Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998

Romancing the Fan: Romance and Xena Fan Fiction

Some Creative Dynamics: Romance Rules


Chart II
Source Of Inspiration(%)        Change In %   (New Total)
Xena/Gabrielle Relationship(55%)None(55%)
Fan-Reader Response(29%)+22%(51%)
Writing-Skill Improvement/ Style-Play(03%)+44%(47%)
Relaxation/ Fun(26%)None(26%)
Other Authors' Fan Fiction(22%)None(22%)
General Impact of XWP (the show)(14%)>1%(14%)
Fascination With an Historical Era(11%)None(11%)
Increased Confidence/ Self Esteem(07%)+03%(10%)
Subtext in XWP (the show)(07%)None(07%)
Compulsion (internal)(07%)None(07%)
Cathartic Outlet(03%)+03%(06%)
Character of Xena (the show)(03%)None(03%)
Counter Censorship(00%)+03%(03%)

[29] Falling for the romance in the show is the primary cause of Xena fan fiction writing. We bards are attracted to the characters and their relationship. Though the show's vision of the relationship and adventure is compelling for some of us, we want more; so we create more. Or we want to take the characters places they cannot go on the show, the most popular 'place' being stories that include romance of an intense, sexual nature. Or we want to change things that we do not like about an episode. We are in control of the destiny of the characters, and we share our vision with our peers because it enhances our own enjoyment.

[30] The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
    --C. G. Jung

[31] All the participating writers were asked the following question: What has been your inspiration for writing fan fiction? Was it a need for catharsis, pleasure, fun, self-indulgence/wish fulfillment, or creative compulsion ('I just couldn't or can't stop myself')? Was it because the show pushes against limits and inspired you to do the same, to try to express the inexpressible, or perhaps the fantasy of Xena is opening up a deeply held need to be subsumed by some female power. She is protector, partner, friend, mentor, etc., everything men are supposed to be, but she is a woman and not foreign, so she has even more power.

[32] You know, I've never stopped to ask myself that question. It's all that you mentioned and then some. I guess the primary motivation is that I view the characters of Xena and Gabrielle as archetypes. They stand for so many ideals--feminism in its most positive sense, friendships at their deepest and most profound (which can imply any amount of physicality, but their relationship is not based on physicality), the too-often-categorized-as-polar-opposites of strength and passion, politics and art, brawn and heart. I strive to bring all of those aspects into my own life, and I can more easily discern just what they are by seeing them separated into two individuals. But, unlike most characters we see on TV or in films, these two women each embrace all of those aspects; it's just that Xena tends to show one side more often than Gabrielle does. When push comes to shove, though, they choose to use whatever capacity they believe will work best. Xena talks her way out. Gabrielle busts some heads to get out. Writing about them gives me ready-made fully three-dimensional archetypal characters I can use to flesh out overarching issues such as trust and the ineffable quality of love.

[33] For me, it's been the completely compelling relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. It's really the need to understand these two people on a level that the series doesn't expand upon.
    --L. N. James

[34] Hmmm, basically, the reasoning is pretty simple. The show inspires a lot of thoughts and plots and ideas, and it's a way recreating the Xenaverse to fit personal preferences (i.e., follow through on their relationship). Unfortunately, the show is unlikely to ever go as far as I'd like, so it's also a way of taking the plot in an openly romantic direction, while retaining a lot of the action/adventure elements that originally appealed. As an added bonus, writing is just a lot of fun.

[35] When I first began watching the series in the first season, it had been the action that caught my eye. Within a few episodes, it was the pure chemistry between Xena and Gabrielle that held me enthralled. Here were two women with nothing in common but found something in each other that filled the empty places inside. I lived for those tiny moments at the end of each episode that focused on them rather than what was happening during that show. The 'sensitive chats' they had. I felt cheated at their shortness and something inside snapped. If the show's writers wouldn't indulge my needs, I'd do it myself. That's why I began "The Island". It was to write a mushy little story and to get it out of my system. I had never written anything in my life before [like] that and was surprised when people actually liked what I had written. I didn't realize at the time that other people felt the same way concerning X & G's relationship - that their relationship touched all of us in some way.

[36] I was so much in love with the show, and so inspired by the all the people commenting on my stories that I kept falling further and further in love.
    --Tim Wellman

[37] Both Xena, and Gabrielle and their ever-changing drives have been the major inspiration in my writing Xena fan fiction. Both women have evolved quite a bit in the last three years, and I enjoy the opportunity to explore the changes as they have been presented, and the chance to delve into their psyche in a way the television show can never do. I enjoy writing about relationships and what it takes to maintain a relationship. Many of today's unresolved issues stem from the inability of people to maintain comfortable relationships... whether at work, or in the home. Xena and Gabrielle provide the opportunity to explore this problem and to show that working through your changes and problems is worth it.
    --Marie E. Costa

[38] The challenge is the reason why I started writing fan fiction in the first place. I read alternative fanfic extensively prior to even thinking about writing one of my own. I read some of the general fanfic but, frankly, didn't find that genre nearly as inspiring. It wasn't until I read about Iapetus' Second Annual Bard Contest did I feel the impetus to take the plunge and put something out for others to judge.

