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the island of conclusions

Thoughts on Some Fanfiction Being Written Concurrently with S4

the island of conclusions

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Thoughts on Some Fanfiction Being Written Concurrently with S4

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There are some wonderful WIPs being written about S1 SPN, even as S4 is reaching its conclusion:

The Bright Lights of Disturbia by leonidaslion : At Stanford, Sam accidentally sees Dean in a hardcore gay porno, and goes kind of crazy with anger, guilt and lust. The events of S1 play out as they do in canon, while Sam pines for Dean and Dean suffers from the after effects of a still mysterious trauma. 12/30? parts posted so far.

The Drive 'verse by roque_clasique : Pre-series, Dean suffers a cataclysmic accident that leaves him permanently disabled and in considerable pain. Sam and Dean reunite, and, as above, the events of S1 play almost as they do in canon, while Dean tries to learn to live, and hunt, in his new body, and Sam struggles with a new relationship to his older brother. 9 stories in the 'verse so far; 6/? of the latest story, "The Good of the Few" posted.

Not that these wonderful stories really need recs: lots of people are reading them already. Of course, the same people might not be reading both, since one is centrally and intensely Wincest, and the other is just as intensely gen (with the occasional het interlude). And some people might not be planning to read either, at the moment, since they are both WIPs.

Still, they have a few interesting things in common:

First: Both are methodical AU revisions of SPN S1. Pretty much all SPN fic is intersticial, inserting itself into an empty space in some stage of the show’s chronology (ie, by imagining a case happening under the general conditions and dynamics of waiting for Dean’s deal to come through, or by writing a coda for a specific episode). Or, it’s contingent: if the story is an AU, it changes one aspect of the set up, and goes on from there. It’s less common, in my experience, to find stories that change some significant aspect of the lives of the Bros. Winchester, and then go back to explore the effects of that AU development on the actual episode set-ups of a season.

Yet, that’s what both of the fics rec’d above do: “Disturbia” has now taken us through “Provenance,” asking what Sam and Sarah’s encounter would have been like if Sam were truly pining for a damaged Dean; the Drive 'verse is in the midst of a retelling of “Scarecrow.”

Second: They both posit a much more fragile and damaged Dean: in “Disturbia” that damage is almost entirely psychic, and its extent and causes have yet to be revealed. In the Drive 'verse, the damage is at root physical, but has, by necessity, psychological ramifications. Now, Dean-whump is hardly unusual in in SPN fic (indeed, it’s probably one of its constituent elements), but again, what’s more unusual about these stories is that they try to think through what such disability would have meant for the cases dealt with in S1. Also, both acutely explore what reuniting with a damaged Dean would have meant for S1 Sam. “Disturbia” compellingly imagines a Sam caught between his own lust, and his need to help Dean overcome whatever has hurt him. The Sam of the Drive 'verse has been spiraling into alcoholism, driven by the losses he has sustained, and the stress of his newly remade relationship with his brother.

MUSINGS (or why I think it’s interesting that these stories are being written now):

One of the things I love about fanfiction is the way it walks a line between two kinds of creativity: invention and interpretation. Now, IMO, all fiction walks this line, but, because it deals with pre-established characters and situations, fanfiction throws the interpretative dimension of fiction into sharp relief. That’s to say, fanfiction doesn’t simply imitate or borrow those characters and situations. Rather, it offers us an interpretation of them.

So, putting aside the amazingly inventive aspects of both WIPs, I want to think for a minute about how they are interpreting SPN, or, more specifically, the relationship between the Bros.Winchester.

If the actual SPN S1 told the story of Sam and Dean learning to be brothers again, and struggling for some kind of equal partnership, since the beginning of S3, the show has, tentatively, tried to imagine what would happen if Dean needed Sam’s help: in S3thinking about what would happen if Dean needed Sam to save him (Sam didn’t); and in S4, thinking through the possibility that Dean would be the “weaker” brother (and I’m not saying he is, or has been this season, just that the show has been, quite bravely IMO, exploring what would happen if Sam thought he was). On TV, a kind of mutual refusal to deal with their changing identities and roles towards each other has driven the brothers apart.

Now, why Show Sam n’ Dean have been unable to change the terms of their relationship is a fascinating question, and I, personally, think the show deserves a lot of credit for attempting to explore the darker dimensions of family rifts and fissures (even if the execution has been sloppy at times). It’s clear though, that the slow bleed of brotherly intimacy out the Winchester fraternal bond has been truly painful to watch. And lots of fans, and fanfic writers, want that love back.

