So What's a Real TS Fic?

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Title: So What's a Real TS Fic?
Creator: Mab Browne
Date(s): November 23, 2006
Medium: online
Fandom: The Sentinel
External Links: So What's a Real TS Fic?; Archive
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So What's a Real TS Fic? is a post by Mab Browne.

Topics Discussed


When I first started out in reading TS, my feeling and observation was that this was a fandom that valued domestic angst. This was based on the rec pages I found, which were heavily skewed towards what might these days be described as the ‘classic’ TS authors. The names will be familiar to TS fans – Francesca, Martha, Bone, Resonant, Pares, Kass – and the beat goes on, because TS has been exorbitantly blessed in the quality of its authors. There were recs of writers who were perhaps less obviously ‘literary’, but equally well-beloved, such as Alyjude and Dolimir, but my impression of those who bothered to put rec pages up was that they focused on the first named group.
TS was, I understand, a top dog in slash fandom, but all good things must come to an end. It must have been a heady ride, in much the way that Stargate Atlantis or Harry Potter is now. We’re a very lucky fandom, although I sometimes think that this quality was a mixed blessing. I’ve commented once or twice in the ongoing ‘new TS writers suck’ debate that I have a theory that the fandom was spoiled almost by its status. A culture of entitlement developed, that TS had excellent writers and should keep on having excellent writers forever. Also that it should keep on having a particular type of writer. Which is kind of strange, because TS was never actually that homogenous a fandom, as far as I can gather. There is only so much trawling I’m prepared to do in archives, but you pick up fannish history as you go along. There was the great Senad to Prospect L split, based on the appropriate way to discuss stories, a debate which continues throughout fandoms now. If you looked at rec lists on the web, you saw certain types of stories, but look at fic find communities and you’ll see a whole different pattern again.
There are tensions within the fandom as to what is good, what is acceptable and what is enjoyable, and sometimes a lucky writer manages to achieve a hit on all three points. Other times, they may get one out of the three, and frankly what is acceptable is all too often the most important point, and defined in a very limited way. But after ten years of TS fandom, what is acceptable is all too often predictable, and even, dare I say it, boring. Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a good story of any variety, but humans like novelty and variety, and if you can’t provide outright novelty then you’d better have a damn light hand with your classic chocolate cake recipe. And TS fandom is lucky to still have a few good cooks. When I come along, waving my recipe which incorporates grated zucchini as well as cocoa powder, some folks may well go, ‘you have got to be kidding.’ LJ, with its emphasis on the individual, takes away some of the pressure of conformity, and makes it easier to find and associate with like-minded fans. But I still hanker after that elusive and illusionary fandom wide acceptance.

Comments to This Post

Interesting post! I'm too new to have a grasp of the history of this fandom yet (there's a lot of it :-)) but I've been in one fandom(s) (Buffy and Angel) which went from being open canon to closed and that has a definite, sometimes clear, sometimes subtle, knock-on effect on the fic. I'm guessing a lot of those classics (which I've discovered and loved) were written while the show was still airing, still fluid?

Now, of course, people writing know everything that happened. They can't get jossed, they've got a wealth of canon to draw on.

And they've got an intimidating, overwhelming, encompassing amount of fic to put their own offerings up against if they're new.

I'm reading a lot of fic and trying to avoid any plots I've seen used in them, sometimes discarding a half-planned fic of my own when I come across one that's already done it and done it better, but every time I write I'm uneasily aware that I might be just adding to a heap of similar fics. Which is okay; it always happens, but even so... [1]
"But I truly do believe it's fatal to our creativity and self esteem to want this...(clipped for length) We have to just write what we write and do our best." I definitely agree with you about this, although I wonder how realistic it is to believe that we can free ourselves from feedback entirely. I write because I get stories in my brain, but I honestly don't know how long I would keep doing it if I was just posting stuff off into a void, with no sense that anyone was enjoying, or even reading, my stuff. As with a lot of creative endeavors, there's a part of me that's fed by the idea that I've created something that others find interesting or enjoyable. [2]
I firmly believe that a good writer can "sell" any idea, no matter how seemingly far-fetched. I also believe that pushing the envelope is healthy, and that no one has the right to determine what is and isn't "acceptable" within a fandom -- that borders on censorship which, in my opinion, is unacceptable. So, please continue to write what you want to write! [3]
I'm *vastly* tired of these "new TS writers suck" whinges on the TS mailing lists. A lot of the people who write those are rabidly anti LiveJournal and therefore are missing a lot of wonderful fic, alot of wonderful *vitality* in the fandom that they think simply isn't happening. It's very frustrating.

