.e., that the characterization of a story is particularly good, or the imagery–because I like to analyze stories on my own and not be biased or influenced by the opinions of others. Plot details mean relatively little to me. For this reason, I’ll read MEFA reviews on stories I know but not on those that I plan to read. I don’t ask people to label spoilers because they thought that a metaphor in paragraph 12 was particularly brilliant.

    I’m sorry you had such a strong (negative!) reaction to “Traffic Jam.” I’ll remember that label for you next time. 😉 (Really! I have an arachnophobic on my flist, so I warn for anything spider-related on my LJ … and spider-related posts are surprisingly frequent.) The ending, I thought, was ambiguous. I guess it wasn’t so ambiguous for you though!

    I also prefer to give concrit privately and only if I know the author wants it. I don’t see the point in bringing something up in public that might be embarrassing, and I don’t waste my time on concrit for writers not at all interested in revision.

    Niki: You’re absolutely right about interpretation, I think! I’ve had readers outraged at my interpretation, and, when I ask them to give me some idea of where to look in the canon for the evidence that disproves my way of looking at things, they can’t answer because it’s entirely subjective. I try to be aware of this, too, when reacting to the canonicity of a story.

    I’ve never had “special critics” in creative writing, so I found this surprising! Some really incendiary topics were brought up in my creative writing classes–like abortion–but no one complained … at least, not in the workshop. (I don’t know what may or may not have been said privately to the professor.)

    On searching for ratings/warnings, one reason this might be is that it’s part of the eFiction package, and a lot (most) of the smaller Tolkien archives are based on this software. SWG is an example.

  7. Michelle says:

    I agree with your opinion on ratings and warnings, even if I’m not so bold (or adventurous) to forego them completely. As a reader (and most of the authors are readers as well) I like to stay clear of certain kinds of stories. I don’t like to read character death, because it depresses me. So I have to rely on the author to tell me beforehand whether s/he means to kill off the protagonist.

    As an author, I find rating a story incredibly hard – partly because I live in Europe where movies (and fanfiction ratings lean on movie ratings) are rated entirely different than in the US. Here, a movie would be rated for violence whereas sex is not such an issue. In fanfiction though, I’ve read stories where the heroes bled all over the place. There was torture, torn-off limbs and general drama and still the story got away with a PG13 and nobody gave a damn. But when there’s a kiss, people get out the red flag. It confuses me, frankly.

    The same goes for warnings, to a certain extent. I prefer to think of warnings as “what you will get in that story” and I realize that I have to add them since I don’t want my gen-readers to find themselves in one of my juicy slash stories (I respect that people don’t want to read out of their comfort zone). But it does alienate me when hetersexual women warn for het-content in their stories. I’ve no idea why you would want to warn for something we all have on a regular basis (at least, hopefully *g*).

  8. Dawn says:

    I’m with you on the sex versus violence issue. I live in the US and so am accustomed to our wonky rating system. My husband and I recently traveled to the UK, and, while in Glasgow, saw The Duchess, which was rated for 12-year-olds. In the US? I’m surprised that it got an R-rating (no one under 17 admitted without a parent … and, so far, it is only in limited engagement, so perhaps that explains it in part), since it contains a lesbian orgasm, and lesbians and female orgasms are both on the MPAA’s axis of evil. It was one of the more obvious moments during the whole trip regarding the difference between the US and Europe (and why my husband and I don’t really fit in the US … but that’s a whole other rant. ;))

    Even some “liberal” parents in the US would go into tailspin over the thought of little 12-year-old Ashley seeing The Duchess, though people took toddlers to see Hostel and had the nerve to try to defend it on IMDb. But I’m digressing …

    On het warnings, I’ve always assumed this came about because there are supposedly folks in fandom (though I’ve yet to meet them) who refuse to read het and have the same screaming-flamer-rant reaction to stumbling across het unexpectedly in a story as some of fandom’s more intolerant have toward even a hint of slash.

    On letting people choose (or avoid) what they want to read … I’m trying to use summaries for that purpose on my site. Summaries, I think, are overlooked and underused in fandom. Presumably, people avoid novels that are outside their comfort zone by reading the blurb on the back, so I’m trying to craft my summaries to serve the same purpose.

  9. Michelle says:

    I assume the same about het-warning, but I still find it strange.

