Tags: advice, marginalized groups, movies, thinky thoughts, writing
This is the second definition for fanwanking in the Urban Dictionary:
To fill in plot holes or explain away lapses in continuity in fictional works by coming up with (often convoluted) explanations of how it could have happened.
“But David used Sarah’s real name even though he never knew her before she changed her identity.”
“He could have read her file. He had access to it in episode seventeen and there were a few minutes when he could have flicked through it.”
As someone who spent much of her adolescence in fandom, I’ve spent a whole lot of time fanwanking. I still do it. Take the Avengers movie for example: You know when Banner Hulks out and chases Black Widow, clearly without any control? Can’t distinguish friend from enemy? And you know how he’s totally chill at the end of the movie?
Yeeeaahh. My excuse was, “Maybe he can control it when he consciously chooses to Hulk out?”
That’s all fine and dandy, but here’s the thing: I don’t think audiences should have to flail around for missing information or pain-stakingly plug plot holes. As a writer, I think that’s my job. My mantra: Put it on the page.
I don’t mean subtext or reading between the lines. I mean obvious things. When my CPs lovingly shred my work, I can’t say, “The climax wasn’t anti-climactic at all. The secondary characters were off having dramatic show-downs of their own. Off-page. It was very exciting.”
Or: “What do you mean, ‘convenient’ breakthrough? Lucy actually Googled that info between chapters seven and eight. Yes, those chapters lead directly into each other. She… took a quick Internet break…?”
All this seems obvious, but it’s astounding how much we have in our heads that never makes it onto the page.
Sometimes, that’s intentional; I may want to save explanations for a sequel. I can still hint at the missing parts, though. Make my character wonder what’s up. Mention the dangling plot point or odd mood swing.
I’ll simply have to make it clear, in whatever way I choose, that I’m consciously omitting X or Y. It’s not an oversight. I’m just being a puppet master.
Cackling goes [here.]
This goes for details, too: How did the character get back home when her car broke down last chapter? Is she exhausted from walking for hours? Did she call a taxi? Is her car in the shop?
Nobody wants to know every aspect of a character’s life, but if I make a big deal out of something, I try to follow through. An off-hand mention may keep the reader from wondering about unimportant consequences. Instead, I want them invested in my sparkling plot.
So let’s extend this “put it in writing!” mantra to problems beyond plot holes.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people criticize authors or directors for writing about entirely straight/white worlds, only to hear, “Jeez, of course they exist, it just wasn’t relevant to the story! My world isn’t all-white at all!”
In one memorable case, the reaction was, “What are you talking about? My show has three queer characters. YOU’RE the homophobe for assuming everyone is straight.”
I don’t think it’s fair to whip out information that’s only in the author’s head and claim it’s just as canon as what’s in the books/show. It seems like a cop-out: “I’m not sure how to write a convincing gay character/it might cut down on my audience. I’ll just not mention it in the book and appease those who complain in online interviews. Win-win!”
It’s rarely intended that way, but the effect is the same: no visible representation.
Besides, what about people who never read creator interviews? Would they have an incomplete understanding of the material? For example, I’m convinced that people who watched the original The Amazing Spider-Man trailers and read interviews and articles have a different view of the story than those who only saw the movie.
“It exists in my head!” doesn’t–shouldn’t–work as a defense against criticism, be it regarding plot holes or minority representation.
The book is all most readers have. And if it’s not on those pages, it doesn’t exist.