And they're very dogmatic in their assertions.

I actually think that it's not that "new TS writers suck"--that's observably not the case--but more that new TS writers aren't writing the types of stories that they like.

If I look at the mailing lists I almost feel like TS fandom is moribund or something. Look at LJ and it's quite vital indeed. There seem to be quite a few newbies in the fandom, many of whom are writing and posting fics.

At this point I mainly keep my mailing list subscriptions because I need to be able to post LMFA updates to the lists....There are definitely some tensions in the fandom, though, frankly, I see them in the lists way more than I see them on LJ. Maybe I'm a little selective in my LJing (and I always seem to be late to the party when there are wanks on LJ) but really TS fandom in ts_talk and elsewhere is really very nice. [4]
...I unsubscribed from ProspectL, which in my experience was all about confirming prejudices rather than enjoying discussion. [5]
There seems to have been a bit of a change in TS fic over the last few years--there's been a big influx of new fans (mostly on LJ).

I think janedavitt's point about a lot of the "classics" having been written when the show was still on the air is a good one. Also the early writers in a fandom shape the fanon and shape the expectations of the readers.

TS stories, particularly ones that are more than a couple of years old, tend to be more romantic/schmoopy than similarly themed stories in other fandoms I've read. Emotional, that's the word I'm looking for.

It is possible that in a slash-dom with a wide variety of fandoms, that people read TS to get their emotional schmoop fix. If they want a different feel, a different *vibe* they go to a different fandom.

I think with a bunch of new writers, you and CaroDee included in that list, TS is maybe getting less schmoopy. Certainly I've been seeing more stories that are romantic/first time type stories but more or less sans schmoop....But that's not in the canon, particularly. TS is not, canonically, more romantic/OTT emotional than due South, but the fic tends to be. [6]
OK, first let me say that I have been reading this FAVORITE of mine fandom for 5 looong years. I make no bones about the kind of stories I like to read. They usually tend towards jim being a strong cop like figure to blairs younger more naive bent! There Ive said it! oh, and my preferences are top jim to bottom blair. There--Ive aired my dirty laundry :-D

Having said that, the kinds of stories I like might not match up to someone elses...

Theres enough bi-polar cannon to support both sides. [7]
Long stories - there does seem to be a tendency to shorter stories - is this because lj encourages shorter term work and 'instant fb' or is it that people are more comfortable with posting shorter stories in their own space rather than an archive? It's an interesting question. I know that it took me a while to build up to writing longer stories, and it still looks a little scary from the beginning of the process... It's interesting to consider how the mechanics of how LJ works may or may not influence the communities that form in it, but you're quite right that an 'acceptable' story length is definitely a community/individual rather than a forum thing. [8]
What's a real TS fic? Interesting question, and interesting that you've found it tends to be a type of story or style ie case story/romance that hits readers' buttons. For me, to be 'real', whether it be a traditional case story, humour, a day in the life, AU, first times or established relationship, etc etc, it has to have characters I recognize as Jim and Blair -- voices, characteristics, etc, that I see/hear in the characters in canon. If the characters are 'real', then I can enjoy almost any story genre. Though I'm not personally drawn to horror, there's no reason that a horror fic, anymore than an AU fic that takes them out of canon parameters, can't be 'real'. Even in terms of character interpretation, I think there can be a fairly wide divergence of representation because the canon characters had many sides to them and didn't always react in predictable ways. Canon even gave us some flashback and childhood stories to work with. But they have certain ethics, maybe, certain fundamental dimensions. For example, a guy who willfully abuses his friend to teach him a lesson in a hurtful way isn't either Jim or Blair because, ultimately, they aren't into hurting people deliberately -- by accident, maybe, or thoughtlessness, but not by intent. [9]
I suspect I've been spared the codified attitude and the 'no great writers anymore' whines and 'new writers suck' stuff because I've not played on the relevant lists. Most of the time, I'm not particularly involved in the lists. It's a bit like living in the country on the edge of town. You know there are lively debates and divisions in town, and occasionally hear distant shouts, but they aren't really relevant here in the sticks. Continuing with the analogy, I don't think city life is better or worse than country life, but life out here in the sticks is sure a lot more peaceful, LOL. [10]
All the classic authors were vastly different in their approaches to writing TS - I don't honestly think there was *a real* TS story in the plot sense, but rather, the emphasis was on "how" you wrote it. By that I mean the use of words, grammar, punctuation, etc. We were populated by writers who are, and were, considered 'excellent' writers in the "Language and Composition" sense of the word. TS did horror and weirdness in spades back in what I guess the old guard would call its heyday. Weirdness abounded. :) But so did schmoop, and happily ever after. They co-existed. For every Candy story, we'd get an Obsession or Spider's Web. For every one of Legion's happily ever after stories, we'd get one of her incredibly hot and very kinky ones. For every hard case story, we'd get one of Francesca's Nature series story. There were wild AU's in zines and online and lovely little slice of life stories. Based on that, you do write "real" TS stories. *grin* In every sense of the word, not just in "language and composition" but in plots too.

