The Top 10 Most Over Baked X-Files Fanfic Themes

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Title: The Top 10 Most Over Baked X-Files Fanfic Themes
Creator: fanfic chick
Date(s): April 16, 1998
Medium: online
Fandom: The X-Files
External Links: posted here
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The Top 10 Most Over Baked X-Files Fanfic Themes is a 1998 post by fanfic chick at

Excerpts from the Post

I've lurked on the newsgroup for about two years and I'm about to do my first posting (I'm nothing, if not patient)… A posting that will undoubtedly upset many people, but as a fanfic reader I have to say this: X-Files fanfic hasn't actually evolved - it's devolved (for want of a better word). It's descended from fresh, original stories over the 1994/1995 period into a horribly cliched mish mash of themes that are trotted out again, and again by writers on an appallingly regular (and boring) basis. Writers I admire have gone silent, or ( I suspect) have gone out and obtained alternate e-mail addresses so they can post cliched stories as well, because I guess, some e-mail is better than no e-mail.

Now, before I go further, let me say that I don't make this posting to offend but to point out, that contrary to newsgroup opinion, the newsgroup is becoming an increasingly closed and specialized community, consisting of fewer and fewer readers. There are plenty of people (such as myself) who mainly lurk and occasionally (in the past) sent e-mail but increasingly, simply cease to read. A number of my friends who used to be keen fans of the group have simply given up in disgust and moved on.

This probably explains why writers are getting less and less e-mail these days.

I can see some of you yelling at your computer screens, "Hey, instead of lecturing, why don't *you* write some fanfic and see how hard it is… " Well, yes, I know writing fanfic is hard and for everyone it's a hobby, but then again, any form of writing is a delicate balancing act between pleasing yourself and pleasing an audience. As a member of the audience, I would really appreciate some variations on the theme… There are some of us out here in cyberspace who were fans of The X-Files from the pilot and we're pretty intelligent. We'd like something to chew over in terms of a plot. I would like to point out that although I have regularly cursed Chris Carter for two seasons now (and I'm to the stage where I tape the X-Files and then forget to even watch it), at least his stuff doesn't send me to sleep, or is so entirely predictable that I've guessed every single plot point by the first act.

Apart from all that, some originality might encourage more e-mail for you, as a wider variety of readers are encouraged back into the group.

So, let's look at those overused themes shall we? I'd say this covers around 90% of the Gossamer . To qualify as a theme, it has to be a story that I can guess the entire sequence of events within the first part. Since that happens on a regular basis, you can guess that these days, there are very few fanfics I bother to finish… I should point out here that these themes seem to evolve when a truly dynamic fanfic story makes its debut and that style is copied by everyone else ad infinitum and ad nauseum (example: Oklahoma by Livengoo).
I imagine this posting has probably set the cat amongst the pigeons (to use a well worn phrase). Some of you are probably even a bit traumatised and reduced to screaming obscenities while hurriedly hitting the 'reply' button on your Browser (I'll teach that fanfic_chick to have an opinion! Who the hell does she think she is?! She can't even spell! She probably doesn't watch the show and she's not even a big fan, like I am....) What I'm really hoping is that it will set off an intelligent debate. I think upon reflection, these categories are probably an accurate summation of what…. Over 4000 stories!? Four thousand stories revolving around 10 themes is kind of scary. It's like being forced to eat 4000 pieces of chocolate cake. [1] The first two slices are kind of yummy but the rest just put you off eating cake for life…. Sincerely, Fanfic Chick.

The Tropes

Comments to the Post

This type of list has been done at least twice before, proving that there really is nothing new under the sun.
[ Dawson E. Rambo ]:
Issue some challenges. Let us rise to your level of expectation rather than slapping us down.... You are welcome to point out the shortcomings you see in fanfic. But please also remember that people, ie, readers, viewers, writers, have a fondness for convention. At some point the argument is made (correctly so,) that convention moves towards cliche due to saturation. But when you try and take an accepted, established convention and go too far with it into another genre, disaster strikes. "Cop Rock" anyone? My point being -- no one would accept "X-Files: The Musical!" So, my challenge to you (in accepting YOUR challenge,) is : Give me 10 never-before-written plots, and I will write one of them. Just a short outline. Hell, a GIMMICK would work.
[ CiCi Lean ]
All in all you've pointed out some interesting examples of overused fanfic cliches, but since I appear to be the Devil's Advocate no matter what the topic <g>, I'm actually of the mind that some things have improved in XFFanfic over the last year.

