Storytelling

How to Get Fans to Slash Your Characters

BBC's Merlin probably would have been canceled if not for its slashing fanbase.

BBC's Merlin probably would have been canceled if not for its slashing fanbase.

The biggest obstacle standing between new storytellers and success is lack of publicity. But did you know you can inspire a passionate fanbase who will spend countless hours creating free advertising material for your story? And that those same people will then post their advertising – for free – in public places online where even more passionate fans will see it?

These are fans who create slash: fanworks that involve romantic pairings of two more or more characters of the same gender. To attract them to your story, you’ll need to create the right chemistry.

First, Put Attractive Characters in Your Story

As unique characters played by hot actors, Legolas and Aragorn are naturally meant for one another. As unique characters played by hot actors, Legolas and Aragorn are naturally meant for one another.

You’ll need characters that your fans can get excited about. That doesn’t mean making all of the guys tall, dark, and handsome. What your audience really wants are two things:

  1. Distinctiveness. Your characters must stand out. Regardless of whether they’re shy or bold, masculine or feminine, they need to have features and personalities your audience will remember. Fans will have different tastes, so provide a variety of characters that contrast with one another.
  2. Depth. Fans will be more attached to characters if they’ve witnessed their hidden, emotional depth. Fill out their back stories and make sure your audience knows how those impactful experiences shape their current thoughts and actions.

Of course, physical attractiveness will also help your chances, particularly if you’re working in a visual medium. But again, remember to give them physical variety along with their differences in personality.

Then Make Sure They Spend Time Together

In Stargate Atlantis, Sheppard and McKay spend many scenes alone together, allowing tension and intimacy to build. In Stargate Atlantis, Sheppard and McKay spend many scenes alone together, allowing tension and intimacy to build.

Your attractive characters can’t build up chemistry if they’re never in the same place at the same time. The more often they interact, the more opportunities fans will have to imagine them taking it a step further.

Go beyond a simple working relationship and give them some interactions that are personal in nature. That doesn’t mean they have to be best buds; story pressure can compel them to get emotionally intimate when they wouldn’t otherwise. But don’t just trap them in a elevator. Instead, force them to solve problems together. Perhaps one of them has trouble doing their part because of personal inhibition, and the other has to coax them through it so they can both reach safety.

Then fans can imagine them coaxing one another later.

Give Them Antagonistic Overtones

The hatelove between Buffy and Faith makes for great shipping. The couple is even more attractive because Faith is essentially the dark version of Buffy. The hatelove between Buffy and Faith makes for great shipping. The couple is even more attractive because Faith is the dark version of Buffy.

There’s a reason many romances start with two people that hate each other; interpersonal conflict feels like sexual tension. If you’ve given them a healthy dose of contrast, then you should have a great starting point for disagreements. Let them squabble over whether to burst through the front door or sneak in a window. Let the shy character struggle to stand up to the overbearing character. That will catalyze their chemistry.

The juiciest slash could involve characters that are outright enemies. You can encourage it by making their deadly conflict personal. The villain shouldn’t just want to remove the hero because they’re in the way. They should want to remove them because their pride won’t be satisfied until the hero is dead. Then give your enemies one or two opportunities to interact without fighting. Perhaps they form a temporary alliance against a greater threat, or unknowingly meet each other in disguise. This will allow your fans to imagine more interesting situations in which they’re not fighting.

Add a Healthy Dose of Subtext

Star Trek: The Original Series started the slash movement, partly because of the copious amount of subtext between Kirk and Spock. Slash fandom was founded on the copious subtext between Kirk and Spock.

Along with interpersonal conflict, you can heat things up by adding subtext to character interactions. Every fan will have their own definition of what is and isn’t subtext, but in general, it’s character behavior that suggests the couple has the hots for each other, without clearly establishing it. Unobservant fans might not notice blatant subtext, while those who are looking for it might read it in platonic interactions.

Common forms of subtext include:

  • Gazes: The two might look in each other’s eyes for an extended moment, look at each other then coyly look away, or take in each other’s endowments.
  • Close Proximity: Put characters in each other’s personal bubbles, on an unusually frequent basis. Close facial proximity is especially strong.
  • Touching: Gentle brushes and strokes, hand holding, grabbing arms, and hugging all provide good subtext. Dire circumstances can make many of these actions feel more natural.
  • Words of Affection: A tear-filled goodbye, heart-wringing confession, or last words before impending doom all provide great opportunities for characters to express how much they mean to one another.

But the more subtext you include, the more important it is that you follow the last step.

Then Pay Your Fans Back

Willow and Tara, a fantastic canon couple from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Willow and Tara, a fantastic canon couple from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Not long ago, slashers couldn’t expect more than subtext from major productions. But times have changed, and any work that encourages slash without providing fans with satisfaction will be seen as cowardly, exploitative, homophobic, or all of the above. So do right by all those enthusiastic free advertisers, and include significant gay relationships in your canon.

Of course, not every couple with subtext is destined for canon-hood. You may have included chemistry for conflicting character combinations, and pairing off enemies is a poor fit for many stories. But if you and your fans have been paying special attention to a pair of buddies that have fireworks and deep emotional attachment, make it official by slashing your own characters.

Want pointers on your story? We’re available for hire.

Read more about

 

Leave a Comment

By submitting a comment, you confirm that you have read and agree to our comments policy.