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The Three Categories of Crack Fic

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In the days of old, there once gathered three weary travellers around a fire.  They looked at one another--dirty, tired, with aching backs and aching feet--it was still a long ways yet to Canterbury, and they needed something to lift their spirits and break the ice.

A small little man cleared his throat and said, "In a yard, there lived a cock named Chauntecleer, with his seven wives, his favourite among whom was Pertelote, the fairest and most bodacious hen-babe in all the farm.  One night this ballin' Chauntecleer had a bad dream, and with a fright, he woke up and told his hen-wife about it.  And yea verily, she said, 'Have you no man's heart, and have a beard?  Alas, and how can you be frightened of dreams?  They're caused by indigestion.'"(1)

This was by no means the first crack fic ever written, or, indeed, the first crack fic ever told.  However, at least in the English language, we can say with some certainty that Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the earliest recorded writers of crack fic.

Don't be fooled by the rosary in his left hand, this guy's SERIOUS about writing crack.

Don't even get me started on the Miller's Tale.

 

So, in terms of legacy, crack fic goes back quite a ways in the history of English literature--from Geoffrey Chaucer, to Laurence Sterne's anti-novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, to Alexander Pope's mock-heroic The Rape of the Lock, up to the young writers of today in their fanglorious Internet excursions.

But how exactly do we define a "crack fic"?  The illustrious TV Tropes entry on Crack Fic defines it as "In its broadest sense, crack fic is any story whose premise and events would be completely implausible in Canon. These frequently include bizarre settings and explorations of improbable relationships between characters — not merely unlikely in canon, as in Foe Yay, but totally irrational and turned up a notch beyond that" (2).  The Fanlore page on Crack Fic defines it as "a term for a story which takes a ridiculous premise as its starting point...It may or may not deal with this premise in a serious way," although it usually includes " a plethora of unbelievable, incredible, or just plain silly elements - that is, implying the author/artist must have been on drugs to produce something so insane." (3).

By both definitions, a "crack fic" is actually a rather broad category of fic; in either definition, it seems that the minimum qualifications for a crack fic include a "ridiculous premise" along with a general sense of "unusualness" or "bizarreness."  However, there is some discrepancy between the two definitions: the TV Tropes definition emphasizes a sense of "implausibility" and "improbability" from the text's Canon source, whereas the Fanlore source tends to view the subject as something related to either a Canon or Fanwork text.

Nevertheless, by taking into account both definitions of the term "crack fic," we are presented with a range of possible forms and shapes a crack fic can take.  Here are some examples:

1.  The "We Just Stepped Into Wonderland" Crack Fic

unexplainable Pictures, Images and Photos

This is probably the form of crack fic that immediately jumps to mind when one thinks of "crack fic."  It is typically characterized by:

a.)  sudden, random events
b.)  general silliness
c.)  Out-Of-Character episodes
d.)  cartoonish feats of defying physics and/or biology
e.)  leaps of logic
f.)  character bashing (if there is a character the author particularly dislikes)
g.)  lack of rules
h.)  lighthearted and playful tone
i.)  lack of plot
j.)  frequently unbeta'd
k.)  slapstick, ribaldry, or just vastly exaggerated humor

It might also include other characteristics such as Breaking the Fourth Wall or the Wild-N-Crazy Crossover/AU, but these qualities aren't necessarily particular to one form of crack fic.  Nor are the qualities listed above unique to this form of crack fic either, but on the whole, most or all of these features can be found in the "Wonderland" fic.

The main signature of this type of crack fic is that it is rooted in chaos.  Think of it as being on the leftmost rung on the Spectrum of Crack Fic.  This is the crack fic where cupcakes come to life and take over the world while the characters flail around in cream cheese icing.  The humor of these fics tends to lie more in exaggeration and the surprise of bizarre occurrences rather than through intellectual humor.

Why would anyone write this sort of fic?

Answers:
a.)  sheer, insane glee
b.)  on a sugar high
c.)  high on something else
d.)  thoroughly drunk
e.)  hyperactive imagination
f.)  just because you can
g.) self-indulgence

Why would anyone read this sort of fic?

Answers:
a.)  for the giggles
b.)  why not?  (just because)
c.)  the sheer joy of escapism

So this form pretty much covers the overarching stereotype of the "crack fic," which, although it exists, is but one manifestation of the genre.  How about a couple others?

2.  The "One-Foot-In, One-Foot-Out" (AKA "The Hokey-Pokey") Crack Fic

While the prior manifestation of crack fic is probably the most stereotyped version of the genre, this form of crack fic is probably the one that most readers are actually familiar with.  The best way I can comparatively describe it is like when a friend is recounting something really bizarre that happened to them on the way to work--something that doesn't generally happen, but it could happen.


