...there are few het romance stories that read like good slash, and I don't know why.

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Title: ...there are few het romance stories that read like good slash, and I don't know why.
Creator: Peg Robinson (mostly) and Alara Rogers
Date(s): Jan 26, 1998
Medium: USENET
Fandom: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: TNG
External Links: Best Stories About People You Don't Like
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

...there are few het romance stories that read like good slash, and I don't know why. is a VERY LONG discussion between Peg Robinson and Alara Rogers that is embedded in the comments: Best Stories About People You Don't Like.

The post has two foci.

One is the focus of het fanfiction in various Treks and how it relates to gender; it includes discussion of specific stories.

Robinson and Rogers provide the second offshoot, that of comparing slash and het.

To see MUCH MORE, read the whole post.

Fan Reaction

Rogers drops out of this discussion early on, and Robinson continues in length about criticism, fans becoming better writers, and her frustrations with teaching.

While a single fan criticized the post as condescending, too academic, and too elite, the other fans did not address the strong opinions, or else stated that Robinson's posts made them think.

This may have been because no one wanted to rock the boat, or come under the scrutiny of BNFs.

Another reason may be because Robinson's posts were very, very, very, very long and dense and fans felt overwhelmed not only by what she was saying but how long it took to say it.

It also may be because of the technology of the time; Rogers herself points out that Robinson's computer made her posts unreadable:


This was a really great, well-though-out, and provocative post.... ... and on A Unix system I can't really read it, let alone reply to it, without garbage characters constantly getting in the way, because (as I discovered when I bounced it to my Mindspring account to read it with Eudora) all your ellipses are "ellipsis character" rather than ... . That is, you did not type out ... when you meant to put in an ellipsis; you typed in some character that, on a PC-based system, comes out as three closely-set periods forming an ellipsis, and on a Unix-based system like my shell account on Netcom, comes out as 0++ randomly popping up every time I try to page down.

I think you probably integrated my points and your own well enough that I'm not sure I'd have had anything else to say anyway, except "I agree." I'll re-read the post on Eudora and see if I have anything more to add. But please, when composing posts offline, don't use *any* special characters. No m-dashes. No smart quotes. No accent markers. And no ellispis charactrers instead of just plain, old ... I use a shell account for News because I transfer frequently between a laptop and a desktop, and I'm unwilling to constantly transfer my news from one machine to the other the way I have to with my Eudora mail on mindspring. A lot of other people use shell accounts for News because they are limited to what their school or workplace makes available. And none of us can read non-ASCII characters.

Sorry to rant at you. Great post. But if you want to generate a lot of feedback, better post it in a format everyone can read... :-)[1]

Some Topics Discussed

  • slash as innovative and a disruptor, slash as formulaic imitations of het tropes
  • slash fanfiction and het fanfiction
  • gender roles and old formulas
  • Robinson's desire for this newsgroup to be a teaching mechanism, that fans should be trying to stretch their wings and become "better" writers
  • the role of feedback and criticism
  • the role of BNF and deference that fans accorded some fans, including Robinson, and Robinson's embrace and rejection of that role
  • ego, the heavy burden of knowing more than others
  • imposter syndrome
  • the specter of Harlan Ellison and his abrasive ways is raised
  • Robinson's frustration with what she felt to be the blandness and repetitiveness of fan fiction and subsequent discussion
  • fans bringing their frustrations and disappointments in real life/employment to fannish life
  • Robinson's essay, The Mannerly Art of Critique
  • Robinson's view that alt.startrek.creative has "clubbish lethargy" and "positive, egalitarian traits"
  • hierarchy in fiction, genres divided into "good" and "bad"
  • slash writers as lazy, riding the newest wave, hogging all the good writers
  • slash as what catches the eyes of journalists and outsiders, making them look at fans as kinky and unworthy

The Beginning of the Rogers and Robinson Exchange

It began with Alara Rogers's comment:

...there are few het romance stories that read like good slash, and I don't know why. Good slash (because slash is same-sex, and therefore doesn't easily fall into stereotypes of man-woman interactions) can give us powerful, emotional romances where *both* characters are strong *and* vulnerable. (Bad slash tends to make one character a wussy, swooning thing, as if the writer couldn't imagine romance outside the paradigm of "Big Strong Man sweeps Emotional Sensitive Woman off her feet" and just transposed that onto two men.) But surprisingly, most het romance *does* fall into this stereotype, and I don't know why. I'd prefer reading het to slash, because I like women and I like women characters and I want to read about them, but so many romance stories wussify their women.[2]

More Fan Discussion

Peg Robinson:

At the risk of being outrageously presumptuous, I think you've got the right gut reactions and observations, but are putting them together slightly askew.

You commented that, by avoiding cross-gender role assumptions, slash is able to provide powerful romances where both characters are strong *and* vulnerable. True enough. You then go on to say that most het romance falls into the predictable patterns. Also true enough--however you at least seem to be implying that the patterns are not there in slash.

I'd have to disagree with that. In all but a very few works I've read--and I do read slash even though it isn't my first-choice trip, as I find it interesting--anyway, in all but a few pieces the classic strong/weak, contained/vulnerable, emotionally needy/nurturing maternal-paternal, yadda, yadda, yadda exist, as do the traditional "Romance formula" motifs including most of those of hurt-comfort, seduction, passionate conquest...all the old warhorses are there in slash, as they are in het.

You don't buy it? You know when you read slash none of it looks the same? Tell you what: try two experiments. First see if, in the first few pages of a slash work, you can detach yourself from the text and quickly identify which character is playing a "traditional" male role, and which is playing a traditional "female" role. Then read the rest of the work and see if *on average* the role plays out consistently over the work. Unless "wobbles" are a major element of the work, you have to play fair, though, and go by the averages, as minor fluctuations occur even in the most mind-dulling formula het Romance. In most instances I've been able to nail the "fem-fella" roles in slash pieces--and then seen them hold together over the duration of the piece.


If you have a scene in which Tom Paris storms into Chakotay's room, exposes Chakotay's agony and his dysfunctions, demands that he shape up and pull his life together, then in great emotional anguish declares that he's being torn apart by Chakotay's behavior, and concludes by stating passionately, "Damn it, I love you", with a brief but passionate terminal kiss and an exit in high dudgeon...

