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Don’t Mess With What Works

There’s something I cannot understand to save my life. And when I get stumped by something, I tend to put it out there, to see what sort of thoughts the “thing” might prompt in others, what ideas they might have to maybe wrap some perspective around it. In this case, I’m afraid I know the answer all too well…but I’ll put it out there anyway.

Now, my focus here primarily isn’t fan fiction, although that’s the world I’ve dabbled in most when it comes to writing. No, this stems from television…specifically, the writing on a current television show which shall remain nameless, to protect me from hate-spam. (No, friends, it’s not my beloved Thunderbirds…that’s not current. *grin*)

Think of it: you start a brand-new show with stellar writing. You make it shine, tip-top above everything else, with an epic mix of everything that makes a show great, from the writing to the casting. The show goes like gangbusters for a season and then you decide hey, let’s completely and totally fuck up what’s working by making the writing go so completely south we end up in the Southern Hemisphere, and alienate half our fans in the process.

That sounds normal, right?

Er…wait, what? No? Well, let’s back out of TV shows and into something we might all be a little more familiar with. How about….McDonald’s. Sure, why not? We all know who they are, right? Huge fast food chain, home of the Big Mac, etcetera, etcetera.

Think of it: you start a brand-new restaurant with stellar food. You make that food something everyone loves, craves, with just the right taste to make them keep coming back for more, from the ingredients you use to the service your staff provides. The restaurant takes off like gangbusters for a year and then you decide hey, let’s completely and totally fuck up what’s working by changing McDonald’s from a hamburger-and-fries-and-Coke joint into a hot-dog-and-cabbage-and-water joint.

What do you think happens if McDonald’s stops selling hamburgers…or starts using tofu burgers instead of whatever kind it is they use now? What do you think happens if they stop selling french fries and only sell cabbage as a side? Or if they completely nix Coke products and only sell water? I’ll tell you what happens: they go out of business. Why? Because they took away what their customers loved about them the most, the thing that made them work, made them successful, and replaced it with something that makes no sense to their customer base.

Okay, now pedal backwards to the first thing I talked about: the show that started out with stellar writing. Can someone please tell me how it is that a TV show that’s doing everything right, that’s on top, and that develops a nearly instantaneous fan base (which is rabid and loyal and a marketer’s dream for all the social media-ing they do), decides it’s okay to change their “product” mid-stream when, in the world of business, any successful businessman would tell you such a move is a death sentence?

Good question, huh?

Now to tie this back to writing, I will dive into what about this particular show-that-shan’t-be-named went south and oh, look at that…it was the writing. You don’t need to know what show I’m on about to get the basic tenants of what my point will be. And what IS the point, you ask?

Don’t mess with what works.

What you have, if you are successful, is what put you on top. It’s what made you get fans to begin with, and only by keeping it intact are you going to keep those fans. Slacking off on writing just because you get too comfortable in your own leather desk chair is a discredit to the characters you created, and to the fans you have essentially made a promise to, when you get them hooked on a really good premise with really good characters.

I suppose I can tie this back to fanfic writing very easily, and be very much in line with my previous article about writing existing characters IN character, vs. twisting them into what you want them to be. And I’ll use Thunderbirds as my example.

Why do you think that little tiny marionette show still has die-hard fans this many years later? Because what they did, worked. Yes, some of it is outdated now…after all, the mid-60s were quite different than 2013. But as I will expound upon until the day I die, the characters at the core of that show are what made it work. They’re what got fans’ attention, and held it right through to today’s day and age, where you can mention it anywhere in England and they’ll know what you’re talking about. This is a show where there exists a thriving fandom that produces fanfic for a show continuing to live on in so many hearts.

That means what, exactly, to us fanfic writers? Oh, my God, it means exactly the same thing: Don’t mess with what works.

Why did you start writing fanfic for the show? Because you fell in love with some aspect of it, whether the characters or the machinery. You loved how the characters were portrayed, and you’ve decided you want to write about their further adventures since no one else is doing it (at least, not well, they’re not). The Spy Kids rip-off they tried to call Thunderbirds a few years back was an epic fail, why? Because they tried to mess with what worked. The recent novels are an epic fail (sales numbers don’t lie, people), why? Because the author just did not capture the spirit of what worked all those years ago. And the project that’s underway to do a new show where they’ve completely removed the patriarch of the family from the equation and made a secondary male character into a woman that’ll be in every episode, and where they’re going to make all the 21+ years main characters teenagers? Well, that’ll be an epic fail too, sorry. Why? Because rather than doing the REAL Thunderbirds…rather than sticking with what worked, and what made us continue to love them all these years later, they’re changing everything.

And I have no earthly idea why. You wouldn’t do that if you were McDonald’s. Or Best Buy. You wouldn’t do that if you were Wal-Mart or Costco. Up in Canada, you wouldn’t do that if you were Real Canadian Superstore or Tim Horton’s. Would you?

What if Paris took down the Eiffel Tower and burned the Louvre to the ground?

What if Egypt leveled its pyramids?

What if Hollywood relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia?

Those would all be very bad business decisions…the first two for tourism, the third for the entire economy of Southern California, including tourism.

