Fic vs Meta

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Title: Fic vs Meta
Creator: rahirah
Date(s): 27 June 2015
Medium: online
Fandom: general, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Topic: effectivness of fic and meta at forming opinions or changing fans' minds
External Links: Fic vs Meta (Dreamwidth); archive link
Fic vs Meta (LiveJournal); archive link
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Fic vs Meta is a cross-posted blog post by Barb Cummings from June 27, 2015. It has 92 comments on Dreamwidth and 82 comments on Livejournal (many of which are duplicates).

The Original Post

It occurred to me the other day that although I've written a lot of meta in my day, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the times I've actually changed someone's mind about something via that route. Usually with meta, you're preaching to the choir. That's something I've known for a long time, to the point that on contentious subjects, I'd often append a disclaimer that I wasn't trying to convince anyone, just explaining what I thought and why I thought it. That seldom prevented people from trying their best to convince me I was wrong, wrong, wrong, of course. They convinced me to change my mind about as often as I convinced them.

On the other hand, I've lost count of the feedback I've gotten for fic over the years, saying some variation of "Usually I hate X, but your story sold me on it."

Maybe that's just because I'm better at writing fic than I am at writing meta. But I suspect that it's more likely because fiction engages us on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level, and that emotional level is where most of our decisions are made, sometimes before we even realize we've made them. Upon getting into a new canon, no one sits down, calmly and coolly considers all the possibilities, and says, "This couple is the healthiest, most progressive, and least problematic! Therefore they will be my OTP!" No, instead we see a pair of characters and our lizard brain screams "THEM!" And then our higher functions are stuck trying to justify our choice for the next ten years, while the Lizard Brain clutches them to its bosom and growls, "My preciousssss!"



Right on. "Studies have shown..." etc. etc.

I've been thinking about this lately because of a WIP in Glee fandom in which one half of a popular ship is an undocumented immigrant and a DREAMer. (It's an AU, but nicely plausible; the actor is hapa, and the author is doing a superb job of filling in the character's Filipino family.) Yes, I was already liberal on immigration, but not only do I understand the nuances of the issue far better, my politics now feel about 5x as personal and as urgent.



OTOH, though, I suspect that part of the reason why your fic is so much more convincing is because you're NOT writing it to change minds? You're writing it to tell a good story, primarily, and you incorporate your headcanon, and if that story happens to change someone else's headcanon in the process, that's just a bonus.

I've read fic that was clearly intended to Make A Point, and usually it is... not good. And also very, very obvious. If someone writes a fic for the purpose of ~convincing people of something, chances are they're focusing too much on the intellectual level and not enough on the emotional, and it's just going to sound like a lecture anyway.


I've changed my mind about something after reading meta on it several times. Fic is great at making me consider different perspectives and possibilities, at pointing out different things about canon or introducing ships etc. But there's an extra step away from canon so that I can more often say "yeah that's one way of looking at it, but I could also see..." And other times when I encounter a new opinion via fic it's at first too vague or too unstructured to articulate.

Well-written meta however does a great job helping me get my thoughts in order. It often references canon more directly, so there's not that extra degree of separation. Even when I agree with meta I often really appreciate the write-up because it makes things clearer.

So what I love for example is when a fic introduces an interesting new concept/perspective/thought etc. and then if I'm interested there are extensive author's notes elaborating on the topic.

(I think I comment on meta less though, because I haven't learned it yet like I learned how to comment on fic so I feel less comfortable with it, and I feel like I should say something matching the level of thoughtfulness and that's hard.)


But there's an extra step away from canon so that I can more often say "yeah that's one way of looking at it, but I could also see..."

I think one of my issues is that I also do that with meta. I have been in a number of meta discussions where I end up trying to explain "Well, this interpretation is what I think the writers intended, this other interpretation is what I think it actually came out as in the text, and this third interpretation is what I would use to write a fic jumping off from this episode... and all of them are equally supportable."


I think it depends on various factors. I don't think you can generalize.

I mean my experience has been varied. Some of my meta has changed minds, some hasn't. And to say meta doesn't connect emotionally with people? I don't think that is true either. At least not in my experience.

People think differently. Some fans really don't like fanfic. Others don't like meta. Some like both. Some meta can hit you emotionally, some is too cereberal and you feel like you are reading some lofty journal article that your professor published.