If Tom does this in a slash story he's "confrontational", he's "assertive", he's "strong but vulnerable." He's perceptive, he's sensitive, he's whatever...

If "he's" named Felicity Tempest, and he does *exactly* the same thing, the reader can and does instantly identify "her" as "tempestuous, overwrought, and (shudder) spunky." A classic bodice ripper heroine behaving precisely and frustratingly as expected. Pure formula, pure gender-role cliche.

A male slash character is never doomed to being spunky unless the writer is *abysmally* dreadful, or is a fairly good comic writer camping up the routine on purpose. Why? Because our own cultural and literary assumptions do cut in with cross-gender material, and don't cut in with same-sex, particularly m/m same sex...or not to anything like the same degree. You have to put your brain in analysis mode to realize that the change in gender *did not* alter the formula or the traditional role functions. The dancers have changed--the footwork is the same, though.

By altering the gender pairing, even a fairly new writer can get away with using very traditional material, and have it look fresh, uncliched, honest and perceptive...


I'm not trying to insult slash writers, or their works. But when they choose slash, they come in with a powerful advantage that het writers *do not have.* They can use old formula material, and have it look totally and startlingly new and complex. Where a het writer will *instantly* be nailed for trotting out old cliches, the slash writer can use those cliches in the way they probably *first* appeared to readers when they showed up in het-romances...as passionate, vivid, meaningful material dealing with relationship and life-choice.

The het writer *has* to go far beyond that if he or she wants to appear equally insightful and non-formulaic. It takes a fair amount of work for a het writer to take something as fundamentally patterned as a fictional courtship, and make it anything more than formula. You have to stretch like crazy, because it's been done a million times, in a million variations, and every reader in the world can nail the cliches as there is no gender-twisting optical illusion in place to hide the formula. By changing the gender, you alter the context and the assumptions, and immediately alter the reader's response. Leave the gender assumptions in place and you'd damned well better have something new, provocative, or at least fresh and compelling to say about your characters and their lives, or your readers will sigh and pitch your latest Magnum Opus in the delete bin along with a dozen other "Love's Mortal Anguish" rip-offs.


Again, this isn't meant as an insult to slash writers--you/they have found a powerful and dramatically effective way to jump the fence and re-use shop-worn assumptions in novel, moving, and innovative ways. But don't underestimate the degree to which slash writers *do* use the formulaic Romance motifs and roles...and don't underestimate the challenge het writers face when they attempt to write passionate, fresh, and meaningful material *without* the advantage of throwing away the familiar male-female context. It takes *very* good writing indeed for a het writer to appear as non-formulaic as a slash writer...through no particular flaw on the part of the het writer, or, I must say, through any *great* innovative genius on the part of the slash writer. Many of the slash writers are using the old formulas, and getting away with it because slash itself revitalizes and alters them. Move from het to slash, and *viola!*, everything old is new again...not because you made it new from the ground up, but because the context changed how the reader perceives it. The old dog has learned new tricks--but it is still often a very hoary old canine if you strip away the novelty of the slash transformation.[3]

Alara Rogers: I do genderbending, Peg. It's basically one of my Big Things, like BDSM is Ruth's. And from early childhood, before I had ever *heard* of slash, I picked up on a neat trick-- turn one of two male characters who have an intense relationship into a woman, and write them having a relationship. Basically, it's slash with a different twist-- instead of saying "What if our boys were gay?" or "What if they were able to transcend gender to admit to their love for each other?", I would say "What if one of them was a woman, but nothing else changed?" And I found that the stories thus created (where I would work hard to make the now-female character stay in character for the man-that-was) were far more fascinating than any stories about *actual* female characters. The reason for this seemed to be that the male characters were more fully realized people to begin with. Make one of them a woman, and suddenly you have a fully realized woman, rare in media fandom.

So I gotta disagree with you. I've *done* this experiment (experiment snipped-- Peg basically said "change the genders of each of the slash couples"), and I find that either can flip, at least in the stories I like. Try these synopses on for size:

1. Tom Paris is an ex-con seeking a second chance at redemption, but his experiences in prison have scarred him. Can gentle, innocent Henrietta Kim teach him to love again?

2. Toni Paris was raped in prison. Used, abused and bitter, now she hides her true feelings behind a brittle devil-may-care shell. Only Harry Kim sees the Vulnerable woman under the tough-as-nails shell, but can even his love for her help her to love herself again?

Or try this:

1. Jeanne Picard thought she had put passion behind her in her youth, thought she would live out the rest of her days in the dry pursuit of knowledge and the service of her duty. Until the roguish, wild alien Q enters her life, and reawakens her passion, while she must try to teach him what it means to love a human.


2. Jean-Luc Picard was dedicated to his ship, his crew, his ideals and service to Starfleet. And then the beautiful, seductive alien Q entered his life, tempting him with her wild nature and the fire of her unpredictable passions. But does she truly love him, or is it all just a heartbreaking game for her?

These stories are Emma Woodhouse's P/K series and Ruth and Atara's "His Beloved Pet", respectively. I can't really write romance blurbs very well, but I hope I've gotten the point across that the exact same dynamic could be mapped onto a man *or* a woman. Kim is the gentle, loving innocent, but Tom is a rape victim who secretly thinks of himself as a whore who deserved it. Picard can be the uptight, schoolmarmish woman who throws it all to the wind for love of a rogue, but Q can be the temptress who seduces a staid, controlled man into wild abandon, never realizing in the process that she's losing her heart as well. *either* of these dynamics can exist in "Traditional Romance."


Let's take a recent example. In Macedon's beautiful "Wisdom and Beauty", Helen is the naive, innocent beauty who is raped by a man she rejects, while Solon is the strong, inarticulate man who loves her passionately but cannot say so, and cannot reach out to comfort her in her need because he's too consumed with rage at those who hurt her, thus causing her to question if she is worthy or not. A *very* classic romance formula, and the sexes are exactly who we think they are. But the characters are real. The Vulcan background and the way the characters are established makes this story very much un-cliched, even though the subject matter is. It's a het romance that works.


