Many Crayons, One Beautiful Box: The Pleasures of Writing RPF


I fell back into the Real Person Fic (RPF) fold recently–thanks, Chris Pine–and it’s been great fun writing it again. As a reader and a writer, RPF feels like a very different thing to me than fic based on, well, fiction, and I want to take a crack at naming the particular pleasures it brings.

Plus, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from seeing Wonder Woman, it’s that one should declare one’s love loudly, unabashedly, and well before one jumps onto a weapons-laden plane headed to certain doom. Ahem.

For context: I read and write RPF for actors, for the people who play certain fictional characters I favor. While I have read and enjoyed RPF about athletes, that’s not my primary jam, so the joys I’ve tried to articulate below are specifically centered on the play between the fictional and “real.” (Damn it, will I ever shake grad school-speak out of my writing? Perhaps not.)

At its core, RPF gives me an ever-evolving spectrum of crayons to play with inside the same beautiful box.

Enjoy writing for nu!Trek’s Kirk, for example? Then you might also enjoy writing for Chris Pine, a character who inhabits the same pleasing form. The shape of Kirk and Pine is the same, but the colors each affords you–the behaviors, the language, the settings–are quite different.

To be clear, the RPF version of a real person–an actor, an athlete, a politician–is, as I say, a character, authored by both fans and the real person (RP) themselves. Said character is defined by a collection of traits that fans mine from the RP’s public appearances, interviews, social media postings, etc. The characteristics of an RP’s “personae” is made up of “careful constructs and slips of actual personality” that mark their public, performative selves (Arrow).  Fans then collectively sort through the traits of that personae(s)–how they talk, what’s important to them, the things they enjoy, stories about their past– shaken and sifted until only the shiniest or most prominent of them remain. Those traits in turn are positioned (usually through fic) as part of a fannish archive (to borrow Abigail de Kosnick’s term) of sorts, a body of knowledge as to who the RP “is.”

Let’s stick with Pine as an example: because he studied English at Berkeley, has a thing for poetry, and plays word games during interviews with one of his co-stars, Zachary Quinto, his love of language is prominent feature in a lot of Pine-centered RPF, especially Pinto (Pine/Quinto). The way in which that affection for discourse manifests in fic can take many forms, but the underlying principle–Pine likes to play with language–remains the same.

Now, do we as fans know dead to rights that Pine quotes poetry during sex or argues with his lovers using seven-syllable words or likes to write his way out of heartbreak? Of course not. But we’ve decided that we *like* this trait, this part of his personae that he displays or that sneaks through in public, and thus it’s become part of the showrunner’s bible of RPF Pine, if you like. It doesn’t appear in every story and it doesn’t have to; it’s a trait prominent enough to have become easily recognizable to regular consumers and creators of RPF featuring Pine.

As a writer, I find RPF especially fun when there’s a great contrast between the RP and the character she or he plays. Take Misha Collins, for instance. He plays (or played? Sorry, SPN fam) Castiel, a taciturn angel of the lord prone to frowning, self-sacrifice, and wearing too many damn clothes. Collins, by contrast, is verbose, hyper-literate (swoon), prone to starting social movements, and a big fan of short sleeves. So writing for Cas and for Collins lets one play with the same body in different contexts; the blue eyes are always there, burning, but what’s coming out of the character’s mouth (or what said character is doing with that mouth) can be very different, in quite delightful ways. Many shades of meaning and nuance, of dialogue and sex, of affect and interaction: all that in one beautiful body.

I also love RPF because there’s a constant churn of material, of fodder to feed the next story. Every time there’s a press tour, or an actor gives an interview, or takes to the Twitter, or gets giffed to infinity on tumblr, there’s a new spark, a new element for their personae’s archive to absorb. Here, the actor’s personae becomes what Sam Ford calls an “accretional” text: one that “has no off-season,” but rather generates a constant “flow of new source material” that adds to the text’s canon (64). For Ford, the WWE is the representative example of an accretional text: unlike traditional television programs or films whose canonical content is contained within a “drillable” body of broadcast content, professional wrestling’s ever-evolving narrative encompasses weekly broadcasts, special events, and “real-life” contretemps (64). [Note: the lovely and talented JSA Lowe and I explored the connection between accretional texts and RPF  in a conference paper a couple of years ago; my thinking here has undeniably been influenced by that collaboration.]

At the risk of perverting Sam’s concept, for me, it’s precisely the accretional nature of RPF fandom that provides one of its greatest pleasures: for the RPF writer, inspiration is freaking everywhere. The fannish archive of RP fandom is always being fed by the press, by social media, by the Internet. There is no off season for us, only seasons that are busier than others.

For example, for fans who appreciate  RPF takes on Misha Collins and his co-star, Jensen Ackles, the annual Jus in Bello (JiB) fan convention is affectionately known as “Cockles Christmas”–Cockles being shorthand for the pairing of Collins/Ackles–because it’s the only convention where the two actors appear together onstage. The annual outing never fails to generate a flurry of vids and gifs where Collins and Ackles seem to be flirting and teasing each other–a goldmine of material that keeps Cockles writers busy all year round.

Indeed, it was Chris Pine’s recent participation in the press tour for Wonder Woman that got me writing RPF again, and got me thinking about why I love it so damn much. I’ve written a lot of fic, but many of my favorite pieces are RPF–there’s just something about playing with the RP shades that seems to bring out the best in my writing, and I can’t help but think that the constant stream of material isn’t part of that. Admittedly, I don’t make a point of watching interviews with actors, even (especially?) those that I’m fond of, but the energy of that flow, the re-presence of said actors online and in the press, is undeniable and difficult to ignore.

The colors never stop moving, the shades never stop shifting, and for me, I think, that’s what makes RPF damn well irresistible.

Plus the beautiful bodies. Those don’t hurt, either. No they do not.


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