What is this human thing called crackfic?

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Title: What is this human thing called crackfic?
Creator: Carolyn Claire
Date(s): January 17, 2006
External Links: What is this human thing called crackfic? (now offline); WebCite; another archive link
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What is this human thing called crackfic? is a post by Carolyn Claire at The Cutting Board.

There were 36 comments.

Some Topics

  • crackfic
  • an author's distance from their fiction
  • SGA and popslash
  • is crackfic lazy?
  • is crackfic here to stay
  • lots more

Excerpts from the Original Post

So, what the heck is crackfic? Where'd the term originate? Who calls crackfic on a story? Is crackfic a new genre, a renaming of an old one, or just a state of mind? Does labeling a silly story crackfic confer some kind of legitimacy on it that wasn't there before? What about humor? Kink? AU? Have those labels been assimilated under the crackfic label? Does 'crackfic' cover a multitude of sins? Does it mean never having to say you're sorry? I wonder about these things. Do you? Tell me what you think about crackfic.

So, crackfic. The first time I really noticed the term, it was being called on one of my own stories. Hrm, I thought, yes, appropriate, interesting, kinda cute. And then I started noticing the term being used everywhere--writers were labeling their stories as cracked, readers were calling crack on others' stories--crackfic was abounding, apparently. And people were talking about it, asking each other what it was, having discussions and sharing their interpretations, but I never saw anyone come up with anything definitive, though that didn't seem to bother anyone. Crackfic, it seems, is all about the fun, and I stand firmly behind the having of fun. But the gears in my head won't stop turning, and crackfic continues to proliferate, so I want to talk about it some more.

Is it a fad, or is crackfic here to stay? In SGA fandom, crackfic seems to be running rampant, enough so that people are commenting on it. Are there really more stories being labeled crackfic in SGA fandom than in others? If that's true, why? Is it the nature of the show? SGA is fairly standard-issue television SF fare, no more bizarre than Trek or Farscape or SG-1. Is it the characters? Are John and Rodney more fun to place in wacky situations than characters from other fandoms? Is it the influx of new writers? SGA fandom is steadily growing, with writers from other fandoms pouring in and first time fans and/or writers eager to contribute stories. Is there some greater sense of security in starting out in a new fandom with a less serious story? Could the term confer some sort of perceived legitimacy on less serious efforts? And did the term begin in SGA fandom, or is it another bit of fannish culture with roots in venerable old fandoms like XF or Trek? Did SGA invent crackfic, or just embrace it wholeheartedly?

I've collected some thoughts about what crackfic is and what it's about from discussions I've observed all over the fandom. Here are a couple of them:
And, riddle me this, Batman: are we better or worse off as a fandom for adopting and adapting to the crackfic label? Or does it matter at all? Are we seeing more good stories, or fewer? Are we just swapping out one or two labels for another, with no net change in the types of stories we're reading/writing, or has the label spawned a silly story frenzy? Or is it the fandom itself, something inherent in the show/fen/water? Is there a silly story frenzy at all, or are we just taking more notice? Will we even care about any of this in six months time? Do we care about it now? Do you? I do, but I haven't made up my mind exactly how.

Excerpts the Comments

[snoopygirll]: I think with crackfic, conscientious writers feel the pressure is off to ensure their story, or some aspect of their story, is not the subject of LJ's latest 'What I Hate in Fanfic' post. It allows more lattitude than other labels (AU, for example, doesn't permit skewing of character or reality) which means greater artistic license. I think crackfic in the hands of a good writer could be an awesome, magical thing.

The downside is it's also an excuse to be lazy in the name of fun. So I think crackfic in the hands of careless or inexperienced writer could be a painful, ugly thing.

Would the crackfic label stop me reading a story? I thought the first crackfic I read was silly and was amazed so many liked it. The second crackfic I read, I enjoyed, but would have labelled it AU. So it's possible I just don't get crackfic. But then I don't enjoy intentional badfic either. Or humor just for the sake of humor. So taking into account personal taste, when I weigh the good with the bad, I think for me there's going to be way more bad. So the answer is YES - I will avoid crackfic unless I really like the author, or it's a popular story.
[carolyn claire]:I think crackfic in the hands of a good writer could be an awesome, magical thing.

And has been. Shallott's Harlequin AU is one I meant to mention, but forgot to--would you call that crackfic? The premise, John as mail-order bride, the idea of creating a Harlequinesqe romance feel, would maybe indicate that yes, it is, but it's just a terrific story, absolutely brilliant with the relationship angst, and so well written. So, is it crackfic? To me, it's an AU with a premise that could have been ridiculous but was so well executed, it's not. So, good writer, good hands, good story. (But is it crackfic? I just don't know.)

