tenlittlebullets: (tl;dr)
Ten Little Chances to be Free ([personal profile] tenlittlebullets) wrote2014-12-22 12:32 am

Yes, you are allowed.

(Archived from a Tumblr post at http://shinelikethunder.tumblr.com/post/105932488971/the-pie-initiative-shinelikethunder-more)

More musings on writing advice:

Honestly, I think “yes, you are allowed” is something a lot of fandom needs to hear right now. We had, what, a decade of “what not to do” writing advice, starting with anti-Mary-Sue campaigns and on through sporking and fanficrants and RaceFail, and now everything is this cracked parody of social justice and ~this is problematic~ is the ultimate “what not to do.” And just look at the messages we’ve taken to heart: don’t get too big for your britches, everything has to be accurate and realistic, no one the reader is supposed to sympathize with should be within shouting distance of “problematic.” We’re writing about these larger-than-life characters whose lives are full of over-the-top, implausible events, and it’s like we’re afraid that if we handwave or take narrative shortcuts or spin crazy yarns about their adventures or don’t treat Bad Shit Happening with the expected amount of solemnity, somebody’s going to call us out for not doing our due diligence.

In fact, the one “yes, you are allowed” message we’ve taken to heart is that we’re not beholden to the original canon, which is a phenomenon I… have mixed feelings about. But the point is, that message combined with the fear of fucking up, of writing “unrealistic” or “problematic” stories about monsters and aliens and superheroes, means that mundane AUs and domestic fic are the path of least resistance. And not only is fic being pushed towards the generic, the moral pressure that drives fandom SJ makes it feel almost… risky?… to stray from the fanon status quo. Breaking the mold, instead of being a sign of creativity, increasingly feels like a sign that you’re Doing It Wrong and may in fact be a bad person. I have seen people say that they want to write about post-CA:TWS Bucky but don’t, because they don’t want to slog through dealing with the “obligatory” recovery issues. Or that they’d feel guilty, like they were committing some sort of erasure, if they wrote pre-war fic without Queer Brooklyn and The Docks a bunch of romanticized-poverty porn.

For the love of God, fandom. You are allowed to come up with whatever fictional means you feel like to undo the Winter Soldier’s fictional (and almost totally unspecified) brainwashing. He’s an amnesiac cyborg assassin hopped up on a knockoff version of the super-serum that lets Steve Rogers get flung off a freeway overpass hard enough to overturn a bus and get up with barely a scratch. He starts getting memories back whenever they leave him out of cryo long enough. If you want the serum to heal his brain damage and leave him twitchy, angry, and guilt-ridden, but more-or-less compos mentis, so that he can go face down his demons without spending months on Steve’s couch eating soup and relearning how to be a human? YOU CAN. YOU ARE ALLOWED. THAT IS A STORY YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TELL. The “it was the super-healing” handwaving already puts you about fifteen realism steps ahead of the comics, where Steve used a magic monkey’s paw ex machina to bring back Bucky’s memories with the power of his love. And then a bunch of stuff happened and Bucky wrestled a bear in a Siberian gulag, okay, and this is the level of Srs Bsns we’re starting from.

You can do whatever the fuck you want. If you want to dwell lovingly on all the interpersonal issues and mental scarring that resulted from that time aliens made them do it because they got fake married in space, go for it. But do not pull out the DSM and start checking off PTSD symptoms out of a sense of duty if what you actually want to write is banter, UST, sarcasm about absurd situations, reckless displays of loyalty, and porn where they realize the depth and true nature of their feeeeeelings about each other. Both of those things are okay things to want.

tl;dr Internal story logic > realism. Write whatever ridiculous tropey or out-there shit you want, and use exactly as much judiciously-applied realism as you need to sell the story.

See, the thing about this critique is that I thought these stories where Bucky has PTSD were written by… people with actual PTSD. Or with eating disorders. Or who have some other actual trauma or disability they can apply to Bucky’s story.

I myself both love and hate the “wounded warrior” trope because I come from a rural area where a lot of my old high school friends actually have PTSD from fighting in Iraq. I hate it, because seeing Bucky in therapy is almost too real… and I love it, because there is at the same time too much silence and fear surrounding this topic, and I can tell that people are using fic to work through these issues in a way that is without precedent in most of the popular fiction I read.

The anger doesn’t come from a place where people see writing about anything but a hyper-realistic recovery story to be bad. The anger comes from the fact that fictional stories almost never got it right in the first place. For the love of God, please write more stories about Bucky wrestling bears… but also give us this space where we can work out the issues we still have after years and years of silence and misrepresentation.