It depends on the meta. Some fanfic won't change your mind - I can't say I've read any fanfic that has changed my mind, to be honest. While I have read meta and regular fiction that has. But I admittedly only read fanfic that entertained or dealt with things that I either was simpatico with or interested in. I did try to read some Bangle stuff, but all it did was reinforce my view that the relationship just did not work for me.

While I have read meta that made me question my stance on an issue or review it from another perspective.

When I was heavily involved in fandom - the boards I frequented were more meta oriented, and we had lengthy debates and discussions...that provided me with a different perspective. And yes, I reacted "emotionally" to many of them, and they changed my mind. But not so much with fanfic.

I think the reason fanfic doesn't change my mind - is that I feel that I'm reading the author's personal fantasy or version of the show or their interpretation. And I think, okay, they've made up a show they like better. Which is fine. Sometimes I like the show they created better too. But it doesn't change my mind about the show or how I viewed the characters.

Ie. If you wrote a fanfic about Spike as a beyond the pale evil dude who couldn't be redeemed, and it was brilliant. You wouldn't change my mind about the character. Actually selenak sort of did that - she wrote this brilliant piece about the slayers who Spike killed from their perspective, which was wonderful. But frankly, I didn't agree with her reading and felt she missed a few things. While I read a meta on the same subject, which did get across what she was trying to - and I found far more convincing, it also showed more layers. Too often a fanfic writer, or so I've found, limits themselves to their fantasy version of the characters --but they don't add in the layers, they don't show all the variables.

I don't know - I guess what I'm trying to say is that for me, I need the intellectual or cereberal component to convince me. Appealing to solely my emotions isn't going to change my mind. And I know quite a few people on my flist - who were similar.


That could be. As the_moonmoth pointed out above, fic can give you a concrete example of Thing working (or not working), which is more difficult in meta. (And I am mostly talking about pairings here, which I don't think I made clear enough in my original post.)

Also, there's the thing that... I have no idea whether or not my meta essays convinced anyone of anything unless they tell me so. It may just be that there's more of a culture of feedback for fanfic.


I think in regards to "shipping" specifically romantic slash and canon, you may be right. It's very hard to write effective meta in regards to "shipping" without pissing folks off. They don't want you to psycho-analyze their story kink, dang-it.

(ie. No one wants to hear all the reasons why Buffy and Angel or Buffy and Spike don't work or are bad for each other...or how they related to abusive relationships or are metaphors for addiction, bad-boy archetypes, etc...)

That said, I did have some success comparing Buffy and Spike to a twist on the Pysche and Eros myth and to noir archetypes. But I didn't trivalize their romantic relationship - which is easier to do in meta than say in fanfic, although it can be done in both.

Romance novels by and large don't lend themselves to analysis...well, not without pissing the readers off.


<snipped>And yeah, there are definitely people who do get pissed off. Some romance readers really do just want their goddamn happy ending and they don't care why it works for them as a happy ending. And that's ok in my book. That's sorta why I was cackling upthread, because your lizard!brain definitely likes what it likes. It's ok to have a lizard brain that clutches the "evil" gender queer guy and wants to snuggle him for forever and coo and pet and just generally be a dork. The part where it gets oogy to me is if you're trying to insist that there's only certain things that it's ok for someone's lizard!brain to like. And well, I can probably write you a book on the myriad ways my lizard!brain's likes are kinda problematic. With examples. And lots of quotes from both primary sources and a decently researched bibliography. Doesn't mean I'm broken, or a horrible person. Just means I'm a human, and I have a particular set of tastes. Other people can share them or not, it's up to them. But for a lot of readers, looking at the bad sides of their taste makes them sure *they* must be bad. Or something like that.


<snipped>In way, I agree with rahirah - it's easier to explore in fanfic. Mainly because you can delve into issues in a way that may be less jarring. Sort of how sci-fi can handle political and societal issues without pissing folks off, while in a meta or speech it comes across as sermonizing. You read a piece of fiction about infidelty and if the writer is good, they may manage to take you inside the heads of all the parties and show you how complicated it is and you may find yourself rooting for someone you wouldn't normally. (Example Nautibitz's Crave was about infidelity - Buffy falls for her Father-in-Law.) Or you might show how someone could be attracted to an abusive partner and why it's difficult to pull away from that. That's its not cut and dry. Or say, you read about a woman who falls for a bisexual guy who likes to wear lingeri - and it shows the complexity of that. But trying to discuss these issues in a meta - people stop reading. They get pissed off. Brain turns off. You can however do it through a story.

