Alicia Rasley, Indiana University-Indianapolis
Presented April 11, 2009
Popular Culture Association Conference, New Orleans
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.
More and more, the mark of a true pop-cultural phenomenon is the growth of a fan-community and especially fan art. This phenomenon existed before the Internet (Star Trek fans used to mimeograph and mail their ST-based-stories to each other), but like so many other social activities, fan art has exploded on the Web. One of the more creative communities is based on one of the best television shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS), which was created by Joss Whedon and played on the WB network and the UPN network from 1997-2003. In fact, the end of the show in its Season 7, far from killing the fandom, has allowed for a creative volcano of stories, music videos, comic books, poetry, series continuations (called "Season Eights"), and "intra-canonical" documents.
The end of the BTVS series coincided with two transformative media events: the use of DVDs to collect completed TV shows, and the growth in Internet-based social communities. The DVDs meant the series could attract new fans even after its end, and also meant that existing fans didn't have to rely on VCR tapes or reruns for inspiration. (The digital nature of DVDs, in fact, made creating music videos considerably easier.) Fans also quickly exploited social communities like yahoogroups and Livejournal to gather and exchange or post stories and other art (YouTube is especially welcoming to fan music videos, called vids). Both of these developments meant that BtVS has had a second life, one engendered not by a production company but by the spontaneous creativity of those who were merely consumers in the first life.
Recycling of Art = Denial of Death
Science-fiction and fantasy shows on television often have an impact beyond their meager ratings, first, because their viewers include more academics and media-workers, but also perhaps because their speculative nature invites inquiry, imagination, and analysis. SF/F shows are also more likely to have season-long and series-long dramatic arcs, with the plot and character development carrying on from one episode to another. In contrast, a "realistic" show like Law and Order is relatively closed to speculation, with its single-hour storylines and narrow, trial-based endings (either guilty or not). So despite L&O's lengthy tenure at the top of the Nielsens, it has garnered little in the way of a fandom. There is no space for fans, only viewers, because the show, like most TV shows, invites observation instead of participation.
BtVS's continuing underground popularity might seem baffling, given that it was broadcast only on two minor networks, suffered "criminal neglect" from the Emmys and other awards, and had only a small audience. But as Stafford observes: "It might only have (had) about five million viewers every week, yet its cultural significance far outweighs its seemingly small audience. In contrast, shows such as ER or The West Wing, both well-written, well-acted programs with four times the viewership, are not considered worthy of study and fan dissection, certainly not to the extent that Buffy or its spinoff show, Angel, might be" (Stafford, 2003).
As Stafford points out, BtVS's small audience included many academics, writers, and media-savvy fans, who amplified the impact of the show by parsing each line and storyline until they became part of the cultural dialogue. (For example, in the liner notes for their teenaged-melancholy anthem "Everybody Hurts", REM's Peter Buck wrote, "I've never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.")
As ever, culture is most profoundly changed not in the middle but from the edges.
Buffy as Open Text
The outpouring of fan-art came about because BtVS is what Barthe called "open text," providing the depth and ambiguity that almost dares fans to add their own interpretations (Casey 209). The Internet amplifies this phenomenon, so that BtVS, like Wikipedia, becomes an "open-source" text, endlessly variable and collaborative. (The existence of the DVDs, of course, eternalizes and reifies the original text.) In fact, the end of the series has made space for the contributions of fans in many media, but particularly in the story-based medium of fanfiction. The series' own exploration of death and the denial of death is echoed by the "recycling" of the characters, plots, and themes by devoted fans. Just as vampires rise from the dirt of Sunnydale's graveyards, so have many thousands of stories risen from the end of BtVS, illustrating the vitality of the show years after its supposed death.
Fanfiction depends for both terms and themes on what Casey et al call polysemy: "words, images, or texts that have a number of different meanings." This term (from Barthes) defines an open text as one which invites the reader or viewer to play with meaning, to search for symbols and metaphors which might add layers of significance to the text" (209). BtVS fanwriters take this a step further: They are both the viewers who discover the symbols and metaphors and the creators who use these to provide new, alternate meanings, thereby deepening the original text.
Barthes's term "play" is significant. Many fanartists call what they're doing "play" as opposed to "work" (what you get paid for), and it's the spirit of play that allows for the multiplicity of layers added by their art. Even the notices used to disclaim any illegal use of copyright amplify this notion of "play":
Disclaimer: This is Joss's sandbox. I'm just playing in it. (In fact, there's an archive of Buffy fic called "The Sandlot.")
Disclaimer: Joss owns ‘em, I just play.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Just playing for fun.
Disclaimers: The Usual Suspects. We don't own them. We just like to play with them.
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, but Joss said we could play with them. Thank you, Joss!
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Warner Bros actually own Angel: The Series. I play with the characters on occasion, but I try not to screw them up too much.
The most important and liberating feature of "play" is its safety. There are few dangers in the sandbox. There is no chance of cancellation, and no chance of editorial rejection. Writers can revise whenever they discover mistakes or clunky prose. The relatively small audience is generally helpful and forgiving, as commenters tend to be self-selected (that is, they only read in the sub-genres they already enjoy) and pleasant to a fault (most don't comment at all unless they like a story). Writers have learned to be self-deprecating in the story summary that precedes most fics, explaining, for example, that they aren't happy with the scene and plan to revise, or that they're trying something new and it probably didn't work, or that this idea got hold of them and they have to write it even if it's lame. By apologizing ahead of time, the writer not only anticipates the reader's objections, but also diminishes expectations, precisely the opposite of what is done in commercial fiction (where the "blurb" seeks to raise expectations).
The fan-art community is not precisely closed, but does not advertise itself. One section, the vid-makers, is the most private, because recording companies are not seen as fan-friendly (this might have something to do with their siccing the FBI on college student downloaders!), and might assert copyright to stop fan-vidders from using recorded music. (This has already happened on Youtube.)
This means that generally the most accessible fan-artists are the fan-fiction (fan-fic) writers, as they have little fear of cease-and-desist orders. Mutant Enemy, Whedon's production company, has always been remarkably open to fan endeavors—ME writers have appeared at fanwriter conferences, and Whedon himself has been mentioned fan-fiction approvingly. Accordingly, this paper will focus mostly on the fan-fiction community and the fiction's role in "the denial of death" of Buffy and the series.
Recycling as Reviving
The fanwriter's credo might be: Everything can be recycled.
This is something Joss Whedon himself made use of—for example, when he created the character of Spike, Spike was never meant to be a series-long character (the fan popularity of the character and the actor kept Spike alive, or undead). However, the initial entry of the character set up, six seasons later, for his exit: In Season 2, Spike comes to town as the "villain of the week" and knocks down the Welcome to Sunnydale sign. When, in Season 3, he next enters town in his newer role of the "wacky neighbor," he drunkenly plows into it and knocks it down again. Then, in the very last episode in Season 7, when he assumes his final role as a hero, Spike causes an implosion of the desert which swallows a vampire army, all of Sunnydale, and himself. The final object to fall into the crater is the Welcome to Sunnydale sign.
In fact, Whedon himself constantly reused material in new, creative ways that are remarkably close to the opportunities that inspire fan-artists— spinning off a new series (Angel the Series or AtS) for Angel and using it to rehabilitate two secondary BtVS characters of ill repute (Cordelia and Wesley), restoring Spike to life to revive AtS (which was reportedly going to get cancelled unless the popular Spike actor James Marsters joined the cast), reusing minor actors from series to series (Nathan Fillion had a minor role in BtVS and became the star in Firefly).
Even now, Whedon makes use of evocative themes and lines. In his new show, Dollhouse, he recycles not only the actor Eliza Dushku (who played Faith in BtVS), but also the question of identity. In the pilot, Echo (Dushku) echoes Spike's crooned line from his first episode, "Who do you want me to be?"
Memorable Buffy lines even show up on other shows. The BBC show Torchwood, in many ways an homage to the Buffyverse, brought in James Marsters for a continuing guest role—a role remarkably like Spike, as it happens. When he enters the episode, he quickly kills a mugger, and then sighs, "Thirsty now," in a clear recycling of Willow's line (itself recycled from Season 3 to Season 6), "Bored now."
There are a few rules that come into play for fan-artists meant to keep their recycling on the safe side of copyright infringement (though in typically raffish fan-artist fashion, these are honored more in the breach). The first is the disclaimer of any ownership of characters in the story (what Busse calls a "paratext"), and this appears on most fan-fiction stories (though it's questionable how much protection it affords if Whedon should ever assert authority). A typical disclaimer appears at the top of a fic:
Title: Thought You Should Know
Summary: Spike wrote a letter to Buffy before the final battle in Not Fade Away. What happens when Buffy finally discovers Spike is back from the great beyond?
Characters/Pairing: Spike/Buffy, Connor, Angel, Nina
Genre: Romance, Angst
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of Angel Season 5, After the Fall and up through Issue #23 of Buffy Season 8.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Just playing for fun.