The downside is it's also an excuse to be lazy in the name of fun. So I think crackfic in the hands of careless or inexperienced writer could be a painful, ugly thing.

That's my concern, that writers who don't want to work at it will think they don't have to, that anything with the crackfic label is outside the box, and nothing counts. If it's going to be a good story, crackfic or not, everything still counts. My reading standards don't change because something's labeled crack, and my writing standards don't either, though the ultimate success of that isn't up to me to decide....

So the answer is YES - I will avoid crackfic unless I really like the author, or it's a popular story.

Who the author is always influences me to read or not--I'm always so afraid that I'm going to end up wanting to spork my eyes out, so I rely on recs or author name, and I think that probably applies doubly to crackfic. Not everything is funny. Crackfic, like humor, can fall flat, be more sad (in the 'ohmigosh, this is bad' sense) than funny, so I usually go with people I trust and flee from names I don't know with crackfic, as well. Just...not everything is funny. Humor and whimsey need skillful handling, like any other style. A "wheee, this is just crack!" approach from any author makes me skittish.
[mmmchelle]:I'm not sure the label communicates anything useful. It seems to me that it often gets used in a "this is the good crack" way by readers, as a shorthand way of describing a story that pushed particular buttons for them. The kind of story that's like a Lay's potato chip where one makes you want more.

When authors use it though, unless I know the author I tend to assume it's a way of ducking responsibility for the story, of saying "don't take this seriously because it isn't my best work." On one level I completely understand it. It's good to have the freedom to write and post things that you wrote on a whim. On another it bothers me, perhaps because of my own instinctive rejection of labels. Hell, I hate the term literary. And I dislike crackfic for the same reason. It establishes a hierarchy of stories. These are the serious, meaningful stories, and these are the crackfic.

Except the hierarchy is purely in the eyes of the beholder, because as you pointed out with Shallot's fic stories which would seem to fit the crackfic label can be well-written, well thought out stories.

In my own head I tend to divide fic into three groups. The good stuff which is technically sound (more than just grammar and spelling, it has to have other things like pacing, structure, style) and the characters are shown in a way I identify with. These stories cross genres and can be AUs, first times, established relationships, sometimes even gen.

Then there are the mediocre stories, the ones which could have been good, if only the pacing had been better, or John hadn't been so passive, or... They're good enough to get me to read them, but not good enough to satisfy.

Finally, there is the badfic.

For me there isn't any category of story that qualifies as 'crackfic,' nothing I would regard as addictive, or that I would smoke just for the hit, no matter how good or bad it was. Which is the imagery that the term crack conjures.
[carolyn claire]: .... that's why it bothers me, sometimes, when an author labels a story crackfic--she's doing the thinking for me, telling me how to judge the story, where to rank it. But I want to do that, myself. And it is, I'm sure, about the writer's feelings about her story and her own process while writing it, but it still bugs me some to be told that I shouldn't be taking this story seriously. What if I do? Does that mean my judgement is off? I don't think it is, and, anyway, all that is so subjective, so dont' tell me what to think about your story. But it's a silly thing to be bothered by, when it's really about what the writer is feeling, not about me, the reader.
[wickedwords]:Crack!fic, to me, is a way to represent stories that the author and/or the reader enjoys where somewhere in the back of the lizard brain, there's this little tiny voice that says "you shouldn't enjoy this." Doesn't matter how it gets there -- it could be genre (mpreg for example is considered crack!fic), it could be characterization (ZOMG! John *cries* big weeping bucketfulls in this, and Rodney has a self-esteem smaller than a gnat!), it could be set up (this story has holes so big antartica fits through it) -- somewhere along the way, someone said "anyone who reads and/or writes something like that has to be dealing with controlled substances."

So everything you've said is true. It's all crack!fic. Fanfic, by its very nature, invites it and embraces it. Praises it even. If you like that sort of thing, then write that sort of thing; it you read something you like, then say that you liked it. Chances are someone else will say 'hey, I like it too!'

