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Crossovers

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Crossovers

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Thank you for inviting me to be a guest speaker on the community. It's been a long time since I wrote meta and it was great to get the opportunity. Thanks also to wesleysgirl who beta read this for me and was a huge help.

To introduce myself, I'm English, but I've lived in Canada for 11 years, so it's getting to the point where I need a US and a UK beta. I've been writing fic for six years, in a variety of fandoms. The three main fandoms I've been involved in are BtVS/Angel, Stargate SG-1, and The Sentinel. I'm also fond of NCIS, due South, Supernatural -- and this list could get long, so I'll stop there.

When jans_intentions asked me what I'd like to choose as a topic, this one was the first I thought of, not because I know a lot about it, but because I don't. If I'd been asked, I'd have probably said I wasn't all that into crossovers; fun, challenging, but not my favorite genre. I've written almost 700 fics, in 14 fandoms, only ten of which are crossovers, which seemed to say it all. Then I wondered how many of my fics in the Buffy and Stargate SG-1 fandoms cross over with Angel and Stargate Atlantis respectively, and realized that the number was higher than I'd thought. Finally, I looked at the fics I have downloaded to my iPod to read and noticed that a high percentage of those were crossovers, and reconsidered. Still not my favorite genre, maybe, but a lot higher up the list than I'd originally placed it.

This essay seemed to be a chance for me to study the genre, and maybe offer some pointers and guidelines on making writing a crossover fic easier.

The guidelines I mention are simply that; ideas that make sense to me. If they strike you that way, then that's great; if they seem like a hindrance to the story that's burning brightly in your head, then skip right over them.

Fanfic is a map with many places marked 'Here Be Dragons', sure, but sometimes the only way to the treasure is to leave the beaten path.



Crossovers


What is it?

C is for 'crossover' -- or for creativity, conflation and chaotic confusion, if it's not done well.

A crossover fic is one which brings the characters and settings of more than one fandom together. I'll be assuming two for this essay to keep it simple, but I've read fics with as many as five fandoms intertwining; there are no limits on the number of fandoms you can blend. The story can take place either on the home ground of one or both of the fandoms, or in neutral territory. Which is a longer way of defining it than the Wiki entry, which says

A fictional crossover is the placement of two or more otherwise discrete fictional characters, settings, or universes into the context of a single story.

If fanfic is all about the what ifs, a crossover fic squares the number of possibilities, and, if done well, becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Like fusion cooking, where ingredients and techniques from wildly different cuisines are blended harmoniously, a crossover fic can be an exciting, thought-provoking read -- or a disaster bringing indigestion in its wake.

Literary crossovers

Crossovers are far from being a fandom invention; there's a long-standing literary tradition of bringing borrowed characters into a story or inserting characters into a previously established literary 'verse. Sherlock Holmes, for example, has featured in so many stories not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, set in so many times, that the poor man must feel homesick for Baker Street. It can be done well, of course; Laurie R. King, for instance, has a compelling series of detective stories set later in Holmes' life and pairs him off with her creation, the inimitable Mary Russell.

Sometimes, too, an author will take characters from one of his own books and have them appear in another, quite separate, series. Robert Heinlein's later books do this a lot; in The Number of the Beast his protagonists travel in a spaceship of sorts equipped with a continua device that allows them to visit fictional universes such as Oz and Wonderland… and then, in a neat twist, the separate universe of Heinlein's own book Time Enough For Love. The story ends with a huge conference/party where thousands of literary characters meet and merge; the ultimate crossover.

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next fantasy series cheerfully features just about everybody who's anybody in the classics of literature and has his heroine, Thursday, who can step into any book, mentored by no less than Miss Havisham from Dickens' Great Expectations. For the reader who knows the books he refers to and Thursday visits, it's very entertaining to see familiar characters venture outside the covers of their book and interact with new people in a different setting.

Crossovers in Fandom

Fandom has taken the idea of crossovers and embraced it with enthusiasm. The Fandom History Wiki's entry for Twisting the Hellmouth, an archive of fics crossing Buffy the Vampire Slayer with any other fandom, states that in January 2007 the archive held an impressive,

7,600 crossover stories from 8,200 total stories, and has crossovers with over 575 different fandoms.

Impressive, yes, but very much the tip of the iceberg. I doubt that there's a single fandom, no matter how obscure, that hasn't been crossed with another. It's as if fandoms are drawn to each other. Some will collide glancingly, with only a few sparks sent flying, a few fics written; others will meet and stick together, a stream of fics pouring out.