Bad business decisions seem so obvious to us as consumers. Similarly, bad decisions in writing TV shows often seem so obvious to consumers, but the people who run the show are, somehow, completely oblivious. In spite of instant feedback via social media, showrunners are hiring hacks, or friends of friends, or members of whatever their inner in-bred clique are, to write for their productions, rather than hiring people who can string an actual story together that makes sense.

Sadly, this million-dollar OOPS they’re doing in Hollywood is recreated every damn day in places like fanfiction.net, where you go to find a good yarn to read about your favorite show, and wind up wading through stories that are labeled as being about that show, but whose characters you don’t recognize at all. Instead of writing what worked – the characters as they were created – people seem to want to twist them all to hell in the fanfic world, just like they tend to do in the TV world as well.

What a parallel, right? Life imitating art imitating life…

Oh, wait, we have too much testosterone in here, we need a hot, leggy female thrown in the mix, so let’s just ruin what we created by shoehorning one in there and pissing all our fans off when we get rid of a core character to do it. Oh, wait, there isn’t enough wrong with the character to give me enough angst to get high on, well, I’ll write him with such an out-of-character characteristic that it makes absolutely no sense with the way we’ve known him for the past season, just because I want a certain end game. Wait, this isn’t about gay men, we have to give them all girlfriends and wives and babies just to hit the audience over the head with the fact that no, they’re NOT gay.


The list goes on.

Why is it that when you write a book to be professionally published, your publisher won’t let it see the light of day unless it holds together as a real story that’s well-written…but that in the billion-dollar Hollywood industry, the most god-awful writing that rivals the worst crap on fanfiction.net is not only allowed through the gates, but encouraged, with those writers going on to get job after job after job, even when they’ve proven they couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag?

No, it’s not sour grapes on my end, so my detractors can stop right there if that’s what they want to say. I do not ever want to write for TV shows, no way no how do I want to become part of the cynical Hollywood machine. I’ve been on the inside (many moons ago) and it’s not nearly pretty enough to lure me back. I like the independence of being able to tell a good story the right way. I don’t want to be forced to write drek because the bosses say so. I’m perfectly happy to write and sell my screenplays and write and sell my books and keep control of what I’m writing, thanks much. At least that way if it DOES suck, it’s my responsibility and my fault, and not because my name was slapped on something that was forced on me, something so embarrassingly bad that my 13-year old son could’ve done a better job.

As I stated at the beginning, I think that what it all boils down to in Hollywood isn’t just what everything boils down to, which is money. It’s that, certainly, but when it comes to people who write on television shows, it’s all about who you know, not how well you write. Nepotism is alive and well there, and it’s sad when you start seeing shows tank because of the same reasons some of us complain about pieces of fanfic being awful: because of people not taking the time to a) write a GOOD story that makes sense, and b) write the characters the way that people fell in love with them.

I certainly cannot change what bigshot TV producers and moviemakers do, even if I find it really telling that a core fan base for a current TV show tells me I write much better stories than the show does (how sad is that, when I’m not even paid to do it?). And I can’t stop people who write for reasons other than to pay homage to good characters and a good show. But there’s one thing I can do: try to write whatever it is I write with integrity, rather than being sucked down the rabbit hole of popularity. If I am true to myself, and if I write my characters (whether someone else’s or my own original ones) by staying true to them, then I can be proud of what I do, even if I’m not getting a huge paycheck with a bunch of zeroes at the end.

I once had a discussion with a good friend of mine who wrote for a television comedy series back in the nineties. I loved his scripts, loved the episodes that were ones he got the credit for writing. And when I asked him, how do you do it? How do you become a writer like that on a show? His answer to me was, “I’m not a writer, I’m just a comedian. You’re the real writer.”

I’ve carried that with me ever since, and have talked to others “in the business” over the years only to find out he was right. Sometimes, writers on TV shows really are good writers. And sometimes, they’re nothing close to good writers. In the ensuing years I’ve mourned when television shows that started off so promisingly, seemed to somehow lose “real writing” and fall down the rabbit hole of “eh, it’s good enough to get by, we’ll just add more explosions or boobs so no one will notice.”

I’ve also mourned when a fandom’s fanfic went so off-the-rails that it was nearly impossible to find anything recognizable from the world that I’d loved of that long-gone show, that I could sit down and enjoy with a cup of coffee.

I just wish that everyone, showrunners included, understood that the reason good TV shows are good, is for multiple reasons…and at the base of all those multiple reasons, at the bottom of the pyramid it’s all standing on, is the writing. You can have the best actors in the world, but if the scripts you give them suck, they aren’t going to be able to save it in the end. If you alter their characters to get rid of the things that made everyone love your show to begin with, whatever your reasons are, then you’re going to lose your fan base.

And for those of us who write both original and fan fiction, remember that while it may be all fun and games and Barbie dolls and playing house to you, it’s not that way for all people. I won’t “kill” a character’s personality for the sake of a story. And I won’t write a story that makes no sense or has a lame-ass conclusion, and try to cover it up with a bunch of fanfare so nobody notices how bad it really is.