A typical story heading states the "pairings" (many fan-readers read only one romantic pairing, or avoid certain pairings, and some prefer "gen-fic," the term for fiction without any romantic pairing at all) and the sensuality rating (which uses the MPAA ratings devised for films). It also provides spoiler warnings, a holdover from the during-series days when some fic-readers might not have seen the latest episode. (BtVS aired later in Europe and Canada than in the US, but internet-published fiction appears simultaneously everywhere.) But perhaps the most significant line is the one disclaiming ownership of characters. True to their tricksy nature, writers often use this to make a wry comment or mock-rebuke to Mutant Enemy for the canonical treatment of the characters:
Disclaimer: Joss creates, I borrow.
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy and those folks own the characters. I just found some moments within their stories, or made up some of my own. No copyright infringement intended, and the writer receives no profit from this story.
Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow.
Disclaimer: Joss owns 'em, I just love 'em up when he's too mean to them.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. I bend to Joss Whedon's will and try my best not to murder his characters.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox, Etc, Etc....own them all. We’re just smutting them up for fun.
Disclaimer: I don't own. If I did, you can bet your life, Angel would have been wearing a lot less clothes.
Disclaimer: The plot is mine and nothing else, blah blah blah, Joss is God and the "Grrr, Arrrgghh" monster could kick my ass. Don't sue. It's not nice.
Careful fanwriters also post on sites that are friendly to fan-fiction, such as fanfiction.net, Livejournal, or anyone of the many archives devoted to a particular fandom (or subfandom therein). This generally assures that few non-readers are going to stumble on a fic and object. Fanwriters usually use pseudonyms, though some post their real name on their websites. As most fandoms realized they have little fear from the originators of the characters, there has been less attempt to hide the real identities of writers as any kind of legal protection. Now, it is more likely that an academic or published author will resort to a "fan-name" just so the dean or the editor won't stumble across that great dom/sub Spangel slash fic just posted. Most fanwriters are "out" within the fan community, introducing themselves with both their real names and their fannames at Writercon and other fan conferences.
In fact, some of the fan-artists who have "real" art careers use fanwriting as an escape of sorts from their own discipline. One bestselling novelist says that she makes fan-vids (music videos) to relax from a day of writing her original fic, as the creation of a video requires the use of other parts of the brain than writing. Another example is Cyn Martin, who makes a living as an illustrator for graphic novels and comics. Her fanfic is not visual but intensely word-based— ingenious "Giles as Jeeves" configurations with Wodehousian wordplay. (She has done a bit of fan art, but it's characteristically distinctive, including prayer cards for Spike and Angel to hand out in hopes of getting some believers to pray for their souls.)
The anonymity of fanwriting affords writers unique opportunity to experiment with new forms and new techniques more or less in private. For example, after a summer's immersion in the Jeeves books, Cyn Martin took this chance to try out her inner-Wodehouse, creating a sort of dual-action fanfic (Giles as Jeeves, or sometimes Bertie):
Those who know Rupert Giles may well describe him as a sort of keen-eyed jungle cat, a veritable skein of instinct and poise and coiled alertness. R. Giles and vigilance are synonymous in the right circles; Rupert Giles, they'll tell you, is one fellow who lets not down his guard. A watcher's watcher, so to speak. It takes, in short, a threat of no common obscurity to nip up and prong the two fingers into Giles unaware.
Therefore, if I tell you when I walked into the solar and came smack up against the grinning and gnomishly repellent mug of Ethan Rayne that my resulting consternation was extreme, you may take my word to the automatic teller.
My head swam. My mouth may have gaped. A gurgle or two may have escaped my stunned and bloodless lips.
That sort of playfulness, the melding of inspirations, would not fly in literary circles, where "originality" is prized, or in commercial publishing, which seldom values intricate prose. And there is always the chance that the writer will miss the mark entirely, sprinkle whimsy with too heavy a hand (though Martin never does), aim for emotion and hit only sentiment. But in the shadow world of fanfic, failure can be shrugged off with Dawn's Season 5 insight: "Some nail polish experiments are doomed before they even begin."
And in the safety of the shadows, where failure has no lasting consequence, writers can give freedom to experimental impulses, paradoxically increasing the chances of true innovation.
Canon and Orientation
BtVS has always been a show that generates discussion and analysis, but it has also always inspired participation in the form of art by fans. Kirby-Diaz distinguishes between series-oriented fans and the story-oriented fans, the former "consuming" and the latter "producing" culture: "Together, they provide the momentum needed to maintain a fandom long after a series has been cancelled or has ended its run" (Kirby-Diaz 63). The series-oriented fan is more likely to be the one who watches episodes several times and analyzes the arcs and tropes, finds repeated motifs, keeps track of the series actors and writers, transcribes the shooting scripts, collects memorabilia, creates websites with lists of the songs in every episode.
The story-oriented fan is more likely to create fan art that plays off or extends from the storylines, the characters, and individual episodes. Often story-oriented fans make use of the creations of the series-oriented fan (fan-fiction writers owe a particular debt to those careful scribes who provided the episode transcripts collected on Buffyworld.com).
These are not, of course, exclusive categories—fans like Rahirah write both analysis and fiction, for example—but series-oriented fans, when they do write fiction, tend to be more interested in amplifying or exploring "the canon," that is, what has been on the show. For example, a series-oriented writer might create a document that is mentioned but not developed in the canon, like the famous collaborative work Lydia Chalmers's Thesis. This was inspired by the Season 5 comment of a watcher visiting Giles and learning that Spike is in town, "I wrote my thesis on him!" Another canonical creation is the Vampyr Book, the image of which appears in the opening credits of nearly every episode, and has inspired a "Foreword" by a librarian, who warns that misuse or overdue status will be punished by "an enforced collection order, a fine not exceeding £2,000 and/or a sentence of damnation for a period not exceeding 30 years" (Jo the Librarian).
Story-oriented fans, however, are more interested in plotting their own stories based on the characters and plotlines. So they tend to honor canon only when it's useful. In fact, the canon issue provides one way of categorizing fanwriters (see appendix for an attempt at taxonomy). Most writers agree that canon is what appeared on the show and on AtS also, as the two shows were constantly intertwined – for example, Wesley left BtVS after being fired as Buffy's Watcher and soon showed up on AtS, unemployed and hungry, and most famously, Spike "died" saving the world at the end of BtVS, and was resurrected as a ghost a few months later on AtS. Interestingly, however, few fans would include in the canonical material the comics overseen by Joss Whedon and continuing the Buffy story into Season 8.
Writers can be distinguished based on how closely does they hew to canon. Readers often make decisions on what to read by considering how important the writer makes canon. Some writers, for example, restrict themselves to canon-fidelity, only amplifying and never contradicting what was on the show. These writers might expand a moment that is alluded to but not shown in an episode (Oz, for instance, mentioned that he had been to the Far East to learn to control his werewolf urges, and a canon-faithful writer might set a story in a Buddhist monastery, with Oz being tutored in meditation). Others might just rewrite a scene as a short story, providing one character's inner thoughts, such as Buffy's thinking when she is breaking up with Spike (internal point-of-view being one advantage offered by prose).
Canon and Jossing
The end of the series brought writers a unique liberation: from the fear of "being jossed"—having Joss Whedon's story (the official one) take a turn that their own fiction didn't take.
Fanwriter Eowyn_315 explains, "Being Jossed is when you write a fic that, at the time is consistent with canon, but which is contradicted by a later episode. Example: stories written prior to 'Fool For Love' where Angel is Spike's sire were 'Jossed' by that episode (where it becomes canon that Drusilla actually turned Spike into a vampire). It also applies if you wrote fic about 'what happens next' only to have the next episode contradict it. (Thus, you can only be Jossed if you write fic while the show is airing.)"
The end of the series makes Jossing obsolete. Writers know what happened in the series and won't be surprised—except for those new fans who started watching BtVS only in DVD, and have been inspired to write prior to watching the whole series. What writers still have to deal with, however, is criticism that they are not honoring "canon"—what is concretized as the official truth by what happened in the series.
However, most fanwriters respond to accusations that they have departed from canon with the attitude, "And your point is?" That is, they use what storylines, character traits, and events are helpful and illuminating, but don't hesitate to vary from the series. Many writers will accept canon until a particular moment, the moment usually the fic starts. (After all, one fanwriter points out, "Why bother to write a story that Joss has already done?") For example, rahirah's Barbverse stories accept canon up to Season 5, but then veer off in a plausible but different direction (Spike and Buffy become a romantic couple, and Spike never gets his soul back). Herself similarly tends to use canonical material as the past of her stories, but wherever her stories start, that's the end of canon. For instance, in one of her fics, instead of going to LA after "killing" Angel (end of S2), Buffy goes to New York, where she encounters and sleeps with a forcibly-ensouled Spike. This story makes use of canonical events, but twists them to create a new story-reality: Willow tries, as in the original, to re-insert Angel's soul, but her spell goes awry and the other vampires in the vicinity (Spike and Dru) also get new souls.
