Fan Fiction, Shippers and Showrunners: Worlds Collide in This Week’s EW

You have to love it when your desire to out yourself as a fanfic writer once you’ve become a “real” or “published” author, is followed closely by a well-established magazine – namely ‘Entertainment Weekly’ (EW) – doing a four-page story on fans expressing themselves through fan fiction.

The February 17, 2012 issue of ‘Entertainment Weekly’ showcases fan fiction, shippers and slash writers. Look out, you have been officially outed, in print, to the entertainment world.

In their article entitled “Just Do It,” EW explains that those of us who’ve been writing fan fiction for years are actually important. To the point where television shows’ executive producers are actually monitoring social media for feedback on their characters’ story arcs – most notably ones of a romantic nature. And to the point where writers from the TV show Fringe were warned fans who both write fanfic and create music videos about their favorite pairing might rebel if they kept characters Peter and Olivia apart, even for a short time.

While the article focuses mostly on what’s known as “shippers,” which it defines as “Derived from the word relationship, a fan who’s deeply invested in the romance – or the possibility of romance – between two characters,” it talks a lot about how shippers manifest their love of the characters’ love: videos and fan fiction.

Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless, "Cagney and Lacey"

One interesting quote having to do with the very vocal shippers states that “they produce a noisy energy that showrunners can’t ignore.” I’ve seen this happen a few times over the years, where fans have had a direct impact on a show staying on the air vs. being canceled (most notably the original Star Trek and even Cagney and Lacey which was brought out of cancellation by a fan letter-writing campaign), but the thing about today vs. even three or four years ago is that producers and TV networks/cable channels can literally get instantaneous feedback these days – while an episode is airing – via such social media sites as Twitter and Facebook.

Because I monitor what’s going on with the hit CBS show Hawaii Five-0 for my work as Head News Writer on ‘Hawaii Five-0 Online,’ I can personally attest to having seen this in action. And how! But it’s not always shippers who’re vocalizing their pleasure (or loudly voicing their displeasure) over something that happens on the show. In the particular case of Hawaii Five-0, a relatively small percentage (overall) of fans were less-than-happy over the introduction of a new team member, Officer Lori Weston (played by Lauren German) to the cast in the second episode of Season 2.

Alex O'Loughlin, Lauren German, Scott Caan, "Hawaii Five-0"

And boy, were they vocal! I even stepped into the fray by writing this article about the difference between disliking a character and bashing the actor or actress who portrays that character because of some things that were being posted to blogs or Twitter, and a public apology the actress herself made to the fans via Twitter. The fans also get heated up when they don’t think the show’s doing enough with the bromance between McGarrett and Danno, which is a major reason a lot of the female fans started watching it regularly to begin with!

Another show that’s had a long-running shipper following is Supernatural, about two brothers named Sam and Dean Winchester who deal with the…well…supernatural. The show’s producers, claims this EW article, have “…periodically winked at its ‘Wincesters,’ shippers who write sexually charged fan fiction about bogeyman-hunting brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester.”

Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, "Star Trek"

The article goes on to talk about the original shipping and slashing way-back-when that occurred with the characters Captain Kirk and Spock on the original Star Trek series. Back in the days before we could post whatever we wanted to the internet for anyone and everyone to see, slashers and shippers were producing hard copy zines full of the tales of these two characters being in a more-than-friendly relationship with each other.

 

 

David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, "The X-Files"

 

It pulls out all the stops by then going into the X-Files fandom, where I remember personally witnessing very heated arguments and debates between Mulder/Scully shippers and the NoRomos, which EW defines as “…fans who oppose the idea of romance between the characters.” There were tons of slash pairings, too, and if you need that defined, EW tells us it’s “a type of shipper – or subgenre of shipper fanfic – that advocates for a relationship to blossom between two same-sex characters,” most notably between Mulder and Krycek or Mulder and Skinner. And sometimes all three. Or more.

Yeah, it can get crazy.

Hawaii Five-0 is no stranger to slash fiction, with some sites boasting well over a thousand stories coined as ‘McDanno,’ where the authors take lead characters Steve McGarrett and Danny “Danno” Williams further than bromance into a love relationship and/or sexual territory. Writers aren’t limited to those two, however, since you’ve got three strong male leads in that show and some pretty sexy villains sometimes, so fans’ imaginations run wild.

McGarrett and Danno, Sometimes Known as 'McDanno' in "Hawaii Five-0"

One of the things I found most interesting about the EW article was the idea they purported that “for many, the benefit – and perhaps true motivation – is community with other fans.” I think it would be an interesting exercise to poll the writers of Hawaii Five-0 slash fiction to find out whether or not this is indeed the case. Are they writing McDanno slash, or even just regular Five-0 fan fiction, because they want to feel like they belong to a community? Are they spending hours upon hours coming up with stories and then writing them, and are other people beta reading (like editing, someone who takes a first pass at the story and points out errors/potential for improvements, etc.) and then the writer taking the time to rewrite, all simply to ‘belong?’

