Don't speak Latin in front of the books, Xander.

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Oh, My Goddess!
Canon and Characterization

by Diana

I cannot recall any instance where Willow has said, "Oh my Goddess!" as an exclamation to a situation. That is not to say she has never said it. If I scoured the show transcripts, I might find it in one or two episodes (and someone is free to point me to those, if they like). Possibly. In fact, the few references I've remembered Willow making to a belief system of any sort always pointed to her Jewish background.

Although, one could argue that she was referring to herself as Jewish in the cultural sense. This is easily supported by what we know about her parents seeming lack of involvement in her life, and also by the very analytical thoroughness of her upbringing (see "Gingerbread"). Conversely, it could also be argued (per "The Body") that Willow's family did indeed embrace a part of their religious heritage through the practice of lighting a menorah during Chanukah.

Yes, Willow is a practicing witch, spells and all. And she has obviously been exposed to alternative deities, demons and systems of belief. But at no time, do I recall hearing her espouse any of these beliefs as her own.

I just can't recall ever hearing her say that.

Which is why it seems so out of place to read her saying it in story after story. It almost reads like a beacon of inexperience, or of someone who wants to create their own Willow character.

Why would they want to do that, I wonder, when the one they've been given is so complete and wonderful in her own way?

There have, so far, been five seasons of character development on this show. Five. That's a truckload more than a two-hour movie. And several more than many other popular shows about which slash/fan fiction is written. Joss Whedon has, in my opinion, made character development an art form, allowing his creations to grow and flourish, age, display all of their wonderfulness and flaws, get hurt and hurt others, even those they love.

With all this material to work with, I am left to wonder what show some writers are watching.

This is not to say that I am not adverse to the use of fanon, unless that fanon is wildly off base. I understand why some writers would want to fill in those unnamed details (such as the identity of Spike's sire, pre-season five), which would only make their stories richer. I can also understand why some of those details become as real to readers and writers as the ones we are given on the show. Where I draw the line is when speculation about a character becomes so overused that it is now regular practice to remind new writers that such a detail has never been proven on the show (or, in the case of Spike's sire, has been disproved by the show).

This is why I try to avoid using fanon at all in my stories. If I wanted to create a story in which someone is acting against the nature of what I've been watching for five years, I would have good reason as supported by the events of the story. If it's an important part of the events taking place in my story, then I will break my character out of, ahem, character. But if my desire is to create a story in which something happens to the characters as we know them, then I know I have a rich and varied history of characterization from which to draw. Nothing need be made up on it's own. I guess what it boils down to is, those are the stories that impress me.

On a more personal note, if I read one more story where Xander is brutally raped and beaten by his father, I'm going to hurl.

Not just because I find that behavior reprehensible, but also because it has become a too-popular method of giving reason to Xander's particular pathos. I believe we've been given reason enough through evidence on the show. A child does not have to be punched or sexually abused to develop low self-esteem and a tendency to hide behind sometimes inappropriate humor. At no time has there ever been any evidence to support the idea that Xander was abused by his parents, except possibly verbally and emotionally. Trust me, a childhood peppered with verbal abuse and emotional neglect or manipulation is no picnic to navigate. Even if this weren't true, there is strong enough canon evidence to support possible alcohol abuse on both parents' parts. Children of alcoholics can exhibit the same self-destructive tendencies as children of abuse. But I'm not here to give a psychological breakdown of Xander's character, fascinating as that would be.

I just want to talk about canon and characters. A story that is written while keeping in mind the strong canonical evidence available just comes across as more polished. Part of the appeal of fanfiction is the joy of reading additional stories about characters we love. We know these characters. They are not just faces and names; they have likes and dislikes, favorite things to do while hanging out, facial expressions and recognized reactions to certain situations.

For example, we know if a new threat comes to Sunnydale and makes the situation personal for Buffy, her first reaction is to attempt to handle it alone. Many might see this as arrogance. Some might view it as a common reaction by someone who feels she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. Most of us realize it as a combination of both. I mean, how many times would you have to save the world before you started feeling a sense of weary self-importance?

So why all the Buffy bashing, I wonder?

Again, I could point to several sociological and psychological explanations that might explain why her character is assassinated repeatedly in fanfiction, but I would be digressing. What I truly don't understand is the ability of some writers to turn their collective backs to apparent character details, all to suit their personal opinions and/or lack of experience when the beauty and strength of "Buffy" lies primarily in the complexity of its characters as they are revealed.

I come not to throw stones, but to issue a challenge. Watch the show. Read the transcripts. And accept nothing as fact unless it has been shown to you. Then write your stories, utilizing these facts you now know. Your characters will sing with their honesty and your stories will develop in sophistication as you have to use only what you can verify as a basis for action and reaction. Maybe they won't be as popular with the Bitch!Buffy crowd, but they might help redeem a fandom riddled with lack of outside respect. I believe there is certainty in the adage that truth will win out in the end.

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