Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998


IAXS project #604
By L.N. James
Copyright © 1998 held by author
9298 words

Introduction (01-09)
     General Comments (01-04)
     Writing Fan Fiction (05-07)
     Approach/Perspective (08)
     Disclaimer (09)
Performance (10-55)
     Writer Experience (12-18)
     Posting in Parts or Whole (19-30)
     Writing a Sequel (31-37)
     Writer's Block (38-45)
     Feedback (46-51)
     Beta Readers (52-55)
Conformance (56-82)
     Characterizations and UberTransformations (58-64)
     Fanfic Conventions (65-69)
     General vs Alt Fiction (70-73)
     Gloss vs Graphic (74-82)
Conclusion (83-84)

Writing Xena: Warrior Princess Fan Fiction:
The Pressure To Perform And Conform


General Comments: Once upon a Time...

Xena, Warrior Princess, tragically trying to outrun the third season.

Xena, Warrior Princess, beginning her life anew.

[1] Xena: Warrior Princess fan fiction (fanfic) has become such a prolific and influential phenomenon on the Internet that countless web sites are devoted to the promotion of this largely amateur fan activity. Indeed, web sites that index fanfic stories, such as Shadowfen's Xena: Warrior Princess Fan Fiction Index and the Xenaverse Codex, show that there are thousands of titles by hundreds of writers (often called 'bards') in tens of different category genres. The fact that fanfic stories and sites receive tens of thousands of hits by voracious readers all over the world is a testament to the appeal of XWP fan fiction.

[2] As compelling as the actual TV show is, many readers find fan fiction an excellent outlet and source for more in-depth exploration of the characters of Xena and Gabrielle, as well as other minor characters on the show, such as Callisto, Ares, Ephiny, and Joxer. With the diversity of viewpoints and preferences in the Xenaverse, fan fiction is an excellent medium for everyone to find their views of the characters represented. In fact, some individuals even find the fan fiction chronicling the life and times of Xena and Gabrielle to be more satisfying than the show itself. Regardless of whether reading or writing fanfic is a mere pastime or an obsession, fan fiction's commanding presence in the Xenaverse is worthy of note.

[3] With the explosion of fanfic on the Internet beginning around the middle of Season 2 (approximately January of 1997), the quality and quantity of stories available has increased dramatically. Fans of the show have found an outlet for their creativity and have collectively contributed to the appeal and popularity of Xena: Warrior Princess. As such, exploring the fascinating realm of fan fiction is a journey that has garnered its own special issue of Whoosh! and keeps many fanfic readers and writers busy on the multitude of Internet email lists such as Xenaverse, Chakram, Xena Campfire Girls, and countless others.

[4] It is with this widespread appeal in mind that this article discusses various aspects of creating XWP fan fiction from the perspective of the amateur fanfic writer and reader. Fan fiction has become an important component of Xena fandom that has its own culture and norms. Preserving the history of this pop-cultural phenomenon can help shed light on the people who have helped turn Xena: Warrior Princess into more than just a mere television show and rather, a celebration of the Xena Xeitgeist!

Writing Fanfiction: Pressure, what pressure? (PWP?)

Xena, Warrior Princess, before the dart gun worked its effect.

Some people take stress not as well as others.

[5] Whether one is a professional writer or an amateur, writing a fanfic story can involve a myriad of emotions: challenge, accomplishment, joy, struggle, catharsis, frustration. If the planets are aligned in just the right way and the muses have spoken, the fanfic writer encounters no resistance from their story and it flows like fine wine. However, many times with fanfic, turning a theoretically good story into reality becomes a Herculean (Xenian?) task.

[6] While writing a fanfic story, there are many different considerations to keep in mind that could work for or against the amateur fanfic writer. For example, things like the writer's level of experience, posting a story in parts, writing a sequel to a story, encountering writer's block, incorporating reader feedback, and using beta readers can all have an influence on if/when a story gets written. These aspects may or may not bring with them feelings of pressure while writing and either hinder or encourage the writing process. Each of these and the potential pressure associated will be discussed in this article.

[7] In addition, pressure can take another form and that is the feeling that a writer needs to conform to certain writing standards. While not necessarily endemic to Xena: Warrior Princess, a fanfic writer may encounter issues such as maintaining realistic characterizations, conforming to established fan fiction conventions, deciding to write general or alternative fanfic, and choosing to go gloss or graphic with certain elements of a story. These all can have an impact on what actually does or does not get written within a given story. Each of these issues will be examined in this article.

