kirk: james trouble kirk

On the difficulty of classifying stories as het or gen

This is not particularly well thought-out or anything, but it's been on my mind ever since I started writing fanfic, and most particularly since I posted a couple stories this month that are not easily classified as het or gen. One of them, Shamash, is 95% about Spock and Amanda, but it has one Spock/Uhura scene at the end. The other, The Place Where They Have to Take You In, is about two characters who intended to hook up but have a long, intimate, and platonic conversation instead. Neither one of these stories can be neatly classified into "het" or "gen." Nor are these the first two fics to pose challenges for me. Just Like a Waving Flag is almost all Sulu's back story, but it's bracketed by two small Gaila/Sulu scenes. Others, like Invictus, reference a relationship but are not about a relationship.

This bugs me for a couple reasons. One, sometimes I write stories that contain prominent relationships, but to me, they're really about only one of the characters. I dislike the idea that I'm sticking a "het" label on that when it implies that the story is about the relationship. It makes me feel like I'm taking the story away from the character whose life it is intended to celebrate. This bothers me particularly when I write female characters (which, let's be honest, is almost all the time) because I feel like women get reduced to their relationships so often. I can't find all the links now, but I know I have a lot of stories like this where I want to label them as gen, but I know it will confuse people if I do. But, whatever, if it's my journal, I can label and tag things how I want, so it's not that big a problem.

The second problem is posting stories to comms. Honestly, labeling stories as het is probably an advantage in attracting readers, so I should probably be happy that a story with a single Spock/Uhura scene can be posted to the big Spock/Uhura comm without complaint from its readership. On the other hand, I feel guilty about posting something like "The Place Where They Have to Take You In" or "Just Like a Waving Flag" to trek_het just so they can find an audience, but then I also feel that they don't belong a genfic comm either. That relegates them to the really big comms like st_reboot, which I know a lot of people have removed from their watch lists in favor of smaller, interest-specific communities. If the story in question is about a lady, then I still have lots of options; where_no_woman includes a lot of gen, and so do the character-specific comms like teamwinona. On the other hand, in the event that I have written not-quite-genfic about a male character, it feels orphaned. There is not an active Sulu comm on LJ that I know of (there is on DW, but I am over there so rarely), nor am I aware of one for any of the other guys. That makes me sad because I don't know where to find any audience for stories that I might have worked rather hard on.

I'm not really sure where I intended this post to go. It's not a criticism of how anyone else organizes their fics or their comms, just a statement that it's not working all that well for me personally. Any thoughts about how you have handled this dilemma with your own stories, especially with regard to where to post your work, are quite welcome!
You know, I don't usually post fics to comms? Either I forget, or its too much trouble, or I forget. Can you tell which one happens most often?

And yet my fics keep getting...press? Because newsletters keep discovering my fic and adding it to their posts. Honestly, if you don't feel comfortable labeling your fic as one or the other, label it as both. I've done that.
I think in general I would label a fic gen if it is primarily about the not-sex/not-relationship thing, and would simply put like "Characters: Spock, Amanda, with Spock/Uhura relationship" or something in the header. I think as long as you do that, no one gets to gripe. I also think that folks who would have a cow about too much peanut butter in their chocolate or vice versa need to chill out anyway; this is what the back button is for.

...I also also think that these divisions are fairly false anyway, that there's something seriously screwed up about how we denigrate live people for opting to be single or otherwise not-coupled, but if a fic includes a relationship, we somehow think that makes it not about their life. Er, that's a very shorthand way to say it, but I think you know what I mean? Like, we assume people can't have a life if they don't have a relationship, but then if they have a relationship, no story can be about their life. :\
As a reader, I usually read gen with the expectation that it won't have or reference any relationships that aren't strictly canon. Sometimes I will read gen solely because I'm looking for a respite from the predominant pairing or pairings in a fandom. So sometimes when I read gen and it references pairings I don't personally like (or hints at, or implies) I may get annoyed but that will depend on how good the rest of the fic is.

If I go into a fic expecting het, however, especially a specific het pairing, then I don't mind if it's more gen than het because any interaction between the characters will make me happy. (Unless, I suppose, it is a very rare and strange pairing where I expect the writer to convince me of its possibility, and I go in and most of it is gen with some surprise!het that pretends an existing relationship but doesn't bother explaining how it would work -- that sometimes perplexes me, but again how well it works depends on how good the rest of the fic is.) But if it's a specific ship-pairing comm, even if the fic is mostly gen, as long as there's interaction, I don't know that anyone is ever upset at not having more. Usually, if they care enough to watch the community, any fic with both characters is exciting news.

