My Heart Will Not Go On, Thanks... The problem with songfic

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Title: My Heart Will Not Go On, Thanks... The problem with songfic
Creator:
Date(s): June 8, 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: many
Topic: songfic
External Links: My Heart Will Not Go On, Thanks... The problem with songfic, Archived version
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Contents

Other Essays by ljc

My Heart Will Not Go On, Thanks... The problem with songfic is an essay by LJC.

Excerpts

Once upon a time, I answered a Forever Knight fan fiction challenge that asked authors to write a story based on a song. I choose "Plenty" by Sarah McLachlan, and wrote a Janette vignette that took place during and after an episode, and explained why the character had left Toronto and her lover, using the song lyrics as a part of the structure of the story. I broke the story into sections which were each headed by the song's lyrics, and posted it, and then promptly forgot about its existence.

When a discussion of songfic came up on the Trek board I moderate, it got me thinking about why I now cringe when I re-read a vignette I originally was quite proud of. These days, if I open a story and the first thing I see are song lyrics—that's it. It's over. I have learned (the operative word here being "learned") contempt for that particular sub-genre of fan fiction over the last few years, and I don't care if you're Shakespeare—you have to work twice as hard to sell me on a story based on (or more importantly, having the characters listen to and sing) a song. This is a learned response for one simple reason: 99% of all songfic I have ever had the misfortune of reading has been poorly written, and painfully awkward.

Yes, there are exceptions.

I can see all of you out there, nodding your heads.

Chances are, your story is not one of them, so let's just pop that little balloon right now.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that more genre television has begun using songs (as opposed to the series score) in dynamic ways in the last five years. Series such as Due South, Strange Luck, Nikita, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in particular have used music incredibly effectively to create mood, tension, express emotion, and convey information in a way that is visceral, immediate, and uses the medium to its best advantage. This works on a variety of levels— the scenes specifically paired with the music and the lyrics create an experience that is unique to a visual/auditory experience that is television (and by extension, film).
Unfortunately, what many fan writers do not understand is that this same feeling and effect cannot be produced in prose in the same manner. Seeing song lyrics on a page is not the same as hearing the song, and what the writers most often fail to understand is that while they know the song and are "hearing" it inside their head while reading the story, there is no guarantee that the reader will. In fact it is more likely that the reader will not. This is particularly common with popular music. While in fan fiction a certain level of shared knowledge—such as to the series premise, the characters appearance and personalities, and the canon and backstories—is assumed, shared taste in music cannot be assumed. Moreover, an author cannot count on the fact that the reader a) knows the song, b) does not utterly despise the song and hate your story merely by association, or c) not knowing the song, will get the desired response from reading the lyrics. The reader may be able to glean a fraction of the author's intent, but it will always be just that: a fraction. There is a world of difference between heading each section or chapter of a story with song lyrics, and imbedding the song itself in the narrative. The former is decidedly preferable to the later, if for no other reason than the fact having fiction characters listening to the radio, dancing, or God forbid, singing to one another can be forced, awkward, and downright ludicrous unless it is done with great skill.