"Anyone who had a heart..."

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Title: "Anyone who had a heart..."
Creator: Julad
Date(s): May 10, 2005
Medium: LiveJournal post
Fandom: SGA-centric
External Links: page one; archive page one; page two; archive page 2
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

"Anyone who had a heart..." is an 2005 essay by Julad.

The post has nearly 200 comments.

Note: this post was written just as the Stargate Atlantis fandom was taking off in popularity.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Stargate Atlantis, due South, The Sentinel
  • slash
  • emotions and writing
  • "warm fuzzies" and "cold pricklies"
  • matching the emotional style of the show with the fanfic writing
  • keeping characters in character
  • subtext and text
  • spinoff shows
  • banter and snark = love and intimacy, or not?
  • "Because we start from canon and write towards paradise"


There has been a fair bit of meta in SGA fandom of late touching on the issue of stories that lack heart or that are in some way emotionless or dispassionate or fail to move. In nearly every fandom I've been in, I've been told this about my stories, so it's been something I've been thinking about for years. I have this whole huge theory that I won't bore you with, but here's one piece of it: I think one of the issues underlying this is disagreement over exactly which subtexts a slash story is meant to make explicit. Much of the emotional content of the show is subtextual, just like the homoerotic subtext - it's in the looks, the actions, but rarely stated unequivocally in the dialogue.
All slashers make the homoerotic subtext of their canon explicit, but not all think it's appropriate to also make the emotional subtext explicit. I'm one of them-- to me the degree of emotional expressiveness in canon is inseparable from the character. To me, keeping in character means keeping the emotions of the characters at the same level they are on the show, which is mostly not explicitly stated, mostly between the lines. I assume that readers will get the emotional subtext the same way they do on the show-- from the characters' actions, from the looks I put on their faces, etc. The heart is mostly in the 'manly handshake' moments, as it is in the show. This is not exactly a risk-free way of writing emotion or passion, because it means interpreting the emotional aspect of a story is, at least in part, up to the reader, but to me, it's necessary to stay close to the canonical representation of the character. To other slashers, part and parcel of making the sexual subtext explicit is also making the emotional subtext explicit. In this view, the emotional subtext is inseparable from the sexual subtext, and there's no point making the sexual explicit without also making the emotional explicit. Without emotional explicitness, the story is only half there. If you say it with a manly handshake, in other words, you've said nothing. Slash is supposed to make all that text; that's what slash is for. But making the emotional explicit is not risk-free either-- it risks alienating those readers who will find the emotional explicitness out of character. I'm one of those readers who will be put off by this approach, and there's very little I can do about that. For most of my BSOs, if they start talking (or thinking) too baldly or explicitly about how they feel, then I won't recognise them as the character I see on the show.
In the privacy of my own head, I refer to these two kinds of readers as The Warm Fuzzies and The Cold Pricklies, but those names are a bit misleading. The Cold Pricklies want to get gooey feelings of love and eternal devotion from their slash as much as anyone, and believe me, I crave nothing more than a story that can make me go all mushy and melty inside. But our melt-worthy goo has to be delivered mostly on the canonical/subtextual level of emotionality (or, as Speranza put it, "meat you chew yourself, not pre-chewed"). The Warm Fuzzies, on the other hand, appreciate subtext and 'manly handshake' moments in slash just as much as the Cold Pricklies-- after all, they appreciate them in canon-- but their warm fuzzies have to be delivered on the textual level, alongside the sexuality. They don't like having to chew down through the surface of a story to get to the yummy bits


