Once Upon A Time...

That River in Egypt

When is fix it fan fiction just not enough?

by LJC

Once upon a time, on a series I never ever missed, my favourite character was killed.

I was 14 years old, and the series in question was Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. In the season finale (which became, incidentally, the series finale) Corporal Jennifer "Pilot" Chase sacrificed her life in order to save her friends. I was devastated. I had had fictional characters die on me before—Roy Fokker on Robotech and Supergirl in the DC Comics maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths were the two I remember best from those halcyon days of my t'ween years—but the impact of Pilot's death for some reason hit me very hard. It's possible that I identified with her very strongly, or simply gravitated toward the token female member of an all-male group, who also was the youngest member. There is also the fact that Chase was the most interesting character of the group, story-wise, as she had escaped the HJ-like Dredd Youth programme and was an innocent in many ways trying to fathom the human emotions she had been taught to suppress in the pursuit of machine perfection.

Whatever the reasons, whatever the cause, all I knew was that my heart ached as if a real flesh and blood friend had died and left me alone. And I wanted to "fix" this horrible "mistake."

It would be another year before I attended my first convention and bought my first fanzine, but I had been writing stories (horrific Mary Sues, to be exact) based on my favourite series since I was eleven years old. So I did what many a fan writer does when faced with a story that has ended prematurely. I fixed it. I created a world where my avatar found the digitised Pilot deep in the bowels of Overmind's memory banks and brought her back to her fiends and family. Because the series had been cancelled, I did not have to battle the demons of canon. I could imagine that the story I was spinning was simply where these characters went next, after their televised adventures were ended.

Somewhere, in a stack of Mead notebooks, this saga went unfinished. I wrote I don't know how many stories, but time and new passions (most notably Robin of Sherwood) dulled the ache and the pain and the need and I moved on. But the desire to use fan fiction as a balm to ease the tortured spirit when we lose a fictional character, or a series makes a different choice than what we as fans want to see happen to these characters we have grown to love— that desire burns strongly in most fan writers. When a series is cancelled, or runs its course, the desire to keep going is indulged. When Earth 2 was cancelled at the end of its first season, on the cliff-hanger ending that left Devon Adair in stasis dying from a mysterious disease, I was the first writer to post a "fix it" fiction that got her cured, and continued Eden Advance's adventures on the journey to New Pacifica, and dozens of other fan authors followed, either in my wake or blazing their own trails across G889. Because the series had ended, we were all free to take the characters off in new directions without violating series canon.

But at what point do you find it acceptable (emotionally as well as logically) to create an alternate universe that alters or out-and-out ignores the series canon? And how far can you go, and still have the stories fill the void left by canon? When Due South ended, I made a conscious decision to re-write the finale episode. I wanted to create a finale that didn't rape the characters and the premise the way Paul Gross' script had. But the reality is that no matter how good my story is, it's still a pale shadow that can't eclipse canon. No matter what joy I get from it, there is the voice in the back of my head ready to burst that bubble by whispering but that's not what happened for real.

Red pill, or blue pill?

Do you abandon the series and choose to write in a fantasy world, or denial, where the bits you didn't like are simply erased? Or do you shoulder on in the universe created by the production, and grieve along with your characters, and accept the loss with a sigh, and a grumble, many a tear, and frustrated letter to the producers informing them of your displeasure at the status quo?

Tuesday, November 30th, Angel aired its ninth episode.

I'm on about 6 Doyle related Onelist-type lists, and the fic has already started to pour in. Some are explorations of Angel and Cordelia's grief in the post-Hero universe, that allows the author to grieve with the beloved's friends and express the anger and pain and sorrow of a senseless waste. Some involve Doyle's ghost or somesuch visiting Cordelia and allowing one last good-bye to take place between Angel's doomed lovers. But the majority are attempts to fix the situation. Knowing what was coming, I had visions of endless variations of Cordy or Angel bringing the Oracles (whom I refuse to refer to as anything other than "Zan and Jayna, the Deus Ex Machina Twins" and/or "Those gold lamé Who Mourns for Adonis? rejects") a fruit basket, asking nicely, and getting their lower being buddy back for AU adventures that ignore the impending Weasel-ly-ness of canon. Many of those visions have already manifested themselves in the form of fiction, good and bad. Mostly slap-dash (the episode aired less than 72 hours earlier, not really enough time to devote to the craft necessary for good fiction). The need to get the fiction out there in the ether as soon as possible is what's driving this, I think. That by somehow posting a story mere hours after Doyle breathed his last on broadcast television, the pain can somehow be dulled or avoided before it has a chance to wreak the kind of havoc I first experienced over a decade ago when Jennifer Chase detonated the self-destruct failsafe manually.

But the problem is, those kinds of fixes aren't enough for me any more. I can't submerge myself in writing or reading a story that brings Doyle back because what I want is to actually have him back. Wish-fulfilment only hurts more, because those two seconds when I can pretend that all is right with the world are followed by a keen kind of agony because I know that it's just a fantasy. What I'm looking for is for Joss Whedon and Co. to fix it— because sometimes, as with dark chocolate, only canon will satisfy.

I'm sitting here with two unfinished stories calling my name. The first is set pre-Hero and will most likely be finished, though it will be bittersweet as any and all pre-Hero stories will be from now on, I imagine, knowing the future. The second is post-Hero and I'm still debating what story I'm trying to tell. The temptation to somehow turn back the clock and avert Doyle's succumbing to the Demon Nazis' Giant Christmas Tree Ornament of Death is strong. Very strong. But the result would be hollow, and I don't know why I can't stop myself from wanting to write it anyway...

Logically, I know it would be weak. But emotionally, I'm weak. Inside me is the little girl who cried herself to sleep for a fictional character for the first time over ten years ago who still wants and hurts and needs. She's the one I don't want to pander to, yet at the same time, want to satisfy. Either way, there's going to be pain.

LJC has been writing, illustrating, editing, publishing, and archiving fan fiction since 1989 in a variety of fandoms, first for print fanzines and then online. She is a professional webdesigner and freelance journalist.

Read the Once Upon a Time archives:

  • Profic vs Fanfic
  • That River in Egypt
  • Tips for writing better fan fiction
  • Enough alphabet soup!
  • A 'zine! A 'zine! My kingdom for a 'zine!
  • When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue?
  • My Heart Will Not Go On, Thanks...
  • Canon Fodder
  • If you can't say anything nice... come sit over here by me.
  • Why research doesn't suck
  • Whomp Upside The Head IV: Return Of The Big Stick
  • AUs and You!
  • Mall Rats
  • Reality By Consensus: The difference between canon and fanon
  • The Rain In Spain In My Ass Is a Pain : dialect do's and don'ts