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11 October 2009 @ 01:00 pm
Weighing in on the Het/Slash/Gen debate  
During the last few days, there have been posts on my flist regarding nominations at the sog_awardsand the nature of the categories that nominated fics have been grouped into. Questions about het/slash gen aren't new, not by a long shot, but I thought I'd explore the definitions a bit by using my work and the interesting way I've been nominated at the awards as an example of the fluidity.

First off, many thanks to whomever nominated Severed and Sewn for best slash, angst, and characterization. This particular story lists the primary pairing as Faith/Buffy. The action of the fic unfolds from Buffy's perspective and it's principally Faith that she directly interacts with. The content of the piece includes sex and shared emotional catharsis. I think most would agree that a fic like this belongs in the Slash category. I certainly do.

However, the story isn't really about Faith and Buffy. It's about Buffy mourning the passing of Angel of Spike. It's about her individual relationships with these two men, which are heavily explored. B/A and S/B are two distinct Het pairings. Where then do we draw the distinction in defining a story as het vs. slash? Most would say primary pairings are what categorically define fic in an award site context, but should author intent be taken into account? This sort of question puts a lot of responsibility on the weight of the nominator and, frankly, one that's pretty unecessary. I don't expect a reader to know or share my philosophical intentions when I post a story.

In addition to my slash nomination, I've also personally been nominated for Best Het author. Does this seem contrary? No, not at all. I've written femslash and I've written gen, but I primarily write about male/female relationships, and I think most people would consider me a Het author. I'd make this distinction whether I wrote one pairing or I wrote many (which I do).  

Something that I was struck by was a comment made by  angeariathat Het is somehow categorically defined as romantic or explores/develops a romantic relationship for the fic's primary pairing. If this is the case, then no one should consider me a Het writer. My work is not about romance or romantic relationships. I'm not interested in getting a pairing together. What I am interested in is exploring character's through their relationships with others. My work often includes intimacy, but not necessarily love. There's often a wealth of emotional energy being expressed, but not necessarily toward their partner. Defining het via romance is a narrow definition and one that, I think, principally serves longer, epic fics. Shorter fics and one shots don't always have the scope to make or break a relationship - to see the progression of a pairing getting together or breaking apart often requires more time and space that a longer story can spend chapters leading up to.

Over a year ago, I posed the question on my LJ What is Romance?  and got some very interesting responses. Overall, I'd say romance is a genre where you can expect certain elements, including an exploration of the romantic entanglements of two (or more) characters, whether they're male/famale or male/male. Het and Slash I would broadly define as stories that explore the relationship of a primary pairing, romantic or otherwise. Gen, then, would be stories that focus on broader themes or character studies that don't include an intimate non-platonic relationship as its primary focus.

Gen fic and it's definitions was a major talking point at several of the panels at WriterCon this summer. enigmaticblueshandily wrote up some of her recollections about the Writing Gen Fic panel over at riters_r_us, and I encourage those of you that are interested to take a look. It was also a major part of the  "Slash: Gay, Queer, Both, Neither?" panel I attended.

I think where you get into especially choppy waters is defining threesome/moresomes in an award site context. Assuming the threesome/moresome has mixed gender participants, the story's primary focus could be het, slash or both. At non-pairing specific sites, sometimes you'll get a Threesome category to address this circumstance, but at sites that don't what do you do?

I'm starting to increasingly wonder about this as my personal interest in multiple relationships in the Buffyverse evolves. We're generally forced to pick and choose which couple or relationship gets top billing in a fic, but what about fics where the primary focus is more than one relationship? Say you've got a fic with Buffy/Spike and Spike/Angel. Does Spike have to chose who he wants to "be with" at the  end of the story for us to appropriately categorize it? What if it's unresolved, or he decides Buffy and Angel are better for each other, or he wants both of them, or he wants neither of them?
Emmie: Buffy prettyangearia on October 12th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
I have to say, my musings are more from the fact that I've never consciously thought about the term before. I more easily understood slash, but Het and Gen have always blended together for me because when I write fic, I'm trying to write the characters as close to canon as I can get (as I understand it). So there'll be Spuffy, but also every other important relationship featured during that season.

