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When Worlds Collide

by Melusina




All media products have limitations based on the intended market or audience. Characters on network TV shows can't use certain words. Depending on the desired rating, movies limit their depictions of sex and violence. Even novelists write with an intended audience and tailor their work for that group. When we write fanfiction based on these products, how carefully should we abide by these limitations? Can you tell a story that feels whole cloth with the canon universe and ignore the constraints the creators were working under?

In terms of sexuality, there's no question that most fanfic writers are blatantly ignoring the source texts' parameters. Disney's need for a PG13 rating or the FCC's rules about nudity aren't going to stop me from writing graphic sex scenes in my stories. Perhaps we're all willing to accept this change because it's more of an extrapolation. Even though we didn't see all the naughty bits when characters on Buffy had sex, we all know what was being implied. A story in which Spike and Buffy have sex doesn't necessarily feel out of character, it just feels like an extrapolation of what we've seen on the show. Even if the story depicts a slashy or "unconventional" relationship, it's still the pairing that's noncanonical, not the fact that a particular character has sex. Of course there are stories in which characters engage in sexual behaviors that may feel out of character to some readers - I'm not arguing that any and all sex is in character, just that it's no surprise that the characters are having sex, so a more graphic representation of those acts doesn't necessarily strike readers as jarring or out of keeping with canon.

But what about things like language and violence? I've heard people complain about fanfics where the characters use "strong language," claiming that it's out of character, because we've never heard Spike or Sheridan say "fuck." Language and diction is such a strong part of how characters are constructed, and if the original writers must write without certain words, it can be jarring to hear characters say those words in a story (even when it seems obvious that, given what we know about the character, that is the word he or she would use), especially when it's gratuitous and repeated.

The issue of violence seems particularly relevant in regards to PotC fic.  Let's face it, as much as we all love pirates, historically piracy was a bloody business. Disney is careful to never show the good guys engaged in gratuitous violence. But if you're writing, say, a long story in which Elizabeth and Will run off to be pirates (just, you know, for example), it becomes a bit dicey to honor both history and canon. I'm irritated by pirate stories in which our heroes commit all kinds of acts of piracy, but never seem to hurt anyone. On the other hand, in canon, they don't really seem to be very bloodthirsty. Even Jack, who's supposed to be this bad ass pirate, mostly talks his way out of trouble So how do you reconcile these two?

I guess it's always a problem when you have a sympathetic character involved in criminal acts, but it's definitely compounded by the canonical treatment of these characters, who we never actually see engaged in piracy, you'll notice. This is something that I think elspethdixon handles well in her "A Pirate's Life." The story starts with a raid in which Jack kills a passenger in front of his wife - the scene could potentially be off-putting or seem out of character, and yet it seems perfectly natural and in keeping with both history and canon.

In writing the fight scenes in "Triangulation," I originally made them somewhat more violent. Ultimately, I decided to vague them up a bit, so that we rarely see the pirates killing someone except when they are directly attacked. To my mind, it's part of staying within the original genre. PotC is fantasy (the undead pirates were my first clue) and thus handles violence differently than a realistic treatment of piracy might. One of the things I was interested in exploring in that story was a more realistic take on the characters, but I decided not to get too graphic with the violence in order to stay somewhat consistent with the fantastical qualities of the movie.

The more AU the setting, the less these issues matters. But if you want your story to read as part of the canon universe, I think you have to pay close attention to this sort of thing, or risk taking your readers out of the story.


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