TBQ's two step theory of fanfic

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Title: TBQ's two step theory of fanfic
Creator: thebratqueen
Date(s): June 14, 2002
Medium: online
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer-focused
External Links: TBQ's two step theory of fanfic;archive link
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TBQ's two step theory of fanfic is a 2002 essay by thebratqueen.

"Before I get into it though I want to stress this is not what I consider a hard and fast rule for good fanfic. I'm not saying this is the only way to write good fic, just the way that makes me more apt to enjoy the premise of the story. I'm not saying all fic has to be written like this, nor am I saying that I'll never read any fic that doesn't do this. This is just what works for me both as a writer and a reader 9 times out of 10."

The essay was also posted to The BtVS Writers' Guild Zone with the title: "The Fanfic Two-Step: What Makes For A Good Story." (hint: highlight the black screen to read it there.)

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta and Slash Meta.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay and Comments

Excerpts from the Essay

Fanfic, to me, works best when it starts out close to the canon. I want to see a story that somehow resembles the canon because otherwise why am I reading the fanfic? If I could search and replace the character names with anybody else's then this might as well have been an original story - and frankly I've read quite a few fanfics that really should have been original stories, and I can't help but wonder if the writer just needed more confidence in their writing skills in order to realize that yes, they could have posted this as original fic and nobody would have faulted them.

But if we're writing fanfic and we actually want to be writing a story about Spike, or Brian, or Harry Potter or whoever, then we're going to have a better chance of hooking the discriminating reader in and feeling more canonical if we stay within - wait for it - two steps of the canon. Two steps isn't a big leap. It's taking a small jump and conclusions are there. The reader can buy it.

Once you've got your two steps you can go anywhere with it. It's like an angle - there's a small distance between the two lines when you're at the point, but those lines, once started, can now get further and further apart as time goes on. Yes, you can write a story wherein we see things that seem to be miles away from what we've seen in canon. You just can't start your story there (or at least you can't start your story there without some difficulty).

The steps can be big or small. They just have to be precise. And they have to flow from the canon.

Stories also fall down on the job when they try to add multiple steps. You get more leeway with this in a large story, or in a series, but even so you've got to build your steps slowly. The reader can only swallow so much at a time. Can you do a story where, for example, Lindsey and Riley are a couple, Spike becomes human, Xander wins the Nobel Prize for Physics and Buffy has a child with Wesley of all people? Sure. But use the steps. Don't start the story there (unless you're immediately going to go into flashback to explain how it all happened) and don't throw all the steps at us at once.

A good example of a canonical story that violated the two step rule is "Offspring." This canonical attempt to sell us on Angel/Cordy falls flat because out of nowhere we're told about kye-rumption and Cordy being a champion. Granted the actual canon is allowed to violate the two step rule as often as it likes because it's the canon, but the "Tell, don't show" of kye-rumption is still a good example of two step violation. It came from out of nowhere and then didn't have a plausible Step 2 as its followup.

The episode then goes on to try to sell us on even more steps - there's a prophecy that we've never heard of before, Darla's pregnant with no explanation (admittedly brought up in earlier eps, but this was the ep which showed the AI gang finding out about it), nobody tries to stake Darla, drinking the blood of children means the baby is human, etc. It's too much. The audience is being asked to take too many things on faith in too short an amount of time. Each individual thing, in and of itself, could have been done in two steps, but you can't dump an entire pile of two steps on top of us and expect us to connect with them all.

So basically two steps is, appropriately enough, twofold: first, it has to be steps that somehow tie in with the canon and second, it can't be too many at once.

Now again, this isn't to say that you can't do more than two steps, or can't do multiple two steps at once. This is just to say that very often the two steps are helpful. If nothing else, any story, no matter what the premise, can work as long as it keeps the following two steps in mind:

Step 1: The writing is good

Step 2: We recognize the characters

Excerpts from the Comments

mpoetess: Yeah. Yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah. Yay! Gimme the steps! This is all I ask. Make the people real, and gimme the steps!

i'd like to reply to this with thought but mostly it'd just be me pointing at what you wrote and saying, 'uh huh. yep.' a lot and while that's attractive to guys who like their sisters, it's not very impressive to anyone else. *g*

you raised a lot of good points. my biggest peeve is stories that aren't really BtVS stories but regular fic with Buffy, Anya, whimever, doing stuff out of character (and not showing us how they got that way). i'm a character whore, i can over look plot points or pairing or grammer/spelling ('cause on that point, who am i to point fingers??) or just about *anything* as long as the characters are *in character*. bugs the hell out of me. ok, that's all.