What *is* slash? (2003 essay by Flamingo)

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Title: What *is* slash?
Creator: Flamingo
Date(s): April 8, 2003
Medium: mailing list post
Fandom: Starsky & Hutch
Topic:
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move to What *is* slash?

What *is* slash? is a 2003 essay by Flamingo and is in response to another fan's statement: "If you are going to write a story where the entire purpose is to develop their relationship from a platonic one to a sexual one, you have got to write the sex."

While it has a Starsky & Hutch focus, the topic covers all fandoms.

The essay was originally posted to the mailing list VenicePlace, and it is included here on Fanlore with Flamingo's permission.

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

Some Topics Discussed

The Essay

Oh, is *this* a favorite topic of mine! (Yeah, like you're surprised!) Anyone who's read *any* of my stuff knows instinctively how I feel about this. You might laugh to hear that my original intention for the "If Love Is Real" series was that it would be canon-faithful and that the guys wouldn't actually get it on until Sweet Revenge! I wanted to write this series of short-short stories full of angst and tons of sexual tension but no real body contact. Well, I blew that whole premise out the wazoo on page 20 of the first story and by the episode, The Fix, it was full-tilt boogie -- just as Rosemary predicted even though I insisted, no, that wasn't gonna happen, no way, no how.

I have some very favorite SH slash stories that have no sex in them, including Suzan Lovett's wonderful "Foster Child of Silence and Slow Time" and another wonderful story which I *think* is titled "The Lonely Hearts Club" in one of the later Fix zines, and the award-winning "Hutch Fever" in an earlier issue of the Fix. The *point* of these short stories is, in one, to introduce Hutch (they are not lovers) to the *concept* that he needs to develop the guts to tell Starsky his true feelings for him, and in the second, the guys (who already are lovers) are forcibly separated for an extended period of time and find one another accidentally through a chat room, and in the third (they are not lovers) it's to turn Starsky's world upside down by making him accidently fall for Hutch and for him to try to figure out how to cope with those feelings (which he does pretty badly). So, clearly, expecting a sex scene in stories like these would be silly. They don't belong there. They would literally *ruin* these tightly crafted, powerful, and emotional stories that are perfect just the way they are.

However, dosflores and Ro nailed it when they said that if the PURPOSE of the story is to develop their relationship into a slash one, and if you develop the story with that purpose in mind, leading your readers down the long and winding path of WILL THEY OR WON'T THEY, then you are leading your readers to expect something you are obliged to deliver. This is one of the most basic rules of story crafting. It would be the same if you were writing an espionage thriller in which a large part of story involved the capture and imprisonment of one of the primary characters and the subsequent rescue of the character by his partner. You would not get away with dwelling on the lengthy, dangerous imprisonment and the scenes of angst of the partner trying to affect the rescue only to get up to the actual moment of rescue and then write, "They escaped." I used to do this when I wrote Man from UNCLE stories in high school. I didn't care about the action stuff, I cared about what happened after Illya rescued Napoleon and all the emotional stuff their reunion brought about, etc. Which is pretty much how I feel about that stuff now -- I'm still not really interested in the action stuff, just the emotional stuff, only now I KNOW better. It's not fair to the reader who has invested all this time in your story to gloss over the details of how they actually escaped -- you've got to SHOW it. That's what stories are about, SHOWING, not just telling us "they escaped." If I've spent hours invested in your writing and if you've made me care about these men and their relationship, you can't expect me to be happy if you cop out over the most intense emotional part of the story -- the pay off YOU'VE led me to believe would be there. And if you do that, you can't expect me to go eagerly looking for whatever else you've written -- one cold shower is all any writer gets, sorry. See, the basic issue is, I can get *that* kind of leave-'em-at-the-closed-bedroom-door writing almost anywhere -- it's a major component of a lot of pro writing -- I come to slash for something I can't get anywhere else, not on the show, not in gen. Erotic writing in slash is a unique and very special thing. Sure, romantic writing is fine and a ton of good slash has lots of non-explicit romance in it. But if that non-explicit romance indicates it's going somewhere else and then never really goes there, that is an incomplete story and an unsatisfying read because it promised something it wasn't willing to deliver.

The significant issue here, as it is in all fiction writing is: WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS STORY. In Lovett's story the point was to prod Hutch into telling Starsky how he felt -- not to get them into bed, to just introduce this *idea*. In Crystal Blue Persuasion, the point of the story is to break down Hutch's fear of flying and to get him in Starsky's bed -- why would anyone write a story like that and then NOT get them into bed? It makes the story pointless. It cheats the reader. Did I have to extend the love scene into multiple scenes and go on so long...yes and no. Multiple sex scenes were necessary to show the equality and partnership in this new aspect of their relationship. I had to be sure the reader understood Hutch wasn't going to spend the rest of his life being sexually manipulated and dominated by Starsky (not that I would've minded that, but it wasn't the message I was trying to send). No, it sure didn't have to go on so long, but that it did was for *my* benefit -- that's what I wanted. If I was a spare writer the sex scenes could've been brief and non-explicit and still conveyed the same emotional impact, but that's not what pleases me. The writer can't involve herself in whether or not readers will be uncomfortable with the way they portray a scene, or whether they will want a more explicit scene or a longer scene -- that is not the writer's job. That's the reader's problem. And all readers are different with different reading preferences. Attempting to please them all would be impossible. However, what *is* the writer's job is to deliver what their story keeps implying they're going to deliver, in some form or other that goes beyond "they escaped" or they have to expect a cranky bunch of readers.