    As for summaries. Of course that’s a valid point. But on the one hand, a typical fanfic summary is a lot shorter that the blurb on the back of a book. If I’m not totally mistaken, most archives only allow only for a certain number of characters after which the summary is cut off. Which leaves you with rather limited possibilities (I’m assuming that you’re willing and able to write a summary – in contrast to the usual “Look inside for better summary” usually employed by large parts of users).

    On the other hand, you “consume” a book differently – at least I do. I choose a book because someone recommended it or because I read a review somewhere. Of course that happens with fanfic as well, but most often then not I decide to read a fanfic because a) it has pairing I like, b) it has a setting I like, c) I like the author. These criteria are a lot more obscure in my opinion. When I buy a book, I have a general idea of what I will find inside. With fanfic, it’s usually a surprise.

  10. Dawn says:

    I’m not ditching the ratings and warnings on my archive stories yet for precisely the reasons you bring up (along with the fact that many places–including my own archive SWG–require them). I’m not going to rate/warn my stories on my website, where I’m not limited by someone else’s ToS or impositions on the length of summaries. In fact, it’s really a weak rebellion: People who want to know what rating/warnings I think my stories deserve can find it on SWG! :)

    It’s hard for me to comment on choosing o-fic versus fanfic in terms of unwillingness to read certain things because I have no squicks or compunctions about reading anything! If the author can make it work, I’ll try it. What will make me click out of a story, put down a novel, and avoid an author in the future (whether o-fic or fanfic) is poor writing. Beyond that, I don’t mind whatever the author wants to throw at me. I suppose this is a major reason why I find it so hard to understand the rating/warning mindset that pervades fandom because a story’s content is not something that influences me in the least bit. I find it hard to imagine any content that would make me abandon a well-written story.

    It also occurs to me that what is published in mainstream fiction is more likely guaranteed “safe” to someone who wants to avoid explicit content–whether sex or violence–than fanfic, where there are fewer controls in place as to what gets “published.” If I truly wanted to avoid explicitness, I would be much more cautious in choosing fanfic than o-fic. What constitutes mid-level explicitness in fanfic is probably the most explicit content one’s likely to find on the shelves at Borders, at least in the US.

  11. Michelle says:

    Well, I’m not easily squicked either. I’m not too fond of MPREG and I try to stay clear of character death, but I’m like you in that regard. If a writer can make something work, I’ll enjoy the story. There was this one MPREG I found really convincing – though that usually is a concept that I find too “out there” to truly consider realistic.

    Apart from the fact that some people really get the creeps from reading slash, there are also those who are mortally offended by certain concepts – slash, because Tolkien would turn in his grave. AU – because, hell, learn your facts. And they want to be warned about those concepts. This fandom especially is very canon-centered. Probably just *because* there is so much canon to consider:)

  12. Oshun says:

    Dawn! I was sooo joking about wanting warnings for my phobic “bad things happening to kids” attitude. If you going to do it right you would have to add small animals and cartoon characters to it. I used to cover my eyes during the graphic parts of Tom and Jerry cartoons as a kid. I’m pretty sure I was the only one at the Saturday afternoon matinee doing that!

  13. Rhapsody says:

    Hmmm, well Michelle pointed out the differences in rating systems between the two continents already, Its very confusing as you know because I often plagued you with that :) Now I am playing truant from packing… *coughs*

    I think these days in our lives everything comes with labels: food, tv shows (books not so much) so it kinda snuck into our lives because we all demand to be informed as much as possible about the ingredients of what a product might contain. The interwebs with its netnanny’s and adult sites being forced to put up warnings, I think this also became a major influence on the fandom world. Liabilities and avoiding that what you worked so hard for (be it a product or site) being reported or flamed by a hockey mom pitbull with lipstick type.

    Are we adults and can do damn fine on our own to filter out what we need and do we as adults get fed up by lines of: think of the childrun? Sure. You know I hardly read horror because it truly freaks me out and I really do value my sleep at night. However only a few authors I know and have a great take on this genre: I do read. Still I also know that sometimes I do read your horror stories and sometimes not. I appreciate what you do, because it helps me a bit to filter.

