The AUness of it All

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Title: The AUness of it All
Creator: James Walkswithwind
Date(s): February 4, 2003
Medium: online
Topic: Fanfiction, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
External Links: The AUness of it All, Archived version
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The AUness of it All is an essay by James Walkswithwind.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.


As always, someone eventually gets around to saying "all Spike/Xander" (or insert your own slash pairing here) is AU in characterisation, so making the characters more AU is no big deal.

But for me it is, and I wonder if I can articulate why in a way that will convince everyone make sense.

I think it comes down to the Two Steps Theory. Lots of people (at last three) have discussed how believability of characterisation (or plot, for that matter) comes down to being no more than two steps away from canon. I'll explain how it works, then I'll talk about whether or not we should care.

Start with the canonical character. Not "your interpretation of Xander" but the actual Xander which appears on the screen. We don't look at motivation, inner thoughts, or feelings beyond which are actually demonstrated on the show. (Interviews by Joss actually don't count, because he isn't writing and directing every episode.) We know Xander was afraid of clowns, because he had a nightmare about clowns and explained its origin.

Once you begin with this character -- and everyone will be starting with the exact same character -- you take your first step. You interpret what isn't explicitly stated, or you say things like "well, Spike said he was willing to torture Dru until she loved him again, but he was just posturing for his audience." The evidence for these interpretations comes from a) other canonical evidence, b) real world common sense, and c) reasonable wishful thinking.

Obviously these are all very subjective things, but this is how we get so many different fanfic stories that seem accurately characterised. Everyone who watches the show sees the way Spike whaps Xander on the head when Xander has just forgot again that Ben is Glory. One person will say "see, this is proof that Spike is annoyed by Xander" and another will say "that was a very light head slap! See how Spike really does want to be friends/they really are friends."

Each of these interpretations is based on what is actually there, and you just take one step in different directions.
So, why do we care? If slashing two characters is already a step away from their canonical selves, why do we need or want to put limits on what we see in fanfic?

The simplest answer is -- because we're here to see Spike and Xander. Those guys on the show are the ones we fell in love with. If I want to read someone acting like Pollyana, I'll go read Pollyana. I don't expect to find Pollyanna in my Spike/Xander fic. (But, hey, if I'm in the mood and you show me how the guy gets there, I'm all for it.)

But we're all different with what other characters/characterisations we enjoy reading. Some people don't want any original characters in their fanfic -- new characters or "new versions" of the canon characters. Some people might read Spike/Xander when they want snark, and Spike/Angel if they want dark, and Willow/Tara if they want schmoop, and they don't want schmoopy Spike/Angel because it makes them break out into hives. Other people want Spike and Xander any way and anyhow, and it doesn't matter if they're space pirates in the year 2587 or so barely out of canon that it might be a real missing scene from an episode.

So, yes, there are readers who love the AUs that twist the characters as far away from canon as is humanly possible. There are readers who like historical AUs but not futuristic ones. Readers who like schmoopy Spike and Xander, but not dark!fic Spike and Xander. And on and on.