[39] What is inspiring about altfic is the emotional intensity. Deep personal relationships are always at the heart of the altfic, whether explicit like a tryst in an Amazon hut or tame like a quiet meal around the campfire. Xena and Gabrielle are like two sides of the same coin. They are destined to become as one.

[40] I don't much care for being subsumed by anybody, even if she's Xena. I like the ideal of an equal partnership in an intimate relationship. The altfic had the greatest potential for exploring just such equalities. Love among peers is harder to achieve and maintain, but I think it's more honest than love based on dependency.
    --Bongo Bear

[41] I think at least part of my inspiration for writing fan fiction has been as a way for me to "fix" what I saw in the episodes that drove me nuts. I wrote my first story, "The Third Wheel", after I saw the episode RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205). Gabrielle's willingness to abandon Xena and the traveling way of life to go back to Poteidaia with the "dull and stupid" man she had originally run away from just seemed so wrong to me. I kept trying to "justify" that behavior in my mind, and, before I knew it, I had written a story.

[42] Why do I write? Well, it's an escape for me. I find it relaxing, often therapeutic, and it's given me an outlet to express all sorts of things. I'd say there is an element of creative compulsion and self-indulgence mixed in. And let's face it, it's kind of a power trip too. In my universe I get to call all the shots and see what happens. I also get to experiment, try different things and tap into all sorts of psyches. That's kinda cool. Besides, Xena and Gabrielle provide a rich playground to do that in. They are dynamic characters in their own right, a wonderful depth to their relationship, cool things from the show to draw on and a setting where pretty much anything can happen. Who could ask for more?
    --Bat Morda

Fan Letters

[43] The 'fan letter' is something that the web has given to fan fiction authors, and this interaction between reader and writer plays a significant part in the development and continuance of fan fiction.

[44] I've never experienced anything like the response one gets when publishing on the web. Generally, I wrote for professional purposes and one doesn't always get responses from that sort of thing, other than a paycheck (which is a darn good thing, by the way). Xena fanfic introduced me to the 'fan letter' and that is an amazing feeling. Getting immediate feedback on your work is incredible and really satisfies in a deep and lasting way.

[45] I guess more than anything the inspiration to continue to write fan fiction has been the fans. Every e-mail I get about my stories encourages me to write more. I have a million stories in my head, and every time someone tells me that they can't wait for my next story, it pushes me to open up my word processor and start plugging away. As for the specific characters of Xena and Gabrielle... their mythological world gives me great creative freedom to do what I want with the characters. I love the Amazons and goddesses and my mind is constantly swimming with stories about them. The hardest part is sitting down and actually getting the ideas onto cyberpaper. I guess for me, the positive praise is the lifeblood of my writing. I seriously doubt I'd continue writing if people didn't send me e-mails encouraging me. I take great pleasure out of seeing my new stories being well received. I try not to analyze it too much.
    --B.L. Miller

[46] Ninety-five percent of the bards interviewed indicated that they had written a story because someone asked them to or because of reader feedback (see chart VI).

[47] We write for a variety of reasons.

For me, writing is the primal function of mythmaking and story telling. We must make our own myths in this day and age, myths that fit our culture, our time, and that fulfill the needs we have. We write fan fiction because all the myths we currently see (i.e. movies and television) are sanitized for the masses, and therefore we as women, as people with alternate lifestyles, etc.- do not see ourselves represented. Our needs for cultural heroes are not being met, and so we do what people have always done, and make our own. I think that the reason so many people have fastened onto Xena is that she is a step closer to being "Our Hero" than anyone else on television or in the movies. Why? Because she's a woman who doesn't take sh*t from anyone. She's a woman who doesn't need to be rescued by a man. She is all those things that women have been yearning for in our mythological structure. But, I believe that the reason so much of the fan fiction is alternative is that A) the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is already so loving on screen, and B) that lesbians still need a mythological hero of their own, and Xena is the easiest to make fit the bill.


Wooing the Reader

[48] The title of this article, "Romancing The Fan: Romance and Xena Fan Fiction", at least in part suggests that we fan fiction authors, inspired by XWP, write for more than ourselves alone. We are drawn to Xena's power, and her envelopment/acceptance/love for us (vicariously experienced) is empowering. We expand on the theme and share our idealized visions of love or emotional bonding with the hope of forming a type of relationship with readers. Life is all about relationships and we, like actors who would woo their audience, seek not only artistic expression but acceptance as well. There is no monetary profit in this endeavor. Our profit is of a spiritual nature during the writing of it and whenever a reader communicates to us their thoughts and feelings about our expressed visions. If it is positive, our efforts to woo were successful and we are spiritually energized. If we get little response or too many negatives, we will give up or amend our "courting" in some way.