    Now as for MEFA spoilers and spoilers in general… for the mefa’s I sometimes think that we all have different expectations of mefa reviews. I am not reading mefa reviews before I hit a story, I read first, then review and I might read what others think of it. Therefore this whole spoiler thing has no use for me, because I might read the reviews afterwards. But folks are different and some do want to get an inkling of what the story is about and especially why the nominator wanted to nominate the piece… You know what I mean? Some reviews are written as a general omg check this out now with less spoilers as specific. SWG reviews serve a different purpose and some folks do not mind a spoiler and others do: each to their own. But I don’t think anyone can write NY Times book reviews and such, so reviews come in different sizes and forms. Also there can be a difference in what someone sees as a spoiler and what not. We are all different in how we take in information, some really do not wanna know plot twists or plot devices in reviews. I read this great entry to which I fully agree, especially when it comes down to the influence of reviews on readers/viewers expectations and how it can ruin an experience.

    Perhaps I should have kept this comment simple by saying that we’re all different in how we deal with information intake, it makes sense to me. Some need or demand all the blows and whistles and others are carefree. I think somewhere in between we can find a way to keep everyone happy, but foremost yourself as a writer!

  14. Dawn says:

    Michelle: I’ve noticed that this fandom is very canon-centric as well. I’ve often wondered if some of that (at least recently) has to do with the movie!verse and book!verse fans feeling that they uphold some “purer” form of canon. I’ve gotten that impression from some conversations I’ve had with people, but, of course, I wasn’t in fandom before the movies came out, so I can’t really compare how it was then and now.

    You might be a good person to ask, since you’ve been involved in other fandoms: Do you think there are more people “mortally offended” by slash and smut in Tolkiendom than elsewhere? I get that impression, but since my exposure to other fandoms comes through venues like Metafandom–that tend to represent liberal fans with a strong concern for civil rights–then it might be an unbalanced portrayal.

    Oshun: I remember being upset by a Tom and Jerry cartoon too as a kid! Tom was holding Jerry at knifepoint. It probably reflected the first stages of my blood-injury phobia more than anything else; even now, the only violence in movies that upsets me involves cutting. I am proud that I haven’t had to look away when physicians are bleeding people in The Tudors! 😉

    Rhapsody: You bring up an interesting and relevant point with the culture of warnings in general. I remember when Hrymfaxe came to visit from Denmark this summer and was amused by the fact that all American takeaway coffee cups read, “CAUTION: CONTENTS ARE HOT.” Well, duh! We Americans make fun of that too, but this country has developed such a litigious culture where everyone is always afraid of being sued that I buy a bag of walnuts for making ice cream, and it contains the warning on the side, “WARNING: CONTAINS NUTS.”

    Actually, I think the connection between fandom and food prep to be rather interesting because, as you know, I make homemade candy and ice cream and, on occasion, have sold what I make. At the least, I give it as gifts all the time. And I am obsessively careful about labeling stuff that might contain allergens when I’m giving it to someone whose allergies I don’t know.

    But, to me, this is different than warning that coffee may be hot. A person with a severe nut allergy that tastes my strawberry ice cream without realizing that I made maple walnut the same day and on the same equipment could die from my failure to warn properly.

    In fiction, it is the same way for me: I warn for things like rape and suicide when I have reason to believe that the content might trigger a severe reaction in a victim. I don’t warn for slash (on my website; I warn on archives according to their rules) because no one had a breakdown because of two men kissing.

    I have no objection to warning as a courtesy; it is all the angsting and handwringing in some corners of fandom as though stumbling on a story with slash might actually damage the stumbler. And, as I told Michelle way up the thread, a good summary should usually reveal much of the content that’s being contained in a warning. If your story is about the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, for example, do you need to warn for violence and character death? As a general rule, fanfic writers write terrible summaries, in my opinion; warnings are a way to circumvent having to come up with something more profound than, “Feanor at the kinslaying, plz r&r.”

    On spoilers, I feel much the same way: I think that warning for spoilers as a courtesy is just fine–quite a nice gesture, actually–but the way that people wring their hands and moan and groan about how a story is absolutely ruined if they catch an iota of what it’s about in a MEFA review should not always be accorded the influence that they currently have, imho. People who feel that strongly about their ability to enjoy a story if aspects of it are revealed ahead of time should avoid reading reviews before the story. I agree with you that “review” has multiple meanings in fandom, but I don’t think one has to be around for long to realize that reviewers do discuss details that they like or dislike in their reviews, and this may reveal things about the story; if that is terribly troubling to a person, I think it becomes his or her imperative to avoid reviews before reading a story.

