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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Importance of Shipping

If you're expecting a post about the importance of the Columbian Exchange and Middle Eastern trade routes and such, you're so wrong that I don't even know what to say to you.

No, I'm talking about the intense kind of shipping.  The war-starting shipping.  The OTP and canon kind of shipping.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations. No, really, I mean it--congrats.  You've successfully navigated the internet and the world thus far without becoming involved enough in fandoms to know what a ship is.  You're probably better off in your ignorance, and I wouldn't blame you if you left right now.

Okay, now that we're settled, here are is a quick intro to shipping (for those people that don't know and didn't leave):

Ship (n): short for relationship.  Usually used for fictional romantic pairings.  Bellatrix/Voldemort is my favorite ship.  Okay, okay, I don't know why that would be anyone's favorite ship.  It was the first thing that came to mind.  I don't doubt that it exists and is a thing, but still, ew, ew, ew.

Ship (v): to endorse a (usually romantic and fictional) pairing.  I ship Drapple.  Oh, come on.  Who doesn't ship Drapple?  Drapple is totally canon.

Canon (adj.): if something is "canon", it is an official part of the novel/show/movie as written by the author.  Percabeth (Percy Jackson/Annabeth Chase) a canon ship.  A Titanic-like ship, but still a canon ship.

I want Jon/Daenerys to be canon.  (Is there even a ship name for this?  I've seen "Snownborn", once, but that's it.  I propose...Jonerys?  Daeneron?  Snowdragon?  MotherOfDragonsWhoKnowNothing?  UGH THERE'S NOTHING THAT SOUNDS CATCHY.) 
OTP (n): abbreviation for "One True Pairing".  The ship that you ship above all other ships.  Whether or not a person can have more than one OTP is debatable; personally, I'm open to having multiple OTPs as long as they don't overlap (as in, you can't have both Hinny and Harmony as an OTP).  Occasionally also appears as an adjective.  Eowyn/Faramir is my OTP! 

Why am I talking about shipping, though?  Why does it even matter? 

It's more important than we think it is.  Why do so many people ship?  Why does it get so competitive?

The million dollar question: Why do so many people get so emotionally involved?   
Rick Riordan, are you listening? 
Isn't that the key to writing fiction, to involve people's emotions?  If we can't get our readers emotionally involved, we haven't done our job.  If a reader is so involved in the story and the characters that they feel an emotional connection to it, they'll enjoy it and buy more of your books and tell their friends about it and love it and it's basically the best thing ever. 

In January of 2012, I talked about the reason people reread their favorite books over and over, even though they know what's going to happen.  They do it because they love the characters.  The characters are their friends, and they feel like real people.  The reader loves these characters. 

It goes deeper than that, though.  It's not just the connection with characters that we crave--it's our connection to the relationships between characters.

Think about it--how boring would it be if everyone related to everyone else in the exact same way?  Where would the Harry Potter series without his clash with Snape, his friendship with Hermione, his love for his lost family?  Where would The Hunger Games be without Katniss's fierce protectiveness of Prim, or her complicated feelings for Peeta?  Where would A Song of Ice and Fire be without the sibling clash between Tyrion and Cersei Lannister, or the friendship/enemyship/whatever it is that Jaime Lannister and Brienne have?

We love to love characters.  But characters standing on their own mean nothing.  What we truly connect to is the way they connect with others.  The way they love, hate, and need.  The ways that they act with their friends.  Their enemies.  The people they've known forever. 

If you ask a Whovian what they love best about the show, there's a good chance that they'll mention Ten's love for Rose.  If you ask a Sherlockian what they like best, there's a good chance someone will mention the complicated admiration and rivalry between Sherlock and Moriarty.  The list goes on and on.  People don't just love the characters--they love how the characters love and hate and clash with and develop friendships with the other characters.

People have a distinct way of relating to each individual person in their life.  Let's say you have a group of three friends.  If you have a relationship problem, you always turn to one friend.  If you need a good laugh, you turn to the other.  If you need someone to just sit there and listen, you turn to the third.  You're friends with all three, but each one you relate to in a slightly different way.  Fictional characters are no different.

This brings us back to shipping.  If people are shipping your characters, I like to think that you've done something seriously right.  If people are shipping characters, they've not only developed an emotional attachment to these characters, but they've developed that even deeper connection with the relationship between these characters.  Essentially, they've connected with the way the characters connect (or don't connect) with each other. 

How do we create this, then?  How do we set our readers up for that kind of connection?  Character development, of course.  But not just the characters themselves--in developing the way they interact with each other.  This interaction is one-fourth of my Four Aspects of Character Development.  It's vital for a good story.

We want our characters to be ship-worthy.  We want people to point to two of our characters and say "This is my OTP!"  Canon or not, it shows that the author has, in most cases, been able to form a connection with readers. 

This is what we want to work for.

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