It's difficult to explain why some fandoms have such an affinity for each other. It isn't necessarily a case of popularity loving company; one of my favorite crossover fics is by rageprufrock who crossed SGA with a relatively new and small fandom, Eureka. I read Summer House, the first fic in her short series, at a time when I was catching up on Season One of Eureka and becoming addicted to the show about a small town of geniuses with a mundane sheriff trying to keep things under control. Two paragraphs in, I was struck by how very right it felt to have Rodney McKay and John Sheppard visiting there. They belonged. They fit seamlessly into the town, the show, the fandom. Sadly, neither David Hewlett or Joe Flanigan has guest starred on Eureka, but Michael Shanks, who plays Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1, has, along with several other Stargate actors.

To Crack or not to Crack...

Crossover fics can be broadly divided into attempts to create a story where two fandoms could co-exist and a coherent, plausible story be told, and those fics where the chosen fandoms are deliberately dissonant or implausible and the intent is to amuse, or perhaps just prove that anything can be crossed if the author is daring and talented enough.

Which isn't really so different from the main body of fanfic. Fanfic is creativity without limits; experimental, imaginative, playful and liberating. The crack fic, for want of a better term, still has to meet basic standards of grammar; still has to present an idea in a compelling, readable fashion, but it is under no obligation to be plausible. If that's the kind of crossover you want to write, then your choices of fandom are unlimited; cross anything; bring together anyone (I recently had Paddington Bear visit Jim and Blair in the loft, for no other reason than the fact that he and Jim both once lived in Darkest Peru and that wasn't the first time I've crossed a cartoon with a live action character, either ::cough:: Spike/Dilbert::cough::). Just don't make the mistake of thinking that you've made the easier choice. It's harder, in many ways; the reader's already allowed you a pass on some things; they're going to want a payoff for that indulgence. Characterization is going to need to be solid; the humor or twist is going to need to bite…

One story I love that fits nicely into the 'implausible' category is by maaaaa, who each year writes a birthday fic for her friend and one year came up with A Time-Honored Ritual - Ellison Style a short PWP in which Blair gets a birthday spanking by characters from Supernatural, SG-1, Numb3rs, and his own partner, Jim. We don't know how the diverse characters got to the loft, we don't know how they all know each other, or why they've agreed to do this to Blair; it's not important. Explaining it would spoil it. The reader is presented with a fantasy, complete and whole, a floating bubble requiring no support but the air, and is left smiling.

This type of fic can be a great way to play, for both writer and reader, and although you don't need to write a crossover to produce one, it's a genre that lends itself to this style of fic very well.

Choosing your Fandoms

The fandoms you choose to cross, if you decide not to write a less unlikely to happen fic, will make your task harder if they're wildly diverse. Say, off the top of my head, Lord of the Rings crossed with NCIS. I'm not saying it can't be done; this is fandom; we can do anything, but you're making life a tad tricky for yourself just because you want to know who's going to win in a fight, Aragorn or Leroy Jethro Gibbs (okay, now I'm curious about that…).

At the other end of the scale, you have easy to cross fandoms like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Two separate fandoms but set canonically within the same world, and there are even crossover episodes on both shows. The same goes for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. They still technically count as crossovers; they're separate shows and I know people who've watched all of Angel but no Buffy, or all of SGA and no SG-1, but you're not going to have to sweat much over dreaming up a scenario that makes it logical that Teal'c is on Atlantis or Gunn in Sunnydale.

So what about the middle ground? What about, for example, a crossover of BtVS with Stargate SG-1? On the surface, it's tricky; you've got a world where demons, magic, and vampires exist, and on the other hand a show set in the same country, at roughly the same time, but based firmly in a no-nonsense military setting where everything can be explained away by science.

Except… is a girl turning invisible because she's being ignored really so different from Daniel being invisible because of the effects of a crystal skull? Go'auld or vampire; both strip you of your will and put an alien consciousness inside you that makes you do evil things and kill your fellow humans. Both shows feature flawed heroes fighting alien enemies, making sacrifices, and suffering tragic losses.

In fact, the shows aren't as dissimilar as they first appear and they're a very popular choice for crossover authors. I've crossed them a couple of times myself and had fun imagining Jack O'Neill's reaction to a vampire and his pragmatic method of dealing with it, and the way Daniel and Wesley would bond over the joys of research in the Sunnydale library (Worlds Collide.)

