BLUE SUN ROOM

Portraying non-sexual love in Firefly fanfic - how can we do it?

POSTED BY: JETFLAIR
UPDATED: Saturday, February 24, 2007 17:56
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Monday, February 12, 2007 8:31 PM

JETFLAIR


This topic arises out of one of Asarian’s posts which fascinated me in the River thread, which I’ll quote here to get started.


Quote:

Originally posted by asarian:
Quote:

Originally posted by jetflair:

Quote:

Originally posted by asarian:

Let's say, for the limited scope of this thread, that there are only two loves: Love, and the stuff surrounding making love. The part where my heart sank to my feet, is where it dawned upon me that the very fabric of Firefly is uprooted on a much more fundamental level even than I initially realized. In a nutshell (and somewhat over-generalized, to make the point): Firefly is about Love, vs. the majority of fanfic being about making love.

Why does having this sink in dishearten me so? Because, well, I think the magic which is Firefly is seated in being the opposite of pretty much everything else in Hollywood: it's about Love, and not the making love. The former is about having deep, tender, ineffable feelings of affection for people, and letting those feelings be real enough to do right by your teenage crew member, even if you don't figure the percentage. Or even if it costs you.

So I'd say, Take one teenage girl. Put her in close proximity to a charming, funny, handsome, protective war hero. And then... make it about Love, not making love. Like our genius man Joss did. I'll look forward to reading that. Don't expect to find me near the water cooler, though.



Another wonderful and very thought-provoking point. You just made me realize what it is that is probably the most challenging in the writing of my own fanfic. That non-sexual, non-sentimental, genuine love is one of the most precious elements of Firefly, and the elusive element I'm trying to capture.

It's incredibly difficult, though, because written expressions of love tend to come across as either unrealistically sentimental for the 'verse, or as sexual. People are so accustomed to looking for the sexual element in everything that one has to be almost explicit in saying "that's not what I'm getting at!"

My story is a POW drama, and Mal and Wash are locked up together. Twice now I've told people the story outline and recoiled when they said "Oh, so it's slash?" NO! In the same story, Mal hugs Zoe in two seperate scenes, very tender, loving, and completely non-sexual scenes, and I had someone complain that I was writing Mal/Zoe fic.

So as a writer, it's very difficult to portray love that will not be construed as sexual in nature.

At its core, my story is about Mal recovering from a series of devastating events and being able to do so, being able to cope and to remain the relatively whole, caring person he is in the series, thanks in part to the unexpected love and caring of the people around him.

I think on the screen, that would be so much easier to portray without words, with the use of those little silent moments and looks and smiles. Because in the written word, with my limitations as a writer, the essense of that love captured by Firefly is the most elusive and precious quality I could imagine.



Jetflair!

You're so right: the Firefly Love is a most elusive and precious quality. So elusive even, I've argued on occasion, that it escapes many. :) Seriously. I've personally witnessed people be totally awestruck by Firefly, yet unable to express why. The essence of real Love, captured so brilliantly in Firefly, is so rare, that while it still resonates with the core of people's soul, of course, often, on a more conscious level, the why of their excitement eludes them. They just know they Love it. And want more.




This deep and abiding non-sexual love resonates throughout Firefly, and it’s at the heart of so very many of those special moments throughout the series. It’s what makes the show so moving, so meaningful, so special. What Asarian’s post made me realize is that it is that love I have been trying to capture in my fanfic, and how elusive and difficult it is to portray in the written word.

How do you capture love like that in writing? Sometimes it can be about the words the characters say to each other, but one reason Firefly rings so humanly true is that in point of fact, many times the characters did not overtly put that love into words. Actual humans very rarely proclaim love and caring in conversation, but they display it in shades of expression, posture, tone of voice, a certain touch, a look in their eyes. All things that are difficult to portray on paper without going on for an entire paragraph about how your character said a few brief words!

Let’s take for example the poetically beautiful, deeply loving scene between Mal and River at the end of OIS as she floats down from space into Mal’s arms and returns to the ship. You care barely see their faces through their helmets, and the words they speak are plain: “Permission to come aboard?” “You ain’t quite right, you know.” “It’s the popular theory.” Yet the music, the expressions, the tone of voice, and every move the actors make turn this into a breathtakingly sweet, loving scene, incidentally one with no sexual overtones: simply and purely, love.