Your major complaints appear to be againt Muldertorture, which is a genre I don't read, so I really can't comment on. I find it kinda dull, mainly because I'm not a Mulder fan. There is also a strange sexual/sadism thing going on there, that I really don't want to get into either. I'm sure someone else will be happy to elaborate on it more.

I don't read Slash MulderTortue either, but I'll say this: XFSlash is better, more well-rounded, and better written than it has ever been. There's a revolution going on over there in Slash Land, presenting some of the most astonishingly talented authors and work that will make you slack-jawed with awe. "Lovers by torch came out this week, and there are such authors as Kassandra, Anne Zo, Lyrica, Radethea, XFStew, (with her incredible "Walking The Line" series, the watermark of all Scully slash) and so many others.

There is serious, brilliant writing going on there, and I honestly feel badly for people who won't/can't read slash, because they are missing out on the debuts of what are sure to be future masterpieces of all XFFanfic.

Now, your complaints against The Extended Happy Family Fics are very well founded, but to be completely honest, I'm seeing much less of those this year than years before, thank God, mainly because of the very dark direction the show is taking. Seeing Ma Scully married to Skinner is a place not too many of us can/want to go anymore.

The Mary Sue'ing is still happening, but I honestly defy anyone to find a fandom that doesn't have it. I'm the proud owner of a couple of my own Mary Sue stories, and to be honest, it's kinda fun to *occasionally* see an author stick themselves incognito (or not-so-incognito) in a story. But the keyword is *occasionally*. Do it everyday, for hundreds of stories and it's time for your happy meds, kiddo.

The dislike of *smut for smut's sake* argument is also well-founded, but I'm noticing grumbles from the peanut gallery about this as well, even from staunch *shippers. Everybody's been jonesing for a PLOT to have with their smut, and I'm pleased to see this. It's a sign that the readers are maturing and once the novelty of M&S doing the wild thang wore off, the demand for actual *stories* is becoming louder. This is a good sign.

Bed-Pan Mulder & Bed Pan Scully are MY big fanfic bugaboos, and I can't fathom for the life of me where that comes from. It's a gentler version of the "torture" genre with an MSR twist. I find it interesting to see that MulderTorture is considered a NoRomo genre (all torture, no comfort) while the H/C genre is an MSR territory. (little torture, lottsa comfort.) Good topic for debate. Frankly, I don't read either, probably because I've been seriously ill for long periods of time, and spending my time writing about diseases, doctors & hospitals would be about as much fun as ripping out my toenails with a pair of pliers. ;-)

Crossovers & A/U are traditional specialty genres, not really fanfic cliches, and there are very few of them *and* most people skip over them anyway, which is rather a shame, because there have been some dandy crossovers ("Into The Woods" comes to mind for crossovers & "The Magician" series for A/U are notable examples.)

I'm a bit confused by your dislike of Scully slash or Scully/other as "overbaked" fanfic cliches. There is honestly less than a dozen Scully slash stories that have *ever* been written and Scully/other isn't exactly a genre that will be overpowering the newsgroup anytime soon.

I, for one, would love to see more Scully/other and Mulder/other, for I believe this would *really* free XFFanfic up from the tons of endless MRS cliches that have been the source of much angst even for the occasional shipper. It's not the MSR genre's or authors fault by any means, it's just that with the bulk of fanfic being MSR, you are bound to have repeats of the same themes a few thousand times, with the medicore examples outweighing the brilliant ones by a much larger ratio.