So I really don't think my problem with het romance has to do with the fact that I would like the exact same dynamic if it were two men. I usually wouldn't. My problem with het romance is that it rarely explores female power. In a hurt/comfort where the man is the comforter, he rescues the woman from the bad guys with derring-do and then comforts her. In a hurt/comfort where the woman is the comforter, usually the man dropped onto her doorstep injured, and while she may have used her wits, and yes, her spunk to keep his foes from finding him, she didn't lead a samll squadron of elite troops into the base to rescue him. (If she did, I give that story high points!) Sexually repressed Janeway swoons into the arms of manly Chakotay, rather than Janeway making a conscious decision and approaching Chakotay like a mature adult. (I gotta read more K/O stuff; if I'm going to find het romance I like, that's probably where it will be, as I like both Kira and Odo.)[4]

Peg Robinson: Um, either I expressed myself badly, or you misread me--could be either. I wasn't saying "write a new story that's a gender bender." I was trying to say, "read an *existing slash story" while intentionally flipping the genders of the characters, and see if they quickly conform to cliched Romance formula and gender role. You may be at a disadvantage--if you haven't ever read much Trashy Romance your familiarity with the formulas may be limited. (chuckle-sigh) I've also gotta consider that, *because* you care about slash and respond to it, that it's harder for you to see when "the boys" are actually acting just about precisely like "the girls" would in a parallel Trashy Romance potboiler.

In any case the idea was not to do gender bender as a free standing thing--it was to subject a previously written slash story to a gender-bender when you read it--test the roles for novelty and innovative character development by seeing if, in flipping them back to a het relationship, they didn't suddenly seem stale, flat, and unprofitably cliched.


I still feel that unless a het writer does one *hell* of a job with the writing, the scene I created would set off "cliched scene, cliched role, cliched motivation" alarms going in most of us who *have* ventured very often into the turgid world of Trashy Romance. The *only* bloody way to save that one from being trite is to have carefully and painstakingly devepled a situation in which the reaction was not only justified in full--but was indicative of a clear and substantial character development *that has more function than to just whip up emotion and get the characters into bed.*

Here's another example--one that could be...and to some extent is...a traditional camp stereotyped Romance scene.

The hero, a good and gentle man, comes home at night. He's tired, and weary, and near despair, exhausted by the Labors of His Day. The Little Woman is at first annoyed--but, seeing his True Worth, and Feeling Compassion, she takes pity on him, soothes his weary brow, tells him a little story, and they have a happy night...

(chortle) That one's right out of the end of Rose and Yew. If it had come one bit earlier, it would have been *nothing* more than a trite little foray into stereotyped Romance. As it was, it had eight stories, including a major war backing it up...and I could *just* get away with it...after all people *do* act like that, and it wasn't like Janeway had decided to go all fluffy and domestic with no excuse but that it let me get the two hitched--nor did she give up her independence and autonomy in doing so. She ends up right back on the bridge in the end--the *captain.* But it took eight stories and a war, and a lot of other involvements, and a lot of other interactions for me to be able to pull it off without it *instantly* being identifiable as Just a Trashy Romance motif--and I suspect that even putting in that much effort there were folks who cringed and twitched a little.

If I'd written it as slash? I honestly believe I could have gotten the characters to that scene within one story--and few would have noticed that it's straight out of half the B-movies ever filmed and damned near every sappy-gushy Harlequin out there.

That's what I'm trying to talk about--the fact that it's slash alters how most readers see the actions. It's not just a matter of the *extremes* of the conventions...it's a matter that the formula itself doesn't seem that formulaic when it appears in slash.


Macedon is, as he has always stated, a character writer with a mainstream/Southern Gothic lit background. Which means *his* method of taking classic formulas and making them fresh and moving is to write one hell of a good character story, in which he moves you to a rather predictable conclusion a step at a time, fleshing out the cardboard roles and breathing life into them, so that by the time the inevitable occurs you're still with it, because the end is right *for those two very individual people.* He's done it in het, he's done it in slash with J. He's a damnfine writer.

What he doesn't do as a general thing, and what I feel many slash writers do *and get away with*, is use a formula paradigm, the familiarity of the reader with the canonical assumptions of the characters, and the novelty/erotic charge that goes with slash simply by default--and use that to "short cut" his way out of a fully realized character portrait that completely supports the resolution, all presented within the story. He doesn't cut corners, and he doesn't use angst and formula to achieve an end he could be achieving through hard, careful thought and development. By the time he's done you can see the characters' faces, know how their hands move--whether they're "old familiar faces" or new characters he's created himself.

And that, for me, is the big difference between Macedon, and Emma, and a few others, and most slash writers...The real Great Ones may knowingly use a standard formula--but they work their asses off to exceed it, make if fresh and new and completely valid...

The Good but not Great, in both slash and het, fall back on shortcuts...and the slash writers can get away with it more easily because the optical illusion of the gender switch makes it far less obvious that the shortcut was formula...the het writers don't have that advantage, because the assumptions actively work *against* them slipping it past as very new or very well fleshed out. We're so familiar with the cliches in that context that we catch on immediately, and grumble.


And we don't get writers who want to challenge the limits writing for about women who challenge the limits. Instead they're all writing about when Tom and Harry met Sisko and Wesley. And I am *honestly* not sure how many of them seriously ask themselves why they aren't writing more women, why they find it harder to get the same charge using the same devices, or why the old "chemistry" isn't working when they do try to switch over. My own sense, obviously biased, is that they are *not used* to dealing with the inevitable cliche and formula *when it doesn't grant the free ride that slash provides,* and aren't used to attempting exactly the kind of painstaking craftsmanship a Macedon or an Emma apply to formulaic material to bust up the cliches and make them new and relevant in regards to the particular and fully developed character. They've gotten used to the shortcuts and the fast fix, and don't know it. And they never get around to going back and learning how to do it when the odds aren't culturally rigged in their favor...so we don't get the het material we could be getting, we don't get females in romance that *aren't* knee-deep in traditional Romance formula, and the slash writers don't learn how hard it is to kick those cliches when you don't have slash novelty working for you.

Boy, I bet that gets me a few swift kicks from *someone!* <BG> Nothing like being a contentious bitch...