    I could have likewise kept my reply simple by nodding heartily to your last paragraph. 😉 I suppose my whole point in bringing this up is that I worry when I see fandom indulging either extreme and giving in to some fans’ desire to constantly make mountains out of the proverbial molehills.

  15. Michelle says:

    I think putting labels and warning on a fic has also to do with trying to avoid flaming. Sure, Rhapsody said above, we’re all adults and should be able to pick what we like. But apparently, that’s not the case. There are many slash authors out there who’ve had to put up with flames – many a time even though the fic was clearly labeled. This way, though, you can apply the “don’t like, don’t read” rule and tell people sulk off if they’re unable to read the fic header. It’s all a bit paranoid…

    As for canon. It might have something to do with book and movie – but I wasn’t around during book!canon times (due to the fact that I was rarely as bored by a book as while reading LOTR – and I’m not ashamed to admit it *g*). But it might be a reason. It’s a problem with all books turned into movies. You have to change things – with LOTR especially or you would end up with a ten-season mini series or something. For me all the “Peter Jackson is an idiot, because he didn’t do a) and b)” is moot, partly because I think his movies are one of the best book adaptations I’ve seen. He turned a tediously slow, self-centered book into a fast and gripping movie. So, and now you can all rip me to shreds:)

    Anyway. I’ve read fanfic during my BtVS and AtS times, but I wasn’t so active with the writers’ crowd. There was a lot of slash around, but also a lot of het. Things were balanced. The slash problem in LOTR might also be due to the fact that there is no balance between het and slash (at least not in my opinion). There is either slash or terrible MS. There so little good women characters to begin with (and if you write a original female character, people will still bash her as MS). I’ve seen a bit femmeslash around, but nothing in comparison to what you can find in BtVS.

  16. Dawn says:

    I agree with you on the matter of warnings/labels/ratings existing, in part, as protection for the author. We’ve talked about this in the past on the SWG list too, about how authors sometimes feel pressured to label a story a certain way (“AU” “slash” “OFC”) or chance being flamed by people who then feel justified to do so. As though, if authors haven’t obsessively labeled their stories, they have no right to insist upon respect from those who choose to read said stories simply because the subject matter is known to be “controversial.”

    I know, even for me, it was hard to break myself of using labels so watered down as to lose all meaning. For example, I used to label my Feanor/Erestor novella By the Light of Roses as “AU.” It’s not AU. No, Feanor and Erestor aren’t lovers in the book. But neither is it canonically impossible either, and I worked with canon facts to make it logical in my story. Called BtLoR “AU” makes the term largely meaningless.

    But I would stick the AU label on it because it seemed easier than explaining myself to those who couldn’t stand the idea of slash or Feanor/Erestor and who used that as an excuse for nastiness.

    I can’t speak as to what’s available to read in LotR since I read 99% Silmarillion-based. However, I can say that in Silmfic, there is very little bad slash and MS. I do believe that some people use the tendency of a particular type of story to be low quality as an excuse to stereotype all stories of that genre. For example, I agree–as you pointed out–that any story with a female character runs the risk of being mislabeled as “Mary Sue.” I also agree that the Tolkien fandom as a whole needs more in the way of strong female characters and femslash, something we’ve tried to remedy at the SWG with mixed success, but we are only a small group in a very big fandom.

  17. Michelle says:

    I’m with you on the AU issue. It dilutes the label to use it for slash like that. In the end, it would force all fanfic to be labelled AU, because the author didn’t write it that way. I’ve written a few AU stories that I’ve labelled as such – one slavefic (I’m pretty sure Tolkien would have told us if Aragorn had been a slave during his childhood *g*), one BtVS crossover in which the rings whispers to Aragorn to the point where he kills Gollum and takes the ring for himself, one in which Legolas is twisted by Sauron’s will. I think those qualify as AU, because while they are set in Tolkien’s universe they make certain things differently than Tolkien. But taking a pairing that’s not canon and labelling it AU – I think that’s taking things a bit too far.

    As for strong female characters: I hear you! Coming from BtVS, I had never heard the term Mary Sue until I digged deeper into LOTR fandom. BtVS is probably the poster child for strong female characters, even for femslash. LOTR comes with such “weak” female characters (except for Eowyn, but even she ends up being a housewife), which seems to result in authors not being interested in writing them. They stick to the guys and the female characters are left to the 13-year old romantic writing a self-insert.