How on earth does one convey something like that in a fanfic? Stick to the dialog, with a little description of expression and tone of voice, and it comes off pretty cold compared to what we saw on screen.

Let’s now swing to another end of the spectrum, the scene between Book and Inara near the end of the pilot. Book speaks very openly and vulnerably to Inara, and looks up at her, crying. Inara’s touch and the scene as a whole is a beautifully tender, loving work of art. This, I think, would be somewhat easier to write, because the words are plainer and the actions easier to describe – tears, touch……things possible to convey well and tenderly on paper. But it’s open to a whole new problem, going too far and seeming overly sentimental. It worked wonderfully in the series, but I’m not sure I could write such an openly caring, emotional scene with a (gasp) man crying without being called on it by readers.

Some of those obstacles are easy to pinpoint. So much fanfic is so overtly sexual, that when you say the word love, have two characters touch or hold one another, or do something that reflects genuine caring, it’s mistaken as sexual unless you explicitly say otherwise. Explicitly saying otherwise tends to ruin said loving, caring moment.

To use an example from my own story, thanks to the abundance of male/male slash in fanfiction, if I have Mal holding Wash and comforting him, I can’t assume that readers know from the series that Mal and Wash aren’t sly and the scene isn’t intended to be homoerotic. So much fanfic strays so completely from the series and the characters that it actually becomes very hard to write a canon story.

Another, less obvious obstacle is that we as writers don’t get a musical score to lend mood to our scenes and our words.

So, I guess the point of this rambling and poorly thought-out post is to start a discussion of ways to portray the love that resonates through Firefly in fanfiction. I don’t have much by way of suggestion, just the realization that my whole story, 35 chapters and growing, is an effort to figure it out and to capture that magic.

I don’t mean to bash sexual love (also beautifully portrayed in Firefly between Wash and Zoe and Mal and Inara) or the writing of slash and the exploration of personal fantasies. It’s just that my own most deeply held fantasy is more Firefly, more of the show I love. That’s what I’m chasing in the writing of my own stories, and in reading fanfic. And the essence of Firefly is the characters and the capturing of the love between them.


"Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you when she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home." .......We love you, captain.

"This is the captain. We may experience some slight turbulence and then.....explode"

www.serenityverse.com - Zoe necklace replicas, Serenity dogtags, jewelry, image gallery w/ custom DVD covers, other goodies!


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Monday, February 12, 2007 11:23 PM

SPACEANJL


I see your thirty five chapters and raise you, well, I'm 90,000+ words in. As the one who first wrote the 'take one teenage girl...' strand, I feel I have to weigh in again. I've taken a bit of a pasting from a few quarters for the fact that I do see love between various characters such as Mal and River, but trying to write something delicate without crushing it is very difficult.

It's easy to write melodrama. Or porn. The BSR is full of people expressing their inner sex-fiend. To try and write something basic and everyday requires a certain emotional literacy and a lightness of touch. It is far easier to do if you can see faces. Oddly enough, on the musical accompaniment side - I find some songs just give me the scene. Whole sections of Snow Patrol 'Eyes Open' just screams Mal/River/Inara to me. So I play it while writing.

I think some people get caught up in writing whole pieces that are just two-handed emotional scenes. Which is fine as part of a longer arc, but leave other characters as rather 2-d. The real joy of Firefly was the fact that it took a whole ensemble of people and had them all interacting with each other and the outside 'Verse. Trying to spread scenes and dialogue evenly so that everyone gets their fifteen minutes is hard.

In fact, I think it is this balance which is key. A bit John Donne 'No man is an island...'

Example: The pilot. When Kaylee is being operated on - Jayne, hunched on the catwalk, six-years old in a six foot plus frame, all the posturing stripped away. (I make no apology for thinking that AB was one of the most gifted actors on that show.) How do you decribe that face? Incidentally, I am manifestly not a Jaylee fan, since I don't see that in the canon, but I do see an unrequited 'thing' there. And it was all done with dialogue and small business.