And then the third person will say 'you both are on crack.' Calling it crack!fic just cuts out the middleman, and we go on from there.
[carolyn claire]: Is labeling your mpreg or your elf story as crackfic giving in, then? Should we be standing on our mpreg soapboxes and shouting to the fandom, "I like pregnant men and I don't care who knows it!" *g* Are we handing it all over to the mockers, saying, 'Okay, yes, I agree, this is a stupid thing to like and I'm ashamed that I do, so I'll make fun of it with you and not take it seriously, too! Let's all laugh at it together! sob' Because, yes, it's somewhat freeing to say, 'Oh, no, I don't really fantasize about this, I just find it funny and thought you would, too, ha ha,' in that it allows one to go ahead and write and post that fantasy, if one wouldn't have dared to before, but...how kind of sad. We don't get to own our little eccentricities and kinks, but instead slap a dismissive label on them and pretend we don't take them seriously, either. There's something kind of not-empowered about that. Not that writing and posting stories isn't already a nervous-making enough thing. I guess if it helps to wrap ourselves up in the blankie of a reassuring label, then, whatever gets us through the night. It is supposed to be fun, after all.
[wickedwords]: 'giving in' -- to what, exactly? The term has positive connotations, in that it indicates that there is some sort of emotional payoff in it for the people that like those sorts of things, and is a warning to those that want to avoid it. To me, it is the flip side of a story labeled experimental, which to me is something sort of pretentious -- weighty and heavy, obscuring the story, and intending to be considered a 'serious' work. Whereas crack!fic is what it is, without pretentions. If the point of the story is to make Rodney cry, then by god, you wrote the best Rodney crying story you could and in a completely balls-to-the-wall, no-appologies, and no prisoners way.

That doesn't mean it's not well-written. It doesn't mean it's simple light and froth. It means that the author (or the reader or the reccer -- whoever is applying the label) felt that it was the essence of that kind of story, and that particular kind of pay off.

Intellectual appeal =experimental, emotional appeal =crack!fic.
[jadelennox]: I think crackfic indicates that the story is intended to make the reader sporfle. Centaur stories are a great example. They ought to be crack, the premise is crack, but in James' hands, they're not (though she's perfectly capable of writing crack, it's just more likely to have penguins than centaurs). The premise is "these people are centaurs" and it's treated as a serious jumping off point for drama, plot, and character. Crack is more "look! I can make Ronon into the Hamburglar! Whee!"

What's always weird is when crackfic becomes non-crack. Sometimes it works (the entire Sith Academy was crack, but it had non-crack entries near the end, and the entire Hell Series spinoff was non-crack (drama and character development) spun off from crack (Obi-Wan and Darth Maul live in the same apartment building). Other times, it doesn't work as smoothly, and badfic tropes that were games in the crack get taken seriously in the sequels to the detriment of the fic.

On the other hand, it's a nice safety net for risk taking and writing guilty pleasure fic (When in Haldoria comes to mind).
[terrie01]:Crack!fic, for me, is an AU that is so... out there, that you start singing "Which of these things is not like the others?" It has nothing to do quality. The best example I can think of is the story James did where John was a penguin and Rodney was a unicorn. (James is the archtype of the crack writer). People crying crack for a lower standard is like people claiming that their story is humor, so it doesn't matter if the characters are completely OOC. It's an excuse and should not be seen as a reflection of the genre. For me, crack is not a bad term. It's simply a certain genre.
[carolyn claire]:But it's a genre that's really hard to pin down--the definitions are so fluid, and everyone seems to be using the term in a different way. Slash, as a genre, is pretty easy to define. How does one define crack? There's no real consensus, there, and it becomes an eye of the beholder thing--you say James is an archetypal crack writer, I say she's a good writer who writes stories around what some might see as cracked themes, but turns them into workable, serious stories. And she, herself, seems to take them quite seriously. So, crackfic or not? You say yes, she might say no, and she's the author. That's the difficulty with pointing to a crackfic genre; people don't agree on what constitutes crackfic, or what the term means. Certainly there are very excellent stories that the authors have called crackfic, themselves--crackfic doesn't necessarily mean low quality, but my concern is that writers sometimes apply the label to poorly-written stories and try to excuse a lack of effort by calling it cracked--nothing matters, it's crackfic! Anything goes! When the label is used as a CYA for laziness, it annoys me. It's why I don't read anything labeled crackfic by any author I don't know and trust.
[terrie01]: I see no conflict with calling a "serious" story crack!fic. But, for me, it goes back to a quote from E.B. White. "Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than a whole one." For me, crack is mainly about juxtaposition, putting two seemingly conflicting things together. In the end, I think the term is too new for there to be a solid defn. yet. And, like some, the edges will probably always be fuzzy, but it'll settle down. My defn. may never catch on (sigh). It seems to be moving away to the new "sugar high" which is too bad.
[thepouncer]: I've been thinking about this, and trying to come up with an answer to what crackfic is. And it's hard! To me, crackfic is a kind of dividing line - on one side is badfic and on the other is a story delving into improbable or even ridiculous situations and characterization.

So, for instance, we have eliade's story extrapolating from Conversion, where John turns into a bug. And for me, that story worked beautifully. It was short, it was surreal, but Rodney and John were still Rodney and John. I'd call that a story that lurks on the edge of crackfic, but doesn't go over because of the quality.