There are other questions to consider when narrowing down your fandom options. Are the shows/books/movies set in the same time frame? If not, are you prepared to age one set of characters, or write younger versions of the other set? Is there enough canonical data to make that feasible? Are the locations close to each other, or, as with Supernatural, do the characters roam the country, or are you going to need to come up with something like a convention, a vacation, a trip back home, to explain why someone never seen outside L.A. is suddenly in London, England? Are the characters going to meet as strangers, or do you want to invent a backstory for some of them; a shared childhood, a past relationship, a family connection, or a mutual friend? So many points to consider…

In short, ask yourself if it's likely that these people would ever cross paths with each other. If not, redraw the map so that they do, if you like, but keep it simple. Don't gloss over it in a single line, but don't devote 5000 words of a 10000 word fic to exposition either. The reader wants the story if the way you present it is attractive (a compelling cross, or pairing; the promise of an interesting story or some incandescent smut) and is willing to be convinced.

Why write one?

Crossovers of any kind are a challenge in many ways; more research, a bewildering cast of secondary characters, the need for inventive plotting… So why write one when there's all that extra work involved? Why not stick to one fandom and keep it simple?

For one thing, the possibilities are intriguing. You might know a character and be able to predict how he will react in a given situation or with a fellow canon character and feel confident about that prediction. Introducing a new character, equally familiar to you, but a stranger to him, or removing him from his surroundings and putting him somewhere different… well, you'll find out about him, new things, interesting things. That's fun.

Or you might like two characters and want to slash or ship them, but they're in different fandoms so your inner Cupid is frustrated. Don't be! An abbreviation for 'crossover' is 'X-O'; bring on those hugs and kisses. Never the twain shall meet in canon -- but this is fic. We make the impossible simple andcan usually come up with a sequel.

Another reason to write a crossover is as a good way to ease yourself into a new fandom. I've done that with Stargate SG-1 and The Sentinel; one of my earliest TS fics was a crossover with SG-1 using Jack O'Neill's POV with Jim Ellison as a visitor to Jack's cabin in the time after S6 of Stargate ended. I let Jack, a character I knew well and had written often, introduce me to Jim, who was an attractive stranger I now know very well, and learned a little more about Jim in the process. (Spoken in the Silence) Crossovers work very well as bridges between fandoms, with traffic possible in either direction.

Crossovers can also be a way to tempt a reader into a new fandom; I read an excellent crossover between The Sentinel and The X-Files (Mermaids Singing by Lyrica) and ended up spending a few weeks reading X-Files fic and watching a couple of episodes. Same with Bone's fic The Look (two sequels: Look Again and One Last Look), which crosses The Sentinel with Highlander and piqued my interest in a show I'd watched a while back but never really gotten into as a fan.

Variations on a Theme

A subgenre of sorts is crossing over fandoms where the same actor appears on two shows, playing different characters. This is very appealing, if a bit gimmicky, perhaps. I had Jim Ellison from The Sentinel, pull over Karl Mayer from Desperate Housewives for speeding in Red Light; both are played by Richard Burgi, but they're two very different characters. I also transposed the Blair/Jim characters from The Sentinel to the Firefly universe, some 500 years into the future, and had Lt. Womack (played by Burgi) meet up with a future version of Blair Sandburg after discovering that his senses were going wild ( Flying Into the Black). Burgi plays two very different police detectives; the playful, flirtatious, hanging on to his job with difficulty Mack Wolfe from One West Waikiki and the more serious, haunted at times, Detective Jim Ellison from The Sentinel. Having those two meet on a case with their contrasting styles is a word of fun -- makes that two worlds. An entertaining fic that just does that is Russet McMillan's Sugar is Sweet.

You will, inevitably, have to face the 'why do they look like identical twins' issue, and often, outside SF shows which have more possibilities to play with, the answer given is that they're related; long-lost twins or some such, which can stretch the reader's credulity a little, unless it's handled well so that it doesn't completely contradict known canon.

SF shows themselves love pitting a character against a double; Buffy, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis to name just three -- no, Supernatural has done it, too; make that four -- have racked up an amazing amount of episodes where evil twins, robot doubles, clones, shapeshifters, or alternates from different dimensions meet up with each other and interact as friends or enemies. In fact, it's probably quicker to list the shows that haven't.