Maybe one of these days, instead of trying to resurrect things that worked 50 years ago and remaking them because they’ve run out of well-written new ideas, Hollywood will return to what made plays in the theater good…and made older TV shows good: the writing. Until then, I’m hopeful that fanfic writers will pick up the slack that the paid writers are just skating along on and patting themselves on the back for.

To the characters and the show that are getting tanked by these guys, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies. You deserve to be written well, not reshaped like you’re a can of Play-Doh being stuffed through a spaghetti-maker. No, I’m not saying what show, because the wrath of those who just want to drool over the actors isn’t worth outing its name. But if that show goes off the air because the ratings drop too much, you won’t have them to drool over anymore, anyway. At least, not as those characters.

Maybe, in the end, that’s actually for the best.

Writing Existing Characters vs. Twisting Existing Characters

Recently I’ve noticed an interesting thing happening in the world of fanfic writing, which I feel so strongly about that I had to speak up and out on the matter.

The impetus for this article largely stems from a fandom I’m very involved with, revolving around the 1965 television series Thunderbirds. This was a Gerry Anderson show produced in England about an American family by the name of Tracy who secretly operated as International Rescue (IR). Using ahead-of-their-time machinery developed by their resident genius, dubbed “Brains,” they saved the lives of people all over the Earth, who couldn’t be saved by any other means. They did this anonymously, never receiving kudos for jobs well-done, for lives saved or for putting their own lives on the line for complete strangers who’d never even be able to thank them.

Fast forward to the present, where there is still a small but thriving fandom for this series which is now 48 years old (!!!). Unfortunately, there’s a huge rift within this fandom. There are several reasons for this, however the one that boggles my brain the most really hasn’t anything to do with Thunderbirds at all. It has to do with a complete misunderstanding of what it means to write existing characters (i.e., any characters that have already been created and therefore have established personalities) IN character, versus twisting them into the people the writers want them to be.

I will, of course, get around to a Thunderbirds analogy within my article, but I first wanted to posit something to you, to see how you feel about it. Let’s look at Star Wars…and yes, I’m old, so I mean the very first movie ever put out, starring Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

We know from the film what kind of life Luke led. Having no idea that he had been placed with his aunt and uncle as an infant to protect him from his father (Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader), he was a typical teenager, wanting to leave the boring farm life and join his friends at school. But he couldn’t, because his uncle always told him he needed him at the farm for one more season. Luke was a good kid, just young, inexperienced, and completely clueless about the existence of the Force or the fact that he had something so powerful within him.

We know from the film what kind of guy Han Solo was. And we know what kind of young woman Leia was. We all operate on the premise that these characters were good, clean people – they were the “good” versus the Emperor’s “evil.” Luke couldn’t use the Force if he was addicted to Tatooine’s equivalent of crack cocaine. Han Solo couldn’t possibly fly the Millenium Falcon so well if he was drunk off his ass 24 hours a day. And Princess Leia wouldn’t be risking her life as part of the Rebel Alliance if she only gave a shit about embezzling money from the people of Alderaan, or how much money she was going to inherit when her folks croaked.

And yet when they’re writing stories based on these well-established characters, some fan fiction authors have them do these and other very out-of-character things. And there’s the problem, because if I read a piece of fan fiction which portrayed Luke Skywalker in a way that directly contradicted his personality as we got to know it in the movie, it would be clear to me that the author was writing an alternate universe they created themselves, not the established universe. Luke was not a drug addict in the movie. Han was not an alcoholic in the movie. Leia was not a thief in the movie. So if you turn them into that in your story, you are writing characters who have the names of existing characters, but are not the characters in question.

To preserve any characters as we know and love them, you can do all sorts of fun things with and to them…but they aren’t the characters we know if you give them traits that are at direct odds with how they were originally portrayed.

This thought moves me back into the Thunderbirds fandom, which many of you are probably unfamiliar with. But given the very short synopsis of the show I provided you with at the beginning of this article, if I were to ask you what type of family you think the Tracys are, what would your answer be? Philanthropic, because they spend tons of money and all their time saving strangers without any monetary benefit or recognition for their good deeds? Caring, because they think it’s worth risking their lives for complete strangers?

If I told you that six men, a father and his five sons, lived together on an island in the middle of nowhere, and worked together day in and day out in life-or-death situations, plus piloted amazing aircraft and other machinery that are all way more advanced than anything we have today, would your immediate reaction be, “Gee, those six guys must hate each other!”? Of course not! How could five men ranging in age from 21 to 30, live with their father and dedicate their lives to his dream of International Rescue, if they all hate him because he’s a bully and a tyrant? How could four of the brothers look to the fifth brother (eldest son Scott) for guidance and leadership out in the field when their very lives are at risk, if he is a jackass they don’t trust?

Could second son Virgil fly an aircraft the size of a football field, and operate gigantic, dangerous machinery, if he were drunk all the time? Could field commander and eldest son Scott fly the fastest aircraft in existence and coordinate complicated rescues if he was addicted to, and therefore always high on, some kind of drug? Would middle son John have agreed to give up his career in astronomy to join his family in this sort of business if he hated his father and would his father even have asked him, if his father hated him?