[49] While Quest responded to the statement above with the myth-making paradigm, Katrina had this to say:

Well, I think that's true. We do get energized or enervated by other's responses. It can be a bit like putting good gas in the tank. I've gotten 'high' from a single letter of praise, and I've gotten 'bummed' from a put down. I think it's because artists/authors are responsive beings. We have to be in order to write. It's part of the observation process, part of the inner search for meaning. We respond to the heart of the story and it pours from us.

[50] Yeah, I was inspired by the strength of the characters, the power of the women portrayed. I was inspired by the story telling. They definitely push at my boundaries, and sometimes I like it and sometimes I don't, but I don't regret the being part of it, and I treasure the changes in my life that I've experienced because of it. I have friends - lovers - because of this show. I've come out from huge closets to more people because of this show. I'm more spiritual now, but at the same time I'm also a bit more cynical. I observe more because now I know there is more to see. I've approached and moved beyond a great fear, because of this show. That fear of being alone has been replaced by confidence and faith in my humanity. There are treasures innumerable. I can't even place a value on it because the experience has been too important. It wasn't a case of "if Xena can do it I can", but rather, "today I'll find my courage, because I know it's there, and I have people who love me for the whole of me". I've become familiar with genuine creative successes because of this show. The show gave me my honesty back, my creativity.

[51] XWP teaches courage in expression. I like the ease with which the characters touch and laugh and cry and live. XWP teaches the Buddha thought of, "Every day is a new day. It's what you do today that counts". Very Zen, very true. Today I will do something that counts. Today I will change my world. Today I will live my life by my own terms. Some days I do better than others, but always I hear it in me: my response to the show. I will choose to live and be and do and Love as bravely as I can. Maybe that's it. Maybe it is a simple bravery, a belief in the possible. True love is possible and can be found. True love overcomes. That's a pretty solid and valuable message, no matter what the gender and manner of the love.

[52] Fan fic started out as a response for me, but it became something deeper, a place to explore. I push words around like paint, trying to see if it works or not, if it heightens shadow, or lightens a mood or simply turns me on. I put it out because some people might like it too. I'm awfully happy when they do.

[53] A good writer will open up doors to their own souls in order to pull others (readers) in. We dance naked before strangers, hoping that we somehow touch an answering cord within them. We seduce them into our vision and invite them to get lost in it.

[54] Actually, depending on the "negativity" of the feedback, I get energized by it. I can't say that a "you suck, your writing sucks, and you're a sicko queer" letter would make my day all that much brighter, but I think after the initial reactionary response (griping, groaning and cussing...) I'd feel the need to "prove them wrong" or whatever. Of course, this is not to say that I don't adore positive feedback... I love that. Nothing makes me smile brighter, or gives me more surprised pleasure than to open an e-mail from someone regarding a story I wrote, and see that they're telling me just how much they enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I save every letter I get, to look at when I'm feeling low. I also answer everything... sometimes I'm not the most verbose in my replies, but I like to let people know just how much I appreciate their appreciation.

Honing Writing Skills

[55] It is interesting to note that the third most common "Source of Inspiration" (see Chart II above) for writing fan fiction is the desire to grow as a writer, to improve writing skills or experimenting, and to play with different writing styles. This is something that typically happens after we have written a story or two already.

[56] As far as my personal entry into the world of fan fiction, I did it to re-discipline myself about my writing. I've always written fiction - with varying degrees of success - but because of my responsibilities as a commercial writer, I had drifted away from fiction and basically my "idea" well was pretty bone dry. Having ready-made characters and a framework seemed a good way to get my feet wet again. As I've spent more time playing in the fan fiction arena, I've found that all those ideas I thought were gone forever are returning. I think my motivation has changed, simply because when I first started I wasn't sure I had any more stories left in me. But I've taken advantage of the wide range of genres in which Xena fiction exists to play stylistically with my writing and to hone my skills of characterization and plot. It's also given me a forum to write the kind of fiction that I as a reader want to see. I write alt. fiction - not because of any overwhelmingly passionate conviction that Xena and Gabrielle are lovers on the show - but because I want to read fiction about strong women acting to assertively control their own destinies. (The fact that they're lovers is just a delightfully added bonus.)
    --S. L. Bowers

[57] My writing has changed some, mainly in that I'm trying to improve from being just someone who throws a few words down for her own enjoyment to one whose stories have better flow, sentence structure, and all those other little things that elevate it to something really worthwhile. I definitely take my writing more seriously than I used to, but when I started out, I never intended for anyone to ever see any of the stuff that I'd written.

[58] I still love the ongoing search for the essence of the Warlord as I call it. But I am writing to improve my skill at story telling. I want to be the best that I can be at this art form. The responses I receive to my writing have been the fuel that keeps me writing. I find I want to fill the hunger for more that people want to see from me. It's very hard to resist, and it becomes self motivating too.

"We learn something by doing it. There is no other way."
    --John Holt (Educator)

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