"Alternate universe" (AU) fics tend to disregard even parts of canon that many viewers consider essential, like the Sunnydale setting and the stable time period. AU fics are often more dsystopic than BtVS ever was. For example, Anna S.'s Season Noir series is set in a Sunnydale where the sun never rises and a demon-Nazi army has taken over. Many are post-apocalytic and far more grim than the series, like Spiegel Im Spiegel by Fallowdoe, where Spike and Buffy must find their way to each other across a blasted American landscape. AU fics often ignore not just canon but also the brighter mien of the series, with characters who go on fighting evil even after evil has won.
Some story-oriented fans disregard canon altogether, such as those who read and write the "AH" or "all-human" fics. In a typical AH fic, say, Buffy and Angel are homecoming queen and king at Sunnydale High, and Spike is the leather-jacketed motorcycle-riding bad boy who seduces her away—no vampires, no slayers involved. These AH stories focus on the characters and imagine what they would be like if they were merely human and set down in a human world. So even shorn of his Master Vampire status, Angel is still a leader, the quarterback of the football team or the principal of the high school. This highlights what might be seen as the "true self" of the character when what the writer regards as extraneous (vampirehood, slayerhood) is deleted.
The disclaimer at the top of each story tells if a fic is AH or AU, or suggests if and when the story is set. "Post-Grave," for example, will usually mean that the story accepts canon up through the Grave episode (and then presumably is non-canonical after that). "During (episode)" generally means that the story is inserted into the canonical events.
Extending from the Canon
While the series was going on, fanwriters had to risk "being jossed," that is, projecting events into the future that might be rendered non-canonical by the next episode. Most slash writers ("slash" means a homosexual pairing is at the center of the story) didn't have to worry about that. They'd already chosen to write non-canonically by presuming gay relationships that weren't likely to come to pass. (Supposedly Whedon had planned to make Xander the gay Scooby, but liked the Tara actress so much he "gayed up" Willow instead. So Spander – Spike/Xander-- might have become canon, at least in an alternate universe.) Some slashwriters have become particularly adept at using canonical events to insert a slash-reality into the series.
Fortunately, even early fanwriters, writing only to the cognoscenti, could count on a certain series-savvy of the reader and a familiarity with its fictional forms, as Anna S. shows in one tossed away paragraph of in her Spander novel, Sidelines: "And it seemed like seconds later that they heard a car pulling up, Giles's familiar and tired tones, Riley's laugh. They swept in, Giles wearing a shirt made for mocking, and there was hugging and exposition and a general collapse of relief before anyone noticed Spike." This expeditiously connects the time of the scene to a particular episode and season ("A New Man," Season 4), and extends the canonical action (Buffy rescuing Giles) another few minutes to give Xander an opportunity, albeit a grudging one, to ally with his new roommate Spike against his old friends. The paragraph uses a prop in the episode (Giles's unGileslike shirt) and the series's characteristic meta-shorthand ("there was hugging and exposition") to insert the Spander romantic turning point into the reader's existing database of Buffy events.
Breaking out of Canon
Some writers go from what could happen (that is, the twice-roommates status and the oddly complementary personalities of Xander and Spike certainly could set up for a romantic relationship, though that didn't happen in the series) to what couldn't happen. A whole mini-genre of "Five (or some other number—five is the most common) Things That Would Never Happen to (character)." which paradoxically explores, through what didn't happen, what could or should have happened to a character. By deconstructing the impossible, the writer can inspire the question—why wouldn't this happen? What about the situation or character makes this unlikely? What happens instead?
A lauded example of this, one that stretches from drabble (very short) to almost novella length, is nwhepcat's Pentimento: 52 Moments That Never Happened to Dawn (and One That Probably Will). The 52 moments never happened to Dawn because they take place in Seasons 1-4, where Dawn was probably not even a gleam in Joss Whedon's eye—she made her first appearance in Season 5, already a teenager, inserted into the family, complete with faux-memories. In drabble form (100 words per entry), nwhepcat uses the "entrée" of the implanted memories to put Dawn at the scene of many of the most important moments of the series (like Faith taking over Buffy's body). For the reader/viewer, this replicates the disconcerting moment in the first episode of Season 5, when Dawn initially appears and, after a moment of confusion, Buffy (and everyone else) accepts the new reality of the Dawn-that-is/was. As the memories of the characters (including Dawn) are altered to create a space for her, only the viewer could recall the Dawnless BtVS. Nwhepcat explores this disconnect through Dawn's viewpoint and false memories, revealing not just how seamlessly the girl was inserted, but also the sharp loneliness of the two Slayers (Buffy and Faith). (Nan Dibble's novel Old Blood performs a reversal of this, where Dawn is removed from Buffy's life and only Spike retains any recollection of her.)
The "Never Happened" device as an experimental narrative format plays with the entire notion of fiction (which, by definition, didn't happen), and focuses on the special quality of fan-fiction— innovation within familiarity. Only readers familiar with what did happen can understand the character conversions revealed in the broken mirror of the "never happened".
Fan forms and Drabbles
The fan-community is remarkably sensitive to the story and even outside events. For example, recently Andy Hallett, who played the demon Lorne in the Angel series, died very young after a long battle with heart disease. Within 24 hours, one of the most popular fan-fic writers, Rahirah (here using her real name, Barb C), posted this tribute to Lorne on her Livejournal:
by Barb C
Author's notes: RIP, Andy Hallett. You'll be missed.
Humans. Demons. In-betweens. Strutting and fretting their hour on stage, singing their hearts out. He gives them what they came for: Buy low, sell high, you'll find love on Flag Day, sweet cheeks. A good seer's honest, but not too honest, even (especially) with himself. Every song's got a coda, and Lorne sees them all, past the new love and the old pain, the hope and the fear and the resignation. Young and old, human and less so, mortal and immortal - sooner or later, every single one of them takes their final bow.
Lights out, curtains closed.
That's all, folks.
This makes use of several of the materials of the combined series: Whedon's love of Shakespeare; Hallett's own singing style and theater experience; the character Whedon and Hallett created together; Lorne's signature phrasing (sweet cheeks), his telepathic gift, and his comic technique of mixing the sublime (the coda) and the trite (that's all, folks).
But it also makes use of a couple common fan-fic devices, such as the use of the standard disclaimer as a message in itself ("RIP, Andy Hallett") and the drabble form, which in its pure state is as exacting as a sestina—100 words. In this way, a Real World event after the end of the series can be memorialized inside the new universe of fan-fiction.
The drabble as a form of story was not invented by fanwriters, but (according to one account) the invention involved both vampires and Monty Python:
Drabble is played sitting around a fire, while sipping brandy and partaking of pleasant conversation with friends. The first person to finish a novel wins.
The first game of Drabble, a name coined in a 'Monty Python' sketch, was played at the beginning of the (19th) century. The winner was Mary Shelley with 'Frankenstein' and Polidori, who didn't actually finish during that stormy weekend, came second with 'The Vampyre.' (Meade)
The first known drabbles to be confined to 100 words came out of the science-fiction community and collected into The Drabble Book by Beccon Press (100 words, 100 authors, 100 shillings price). The proceeds went to charity. Quickly, there came a fan-fiction connection; a subsequent volume celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Doctor Who? television show (a fan-fiction favorite) (Meade).
Some fan-writers specialize in drabbles, experimenting with the sonnet-like task of focusing a moment or an emotion into a short word-burst. Already there are variations on the drabble form, including one that is exactly 1000 words, and another that requires only 10 words. One fan-writer, nwhepcat, has made a career of collecting drabbles into long series that become something like novellas, including her masterwork Pentimento: 52 Moments That Never Happened to Dawn (and One That Probably Will), 52 100-word drabbles inserting Dawn (Buffy's younger sister, who appeared at the ago of 14 in Season 5) into the events of Seasons 1-4 (when she didn't yet exist).
The drabble form prefigured the development of keitai shousetsu, or Japanese cell phone stories—stories of about 70 words sent to cell phones daily and later sometimes gathered into books (some of which have become bestsellers). Like fandom, this is still primarily the work of women and girls, some actually using text-messaging as a medium (Onishi 1). The latest invention is the "Twitter novel," short novels composed in segments the length of a Twitter message (140 characters).
The task is for both drabbles and these cell-phone/Twitter stories is to create meaning without waste, a distillation of feeling or a single quick impression. Drabbles in fan-fic have the advantage of dealing with characters the reader should already know. So the reader of the RIP-Lorne fic would know that Andy Hallett had died, and that Lorne was a performer with a particular style and gift. Similarly, the readers of the Dawn drabbles would know that she did not exist until Season 5, that she is just an adjunct of her powerful sister, and that she has had crushes on Xander and Spike. Some of the art of drabbling comes from knowing what the readers will know and accepting that as a given, and not wasting words on establishing character identity or setting. Often the drabbles are narrated in deep point of view, so they waste little time on exposition and character identification, relying on the reader's knowledge to fill in the blanks.
The drabble, though not invented by fanwriters, has been used with the sort of innovation within strict discipline that sonnet-poets inhabited. Other fanfiction forms are more individual and present truly post-modern innovation to the story form.