As a writer, however, I often don't care what my readers think. (This is because I'm not used to the idea of having readers, not because I am callous and heartless, though there is a part of that too.) I tend to think canon relationships are fair game to include in gen (as long as the fic is not about the relationships and the relationships play only a small part), and will often list "canon relationships" instead of pairings if the pairing is not important.

I think I have in the past used "gen, background Character A/Character B" so people know what they're getting themselves into. Except when I checked just now I don't have instance of me using it, even though I remember doing so. So possibly I just considered doing so.
In my brain, only romances (as in, the A-plot is about a couple's romantic affairs) get labelled "slash" or "het". And "gen" means that while there may be background relationships (canon or otherwise), the plot itself is not about the romance.

But the last few years, there's been a lot of pressure to label stories based on whether ANY relationship si present. So even gen stories with established relationships or UST get labelled "slash" or "het". Tho it's alos led to people only reading some gen if it's labelled "pre-slash" which I find ridiculously absurd and I hope that little fad dies away as people, I dunno, either grow more braincells or leave their teen years behind.

Edited at 2011-01-23 08:10 am (UTC)
In my brain, only romances (as in, the A-plot is about a couple's romantic affairs) get labelled "slash" or "het". And "gen" means that while there may be background relationships (canon or otherwise), the plot itself is not about the romance.

These are my thoughts exactly.
The pre-slash business confuses me somewhat. Sometimes it seems useful because I want to identify stories that are actually about the characters being friends vs. a story that is about the development of romantic interest, even if it doesn't lead to the two characters getting together. Sometimes, though, it seems like people are just putting that label on gen stories to make them more attractive to a wider readership, like gen isn't good enough of its own or something.

I'm glad (well, sort of) that someone else has noticed that pressure to label stories as het if any relationship or UST is present at all - I think that's what I'm feeling now.



Edited at 2011-01-24 03:02 am (UTC)
Ugh, I try to avoid the pre-slash label because I don't like it. It gets difficult - for me, anyway - because when I write a story, I have my head canon, which often includes people falling in love or in lust or whatever. So I'll sometimes write stories with that future in mind, but the story cuts off long before the characters even realize how they feel about each other. So I usually end up slapping a "Could be read either way!" label on them. Which feels like cheating, but I'm not sure what else to do.
I wrote my stand to the pre-slash thing here:
http://igrockspock.livejournal.com/150753.html?thread=1707745#t1707745

The "could be read either way" label would be fine for me - I have more problem with authors who shy away from one or the other interpretation and in that process make it ring as if they're homophobic or heterophobic (it goes both way).

I'm genderqueer and super-flexible in my reading, but if an author reads like being in big self-denial over the actual contents and feel of a fic, it's not to my liking.
My Big Bang this year was a Kirk/Rand piece, but the vast majority of it was actually about Rand herself, trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life. One of my commenters left me some annoying feedback telling me there wasn't enough sex in it, and I wondered at the time if maybe I hadn't done the fic a disservice in labelling it het when the majority of it was gen.

Then I realised that I would have a small enough audience with a Kirk/Rand fic as it was, let alone a 65000 word one, if I labelled it as gen with het scenes. So, I guess I let my need for validation win that particular battle.

Just so you know, if you decide to write a gen piece about either Chapel or Rand, it would happily find a home at either mccoy_chapel or kirk_rand. There isn't enough fic out there for those women to be choosy about how it's packaged.
Thank you! I think I have posted a lot of Number One gen to the comm, but not for quite awhile. I need to write her again!
Thank you! I have been posting my Chapel gen fic to mccoy_chapel, but it's good to know that gen about Rand is welcome in the Kirk/Rand comm too. Now I just need a Rand bunny...
I don't think there are any easy answers. How to label fics is a tricky question in any fandom but Trek has an extra set of problems with two different canons for the same set of charactors. The fandom that invented slash has been disagreeing about relationships for 44+ years.

Others, like Invictus, reference a relationship but are not about a relationship.

Yes, this. As a pure defination, gen or het or slash should be more about whether or not the relationship is the story, or is just in the story. In the wild it's a lot messier.

I adore The Place Where They have to Take You In and I like the way you labeled it. No body parts met but it's all about relationships.



Edited at 2011-01-23 09:50 am (UTC)
Seconding everyone who said that you're probably going to get the bulk of your readership from the newsletter. (I keep trek_news on my default view and only actually visit my trek comms filter when it's very slow.)