So - portraying the familial love between the crew takes time, a sense of proportion and a sense of restraint. Keep the actions small, low key. Real. The off-hand way someone might put a coat over a sleeping crew member in passing, make a cup of tea. One of the best lines was in 'War Stories', when Kaylee and River are shrilling over the ship with the apples, and Mal's admonishment to them to stop running. Care, concern and affection, in a passing line.


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Monday, February 19, 2007 5:58 AM

STINKINGROSE


Zoe tucking a napkin into Wash's collar, Inara brushing Kaylee's hair, Simon going stiff and formal and tongue tied.. a million little gestures and glances and the inflection of the actors' voices.
Which is why really good fanfic is so hard to write. The show was meant to be SEEN, not just read. You have to try to make the reader hear their voices and see their movements.
If you have watched the actors enough you *know* how they would probably interpret the line, maybe. "That is so perfectly Kaylee" should run through the audience's head, on the second reading preferably as the first reading should have just flowed right on by.
I am definitely not a master of the art. I just put the words out there as a script, with minor touches of blocking, and hope that it's true enough in tone that whoever is reading it will see a close approximation of what I saw when I wrote it. I cannot write a description of Zoe's face looking lovingly at someone, but you know that face well enough to see it for yourself, maybe even a better expression than I saw.
Now if you'll excuse me, my roof is starting to leak and I need to find a bucket.

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Monday, February 19, 2007 9:31 AM

KAYLEELOVE


Quote:

Originally posted by stinkingrose:
Zoe tucking a napkin into Wash's collar, Inara brushing Kaylee's hair, Simon going stiff and formal and tongue tied.. a million little gestures and glances and the inflection of the actors' voices.
Which is why really good fanfic is so hard to write. The show was meant to be SEEN, not just read. You have to try to make the reader hear their voices and see their movements.
If you have watched the actors enough you *know* how they would probably interpret the line, maybe. "That is so perfectly Kaylee" should run through the audience's head, on the second reading preferably as the first reading should have just flowed right on by.
I am definitely not a master of the art. I just put the words out there as a script, with minor touches of blocking, and hope that it's true enough in tone that whoever is reading it will see a close approximation of what I saw when I wrote it. I cannot write a description of Zoe's face looking lovingly at someone, but you know that face well enough to see it for yourself, maybe even a better expression than I saw.
Now if you'll excuse me, my roof is starting to leak and I need to find a bucket.



I think stinkingrose is right about the little things being so important. What is really great about these moments are that they run in a sequence that people that can relate to in their daily lives.

Take the first episode for example when the characters are introduced as a family:

Mal and Jayne when they were talking about duck taping Kaylee's mouth for being too optimistic (exactly the kind a thing older brothers would do)

Inara brushing Kaylee's hair and Mal popping in (it's like he's meeting Inara as his little sister's best friend)

the change in Mal's character (a little harsher) than usual from the end of the series to the beginning of Serenity and then him looking at the postcard of Inara (it could be the same feelings a single parent goes through)

unconditional love of family is shown with the growth of Jayne when Mal realizes that Jayne care what the crew think of him by begging him to lie about what he did when he has only a few last seconds to live

in Shindig where Mal talks about how Atherton doesn't see Inara, it implies that Mal can see Inara as more than just a sex partner

I think the most powerful thing about Inara and Mal's relationship is that sex is reduced to a profession and is therefore off limits--or rather for them to be together, it will require a definite decision on both parts based on more than just physical attraction (the same kind of decision that people should make before marriage but is missing in the majority of fiction today)

When Mal puts down Kaylee for wanting the pretty dress in Shindig, it is preceded by Kaylee and Zoe talking about all the nice things Inara has and Wash asks Mal for money to get a dress for his wife Zoe -- it seems to me Mal has some insecurities about being able to provide for Inara the kind of life she wants or he thinks she wants; he already is having trouble finding work to put food on the table for the members of his ship to eat

So Mal is also forced to consider the financial aspect before pursuing a sexual relationship with Inara (financial problems is one of the leading causes of divorce in the US)

A question that I have:
is marriage more about love or making love?

Of course, marriage allows for sex but rather than promote passion, it is a structure that harbors strong family. When making love becomes important, it makes decision-making "foggy" which is dangerous in choosing a partner and doing what's best for one's life

for all the freedom they have, they also have responsibilities and the discipline to make self-sacrificing decisions to help the whole(Mal facing a lady that wants to shoot him, Inara helping the ship without being asked, Book picking up a gun, Kaylee playing jacks with River after her unusual shooting behavior) --Americans love freedom but how are they handling the responsibilites that come with that?

Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is that Joss' work is so powerful because it's not just sexy (like getting a sugar high and subsequent sugar crash) but it resonates with people because of recognizable everyday hardships which are overcome by a family-love-- they watch out for eachother and they stick it out together even when one of them is having a bad day Putting them in life-threatening situations intensifies the meaning of this because it's easy to be kind in good circumstances, but in a hard situation, people become more of who they really are













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Friday, February 23, 2007 11:06 AM

STEAMER


I'm finding it a lot easier than I thought to portray romantic love without even hinting at sexual relations - rather surprises me since my experience with that emotion is as near to zip as can still be measured. On the distant horizon is a post-BDM River/OC story (please don't give me any go-se about it, okay? It's called fan fiction for a reason). I've actually sailed pretty easily through the fluffy scenes that I've written so far: and thus I am reminded of a high-larious S/K parody that was posted here a while back which well defines the difference between porn and fluff. Porn is self-explanatory, but then you have fluff - which is true non-sexual romantic love in a simple word. Like the way Simon and Kaylee fell asleep while snuggling in 'Jaynestown', or the overabundance of non-sexual smoochies shared by Wash and Zoe many a time. A first kiss doesn't always have to lead between the sheets right away, you could just portray the characters gently making out on a moonlit eve. And, in River's case, what does she like to do best? Sorry, but it ain't killing Reavers. Had the series kept flying, no doubt we would have seen her dance again.

Hell, I've written a couple of stories from Serenity's POV, talking of her affections for Mal, River and Kaylee (so far). Needless to say, affection is all you'll ever see between a spaceship and a human being. So there are plenty of ways to portray love without sex, but today's society (not to mention the media) makes it all the more difficult by giving us so little exposure to anything else. But IMO, you can write an exquisitely beautiful story teeming with touching, pornless moments of love and trust between the characters - in fact, I find such stories far more appealing than PWP. Anybody game for a porn-free writing contest or somesuch? *glances around*



Love with Kaylee
Doc will give
Hell with this
She's gonna live!
FIREFLY

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Saturday, February 24, 2007 5:08 PM

EMPIREX


I'm all for writing challenges. They're good. Make you grow as a writer, sometimes take you outside your comfort zone. Why not? Anyone else want to join in?

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Saturday, February 24, 2007 5:41 PM

FOLLOWMAL


Quote:

Originally posted by KayleeLove:
Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is that Joss' work is so powerful because it's not just sexy (like getting a sugar high and subsequent sugar crash) but it resonates with people because of recognizable everyday hardships which are overcome by a family-love-- they watch out for each other and they stick it out together even when one of them is having a bad day Putting them in life-threatening situations intensifies the meaning of this because it's easy to be kind in good circumstances, but in a hard situation, people become more of who they really are.



Very well said. That is the reason I fell in love with this story. Because it's about real people expressing real love.

Quote:

Originally posted by Steamer:
But IMO, you can write an exquisitely beautiful story teeming with touching, pornless moments of love and trust between the characters - in fact, I find such stories far more appealing than PWP. Anybody game for a porn-free writing contest or somesuch? *glances around*



Ohhh, this is an excellent idea!

Quote:

Originally posted by EmpireX
I'm all for writing challenges. They're good. Make you grow as a writer, sometimes take you outside your comfort zone. Why not? Anyone else want to join in?



YAY! Ohh, how I'll look forward to reading these!














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Saturday, February 24, 2007 5:56 PM

STEAMER


Quote:

Originally posted by FollowMal:
Quote:

Originally posted by EmpireX
I'm all for writing challenges. They're good. Make you grow as a writer, sometimes take you outside your comfort zone. Why not? Anyone else want to join in?



YAY! Ohh, how I'll look forward to reading these!



Well, if there's any more interest, game on! (I'm kinda debating whether to post excerpts from my River/OC story, since I don't plan to post the whole thing for quite some time yet....)



Knocking over
The trading station
Robbery, or
Occupation?
FIREFLY

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