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.