This isn’t intended to specifically point fingers at any one person, or even any one faction of the Thunderbirds fandom. The point I’m making is much larger than this or any fandom: it’s about what I see as a general failure to understand the difference between preserving an existing character’s basic personality as presented to us initially, versus twisting that existing character because a writer wants to write about a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or a pathological liar, perhaps…and wants to hang those problems or personality traits on an existing character who simply doesn’t have them. Can’t have them, if the original story or series is to work the way it does.

Now, that doesn’t mean I “write the show” (preserve all the details from the original) when it comes to Thunderbirds. I don’t use reel-to-reel tape on Thunderbird 5, as they did in the show – you have to do SOME updating, because it was produced in the 1960s and back then all their futures contained basically present technology. We know better now, of course. Neither do I inflict clothing on the characters that was the height of fashion in the 1960s but very outdated now. And I don’t put large, colorful ascots and sweaters on guys who live on a tropical island, because I don’t have neck and arm joints to hide when they’re on the page (the characters were marionettes). I also wisely leave behind popular beliefs of the era in which the show was made that we now know to be wrong, like all women are horrible drivers or that men that fit and healthy (which they would have to be to do what they do for a living) sit around and smoke a pack of cigarettes before breakfast.

But I do write the Tracys.

When those of us who founded, created and have run the Tracy Island Writers Forum since 2003, and its brother site the Tracy Island Chronicles since 2004, talk about wanting to showcase stories in our archive which preserve the original series, we are not at all talking about “writing the show.” What we really mean, is that we want to see and showcase stories which preserve the spirit of the show as it was originally intended. And at the core of this are the original characters. Because whether or not you love the Thunderbird ships and all the associated awesome vehicles that IR uses, the fact of the matter is that the core of Thunderbirds was the Tracy family themselves. Period. They are what made the show beloved to so many fans at the time, and they are the ones I write about.

If you’re interested in writing about a pilot who has a drinking problem, you cannot possibly name him Scott Tracy, put him in a Thunderbirds story and think you’re writing in-character. It’s clear in the television show that Scott isn’t a drunkard. His former Air Force father wouldn’t have let him near the fastest aircraft in existence if he was! That’s taking the character we saw on the show, adding some common sense and logic, and deciding that no, Scott cannot be knocking back a bottle of Scotch before breakfast every day, because if he was, he wouldn’t have been able to be in charge of his four brothers’ and countless strangers’ lives. And what, you ask, if his drinking was a secret? Well…not so fast. With the entire family, their grandmother, their engineer Brains, their friend Kyrano and his daughter all living on one island together, and all working together, is it even remotely possible that one of them could hide a serious drinking problem? I don’t think so.

If you’re interested in writing about a tyrant of a man who bullies his children, and whose children therefore grow up hating him, you can’t possibly name this family Tracy. Five grown men, each with their own careers underway, are not going to give up their own personal lives to move back in with a tyrant they all hate, and put their lives on the line to make his dream come true. And let’s face it: if Jeff Tracy (the dad) was really a bullying, mean sonofabitch of a tyrant, why the ever-loving f**k would he want to spend his billions of dollars saving other peoples’ lives? Especially when he’s getting nothing for it? IR is nothing but an expenditure for the Tracy family. You think a billionaire’s going to spend his money on this sort of organization if he’s a bastard? Yeah, not so much.

Nowhere in the series was there even a hint that these men disliked each other, in any way, shape or form. Of course they’ll have their brotherly family squabbles and poke at each other like any family would. But at the core of who they are, all six Tracys are “good” men. “Bad” men don’t risk their lives for no other reason than they want to save the lives of people they don’t know simply because they feel it’s the right thing to do.

Yet recently, to hearken back to my opening paragraphs, there has been a rash of public comments made against those of us who simply want to read stories about the Tracys, and not about original characters who’ve had that name slapped on them but aren’t recognizable to us as the Tracys we fell in love with. One of the accusations is that we’re stifling the creativity of writers by only allowing characters to be portrayed as recognizably being the people we know. Huh? I have never had a bigger facepalm moment in my life than I did when I heard that.

People can write characters however they want, I hear. Well, of course they can. There’s no law saying they can’t, and no reason that fanfic writers can’t do whatever their hearts desire. But if you change the character’s basic personality, then you’re not writing the character we know. You’re writing an original character.

Many fanfic authors have been ridiculously creative with characters from the Thunderbirds fandom…and the Star Wars fandom…and the Hawaii Five-0 fandom…and The X-Files fandom. I’ve taken Mulder and Scully into situations that never happened on the show, but when fans read my work, they recognized both characters because I stayed true to the personalities of the characters even with all the shit I put them through. I have sent the Tracys to some truly out-of-this-world (and even out-of-this-dimension) places, but I didn’t twist the characters to act a certain way or have certain traits that were at odds with what we know of them from the show. I have whacked fans over the head nonstop with hilarious carguments between Steve and Danno from Hawaii Five-0, and those resonated with fans because the men I wrote acted like Steve and Danno.