There are some GOOD things happening in fanfic land tho'. I'm noticing less song stories (yippe!), less work that hasn't been at least spell-checked (yes, it used to be much worse, folks), more tackling of minor characters (you can only write about M&S for so long, it seems), and I am noticing more thoughtful, adult works, even for vignettes, such as XFBandit, Tim Scott, J.C. Sun and others. So, IMHO, things are actually looking up..
[Dawson E. Rambo]:
I, never having posted/written fanfic, can make easy observations that have been made before dozens of time and make it seem as if I'm holding a writing glass to educate the teeming masses on what they're doing wrong. You do make some good points but you will probably get flamed a ton over the fact that people will tend to listen a little more closely to those that have DONE it rather than those that have just read.... Part of that trend...(I hate to use the word "Problem") I think might be due to the fact that the show is skewing younger these days. I am making an assumption here (objection! assuming facts not in evidence! Overruled!) that we're getting younger writers, some of who aren't as experienced as you obviously are....I won't address the "feedback whore" position; however, I will point out what I call the Ice Cream theory. Assume that your favorite treat is Ice Cream. You usually have a favorite flavor or two. You tend to order it over and over again. (I'm using the editorial "you," btw...not YOU you.) If enough people keep ordering the same flavor over and over again, the local Baskin-Robbins is going to stock up on that flavor. Simple supply and demand; to wit: Certain story arcs tend to repeat because that's what people like to read.... I run a private mailing list, and I get on the average of 5-10 new subscriptions per day. I get some reader mail every day, too, and the overwhelming majority over the last two months has been, "I just discovered fanfic!" We also tend to get new readers in the fall as the incoming classes of freshpersons to college discover the joy and wonder of free 'net access and basically unlimited time to cruise said net.
Red Valerian:
But fanfic chick - you're forgetting that the plot is not important! Well - not *very* important. Out of Shakespeare's [forty] odd plays, I think only one has an original plot - and we probably just haven't found the ur-text for that one yet. It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it. And anyway, as has been pointed out already - there just aren't that many plots to go around. If you think about it, you'd be amazed how far a single one will go. The 'Cinderella skeleton' clearly underlies such disparate texts as Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre, Rebecca and Pretty Woman. Didn't stop me loving all four.

I think you should shift your emphasis away from originality of plot and instead look at just HOW that plot is manipulated and adapted by different authors. The answer is, brilliantly - in my opinion.

I first discovered fanfiction about a year ago. I came to scoff and stayed to read and read and read and read. Then later to write myself. In that time I've been repeatedly amazed at the talent of the writers on Gossamer and the other archives.

I can't tell you how many times I've nearly quit writing altogether, because I've read something that appeared out of nowhere, and was just so much better than anything that I could ever hope to achieve... But then you do carry on. Because you have to, for some reason. And luckily, most people seem ecstatically grateful that you have.
My favorite over-baked theme is parody. I'd like more please. There are thousands of readers out there. People who are reading, just as they are watching the series - wanting the perfect x-file for their tastes. I've read _thousands_ of books only to come up with a handfull that shout perfection. This perfection is worth the effort of searching for it.

I've read mucho fanfic and have discovered some fave authors, and a favorite theme. I try to put effort into reading as much as I can because I'm thankful to have found this venue, and I think everyone who wants to, should have the opportunity to pursue it. I haven't seen an "unoriginal" piece yet. I've seen some that aren't what _I_ would choose to read - so I don't.

Everyone to their own tastes. Mine is parody and 'first-times'. And since there are so many MSR authors out there - I get a lot of 'first-times'. Let's see - 4,000 stories divided by 10 themes - 400 first times? Not enough.
we could go on about this for days, but i just wanted to put in my two cents: people like to write what they like to read, and people like to read (or watch) LOTS of what they like. Hollywood and some other creative industries have thrived on this concept for decades and decades. that's why when studio A does a movie about volcanoes, studios B, C and D have to all jump on the bandwagon. its funny, when i go to the book store, i'm looking for a certain type of book. every time. i rarely find it, so i started writing the types of books i like to read. i think what goes on here, with so many repeated story lines is pretty normal and to be expected. and that's all i have to uhh say about that. uuuh. i love fanfic! yeah! woo woo! (i really do, you know)
Well, I really don't have much opinion on whether I do or don't strongly disagree with this statement. I don't think I personally have read enough variety (in terms of what year the fanfic came from, and the style/theme of fanfic) of fanfic to comment, but I will say this. The real X-files has been going for about 115 episodes, some of which have sucked to high heaven, some of which have been mere rehashes of older episodes or films, and all of which are written by proffesional, well paid, full-time writers.