 (like when I discovered this purple guy while I was meandering around York---unexpected, but not implausible)

The characteristics that generally define this form of crack fic tend to be:

a.)  occasional silliness
b.)  some form of a plot, usually a simplistic plot
c.)  characters may either be totally In Character or occasionally lapse Out Of Character
d.)  the unusual things that happen are usually at least somewhat plausible, albeit unusual for that setting
e.)  a lighthearted, playful tone
f.)  more likely to have been beta'd
g.)  tend to follow at least some if not most of the Canon universe's rules
h.)  "witty" or "bantery" humor

Again, this category might include other characteristics like Wild-N-Crazy Crossover/AUs, but again, such characteristics are not limited to this genre alone.

The main feature of this type of crack fic is that while it does tend to bust loose from the normal constraints of its canon universe and indulge in silliness, it generally tries to maintain at least some form of a plot and some semblance to the characters' original personalities.  It falls somewhere in the middle of the Crack Fic Spectrum; it can fall a little bit on the sillier side or a little bit on the more serious side, depending on author and story intentions.  In terms of humor, it tends to be a little bit more "mind-based," although that is not always the case; snark, banter, deadpanning, etc., all tend to fall in this category quite often.

Why would anyone write this sort of fic?

Answers:
a.)  self-indulgent amusement
b.)  a drive to amuse others
c.)  for the giggles/because you can
d.)  point out an interesting connection between two unlike things (in metaphysical poetry, we'd call the concept a "conceit")
e.)  to create/spread new "headcanons," albeit silly ones

Why would anyone read this sort of fic?

Answers:
a.)  for the giggles/because you can
b.)  curiosity to explore the author's "conceit"
c.)  the sheer joy of escapism
d.)  to potentially obtain new and awesome "headcanons"
e.)  curiosity about the plot

So, overall, this type of crack fic is usually the high point of the bell curve, and while it may keep a foot in the door to the canon of its parent universe, it also has another foot out the door in the land of silliness.  Half-in, half-out, somewhere in the middle, and you get the idea by now.  Now on to our final type of crack fic...

3.  The "We Don't Take Prisoners, Son, We Have An Agenda" (AKA the "Serious Business") Crack Fic

Rare but rewarding, this is the crack fic that doesn't treat itself like crack fic.  This is the crack fic that's here to make you contemplate your very existence.

The characteristics that typically define this manifestion of the genre are:

a.)  plot-heavy; complex plots
b.)  thoroughly In Character characters
c.)  well-researched facts
d.)  it has strict "universe rules" that it follows, whether it's in the canon universe or another one
e.)  can have a lighter tone, but more often takes a serious tone
f.)  characters are treated as respectfully as they are in canon (meaning they're not usually bashed)
g.)  almost always had the benefit of a beta
h.)  takes a bizarre or unusual concept and treats it with absolute seriousness, including the realistic setbacks or problems that arise because of this (for example, turning characters into were-velociraptors and having them undergo the very real possibility of accidentally mauling someone and having near-death incidents)
i.)  can have humor, but is generally humor that is native to the canon universe it comes from (can also have no humor at all)

More or less, this type of fic is the complete opposite of the "Wonderland" fic; it is the crack fic that is heavily rooted in order and structure.  It would be on the far right of the Crack Fic Spectrum.  While rare, these types of fics tend to be extremely rewarding for a reader and have the same gravitas that any other genre of fic might have; this manifestation of crack fic is out there to make readers become completely absorbed in the scenario the author is spinning, suspension of disbelief and all.  It relies heavily on a well-crafted plot, thorough character honesty, and the drive for something more than (or other than) a laugh from its reader.

Why would anyone write this sort of fic?

Answers:
a.)  to meet a writing challenge
b.)  because you can
c.)  to explore something significant about the characters
d.)  self-indulgent amusement
e.)  to deliver something meaningful to readers

Why would anyone read this sort of fic?

Answers:
a.)  curiosity
b.)  the sheer joy of escapism
c.)  interest in the plot
d.)  to explore a new way of looking at the characters
e.)  to get one's mind blown

With this final example, I conclude my brief exploration into the many different types of crack fic.  Although I have only narrowed down the different manifestations to three possible examples, I would like to emphasize that not all crack fics can be so easily classified---the genre exists on a spectrum, and any crack fic could fall in between categories, say, like something between a "Hokey-Pokey" and a "Serious Business" classification  (a "Hokey Business").  There is an "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," as a certain alien might say.(4)

In conclusion, "crack fic" has had a long history in English literature and has manifested itself in many different ways, from the serious to the just plain silly, from the unshakeable pillars of literary canon to the nebulous mists of fandom.  Although it is attached to the realm of the bizarre, the unusual, and the incredible---sadly, things we experience so seldom in real life---our embracement of this realm through the medium of fiction shows our thirst for the exploration of our own imagination, and so we boldly go.

/end pedantic rant

END NOTES:

1.  adapted from "The Nun's Priest's Tale" of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales
2.  definition from the "Crack Fic" entry on TV Tropeshttp://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CrackFic
3.  definition from the "Crack" entry on Fanlorehttp://fanlore.org/wiki/Crack
4.  Spock, from Star Trek: The Original Series, episode "Is There In Truth No Beauty?"