Infinite Squee

What makes me fall in love with things

I was inviting people to ask me questions on Tumblr last night, and one of the things I ended up talking about is what makes me fall for things (books, movies, TV shows) in a fandom kind of way. I decided to post that here as well, because it took me a long time to figure it out but I did eventually figure it out, and I thought it was interesting. There are always a few outliers that don't quite fit this, or fit it in unusual ways, but for the most part, this is what makes the difference for me between something I merely like, and something I write fanfic for and can't stop talking about to anyone who'll hold still long enough.

First of all, it's almost always a character relationship that does it. I very rarely fall in fannish-type love with something on the basis of one character alone, and equally rarely for an ensemble without a pivotal-for-me relationship in the middle of it.

There’s a particular formula – while not EVERY character relationship that really grabs me fannishly has this, most of them do.

It’s basically two (or more) characters who care about each other and are almost on the same page but not quite.

It’s an essentially unresolvable tension – “I really like you, and you like me” but at the same time, being divided by some basically-impossible-to-overcome issue: being literally on different sides with no desire to switch sides, having incompatible ideologies or personalities, having really hurt each other in the past and not quite being able to get past that for totally legit reasons, devoting their lives to something which forbids them from getting close to the other person because it’s not allowed, literally failing to realize that they like each other and genuinely believing they hate each other except it’s obvious to the audience that they’re only fooling themselves, etc. But then, every once in a while, they DO manage to (temporarily) overcome that barrier because they just like each other enough to make it worth it (especially when one of them is in danger, hurt/scared, etc) and then, BAM, total endorphin overload. :D

It took me a really long time to figure it out, because so many of the character relationships I really liked seemed so different. Sometimes they started out genuinely hating each other and became friends later. Sometimes they always liked each other and actually ARE friends but they simply irritate each other and/or disagree a lot. Sometimes it’s an antagonistic mentor-student relationship, sometimes they’re actually enemies (except not quite), sometimes they’re forced to work together and hate it but then figure out that it’s not that bad after all, sometimes they’re being forced to work against each other and don’t really want to, sometimes they’re co-workers who just don’t quite get along except for when they do …

But what most of them have in common is that push-pull tension: “I really like you BUT …”

They're constantly teetering on the brink of disaster but never quite fall into a complete breakup because they like each other enough to keep overcoming it (whatever "it" is -- the thing that's keeping them from just being uncomplicated friends), but they probably never will be able to overcome it permanently because it's intrinsic to who they are.

(I think this is why "found family" tends to be such a good metaphor for the kinds of relationships I typically like, because of that element to being a family where you often annoy the hell out of each other and sometimes actually hate each other but -- ideally, anyway -- still love each other and are there for each other when it really counts.)

It usually works best for me if they're not each other's sole or even main source of emotional support, because due to whatever is creating conflict between them, they're usually pretty bad at actually being a reliable source of support for each other, even if they really care about each other. So if all they have is each other, it's just kind of sad. They need other people in their lives who can give them a more uncomplicated sort of emotional support. I tend not to fall for those uncomplicated relationships in the same way, but I really want them to be there, because my babies should be happy and they're usually not that great at actually making each other happy in a consistent kind of way.

This is why the version of this that typically makes me fall the hardest is when at least one relationship like this occurs in a larger ensemble.

There's also frequently an unexpected element to it, for both the characters and the reader/viewer - where they never in a million years thought they'd end up liking that person that much, and may have dismissed the other person out of hand when they first met them (and the viewer/reader probably did too, if it's in one character's tight POV, or at least never thought they'd end up being close to them eventually). The Doyleist-level unexpectedness is not required, but I've noticed that the character relationships that slam into me like a freight train often have it -- I'm as surprised as the characters are when they suddenly do a left turn into "oh shit, I actually like you a lot BUT YOU'RE STILL NOT MY KIND OF PERSON, WHAT DO".

If this sounds like a pretty traditional romance setup ... it is! Except for the "unresolvable conflict" thing (and possibly the unexpected-by-the-viewer element, since most romances are signposted a mile away). I rarely fall for romantic relationships in this particular way because they are, by definition, usually designed to be resolvable -- which means either the drama is something that merely irritates me because it's an easily fixable issue that nobody ever fixes because that'd remove the sole obstacle to having them be together, or they end up ~overcoming their differences~ and thus take away whatever made them most interesting to me in the first place. (This is not to say that I don't ever ship romantic relationships -- I do! e.g. I'm pretty gone for Peter/Gamora in GotG right now, and still thoroughly adore Peggy/Daniel on AC. It's just that they don't usually have the features that make them an endorphin-supplying id drug for me. The instances where a romance does hit that particular combination of buttons tend to be ones like Duncan/Amanda on Highlander, where they have an unresolvable personality conflict that prevents them from getting a traditional happy ever after -- they really can't be together for very long without terminally irritating each other, and often have other lovers -- but they really love each other anyway.)

So yeah, that's my basic formula for things that give me fandom feelings. And like I said, there are a few outliers that don't quite fit ... but most things do.

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Argh, why are you posting fascinating things I really want to reply to when I'm in the middle of a week where I have absolutely no brain space left for it? ;) I'm going to bookmark this and hopefully come back to it next week.

Happy birthday!
Heh, I've been on LJ/DW so little lately, I figured I should jump on it while I had some creative brain for posting. :D I'll look forward to your comment when you have brain/time for commenting! I cannot lie, you're one of the people I was hoping would show up to talk about this with me ...

And thank you!
I can relate to a lot of what you say, though I'm more on the 'friends despite our differences' side, than the 'hate each other, then become friends' side of the equation (though, of course, there's always going to be the outliers in this). I also have a soft spot for the 'cowardly hero' - someone who gets scared but still does brave things to save his friends/the day - and of course, snarky characters like Rodney, who feels guilt and cares about his friends and yet still snarks wonderfully! (Banter, of the friendly snarky kind, often pulls me into a show, though not always.)

I also love found family, especially so when it's a team thing!
I really like the "friends despite our differences" thing too -- in fact, a lot of my favorite ones tend to end up that way, even if they don't start out that way!

... and yes, found family is just great; I adore it. :D
Huh. I think that actually encapsulates a lot of things that tend to draw me to fandoms/characters too... Especially when that tension is handled well enought that it still allows for genuine character growth, seeing how they're affected by each other ad the circumstances they go through.

And ha, sooooo much yes to the frustration over romantic tension that tries to set itself up as "unresolvable conflict" but is really so transparently manufactured by the writers for the convenience of not letting them get together too early. I can enjoy characters working through genuine issues, but when their disagreements are so artificial that it just makes them come across as incredibly unreasonable... :P

(Now I'm trying to remember if you've ever mentioned... Have you watched Leverage? The TV series, not the movie. Because I feel like it might hit a lot of those buttons for you.)
I have been fandomming since oh, before the turn of the millenium (Blakes 7, mailing lists and zines no less!) and have yet to work out why I fall for what shows and which characters I do, definitely the latter dictate the former though (which explains the muddledy mix of shows :) i never got into, nor expected to, MCU as even as a kid superheroes did nothing for me... I do fall for one or two characters first, and then the show gets a chance to get round me.

That line "it’s basically two (or more) characters who care about each other and are almost on the same page but not quite." ,,, I can see it with some of my pairing (slash or otherwise), but some of them are on such different pages they could be in books in different languages half way across the world!! - but can't quite give each other up :)

I do sometimes think that the only thing my most Beloved Characters have in common is that they would really find poor little me extremely aggravating :)