I agree with you--more or less. But in slash--the noble masculine Role hero seems to do a lot of rescuing, comforting, and supporting...and the warm, feminine role hero seems to be agonized a lot, tempestuous a lot, Highly Emotional a lot...I still hold that all the old ritual answers show up as often as not in slash, are seldom elaborated on or supported by the kind of work Macedon and J did in the "Orfeo" stuff or Emma did in her stories, and are just as annoying once you begin to find them hanging around cluttering up the place. And, no, *no-one* is writing het that explores female power much. I still think a fair number of the people who might have gotten hooked on slash, have found out that they can do that and have it be hot, have decided either from their own efforts or from reading others' efforts that "het just isn't as interesting," and never really set their minds to learning just how the hell to get beyond that. Instead they stick to the easier task of making an already "non-traditional and erotically 'naughty'" fiction form keep playing on indefinitely.

Hmmm. Longer than I intended that to be. More contentious, too. Seriously the idea was *not* to be an insulting bitch. Maybe to knock over a few apple carts and see what rolls out on the sidewalk? Or maybe I should say "what roles?" (sigh) Look, honest, I admire anyone with the balls to write and post, I have no objection to an author using *any* device that works...even the device of going to slash because it plays better than het. But it's too interesting a topic to just walk away from out of fear of offending anyone.[5]

Alara Rogers: well, my examples were to prove that one can take the exact same already-established story, gender-flip it *both* ways, and it works. So no, I don't think that, in those examples at least, one character is The Man and the other is The Woman. One can look at it either way; *both* ways it fits an established paradigm. And I think that if het romance did *that*, wrote it so that you could reverse the sexes and it would still work, it would be fine.


Everything is stale, flat and unprofitably cliched. :-) It's all writing, writing, writing. My examples weren't standalone genderbenders; I merely wanted to establish my credentials in the arena you were talking about when I went on my little autobiographical meandering about me and genderbend stories. And, of course, the blurbs make the stories *seem* like cliches-- but they wouldn't be, is my point. Because *either* way you look at them-- whether you make Paris or Kim, or Picard or Q, the woman-- you can interpret them as an existing paradigm. There isn't a clear Male or Female role in the story. If a het story was written the same way, where you could flip about the roles of the man and the woman, so suddenly we have Jeanne Picard and Brian Crusher, it would be just as fresh and interesting as slash is. (or isn't. I happen to think that those examples, despite the fact that you can make hoary cliches out of them, are great stories, and would be if they were about a man and a woman, whichever characters got assigned the male and female roles.)


I don't think either would have gotten grumbles if they had been well written. Because the point was, *both* characters were playing both male and female stereotypical roles. Boring romances don't bore me because the males and females are in stereotyped roles; they bore me because that's *all* they're doing. You can't take the average het romance and change the sexes of both characters and have anything that makes sense. (Imagine Chakotay swooning into Janeway's arms... as the characters appear in the *show*, this might make a certain sense, except that Chakotay, while he is the ultimate Sensitive New-Age Guy, does not swoon, and no one would *ever* think he does.)

Basically, swooning characters are boring. Characters who are 100% femmy and nothing but are boring, as are characters who are 100% Manly Male Strength. *All* characters work best as a mix of masculine and feminine traits. when you write them as such, it doesn't matter how stereotyped the storyline is; an open-minded reader (that is to say, someone who doesn't go *looking* for cliches in het, with a kind of "oh, yuck, it's het, it must be cliched" attitude) will respond to good writing (not necessarily Great Writing, just good) and characters who are more complex than The Tempestuous, Feminine Woman and the Strong, Unemotional Man.


Most of us get into fanfic because we've read fanfic. We start out with Mary Sue when we're writing our own stuff, and Mary Sue tends to get involved with a man because usually the men are portrayed as more interesting and they grab us in faster. If we pick up on a really powerful, intense friendship, it's usually between men because that's what it *is*-- I love most of the DS9 and Voy women, but with the exception possibly of a Janeway/Seven dynamic developing, none of the women relate powerfully *to each other*. Some of them relate powerfully to the men, but the only woman who's sexually powerful, knows what she wants and is happy to pursue it, and is involved with a man on the show rather than being entangled in a silly will-they-won't-they tease or being in love with a man who's not a regular and therefore is never around... is Dax. And she's with Worf, who irritates the crap out of most of the women *I* know. :-)

By the time we're experienced fanfic writers, we've read a *lot* of this stuff. And most of the het is boring, because it isn't being written by the people particularly interested in challenging the paradigm, because that's what *we* want to do; however, slash is being written in such ways. So we gravitate to slash, and it's a self-perpetuating cycle.


I really feel the larger part is that het and slash have become self-perpetuating communities, at least in Trekfandom. Het is the bastion of people who like traditional romance (and mind you, I don't think Peg *or* I are saying there's anything *wrong* with that-- to all their own tastes; just that neither of us, nor the people the original thread was aimed at, *do* like that stuff. Not a flame against those who do.) Slash becomes the preferred playground of everyone who *does* want to push the boundaries. So even if they were not falling back on established romance cliches and relying on the kick of the gender-switch to hide it, would it matter? They think het is boring, so they don't write it, so new people who are interested in the stuff they are come in, see that no one who shares their interests is writing het, conclude that het is boring, they don't write it... repeat ad nauseam.


I'd just like to reiterate that not only do I not really quite agree with Peg that slash is getting away with stuff that wouldn't play if it were het-- I genuinely think slash, for the most part, really *is* more transgressive of gender-role cliches, that you can't just cast one character as The Woman and one as The Man in good slash-- but that I also don't want to sound like I'm ragging on het writers. I don't like a lot of het because I can't stand traditional romance. There is nothing wrong with you if you *do* like that, but I don't and Peg doesn't and the original thread (Best Het Stories Chosen By People Who Don't Like Het) was specifically aimed at those who don't like het, which usually translates into "doesn't like traditional romance" because that's most of what het is in Trekfandom. So we, the non-likers of traditional romance, are having a conversation with one another in which we take for granted that traditional romance is a Bad Thing because we're talking to people who think that. it doesn't mean any of us believe it objectively *is* bad, only that we don't like it.[6]

Peg Robinson:

Slash makes it too easy for both the readers, and worse, the writers, to fail to realize when the writing is sloppy, the assumptions are poorly played out, and so on. All the hot and steamy tabloid sex sensationalism stands in the way. Now, please, understand, I don't want to get rid of slash-I do read it, I do find some of it delightful, and even if I despised it, I'd hate to see it go away. But I do think that if it isn't examined carefully and thoughtfully, it does some damaging things to fan fic, to readers, and perhaps most especially to writers.

