Wish Fulfillment in Fiction
Track: The Craft and Business of Writing
Description: What is the role of wish fulfillment in fiction? If you're a writer, what personal wishes do you want your stories to fulfill? Are they the same ones you want to read about? How do our fictitious wishes affect our everyday dreams?
Moderator: P. C. Hodgell
Panelists: Beth Friedman, Anne Harris, Stef Maruch, Caroline Stevermer
I wasn't really happy with my performance on this panel, but I was glad that I did get on the panel because we had a really interesting pre-panel email discussion. Basically PC and I were talking about problems with using wish-fulfillment as a driver of fiction writing, and Anne and others were talking about the benefits. And what we saw as the problems they pretty much saw as the benefits.
For example, PC brought up "Mary Sue" fanfic, and Anne said let's not diss fanfic, a lot of good pro writers got their start in fanfic. So then PC said that she was thinking about a particular story where the writer tortured one character so the other character could comfort him, and Anne said oh, hurt/comfort stories: one of my favorites.
We decided not to make the panel into a debate though.
Some highlights from the panel (again, I paraphrased and I might have got it wrong):
Anne: One day I just had to make myself happy and it really worked for me to write a novel with everything I love most.
Caroline: You can go for the wish beneath the wish, the wish that's not obvious, the wish that transcends. Jane Austen writes wish-fulfillment fiction.
PC: It can be a problem when only one side of a wish is presented.
Anne: It's important to examine all the ramifications of wish fulfillment. Slash can be wish fulfillment for women because men usually own sexuality and slash lets women explore that.
PC: There can be fear of wishing, it can be less painful to look for what's attainable. But wish fulfillment is also play.
Anne: Used to daydream a lot. Courage required to write from wish fulfillment. Culture is suspicious of fantasy.
Caroline: Patrick O'Brien used to write literary fiction. Master & Commander series is wish fulfillment writing for him, and extremely successful. Wish fulfillment can be escapism or it can be empowerment. You can try stuff on.
Anne: What you fantasize about and what you want to actually have happen are different. Fiction as a fun-house mirror.
PC: Maybe some aspect of yourself wants it to actually happen (for example, I was lousy at martial arts, unlike my protagonist, but learning it helped me write about it).
Anne: In slash I get to try on the male body, male social privilege, and sexual agency.
On the topic of what sorts of things we wish for:
Caroline: "Free to go anywhere in the city"
PC: Strong woman, independent, competent, courageous. "Emma Bull, Emma Peel, & Emma Woodhouse: Together they fight crime."
Anne: What the character thinks they want might be wrong and instead they get what they need. Or what they think they need vs. what they really need.
On the topic of the forbidden wish (this question seemed to relate to slash):
Slash includes power dynamics.
Obstacles to romance create excitement
Attaining the unattainable
Audience comment: Robin McKinley's Chalice is an example of imposter syndrome.
On the topic of "How do you translate your wish into fiction?"
Beth: literalize the metaphor
Anne: Give characters what they want
Caroline: Make characters sympathetic
Audience member: Figure out what the reader really wants, then literalize it and make it silly