And, as I’m not the first to say: that is one thing fanfiction is for: to give us what we can’t get from TV. There have been many, many, consoling stories of Winchester love written this season, and I’ve enjoyed them as much as anyone. The fics I’ve rec’d above aren’t exactly consoling, but they do allow us to focus on the love:

Both stories try to imagine the shift in hierarchy brought about by a weakened older brother (an older brother plagued by PTSD) happening in S1—happening in and around the actual cases of S1. Yet, both also imagine that shift happening under circumstances that will not allow for the brothers to split up (as they just did in 4.21): in “Disturbia,” not simply brotherly love but also obsessive lust keeps Sam at Dean’s side; in the Drive verse Dean’s physical disability, has made the brothers more physically co-dependent than they ever are on TV (caveat: so far, anyway, for all I know a separation could be looming in either story—that would be the inventive aspect of things!). So, the shifting landscape of their relationship is difficult, as protector becomes protected, caretaker becomes the recipient of care, but it is happening under conditions of greater love and intimacy than even SPN S1 allowed for. This is very satisfying!

In other words, the fics take the problem of role reversal or hierarchy shift that has perhaps always been inherent in the Winchester fraternal narrative, import it back to S1, and watch it to take place under conditions that don’t allow for the kind of rupture we’ve seen on TV. They don’t sugar coat the process, or make it seem easy. As I said, these aren’t consoling stories—they are psychological complex, refuse to make easy fixes, and in the best SPN fanfic tradition, filled with angst.

I am NOT saying that these stories are REACTIONS to S4. Instead, I’d argue that they, along with S4, are working out the narrative possibilities started by Dean’s deal (or maybe even before that*). They AU versions of the same dilemma, running concurrent with what we’re seeing on TV, but following it down different roads.

*Of course, S1 does do a mini-version of this narrative, in “Faith,” and there’s actually a great “Faith” AU WIP running of ff.net at the moment (more of a conventional intersticial narrative than the others): Heart to Heart
  • Interesting thoughts. I had been reading Disturbia but Drive was new to me. It's interesting to see how the characterisations of the boys have shifted since season one as both fics have bits here and there that strike my ear as 'wrong' somehow given all we've learnt of the boys since and yet both are accurate to the boys as they were then. I also have to admit that I stopped reading Disturbia a couple of chapters ago because an unwilling Dean who will inevitably capitulate to Sam is not working for me right now given what's happened in the show.

    In other words, the fics take the problem of role reversal or hierarchy shift that has perhaps always been inherent in the Winchester fraternal narrative, import it back to S1, and watch it to take place under conditions that don’t allow for the kind of rupture we’ve seen on TV.

    You know, while that's definitely true, I think 'weakened Dean' had become a staple of fanfic long before this season for a number of reasons. I think fic writers are picking up on a deeper fissure in their relationship, namely Sam's wish to 'grow up' and thus grow out of the oppressive circle of Dean's love.

    To preserve the bond and make it more equal it's therefore necessary to hobble Dean to grant Sam space to flourish and allow his some satisfaction of that urge. The show has accomplished this through the copious amount of emotional issues it has dumped on Dean proving that while he may be all derring-do on one level in a deeper sense he not really whole. And then of course this season the subtext became text. Which is why I'm baffled when people say the rift came from nowhere or made no sense. ;)
    • Hey, thanks for reading and commenting!

      bits here and there that strike my ear as 'wrong'
      somehow given all we've learnt of the boys since and yet both are accurate to the boys as they were then.


      Isn't it interesting the way that happens? I was reading something recently that was written during S1, well-written and all, but it kept going on about how Dean never showed his emotions, and I kept doing a double take; but I guess he didn't, in the first half of S1, at least. I do think the push and pull between show characterization and fic characterization is fascinating. It has seemed to me that when people go back now and imagine Sam in S1-3, he is edgier than the Sams that were actually written during S1-3.

      To preserve the bond and make it more equal it's therefore necessary to hobble Dean to grant Sam space to flourish and allow his some satisfaction of that urge. The show has accomplished this through the copious amount of emotional issues it has dumped on Dean proving that while he may be all derring-do on one level in a deeper sense he not really whole.

      That is a really excellent explanation of that dynamic! It's been kind of a catch-22, though, I think: the more Dean has suffered, the more the focus has been on him. And suffering!broken!Dean hasn't meant that Sam has flourished, except, this season, in a negative way. The show, for whatever reason, hasn't really allowed him to look after Dean (rescue him from Hell, etc.)--except, briefly, in "Faith." It's a dynamic that has worked much, much better in fic!

      I think you're right that this has always been a deep fissure in the DeannSam relationship (and yeah, I don't know why people were surprised by the tension this season, either!), and maybe one way to think about it is that the show has worked it out in one direction, fic in another, concurrently, so to speak, instead of in reaction to one another...

      I also agree that the show has given us a broken!Dean since "Home," if not before; I guess the reason I though these recent fics put a new (S4-ish) spin on things was their focus on a PTSD!Dean (again, a ball I think the show dropped...).