Broski, literally nobody is attacking the right of people who want to write recovery stories to do so. “Write what you want” means “write what you want,” because the stories you’re itching to tell will probably end up more compelling and meaningful than the ones where you’re just going through the motions. And I have no doubt that a lot of the driving force behind the wave of recovery fic comes from people with that itch. But it’s such a dominant fanon trope that a lot of the people along for the ride are there because “that’s just what you do” or because they’re under social pressure to include it in their post-CA:TWS fic whether trauma/recovery narratives are what grab them or not. Where does that pressure come from? Uh, mostly from stuff like the immediate assumption that reminding people they’re allowed to skip over it is an attack on recovery fic and a dismissal of the experiences of people with PTSD.
If you wanna write it, write it. If you don’t, you’re better off skipping merrily over it and digging right into what you want to write than dutifully cooking up a halfassed Wikipedia version just to cover your bases. The problem isn’t that people want to write nitty-gritty explorations of PTSD, it’s that a lot of people whose fic ideas don’t involve focusing on PTSD (or Picturesque Poverty in Queer Brooklyn, or endless kink and relationship negotiation, or whatever) feel morally obligated to shoehorn it into the story anyway.

See, okay, I find all this interesting—I mean, I agree, one hundred and ten percent that fanfiction should be fanfiction, and that internal story logic trumps realism and all that—because I actually DO feel like those of us who WANT to write that recovery trope but who ARE NOT going to get out the DSM and go get our masters in clinical psych for our piece of fanfiction often do kind of get thrown to the wolves. Like, right after I posted one of my Bucky recovery fics, which I wrote because holy shit, I love recovery fics, I came across this tumblr post about how, if you had Bucky going to therapy, you were doing it wrong, and why. I can’t even tell you how terrified I am one day that I’ll write a rape recovery fic, since I legit love that story focus as well, and someone will rage at me about healing-cock. And the thing is, it’s not that I think cock heals a damn thing, okay? But I really do believe that if healing cock is your bag? You should get to write it without being shamed about it. Idk. I mean, do I think there are limits and things that shouldn’t be written? Yeah, I guess I do, because there’s been like, Holocaust glorification fic where I instinctively flinched with my entire SOUL. And yes, in the privacy of my heart, I judged that writer. But at the same time, I can’t be a hard core First Amendment believer, and believe that you know, Nazis should be able to march on Skokie, and not think that writer A shouldn’t get to write her Holocaust-kink porn just because it legit makes me want to be sick.

I guess, in the end, I’m just saying, I get that there are important social issues, and we should be kind to each other, so kind. But I think kindness also involves not shaming other people’s kinks. I.e., I like torturing people in my fic. I do NOT like torturing people irl. Consequently, I’m not going to assume that someone who writes something like healing cock actually thinks it works like that irl. I mean, maybe they do, and that’s a DIFFERENT discussion. But if it’s just their kink? They should be allowed to wallow in it as much as they want.
Nod nod nod. And the thing is, yes, a lot of the prescriptivist “what not to do” writing advice does come from tropes that ended up annoying a lot of people because they were so overdone and so cringe-worthy in their most hackneyed, badly-written forms. I’m the first to admit that I have a mile-long list of fic pet peeves. But the thing about those tropes is, most of them became overdone because there was something deeply appealing about them in the first place. If you start stressing yourself out about whether your fic contains the faintest whiff of healing cock, you’re already long past the point where trope familiarity has stopped helping you avoid the abyss and started making you shoot yourself in the foot.

And “healing cock,” like “manpain,” is one of those names that were coined to describe a very specific lazy-storytelling move that cashes in on the emotional impact of a particular narrative (reclaiming your sexuality after rape, grief over the suffering of someone you love) with blatant disrespect for the character whose suffering is being exploited. Fandom has an awful tendency to generalize both terms to include all writing about those subjects, which is poisonous bullshit because the whole reason those tropes suck is that they cheapen something powerful and important. Diluting them has a chilling effect on the very thing they were supposed to defend. “Healing cock” now means “any sex that ends up playing a positive role in rape recovery, and doesn’t meet some arbitrary standard of difficult, painful, fucked-up, and bleak.” So you know what? Give me all the healing cock. That is a story I want to read. I don’t give half a shit if it’s an “improbably” fluffy power fantasy. That’s why I want to read it. Wanting, and eventually having, certain kinds of sex was crucial to my own recovery from the get-go–you fucking bet I want to suck down the fictional version like delicious crack-laced candy.