But it's been very interesting to see how everyone else views what the word means to them. Because it's never really meant anything to me until the past few days. So I'm learning how people are self-identifying and that's neat. And I'm pondering where I fit in this milieu and finding that my Spuffy love makes me firmly Het, but that outside of that love, I only write Gen fic explorations. Fascinating (to me, at least).

ClawofCat: pondersclawofcat on October 12th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
I think if you were to ask a lot of pairing writers, they'd say that many of their stories are really about characters themselves or themes, rather than being "about" a pairing. Sometimes a pairing is the point of a story, and sometimes it's simply a vehicle for a writer to explore the character's in the pairing individually or any number of themes. Steve remembered the kinky burns that Spike received from Buffy during a bout of rough sex, but the point of the fic isn't Buffy & Spike or even that they're getting it on. It's all about Buffy's relationship to pain and that she's earmarked a very specific pain and punishment for herself that's only ever been assigned to vampires - her enemies, the very things that she stands in opposition to.

I'm sure you could identify, as the writer, the many points you address in TYSK that go beyond "Buffy and Spike are trying to figure out how they can have a workable relationship." The labels we assign to our fics are pretty much window-dressing. It gives the reader an idea of what to expect in the story, but it's just a guideline, not an exact science.

Continue to have thinky thoughts. They're of the good. We all enjoy a good bit of navel gazing about our writing and where we fit in to the whole schema of fandom. Sometimes it seems like an excerise in futility though. Assigning a definition to Gen is like defining Queer. Everyone has a different interpretation of what the terms means to them, their relationship with it, etc. Could give you a headache!

You should totally go to the next WriterCon. There was so much meta going on around definitions, I think you would have found it very interesting. Also, the drinking and dancing was pretty much win, too ;)
Rebcake: hellorebcake on October 12th, 2009 07:16 am (UTC)
I'm really bummed that I missed that Gen panel. It was up against a workshop that I'd signed up for, which ended up being really excellent. *sigh* Why can we not be in two places at once, when it's for a good reason?

Anyway, I'm pretty mystified by the whole het/slash/gen thing, except that people should be able to pick, if they want. I'd be tempted to put everything but explicit sex into the gen category, because relationships of all type are equally interesting and if the plumbing is not involved, then a relationship is a relationship is a relationship. Romance, friendship, frenemyship, whatever.

Of course, now that I write that, it seems patently absurd. I more or less gave up on modern het romance in cinema, at some point, because it was so hard to inject real external conflict in our "anything goes" culture. Meanwhile, I was going to lots of gay cinema with the same themes that used to be in het romance, but it worked because the culture pressures made the difficulties seem real.

Ah, it's too late for me to make any kind of clear statement on this issue. Sleepy. But, yeah: tricky stuff.
ClawofCat: fuffy kiss meclawofcat on October 14th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
Why can we not be in two places at once, when it's for a good reason?
Poor design, I think. Temporal ubiquitousness wasn't taken into account during the evolutionary process. Total folly, if you ask me. Only mutants in comics get to have the fun. If only we all could be Multiple Man.

I more or less gave up on modern het romance in cinema...I was going to lots of gay cinema with the same themes that used to be in het romance
Which themes do you mean? I'm not well acquainted with gay cinema, so my ears are all perked up.
Rebcake: sproingrebcake on October 26th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
Ack. I go to the Gay and Lesbian (and the horse they rode in on) Film Festival here just about every year, and most of the stuff I've seen is festival fodder, and so pretty hard to find (and harder yet to remember specifics about). Some big gay cinema moments that are easily available are Kiss of the Spiderwoman, The Crying Game, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bound, and tons of stuff by Pedro Almodovar, my favorite of which might be Labyrinth of Passion.

I guess the theme that I'm talking about that doesn't work so much for modern het romance is that of external obstacles. Parental disapproval, church/state imposition of what makes an approved partner, the inability to engage in sexual activity without a whole heap of bad juju crashing down on you (pregnancy, disease, soiled reputations) are pretty much non-existent in the post Loving vs. Virginia, free condoms and/or abortions for all, quickie divorce era. There isn't much left for red-blooded hets to rail against, except their own neuroses.

Great for people, not so hot for fiction.