In Buffy fandom, fan-artists have taken existing forms (e.g., TV series, music video, novel) and played with them in new ways to create new forms, new genres, and indeed, a new way of creating and communicating art. For example, one fascinating invention is what's known as the "Five Things meme," in which five things that might or might not have happened are described about one character, revealing something about that character. (There are many collected in the Octaves of the Heart archive.) A small sample of these is:
Five Names Not Found in the Watchers' Diaries By Lynne
Five Memories of William Angel Wanks Off To By SpankSpike
Five Kisses Spike and Buffy Never Shared (And One They Did) By Cindy
Four Outfits Buffy Never Got to Wear, and One She Did By biggrstaffbunch
Five Decisions Ethan Rayne Never Made By Mireille
5 Movies Faith Really Loves (and Who She Watched Them With) By Vesica
Buffy fans are likely to be tech-savvy and comfortable with the online environment, so it's not surprising that common internet devices like eBay are used as frames for fics. For example, slaymesoftly's "Who Needs Five Gold Rings?" centers on an eBay auction where Dawn competes for a skull-ring (like the one Spike gave to Buffy when they were "engaged" by a spell gone wrong) with a mysterious Mr. Aurelius (the name is a tip-off to fans).
Buffy fandom evolved along with the Internet, and not surprisingly, some fics make use of common new-tech forms. Tea and Biscuits exploits two, as a matter of fact: It was written as an RPG (role-playing game) among three writers, and much of the story takes the form of a series of emails, some rather steamy, betweem Spike and Giles and Wesley.
One section of a similar RPG, Eyes Only/Watching Over, involved the same trio, with three writers taking the parts of Spike, Giles, and Wesley, and posting to each other using a Livejournal blog and the comment section (for example, "Wesley" posts about arriving in Los Angeles and encountering his dangerous ex Lilah. "Giles" and "Spike" post comments of warning and support).
This form, now called "commentfic," employs both of the popularity and the comment function of Livejournal to create an ever deeper descent into a story, with readers becoming writers, the observers being drawn into the participation. (A Livejournal community is now devoted to comment_fic, with prompts like: Gile/Oz, nightmare.) Stultiloquentia describes this as:
Fic written in a comment to an LJ post (which imposes a word count limitation), generally in answer to a short prompt. Generally happens in one of two ways: either an author who's feeling the need to pound out some drabbles will holler, "Commentfic! Give me prompts!" or oxoniensis will holler, "Panfandom Porn Battle VII this weekend! Send prompts!" Then everybody rushes in and drops a prompt, generally in the form of a pairing and a random noun or adjective or two, and starts doing anticipatory finger warm-ups. Porn ensues. The appeal is that it's so low-pressure -- don't think, don't edit, don't stress, just write something. And it's a really cool community activity, because everybody's playing at once. And if someone grabs your prompt, you get a present.
Commentfic is fiction being invented before the reader's eyes, and becomes akin to performance art, as Stulti observes, "It's why theatre is still alive even though movies are shiny -- the community aspect, the whole audience gasping at the same time, the tension of watching a hugely skilled but no-net performer.... You've discovered the textual equivalent."
Avidrosette, as she watched this sort of fic happen in paian's Livejournal blog, remarked to the originator:
The high-wire act of writing it in this form adds this fascinating, extra-textual layer of drama, too. It's such an amazing tease; you have us all breathless. It's interesting the way the form demands that each installment (whether one comment or several) have its own defined arc. As much as I want more, more, each installment satisfies, a mini-story in itself. Your instincts and control here are extraordinary.
The form has repercussions on so many levels. As others have said, the recapitulation of the story's observer/subject dichotomy [the fic had a voyeurism plot] in the relations of the watching reader/performing writer adds this mind-bending layer to the whole experience, as if the story were reaching off the page to encompass the reader and writer as active, mirroring players. You've turned the fourth wall into part of the stage.
These new forms of story exploit the willingness of the self-selecting reader to appreciate and understand not only the originating story and characters, but the format on which the story is based, be it the Livejournal blog or the epic poem.
Traditional media get some recognition in fic, of course. In a satire of both vampire books and TV talk shows, St. Salieri's Vampires and the Women Who Love Them II: The Vampires Speak, brings together (in transcript format) Spike with Bill Compton of HBO series True Blood and Edward Cullen of the book Twilight (that book certainly reads like a Buffy/Angel fanfic). No surprises here—Spike cannot conceal his scorn for his guilt-ridden compatriots, and in fact, outs Edwards as a mere vampire wannabe.
An even older technology is used in Clipping Service by powerofthebook, which uses a series of newspaper clippings to describe life after the death of Sunnydale. An ancient form has been used by several writers: the poem, usually playing off Spike's human past as a failed romantic poet. There are "Spaikus" (Spikian haikus), a Spike poetry chapbook, and even Quinara's epic poem in the form of the Aeneid (The Spikeid):
Of bloody awfulness and fallen towns,
O Calliope, would I sing if you
Would lend your aid. And, wow, I sound a bit
Pretentious, don’t I? Sorry ‘bout that – what
I meant to say was this: I’ve got a plan,
But I would need your help to pull it off.
That’s only if you’re interested, of course.
I’d like to think you would be – after all
It twists on all your favourite themes: there’s war,
A man (less seedy than Aeneas), Heav’n
And Hell (though not so much of Purgatory
Because I found that kind of dull – except
For Lethe at the top and Eden, but
They’re still not really necessary). That’s not
Forgetting romance either; naturally
There’s quite a bit of that. But anyway,
The main thing I should tell you is: it’s got
A bunch of vampires!
One of the wiliest of new fiction types is fanfiction about fanfiction. These post-modern stories are often called "meta-fiction" (as distinguished from "meta," which is the term used to describe in-depth non-fictional analyses of BtVS episodes), and often play with the notion that somehow Buffy characters create or discover fanfiction. These meta-fics are usually tongue-in-cheek, making gentle fun both of fan-fiction and the characters. For example, rahirah comically acknowledges the power of the reader, which is much greater with fanfic than with commercial fic, as Dawn and her collaborators (and Spike, who provides research material) brainstorm the next chapter of their vampire fic:
Janice sulked further. "Nobody cares about that plot stuff. Everyone's waiting for the vampire smoochies. People are starting to leave bitchy feedback asking where the next chapter is, and if we don't give them hot bitey sex fast, we're gonna lose half of them!"
As in most good fiction, the progression in meta-fiction is through character conflict to character change. So Anne Rose has a pre-Smashed (the episode where Buffy and Spike first have sex) Season 6 Spike come across a yahoogroups list of Buffy fans from the near future (there was a dimensional rift—don't ask), and when he realizes they have access to the "highly addictive spoilers" (which he interprets as "oracle prophecies"), he joins the list as "William" and asks them what Spike ought to do to win Buffy's love. The listmembers respond with a flurry of advice—Spike shouldn't take any eggs from any doctor, he should not make any wisecracks about killing a Slayer, advice that should help him avoid some of the mistakes he is about to make in the actual show.
In another famous fic,"Dawn Summers, Matchmaking Genius," Dawn discovers that Tara is writing fanfic (Harry Potter/Draco slash, "my OTP," she explains—OTP= One True Pairing, the reader's favorite romantic couple), and also "RPS—real person slash" about Spike and Xander. Inspired by this, Dawn does a magic spell to get Spike and Xander together, and then takes credit for their new relationship.
Meta-fiction creates a small conspiracy between the writer and the reader, who can both be counted on to be familiar with the forms, the tropes, the conventions, the cliches, and the challenges of fanfic as well as of the series. But these fictions are usually really fictional; the stories do not use the actual fanfic writers as characters, to avoid the dread "Mary Sue" accusation (a Mary Sue is a character usually based on an idealized form of the writer, distinguished as one critic put it, "by the presumption that all the cool people want to sleep with her"). What makes it "fan-fiction about fan-fiction" is the use of BtVS characters encountering fan-fiction with consequences in the character world. What makes it "meta" is the commentary is creates about the processes of writing, characterization, and plotting.
Other Inventions: Fanon and Jargon
Fanon are fan-fic-created tropes or ideas which are not in canon, but might as well be, as so many writers have used them, or as Chaney defines it: "Fanon is the ideas and concepts that fan communities have collectively decided are part of an accepted storyline or character interpretation... (T)he concept of fanon is best illustrated as an example of folksonomy, a user-generated classification used in Internet social communities; or as a 'tag' – an aggregation of content emerging through bottom-up consensus by the public, or in this case, fan communities " (Chaney 1).
For example, it is canon (shown in the series) that Dawn has crushes on both Xander and Spike, but it is fanon (generally accepted by fan-writers) that she hates Angel. As the canon recedes into the distant past, fanon becomes more influential. Fanon is sometimes seen as just mistakes fanwriters make, but most define fanon as "concepts that do not appear directly in canon, but are widely accepted and used among the writers of fanfic. For example: Buffy's 'real' name is Elizabeth, Xander's parents are physically abusive to him" (Gileswench).
Melusina and other fanreaders list a few of these memes:
• Giles is seen as the "daddy" for the Scoobies, who otherwise lack father figures.
• Spike plays the guitar.
• Giles is an alcoholic.
• Vampires refer to those they've sired as "childe".
