Fan-Fiction vs Fantasy-Fiction
It’s funny, you know. I’ve never considered myself a fan-fiction writer and yet lately I’ve been writing a fair bit of it. I’m not a member of the fan-fic community. I literally had to Google terms like ship, het, and one-shot. Writing fan-fiction for me has been about practicing the discipline of writing.
This has really worked for me. For a long time I had resigned myself to the belief that writing fiction would never get me anywhere. Instead I focused on writing non-fiction for a number of publications. Returning to the world of fiction meant I needed to get over my self-saboteur and unfortunately that saboteur often takes the form of a little voice that tells me I can’t put pen to paper until I have absolutely everything figured out right.
Fan-fiction has helped me overcome that somewhat. Writing about characters that I already know allows me to easily pluck a story idea out of the “I wish this had happened” part of my brain and get down to writing. It has been a great way to cultivate a daily practice and also to hone my craft.
What has been extremely important to me however, has been writing stories that keep the characters in-character. I simply cannot understand why anyone would wish to write characters that behave in ways that do not fit in their respective fictional worlds. The most intriguing phenomenon for me is the prevalence of slash-fic (another term I had to Google).
I support all the ways that people express their love, gender or sexuality. What I have a problem with is what I consider to be the abomination of forcing existing characters to behave in ways they never would. I’ve certainly never been tempted to go down that road myself. Until recently.
It has always bothered me that the Doctor did not show up and save the day during the Torchwood series ‘Children of Earth’. My fantasy-world brain was very upset with the Doctor about this. And so I set about writing the most recent story in my ‘Companions Collection’ series in which this very issue is addressed.
I’m not all about fix-its. Some things should just be left alone. Sometimes bad things happen. In this particular story I wanted to explore the relationship between Captain Jack Harkness and the Doctor by using the ‘Children of Earth’ event as a catalyst.
In my mind, this would be an easy story to write. So much emotion – guilt, anger, fear. I knew how it would start and I knew how it would end. My favourite kind of story.
In reality, things turned out to be much more difficult.
First there was the challenge of writing emotional scenes for characters who have a hard time letting down their defenses.
The power relationship between the Doctor and Jack has always been in the Doctor’s favour. In his own world, Jack is the one calling the shots. He is the mysterious person with the secret of immortality. He is the person that people look to for help. Face to face with the Doctor however, Jack is reduced to playing second fiddle.
The Doctor is an alien with the power of time travel. He understands that Jack is a fixed point in time and space. Indeed, he can literally feel it in his bones when they are near one another. As such, the Doctor has always held himself aloof and separate from Jack, even when trying to work together.
Writing scenes that bring down at least some of the emotional walls between Jack and the Doctor turned out to be harder than I thought. It was also a constant battle not to slip over the line into melodrama.
But what I didn’t anticipate was the flow-on effect that I found myself dealing with. And the most challenging – Jack’s feelings for the Doctor.
No secret has been made of the fact that Jack fancied the Doctor even before the incident on Satellite 5 that resulted in Jack becoming immortal. And afterwards in Series 3, Jack laments with Martha about them both desiring the Doctor’s affections without the Doctor giving either of them a second glance.
While writing my story, I discovered that I could not avoid exploring those feelings. Besides having a physical attraction to the Doctor (something that is really not that exciting given Jack’s inclination to flirt with almost everyone) Jack’s character has evolved in such a way that those feelings may have become something much more.
Jack has looked to the Doctor for help in the past and is the only person with whom he shares any kind of intimate understanding about outliving everyone around him. The Doctor both despises what he is, while also being the only person with any insight into what he is. The Doctor was there when it happened.
This is where the challenge took an interesting turn. The desire to explore these feelings in depth showed me for the first time why fan-fiction writers often delve into slash-fic and something that I have now learned is called hurt/comfort fic.
It suddenly became so easy to allow the Doctor to show Jack the love and tenderness that he is likely to have been desperately needing. Having dragged Jack through the emotional equivalent of being run over by a bus, it now seemed unfair that the Doctor would still refuse him, even in his darkest hour.
Personally, this challenge has highlighted the difference between storytelling and fantasizing. While both are an element of the writing process, fantasizing is about fulfilling one’s own desires. Storytelling is about being honest about what is best for the story.
In the end, it was a very fine line. There is something that I find extremely hot about these two men finding solace in one another. And at the same time, there is something equally beautiful and heartbreaking about the reality that it would never happen.
The final curve ball for me was that I had chosen the Eleventh Doctor for this story. While the ninth and tenth incarnations have never encouraged Jack (in fact the Doctor is arguably oblivious to Jack’s affections), Eleven is much more – well, touchy-feely.
Eleven will grasp someone’s face in excitement, hug with impunity, squash his forehead against someone else’s to encourage them to think and will kiss those who inspire him. Eleven can be angry and distant and full of rage, however more than any other incarnation, he can also offer emotional and physical comfort.
All of this made writing for Eleven and Jack a huge challenge because Eleven is much more likely to express empathy towards Jack. In many ways he is not only older but wiser than his predecessors. He has a firmer grasp on the need for emotional connections. And yet paradoxically, Eleven can be completely clueless when it comes to affairs of the heart.
With these “character facts”, writing this story became as much about me as it did about the characters. Staying true to the story was a real struggle. In my personal life I desire true intimacy in my relationships and so I project this need onto the story. My heart therefore wants to see the Doctor giving Jack the emotional intimacy he needs.
I also entertain the idea of the Doctor finally being able to let down his own emotional guard– something that I think Steven Moffat succumbed to by introducing the character of River Song.
But that is not part of this story. This story is about Jack and the Doctor.