Why fanfic tells emotions, and why maybe that ain’t a bad thing.
In reference to this post, in which Chuck Palahniuk cautions against using “thought” verbs:
"From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use ‘thought’ verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
"The list should also include: Loves and Hates….Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it."
I fucking love this advice. I live by this advice—well, I try to write by it, at least. And this is something fanfiction does a LOT. But you know what? That might not be altogether a bad thing for fanfic to do.
Chuck P. is arguing against emotional narration here, and I get that. But fanfiction is all about telling emotional stories: women have been told FOREVER that we talk about feelings too much, that we “gossip” too much (which is to say, we talk about other people’s feelings), that we process too much. But that’s what we don’t often get in literature, the straight-up narration of the effect of the world on a character’s feelings, the subjective story of their emotional lives. Especially, oh especially, about men’s lives. Our source texts so often show us men who can’t show emotion. Look at how we pore over every twitch of Sherlock’s face, reading in all the feeling we possibly can. What a relief to fill in the emotional psychology behind that cold surface. The sensation under the intellect. (This might be why Ivyblossom’s “The Progress of Sherlock Holmes” is so popular, because of the way that first-person present-tense POV plunges us into his emotional, well, progress.)
So maybe that’s why we tell our stories the way we do, so that we can give ourselves and our readers straightforward, simple access to characters’ feelings, telling us what they feel, and, okay, telling us what to feel too. As far as “Literature” goes, that’s a bad thing. (And I have to admit it that as a lit geek it puts me off.) But as far as an emotionally impoverished, evasive, and dishonest masculine culture goes, maybe it’s a very good thing indeed.
(For more about how women tend to speak emotionally, see Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, or Mary Field Belenky’s Women’s Ways of Knowing: the Development of Self, Voice, and Mind.)
Hmmm well hold on, there. Chuck Palahniuk isn’t arguing against emotional stories, if that’s what emotional narration means. He’s not saying don’t write stories about emotions. Kind of the opposite, really. He’s arguing for an immersive emotional experience through narration. He’s arguing for characters with so many emotions that they paint the entire set with them.
But hold on: what’s “emotional narration” in this case? Am I misunderstanding? Do you mean a sort of emotional dictation? As in “He felt these three things: itchy, horny, and hungry.” (Man, I hope that’s a quote from a fic. I want to read it all of a sudden.) I feel like you’re conflating his advice against emotional dictation with a dictat against stories that centre on emotions and the progress thereof. I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.
His advice is just a variation on “show, don’t tell”. The problem with words like Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, Loves and Hates is that they just tell the reader what the character feels without showing it or making the reader feel it along with them. They’re just shortcuts to help the writer avoid having to waste time on constructing the emotion for the character as well as for the reader. He’s saying: don’t tell me how he feels. Show me, make me feel it too. Don’t skip the emotion, don’t gloss over it, dig into it and pull it up by the roots. Splash it all over the place. Push the reader’s head down into it and don’t let them back up for a breath until the last second.
Whether or not fandom is good at this is an open question, I guess. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to make a judgement about that. Fandom is a big place with a lot of different writers in it. Chuck is making a plea for more interiority, not less. Fandom is pretty good at interiority, I’d say. But that’s just my opinion.
I just spent the afternoon in a London cafe having an amazing conversation with Shannon (of Three Patch) and Ivy Blossom, after spending the morning chasing the BBC’s empty hearse around central London. It’s been a fantastic fandom day, and there’s even more fannish fun coming tomorrow. It’s almost like being at a con!
We could have gone on and on and on….
Wait, maybe that’s me.
Tea I have known.
A revelation: he’s my order, I’m his chaos. Yin and yang.
Needs me (need him). A perfect match, a perfect pair. Obvious.
Things I’ve learned after two months away from home, work, and (almost) everyone I know, that I don’t want to forget:
- Tea is important. There is never too much of it, and there’s no point drinking the crappy stuff. I’m really digging Fortnum & Mason’s Countess Grey right now.
- Public radio is life. Without radio, I would go squirrelly. And there’s nothing I love more than local radio, wherever local is. (I ship Shula/Darrell, in case you were wondering.) Fortunately you can also hear public radio on the internet, which is good when the mayor of Toronto turns out to be a complete lunatic while you’re out of the country.
- You don’t need to stick as many things in the dryer as I thought you did. I have a washer/dryer, but the dryer takes forever and I don’t want to be a dick about the power it must suck up, so I just dry things I think shouldn’t stay wet too long, like towels and sheets. The rest of it I just let hang dry overnight. That works out just fine. It’s better for my clothes, too. (How did this take me so long to learn?) I’ve clearly been spoiled by my giant washer and giant dryer at home.
- Long walks are good for your mental health. Long walks anywhere, really, but long walks in green places are especially nice.
- Knowing your cup size is half the battle. A good bra fitting is worth the time and (mild) embarrassment. I thought I knew my cup size. I was wrong.
- Bread really should be eaten the day it’s baked. I know it’s not really feasible for people who aren’t on sabbatical like I am to pick up or bake daily bread, but man. Bread is totally a same-day item.
- Cashmere. Cashmere. CASHMERE. This might have something to do with the fact that damp regions also tend to be chilly regions. I can’t wear wool because ITCHY, but I can wear cashmere, even against my skin. C A S H M E R E. Yes to cashmere.
- This is a country that’s unafraid of a) colour, and b) patterns. I’m jealous of every colourful, textured/patterned coat/tights/skirt/top I see. Fear not the pattern. Why not be a bright blotch of colour in people’s peripheral? Why not throw some patterns against each other? Why not, I ask you? LIFE IS SHORT. I shall be colourful and bold at all times. Cope, universe.
- Tights. Tights are great. I love tights. Cosy cosy, textured, sparkly, brightly-coloured tights! I don’t see a downside.
- It’s so dumb, but nice toiletries make me so happy. Right now I’m digging Lush’s Big shampoo, which is made primarily of salt crystals. And I have lime bergamot soap that’s in the shape of a lime. It’s silly, but it makes weird toiletries make me happy, so I’m just going to go with it from here on in.
- I like reading. I really like reading. I always seem to be too busy to commit to reading when I’m in the thick of work and everything else, but that’s idiotic. I should always be reading something great. It makes me happy. Yay reading!
- Theatre and movies are good to make time for. Challenging ones, weird ones, artsy ones, funny ones, sad ones. Ones with mixed reviews. Fiction makes us better people, in all its forms.
- People are essentially good and kind. Almost all of them, and definitely all of the ones in fandom.
I went to Cardiff. This is what happened.
I DID NOT REALIZE PEOPLE WERE STILL FILLING OUT MY PANIC FORM
I posted a form a while ago in a panic about dying of loneliness in London, and I didn’t realize people were still finding it and filling it out. You are sweet! You are very sweet! I didn’t see it until just now!