Then there are some of the entries to svmadelyn's Badfic Summary Challenge. The ones that parodied badfic were priceless to me - I haven't laughed that much in a long, long time. But other authors took a more serious approach and attempted to create a good story out of these whacked prompts. Some succeeded (I'm thinking of astolat and eliade) and some didn't (although I admit I haven't read everything produced as a result of that challenge).

As a writer, I think my SGA Regency AU is cracked - I mean, my god! John as an English lord? Rodney as a brothel servant/chemist? When I started to write the idea, I had to send it to friends for another opinion, for fear that it was too cracked out to bear the light of day. But it's the story that's gotten the most feedback of anything I've ever posted, so.

I wonder if part of this crackfic moment isn't the desire for something new and novel? The old saw about there only being twelve plots in the universe and all that, so to add originality writers create more and more bizarre events. And SGA has those magical Ancients to allow for plot permutations - they made a device that turns you into penguins! They have cloning technology! - as well as the entire Pegasus galaxy for greeting rituals and the like.
[marythefan]:I call shenanigans on the definitions that imply a get-out-of-jail-free card as regards technique or storytelling ability or characterization work. "Crackfic" is not a measure of skill or tone or even of execution. There's bad crackfic. There's good crackfic. There's more bad than good - that's because Sturgeon's Law applies just as it does in any case of fanfic. And good crackfic doesn't become not-crackfic.

Crackfic is, IMO, a matter of premise. Crackfic implies an initial premise that is implausible, if not impossible, a premise that's surrealist, even absurdist. Someone turns into a girl. Or a badger. Or a penguin. Or they sprout wings. Or lay eggs. Or get pregnant, despite being a man. They get set down in a historical context outside the limits of accepted behavior, without being called on it - a man is "cast" as a schoolmarm, complete with skirts and petticoats.

It's not simply AU. It's something beyond normal AU.

What the writer then does with it is what distinguishes good from bad crackfic. Good crackfic asks "what if?" and traces the plausible fallout of the implausible premise. Ideally, it sticks the characterization so hard it squeaks. It leaves you saying "Well, of course. That's absolutely how Character X would act if he turned into a girl. (or a penguin. or a badger. or whatever.)" Good crackfic uses good characterization and good storytelling and good plotting and good relationship dynamics and good writing to say something, just as much as any non-crackfic does. It may end up being whimsical. It may not. Sometimes, despite the fact of the implausible premise or of whimsical writing, it has something serious to say about the characters or the world they move in or even about the real world.


For reference, I come initially from a popslash background when it comes to crackfic - it's the first place I saw the term used and the first place I really found myself open to reading surrealist and absurdist premises in fic. It tended to be, in general, very smart and pretty innovative and intimidatingly well-written. I typically think of girl!fic and wingfic as the most prominent examples, and generally those stories had some kind of character insight and often relationship dynamics included. And while many of the girl!stories, in particular, were written in a style I call "hijinks-ensue," it was more common than uncommon for them to contain some fairly serious looks, if you parsed them, at the nature of being a woman vs. being female, sometimes of the nature of celebrity, and a look at how both of those affected how characters interacted with the world and how people viewed them.
[marythefan]: ...once you make it plausible - or at least start trying to explain and legitimize it - it ceases to be crackfic. A story with a winged character who's from a canon in which people can have wings, that isn't crackfic because it's possible within the reality of that character's universe. A story in which you have Carson messing about, splicing DNA to try to create a winged Wraith, that isn't crackfic (although it may be further evidence of his cracked-in-the-headness, not to mention his lack of medical ethics), because you're attempting to provide a scientific explanation for the wings. A story in which Rodney wakes up one day on Atlantis to discover he's sprouted wings - that's contrary to basic biology, and it's crackfic, it doesn't matter how well it may be written or how stunningly it may illuminate Rodney's character or his relationship with John, because Rodney doesn't live in a reality where people from Earth can or do suddenly sprout wings. Of course, one of the reasons I think this line gets so mushy in SGA is because of the handwavey "new Ancient device" fallback, and the question's come up of whether that provides enough explanation and legitimacy - enough plausibility - to make some of these tropes not-crackfic. I'm hesitant to say that a simple mention of some new Ancient device that turned someone into a girl is enough to make it not crackfic, just as a throwaway vague reference to some odd family genetics isn't enough to make some of the pop girl! stories or mpreg not crackfic.
[wickedwords]: I agree very strongly with what you've said here. And I do think that the pomo-fusion of SGA and Popslash is absolutely fascinating, with writers and readers bringing to it a whole 'nother sensibility than what came out of a traditional sci-fi background. Personally, I'm loving it, as I came out of yuletide last year knowing that the writers I liked that I had no experience with reading before, tended to be coming out of popslash. And that sense of being able to take the whackiest premise and derive realistic consequences from it is a wonderfully creative and fascinating thing. I think it's cool.