And let's get one thing straight (you should excuse the expression) -- there is no major rule of slash writing that states that sex scenes must be 10 pages long, and I wouldn't want there to be. Some of the hottest scenes I've ever read were tremendously understated simple *paragraphs* where not a single expletive or grahic body part was exposed. A sex scene can involve the intense emotional reactions to physical activities that are never explictly stated. You never have to mention a cock or an anus, a drop of come, or even a buttock. It's kind of frustrating to me to read all these protests about sex scene writing when it can be anything you want it to be -- *you're* the writer, be creative, write the kind of sex scene you like to read. That's what I do! I turned to writing slash because I couldn't write sex scenes in my pro writing. I'm scratching my own itch here, and if other people like it, that's gravy. But I write for me, understanding even as I do that I have an *obligation* to satisfy the reader. I don't promise what I don't want to deliver. If there's an area of writing I don't want to go to, then I don't lead the reader to think that's where we're going. Simple. And sex scenes should *never* be gratuitous, anymore than dinner scenes, scenes at the movies, in the squadroom, in the car, etc. Every single scene in every story must move the story foreward, it must have a point and a relationship to the plot, including the sex scenes. There isn't a single sex scene in Total Eclipse -- and there are quite a few of them in there -- that doesn't develop the character's points of view, deal with plot problems, or move the story foreward in some way. If you don't read the sex scenes in (Starsky & Hutch zine)|TE (and I'm not saying you can't skim them) but if you don't follow them to some extent you will miss something you need to know to move the plot foreward. If your sex scene can be excised from your story without missing anything relevant, then you need to ask yourself how to make it more relevant to your story. It'll make the scene stronger and the entire story hang together better. That's your obligation as the writer.

This is one of the reasons I shy away from established relationship stories -- there is far less reason to have a sex scene because the chances are the point of the story won't be about sex, it'll be about something else, and the sex ends up being gratuituous, just to show us they love each other perhaps. My established relationship stories have a tendency to become "talk dirty" stories in which they're in some personal conflict that can only be resolved by having sex, because in that comic, almost parody, universe, the two guys can barely keep their hands off each other and communicate best while fucking. (and for some reason, Huggy always seems to show up at the worst moment.) It's a joke, pardner. One of the best examples of an established relationship story with a really hot sex scene that is absolutely necessary to the plot is Linda Cabrillo's story...<panics, can't remember title, aaaauuuggghhhh> the one where Hutch's sister comes to try to reestablish their strained relationship -- somebody help me!!!! Also, in April Valentine's "Fatal Charm" there are a number of sex scenes and each one moves the plot foreward and is necessary to the development of the plot. In fact, I've had an If Love Is Real story in the works for a few years about how the guys come to be partners under Dobey's command and why it is he lets them get away with murder and why he trusts them so implicitely--but it is a heavily plotted story and I can't see a lot of reason for them to be in bed during it so, it just kind of sits there because I'm just not as motivated to write it.

My pro fic, so far, has all been science fiction. (Nobody ever gets laid in my pro fic. <sigh>) And in science fiction there is a very basic rule that you are taught by other pro writers very early on: If you can tell your story after removing the science fictional elements, then it is *not* a science fiction story and shouldn't be written as one. Because to be a science fiction story, the story must *hinge* on the science fictional ideas in that story. They must be critical to the story and the story should be impossible without them. Otherwise, it's not really science fiction. Very simple.

I feel that a slash story is much the same. If you can tell your story after removing all the slash elements, which basically means the relationship, then it's not a slash story. A good gen story is a valuable thing and can cover ALL the ranges of story telling...except for one. (For excellent gen stories that totally hinge on the depth of the emotional relationship between S&H that are not slash but intensely satisfying, read Lovett's Thousandth Man and The Goliath on the gen archive.) Clearly, an excellent slash story does not have to have a sex scene, and in fact a gratuitous sex scene can weaken a story or even ruin it. But a slash story that revolves around the premise of their developing sexual relationship...is incomplete without showing us the completion of that premise in some form, however short or long the writer cares to make it.

No one is saying there isn't room in slash for all kinds of writing. And I've always encouraged writers to write what pleases them. However, there are still basic premises as to what makes good story telling, and telling the whole story is a major component. The more you learn about story crafting, the stronger your stories will be and the better you will get at telling the story you want to tell and have it be the kind of story others want to read.

References