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angst  depth


Here's a real beauty of a critique: "I hate English Literature! It's so subtle that it's boring! Give me American melodrama anytime!"

Transcribe that into fandomspeak: "Couple A? Nah--too sappy. Not intense enough like Couple B." Or this: "Ahhhhh, angst. Yes. Give me angst. I want it. I crave it. This fic's ripping my heart out, and it's wonderful!"

Way too many people are so quick to dismiss fics solely on the basis of gut reaction. "There's not enough conflict," according to some. My question to them is this: What, exactly, is conflict in a story? From what I've seen, a lot (if not most) fics considered to have appropriate levels of conflict are those that teeter on the edge of melodrama, if not wrist-slashing angst. Eh?

Folks, there's conflict, and there's conflict. Believable tension in a story doesn't necessarily have to be one that's life-changing or threatening in any way. There are the more subtle conflicts that touch on character development/transformation or even just plain insight that moves the reader on a deeper level. From what I see, the kind of tension that's highly favored seems to be the kind that touches readers emotionally and not as much intellectually. Never mind the fact that repetitive plot devices and themes and subject matter are used throughout a story--so long as Duo suffers horrendously before being united (or reunited, whichever the case may be) with his One True Love, the fic will be praised to the high heavens, giving up-and-coming writers a handy template on which to work their own writing projects, and the cycle continues into the next generation.

But let me make something clear here. Drama per se isn't bad. We need it for a story to work (who'd want to read a story where the hero encounters no resistance in the attainment of any goal?). There are virtues in drama, of course. But drama without thought--in terms of plotting, characterization, lessons learned, and values questioned--can be as empty as the more maligned gratuitously sappy/fluffy fic.

It seems that an unspoken consensus reigns in which the hard and fast rule in fiction writing goes thusly:

Angst is profound; everything else is below one's regard. Sap and fluff and satire are inconsequential because they don't wrench one's heart out to be shredded into tiny, quivering ribbons.

I think that what we fanfiction writers tend to forget most of the time is that not all readers appreciate being grabbed by their balls and then swung around in a quasi-Freudian frenzy. There are those who crave to be intellectually challenged by what they read, and they can't possibly expect to have their desires sated by page after page of misery piled atop misery until the hero's on the verge of an apoplectic fit.

What's wrong with subtlety? What's wrong with more subdued emotional elements? What's wrong with forcing the readers to read between the lines to glean meaning, character purpose and/or feelings, or to catch clues and hints throughout the story or to be forced to face issues, whether ugly or not, that are relevant in the real world? Even better, what's wrong with writing fics that don't even touch on emotional issues but rather on more oblique, philosophical ideas? Why dismiss them as being too dull, too difficult, or even too highbrow?

Would Thomas Hardy be any more superior to Henry Fielding because he unabashedly wallows in page after page of gut-wrenching angst and drama, while Fielding touches on similar social issues with greater detachment through sharp wit and satire? Would a reader's emotional suffering as opposed to intellectual challenge be the mark of good writing?

There are fics out there written by less popular writers that more than deserve their place in the fandom library of lauded fics but are denied that honor because of the closedness of mainstream taste. If anything, fics that break away from the mainstream should be accorded even more respect than the fandom's pantheon of "recommended fics" for providing a much-needed variation to, and break from, the tried-and-true formula on which we tend to place too great a stock. One can only offer readers so much exposure to the Romeo and Juliet or King Lear or Hamlet or (insert Shakespearean tragedy here) brand of conflict in fiction, after all.

Angst does not equal depth. Sure, fanfiction's something that's escapist in nature, but that doesn't--and shouldn't--discount the value of thought, and neither should it discourage writers from attempting to challenge their readers mentally. And by no means should it encourage readers to malign writers who dare leave their balls intact.

Does that sound elitist? Yes, it does. But given the diversity of any fandom, the possibility of serious writers who are in it for creative growth should never be ignored, and breaking free of popular taste is the one avenue in which they need the greatest support. Unfortunately, it's too often difficult to come by.


"The Nature of Conflict" is copyrighted to Lorena, 2002.
Please do not post without the writer's express permission.
Visit Lorena's homepage: Furor Scribendi

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