It's not surprising; it's very tempting to bring a character face to face with another version of themselves, either exactly the same name/appearance, or just wearing the same face. Good or evil, serious or fun-loving, success or abject failure…so many possibilities for the contrasting pair. A crossover fic that goes this route can really delve into what has shaped a character's life. When a character confronts an alternate version of himself in a 'there but for the grace of God, go I' way, they can't remain unaffected. Faced with a person whose life ran along different tracks, a character can reassess their own choices and current status. The look-alike can be a catalyst for change and that can make for an absorbing story.

Another interesting variant is when the crossover is with the real world and the fourth wall is torn down so that the characters in the story are interacting with the author or the audience. One of my favorite fics in this category is the hilarious Sentinel fic, Writer's Block by sassyinkpen. It takes a light hand to do it; these are soufflé fics that can collapse into a stodgy mess if handled poorly, but when they work they're airy confections that melt in the mouth.

Guidelines

One guideline I try to stick to in crossovers is to put my toys back where I found them when they're done. By which, I mean that it's okay to bring Jack and Daniel from Stargate to meet Jim and Blair from The Sentinel, and it's perfectly fine to have smut ensue and the pairings mix (or all four get it on) but by the end of the story, put them back how they were, because, like a birthday or Cinderella's party, a crossover ends at midnight. You can finish your story with Jack moving to Cascade to be with Jim, and Blair and Daniel heading through the Stargate hand in hand if you really want to, of course -- but a crossover is already a stretching of the fabric to cover double the area; by its nature it wants to snap back to its original size and shape. Think of it as a one-night stand, not a marriage.

That doesn't mean that you can't write a long crossover, or a series of meetings; but at the end, Jack O'Neill is best left with Daniel, or alone, or with someone else from his 'verse, not with Jim or Blair. Why? Because he doesn't belong in Cascade, but Colorado; he's a visitor. As Bone puts it in her final story in 'The Look' trilogy, after Jim, while in a relationship with Blair, sleeps with a grieving Duncan with Blair's blessing.

Being with Duncan didn't change anything, except that he got some comfort, and I got a chance to repay a debt in the most pleasurable way imaginable.
It didn't change what I have with Blair.
It didn't change the indisputable we.
That's a whole different thing.


Reading Between the Lines

A crossover often puts the reader familiar with both fandoms at an advantage over the characters. In my SG-1/TS fic Spoken in the Silence, which is told from Jack O'Neill's perspective, Jack doesn't know that Jim is a Sentinel, his senses enhanced beyond normal levels -- but the reader does and when they get to this line:A mosquito buzzes them, Ellison's hand falling to swat it as if he heard it coming and was waiting. they'll smile knowingly, just as they'll be equally aware from the time the fic is set, what has driven Jack to seek solace with a man from his past. Jim doesn't know; we do.

Similarly, in Bone's Highlander/TS crossover The Look, Jim and Duncan don't find out what each is; a Sentinel and an Immortal. They don't need to, because from the moment they meet in a bar they know that they're the same kind of men and there's an instant connection (and a lot of lust), and that's sufficient for them, even if we, the readers, know that it goes deeper than that.

It's fun to salt the fic with hints and references to the unrevealed secrets; just don't use too many, or it can be distracting.

Reasons and Plots

I said that there should be a good reason for the crossover in a non-crack fic. In Mermaids Singing Lyrica brings Mulder and Skinner to Cascade to investigate an X-File. From Jim Ellison's perspective, their X-File is simply a series of murders he wants to solve. That's perfect; it's canonically justifiable all down the line, and allows both sets of characters a chance to work together with some interesting conflict. To sweeten it, along the way Jim discovers that Blair and Skinner were once in a relationship and, when that relationship is rekindled, is forced to face his own feelings for Blair and act upon them. In the process, he helps bring Skinner and Mulder together (remember what I said about putting people back where you found them? This fic does it beautifully; Jim sleeps with Mulder, Blair with Skinner… but it ends with two couples heading off to their own fandoms.)

Paging Will Robinson...

Before you rush off to write one, some caveats about crossovers. It doesn't necessarily double your audience, of course; far from it. Some people don't like crossovers; some will only read if they're familiar with both fandoms; some will prefer one fandom to another and disapprove if more emphasis is given to the one they like least. And some people really won't like it if you break up their OTP, even temporarily. None of which is any reason not to write one, of course, because if you've been writing for anything over a week, you've probably already worked out that you can't please all the readers all the time.