Approach/Perspective: POV, PYT, and BYOB

[8] For the most part, this article will examine the fan fiction experience from the point of view of the writer (in this case, me). This article will mainly cover the perception of pressure with regard to performance and conformity issues while writing XWP fan fiction. Occasionally, it will be helpful to approach various topics from the viewpoint of the fanfic reader as well. Because the relationship between writer and reader is a close one and because many writers are fanfic readers as well, this dual perspective can be quite informative.

Disclaimer: Blame the Flying Mammal

[9] As an amateur fanfic writer myself, I must claim upfront that I am by no means an expert on the writing process. There are literally hundreds of fanfic writers out there, some with professional writing experience, that could have written this article. I do not claim to represent every writer's experiences. The views expressed in this article are my own and come from my own personal perceptions of XWP fanfic. Also, while trying to make this article as academic as possible, if, for some reason, anything remotely silly slips in under the watchful eyes of the editors, please place all blame on The Bat Morda. Thank you.


Either it is a wedding ring or I do not want to know where this hand has been.

Xena always performs well under pressure.

[10] When it comes down to actually writing a fanfic story, there are a number of performance variables that fall into the whole fanfic equation. The process of writing a fanfic story can be as simple as sitting down one day and writing a story with nary a care in the world. No worries, no fuss, no problem. Oh, for the simple joy of this type of experience!

[11] However, as with many things, thinking about something too much leads to all kinds of trouble. Writing fanfic is no exception. Whether one is a new writer or has a few stories under the proverbial belt, some issues come up in writing fanfic that can either help lead a bard through a peaceful dreamscape meadow sans Meridian or can come to haunt a bard like the memory of Perdicus or that sad Little House on the Prairie skirt/blouse ensemble. Whatever the case may be, examining this journey can be quite informative into the writing process.

Writer Experience: New Bard or Old Guard

Hmmm... is it 'I before E except after X' or...?

Yet another bard beginning another opus...

[12] Writing one's first XWP fanfic story can be both exciting and scary. With the proliferation of fanfic currently available, starting out into the world of on-line story telling can be daunting. How do I start? What do I want to write about? Where will I post my story when it's finished? Will anyone like it?

[13] Even the most experienced fanfic writer once was a newbie posting their story for the first time and wondering about the same issues. In the early days, the few fanfic stories were written by the pioneers who paved the way for the rest of us. Almost every fanfic writer can remember reading their first Xena story and perhaps thinking to themselves 'Hey, I want to try this too!'. Many of those early fanfic writers and stories were the inspiration that encouraged present day writers to take up the pen (or keyboard).

[14] In the course of starting one's first fanfic attempt, those early bards and stories may have served as a model for writing, whether content-wise or stylistically. The pressure comes when a new fanfic writer compares their own story with that of their favorite bard and lets that comparison discourage their own self-expression. However, what often happens is that, despite other stories, a writer finds their own unique 'voice' or approach to the subject matter. That voice is no better or worse than any other and That is the hard thing to remember when starting out writing fanfic. One of the most truly rewarding experiences in writing fanfic is discovering one's own inner bard. This makes the Xenaverse a richly diverse world of many different perspectives. There is a place for everyone, no matter the subject matter or style.

[15] The challenge for a new fanfic writer is to trust her/his own voice. As Lunacy, a noted Xenaverse fanfic reviewer, often likes to say to the writers she encourages, 'Write for yourself. Don't worry about what others may think'. Wise words to write by, harder to live when fan fiction can be a feedback-driven endeavor. To be sure, creating a story, in and of itself, is very rewarding; knowing that others 'get' it and understand what the writer is trying to convey is just as rewarding. A new fanfic writer may be faced with balancing the need for self-expression and the need for approval. Remembering that writing fanfic should be fun is one way to let go of any doubts that may arise and stifle creativity.

[16] An experienced writer of Xena fanfic may find different pressures during the writing process. While some of the same issues may come up (e.g., What do I write about now?), other questions may arise that could potentially add pressure to the writing process. Will my next story be as good as my last? Can I make this story new and different? What if the readers that enjoyed my last story do not like this one?

[17] Each of these questions are often dealt with in the true solitary tradition of writing. While often not spoken of, even among circles of Xena fanfic writers, doubts about the Next Big Story linger. It appears that only when those questions are forgotten in the inspiration for the next sentence or paragraph of a story, does it make those matters a moot point. When truly immersed in the writing of a story, there is no room left in the brain to be wasted on questioning the bigger issues, there is only room to let the story write itself while the writer gets out of the way.