As to "where have all the good writers gone" - I've found that fandom memories are short. We remember only those first crazy, hazy days of discovery and not so much the years and authors that follow. ::shrugs::

And remember, the artist is the least likely person to correctly predict what their public will want. What is the publics favorite is rarely the artist's. :)

I do think the TS fandom is now fractured, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I used to, but hey, change is good (this from the person who said loudly to anyone who would listen that lj's were bad *grin*). It's also funny - hilariously funny - that the writers considered to be the TS "greats" of old are over here in lj land (different fandoms now, but here, nevertheless). And I mean ALL of them. The only time you'll see them post on a list is if they have to jump in and defend over on Prospect! LOL! [11]
Short stories I tend to read online, feedback is just a mouseclick away. When I have finished a long one in the evening, when I read most, I have to get up, start the computer, find the authors e-mail etc. etc. so it's almost always "I'll do it tomorrow". And of course, tomorrow are a bunch of other things to do. You get the picture. *g* And there's also something else that makes giving feedback on long stories more difficult, at least for me: as soon as I've finished a long story, I *know* I liked it (or not) but most of the time the reason *why* is at least as complex as the story itself. This means, I have to explore what I liked, have to realized what it was that made me happy about the story and have to put it in appropriate words. I simply don't dare to send a 57-page-author a three lines note of "nice fic, I really liked it".

It's easy with a short story since in those cases there's usually one or two things I liked which are clear in my mind. I can put the finger on it, write it down and... there - feedback.

It's no excuse for my laziness, but it's really the explanation why I, personally, tend to give more and quicker feedback on short stories than on long ones. For reading I prefer long, for feedback I prefer short. *g* Which means, I'm encouraging the type I like less, very effective. *rolls eyes at herself* [12]
Am I the only one in this fandom that doesn't particurlary enjoy Francesca / Lemon Drop / Martha stories? I'm not saying that they are not well written but they don't do anything for me at all. I always feel like the solitary wolf howling in the darkness when I say that... [13]
In any fandom, there's always a tendency for the old guard to hang on to the notion that they somehow own the show and will, unless physically restrained, continue to mutter into their beards about how things just ain't what they were and how it's all going to pot. As far as TS goes, that simply isn't so, as everyone here can testify. I pretty much agree with the hypothesis that they don't see how vibrant the fandom is, because they shy away from LJ, and claim the writing has gone downhill because we don't write what they want to read. [14]
hear this a lot from new writers, but I wonder why those who take issue with these opinions don't seem to be interested in challenging them or opening any kind of dialogue with the posters. They just run to their flist and complain that old fans don't like the new writers. Is no one curious about why they feel this way or what issues they have with the current writers? I'm not a writer, but if I was, I'd sure be interested in why some people have a problem with my stories, even if I had no intention of changing anything. I can understand fans being tired of whining on the lists, but I've also found myself getting tired of the consistent blaming of Prospect-L for everything wrong with TS fandom. This list is pretty much dead, and began dying long before everyone moved to LJ. It still gets an occasional post, but they rarely initiate much discussion. And the ones that do post are certainly not representing the fandom, but only one person's opinion.... It always kinds of saddens me when I hear people relating writing fan fiction to being accepted as part of a fandom community. I've been a TS fan for all of its 10 years. I don't write fan fiction, and I could count on one hand the number of stories I've read in the last 6 months. I'll never get any feedback. I'll never win any award or get nominated for anything. My name will never come up in panels or LJ discussions. I'll never be told how lucky the fandom is to have me, and I'll never be on anyone's rec list. I'm sure I'm not alone either. That's one reason I'm so happy with the episode discussions the sara_merry99 is initiating on ts_talk, because otherwise there would be no way for me to participate or feel a part of this fandom. So, yes, when I hear writers talking about jealousy over feedback or being worried about being accepted or validated by the fandom based on that feedback, it does sound a bit whiny. [15]
You raise interesting points and to a certain degree I don't disagree with you. You're right that Prospect is fairly moribund, but depending on your angle of approach to the fandom it's a point where newbies may start. It's certainly where I started in terms of trying to participate in TS fandom and unfortunately, as you can tell from this post *g* I didn't find positive experiences. There is, I think, a balance between what any community provides to its members, and what the individuals should reasonably expect from a community, but sometimes first impressions die hard. And yes indeed, there are whiny overtones here about validation and acceptance. But it is human nature to want to be part of things, and also I wasn't joking about it being taboo to discuss fb outside of the meta-ish discussions of what sort of fb is good or bad or useful. That taboo is no doubt partly formed out of the awareness that there are issues playing to our less attractive sides, but I decided to wave my dirty smalls around on a stick anyway. *g* [16]
Well, I've been around for a few of these whinges on Sentinalia and Senad (I don't do Prospect-L) and I have to say that the tone doesn't invite that. And if, as a new writer, I were to stand up on my hind legs and say "There are a lot of great new writers over on LJ" that just starts of the massive LJers suck whinge which is very nearly as annoying. Also, they way they put their "all the good writers are leaving TS fandom" (which is the way the whinge is more often phrased on Sentinalia) whinges would put anyone who tried to open a dialogue with them on the defensive. Which is no place to argue from. [17]
I understand your reluctance to speak up, but I also think that's how an opinion becomes labeled as prevalent in the fandom, when that may not actually be the case. For example, Prospect-L has over 700 members. While a couple of people on the list may have posted their opinion that the good writers have left the fandom, it's possible that the other 700+ members don't share that opinion. The simple fact that most list members are also LJ members implies, at least to me, that people on lists don't hate LJ, even though a few may have said so. I think it's easy to lose perspective when, among a large group of people, only about 1% ever speak up, and it's usually the posts that trigger an emotional response that are remembered and can get misconceived as being prevalent. I've seen this happen several times with fan fiction critiques. One person on a list will post that they didn't like a story, and even though several people will disagree with the critique, it's the critique that the writer will remember, and thus the list as a whole gets accused of bashing the story, although there may be a lot more people who posted positive things. It's too bad we can't actually poll everyone on a list. We might be surprised to find out what most of them thinks, feel or like. [18]
Well, I'm an old timer although I don't write. I was on Senad before it was on Yahoo. (Ancient? Why yes I am.) I left Senad when fic discussion could only be done in a positive light, even when the story was considered terrible by everyone.