• Spike calls Xander "whelp".
• Buffy smells like vanilla.
• Vampires have "magic saliva" device, able to close wounds by licking them (though this would seem to be counterproductive for the purpose of drinking blood).
• Spike's nickname for Tara is "Glinda," aka "the good witch."
Some readers object to fanon as inauthenticity, even heresy, especially when it contradicts canon. But others take a more inclusive view; as Melusina points out, this is a quite organic outgrowth of a collaborative fan community: "Someone describes Xander as addicted to chocolate ... and someone else thinks, 'Hey, that makes sense!' and includes it in her story and someone else picks it up from her, and so on and so on."
In fact, nothing becomes fanon unless many writers and readers find that the item fits what they know of or believe about the characters, as Melusina points out:
Fan inventions become fanon because they resonate with readers and writers - there's a kind of collective agreement that ... Spike would call Xander pet / whelp / nummy treat (it may annoy the hell out of you, but you have to admit that a significant group of fans must like these inventions, or they wouldn't have become enormously popular). Fanon can be invented whole-cloth, but it's often extrapolated (or wildly exaggerated) from hints in canon (Xander's parents are neglectful and alcoholic, which gets transformed into "Xander was physically or sexually abused by his parents"). In an ongoing series (especially one where the writers frequently interact with the fans), bits of fanon can even be integrated into the show as a "shout out", becoming canon. (Melusina)
Some writers make elaborate justifications for their inventions, pointing perhaps to a deleted scene on the DVD or an interview with the actor as proof that their fanon is really canon. Others see no reason to justify their invention or repetition of a fan meme beyond, "I thought it was cool."
The divide between those who decry fanon and those who celebrate it replicates the divide between the series-oriented fan and the story-oriented fan. LJConstantine, a series-oriented fan, objects to fanwriters borrowing too many memes and "facts" from other fanwriters:
Writing fan fiction based on other fan fiction results in stories that distance fan fiction even further from the source material, not unlike a xerox copy of a xerox copy. After time, the crisp clean lines of the original are completely blurred and the picture many not even resemble the source any longer. And there is a hidden danger: if a reader believes, due to fanon, that a character would react a particular way to a situation or stimuli, or has a backstory that conflicts with what you have written, then the writer can be hit with backlash despite the fact that the story in question adheres to series canon. In some worlds, fanon is considered more valid to the readers than canon, consciously or unconsciously. And from this kind of attack, there is no defense. How can there be, when the attack itself is not based on logic, but emotion? The fact of the matter is, fanon can become a very dangerous animal when any group of readers and writers reach reality by consensus.
This view presents the canon as the "text" and the original creators as the "authors" who have authority over what is true and what is not. Fanon, in this view, is dangerous because it muddies the distinction between fiction and reality (well, the reality of the original fiction). In fact, the fanon could end up being more attractive than the canon, and that would be analogical to the lie becoming more appealing than the truth.
In contrast, Chaney sees fanon as a sign of the true community aspect of the fanfiction writers: "We propose the idea that the concept of fanon is best illustrated as an example of folksonomy, a user-generated classification used in Internet social communities; or as a 'tag' – an aggregation of content emerging through bottom-up consensus by the public, or in this case, fan communities. " (Chaney 1). This view, more descriptive than prescriptive, presents the collaborative aspect that creates fanon as a sign of the meritocracy of fanfiction—if indeed, fanon is more attractive than canon, why shouldn't readers have access to it? "Reality by consensus" becomes not the threat but the promise of a fiction democracy.
Intriguingly, this debate has a pre-echo in the inability of characters in the first two seasons of BtVS to distinguish vampires from humans. So in the very first scene of the series, both the viewer and a victim are fooled by the vampire Darla, who is pretending to be an innocent schoolgirl—complete with parochial-school uniform—about to be date-raped. This theme of the attractive deceiver continues later in the first season when Jesse, Xander's best friend, is used as bait to attract the Scoobies (Buffy and her allies) into a vampire lair—they don't realize that he has been turned into a vampire. Buffy herself is a victim of this deception, falling in love with Angel before she realizes that he's a vampire (itself echoed a season later, when she sees Spike and thinks he's human—Spike immediately proclaims that not only is he a vampire, he's here in town to kill her). The ability to pass as human is usually shown as the most insidious weapon in the vampire arsenal, as Spike entices the sullen student Sheila into his arms, and then takes her to his vampire-mate Drusilla for dinner.
For advocates of canon, fanon is like the vampire pretending to be human—a deceiver using deception to drain the lifeblood from the authentic.
But for most fan-writers, fanon becomes – like vampires—more compelling and creative than the original. In fact, one of the greatest achievements in fan-writing is to create a "meme" that is picked up by other writers and used with the same appreciation as canonical events.
Myth Creation: The Vampire Code and the Fanged Four
Many of the earlier fanfics attempted to expand on an area tantalizingly hinted at in BtVS—the vampire mythos. So one early trend was the creation of "the Aurelian code" (Angel and Spike were in canon members of the vampire order of Aurelius), and vampire rituals. For example, Nan Dibble's Enemy of My Enemy has Angel entrapping his grandchilde Spike with the "Supplice d'Allegance," a torture ceremony designed to re-establish the authority of the master vampire over his family.
But very soon, the second generation of Buffyfic began to play with the myths established in the first generation. So rahirah's "A Dark and Stormy Night" adds a bit of parody to the meta-fiction device, as Dawn and her friends quiz a disbelieving Spike on the niceties of vampire ritual:
Janice slumped into a sulk. Dawn sighed and made another entry in her notepad. "OK, last question. What's the punishment if a vampire defies their sire?"
Spike eviscerates every vampire myth as, well, a myth, and forces the girls to explain why they need this information, eliciting this meta-moment:
"It's a, a literary project," said Janice, cringing back against the pillows. "For, um...female empowerment via intertextual appropriation. And smut."
"We have forty-two reviews on bloodandroses.com," Megan said, puffing out her chest. "And seventy-six on VampireDiaries.com!"
In this way, fanfiction becomes a collaborative venture, sharing not only a universe and a set of origin myths (the series), but also obsession with both the past (the myths) and the future (feedback).
Signs and Signage
The slang of BtVS is already minutely catalogued (by Michael Adams, among others), but fanwriters go beyond using "unmixy" and "butt-monkey". They use ordinary terms which have ordinary meanings when used in the episodes, but take these seemingly trivial terms and built edifices of meaning. A couple examples are used in fanfic to connect Spike to his two lost pasts, the vampire past taken from him when he was "chipped", and the human past he refuses to acknowledge.
The first is "eleven pounds," which got its start when Spike hears that Dracula ("yes, that Dracula") has come to Sunnydale:
SPIKE: Dracula? (scoffs) Poncy bugger owes me eleven pounds, for one thing.
Some fanfic writers have used this "eleven pounds" to refer not so much to a debt, but to offer a tantalizing glimpse of Spike's aristocratic vampire past, where he hung out with the likes of Dracula. "A Reckoning," a story by Tales of Spike, limns a high-stakes poetry game with the soon-to-be-famous Dracula, and provides Spike's moral judgment against the vampire who "sold out the secret to how to kill us (to Bram Stoker) just so he could be Count Famous."
Similarly, the word "gleaming" is used in fanfic as a clue, an entry, to Spike's human past. In the episode "Fool for Love," a flashback shows the Spike-to-be William wandering about a posh Victorian-era party, asking the servant for a rhyme for "gleaming" so he can finish his poem: "Oh, quickly! I'm the very spirit of vexation. What's another word for 'gleaming'? It's a perfectly perfect word as many words go, but the bother is nothing rhymes, you see." (He has even more trouble finding a rhyme for "effulgent".)
The notion of Spike pretending to be "always bad" when he has this secret romantic past has been irresistible to fanwriters. (Even more fic-inspiring is the revelation that his terrifying nickname William the Bloody started out as "William the Bloody Awful Poet.") Many later fics have played off Spike's bent for poetry, such as The Green Chick's "Rhymes with Gleaming," which ends with the poet wandering weeping down the wrong alley and meeting his fate, Drusilla:
"Screaming. Of course. Screaming rhymes with gleaming."
"Fool for Love" led to many lost poems of William the Bloody (some collected into a chapbook written by the Tea at the Ford contributors). In fact, Joss Whedon himself gives homage to the poetic Spike (and perhaps a shout-out to fan-poets) in the very last episode of the combined series (that is, in AtS Season 5), "Not Fade Away," when Spike, assuming he will die in the last battle, goes to fix his greatest regret—he reads that "gleaming" poem at a biker bar, in a poetry jam (well, there are cowboy poets, why not biker poets?), and when it's greeted with applause and cheers, promises an encore with his new poem, "The Wantonness of My Mum." (The lines of this poem, never read on the episode, were immediately filled in by Sylvia Volk for the William the Bloody Chapbook, though she might be a better poet than Spike.)
Fanfiction has its own jargon, of course, most of which crosses fandom. Here is a sampling:
Archived: There are many archives of Buffy-inspired stories and other art, collected usually by a reader and/or writer who asks other writers if she can "archive" their stories, that is, put them up on a single website with other fics. There is a clear advantage to a reader who wants pre-screened, recommended fics, but the advantage to the writer is not so clear.