This has nothing to do with being creative or not being creative. Nobody is saying you can’t get creative in playing with other peoples’ toys…or in this case, other peoples’ creations (the characters). But what is seriously lacking, surprisingly, is the fundamental understanding that making one of the Tracy boys run around and screw anything on two legs, and wind up with 10 illegitimate children, all of whom they’ve basically abandoned, is so highly unlikely for someone as ethical and responsible as these men would have to be that there’s simply no way to reconcile a Tracy written that way with the good, decent, hard-working characters we saw on the TV show. And good luck with them getting away with anything like that in even the world we know today, let alone the future…can’t you see the headlines? SON OF BILLIONAIRE JEFF TRACY ABANDONS 10 ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN – PATERNITY SUIT PENDING! So much for the secret organization, folks!

When you write stories in an existing fandom, you have two choices: you write the characters in such a way that it dovetails with the actual characters from that fandom…or you don’t. And if you choose to give them traits which make no sense whatsoever with the way the characters from that show were portrayed, then whose fault is it that your story is not then considered by others to “preserve” those characters? Writing Tracys who all have so many faults and Achilles heels that they’re barely functional individually, let alone as a team, is like saying that the very first time Luke Skywalker ever flew anything was when he hopped into an X-Wing fighter. I don’t care how desperate the Rebels were for pilots…they wouldn’t have let that kid set one foot in a cockpit without the certainty that he was a fully capable pilot, otherwise he’d be an easy kill for the Tie Fighters on his tail and of no use to them at all in the fight against the Emperor.

It’s all very logical. And it’s simple to apply some common sense to making it work. Here’s how I write existing characters: I take that existing character, put him into a situation, and ask him, “What would you do if this happened?” If you truly know and understand that existing character, then he will react the way that he would’ve if the same thing had happened on the show. If, however, you’re approaching your story from the angle of “I know this existing character isn’t a suicidial womanizer but I want him to be one for the purposes of this story,” then you must sit and figure out, through the use of basic psychology, logic and common sense, what it would take for him to become that. If the answer is “he’d need to become a different person,” then you’re not writing the character from the TV show anymore. And the logical next step is to branch out and write an original character who IS a suicidal womanizer.

Remember this: just because a writer names a character John Tracy, doesn’t mean he’s the same character that was named John Tracy on the television series Thunderbirds. And just because they name a character Luke Skywalker doesn’t mean he’s the same character that was named Luke Skywalker in the movie Star Wars. What makes them the same character is how they react to what’s going on in the story…not because the writer is forcing them to do what they want, but because the writer is listening to that character and writing what he is telling them he would do in that situation.

Why do I feel qualified to talk about all this? Well, I’ve created original characters of my own for my published “Takers” series of novels. I established the personality of my lead character Kel in the very first book. Hard-boiled homicide detective, good man, but a gruff loner who keeps everyone at a distance. He obviously cares about other people or he wouldn’t bust his ass to bring murderers to justice.

Since he’s fully established in the first book, and fleshed out even more in the 2nd, I can’t then, in the 3rd book of the series, make him act in a way that directly opposes what my readers know of him. For instance, if I suddenly started writing that he loves to kill people, that he gets off on it like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy did, I would be skewered by his fans for changing the character mid-stream into someone who doesn’t at all match what he’s been like over the course of the first two books. Fans of a character don’t want you to fundamentally alter who that character is. They like him because of who he is. My readers would eat me for breakfast if I did that to them. I’d get hate mail instead of fan mail, I would stop selling books and my publisher would fire me.

Isn’t it funny how exactly the same reaction in the fanfic world by people who want to see their beloved characters written in character, is seen by others to be restrictive, unfair, unusual, overbearing and wrong? To be “limiting their creativity?”

That boggles my mind.

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.



Click here to view my novel “TAKERS” on Amazon.com.

Click here to view my novel “TAKERS” on Smashwords.

Check out the links over on the right side of my website to be taken to my fan fiction.

The Actors Aren’t to Blame

My publisher, who used to be a publicist with NBC a few years back, warned me this was coming. She saw the writing on the wall when I shared certain tweets and posts with her.

Sadly, she was right.

Back in my post entitled “So Much Lip Service – Part 2,”I mentioned that there have been cases where soap opera actors who portrayed villains have literally had fans of the show come up and spit in their faces because of something their character did to another, beloved, ‘good-guy’ character.

Well, I’m seeing this happen (virtually, not physically) right now to someone. She’s being ‘hated on’ for no other reason than because she’s trying to do the job she was hired to do, and it hurts to watch it happen. It hurts because I’ve known actors…lots of ‘em in days gone by…and it’s unfair of fans to rail against them for something they have zero control over.

Actors are people just like the rest of us. They have emotions. They have morals, scruples, quirks, kinks, faults and things they’re really good at. So to see someone get bashed, to the point where they feel like they have to apologize to fans? It’s just not right.

Maybe some of the fans don’t understand how things work. Maybe some of them do, but they’re just taking out their frustrations on the most obvious target – the actor who’s bringing something to the screen that those fan just don’t want to see.

For the benefit of those who don’t know, I’d like to point out that there are an awful lot of things that happen before what you see on the screen in a movie or on an episode of your favorite TV show. Things that the actor has absolutely nothing to do with (unless they happen to have written the script or directed the episode themselves).