[bethbethbeth]: Actually, I have to admit I was a little surprised to hear that this is already an issue in SGA because in my experience, these lines tend to be drawn at some point after a new wave of writers take on a given fandom, causing a paradigm shift, of sorts, to take place in the fanfic. I wouldn't have thought that was possible in SGA, given how [relatively] new the fandom is, but I'll have to take your more knowledgable word that both kinds of stories already exist in this fandom. Now...I *did* hear a lot about the perception of this kind of coldness creeping into Due South stories at a certain point in time, and I think much of that perception could be ascribed to a more...hmm...literary sensibility in some of the stories of the [then] new DS writers. It wasn't about one group being better writers, per se, but that one group seemed more interested in using figurative language, symbolism, non-linear narratives, and the kind of subtextual clues you're discussing above than the other group (and of course giving less of a focus, in many cases, to conversations and internal monologues that made the characters' feelings explicit). And to be honest, I knew exactly why those complaints were being leveled, even though I didn't feel the same way about most of the stories that were being cited. I mean, let's face it . . . we already had the lingering looks and the ambiguous words in canon; wasn't showing 'subtext as text' sort of the point of fanfiction?
[julad]:I like your description of the dilemma of characters for whom there is canonical emotional explicitness, because it is a dilemma -- Canon Example A has Fraser talking about his feelings, Canon Example B has Fraser doing the stiff upper lip, and all of us have this range of canon from which to form our interpretation for the character and to defend or criticise a story. I'm trying to avoid that, though, and get at the underlying issue of why a story will come off cold for some people, and why others will balk at, or be unmoved by, explicit emotional content. I think it has less to do with any specific canon details, and more to do with this difference over what subtexts a slash story ought to make explicit, and what channels different readers expect to receive their warm fuzzies on.
[merryish]:It comes back to what I was asking astolat for the other day when I was whining about what I felt like I needed to read. I wanted pining. I wanted Rodney to be in great emotional pain for the love and want of the unreachable John Sheppard, and I wanted it to go on for a long time and have a gloriously happy ending. Because on some days, that explicit emotional hit where I, personally, don't have to do any of the work -- that's exactly what I want. A lot of days, actually. =)

But on other days, I want to be forced to tease things out for myself from something spare, because it's almost the same feeling of almost that I get from an episode, that makes my nerves jangle for more, and then at the end of the story I get the jangle plus the kissing.

It also explains why I've always had so much trouble writing Jack/Daniel slash, which I knew but also hadn't fully reasoned out. It's because I couldn't find a way to write a story that both crossed that line and didn't cross it; kept their verbal and emotive patterns, and yet moved their relationship to a romantic/sexual level that would be satisfying to read (and to write, for that matter).
[musefool]: I find this whole discussion fascinating, because I sometimes find stories that are highly recced to be hollow/heartless (which I think is the worst thing one can actually say about a story), and I like to think I pick up on the subtleties etc., but maybe I'm not. And then the criticism has been turned on *me* (someone once said to me my stories were 'clean and sharp, like something grown in a petrie dish' - I swear it's imprinted on my brain, because yes, clean and sharp! great! but also artificial and unfeeling. uh oh.) and I think I'm completely a Warm Fuzzy writer. Who's been accused of being too elliptial sometimes in beta, but... it's hard to find a balance in what I, as a writer, expect of some mythical Reader, esp. because I hardly ever think of The Reader when I write, except when writing for a specific person who has a name and a personality and whom I probably know (or whose LJ I've poked through, when I don't *g*).

But the problem *I've* been having lately in my corner of HP fandom isn't that the stories have no *heart*, per se, it's that they have no *point*. And that's what I mean when I say style v. substance. These stories are not telling me anything about the characters except that the characters are OMGSOINLOVE, and while I'm totally a fan of my OTP being OMGSOINLOVE, it seems lately there are more and more writers writing the same situation and doing it in this particular style that seems more about "ooh, look how pretty my sentences are" and "I'm being all experimental" instead of using those pretty sentences or experimental techniques to tell me something interesting about the characters. Aside from, you know, OMGSOINLOVESHAGNOW. There, the emotion comes through sometimes, but more often than not, it's obscured by the "look at me!" feeling *I* get as a reader (which could just be me).

I've seen it in every fandom I've been in, but recently it seems to be infecting more and more of the fic appearing on my flist. And I find those stories irritatingly unsatisfying, because I feel like they could be more. And I'll stop there because this post isn't about my issues with HP fandom. *g*

