This theorizing is relevant to working authors in one way: it reminds us we have one shot at communicating what we want.
Yeah, I'm alive and I have an intent, but since I can't hover over your shoulder explaining everything in my stories, I need to bring my craft up to the highest level I can. I need to sweat and fuss, and then let go. But even if I do that, even if I do the best job I possibly can of sharing what's going on in my head, the reader is still an active participant, still the one that does the work of decoding. (Lots of fun technique uses that to the writer's advantage!) What happens in my readers' heads isn't entirely in my control.
Ars Draconis is the first experience I've had with reader interpretation varying greatly from mine.
I set out to write genfic. I wanted a close partnership story between Giles and Buffy, but I also wanted to put that partnership under stress by making Giles much stronger than he was before. Buffy has been the hero unchallenged; now there's another hero standing alongside her. How does she cope? How does Giles cope with the cost of becoming a hero? I have already told you (more or less) how the sword is activated; the next chapter will show it happening. How do they all deal with the side effects? There's also an undercurrent of one of the character issues I am apparently fascinated with as a writer, the issue of the strong and capable person who chooses to serve someone else.
Nobody reads as closely as the writer does. I knew as I went that the hints might or might not be picked up by my readers. Hints are clear in retrospect; they need to be there or the reader feels cheated, but they might or might not be understood the first time through. The red herrings make it harder. It's a game we play with each other, writer and readers, for our mutual pleasure. But still, I pay way more attention than you do, perforce.
I didn't set out, intend, consider, want, or imagine that people would read Giles/Buffy into that story. But they have. Just about everybody who's written to me about it has. (With one exception, who wanted Ethan, to which I will only say: I know what my final scene is. And no, this isn't me saying it's a G/E story, 'cause it isn't, just that Ethan... argh. Never mind.) Smart people, some of my very favorite conversationalists here, have read it that way.
So what's going on?
Item: The writer's subconscious affects stories in surprising (to the writer) ways. Giles/Buffy is my OTP for a number of reasons, some of which are factors that drive the story in Ars Draconis. It should not surprise me that the undercurrents show up there. I might really have been writing G/B all along. I knew I'd written some moments of UST along with the friendship. Don't we all have moments like that with people we don't really want to have relationships with? Moments of mmmm that we don't need to follow up on?
Item: Fans sexualize everything. I do not exclude myself here. Two core drives: we want to spend more time with beloved characters, and we want to make real the relationship subtexts we see. (That was the practice's origin, anyway. It's now something more than that: it's a habit. Fans pair characters played by good-looking actors without needing subtext any more. But that's another essay.) We make them real by expressing them in sexual contexts, even if it's a teen-rated smooching context. The reasons why are complicated. I find the biological drive sufficient explanation, so I don't want to look further just now. Let's just accept that we sexualize.
Item: Fanfiction readers are appropriation-prone, more so than most readers. That's what drives them to read and write fanfic. They are more willing to read their interpretations into what's on the page.
Item: Readers bring expectations to stories. All readers, not just fanfic readers. It's fanfic, which means shippiness can be reasonably expected. It's fanfic written by me, which means Giles/Buffy can be reasonably expected.
Result: The "gen" label I've stuck onto the story is overwhelmed.
If the story were a completed thing, I'd take notes and move on. I think it's only a problem because the story is a work in progress. The feedback has the potential to affect how I write the rest of it. Competing urges: please the crowd! Do the exact opposite! Become all neurotically worried about how it's being read and find one's self incapable of writing the next installment!
In other words:
"Wow, I guess I'd better write mumble and mumble as a couple or my readers will be upset."
"Oh dear. People seem to be reading RL as gay! But he's not! I know. I'll marry him off."
"Holy crap, what have I been writing? What if I meant to do that? If I write what I want to will people hate it? Arrrrrrrrrgh!" <---- writerly neurosis of the sort I am prone to
So how should I react?
There's an Oblique Strategy I love: Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention.
Writing is too difficult a task to be entrusted to the conscious mind.
What does that mean? Nothing I'm going to reveal specifically here. I'm going to follow my plan (where I have one), write to reach the climactic confrontation I've wanted to reach all along, end with the decision I've been seeing in my head all along. Everywhere else, I'll follow my nose. If it turns out my subconscious has had a plan that my stupid conscious self hasn't realized, I'll run with it.
What I've learned:
+ I'm deeply grateful that people have cared enough about one of my stories to have opinions about where it should go. Love!
+ [sneaky] Figure out what I did that got this sort of response. Do it again.
+ I'm going to find a way to ignore you so I can write a story that does what I want it to, trusting my own instincts and artistic drives.
+ This is one of the many pitfalls of writing serials.
How do you cope, oh serial writers?