Beta: This term has carried over from the software industry. A beta-reader offers to read a story before it is posted and point out plot problems and grammar issues. Many writers acknowledge their betas in the disclaimer section, and certain betas are prized for their skills and tact.
Canon: The definition of this is generally "what actually happened in the show." Every writer seems to make a different judgment of how much of canon to observe. For example, some writers write only within the canon—rewriting parts of episodes by going into one character's head, but not changing any events. Others write stories that don't affect the canonical events but describe something that didn't happen on the show. This can actually be rather extreme; for example, that the "Doctor" who asked Spike to guard the Suvolte eggs was... Doctor Who. Others, like rahirah, accept canon up until a certain moment (her stories are canonical up to S5, but take off in their own direction after that). Others, like the AH (all-human—i.e., Spike and Angel are not vampires) and AU (alternate-universe—e.g., a Nazi-like military unit takes over Sunnydale) fics, don't accept any authority of canon, or accept only what works with the story. Readers too decide how much of canon they require in a story, and choose accordingly.
Many writers, for example, have chosen not to accept the comic book Season 8 as canon. Canon for most fanwriters stopped with "Chosen" (the BtVS finale) and/or "Not Fade Away" (the AtS finale a year later), so even the fanwriters who abide by the canon won't present Buffy as bisexual (as the comics do)— that would get in the way of the major challenge of getting Buffy back together with one or both of her vampire lovers.
Challenge: Many fics are written to a "challenge" or "prompt" like "Write a Christmas fic with Xander in a Santa Claus suit." The fics created as response to a challenge sometimes prove the writer's aphorism: "Limitation is liberation." Many a good fic have been created in response to a prompt like:
'Good' BtVs character as a major character.
'Evil' AtS character as a major character.
A chess piece.
Someone mentioning "All Hallows' Eve".
Feedback: Authors who post their fics on sites like Livejournal and Fanfiction.net usually receive feedback from readers in the form of comments. Buffy-fic feedback tends to be of the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" variety, but some archive venues (fanfiction.net) get more constructive (or destructive) comments. Feedback is often the only remuneration writers get, so they sometimes beg for it, with some of them proclaiming that they are "feedback whores" who live for comment.
Jossed: This is a fan-writer phenomenon that describes the experience of writing a fic during the series (often during the summer break from episodes) that present a "future" which the series return rapidly contradicted. The "Jossing" refers to Joss Whedon, of course, who has come to be regarded with exasperated indulgence by writers who often prefer their own version of the future. An example are the many early-series fics which present William (the human who became the vampire Spike) as an Artful Dodger sort, a pickpocket/beggar from the lowest dregs of London society. These fics were are "jossed" by Season 5's "Fool for Love," which give William's canonical origins—he grew up rich, a Mayfair mama's boy who wrote bad poetry. Fanwriters are nothing if not resilient, spinning on a dime to incorporate this new and intriguing understanding of Spike into not just fics, but "William the Bloody" poetry. Far from limiting the fictional world, "jossing" created ever more opportunities for fiction and even new fictional forms, as both the "jossed" original fics and the "correct" fics still are available to be read, requiring only a flexible mind from the reader.
OTP: One True Pairing. This is how a writer or reader designates the one relationship she primarily follows in fan-fiction, and the most popular of these usually have a blended title (as "Bangel" refers to Buffy/Angel). For some reason, the most common OTPs in Buffy include Spike (who in canon was the most faithful of men, having only three lovers in 120 years): Spike/Buffy (Spuffy), Spike/Xander (Spander), and Spike/Angel (Spangel). (Alternative pairings include Spillow, Spara, Spoz, Spesley, and Spiles!)
PWP: Porn without plot. This is usually a short erotic scene without any attempt to connect it to a plot. Ideally, it tells something about the relationship, but seldom causes any change to the romantic couple. This is another example of fanwriters using self-deprecation in describing their work.
RPF: Real-person fics use as characters the actors who play the characters in a TV show or film. For example, one recent fic has James Marsters (Spike) giving a pool party and inviting Vince Kornheiser (who played Angel's son) and Gareth David-Lloyd (who plays Ianto in Torchwood). Many fic writers and readers avoid these stories as invading the actors' privacy, but this is a thriving sub-genre which incorporates RL (real-life) events of the actors' lives, like Kornheiser getting a role on the new cult-hit Mad Men.
Schmoop: Schmaltzy scenes or stories. Writers often label a particularly sweet scene with a "schmoop-warning!" to ward off accusations of sentimentality. Certain ships (Buffy-Angel, Jack-Ianto in Torchwood) are more likely to elicit schmoopy fic than others. Certain moments (Buffy discovering that Spike still lives) also inspire even cynical writers to schmoopy heights. Schmoop usually has a happy ending. Anything emotional and unhappy is labeled "angst".
Ship: This is short for "relationship," and can be both a noun and a verb, as "I ship mostly Cordelia and Wes, but sometimes I ship Willow and Tara." There is also a keyboard character which signifies a ship, the forward slash, as in Willow/Tara. This term (slash) has been used for decades to signify fics that feature homosexual relationships (Kirk/Spock, Spike/Xander), but the actual slash-mark is used for all ships in Buffydom. (A dash marks a friendship-- Spike-Dawn—without sex.)
Verse: "Verse" is short for "universe", and defines the perimeters of the fan community or purpose. For example, "Jossverse" refers to anything creatively connected to Joss Whedon, whether it's his XMen comic books or his television shows. "Slayerverse," however, refers only to his works (and related fanworks) that have vampire slayers, like BtVS, the Fray comic series, and the film that inspired the show. Some fan-fic writers actually have their own "verses" when most of their stories take place within a set of parameters, as Barb Cummings (rahirah) writes in the "Barbverse," and the primary parameter of her many stories is that soulless Spike and Buffy became romantically bonded early in S6. Other fan-fic verses are "herself-verse" (Herself has a less-included 'verse, the Bittersweetverse) and "Nan-verse" (the sequential-action novels of Nan Dibble).
WIP: This is an acronym for "Work in Progress," and refers to an unfinished fic. Some WIPs will be forever unfinished, as the author might have moved on to another fandom or stopped writing. Readers can be demanding if they like a WIP, even emailing the author and requesting another chapter. Hence, many readers refuse to read a fic until it is billed as "completed," and some writers won't post a fic a chapter at a time, as is conventional, but only when it's completed. This is analogous to the common complaint of TV fans: "As soon I got attached to (TV series), it got cancelled!" Famously, two Whedon shows (AtS and Firefly) were cut short without a true ending to the series arc, and thus remain forever WIPs.
Fan-fic might present more innovation in form than in prose, but as Katrina Blasingame asserts, "The power of fanfiction lies in its language, language in flux, because it incorporates popular culture references that change meaning from moment to moment and from person to person. Yet the language of fan-fiction also depends on textual stability rather than the permeability of visual media." With the internet, fan-fiction language can change rapidly, as a phrase or term gets repeated from one story to another and becomes a "meme" or motif.
As fan-writer Stultiloquentia points out, there are evolving several fic "house-styles." She mentions particularly the "LJ style" (after Livejournal, a popular membership community which hosts many Buffy fans), which she defines as "highly transparent, unaffected prose that mimics the television camera, rather than calling attention to itself" and offers an example from her "Campfire Tale for the End of Days":
So. A very long time ago, Demons walked the earth. Stomped, also. Flew. Slithered, swam, percolated, oozed. I don't mean the puny hybrids nowadays passing for demigods — the bogeymen, vampires, jinn. I mean the big ones, undiluted, uncontained. Demons the size of space stations, teeth and tentacles looped, looped again and swarming. Grumpy buggers, largely. Took up obscene amounts of space, made life hard for other earthly beasts and beings evolving best they could in the cracks and puddles of their castles.
The speech-like punctuation ("So.") makes even an omniscient narrative what Sylvia Volk calls "immersive"— so deep into the viewpoint that the prose takes on the rhythm of conversation, reflecting the Buffy's show's emphasis on snappy dialogue and, indeed, the more voice-intensive dynamic of a television drama.
The fan community Tea at the Ford (TAATF), on the other hand, utilizes a more formal style in its 3Deep Season 8 (that is, expanding the series to a final additional season) novel. While 3Deep is set up like a television season, with 23 episodes broken into a dozen scenes each, the story uses the development of a novel, with narrated action and character viewpoint driving scenes. As a collaborative project, the 3Deep series features a variety of narrative voices, from the taut action-oriented propulsion of DutchBuffy to the poetic introspection of macha. But because there is a single editor, the voice variation is smoothed out, and the overall narration is more omniscient and the diction more formal than the individual writers generally use:
Illyria plowed past Spike, wearing her mask of rage like armor. Bone crunched and shattered in her hands. Only a puny handful of demons could brave the alley's narrow confines at once, a number of deaths entirely insufficient to fill the Wesley-shaped hole within her.