Control is an illusion!

Those in control of the show – everyone from people at whatever network or cable channel it’s on all the way to the Executive Producers and Producers – are at the top of the food chain. Sometimes even EPs can’t do 100% of what they want if the network/cable channel says “No.” Sometimes the network/cable channel even makes them do things they don’t want to do, in a (sometimes misguided) attempt to steer the show in the direction they think it should go in.

Then you have the screenwriters. The people who write the scripts. In television, unless that screenwriter is also the Executive Producer who runs the show, the scripts are written to order. Like the EPs, the writers don’t get to do 100% of what they want to do.  And even while scenes are being filmed, scripts can change. Often dramatically. I’ve seen entire scenes completely thrown out in the middle of being filmed because the director said, “No, doesn’t work at all.” Which, of course, sends the writers scrambling to figure out what to do.

So an actor gets a script. And then revisions. And then more revisions. And then even more, sometimes on-the-spot.

Then there are the directors. The actor may try to do what they think is right for their character, whether it’s applying certain facial expressions or body language…figuring out the best way to deliver a line…interacting with those around them within the context of the scene…playing off the previous line or setting up for the next one. There’s a lot an actor can and does do to make a character their own, but there aren’t very many cases where they’re actually allowed to make it all up on their own without being told what to say by the writers, and how to execute it by the directors. Ad-libbing? Maybe, if the director’s generous. But not writing entire story arcs, entire seasons or – unless they happened to write one – whole episodes.

After all the scenes are shot, it goes to editing. Is it too long? What scenes aren’t crucial to the story the producers, directors and/or writers want told? Did the scene with these two characters not work very well? Does a scene not advance the story at all in the precious few minutes lurking inside of an hour that they have to tell it? There are so many decisions an editor has to make to splice together a bunch of scenes shot out-of-sequence into an episode of a television series.

And then music’s added, and anything else they think is needed. Sound effects, getting actors to come into the studio to re-record dialogue because maybe it got muffled or in the end they couldn’t find a recorded way a line was delivered that satisfied the director, producer and editor.

Eventually, an episode gets put together and shipped off to the studio to be aired.

It’s a complex process made up of a plethora of people behind-the-scenes. All fans really get to see – unless the show’s people are willing to expose behind-the-scenes action – is the finished product.

And unless an actor actually wrote and directed and produced and everything else’d on their own without anyone else’s input, you cannot rip them a new one simply because you don’t like a character, or a story arc, or the way something on a show is being handled.

It’s not the actor’s fault.

Let me repeat that.

It is not the actor’s fault.

This is another thing I have referenced in previous posts that I’ve really started to see becoming hurtful: people’s ability in recent years to immediately post everything they’re thinking and feeling on the internet without any sort of filter or time lag.

Back in the 80s – which was my favorite time period  for television shows until recently, when the new Hawaii Five-0 reboot appeared – if there was something I didn’t like on a television show and I had felt compelled to complain about it, I would have had to hunt down the network’s mailing address, spend time handwriting (or typing) a letter, find a postage stamp and an envelope, and mail it off.

(No, I never did that, by the way. I was between the ages of 8 and 18 inthe 80s, and while I loved to watch the TV shows of that decade, I never felt the urge to brain anyone over anything they did on them.)

Nowadays, you can tell the entire world in the space of a few seconds how much you don’t like something or someone, without any sort of brain-to-fingers filter required.

Actors take it personally, just like writers.

This one is important. Even if you’re careful to say you hate the character, the actor portraying that character tends to take that personally. Just like writers take it personally when you say you hate the stories or the books they write, even though writers themselves obviously aren’t their creative works.  If you think about it, pretty much any worker would take it personally when someone tells them they suck, especially if that worker’s just doing what their boss told them to.

The job an actor is hired to do, is bring a character to life. A character created by someone else. The actor can’t help it that the people who are in charge are having that character do or say things that the fans don’t care for.

Should I say it again? Yeah, I should.

It is not the actor’s fault.

Hate is a very harsh word.

It’s also sad that so many fans will actually come out and say they “hate” a character or “hate” an actor. Hate is such a strong word, and you’ll only ever see me use it loosely when referring to phrases like I did in a previous post. (I will always always hate the phrase ‘team player’ – too many years spent in cubicle farms! But that phrase can’t get its feelings hurt like a human being can.)

The bottom line is this: If you do not like something that’s happening on a TV show, send a well thought-out email to the network, for starters. Explain what it is you don’t like rationally and intelligently. Spitting out things like “We hate X!” or “Y is horrible!” or “Go home, X!” really doesn’t help anyone. Those types of comments are too vague and personal in nature to explain what your problem with the whole thing is.

Second, if you have a way to contact the production company – either by snail mail or email – do the same thing. Write the letter rationally and intelligently, and explain your grievances like a grown-up. Not like a six year-old who’s throwing a tantrum because they’re not getting their way.

Third, if you have access to the show’s producers, especially the Executive Producers, do the same thing again. Explain yourself. Tell them what you don’t like about the story, or the character(s) you have problems with. Above all, tell them why. And for crying out loud, don’t threaten them! (I can’t believe I actually have to say that, but it’s already happened in this case. WTF?)