First, as we've both theorized, it appears to "hog" all the folks who might otherwise put in some effort to write female characters as mature adults with lives that include romance, but are not limited to romance or to the most boringly traditional of romance roles and assumptions. The only people left are the newbies Mary-Sue-ing, and the hard-core Traditional Romance lovers, and the occasional rare Laura Bowen and the occasional rare Kira/Odo writer with a commitment to dealing with Kira as a strong woman, and the occasional Peg Robinson with a hive of bees up her shorts because the PTB keep betraying my own belief in the worth, dignity, and power of the average het female. But we're drowned by the traditional formulaic stuff, because all our potential allies are off writing slash and feeling daring and provocative and radical.

It's damaging to fandom, because it makes it too easy for "outsiders" viewing fanfic to assume that the reason all those slash writers exists is because they don't really care about female roles - what they really want is the rush of "kinky" sex. That's all. Forget the ethics, forget the philosophy, quit kidding us that you want to see a Janeway as a three dimensional woman, we know what you really want - kinky sex. How about some Klingon S/M? How about some salamanders. Quit jivin' us about that female dignity bull - we know what you really want.

It's damaging to the general fan fic readership because, except in the hands of fairly rigorous and attentive readers, it's too easy to simply say, "Slash is exciting and non-traditional. Hetis boring and traditional. Therefore it must be that slash is inherently better, and inherently attracts 'better' writers and is inherently going to be non-formulaic-and het will inherently be dull, formulaic, trite, and unchallenging: an insult to the characters, an insult to the readers. Leave it to the boring, stodgy, unimaginative old farts who think sex began and ended with Lohengrin and orange blossom and swooning." It honestly takes a fairly sharp mind to realize that none of that is inherent and inevitable, but is the result of slash on the one hand disguising a lot of writing flaws, on the other hand attracting a lot of the less conformist writers before they ever really attempt more than a Mary Sue, and on the OTHER hand (I'm into Hindu Gods today), riding on a fairly easy and cheap wave of sensationalism. Unless the reader really puzzles over the whole thing, and takes the time to know the field, to know the writers, and to study the patterns, it's just too damned easy for the superficial elements to make it look like het is dull and fluffy and saccharine-and can only be so….and that slash is vivid, and exciting, and full of challenging and atypical material-and that it must be because it's a "better" form, and the writers who create it must, of course, be better writers. It ain't that easy. But too often I've seen it wrapped up that way, and tied with a ribbon made out of a strangle-cord, so that no one ever gets out of that box of assumptions.

It's bad for the writers because when they go off to write slash they get some grand free rides…and often don't realize that they have done so. It's like Nubile Starlet syndrome: The writers get drooling, enthusiastic readers, they get hot and easy scenes that just jump off the page, they get a star on their door. And they never realize how much the flat belly, the tight dress, and the high heels were making it easy to ignore the fact that their only acting training was a one week section in summer camp. It also makes it too easy for them never to question even their slash-writing skills enough to ever improve. So long as that easy ride is there, why change? If it ain't obviously broke, why fix it?

But it means that, unless they can and will accept the really depressing challenge of examining their own work, and learning to pick it apart for flaws, ALL they'll ever be able to get that power-rush from is slash. If they try het, or non-Trek fan fic, or non-sex/romance, the crutches they've gotten used to relying on drop away, and suddenly they're left in the same boat as the aging Starlet who never realized that the only selling point she had was being twenty, nubile and underdressed. (sigh) At least if you're a slash writer nothing can force you to leave slash…you don't have to face the cold world with your wrinkles showing, and I suspect that for a reasonably competent slash writer there will always be an audience. But unless the writer is willing to push beyond that, the slash world will be the limit of her enviroment [sic].

If that's all the writer ever wanted anyway, cool. No problem. The world needs more forums for folks with narrow target interest and amateur passion to have fun and play. And even amateur forums with limited scope can and do produce some masterpiece level work. Neato-kean. Nifty. Everyone is happy…

Except those of us who dream of seeing something more varied than the current polarized slash-het dichotomy. Except for those of us who are disturbed because the blanket answer keeps seeming to be a rather offensive "hey, slash is good, cool, and well written, and het is just the old Harlequin stuff tricked out in Starfleet uniforms." Except for those of us who resent being in a situation where the rest of fandom gets away with dismissing fan fic as nothing more than a bunch of crazed dirty old ladies who talk a good feminist line-but really just want all that trashy kink, just like any moron buying the Star or the Enquirer, or sneaking a copy of "Scandalous Sex Studs." Hey, I'm not against indulging openly and happily in sensational erotica…I just kind of hate it that it's so damned easy to reduce all fan fic to slash erotica and sad-eyed heroines who swoon while invoking the great Goddess Mary Sue. I think we're all of us more interesting than that, and it frustrates me that we so seldom show it. And the last folks who aren't happy?

The writers who don't want to be Eternal Starlets. The ones who do know that they're limiting themselves, but who haven't really developed the skills to get beyond it, and worst and saddest, the ones who have fallen for the illusion that they have it cold-when they were leaning on crutches of pre-existing canon, pre-existing formula, pre-existing characters, and pre-existing Hot

Slash charisma.[7]

[Marlissa Campbell]:

Truly interesting discussion, even if both you and Alara are (IMHO) making a whole helluva lot of sweeping generalizations.


I do see your point about the slash milieu being a bit more forgiving of romantic cliches. However, I would just like to comment that -- knowing I have *far* less experience of the fan fic world than either you or Alara -- I think this phenomenon applies to *whatever* one likes. I know personally, I am far more tolerant of stories which happen to be set in my favorite series and involve characters I like and am interested in -- who doesn't feel this way?


Jeez! So, newbies = Mary Sue; het = formulaic drek; and slash = cheap thrills. Is this what you really think?


Okay, fine. I'd love to see discussions about writing: discussions which would be interesting, helpful, and encouraging. Your current thesis, I'm sorry to say, is *interesting* but it sure the hell isn't helpful, and it couldn't be more *discouraging*. You've successfully dissed *everybody* except a small handful of *elite* writers on this ng.

Is that what you *really* wanted to do? Convince the rest of us to delete our embarrassing WIPs and slink off into the night to pursue other, less annoying, hobbies? I doubt it. But frankly, that's how it comes across to me.


