By : LLL
The Feeling Dump
Let's Revise It Out of Our Fan Fiction
An examination of "Feeling Dumps" and their place in fan fiction.
Having come back after a long break from fan fiction and started reviewing it again, I've recently run across an aspect of it that I remember only too well from days of yore. Something about it that didn't sit comfortably with me in the past, that kept niggling at my brain, and while I didn't quite put a name to it or think all that clearly about it then, it is really hitting me between the eyes now in a way that helps me to be a lot more articulate about it.
I ventured onto the Resource Forum, and while I was explaining why our famous (or infamous) archive here at TFN will never be featured on anyone's resume, I really registered the truth of what I was saying. What I was explaining is that in the world of fantasy and sci-fi novels and stories, we, the authors of fan fiction, are pond scum.
Yes, you read that right. To the paid professionals of this world, we are the necessary evil: the hangers-on and wanna-bes who, while annoying the author or editor with our inane questions and our inexpert scribblings, also support that author or editor with our dollars. So these people tolerate us. Just.
I had to consider what marks fans as People Who Can't Write, and People Who Are Politely Held (and sometimes not so politely held) At Arm's Length. Well, here's part of it.
Most folks who have been writing fan fic for a while know what the Info Dump is. It's the dreaded several paragraphs to pages of writing that ensues when a writer, needing to explain the workings of the engine or describe the inside of the cargo hold, just spits all the details out onto the page in one big ... dump.
I've written one info dump in my time that went over well and probably could have stayed in. But the members of my writer's group still noticed it, and their red penciled comments were: "This is an info dump. But it's really pretty interesting, and I enjoyed reading it. Maybe you can actually keep it in?" But normally, writing an Info Dump is bad news. While you are doing it the action of the story goes nowhere, and halfway through it the reader's eyes glaze over.
Any fiction writer runs the risk of creating an Info Dump any time he has lots of stuff he needs the reader to know in order for the story to go, but doesn't have an entertaining way to slip it in. Sad to say there is a second kind of dump the fan fic writer is prone to: the Feeling Dump.
You've all seen it. In fact, fan fic has a whole sub-genre devoted to it. It's usually called "angst" or "hurt/comfort," and it exists for much the same reason romance novels do. People are drawn to the catharsis of strong tides of emotion, especially those of characters they already know and care about.
When that's the whole point of the piece, fine. This kind of story has its fans - I've written a few, myself - and when folks click on one, they know what they want and they're usually satisfied. Some central conflict may take place in these stories, one that gets resolved one way or the other, but the conflict isn't the point. The feelings of the characters are the point. The sub-genre ranges from a conflict story that moves from event to event, punctuated with great tidal waves of overwhelming emotion, to a simple collection of musings of this character or that, with no real changes taking place in the character's life at all. Sometimes a story like this is only a snapshot of a character's feelings at one particular moment in time.
A story like this, if written with original characters and settings, may or may not make it in the pro world. When it does, strong, wrenching emotion isn't its only feature. There needs to be something else, some major discovery or insight, that makes the story worth the reader's time on a different level. (Unless, that is, you are writing for a romance publisher or Playgirl.) But it's fine in the fan fic world. It's very popular, and it's the only reason some folks log onto fan fic archives at all.
But not all fan fiction is written to be angst. Some folks set out to write an action-packed, character-driven story like one they might find in paperback, written by their favorite author. It's when the angst format trickles too far into this kind of story that there's a problem.
You start reading. The author begins with a charming scene, or a well-written insight, and presents a compelling, challenging situation involving your favorite characters. You bend toward your computer screen in fascination, eager to know what happens next. But the story veers off course. Suddenly you find yourself bogged down in the most minute thoughts of every minor character involved, even those you suspect have no major role to play in the story - characters you really aren't interested in and don't think you'll ever see again. While you wait to find out how on earth Padme is going to escape her captor, how on earth the young Jedi padawan is going to survive being attacked by both Sith at once, or whether Corellia will really secede from the Republic, your author is taking you through a moment-by-moment report of a day on which nothing much is happening. We get to hear all about the anguish of Padme's mother, worrying about her from light-years away on Naboo, or the sadness of Bail Organa as he watches the Republic fall apart. It's the angst sub-genre, and it's derailed your story. It's a Feeling Dump.
It's true that people are drawn to strong depictions of emotion, especially when things aren't going well for a character they like. But there is a right amount, and there is a correct time and place. When the emotion you depict is too strong for what the character is actually going through, when it's standing in the place of the event we're all tied up in suspense for, chances are it's a Feeling Dump. Feeling Dumps, like the whole angst sub-genre, can and all too often do get maudlin. And that's one big reason fan fiction has such a bad name in some quarters.