You also have to remember that there’s an unfortunate side effect of publicly establishing yourself, via tweets or other methods, as favoring one of the actors, or a particular real or potential pairing in a show.  Those in charge will then dismiss your quickly tweeted “hate hate hate” messages not just because they sound infantile, but because they figure, “Oh, he or she is just not happy because I’m not giving their favorite character or actor more screen time/doing it the way they want me to.” That’s why it’s really important to state your case logically, rationally and intelligently.

I know I keep repeating those words. But I kind of have to, because a lot of people seem to have lost their common sense. But that’s a rant for another day.

Give them a chance to fix it, already!

Just as you are able to instantaneously tell the people in charge of a show that you don’t like something, you have to remember that dozens, maybe even hundreds of other unhappy viewers may be doing exactly the same thing. Therefore, the show runners may very well be thinking, “Oh, oops, my bad. Shouldn’t have done that, shit!”

But here’s the problem. The actual filming of a show is usually four, five or six episodes ahead of the one that you’re sitting there watching. So even if the producers or the networks want to “fix” whatever they’ve done that the fans are screaming about, the fact is that you won’t actually see those “fixes” until maybe four, five or six (or more!) weeks down the road. There’s nothing anyone can do about that.

Breathe. Give it time. Express yourself kindly by making your points without attacking. Then sit back and wait to see if you were listened to.

And please try to remember, in the spirit of the television show that actually got me interested in television shows again, that ohana means family. No matter what, we shouldn’t be hurting each other like this.

We’re Partners, Man! (A Look at Why Partners Need Each Other)

This post was written for the Hawaii Five-0 Online website, but I’m posting it here to my own blog as well. It’s worded for that website.


We’re Partners, Man!
A Look at Why Partners Need Each Other 

Recent events have made me think a lot about partnerships and what ‘partner’ really means…and why (if?) partners need each other. There are so many different kinds of partners: life partners, police partners, business partners, dance partners, superhero partners, writing partners…and more, to be certain. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on pairings from both the small and large screens.

And in that context, what does ‘partner’ really mean? Let’s start by taking a look at partners from the past, shall we?

A really obvious duo for us to examine here is Batman and Robin. And when I speak of this Dynamic Duo, it’s the Adam West and Burt Ward partnership from the Batman television series that aired from 1966 to 1968 and featured some great campy villains like the Joker (Cesar Romero) and the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), to name only two.

What was it that made that show work? Other than it being funny. But wait…why was it funny? What was it about West’s Batman that the audience ate up? And Robin, what about him? I can almost hear some people saying, “Oh, yeah, that Robin guy…he was so annoying.” Yes, I’ve actually heard people say that.

But the truth of the matter is, if Robin hadn’t been at Batman’s side, then Batman wouldn’t have had anyone to say his campy, cheesy and sometimes very funny lines to. There wouldn’t have been a fantastic face or a “Holy <insert silly phrase here>, Batman!” in response. What made Batman work, was the partnership between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson…Batman and Robin.

If Robin got into trouble, who came to his rescue? If Batman was tied up (which happened frequently, strangely enough), who got him out of it? Those scenes of the two of them climbing their bat ropes up the side of a building, fake though they were, would’ve been nothing if it’d been Batman doing it alone. It was the amusing dialogue between the two on the “climb up” that was the entire point of those scenes!

Then you’ve got Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Could Astaire have found a different female partner to trip around the dance floor with? Perhaps. Could Ginger have gotten herself another leading man to swing her around and showcase her talent? Possibly.

What made those two work was their chemistry. There was something in the looks that passed between them, something that happened whenever they touched each other. In the moments just before they were to start a dance number together, you felt the electricity, the excitement. It reached through the screen, zapped you, made you want to watch and see what magic would unfold from the simple togetherness of these two amazingly talented people.

Let’s take on a famous cop pairing now. Starsky & Hutch aired from 1975 to 1979 and starred David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. What made these two partners work on-screen? First off was the noticeable difference between the two: one was dark-haired, one was blond. It always seems to catch your eye when two people who are physically different from one another are together on-screen. (Huh. That sounds familiar…)

Now, aside from the Ford Gran Torino which was distinctively red with the fancy white vector stripe, why did so many people watch the show? Did it have good story lines? To be sure! Was there a lot of kick-ass going on in every episode? Absolutely! Guys liked the action, girls liked the stars and families could watch it together because everyone could get something from it.

But the other thing that Starsky & Hutch brought to us much earlier than any other TV show, really, was the unapologetic display of affection the partners felt for each other. There were touches and looks that were new for male leads on television at the time, and the two even spoke about how much they trusted each other – a verbal declaration many would say men don’t often make.

Since this is article is ultimately, however, about Hawaii Five-0, I will get to my point. First, by saying, does the above description of partners remind you of anyone you know? I thought it might. With H50 we’ve got something that hearkens back to the days of Starsky & Hutch in that it’s basically a cop show which showcases crime (and the solving thereof) as well as a partnership between two manly men who (very obviously) have great affection for each other. Nowadays the term “bromance” has been coined for it. We’ve also got a pair who can say a lot with just a look, and feed off each other’s lines to make us laugh, groan or maybe even shed a tear or two.