I actually prefer fiction to non-fiction for that very reason. It works in some respects better - to see the issues discussed via metaphor and not directly. Because there are some things that just can't be discussed directly. You can't find the words, you have to well show...


This reminds me of a study which proved that trying to change someone's mind with evidence doesn't work (on polarizing things like global warming), because the root of people's belief on something like that is often not rational. So I think that agrees with your point. Maybe emotional engagement is the way to go.

So the question becomes, how do we get all Bangel shippers to read your wonderful Spuffy stories? This is important. For science, obvs.


I don't know if either actually changes my mind, but I think both have introduced me to new angles of looking at a thing, which I like. Like, a lot.

However, I am often moved to write things (fic, meta-lite, comments) because of something that rang the "someone's wrong on the internet" bell. That makes me to work out why it seems wrong, often resulting in fic or some other "hey, did you ever notice how..." kind of post. That's why Tumblr is never going to work well for me. I don't want to boost the signal of things that I Need To Be Put Right, and that's the only way to engage. So. *side eye*

I know there is a level of confirmation bias at work, at all times, and personal, emotional stories can do an end run around that, sometimes. Then, bam! Anybody can marry who they want, all of the sudden!

It's a funny old world. *\o/*


I'm not sure this entirely works for me, although it might well for others. I often find fic for Stuff I Don't Like less compelling than good meta (ex. almost everything regarding Xander from Xander fans). But I might be unusual. :)

My own fic of my Buffyverse OTP might have momentarily convinced people, but only for the space of the fic, alas -- very few folk went out and wrote my OTP after reading my stuff. I'm not sure about the meta I did....


I have found that fic which aims to show why Thing The Author Likes Is Awesome much, much more 'convincing' (even if I do not think Thing is particularly awesome myself) than fic which aims to show why Thing The Author Hates Is Terrible And You Should Hate It Too.

By 'convincing' I don't really mean that it induces the reader to abandon their previous preferences and ship Thing instead. More that it induces the reader to say "Oh, I get it! Thing can be pretty cool, even if it's not my thing!"


I think you can change people's opinions via reasoned argument, and not just by using emotion, but there needs to be an initial level of trust and acceptance between the speaker and listener. This is most clearly illustrated in politics: assuming you are left wing, if a right winger says 'we must lower taxes, because...' you will ignore them, but if a fellow left-winger says 'we must lower taxes, because...' you will at least listen to what happens after the 'because' and you may then be swayed. Even the fact that what happened after the 'because' was nearly identical is sadly irrelevant.

In your fic, you are indeed preaching at a more emotional level, and also in a medium where your talent stands out from the crowd, but you also have - by virtue of the shipping factor - got a naturally sympathetic audience who will listen to your wacky 'because' about Willow because they already fundamentally trust you about Spike and Buffy.

Of course the best political speaker use emotion throughout their attempt at persuasion. One interesting problem is this can often make it hard for their followers to pass on the message. After listening to a really good speaker you may remember the experience of the speech much more clearly than the actual argument :D So a good argument does need to be made on a non-emotional level as well.


Very accurate post! It joins the idea of "Show, don't tell". People are more receptive when the emotional & intellectual approach comes from them and from what they felt through a story. It's more efficient. :) Writing stories appears as a way of exploring a fictional artwork while showing what we saw in it, so people aren't in a defensive approach. If they are receptive to that interpretation, it's way more effective. Metas are sometimes only challenging their own opinions, and it's harder to consciously admit something that wasn't how we felt in a first place.


I'll cop to being a total weirdo who was convinced by meta about a ship. I'd tried fic for the ship several times and bounced off it pretty hard, but the meta made me think about it in a different way, to give the fic another try, and now it's the closest thing to an OTP that I have.

I've also read fics where the writer's ability to make insightful observations is vastly greater than their ability to write a coherent plot, decent dialogue, and non-clunky exposition. I usually nope out of these thinking, "I really wish you'd just written a meta so I didn't have to wade through all this other stuff."