On and off over the last few years, I've wondered what it is that makes a story transcend popularity and become part of our shared and much loved reading (and re-reading) experience in a fandom. I don't mean the every day popularity of a well-written story, I mean the ones where if you say, Clue or Football (Orlijah Lotrips), or Hypatia or Freedom (SGA), then everyone will know what you mean. Those stories.
On the surface they look normal enough for popular stories: they get many pages of comments, many recs, and there's a buzz when they are posted. But it doesn't stop there. They also get many recs in the "all-time re-reading" lists and "pimping to newbies" lists, and most importantly, they live. Long after they were posted, people are still requesting them on storyfinder comms, referencing them in other stories, writing meta about them, making art, writing sequels/homages, etc.
I've often wondered what it is that makes these stories transcend into that realm of fannish canon.
It's not just that they are well-written, not just popularity, not just re-readability, and it's not just that people talk about them. Nor is it just the combination of those things. There's an X-factor in there as well. But what is it?
When I discussed this with black_samvara the other day, ze said it was that those stories speak straight to our lizard brain. That they are satisfying on this deep emotional level. Thinking about this a bit more, I wonder if these stories present us with an "answer"? You know how in the first flush of fannish love, you read and read and read, then then you narrow your interest, looking for particular things. It's like a quest for an answer to an unknown question. And I wonder if these touchstone stories manage to give us one possible solution that works on multiple levels. They are, in effect, One Way It Could Actually Happen (according to fannish consensus).
What do you think? Are there other factors? What are they?
Okay, for this final section, I've been hesitating and faffing about including it, because while I'm interested in this topic for personal reasons (I mean, I want people to read my stories, yo, no secret there), I don't want this discussion to be "All About Me" (TM). But on the other hand, I don't want it to just be a list of "My Favourite Fic, And Why It Pleases Me". (By which I mean: please do go ahead and discuss your favourite fic and why you think it has the X-Factor. That's totally the topic, and recs = awesome, so knock yourself out.) What I mean is, the other side of the question is "why this fic doesn't have the X-Factor" and that's a much harder conversation to have, because critique, no matter how tactful, is something we historically have Issues with. So I'm just going to make this offer, and people can take me up on it or not: if you'd like comparison stories that lack the X-Factor, you are welcome to use mine. <-- That is not the most unsubtle plea for compliments ever. It would be stupid for me to pretend my recent stories haven't been popular, whether you measure by comments or recs. They are. However, my stories have not, so far, ended up in the Touchstone category, and also my older stories are obviously juvenilia by comparison, which gives lots of scope to discuss stuff. So if you want to make actual comparisons, go ahead, I'm wearing my meta hat, and will not be responding with my fic-writer hat on (not that I'd be offended anyway -- your reading is just as valid etc). If anyone else is happy for their stories to be discussed in this context (whether they are Touchstones or not), let me know and I'll start a list.
Okay, so now that's out of the way, tell me about your lizard brains, people. :)
PS -- Anon posting is on.