You want it different? Then put your money where your mouth is -- *please* -- *pretty please*. Post some essays that will teach us something instead of telling us how much of your time we've wasted. If YOU start some threads about writing, either in general, or critiquing specific stories, it would have a good chance of igniting a *fad*. You have the experience and 'stature' on this group to do that. Find some writers who are posting stories which are at least sort of like what you would want to see, enlist their cooperation, and get some discussion going of how their work could be improved. I'll bet you all of my replicator rations for next week that it would be a widely appreciated step-in-the-right-direction. [8]

Peg Robinson: Are Alara and I making sweeping generalizations?

Of course. It's a general discussion, on a general field, in an informal and editorial mode. And for what it's worth, I am making general statements because I prefer dealing with general topics of grumble *without* turning any specific writer into a scapegoat. There's a strange damned mystique about crit that seems to hold that it's good taking a writer when she--and yes, today I choose to use she--is at her weakest, when she's least experienced, least competent, least trained...and ripping the hell out of her fragile little newborn piece, and showing her every flaw and deformity. This is supposed to be useful and constructive.

I'd as soon knock down barnswallow nests and stomp the chicks. Thank you very much, but I have never felt that was constructive. New writers have *general* problems, shared by many new writers. They have few shields in place, they have enough problems writing that a *serious* crit is likely to prove endless and demoralizing. You find me taking out after a general set of complaints and spreading them out over a general readership demoralizing, non-constructive and negative? At least in choosing to take on the issue this way I have made sure no innocent or inexperienced writer has to be the maiden under the train wheels.

As for your suggestion that I use my vaunted status on the group and my skills and training to elect myself group mum, dispenser of wisdom and crit, and general Professor of Fan Fic? Put my money where my mouth is?

Marlissa, for going on three bloody years now I have been trying to figure out a way to help this group get involved in the kinds of thinking and interaction I honestly think would be usefull [sic] and practically managable [sic] in this forum. I've posted messages, done behind the scenes crit of others' work, I've had exchanges both public and private regarding lit theory. I presented a bloody-long essay on crit, having asked the group if they wanted to *discuss* crit issues, presented it *as a discussion piece*, requested folks to comment and debate. Damned thing took me about a week to write. What happened? It got accepted in one gulp, and I ended up being asked if it could become part of the FAQ, and NO ONE DISCUSSED CRIT. I have turned my mind inside out, upside down, and backwards trying to figure out a constructive thing I could do, that didn't involve making myself a martyr-saint with a nasty little ersatz halo and a pile of reading and crit work the size of Mount Everest, and an ugly little desk in the middle of the ng where I would play Teacher.

I do not have enough fondness for playing Teacher. Not when I cannot see the faces of the class. Not when I can't pace the feedback to the individual. Not when the job is done in public, and depends on playing stupid, unappealing, and inappropriate games with my "status" and "experience" and "respected position" on this ng. I am a short, fat, often useless, often abrassive [sic] housewife, trying to break into a field that is renowned for devouring its young. I've written a few good Trek stories. I've written a few good non-Trek stories. I've got the usual litter of trunk-novels. I don't even know what the hell to *say* about my status on the group. I have a letter on my bloody hard drive that I still haven't answered because the writer too obviously thinks too highly of me, and I don't know how to get past that and be who *I* think I am. Just me. Bright enough, possibly talented enough, hard working at the writing, hard working at the thinking...but just me.

I have directed. I have taught and tutored. I have done crit in individual and group settings. I've been part of art crit, theater crit, music crit. I've watched teachers try to perform critical thinking instruction to auditorium sized class rooms. You know what? What seems to work best in a large group is for the "prof" to address general issues, and then let the "students" take it on in smaller ways. Sort into groups. Or stand up and address the general issues to the whole bloody class.

There's this frapping mystique about crit. Yes, it is useful to have someone give you feedback on your story. But half the time even a good editor can't tell you "what's wrong." Even more often they can't tell you "how to fix it." The only way you really learn so near as I can tell is to learn to read lit critically, then learn to read your own material critically, *then* listen to feedback...and then try to use what you learned thinking about lit in general to find a solution that works for you. La Professeure sitting at the head of the class can't do that.

What can I do?

You said "put my money where my mouth is." It seems not to have occured [sic] to you that *I am.* Right now. This instant. I'm doing the one thing that, at this point, I think might shake up the dynamic and make people *think.* You think I enjoy standing up here making an offensive, loud mouthed ass of myself? Yeah. I'm prolix. I'm capable of being very loud-mouthed. But it's not a hobby passtime [sic]. I'm actually a rather rare poster here, comparatively. Not a lurker, but not daily entry, either. I usually don't get on unless I've got something to say or accomplish. I don't really like or trust the status thing, and I don't particularly need or want a permanent forum as guru of the newsgroup. But if I don't think I can or should stand up and play teacher and crit-mistress, there is one damned thing I can do.

(Peg stalks over to her bookshelf. Pulls down books, magazines, old xeroxes.)

Harlan Ellison--too many damned editorial writings to list. Robert Silverberg--again, too many damned articles to list. Ursula K. LeGuin: The Languages of the Night. A book I can't find right now by the woman who wrote something like five Newbury award winners, including "Jacob I have loved"--the book in question called "The Gates of Excellence." Essays by Marion Zimmer Bradley. A honkin' big pile of books by John Gardiner, including "On Writers and Writing" and "On Moral Fiction."

These are my *teachers*, people. They stood up on soapboxes and took on general issues, usually in a general way. Some of them were twice as aggressive and offensive as anything I've said here. Some of them were rather mild. Most of them I have *argued* with in my head. Every damned last one of them has made me think. They didn't do it by volunteering to read my stories, they didn't do it by giving me lessons. Some of them have given workshops--but in contained settings,with limited numbers of students, who had made a commitment to produce certain writing and take part in many exercises--and take part in the process fully. Workshops with firm guidelines, and work groups and a set schedule and *students who were not sitting there not wading in and getting dirty and teaching themselves.* I doubt one of them would be interested in playing guru in a blind forum with an unknown number of students, no commitments made, no rules set, AND NO PAY for performing a massive, difficult, and thankless job. Instead they found *another* way to teach to great big sloppy bodies of people they couldn't see and couldn't rationally hope to teach and had no way of mentoring. They wrote essays...and books...and put together editorials. And sometimes they ranted, and screamed, and made complete and utter idiots of themselves. They said nasty and provocative things, they decided to screw their "status" points and their egos, and they MADE A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK.