Yes, it’s set in a heavenly location (Hawaii). Yes, the main characters’ names are familiar, this being a reboot of the famous Jack Lord Hawaii Five-0 television show. And yes, as a nod to my friend DC (Danny’s Camaro), the cars that cart our heroes around Oahu are really, really sexy. The writing is fantastic, the action is seriously explosive (literally, in some cases) and the general eye candy you get in every episode is nothing short of eye-popping.

But in my opinion, what makes the new Hawaii Five-0 really work is the partnership of Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danny Williams (Scott Caan). Let’s face it: if it was just Steve on his own as leader of the task force, without Danny for him to play off of, it would not work. Period. And if the Jersey cop didn’t have someone he insists is insane (but who I really think is perfectly sane, simply differently trained than Danno) to rant at, make fun of and give looks to, this show would not work.

Real-life chemistry between two actors is so important to putting them together on-screen. In an interview O’Loughlin and Caan gave back in November of 2010, the dark-haired six-foot (and three-quarters of an inch) O’Loughlin stated of blond five-foot-five Caan, “…he fell in love when he met me,” to which Caan agreed, “Yes, I did.” From the word go, there was chemistry and yet enough of a difference between the two, that it translated onto the small screen immediately.

My best friend recently remarked, after watching the scene where McGarrett and Williams meet for the first time in the McGarrett garage, that “the electricity between the two was obvious.” O’Loughlin has also talked about the fact that as they got to know each other better, he and Caan were more able to convey things with just a look, not needing dialogue to express whatever was going on at the moment.

Which brings me full-circle now to the title of this article. There are people who adore Mr. O’Loughlin but aren’t particularly fond of Mr. Caan. And I’ll wager a guess there might be one or two people on the planet for whom the reverse is true. Then there are those who love both of them, and in many cases it’s simply because of their 5-0 characters. Others just like the characters themselves and don’t really delve into the men behind them.

Whatever the case may be, the fans of this partnership, which O’Loughlin once declared was “going to be the bromance of the decade,” recognized something from the pilot episode. Something that you can’t fabricate no matter how good an actor you are. Something that becomes obvious when the partners have to split up for any reason (such as the episode ‘E Malama’ where Danny was dealing with his ex-wife and daughter being carjacked while Steve and Chin were running around the Hawaiian outback – nod to Mr. O.’s country of origin – trying to save a witness).

To be fair, Alex O’Loughlin is billed as “the star” for all intents and purposes, and in my time as Head News Writer for Hawaii Five-0 Online, I’ve certainly seen that he gets more press in terms of that billing, and more attention, and certainly more beefcake shots and women drawing hearts all over him circulating around the web. (Like the whole taking-off-the-shirt-every-other-episode thing isn’t obvious enough, I suppose – and let’s not get started on the fan-made videos plastered all over You Tube.) But lest anyone forget, the other half of this new Dynamic Duo is just as important.

O’Loughlin’s I-can-take-on-the-world BAMF Navy SEAL and task force leader Steve is the straight man to Caan’s sometimes highly amusing, fidgety, hand-waving and heart-on-his-sleeve-passionate Danny. Not that either actor can’t fulfill the other’s position in their give-and-take orbit — they’ve switched up their roles a couple of times.

There’s not a question in my mind about them being ‘manly men,’ nor about the fact that separately, these two characters could kick bad-guy ass ten times over without the other one there. But what roped so many viewers in from the airing of the pilot, and continued to do so throughout the first season, was the fact that, as they said in that first episode, Danny is the backup – even when it gets him shot.

A lot of buzz went through the fandom when the Season 1 finale aired, with a lot of fans very upset by the fact that Danny was ready to leave Hawaii (and, by default, his partner and Five-0) to go back to New Jersey with his pregnant ex-wife and their daughter. And I get that, because the very idea of splitting these two up makes some of the fans not even want to watch the show anymore (as several of them have publicly stated).

Fear not, loyal fans. Thanks to behind-the-scenes photos and spoilers from Executive Producer Peter Lenkov and others since Season 2 filming began, we know the partners are still together!

The one thing we must remember when we wax poetic about the star of any television show or movie, is that it takes an awful lot of people to get them there. Not just their costars, but the enormous crew that makes it all possible; the writers who give them things to say (even if, as Caan noted in an interview with Openfilm, some of the dialogue is riffed rather than scripted); the people who schedule the shoots day after day; the publicists who give fans the information they’re craving; the television network executives and all the behind-the-scenes employees who get that show on the air; the Executive Producers and their assistants and all those other important people who make things happen to begin with…the list goes on and on and on.

And in the case of Steve McGarrett and Danny “Danno” Williams? Perhaps the two of them said it best:

(Quote from episode entitled ‘Po’ipu.’)

 It doesn’t matter who “the star” of the show is – both of these guys are of equal import to the success of Hawaii Five-0. Because truthfully what matters here, is that “We’re partners, man!”

~Written By: Chris Davis, Hawaii Five-0 Online


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