[Originally posted elsewhere June 24, 2009]
There's a lot of stuff about warnings going on on http://community.livejournal.com/metafandom/
, and I felt the need to throw myself into the pyre.I am not your safe place.
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I've been opposed to warnings, ratings, what-have-you since they first started showing up on fan fiction. If I wanted readers starting out with the information that Starsky was going to be killed in my story, I'd start the story with something like, "The bullets tore through Starsky's chest, tearing his heart into pieces no surgeon could ever have put back together, even if there had been a surgeon there in the parking lot of the BCPD."
Not a bad opening sentence. But if I'm saving that information for later, chances are I don't want you to see it coming.
I've never written a rape story, and I probably never will. But if I did, again, I wouldn't warn for it. I don't warn for anything, except that you shouldn't drink anything while you're reading my stories. I cant to the funny side, and people have been known to choke or spray liquids out their noses reading my stories. I'll warn for that. I post in my own space, and if you come into my space to read my stories, you do so at your own risk. You can consider that a warning, if you want. But telling me what I should and should not do in my own space is presumptuous. If you don't like the way I do things, don't come here. Lose readers? Why should I care?
I've been reading various essays by people who have had seriously bad things happen to them, and who have triggers they don't want set off while reading fan fiction. And I can understand how they feel.
What I don't understand is where anybody got the idea that fandom as a whole was one big safe place.
If you and I are friends--actual friends--and are out someplace together and you're going to the restroom, you're likely to leave your purse with me. (And you're likely to tell me not to let anyone take your purse, something I find hilarious, because really, is that instruction necessary? But we all seem to do it.)
Even if we've only known each other a few hours, you might feel comfortable enough to leave your purse with me, particularly if we're at a con. It's a fan place, and relative strangers appear closer than they might actually be.
But if we were both in a movie theatre to see the new Star Trek
movie, would you hand me your purse to look after just because we're both people who like Star Trek
? Even if I was wearing a Star Fleet uniform and Vulcan ears?
I'm guessing the answer is no. God, I'm hoping the answer is no. I worry about anyone who would entrust their purse to someone on the basis of a shared interest in a particular fandom.
And I worry even more about someone who would entrust their mental health to someone based on that same criteria. If you don't know me, what makes you think I'm safe?
I've had it beaten into my head repeatedly that readers owe nothing to writers. I, as a writer, am either writing for myself alone, or I'm not a real writer. If I'm writing in the hopes of opening a two-way communication with the readers, too bad for me. If, in this so-called gifting society, I'm foolish enough to think someone might feel the societal pressure to say thank you--well, I can think again, because there is no such pressure. All the pressure is on the writer to shut up unless she's writing fan fiction. Talking about a need not to feel she's throwing her words into a vacuum is whiny and removes her title of "real writer." Writers have no right to expect anything.
Yet somehow readers expect writers to do lots of things. Spell-check, fact-check, write characters in-character.* Post in a way that's convenient for each reader. And make sure that nothing in the story comes as a nasty surprise to the reader. Because fandom is a safe place, and it's up to us writers to insure that safety.
I don't know why.
I've warned friends off certain stories I've written. I haven't done this because fandom is so warm and fuzzy, I've done it because they were friends, and I knew their tastes. But it is not my responsibility to protect strangers who might be emotionally upset from the stories I write. It's not any writer's responsibility. We are, after all, writing only for ourselves. So our sole duty is to write the story we're trying to tell as well as we possibly can. I'm creating a piece of literature. The reader doesn't enter into it.
Fandom can either be a two-way street, where readers make an effort to get to know writers and develop a relationship where they have a reason to assume there is some concern for them personally,
or it can continue to be this one-way street, where writers provide free stories and readers take them without feeling any obligation to the writers. But a one-way street does only go one way. If the reader has no obligation to the writer, the writer has just as little obligation to the reader. And you can't compare fan fiction to books or movies or any other professionally produced mode of story-telling where there are book jackets or reviews to, because readers aren't paying writers. (And professional writers don't write their own book jackets or reviews anyway.) Readers aren't paying them for the stories, they aren't paying them for the synopses they want, or the ratings, or the warnings.
There's a call for a standard of behavior for writers, but--
I was going to say, there isn't one for readers, but the first part of that sentence is wrong. There are calls for two
standards of behavior for writers. We're to write selflessly, expecting nothing in return, and we're to make sure that our stories carry proper warnings. Where is the call for a standard of response? Why is it whenever the subject of feedback is brought up, the consensus is that readers owe writers no consideration?
Well, sowing no consideration will reap you no consideration.
My trigger is being ignored. It's knowing that people want my stories but they don't want me, that except as a story-producer, I'm of no value whatsoever. It's being told by third parties that my stories are being discussed, but the people doing the discussing being unable to send me an email saying--anything. You want to talk meltdown? It sends me right back to grade school, where I lived like Carrie, only without the psychokinesis. And when I've spoken up--or have seen others speak up--the response is always that we're making too much of this, that we're whiners, that hey, *shrug* this is fandom, what do you expect?
I don't expect anything anymore. I do my own thing, in my own space.
*I'm actually in favor of spell- and fact-checking, and writing characters in character, and I try very hard to get that right. I do it for the same reason I try to be sure my hair is brushed and my slip isn't showing, because not doing it reflects badly on me.