I've tried other methods to give some of the feedback and background at least some folks have indicated they would like around here. I've tried to find other ways of doing this. Short of giving up my life and my own projects and trying to adopt and mentor the whole bloody fan fic community, this is about the last creative and constuctive [sic] idea I have left: immitate [sic] *my* best and most admired and most provocative teachers. Stand on a soapbox and address general issues in a loud and offensively opinionated tone--and let folks fight with me. Here. In their heads. Lying in their beds at night damning my eyes and wishing an assassin would come along and gut me. But thinking...

At least if you're pissed at me, you aren't sitting at my damned feet with wide eyes swallowing what I say whole. If you're pissed at me my damned status isn't there cluttering up the fuckin' discussion and keeping any of us from really engaging with the topics. If you're throwing bricks at me you at least have to think long enough to come up with the damned bricks. I ain't gonna be no nice little white haired mentor with sparkling blue eyes and a kind word and a hopeful comment for everyone. I don't think it's good for the group, I don't think it's likely to accomplish a damned thing in this setting, and I know damned well it's not going to be good for me. The last thing I need to start seeing myself as is something more radiant and divine and mentorly than the fat, frustrated, hard working neophyte writer I am.

But at least as a neophyte writer with an occasionally big mouth and the willingness to make an offensive ass of myself by taking on general issues and inviting infuriated response, I may do at least some of the kind of work my favorite "teachers" did for me. Stir up the grey cells. Challenge the assumptions. Make y'all so pissed you scream "we'll show you!" and go out and write a few masterpieces without waiting for me, or Macedon, or Alara, or Your Cruise Director to show you how. Because we *can't*. The only person who can show you how to think and question and solve the problems of your work is you. And there is not enough time in the day, or energy in the "mentors' to successfully play one-on-one seeing-eye mentor to a house this big, with writers so 'young', when the gurus themselves are so far from being polished and professional.

I'm a journeyman writer, people. I've made *one* friggin' sale. I have the usual assortment of rejection letters. Do I think I have more training and experience at this than a lot of you? Yeah. After all these months hanging out here writing and reading and paying attention to the posts, I do. Probably not more than all of you, though. And I'm no WAY ready to pretend I'm the Ancient of Days, and a proper person to sit in the middle of the circle and "teach" you all. But if I do the editorial essay and rant thing, you engage me as an equal, you get mad at me as an equal, and you think about what I'm saying and about the general ideas involved, instead of tagging along after me waiting for me to say something *wise.* Or *helpful.* Or *constructive.*

I ain't no *use* that way. I don't like dancing on a soapbox inviting tomatoes, but at this point I honestly don't know anything more useful I can do. Not reasonably. At least this way I have a chance of passing on the favor Ellison and LeGuin and Gardiner have done me, and provoking you to ask questions, war with me in your minds--and teach YOURSELVES.

I can't even keep up with the number of folks I know well enough to try teaching one-on-one. But the best one-on-one teacher you'll ever have is an open and probing mind, a challenging set of ideas to battle, and yourselves. You are the best teachers you'll ever have. After trying to figure out a way to give myself to every last one of you who has asked it of me, and failing, and knowing I will always fail, I'm trying damned hard to find a way to give you to yourselves. Because I honestly think you'll be better mentors, teachers, and guides than I could be anyway.

People have indicated over the years that they think I write well. Damned if I know. But if I do, it's because I engaged with authors on soapboxes as much as anything. So I am trying to "put my money where my mouth is" and do the one thing I know that makes a difference *to me.* Challenge your damned minds as an equal. An offensive, opinionated, loud-mouthed equal who you can mutter about and fume over...and who you will *question.*

It's a hell of a lot better, to my mind, to give people questions they may pursue out of anger, than answers they'll accept in comfort.

A loon on a soapbox screaming frustrated generalities about general topics can be a useful thing. And at least she doesn't have to keep checking to see if her K-Mart halo is in place.

Ah, hell, folks. I really do like being admired. It's just that I keep feeling like the wings are too big, the halo too floppy, and the harp gets in the way of my typing. And I don't know what to do about that. I'm just me, I love it that people have enjoyed my work, but doing the job well enough to please you doesn't make me the Ordained, or give me the time, energy, or experience to try to teach you all, or make me any less human and limited than I was before I pleased you. Thank you for liking my work. Thank you for listening, and caring. Thank you for the admiration. I do appreciate it. But, please, don't turn me into a little plaster saint, and don't expect me to believe in it, cooperate with it, or abuse it by turning myself into anything more than a loud-mouthed and opinionated fellow author trying to learn my trade. Because that's really what I am. I don't know how to *do* Mary Worth, and I don't see how it could possibly be useful even if I did.


Yes. I will probably do an essay at some point on traditional Formula Romance, and it's assumptions and cliches. Do I think those writers who *don't* want to go pro are "ruining the ng" for the (fair number) who hope to do so someday? Only to the extent that at the moment * there is no compromise.* We get folks on regularly who want "more feedback" to improve their writing, whether they want to be "pro" or not. We have many folks who do want to go pro, and want to find some way for the fan fic writing to lead to that someday. I can come up with eight or nine just off the top of my head. But as set up, the ng *won't* do a lot of that unless they're damned creative in their use of it. Why? 'Cause, damn it, it doesn't lead folks to thinking about writing, or questioning what they and others do. I *like* the fact that this place is laid back and egalitarian. I like the fact that anyone at any level can post here without facing in instant barage of personal abuse regarding their various lacks and shortcomings. I don't want to see the place turned into venom-central.

But if the place is going to be more useful, to more people, we've got to find *some* way to make it a forum for critical thinking and discussion and debate. I'm not sure that criting each other's stories is the best way to accomplish that, having watched how the group functions. But at least we can all have discussions like Alara and I just had, and challange [sic] each other a bit on a general level. Ask a few questions. Make a few flagrantly annoying statements *without* pillorying any one of the company. Talk about what we've read, and learned, and thought. What *we* think we see when we go through fan fic and find recurring patterns, recurring problems, general assumptions that don't seem to be questioned.