[18] Writing Xena: Warrior Princess fanfic does not require a degree or a contract or a class in creative writing. The only requirement appears to be the inner voice that pushes the amateur writer to tell a story, in their own unique way, about two extremely compelling characters that have captured the attention of a growing subculture of fans. No matter the experience level of a writer, many great stories have been written and continue to be written in spite of occasional perception of pressure. That so many people have found their own 'voices' is testament to the power of XWP to unlock hidden talents and change perceptions through the written word.

Posting in Parts or Whole: 'Where's the next d*mn chapter?' Syndrome

Don't try this at home unless you've practiced 300 times & have fun-loving neighbors.

Posting in parts can be just as dangerous as whatever Gabrielle is doing in this exciting scene.

[19] Some writers prefer to wait until they have completed a story before they post it to a web site or to an email group. Other writers choose to post their stories to the web or email groups as they are in the process of writing the story. There are performance issues with both of these approaches.

[20] When posting a completed story, often a writer might feel the need for the Final Version to be perfect before it goes out on the Net. What this might mean is a thousand and one edits on the first paragraph until what is written is not what a writer initially conceived. Multiply this self-editing by the number of paragraphs in a given story and throw in an obsessive need for perfection (common in verbally creative types) and you have got the formula for pressure-filled writing.

[21] Sometimes, over-editing and second-guessing on a story can get in the way of what a person is really trying to say. As much as a writer wants to perfectly capture how Xena's raven hair tangled in the winds of battle, the important point of the story may be how steadfastly Gabrielle stands by the warrior even when she is fighting all crazy like a Banshee. Getting bogged down in the minutia of editing and perfect writing can sometimes hinder the heart of the story.

[22] The beauty of posting a story as a whole is that the completed work is out of a writer's hands and is set free. After getting the idea finally out on paper (or phosphors as the case may be), there is nothing quite like the feeling of having a complete story all finished and done. Posting a story as a whole avoids the pitfalls associated with serial posting of chapters or parts such as writer's block in the middle of a story and changes in plot over the course of a story.

[23] Choosing to post in parts is a tricky proposition, especially for new bards. Often time, a writer may have an idea for a story and have a general outline (on paper or in their head) of how the story will progress. However, during the actual writing of a fanfic story, plot and characterization may change. Writing is a process and those changes are natural and unforeseeable.

[24] For new bards who are starting to get a feel for the characters and structuring plot (i.e., finding one's 'voice'), it might be more challenging to post in parts because there is little room for editing, especially if in early parts, a major plot-flaw is introduced that contradicts subsequent parts. If a writer is posting in parts, it is difficult to go back and edit or change previous parts that are already out on the Net. Readers will have read one version and may not know that changes were made. This causes much angst among readers. They do not like this. Writing the whole story before posting it might be preferable to new bards as there is much more freedom and leeway to change things as one writes.

[25] For established bards who have found their 'voice', posting in parts is a good way to either kickstart a story, maintain the flow of the story, and to get on-going feedback. Posting in parts forces the writer to finish a story or suffer the wrath of angry readers who have read all the way up to Chapter 32 and get p*ssy if the story is not finished for weeks, months, years. This is a good kind of pressure in that it challenges the writer to continue to create and gives structure and deadlines for the writing process. In addition, it is a good way to gauge how a story is being received by its readers and whether the writer is on track with plot and characterization.

[26] The biggest danger of posting in parts is the stalled story. As alluded to previously, whether the writer is new to fanfic or has been around the block once or twice, there is always the chance that a story will just...stop (see Writer's Block). Real life may begin to interfere and a writer does not have as much free time to write as one did previously. The plot may have taken a turn such that the writer is having a hard time figuring out where to go next. For whatever reason, a story posted in parts may not be updated or worked on in months. I like to call this the "Where's The Next D*mn Chapter Syndrome" (WTNDCS).

[27] As a writer, the incomplete story may loom large over one's head and the inevitable email from faithful readers asking when the next part will be posted may start to feel like the bad kind of pressure. One way to deal with this pressure is to remind oneself that the original story idea is still somewhere in one's head and that it eventually find its expression. All good problem solving benefits from a period of 'stewing' where the idea is put on the proverbial back burner, still simmering and cooking, but not causing a kitchen fire. Coming back to a stalled story a day or week or month later can bring with it a new perspective and renewed sense of the story and the motivation to finish it.