When you compare this amount of episodes to the amount of fanfics written (I have no idea how many there are but I'd assume we're talking in the thousands here), all by people who probably don't write for a living, may have never written before, and may actually not be that good at it. It is only to be expected that a large proportion of these stories will be vague rehashes of older ones or actual episodes. True, though that fanfic can go many places the actual episodes can't (slash, dead characters etc), but given what we know about the chracters in the show (and lets face it, there aren't actually that many charcters) there are only so many possiblities of what a writer can do with any given mix of X-files players.... I just think there are far more writers than ever, but the amount of readers (who send feedback) hasn't really gone up much, so there is only so much feedback to go round.

I think this falls into the problem of novelty. In the beginning, all stories were new and fresh, and innovitive, but now they can't be. It's harder and harder as time goes on to come up with something completely new which hasn't been done before. (Unless CC and the gang come up with some new and exciting plot development/characters) Those stories which do still manage to do this, still, I believe get a huge number of mails, it's just the hundreds of people (like myslef) who are in the middle ground of fanfic, don't get a look in because it has all been done before and was praised for being great when it first came out. It doesn't bother me though.
[CiCi Lean]:
"What about that Scully/Other that was a lesbian one where Mulder was totally supportive? Not "Walking the Line," but the other one, with the rollerblading? PLUS "Walking The Line." A Scully/other with rollerblading lesbians? *blink* Can someone PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE point me in the direction of this story? I begging pathetically here.
[Laura Burchard]:
I find myself reading and recommending more and more slash these days. Not because it's my favorite subgenre (it's not), but because of the extraordinary percentage of quality work. I commented a couple of weeks ago that there were not that many more professional-class writers in the whole of fanfic minus slash as there were in slash; I'd name five or six in slash, and maybe eight or nine outside of it, excluding the number who straddle. If you include only very active writers, it drops to something damn close to equal. Fairly extraordinary. The penumbra of quality and enjoyable, if not professional level, work is also very impressive.

Of course, when it's lame, slash can seem even lamer than bad generic fiction -- bad sex does that. Mulder Skinner stuff seems particularly prone to that; some of it has our dear AD cooing in terms that have me either cringing or howling in laughter.

I think the poster is mistaking a vastly increased number of stories and greater difficulty in picking out the best to actual retrogression. I do think there are some areas that have retrogressed -- I'm actually fairly fond of Mulder angst, but the codification (and archification) of into Muldertorture seems to have had a very bad effect. Most stuff I see in that genre is either rehashings of Mulder-in-a-hospital-bed so wellworn that even the authors seem tired, or attempts to shock the jaded by going to ever more unpleasant extremes, neither of which I enjoy.

On the other hand, the darkness of fourth season seems to have unleashed a truly impressive group of darkly apocalyptic or tragic stories; and as CiCi pointed out, the excessively soap opera-y side of the happy families genre seems to have entirely evaporated.

I think there's actually *more* really good fanfic going on right now, not less. And I have to admit amusement at the arrival of this oddly agressive ennui to the fanfic groups as well...


  1. ^ a fan corrects her: "Try doubling that. The last time I downloaded the Gossamer archive, there were over 7,010 entries. And that was last AUGUST. Yes, some of those are multi-part of the same overall story, but...that's still a hell of a lot more than 4,000. Plus stuff that never gets posted to the group and only circulates on the private lists. Add to that crossovers that originate from other universes, and the number's probably closer to 10,000."