I classify with the very complex algorithm of "if I think it marginally belongs in this comm, I will post it in this comm" -- If Flag were my story, I would stick it in the gen comms (is there a trek gen comm?) with the label, "incidental Sulu/Gaila in the frame".

Canonicity also plays a role in how I classify stories; if a couple is canonical (ie, Spock/Uhura, Amanda/Sarek, Winona/George(/isdead) and they make an incidental appearance as a couple, then people claiming the fic is not gen can STFU, imo. Uhura giving Spock a thorough snogging before he goes off to be suicidally heroic is canon. Kirk giving Spock a thorough snogging before he goes off to be suicidally heroic is slash.)

(So having been longwinded and incoherent, I think that:

* Stories about falling in love, A or B plot, area always ship.

* Stories with an explicit sex scene between two individuals in a relationship are usually ship. (Writing, for instance, a sexual assault in explicit detail in a story about recovery therefrom which involves no healing gonads is genfic, no matter the relationship between the characters. Not all sexually explicit fic is ship fic, but most of it is.)

* Stories where canon pairings occur incidentally are Shroedinger's fic: both ship and gen.

* Stories where non-canon pairings occur incidentally really need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis; I would call Flag a genfic, but a story that is about McCoy and the medical mystery of the week with incidental Kirk and Chapel making out in a supply closet, because the author ships Kirk/Chapel, as probably-not-gen.)

* Whether non-canonical ships in a significant but still non-primary plot role (Chekov and Sulu rescue the ambassador and make out at the end because they're an established 'ship in the author's ficverse) are up for debate, and the question of "can slash be gen?" and "is it homophobic to say that slash can't be gen?" have made the rounds at least twice since I've been in fandom with no clear final answer.

* Going with canonicity as a measuring stick for the above doesn't really help either, because the vast and overwhelming majority of canonical ships are het. (And the Star Trek franchise has always been wimpy about turning queer subtext into queer text.)

<assume any still open braces, brackets or parentheses are closed>
Interesting about the newsletters vs. the comms. I almost never read stories from the news letters because they don't include the summaries. I do my reading almost exclusively from comms because I like all the information in the header.

And yeah, there is a Trek genfic comm but it is not a very active one. I would like to run a genfic exchange on AO3 so that I can have an excuse to read and prompt genfic stories about boys.

Thank you for all the thoughts on classification! It has given me lots to ponder.
I have trouble with this, too. On AO3 I have an M-rated story that I labeled 'slash' because Kirk and McCoy start the story in bed together, but 1.) I probably could have written it with them being BFFs without actually sacrificing any portion of the story, and 2.) it's not about the romantic relationship at all. So the story gets a fair number of hits but I feel like perhaps I'm misleading people with the labeling.

This categorization stuff is for the birds.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds this challenging! It is rather convenient to be able to label stories with a popular ship even when they are not about said ship...
I think your story is labeled correctly. Because as a Kirk/McCoy fan, I like to know if the writer had the pairing as a pairing in mind, even if they're acting as people. It's the mindset.

I've come across quite a few BFF fics over the years where the "this isn't slash!" label in the header sounded like "I write a fic that has UST all over it but I can't stomach slash so this is all about their soul bonding". Granted, this is more of a Kirk/&Spock problem, but this is also the reason why I like the "pre-slash" label. It tells me that for the author, this is a pairing-to-come and not just two people who share everything but their bed because the author doesn't like that**.

**I can live with friendship fic, no problem. But a fair amount of friendship fic has(had?) a ring of homophobic tendencies inside, and that always irked me.
Ah, yeah, you do have a good point about the homophobic tendencies thing. I was going to leave it tagged as such anyway, but thanks for the confirmation.
I subscribe to much of what you say. In addition, I may be too radical, but it feels unfair to me that so much labeling is expected from ff writers. Creative writing is creative writing, and I'm sure Hemingway never asked himself how to label "A moveable feast". Neither should we. Labeling is like pinning insects into glass cases with a neatly typed card underneath: I like my butterfiles (and bugs) alive and well. I have a rant ready also about spoilers and warnings, but I'll keep it for another time =)
It's hard sometimes to figure out how to classify stories and attract the readership you want. Just as an example, kirk_mccoy takes genfic if it focuses on Kirk and/or McCoy, and there's a tag for friendship fic (or gen fic - I forget). So I was allowed to post "Consumed" there, even though that one is strictly gen. I wish other pairing-centric comms did that, though I can understand why some of them don't.