Gunn collapsed against a dumpster, curling into himself. The burning rain streamed into his wounds like molten lead. He couldn't hear his own moans over the drumbeat pounding of rain on his skull. Something broke and gushed inside as he sagged back against the garbage bin, and he slid down the grimy metal to the ground, his eyes closing with the finality of a coffin lid shutting.
Just as the invention of the mass-market paperback created new novel forms, so the different delivery options available on the Internet influence the story and language. The conversational style of the LJ style is reflective of the conversational nature of the Livejournal/blogger format, where an individual fanwriter might post chapters and scenes as they are completed, and invite ongoing feedback from commenters. The interaction is immediate, and inevitably affects the story, as the writer often goes back and makes edits in completed scenes, or might even changes the direction of the story based on comments.
TAATF is a closed community, where only members post and participate in the story. The process is collaborative among the writers, but once the episode is completed, it's posted for the public. The writers solicit comment and heed it when starting a new episode, but there is less back-and-forth with readers. The more omniscient, formal style reflects the more traditional delivery, as well as the collaborative writing and editing which blends the individual voices. However, the very nature of prose fiction, coupled with the greater interactivity of fan-fiction collaboration, still makes reading this an "immersive" experience.
TAATF member Sylvia Volk remarks that fan-fiction, even the more omniscient sort, tends to remove the "proscenium arch" (Mendelsohn's term) or stage which television and film screens inevitably project between the reader and the character and action. "That's not to say television and movies and plays aren't immersive," Volk observes. "But they immerse me as if I'm there in the room, as interesting things happen to people I care about. Whereas text can immerse me as if those things are happening to me."
One great advantage of prose fiction is the ability to shove the reader into the mind and heart of a character with a deep first-person or third-person viewpoint. In this way, fan-fiction can amplify (or even contradict) what has appeared on the screen, or give a new glimpse into the motivations or self-deception of a familiar character. For example, Herself returns in the story "Who Am I?" to the theme of death robbing the identity. Herself has also examined this theme in another series by making William (Spike's human self) into a character, showing Buffy what Spike might have been without death. Here, however, the viewpoint immerses the reader into Buffy:
But still she could not escape her thoughts. I’m not really here, this is not really me.
The reason his chip didn’t know her. Not really human. Not really alive. Just a sort of reanimated thing, a Buffy body with memories. Because otherwise, there’d be more ... more something. Wouldn’t there? Wasn’t there once? She remembered all kinds of things ... Just more. Instead of this emptiness.
Kissing, grinding slow and heavy and sweet, his voice in her ear telling her her beauty, his pleasure in her.
So good, he was, her demon, her man.
She was sure that Buffy, if she was here, would have fallen in love with him by now.
"Who Am I?" by Herself
First-person narration has been traditionally used to give readers the experience of inhabiting the mind of another person, and in fanfic, writers often make an effort to try and replicate the inner voice of a character. Here, Cyn Martin abandons her usual irony and Wodehousian voice to portray the broken thoughts of Spike—not spoken aloud to Buffy-- the night before his sacrifice (using the myth of Layla as a motif). She posts a characteristic "schmoop warning:" Spike is wallowing in the sweet slavery of love, which I must recommend, btw.
Right, okay, didn't act like a fierce lover: acted like a servant. Didn't please you entirely. Just a slave again, a slave of love and you. Kissing you, slipping your pretty panties off, tonguing you, lipping you, loving you, holding you down.
You are so very hard to please. Why isn't that enough? Don't squint at me. Don't be hard and petty, I am going to die for you. Don't you get it? This is it, after all, be a little kind. Don't be so hard and crazy -- this is all I have to give.
Relax. Pretty one. There is no tomorrow. Only my lips on your rapturous smelly folds. Funny. Please don't find fault with me now. Hush.
Shhh. Sleep. We are none of us immortal. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
Straight and Slash:
Much has been made of the preponderance of slash (homosexual) relationships in fan-fiction (see Jenkins, Russ, Bacon-Smith, Lo). (As if in demonstration of the principle that the norm is always male, no matter how un-norm the community, "slash" refers mostly to male-male pairings, while female-female pairings are relegated to "femslash". Heterosexual relationships are referred to not as "straight," but as "het".)
But this doesn't seem to be as much an issue for fan-writers, who are more likely to become focused on a particular character or pairing than "slash" or "het" in particular. Each pairing in the Buffy-fanverse often offers certain traits that relate to the particular combination of characters. "Spander," for example (Spike/Xander), might be described as "best friends who sleep together," emphasizing the common "guyness" of the two men (both like sports, music, cars, beer, and billiards) but also their shared vulnerability and idealism. "Spangel," in contrast, tends towards more of a son-father dynamic, with Spike as the scapegrace young scamp, and Angel as the long-suffering but besotted authority figure. (There is far more "dom/sub"—domination-submission- in Spangel works than in Spander, which is more inclined to the "hurt/comfort" meme—one gets hurt and the other nurses him back to health.)
But often the urge to merge begins with the partiality to a certain character, and often the most popular characters are the ones who get the most action, slash or het. In the Buffy-fanverse, that's usually Spike (Angel, by the way, has his own 'verse, where he gets to mingle with almost everyone, including Spike). Because of his status as a romantic hero (flashbacks even show him as a human poet with the romantic abandon of Keats, if not the talent) and his unequalled ability to love obsessively, Spike is something of a protean lover, able to fit almost anyone, even minor characters ("Spandrew," for example, is a small but thriving genre that pairs him with the ingenue-like Andrew, perhaps because only an obsessive lover could love Andrew). It is Spike's character, not the particular pairing, that makes him a good candidate for romantic stories.
This holds true for most of the characters, which is a tribute perhaps to Mutant Enemy's ability to create rounded characters who can be known and yet can be predicted to change if the situation changes. "It's all about character," one Giles-centric fanwriter says. "I like to explore what Giles would be like with different partners, whether that partner is Spike, Xander, or Anya (my favorite). I think fanwriters aren't as likely to impose limitations on characters. We know one character so well, we can imagine him or her as a child, as a gay, as a straight, as elderly. Sexuality is just one aspect of what we are exploring."
In fact, "slash" and "het" are somewhat limiting terms for Buffyverse writers, some of whom don't stop at two partners. For example, Sadbhyl has written a series of fictions billed as "revolving around the threesome that should have been, Giles, Joyce and Ethan Rayne." Wesley's Girl has another trio (Giles/Spike/Wesley) that makes perfect sense if successful relationships can center on common national origin (British) and choice of drink (whiskey).
As Kustritz observes, most slash-writers are straight women, and in Buffy fandom, the writer's own sexual orientation is seldom predictive of the preferred sexual pairing. An example of this is rahirah, who is a gay woman who recently married her longtime partner. She is not drawn as might be simplistically predicted to Buffy/Faith or any variety of femslash or slash, for that matter. Rather she writes some of the most romantic Spuffy (Spike/Buffy) stories.
'Verses and the Return to the Question
One of the greatest compliments in the fandom community is to be seen as (as Faulkner would put it) "sole owner and proprietor" of a 'verse. A "verse" is a truncation of "universe," so "Jossverse" refers to everything that Joss Whedon has done in television, comics, and film. However, usually in fandom, 'verse refers both to the author and a particular set of world/character/situations that the author has used more than once.
There are two basic types of 'verses in the Buffyfanverse. The first is the setting and situation for a continuing series of novels and short stories, which are usually linked by character and plot, and often chronologically ordered. The major example of that is the Barbverse, created by rahirah (Barb Cummings, http://sleepingjaguars.com/buffy/). The conceit of this 'verse is that after the events of "The Gift" (Season 5, when Buffy sacrifices herself), Buffy is resurrected and Spike, to save her life, must refuse to attain a soul. This allows the exploration of the question posed by the series, "Can you love without a soul? Can you be good without a soul?" It must be said that the Barbverse exploration of these questions is considerably more coherent and deep than the series. But fans read the Barbverse stories less for existential questions and more for their portrayal of Buffy and Spike as a loving couple. The timeline provided on the Barbverse site helpfully links events to specific stories that extend into Buffy's late middle age, when she and Spike host a houseful of their children and grandchildren, some human, some vampire, as congenial as most families. This long series returns to those questions frequently, and answers them: Yes, of course you can love without a soul—just look at Spike. And Yes, you can be good without a soul, but it never gets easy—just look at Spike.
Another major 'verse in the Spuffy spectrum has little of the sunny optimism and humor of Barbverse. Herselfverse, named for the author known as Herself, also keeps returning to a question—Can love last? To explore this question, Herself has created several alternative versions of how Spike and Buffy love, each time facing them with the sort of conflict that only arises in Buffy's world, and yet has its counterparts in real relationships. Her major continuing series, the Bittersweet series, forces Buffy and Spike to deal with time travel, two children conceived with Spike's human self (hence the time-travel), mutilation, the turning of one child into a vampire and the seduction of the other by Angel. Another series has Buffy (after S2's alliance with Spike to defeat Angelus) fleeing California and finding a newly and reluctantly souled Spike in New York. A later series has Buffy being awakened after hundreds of years in stasis only to find that her two former lovers are still waiting for her—but have been sexual partners now for centuries. Her new series envisions Buffy becoming the thing she kills, a vampire, and Spike driven by love to help her deal with her new state. Each of these stories forces the question of whether love can withstand the worst life can present. This obsessive return to the same question elicits scenarios of intense pain and pathos, but so far, the answer is always the same: Well, yes, their love can last through all this.