Scott Caan in an Open Film Live interview

I don’t know about them, but I know for myself, I don’t write fan fiction to ‘belong’ to anything. I write it because I want to see more about the characters, I want to extrapolate from what the series shows us and dig more into the characters themselves because like actor Scott Caan, who portrays Danno on Hawaii Five-0 and is a noted writer, producer and director in his own right as well, for me, the characters are where it’s at. The procedural stuff is a gas, and I’ve dabbled in that sort of thing too, but what makes people like the show – at least in the case of both Hawaii Five-0 and my other major fandom Thunderbirds – for the most part, are the characters.

L-->R: Brains, Gordon, Alan, Scott, Virgil, John, Lady Penelope, "Thunderbirds"

Sure, I love seeing the fabulous Thunderbird machines in action in Thunderbirds. (I’m talking about the original TV show from the sixties made with marionettes by Gerry Anderson, not the 2004 disaster of a movie.) Love seeing the guys risk their necks to save complete strangers. But I also love the characters, and want to know more about them. My way of doing that is writing fanfic. I also love the slam-bang action, shooting, car chases and dead bodies on Hawaii Five-0, but for me, the bromance between Steve and Danno, and what I call the Core Four team dynamic (which includes Chin Ho Kelly played by Daniel Dae Kim, and Kono Kalakaua played by Grace Park), are what attracted me to the show from the pilot episode, and what I want to further explore.

The other reason, as I’ve talked about in previous posts, that I personally have been writing fanfic for so many years, is to improve my writing abilities. What better way to find out whether you can nail characters’ personalities, can write full-fledged stories with beginnings, middles and endings, and can convince people they’re actually seeing the same people who hit their TV screens every week, than by writing fan fiction for the show’s fans to read?

When I get comments like, “I really hope they do this on the show, it’s incredible!” and “I could totally see this happening on the show,” or when I get someone who follows me from the Thunderbirds fandom into the Hawaii Five-0 fandom – someone who’d never even watched the hit reboot – who starts watching it and even buys the first season on DVD because of how I write the lead characters, well…it tells me that I’m hitting the mark. And as a writer, that’s what you want to do. You want to connect with your audience. You want them to believe what you’re telling them. You want them to enjoy themselves, and you want them to keep coming back for more.

Fan fiction is a wonderful proving ground for a writer who wants to better their craft because people reading your stuff will tell you point-blank if you suck, sometimes as soon as you’ve posted the story. They’ll tell you what you’re doing well. They’ll tell you if hey, you’re great at sci-fi but seriously, do not try romance, because…not so much. (No, that’s never happened to me, lol.)

Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, "Castle"

The EW article mentions other recent and current shows like Lost (of which Hawaii Five-0 actor Daniel Dae Kim is an alum), and Castle, which was at one point going neck-to-neck in the ratings with Five-0 but, well, not as big a threat these days, even with Five-0 slipping a bit in their ratings with the debut this past Monday of Smash on ABC.

I think the point here for everyone to realize is that while I’m certainly not the first published author to come out and say yes, you know what?…I do write fan fiction, even now that I’ve got an original novel published, and I’m not ashamed of it…showrunners are paying attention, too.

Renée O'Connor, Lucy Lawless, "Xena: Warrior Princess"

From Xena: Warrior Princess and the Xena/Gabrielle slash pairing, to the Bones shippers who have actually gotten to see their two favorites get together (she’s pregnant, I think there’s no turning back from this one, folks), shippers are being listened to. And their voices are being heard through fan videos and fan fiction.

David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, "Bones"

So the tide, people, is turning. Old-school authors and television show creators may still turn their noses up at fan fiction writers. They may still bristle when fanfic wants to spring up about their creations. But me? I welcome it. If someone wants to fanfic my characters in “TAKERS,” I say, go for it! Want to slash the boys (I have three male leads, a male villain and a female secondary character) because they’re sexy and hot and you want to see more than what I put in the book? Have at it! Who am I, a fanfic writer myself, to tell people they can’t? That would be slightly hypocritical, no?

If people are paying that much attention to “TAKERS,” and have invested themselves in my original characters that much, that they want to spend time writing their own stories about them, to me, that means I’ve succeeded. I think Executive Producers and other showrunners are finally figuring that out, too.

Note: I scanned the EW article, and while the quality isn’t the greatest, if you click on the pictures to full-size them, save them, and then zoom in, I think you can read it pretty well on your computer.

 


 

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