Personally, I don't label my own stories when I post them to my journal, unless there's some ambiguity. (Like "The Ache in Every Song" could honestly be read as gen or f/f.) Figuring out where to cross-post is sometimes complicated. ("Left Alone To Wander" has a scene where Sam falls in love with and has his heart broken by a girl, but I wouldn't call the story het since that episode is just a part of his growing up and not the focus, and anyway, it seems weird to label fics based on the expressed sexuality of the characters.)

I guess ... if it's not breaking any rules, I'd post to the comms that are going to get me the most readership, and just be upfront in my headers, e.g. focus is on Spock and Amanda, with background established Spock/Uhura (or similar).

eta: Much as I like st_reboot, I find its system for labeling fics irksome. You can label by ship, but not character, which makes genfic about specific characters (there is a "gen" tag) hard to find.

Edited at 2011-01-23 06:24 pm (UTC)
Good to know about the genfic in the Kirk/McCoy comm. I find it weird that "friendship" is tagged as a warning right next to violence and gore, but at least it is available... And yeah, although I think st_reboot is an excellent clearing house for fic, I wish they had some system to label for characters. It does make me feel that gen fic is less important there.

Yeah, I think I am struggling mostly with the fact that the distinction between genfic and relationship fic is not all that relevant to me. I kind of like to know if the story is very explicitly about the relationship, like the central conflict involves having sex, starting a relationship, or resolving a relationship issue. When the story is about two characters who happen to be in a relationship also having some kind of adventure together, or a character working out his/her own problem with some assistance from a significant other, labeling it as ship-focused seems less important.

Of course, since I started with the het/gen tagging over here ages ago, I feel sort of obliged to keep it up just because I like to keep things organized...
hunh. Interesting to see that so many people follow the newsletters. Like you, I don't ever use newsletters because I like a summary. I don't really follow the comms on my default list though, because I'm lucky enough to have a flist that usually recs/writes good stuff.
If unsure, I tend to label by thinking of my readership - is it a read for the gen folks? Label it gen. Is there a het sex thing inside? It's het. Should kinksters like it? Make the warning list as explicit as possible ;)

I think the reason why people started to label het at all - in the past, gen often meant everything including noncanon relationships as long as the sex was not explicit and the pairing was _not slash_. Gen trek zines always included pairing stories too, but only straight pairings. Which is a sadly heteronormative point of view.

So I think it was partly a counter-reaction by slashers and writers who wrote all kinds of fic to say that if the least bit of slash inside a fic made it "slash" and possible "R", the least bit of hetero relationship should make it "het". It is also a kind of warning for many, considering that a lot of people only read slash (and as I assume, more for the hotness than the plot).

In general, I'd say most gen readers will be happy with pairing fic as long as it's not highly rated.

Edited at 2011-01-23 06:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, I so know what you mean. I struggled with this for a long time. Because a fic that walks that line in the middle can annoy either het or gen people if it doesn't fit what they thought they were getting into. In my corner of the Stargate realm we actually jokingly came up with a term to describe a fic that has established relationships in the story, but as a minor part, usually to a larger plot driven story. We like to call this Bob. (No, it's not an acronym. Just Bob. Lol)

The comm thing is tricky. Nice to have specialization on one hand, but on the other... I can see how that would be annoying. I guess I have come to rely very heavily on still reading by recs. Finding a few people in a fandom I really trust (both their writing and their taste) and take it from there. I think that's pretty old school, but...

Sorry you've been facing such frustration! We should all just be thankful to get to enjoy really good fic when it comes around, like yours! :)
Thoughtbytes from a reader:

1) When I was a gen-only reader, fanfic with the gen label/friendship label was my refuge from a sex/romance-focused world. I hated writers "sneaking in" established pairings with any romantic scenes, whether sexual or not, just anything that hinted at romance or even one-on-one commitment beyond friendship. Obviously I've moved on since then but that's why I prefer stories containing pairings (beyond single-sentence references) labelled as either "gen with background x/y" or "gen" and "slash"/"het" as applies. That way it's at least clear that the story lies on the boundary.

2) I love st_reboot for its inclusiveness and broad range of stories being posted, plus there are headers and I miss that info on the newsletter.

3) Comms with character tags in addition to pairing tags rock, as does the AO3 with its elaborate tagging systems. I find tags much better than discrete categories. Sometimes content just overlaps, like in RL!

In conclusion: I'd tag with anything you can, post wherever at least one scene/character fits in and include more specific info in header, like what you suggested with "background x/y"/"mentions of established x/y". I've always found your summaries and info very clear on what the story's focus is.
I'm not a prolific enough writer to have encountered problems with this yet, but thanks for starting such an interesting discussion! I love reading everyone's different viewpoint on it.