Revenge Return of the Dashite, Stallions and Gentlemares. Shall we begin?
If I am ever to drive a stake through the heart of this fanfic, or the damn subfandom and rabid following it has garnered, I am going to need to stop harping on the negatives.
Sun Tzu wrote about the importance of knowing your enemy, and to know this enemy, I will need to take a step back from how horribly it butchered the sacred art of storytelling, and look instead at what the fic did right.
My Little Dashie is popular as hell. That's a fact. But why? How did a story so utterly devoid of any saving grace or redeeming value get to be on the top of the fanfic food chain so early in the fandom's history?
The answer actually isn't as complicated as you'd expect, and it comes down to three simple factors. Factors that, I will concede, My Little Dashie does very right:
Brevity, accessibility, and Tabula Rasa.
Brevity is fairly straight-forward. Dashie is a fairly short fic. It's really no longer than those short stories they made you read in middle school, and even includes an hour-long audiobook (and now a movie) to boot. It is an exceptionally light read, and you could literally knock the whole thing out in your lunch break.
That's part of why MLD can't be compared to proper fan novels such as Of War and Friendship. It would be the same as comparing Candy Crush to the Mass Effect Trilogy. They are incomparable works which appeal to different audiences in different moods for different reasons.
Because My Little Dashie is so short, when good word spread about all "teh feelz" it packed, its prospective audience was neither intimidated by its length, nor did they risk losing interest in the middle of a long read.
And, in Dashie's defense, brevity is certainly not a bad thing. Sometimes, 15,000 words or less is all an author needs, and trying to pack in more would only make it feel bloated. I recommend you check out the short story There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury. It's a very chilling, lonely story about human technology in an apocalyptic future. Very fascinating, in my opinion.
This transitions neatly into accessibility. Accessibility is how easy a story is to just jump into and run with. Though accessibility is certainly related to both brevity and Tabula Rasa (which we will get to soon), there's a bit more to it than that.
Accessible stories are written in very simple terms, and have very simple storylines. No fancy Shakespeare balogna, it's just the same sort of conversational English we all use everyday. Boiling down a major plot point to a two-word description may be a fucking terrible idea to anyone writing to any audience with even an iota of taste, but when we're marketing to the lowest common denominator, that's exactly what we need to do.
Contrast Glee with Breaking Bad. Rather than demand your full attention, My Little Dashie simply fills you in on what you missed. It's rather incredible at keeping its audience half-awake and only barely paying attention as they daydream in the background while the audiobook plays. You really aren't going to miss anything important if you zone out, because that's the way the fic was written. If the fic wants to say something, it doesn't go through the trouble of painting you an elegant picture, it just says it and gets it over with.
But, again, neither accessibility or simplicity are inherently bad things. One of my favorite movies ever is Star Wars: A New Hope, whereas one of my all-time least favorites is Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. A New Hope is an amazingly simple movie. The storyline is literally a farm boy rescuing a princess and destroying a superweapon! It doesn't get any simpler than that. Meanwhile, Attack of the Clones is a convoluted shitflick about boring interstellar politics and idiotic prophecies. It's far too complicated for its own good.
See, here's the reason why A New Hope succeeded, and why MLD will never have that kind of awesomeness, despite being similarly simple. A New Hope may have lacked complexity, but it was swimming in depth.
The environments felt alive, the characters were vibrant and easily identifiable, the film's style and substance were just oozing out of every last frame. It was a labor of love from a (then) great director and storyteller. You didn't need to know any backstory, you just had to start watching, and the film would take you on a rollercoaster every step of the way! That's how you make your story accessible the right way. You open it up to both the casual and more demanding viewers simultaneously. You make that connection with your audience subconsciously, and engage them with the depth that they may not have even known they wanted.
Dashie, on the other hand, has zero-dimensional characters, no attempt whatsoever at a setting, and utterly nothing in the way of plot. Its simplicity may have garnered it popularity, but it certainly doesn't make it good.
Finally, we come to the dreaded Tabula Rasa. Where brevity was a very universally good thing, and accessibility depended on an author's skill level, Tabula Rasa is never, ever, EVER a good thing.
If you're like me, and you don't know the first thing about Latin, a Tabula Rasa refers to a blank slate. In the context of storytelling, it's something that the audience can unconditionally project themselves on top of, and live out the story through the eyes of the empty husk that is the audience surrogate.
Contrast Twilight to Superman.
Dashie's main character is not only devoid of anything vaguely relating to substance, he is purposely that way. If Bella Swan has taught us anything, it's that the LCD doesn't like it when a character has thoughts, emotions, or (even worse) actions. It gets in the way of their wish fulfillment.
Hell, I'll even go as far as to say that wish fulfillment as a concept isn't a fundamentally bad thing. The problem comes when it's done lazily, or when you use a Tabula Rasa protagonist.
Superman is wish fulfillment, and it's rather blatant at that. Come now, who here wouldn't like to fly around the world faster than a speeding bullet and beat up bad guys with a single punch? But the reason why Superman is good is that Clark Kent himself (spoilers :comeatus: ) is a very compelling character in his own right. He's the last survivor of a dead planet, he crash landed in rural Kansas in his birthday suit and lifted a truck with his bare hands. He was taught truth and responsibility all throughout his childhood, and he lives a double life every single day. Superman is a character who can fulfill the everyman's raging power fantasies, but he's not just some vacant lot to rent out and live in as you please. He has his own personality, his own quirks, his own strengths and flaws. He's a man you can identify with, and that makes him a perfect pair of shoes for the audience to step into.
But MLD instead goes the Twilight route. Tell me, what good is it to be able to step into the main character's shoes if the character isn't interesting in the slightest? As a wish fulfillment author, it is your job to sell me this pair of shoes, and you aren't going to do that by advertising them as being bland and uninteresting. If they're a more boring pair than my regular shoes, then I think I'll just fucking stick to my regular shoes.
And no, before you say it, Tabula Rasa characters don't work by letting the audience inject their own personality. This isn't madlibs. You can't replace the lines that the author already wrote with ones that fit your personality better. Storytelling doesn't work that way. If an author wants a character to have personality, even if it's a multiple choice personality like we see in video games, the author needs to write that character a personality themselves.
Failing that, you have created a dull and boring character who I wouldn't give change if I passed them on the streets, much less take a walk in their filthy shoes which have obviously stepped in far too much bubblegum and would probably give me blisters.
In conclusion, exploiting the lowest common denominator is one of the easiest things a writer can do. Even an abysmal writer can look to the common pathos that all human beings share, and exploit it for all its worth.
Will I do another MLD post in the future?
Three's a crowd already, wouldn't you say?