Violence in Fan Fiction (A Response to "The Rules of Combat" by V. Watts)

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Title: Violence in Fan Fiction (A Response to "The Rules of Combat" by V. Watts)
Creator: MacGeorge
Date(s): June 1999
Medium: online
Topic: fiction writing
External Links: Wordsmiths - on line publishing: List of Essays, Archived version; Violence in Fanfiction - a Response to Maygra's Essay, Archived version
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Violence in Fan Fiction (A Response to "The Rules of Combat" by V. Watts) is an essay by MacGeorge.

It was a response to the essay The Rules of Combat: Violence in Fanfic by V. Watts.


V. Watts addresses the question: Why is there so much violence in fanfiction? As a starting point, she accurately observes that we are building our fanfic worlds generally around a concept that has a violent premise to begin with. Therefore it should be no great surprise when those who enjoy the concept sufficiently to create their own stories from it, continue and even expand on that fundamental premise. V. Watts also observes that the bombardment of violent images by the media has done two things to the communal psyche -- made us almost numb to the violence that affects others, and made us fearful of the possibility that violence could affect us. She speaks eloquently on the issue of safety, with a subtext of a writer's concern for not only emotional, but physical safety for those who have encountered violence in their lives, or have been glutted with it in the media. For her, the writer's perception of emotional or physical danger calls forth a need to express it, to challenge it, to even vicariously experience it, in order to be immunized against the day when the perceived threat might become real.

I made a comment to V. Watts when she first mentioned to me that she was working on an essay on violence in fanfic that I did not feel that fanfic had all that much violence in it. She must have thought I was nuts, of course. But last night I watched the Highlander, The Series episode where the hero encounters an Immortal villain from World War II. Within the space of approximately 45 minutes, there were two gun battles with multiple killings, the protagonist was shot and killed, a small boy stabbed a man to death with a pitchfork, then dumped the man in a river while he was still alive. There was also one fist fight involving at least four people, two murders, the protagonist's pregnant girlfriend was struck to the ground, and finally, the program climaxed with a long, brutal swordfight ending in a beheading.

When you read fanfic (with the exception of sexual torture or violence which, I agree with V. Watts, falls into a separate category deserving of independent discussion) you will generally find that the conflict is frequently based in violence, but it is not nearly so pervasive as can be found in such program episodes. And there is a great percentage of fanfic stories that have little of the gut-wrenching type of violence that I have been accused of writing, or that V. Watts has written (or, for that matter, that we have written together). Such scenes and stories are memorable, perhaps, and make an impression disproportionate to their actual prevalence. (Someone should probably do a study. I can see it now: "Statistical Prevalence of Violence versus PWP Sex Romps in Derivative Fiction." My doctorate committee would go for it, I’m sure.)

However, I find the violence in fanfic to have much greater power and emotional impact than the on-screen variety, and believe that powerful impact to be at least one reason why the violence in fanfic feels so prevalent. Why? Because it originates in the mind of the writer and is directly felt in the mind and emotions of the reader, without that numbing distance created when the violence takes place behind that little glass barrier of the television screen. It is, after all, the written word. Instead of seeing a split-second blurred image of a bullet entering a body, or a knife slashing skin, it is described in agonizing detail…the sounds, the smells, the gasps and groans, the blood and viscera spilling….well, you get the idea. And isn't that edge-of-the-cliff excitement something we all want? Isn't it why are we attracted to these characters, these stories, to begin with? They are heroes or anti-heroes with interesting internal conflicts that speak to some universal angst within ourselves. They (like we) are striving to do the right thing in a world that constantly batters at the values we espouse, at the people we love, at the things we care about. They (like we) are tested again and again, and they survive, they live, they grow stronger, battered but unbowed. But these heroes are not suited for everyday, mundane conflict, so the only way to test their/our boundaries is to take them to the extreme…and make sure they survive. Because their survival, their triumph, is our victory, too.

So I have a pretty good sense of why I write violence: I love dark heroes with complex motivations because their travails and triumphs echo my own struggles to do the right thing in the face of what seem to be impossible obstacles. And they win, they overcome, they survive -- sometimes damaged, sometimes still needing to learn more lessons about themselves and others -- but they survive. In dealing with violence, I call forth emotions that I find satisfying: Excitement; fear (in an environment I know and can control); elation; anger that has an outlet and/or object; a pleasing sense of physical control; and, finally -- triumph.