      Of course, I think the best PTSD!Dean fic I've read is Blind Spot , an AU S3 story, written long before Dean went to Hell or came back, so who knows...(it's different than the fics I wrote about here because it's an intersticial AU, not a season re-write).
  • It's interesting to see my fic analyzed like this, since basically the biggest idea I think I'm exploring (besides enormous amounts of gratuitous whump) is the role-reversal thing, which I find fascinating and very satisfying. My favorite fics are ones in which Sam is forced to take care of Dean, rather than the other way around.

    Maybe that's why I'm having so much trouble enjoying S4... I stopped watching about halfway through, to be honest, because I just didn't find the boys believable anymore, at least not according to MY canon, which has been composed of my favorite fic writers and not Kripke & Co. Sam went from "kill me if I go darkside" and being drunk at the crossroads and missing his brother desperately to all of a sudden not really seeming to give much of a shit about Dean. To me, it did seem to come out of nowhere... not the rift, but the weird fury that seems behind it.

    I guess in fic I imagine that both Dean and Sam would be uncomfortable OUT of their normal roles... I mean, Sam is the baby of the family, and I imagine that he is used to being protected and coddled, and while he may wish to break out of that, I feel as if he feels nervous and out-of-control when that support and protection is ripped out from under him. Anyway, I guess that's just how I write him, so it's personal-canon.

    This is a very interesting analysis, though! Thank you for writing.
    • Thanks for commenting--it's so interesting to hear what you think!
      That's interesting that you stopped watching mid-season. I loved a lot of S4 (but I'm a conflict whore--at least, on TV, hate it in RL), but Sam's distance, coldness, and lack of care for Dean was really the hardest part of it to stomach or understand (the show hit a good patch 2/3 of the way through, IMO. 4.17 and 4.18 were really fun, 4.16 was incredibly angsty, and you would probably find 4.19 interesting, if you ever feel like going back to it).

      But it's interesting because when I've looked through the comments on the 'drive verse, readers often say how much it takes on the same issues as S4 (particularly re: Sam's addiction, I guess).

      If you're not watching, that just proves that there's some kind inherent potential in the SPN set up, that can lead to different ways of exploring the possibility of role reversal, and the brothers' extreme discomfort in dealing with that possibility. I'm very glad they are still able to care for each other in the 'drive verse though!
      By chance, I just today read a really nice fic imagining how Sam came to be so closed off, so shut down, over the course of his summer w/o Dean: Wind Shear by fhionnuiscetine . One of the best pre-S4 solo!Sam fics I've read, and there're fewer than you'd think.

      thanks again for reading!
  • (no subject) - leonidaslion
    • Hey--thank you for coming over and reading! I've been meaning to let you know about this post, as I was thinking of posting it to heavy_meta, but time kind of got away from me (and after 4.22 I'd have to do some revision to post...). But I'm really glad you stopped by--and weren't offended by someone interpreting your story!

      I think it's the mark of good writing that there's always a lot more in it that the author consciously decides to put there, but it's interesting that these aren't the issues you aimed at dealing with. And they may not be the ones most in the forefront--it's just the juxtaposition to the 'drive verse and to S4 in general threw them into relief.

      (it's nearly impossible to shift roles, even if it's necessary; people are generally resistant to change), but YES. SOHARD to watch.
      Yes! And I still can't decide whether they really managed to shift/move forward in 4.22, or whether they just reverted/ regressed to more familiar patterns...This is why I'd have to revise this meta before re-posting it...

      I have this feeling that even though S4 was really hard to write fic about while it was going on, it may generate some interesting stuff now that it's over--more than S3, which people understandably don't seem keen on revisiting. Just a hunch, though...I'd love to see what you'd write, if you ever did...

      I can only get behind that pairing when it's unrequited for some reason
      Me too...I actually love the relationship as it appears on TV, if only because it seems to give Dean a way out of the eternal loop of "what does Sam think of me?" (and "what would Dad think of me?"), so I like fics where Castiel is a friend, or a kind of outsider POV, but I can't get into the slash...I would be really interested to know why the people who write/read Dean/Castiel like it too!

      Again, thanks so much for reading and commenting! I'm looking forward to more of "Disturbia"!
      • Just butting in to add my agreement -- I do NOT understand the Castiel slash! Seriously. But maybe it's because I just don't get the whole Castiel thing in the first place. But I don't understand the appeal -- I don't find anything particularly interesting in the dynamic, or revealing about the characters, which is ultimately why I read slash, and not for the porn. I happily read well-written wincest, because I think it's a very interesting tool to get into the boys' psyche.
        Anyway.
        • Well, I kind of like the Dean-Castiel dynamic: not just the aetherial vs. earthiness, but just the idea that he's the only person in Dean's (admittedly very limited) world, who sees Dean as a grown-up (not just the grown-up version of his childhood self, as Sam and Bobby do and John did). But the slash...I get hung up on the, well, ridiculousness of it, 'cause, you know, he's an angel...

          The actors definitely have some kind of chemistry, though, so I remain willing to be convinced...
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