It's ironic. The Feeling Dump is a symptom of extreme affection for our characters. We wouldn't write them - or read them - if we weren't so fond of the characters, and pro writers, editors, and filmmakers want us to feel this way. When we do, we buy their next book or see their next movie, which keeps them in business. So they're here to inspire us to write angst and feeling dumps, and then they make fun of us for it.
On the other hand, when you've read a lot of fan fiction, you begin to see their point. When you're new to the genre, they're moving; when you've read years of them, they really do start to come off as maudlin.
I think when we write, we ought to think about this, and try not to present angst or hurt/comfort labeled as a conventional short story. In a conventional story, you can summarize the plot in one sentence that reads: "It's about a (who) that does (what)." The vast bulk of the story reflects that. We may get snippets of emotion, but it's the garnish and not the whole meal. For an angst fic or a fic that's filled with Feeling Dumps, when asked to summarize the plot after you've finished, you feel tempted to say, "It's about (who) who feels (how.)" The parsley has taken over the whole plate.
To avoid the dreaded Feeling Dump, write down the whole flow of events in your story from beginning to end. Who does what, who does what next, who does what after that. Then plan your scenes around that outline. Let the emotion creep in around the edges as you write your scene. If the emotion IS your scene, if the emotions are out of proportion to the situation, or if all that is on the page is your character standing around thinking about what he or she is feeling - and you aren't writing an angst fan fic - it's a bad sign.
Let's raise the bar for fan fiction as a whole. Let's erase some of this bad rep we've got, and leave Feeling Dumps out of our fiction.
Current Rating is 5.82 in 51 total ratings.
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Date posted: 8/14/2004 9:42:25 PM
Bravo and thank you!
I'm an 'angst'-er myself. At least I am most of the time; but I've experienced that "I am so sick of this drivel, someone give me a plot please!" feeling too.
I really wish more of my fellow authors and fans would take to heart advise of this nature. If so, perhaps 'fan' would stop being a dirty word.
Date posted: 8/19/2004 4:41:56 AM
This essay should be required reading for all fan-fic authors, regardless of their experience.
Author: Andrea Jade
Date posted: 8/20/2004 1:21:42 PM
Andrea Jade's Comments:
Very thoughtful and way to true. I've read some really great fan fiction and some really bad published fiction. It's the money folks, that makes us looked down upon by the published.
Angst is fine, but balanceis important.
Date posted: 9/9/2004 2:24:30 PM
Yes! Thank you.
There comes a point when it comes off as emotional pornography, trying to force people to feel things without really putting in the work.
Date posted: 7/11/2005 2:50:37 PM
Thank you for this entertaining and very useful article. I'm no stranger to fanfiction, myself. I've been writing in the "Harry Potter" fandom for three years now, and I've dabbled in the Star Wars fandom for the past couple of months, and most of what you say is true.
What I really enjoyed most about this, however, was the fact that it really made me think about the stories I've been writing, and I'll do my best to avoid these "Feeling Dump" tendancies you so accurately described.
Date posted: 10/17/2005 7:21:16 PM
I agree. I personally love angst, but when it gets to a certain extent, the taste becomes sickeningly sweet. Emotional fanfictions are important, but Fanfictional emotions are not compelling at all.
Author: Mistress of the Jedi
Date posted: 5/22/2006 9:43:46 PM
Mistress of the Jedi's Comments:
I've come to notice these 'feeling dumps' with new fan fic authors. It's as if they use WAY too much of it and then the story goes flat. They don't understand that pages upon pages of angst and reuterance of a certain part of that characters past is just plain...boring, since there are many other fics that go along the same wave legnths.
I notice this more in HP fan fic, with Harry lamenting over Sirius' but enough of that!
No matter what fandom one writes, one must keep in mind when the data/feeling dumps get too much. There is no need to go on for pages about a sun set, as there is no need to go on for pages of a character sitting in the dark and crying over something that we can't figure out.
Instead, give us a paragraph of the sun setting and maybe three of that character in the dark; then bring in the plot. Please?
Date posted: 10/19/2007 9:11:55 PM
I know I'm gulty of this. I've written entire scenes that really would be better as separate vignettes geared for those who want just an angst/emotional scene, or just for me just to get it out of my system (even if it never sees the the outside of my own Word Doc file.) This artical will help me realize that putting these scenes into the big story isn't a good thing and when I even say, "does this really need to be in here?" I know that it doesn't, no matter how well written I think the emotion in the scene is.
Date posted: 12/17/2012 4:52:19 PM
Thanks for introducing a little rationality into this dbetae.
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