These two varieties of 'verses, one continuing and the other repeating, are both common fanwriter choices. Some writers create a universe with its own canon and cast and a chronology of events, everything connected and sequential. Others, however, build a career around a grouping of stories which examine the same basic issue, often highlighting major character or relationship issues. Anna S., for example, is a Spander writer who must plausibly connect two men who are canonically heterosexual (and each in love with a woman through most of their acquaintance). So she has written a series of stories positing different ways that Spike and Xander could discover a mutual attraction: Xander nurses a wounded Spike back to health, after he gets kicked out of his parents' house, Xander ends up as Spike's roommate.
These two approaches show the benefit of writing about familiar characters—you can explore all of life or just a piece of life, show a series of changes through a lifetime or a series of changes in a single moment, and count on the reader to follow. A fanwriter can return to the scene of the change and see what changes if one factor changes, and what remains the same. It becomes an experiment of discovery.
Fan fiction calls into question the very "authority" of "authorship," which might, in fact, be mostly a 20th Century construct. Shakespeare, of course, recycled plots from classical myth and from lesser contemporaries. The Odyssey has spawned a long list of spinoffs, from the Tennyson poem "Ulysses" to Joyce's novel to – just in the last decade—the novel Cold Mountain and the film Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? Jane Austen (especially her Pride and Prejudice) has inspired a dozen or more related stories, including the popular Bridget Jones novels and films, and even a series with Austen as a detective in Regency England (and now a version with zombies). Whedon himself has frequently used myth and fairy tale (his musical episode, Once More With Feeling, borrows extensively from the Persephone myth, for example). Some fanfic even follows Shakespeare's lead and borrows from classical literature. One of the most prolific and talented fanfic authors, Lady Paperclip, re-does Arthurian legends in contemporary settings. (For a chastening experience, google her and read some of her Torchwood fic—she's only 18, and she already writes that well!) But by ignoring the "gatekeepers" of producers, moneymen, and publishers, fan-fiction also returns authority to the author, turning the observer into a participant, and recycling discarded materials into a new form.
Fanfiction more than other forms of art prizes connection, between the new story and the original series, between the writer and the reader, between prose and other media, between the unknown future of fiction and the long past of story.
The biggest objection presented against widespread self-publication on the Web-- the inability to sort wheat from chaff-- proves not that big a problem in fan-fic. Readers make their reading decisions based recommendations by trusted sources, archival on particular websites, and targeted contest wins. (There are literally dozens of award sites for Buffy fiction on the web, where fans nominate and judge the best stories in certain categories, like Best Alternative Universe and Best Angst.) The enormity of the offerings – so many fandoms, so many ships, so many styles—requires the reader to decide priorities quickly, discovering that, for example, the level of prose control can be discerned in a single paragraph, and that only certain ships ring that personal bell.
The fan-fic phenomenon is the forerunner of a massive increase in web-based art. And just as fan-fic has sort of sorted out (everyone soon figures out who the best writers/vidders/etc are in any fandom), there is a conscious rebuke to the notion of the "gatekeeper" which has kept many literary agents employed while keeping good but unrepresented writers out of the bookstores.
Fan-fiction, freed of the demands of the marketplace and the priority of moneymaking, is explosively creative and has invented many new forms and recycled others. In fact, the very limitations of fan-fiction—the inability to make money, the legal uncertainty, the relevance of canon, the use of someone else's characters—become paradoxically liberating.
"Where is the money?" is the question many writers will ask. With fan-fiction, there is no money, of course, and writers could get into legal trouble if they tried to charge for their writing. However, television and radio have turned into major industries without charging directly for their content, and so, perhaps, can web-based art.
But the future of fiction can be seen in fan-fiction: Niche-driven, edgy and perhaps outlawed, with the use of new technology to create multimedia experiences and innovative experiments in form and language, a community of writers and readers engaging in collaborative work, with emphasis on linked stories and shared universes, and above all intense interactivity. This is fiction at its most elemental: No limit, no fear, and no net.
Blasingame, Katrina. “'I Can’t Believe I’m Saying It Twice in the Same Century . But Duh . . .’ The Evolution of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sub-Culture Language through the Medium of Fanfiction." Slayage 20, May 2006.
Buck, Peter. Liner notes for "Everybody Hurts." In Time - The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.
Casey, Bernadette; Neil Casey, Ben Calvert, Liam French, and Justin Lewis. Television Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge Books. 2008.
Chaney, Keidra, and Raizel Liebler. "Canon vs. Fanon: Folksonomies of Fan Culture." Presented at Media in Transition 5: Creativity, Ownership and Collaboration in the Digital Age.
Edwards, Lynne; Elizabeth Rambo, James South. Buffy Goes Dark. London: McFarland. 2009.
Gileswench. "Fanon Terms." 6 April 2009
Kirby-Diaz, Mary. "Story-oriented and Series-oriented Fans." Buffy and Angel Conquer the Internet. ed. Mary Kirby-Diaz. London: McFarland. 2009. 62-86.
Kustritz, Anne (September 2003). "Slashing the Romance Narrative". The Journal of American Culture 26 (3): 371–384.
LJconstantine. "Reality by Consensus."
Meades, Rob. The Drabble Project. 09 March 2009
Melusina, "More than You Ever Wanted to Know about Canon and Fanon." 8 April 2009
Mendelsohn, Farah. Speech. World Fantasy Convention. 1 November 2008. Calgary, Alberta.
"Five Things." Octaves of the Heart archive, 04 April 2009
Onishi, Norimitsu. "Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular." New York Times. 20 January 2008.
Stafford, Nikki. "Buffy, We Hardly Knew Ye." Toronto Globe and Mail, April 26th, 2003. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from
Fan-art and fiction cited:
Anna S. The Spander Stories. 02 April 2009
Anna S. Season Noir. 02 April 2009
Cummings, Barb. "A Dark and Stormy Night." 3 April 2009
Dibble, Nan. Enemy of My Enemy. 31 March 2009
Dibble, Nan. Old Blood. 02 April 2009
Fallowdoe. Spiegel Im Spiegel. 02 April 2009
Herself. "Who Am I?" 05 April 2009
Jo the Librarian2003. "Vampyr." 25 March 2009
Leslie, Magpie, and Lori. Eyes Only/Watching Over. 8 April 2009
Martin, Cyn. "That Layla Berk." 25 March 2009.
Martin, Cyn. The Code of the Watchers. 26 March 2009
Nwhepcat. Pentimento: 52 Moments That Never Happened to Dawn (and One That Probably Will). 03 March 2009
Quinara, The Spikeid. 08 April 209
Rose, Anne. Buffy and Spike, Lost in Cyberspace.
Slaymesoftly. "Who Needs Five Gold Rings?"
Snowpuppies. "Dawn Summers, Matchmaking Genius." 3 April 2009
St. Salieri. "Vampires and the Women Who Love Them II: The Vampires Speak."
Stultiloquentia. "Campfire Tale for the End of Days." 2 April2009
Tales of Spike. "A Reckoning." 21 March 2009
The Green Chick. "Rhymes with Gleaming." 31 March 2009
Wesley Girl, Magpie, & Byrne, Tea and Biscuits. 3 March 2009
Special thanks the fan communities of Livejournal and Tea at the Ford, who shared their insights and examples of canon, fanart, and other topics.
Also, thanks to Buffyworld.com for the use of their transcripts of series.
Appendix: Varieties of Canonical Fanfiction (A WIP)
Canonical: Deepening of events shown on series without changing them.
"Heartfelt," by Jane Davitt (During Fool for Love—Spike's viewpoint)
Dia-canonical: Material mentioned on the show, furthered developed
Lydia Chalmers's Thesis, by Klytemnestra et al.
Inter-canonical: Material inspired by but not extant in show.
William the Bloody's Poetry Chapbook, by Tea at the Ford.
Post-canon: Continuation of the series, events plausibly derived from canon.
The Season 8 series collaborations, like 3 Deep and Angel: No Limit.
Off-canon: Fiction that accepts canon up to a veering off point.
Parliament of Monsters, by rahirah.
Anti-canon: Fiction that so defies canon, it's practically heresy.
Days of Our Unlives, by Ficbitch. (You might not have noticed, but Angel and Spike were actually together as lovers most of the series. :)
Pre-canon: Fics which fill in the stories of Angelus, Darla, Dru, and Spike (the "Fanged Four") before Sunnydale.
Peasant's Plot, by Peasant.
Meta-canon: Fics which explore the experience of writing fanfic or being a fan.
Dawn Summers, Matchmaking Genius, by Snowpuppies.
Inter-canon: Crossover fics which place a Buffyverse character in another 'verse (including those associated with Joss Whedon).
A Hundred Empty Spaces, by Beneficia.