Monday, January 17, 2011

'Shipping My Own Book

I know it's a holiday for a lot of people, but I'm observing the occasion by pursuing my dreams instead of by taking a day off, which I figure is appropriate. But I am in my version of "office casual" today in that I'm wearing the Fuzzy Pink Pajama Pants of Work. One bad thing about what I do is that there aren't really holidays. On the up side, I can take a holiday when I want one, but on the downside, the work still has to be done. Mondays are big work days for me because that's when I work on my weekly medical school freelance project, so if I want to take a Monday off, I have to do the project ahead of time. Meanwhile, I have a lot of writing work I want to do.

After a couple of days of writing bingeing, I spent Saturday reviewing my work because sometimes a writing binge can go off in strange directions. Sometimes those directions are good and offer unexpected insights. Sometimes they head off down odd rabbit trails, and it's better to stop and regroup before things get totally out of control. In this case, I had a rather shocking revelation: I had become a rabid 'shipper within my own book, which is kind of dangerous.

For those (Mom) who aren't on top of all the Internet terminology, "'shipper" is short for "relationshipper," which generally means someone who is a fan or proponent of a particular romantic pairing. My understanding (which could be wrong) is that this started in discussions of The X-Files, where the Relationshippers, later shortened to 'shippers, were the fans who wanted Mulder and Scully to fall in love and become romantically involved. The term later spread to other areas, and once it moved beyond a two-character series where the issue was relationship vs. non-relationship, it began to be applied to particular pairings within a cast of characters, such as which side of a romantic triangle should win.

In its milder forms, 'shipping amounts to enjoying the interactions of a pair of characters, thinking that they might make a good couple and maybe even imagining how they might get together. It can escalate to committing fan fiction in which you create your own stories about them getting together or about them being an established couple, to lengthy debates with people who oppose that pairing or who prefer another pairing, to identifying personally with the pairing to the point of identifying yourself as on a "team". At more extreme levels, it can involve demonizing any character you perceive as a rival or threat to your chosen relationship, and there the fanfic tends to involve the rival being really awful (usually very much out of character), possibly even physically harming one member of the chosen pairing so that the True Love can come to the rescue. At some of the crazier levels, fans demonize the real-life significant others of the actors who play the characters, with the idea that the significant other is maybe stopping the pairing from happening onscreen out of a fear of the explosive chemistry with the other actor or sometimes even because the fans lose their grip on the difference between fantasy and reality and think that even the actors have to get together.

I don't have to worry about the extreme crazy here because there are no actors playing my characters (I don't even have mental casting), and I'm not getting into any flamewars on the Internet over which character should win, since there are very few people who've read any of this. But I did realize I'd committed the sin of starting to demonize the rival and had even written a scene that should be a major turning point in the book so that this character was completely out of character and being a real jerk in a way that made no sense whatsoever.

This isn't really a triangle. The main character is a woman and there are two men who might be considered romantic prospects for her. When I started working on this book, I had no idea which one -- if any -- she'd end up with, and I even kept that part vague in the series synopsis. But as I started writing, one of them really took the lead. It's another Owen situation, where a character just came to life and turned out to be fascinating in ways I didn't expect. Once I wrote a rather pivotal scene where he showed his true colors, I was Team Him all the way, and subsequently turned into a thirteen-year-old fangirl, writing scenes where he got to be super-nice and obviously the perfect match for the heroine, as well as scenes where the Other Guy was a total jerk who was mean to her.

What makes all this particularly tricky is the fact that Other Guy has done something that would make the heroine angry if she knew about it (and this was planned and set up from the beginning, before I went all 'shipper fangirly), though it was for a good reason and wasn't personal, so there is going to be a part where she's furious at him. What I have to do is really consider things from his point of view -- what he's feeling and what he might do. I think this will involve adding one scene and rewriting another, and that will probably make things fall together in a better way so I can move forward.

While it is perfectly natural for an author to favor one character over another and to plan for one character to get the girl and the other not to, I think it can be dangerous if the author gets too invested in a character or relationship, to the point of losing all objectivity. The right one should win on honest merit, not because the author resorted to demonizing the rival. "Mr. Wrong" doesn't have to mean "Jerk." The characters need to be allowed to be people instead of puppets to act out the author's fantasy life. I guess it's kind of like the Mary Sue situation, only instead of a character representing the author, to the point the author can't be objective about the character, it's a character representing the author's ideal mate or it's the author's idea of the ideal relationship.

1 comment:

Chicory said...

It's great that you caught yourself right there in the rough draft. Good for you. :)