So, I'm experimenting. Trying to find ways to break up the clubbish lethargy *without* destroying the positive, egalitarian traits I like about the place. Trying to find things that work. You try too. There are too many people here who, whether they want to go pro someday or just want to improve their hobby writing, are NOT GETTING the input they want and need. That tends to be expressed as a request for feedback--but I'm often not convinced feedback is the best answer. Maybe general discussions of lit and fan fic are. At least it's worth a shot... [9]

[Siesta]: I've been following this whole thread rather attentively from the near-beginning, and I just want you (and everyone else, participants or not) that you have really *made* me think about you've said. Hard. I haven't jumped in because I don't have any startlingly original thoughts to share on this topic, but I have been reflecting a lot over the stark advice/analysis you've been giving.

I've been a lurker on this newsgroup for a little over six months. I've seen many works of fanfic posted here (and, unfortunately, don't get to read 90% of them) and seen different threads picked up, spooled out and unraveled. But this is one of the first ones I've been really compelled to add my two bits to. Why? Because Peg's accomplishing her goal in getting us to think about the reasons we choose to write slash over het, or Formula over Literary (and until I read Peg's post, I didn't even know of these two types!).

I agree with Peg that we need more of these discussions, but we can't just have two people (Alara and Peg) duking it out. Everyone needs to jump in and get wet. Give examples. Share your experiences. Tell us about lessons you've learned the hard way and why they're important to heed when writing your stories. I'd rather take a good discussion and get involved in it than post my stories/poems here.

Sometimes anger is the best -- and *only* -- stimuli people will actually heed.

Peg, I'm not one of those people who regards you as a "be-all-end-all" to this newsgroup, but I really believe what you say is worth listening to. Seriously. And responding to as well. No one can read minds, and if you have a good thought to say, then say it, everyone. Trust me, many of us will be glad you did. [10]

[Arianna Lilcamp]: Some of us are *not* going the direction of pro writing. I for one wouldn't write at all without the benefit of the free rides. (The ones provided by an established character-base, that is. I write some for myself that I'll never hand out to anyone.) Some of us write just because it's fun to share our insights this way on the characters and settings we love. Shells [11], what *would* a physicist do with fiction-published credits to her name? Hide them?! I'm sorry if my kind spoil the group for you... I hope there's a compromise. [12]

[Marlissa]: Sure, to some extent we *have* to work with categories. What I object to is pushing a generalization to the point of inaccuracy -- to the apparent purpose of setting up a straw-man so one can look clever in pulling him apart. I'm not saying *you* did this Alara, it was really Peg's comments I was taking exception too. And I don't mean to insult her either -- I just wish she'd been more measured in her statements. They truly offended me.


But I have to say that *I* saw nothing in Peg's post which would in any way help me make that distinction. Now, that in itself is fine -- if her intent was merely to express her opinion, well, she certainly did that. Heck, I even agree with a certain amount of what I *think* she was trying to say.


But if her purpose was to convey some useful information to other writers in this group -- as I gather from her response to me, *was* a large part of her goal -- then, IMO, she failed miserably. If insulting people and pissing them off is a good way to 'get their gray matter moving' and lead them to some self-realized moments of inspiration... well, then let's just invite Cronin over here and *really* get this ng on track. I'm sorry, now *I'm* grossly exaggerating in order to make a point, and frankly, it's a technique I find very objectionable.


What I saw were a lot of inflammatory comments about stereotyped newbies, het writers, and slash writers. If anyone else had posted that essay, I fear this group would already be in the middle of yet another boring flame war about het vrs slash. So, like it or not, the fact that that hasn't happened rather defines the status you, Peg Robinson, have been accorded here.


I'm objecting to the manner in which you presented your argument, *not* to your basic point which was (I *think*, if I can tease it out of there) that fan fic writers (*whatever* sexual preference/series/pairing they prefer to work in) shouldn't get too complacent just because they garner a little (or a lot of) praise. Did I understand you correctly? Did you really need however many megabytes and a whole series of offensive stereotypes to say that?


I'm sorry Peg. I don't much care for fights, and I've no desire to have one with *you*. But if your goal was to piss people off -- well you *did* succeed with me. If your goal was to do that 'in order to teach me something' I didn't already know, sorry, no sale here. [13]

Peg Robinson: You state that the fact that Alara and I haven't been flamed is an indication of my (our?) status. Quite possible--we're two of the Old Broads Around the News Group. But whether it's true or not, it's also indicative of something that *I* find more disturbing and destructive. Simply put, this is one of the most thin-skinned groups of people I have ever encountered, to a degree that *I* believe that a lot of the "lack of discussion" problems I have are caused by people too damned scared to step in any say anything, even when their intent is clearly non-malicious, for fear of getting flamed. I have seen more silly, infuriated flames break out over here for less reason than on any other ng I hang on or lurk. And I've seen less serious discussion. I'm curious about whether my perception that there are a lot of scared, cautious, silent folks around here. There's no *provable* way to establish that for all time. But I can at least attempt a "show of hands." So I'm establishing two new threads, entitled "Peg's question: yes" and "Peg's question: no". Maybe folks will comment on what *they* feel about getting into a discussion here. It may at least give *me* a sense of how many other folks see this place as being awfully hair-triggered. [14]

Greywolf the Wanderer:[I] managed to miss the post you originally made that got 'em all flapping and whirling. Sorry Marlissa -- no offence meant at all to thee, but for my money, Peg did exactly what she's quoted as having wanted to do -- got a bunch of us off our asses and talking -- even me! YMMV, of course. [15]

[Hazelnut]: I know this discussion has hit some sensitive nerves for people, but I find it fascinating and I hope it continues. However, some of the topics discussed are fairly complex, and although I have been thinking about them a lot, I don't have a reply ready.


Because I respond differently to the same behavior depending on gender, there may be cases where a slash story seems new and original simply by being slash. But, Peg, I honestly think you're exaggerating the degree to which this happens. I have seen horribly cliched het and slash, and I have seen truly excellent het and slash. Furthermore, I think you're exaggerating the degree to which "familiar overall pattern" equals "cliche."

I also don't think gender perceptions always make slash easier. There are cases where gender perceptions work in favor of het fiction, and cases where they work in favor of slash fiction. It depends on the specific themes being addressed.[16]