  18. MithLuin says:

    My first experience with fanfic was very, very bad. I was searching for a passage from FotR online, and stumbled across a (fairly explicit/violent) poorly written Aragorn/Legolas rape fic. My reaction was ‘eep! fanfic is gross and ruins characters!’ and I didn’t go looking for any more. If it had warnings, I didn’t know what they were – I’d never heard of fanfic, so I wouldn’t have known what slash or noncon or PWP or whatever meant. But I doubt it was labeled.

    MUCH later, I was speaking to someone online who linked to her hobbit fanfics. With some trepidation, I read the story she linked to and found it…pleasant. It explored the relationships of the younger Frodo, Merry and Sam, and really set up what we see in LotR well. I was ‘oh, fanfic can be really cool and well-written!’ So I began reading fanfic on ‘West of the Moon’ – I liked that all their stories were clearly labeled. They had separate archives for gen, slash, and poetry, and used a G,PG,R rating for all stories. *Every* story had a summary, and authors generally would take the time to warn about the level of ‘darkness’ in the fic. Of course, to post a story, it had to be approved, so there were some standards in place. Most of the stuff seemed decently written and really helped expand on Tolkien’s world by exploring various aspects of hobbits that he didn’t quite get to. Reading stuff there inspired all three of my first (hobbity) fanfics.

    The next archive I visited was Stories of Arda, which includes all of Tolkien’s work, but limits itself to no explicit stories and no slash. I also found the summaries helpful here, so I could choose stories that might be of interest to me.

    From there, I ended up on Sycophant Hex, a Harry Potter fanfic archive. Rude awakening – their rating system uses random letters like B, W, and L. One of those means X-rated. But, you have to register with the site to read the higher-rated stories anyway. Once you read all the info, you can navigate well, and authors generally did mention if the story was a PWP about Hermione and the Weasley twins engaging in BDSM….so it was your own fault if you clicked on that at work. Again, stories submitted to this site had to pass a grammar check. Before recommending this site to adults, I would always say ‘heed the warnings,’ because while anything and everything is there…it’s marked. I did not recommend it to a high school student, because I did not think it would have been appropriate (not coming from a teacher, anyway).

    After this, I found HASA and SWG and finally decided to brave less than a year ago. I think that allowing a reader to navigate a site is helpful. Hints about what type of story it is – what characters, what time period, what pairing and yes…an indication of rating.

    This can all be given in a summary. If someone can’t figure out that “An exploration of the steamy romance between Fingon and Maedhros” is going to be explicit slash, shame on them 😉 But likewise, if I want to find stories about Glorfindel, it’s nice to have a searchable function that allows me to do that.

    Spoilers don’t really bother me. I think that most stories can’t be spoiled by giving the pairing, unless the plot is ‘who ends up with whom?’ – and then you just list all the pairings, so no one knows what the final one is till they get to that part of the story anyway.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to know if you’re clicking on porn or not. It’s worse with fanart than fanfic, but still important to label things. That being said, I don’t think that rating your own stuff is all that accurate. I have found that I lose the ‘impact’ of my own writing after checking over it the umpteenth time for errors. So, I could write a really squicky torture scene and not even realize that the violence is beyond PG. Oops. But I would be smart enough to label it as containing torture, I’d hope. I find the ‘M’ rating on only so useful – some people use it ‘just to be safe’ when there is nothing in the story to justify it, and others include explicit scenes while forgetting all about it. I have learned not to read stories that don’t use summaries there. If the author doesn’t know what the story is about, why should I read it?

    I don’t have to like everything I click on. If I don’t like the author’s ‘take’ on the story, I don’t have to read more stuff by that author. The stuff that I like and dislike probably isn’t going to show up in a label, because it’s nuance that matters to me. I can come up with a story on HASA that (in content) is not much different from that first story I stumbled across, but which I would consider well-written. While the first story was (in my mind) a character assasination of Aragorn (and Legolas) and had no ultimate connection to the ‘real’ story (despite the minor insight that Legolas disliked Moria)….writing the same thing about Morgoth and Maedhros actually can be very, very meaningful and in character – I don’t even mind the lack of the canon detail of Morgoth losing his ability to transform prior to that time.

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