[merryish]: Given that we're not ever going to see the private moment when John and Rodney acknowlege their love and lust for each other, I think what Julad is getting at is that there are different ways to deal with how it would go. Some stories seem to show that they *are* different in private, that they're more open and willing to show and say what they feel in plain English and obviously romantic gestures like hugging and kissing and the fun stuff like that. But other stories seem to be written in the show's code. In that code, they're not allowed to come right out and say or show in obvious ways that they're in love, that they want each other; they have to convey it through things we've seen in their "public", onscreen behaviors for most of the story. I think this is the "cold prickly" story Julad was talking about; a slash story written in the same code as a gen series, but trying to show the emotional subtext through the cracks in the same way the show does.
[cathexys]: i wonder whether show code [of The Sentinel ] is the reason they read like PG slash when all the smarm didn't...smarm was warm fuzzy without the sex, so if there had been sex we'd have heard about it in spades with lot of l-words (not that we didn't have those anyway)... and now i'm wondering if many cold pricklies are just recovering from smarm :-)
[pearl o]: On a note really only vaguely connected to what you're saying here -- as someone who's only been involved in fandom for relatively few years, it seems like to a certain extent this difference is there in a general way, not just specific to fandoms. The first thing I thought of when I was reading julad's entry was about my experiences in reading, primarily, *older* slash stories -- which is something I have a lot of trouble with, because I find even with the stories with a lot of things I like, anything older than a few years tends to have style things in it that make me cringe. And I've been thinking about as just "old-style" or "sappiness" and being really judgey about it, but, really, I think julad's continuum is more to the point and makes more sense -- things from five years ago, ten years ago, say, seem to have more of a tendency to swing to the warm fuzzy side.
[merryish]:For me, when I write the banter, it always codes as love and affection -- and when I see it on TV, or read it in a story, it codes that way, too. That's what draws me to a show first, because to me it means *love* and *connection*. And it's what I tend to write, for the same reason. So, a story that looks to someone else like a bunch of snark and no intimacy -- as a lot of my stories probably do to a lot of people, I'm starting to realize -- are to me all about the intimacy and the love. To me, there's a sense of warmth and safety and deep, real connection that I feel with someone I trust enough to tease and pick on and snark at. It means I can be free with them, say whatever I want to say, and know that they're not going to go away. It doesn't feel dry for me because it means something specific and passionate and close. And when I see John and Rodney talking to each other that way, my heart grows three sizes and the world is shiny and perfect, because yes. They're in love!
[cesperanza]: Just WORD. To me, dialogue is a speech act--it almost doesn't matter what they're saying, they're engaged in verbal ballet, and all dancing of this kind is sexy to me. To me, people who don't like each other don't talk, don't dance. It never occurred to me that it could be otherwise, but of COURSE rache is right; there are people who bicker all the time and really don't love each other, where it's hurting or unpleasant. I honestly never ever thought of that, because in my world--it's like "I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you" that little brother wants your ATTENTION because he ADORES you.
[wickedwords]: I do think that most of it is how we read emotion, rather than anything else, and we're each more aware of certain emotional constructs than others. For example, I am hyper aware of power isssues and so don't really need a lot to get my high, and may be over-stimulated with long descriptive passages that to me feel like they drag the story down. To someone else not so hyper aware of power iteractions, those long descriptive passages may be required to built up the emotion that they want to experience. Which is, you know, what it's about for me -- experiencing emotion. I love many flavors of feeling from the really big broad dramatic ones to the tiny little nuanced domestic ones, and a full raft in-between. Anything that gets between me and that feeling is then annoying, and anything that facilitates it is the!best!thing!EVAH!
[harriet spy]: This is one of those issues that can implicate values *outside* of fandom, actually, and it's why it's one of my hot buttons. So much of Warm Fuzziness bears *far* too close a resemblance to "He loves me, really he does, he just doesn't know how to show it"--in other words, it seems a lot like the emotional and moral life U.S. society trains women to fantasize about their male loved ones having so that said male loved ones can continue blundering on without it. A prop of patriarchy, in fact, because it dreams away some of the ugliest aspects of our construction of the masculine. I hate seeing it in real life and I don't think perpetuating it in fic is likely to help matters, either.
[julad]: Is this coming from the whole "romance novels are a form of masochism" perspective? Setting up an emotional dependency on romance that can never be fulfilled, except by reading more romances? Been there, done that, wrote the essay, should probably refrain from writing it again. *g*

But I've also been there and written the opposing essay. I'm still really, really undecided on that issue, on what the best feminist perspective on romance is. I sort of agree with both sides, at this point.

I see that as a separate issue from what I'm discussing above, though. Related, but not what I really mean to get at. I'm trying to take for granted that we all, as readers, want to feel the love, and as writers, want to share the love, and look at how that love is transmitted and received in slash, what our expectations/assumptions are of how it will be done.