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
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
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