Prospect-L used to be wonderful. Someone would bring up a story and it was discussed in detail. I remember Francesca's Yellow Roses being dissected as was her story with a child Blair being molested by Jim, The Fire (IIRC). Believe me, it wasn't all positive. Lately though it's hard to get anything started over there.

I think a lot of the Old Guard is a lot like I've become. You hang on to Sentinel almost out of a sense of duty, even though it isn't your main fandom anymore. You've invested so much time and energy (and letters to TPTB) that it seems almost traitorous to move on.

I have about 1200 (no exaggeration) emails from SXF on my computer that I haven't read. I just can't bring myself to delete them though. [19]
It is interesting that an analysis of the popularity of your own work tends to confirm your hypothesis. But in terms of writing what people like to read, it has to be borne in mind that 'fandom' is not a single entity - it is made up of a vast spectrum of individuals, all of whom have their own, sometimes widely differing, preferences. There will always be an audience for stories which are outside the 'norm' you have defined. Whatever you write, there is a good chance you are delivering what somebody wants :-)

Personally, I really like your quirky stuff. I prefer stories which keep me guessing about what is going to happen next, rather than ones which follow a common formula (although those stories have their place too - it just depends what I am in the mood to read!)

I agree that the proliferation of fantastic writing in the early days of the fandom has probably spoiled people for what came after. It is human nature for people to look back on what they remember as a golden era, and to look on the present as being substandard in comparison. There is far less TS fic being produced these days and (as you have outlined) it is not necessarily fulfilling certain preferences. That doesn't mean, however, that you or I or any other writer are obliged to fulfill those preferences. [20]
I was just beginning to hear about this thing called LJ at this point in time; a few months away from joining the fandom via LJ, and about two months into my TS writing career. Nostalgia!!! [21]


  1. ^ comment by Jane Davitt
  2. ^ comment by snycock
  3. ^ comment by ponders_life
  4. ^ comment by sara_merry99
  5. ^ comment by Mab Browne
  6. ^ comment by sara_merry99
  7. ^ comment by batgurl10
  8. ^ comment by Mab Browne
  9. ^ comment by caarianna
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  15. ^ comment by liz6446
  16. ^ comment by Mab Browne
  17. ^ comment by sara merry99
  18. ^ comment by liz6446
  19. ^ comment by casey lane
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  21. ^ comment by t verano