Another warning: if you're less than familiar with one of the fandoms and just know enough to think that you want to cross it with one you know inside out and back to front, be prepared for some pointed concrit if you make canon blunders. It will be glaringly obvious if you know your major character from Fandom A's favorite ice cream, shoe size, and entire life history and know nothing about his counterpart in Fandom B beside his name (spelled wrong). It's not impossible to work around an imbalance of canon familiarity by how you frame your story (keeping it relatively short is a good start), but you do need to make sure that if you include a detail like eye color or type of car the character drives, that you check your facts first.

A beta well-versed in both fandoms, or two betas, one for each fandom, can be very helpful for any crossover if you feel a little shaky on the canon. I've also put a list of references and resources at the end of the essay, some general, some fandom-specific, that might come in handy.

In Conclusion

For me, writing a crossover fic is like going on holiday to a foreign country; exciting, with horizons broadened and new experiences all over the place -- but it's good to come home to a single, cozy fandom. For others, it's the only kind of fic they want to write and they love the freedom and the vast array of possibilities this genre provides.

Whatever your views, there are some wonderful crossover fics out there and I hope that you find one you like in the recs list that follows this post.



Resource/Research Links

These scratch the surface but they're a starting point.

General

Wikipedia. This vast online encyclopedia has entries for the origins of most, if not all fandoms; TV shows, movies, books, computer games… You'll find plot synopses, link to episode guides, linked pages for the major characters and much more.

Similarly, most TV shows have an official webpage which can provide some useful information in the form of character bios, episode guides, background, etc.

Episode transcripts for many shows can be found here.

On Live Journal there are communities like crack_van which has fandom overviews in its memories here and a list of crossover recs here.

ship_manifesto mostly has essays on various pairings within canon, listed here, but can be a good place to get a feel for a character if you've fallen in love after one episode, mid Season Three, and don't have a clue what's happened in their life before you joined the dance.

justhuman pointed me here and I'll quote her:

newbieguide -- is a fandom resource guide designed to help someone become acquainted with a particular fandom or with fandom in general.

For instance, the Heroes
entry gives an overview of the show, and a break down of LJ communities along
with links to official and fan sites.

This post on the comm has the list of fandoms covered and links to the individual fandom posts.

And if you want to dive in and read some as they're written, there's an LJ newsletter for crossovers: crossover_news

Fandom Specific

Stargate SG-1 and SGA: Gateworld. Loads of information on every detail of both shows.

Stargate Solutions Episode transcripts and more.

The Sentinel: Episode transcripts.

Firefly:
Chinese phrases used on Firefly/Serenity


Crossover Fics

I asked my friends list what their favorite crossover fics were and was overwhelmed by their response and the range of fandoms included, some of which I'd never heard of. If you'd like to browse their suggestions, the post is here . Most of these fics are new to me, but I'm looking forward to reading them.

Some of my personal favorites, including the ones I mention in the essay, are listed below. Be aware that some fics may contain spoilers for the featured shows and all of these are slash.

A Time-Honored Ritual - Ellison Style by maaaaa NC17, The Sentinel/SG-1/Supernatural/Numb3rs

Mermaids Singing by Lyrica NC17, The Sentinel/The X Files

The Look Series by thisisbone NC17 The Sentinel/Highlander

The Look

Look Again

One Last Look

Writer's Block by sassyinkpen NC17 The Sentinel/real world

Learning Curve by lit_gal NC17 The Sentinel/BtVS

The Dog Series by carodee NC17 The Sentinel/Stargate-SG1

Top Dog

Hot Dogs

Dog Star

Dog Pack

Cry Wolf by Morgan Rating n/k Supernatural/The Sentinel

Scenes From a Marriage series by elementalv PG13 due South/The Sentinel/The Dresden Files

Hotel Sex by ivorygates NC17, Stargate SG-1/House

Summer House Series by rageprufrock SGA/Eureka.

Summer House G

Shore Leave R

Sabbatical R

Chuck vs. the Crazy Alien Vampires by fiareynne PG13 Chuck/SGA (WIP)

Scorpions by ladyra NC17 The Sentinel/SG-1

Spirit Guides by ladyra R The Sentinel/BtVS

Sugar is Sweet by Russet McMillan NC17 The Sentinel/One West Waikiki



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