[28] As a reader, there is nothing more frustrating than a great story posted in parts suddenly stalls and there are no new updates for months. The danger is that when the new chapter or part finally appears, the reader may have either given up on the writer/story or forgotten what they had read previously. However, as a reader, giving the writer a reasonable amount of time to write before abandoning the story or sending off the 'WTNDCS' emails is always a nice thing to do. If a reader enjoyed the story the first time through, catching up on it when the new chapter/part arrives will not be too much hassle.

[29]There is an unspoken promise that if a writer posts a story in parts, they will finish it. If both the writer and the reader accepts this premise, it is only right for the writer to carry through until the end and the reader to reward with feedback. Each writer is in a position to determine for their self whether to take on the task of posting in parts or writing a complete story before putting it on the web. Each reader is in a position to choose to read the story in progress or to wait until it is complete. Hopefully, in the end, both will be happy with their choices.

[30] Finally, making the choice to post a story only when it is complete has both pros and cons associated with it and the individual writer must weigh how the story needs to be told in order to make that decision. Sometimes, a story will only 'sound' right when it is read from start to finish with no breaks in between. Other times, it makes sense to post a shorter story as a whole rather than in parts. Other times, a serially presented story builds on each new posted part bringing the reader into the world the writer is creating and keeping them entertained with anticipations for the next new part. In the end, it is the way the writer approaches the writing process that often dictates posting choices. Good old fashioned trial-and-error with both methods often solves this issue.

Writing a Sequel: Uh-oh, now what?

and when I find her I'll make her listen to my stories until she begs for mercy.

Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia, has never had problems with sequels.

[31] Writers who have written a story that has the potential for a multi-story arc or who have created their own characters (such as in UberXena fanfic) are often faced with the task of following up a story with a sequel. This can be both a blessing and a curse, depending upon whether or not the sequel had been planned all along. An oft received email from fanfic readers is 'Great story, how about a sequel?'.

[32] In a multi-story arc, the writer generally has a story plan in the beginning for what is going to happen in each sequential installment (e.g. Xena deals with enemy from past, Gabrielle comes to grips with Xena's darkside as a result, Xena and Gabrielle reach an understanding about each other). That general outline dictates the direction of the sequel and can lead to a great trilogy or set of stories by a writer, exploring a common theme or idea. This makes for a pleasant reading experience because the writer's style is usually preserved throughout the arc and the opportunity to explore multiple issues given the same context created by the writer is available.

[33] In a writer-created 'altaverse' (or specific set of parameters set up by an individual writer for their characters), writing a sequel may or may not be an easy task. For example, with UberXena stories, the writer has taken the time to create new characters and settings and has crafted the story in their own vision. Who better to continue to explore that vision than the original writer?

[34] This question is especially pertinent regarding Janice and Mel UberXena stories. These stories tend not to follow this pattern in that many different writers have taken up the mantle and have written many stories based on these characters. Because Janice and Mel were created (albeit rather sketchily) by the writer responsible for THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210), Robert Sidney Mellette, no one bard writing fanfic can necessarily claim dominion over these characters. Thus, many writers can explore Janice and Mel in their own unique ways. However, with other UberXena fanfic stories out there, very, very rarely will a bard write a fanfic story based on another writer's Ubercharacters.

[35] Usually, if Ubercharacters are continued into a new fanfic story, the original writer is the one writing the sequel (whether that is a result of a writer claiming proprietary rights over their Ubercharacters or whether other writers are not interested in writing about someone else's characters remains unknown). With the growing appeal of UberXena fanfic, it might be nice to see that trend change to allow for growth in this particular fanfic genre.

[36] The pressure of writing a sequel comes when a writer knows the audience wants a new story but the writer has not come up with a story idea or plot. In this case, a writer may reluctantly attempt to please the fanfic readers rather than wait for inspiration. Forced writing is one of the biggest pitfalls of giving in to the pressure of writing a fanfic sequel. Writing a story based on the suggestions of others is often a hard request to fulfill because the writer usually has to feel an inner motivation to tell a story and that rarely corresponds to the exact wishes of someone else. While some writers are able to craft a sequel under these conditions, others may find the challenge and pressure to come up with a new story on demand too arduous.

[37] In the end, writing a sequel to a fanfic story is reliant on many conditions, the most important being the writer's own desire, motivation, and inspiration to continue and progress a story forward. Remaining true to one's own voice may often be more important than filling the request of fanfic readers. As much as a reader may want a sequel, having the writer tell their own story in their own way in their own time is often more rewarding for all parties involved.

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