Notes on “Bean There, Drank That”
After Bryony Bates’ stunning text “Hannibal Lecter’s Magic Dick Therapy,” published by MAI in 2018.
First sentences are revealing. As a reader, I usually know if I’m going to stick around for a text by the first sentence itself, and the voice and premise it chooses to establish. The list of my favorite first sentences ranges across lengths, forms, points of view, and the type of characters they introduce. It oscillates between first sentences that give away nothing (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen), and those that give away everything (“Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, / murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, / hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, / great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion, / feasts for the dogs and birds, / and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.” — The Iliad, Homer). All of them knock the breath out of me.
While editing this issue, I spent a lot of time thinking about the genre of Coffee Shop AU, and the many new ways in which we can think and write about it. One of these ways, I believe, can be reading first sentences. Despite their diversity, how would first sentences operate within a single genre? Would they have some similarities? How would our pre-existing familiarity with characters and relationships in fanfiction influence the interpretation of first sentences in this genre? And what can these interpretations reveal about the genre as a whole? To try and answer some of these questions, I decided to catalogue the first sentences of 10 pages worth of fanfiction on Archive of Our Own, sorted by Kudos, status: Complete works only, with the tag ‘Alternate Universe – Coffee Shops & Cafés’ (as of 18 September 2021). “Bean There, Drank That” is a poem crafted with (mostly random, but with an eye towards distinctiveness) selected first sentences from this collection.
On crafting “Bean There, Drank That,” here are some random observations I have made about first sentences within the Coffee Shop AU genre:
- The first sentence of a Coffee Shop AU fic does not necessarily need to talk about cafés, coffee or the way one feels about coffee.
- The first sentences which, however, do talk about cafés, coffee or the way one feels about coffee do so in diverse ways. There are no discernible underlying similarities.
- Keeping with the characteristic feel-good vibe of the genre, these sentences do not usually deal with fatalistic and larger-than-life premises. They talk about mundane concerns like the weather, music preferences, university jobs, the location of a new café, etc. (And even the sentences that rarely do deal with potentially serious topics like soulmates or a new café opening nearby the MI6 headquarters carry the inherent assurance that the fic won’t veer into too dark waters for this is a Coffee Shop AU.)
- Rarely do non-men characters make the cut with inclusion in these sentences. I think this can be attributed to the domination of M/M dynamics across fanfiction, and the tendency to usually only reference protagonists, and not secondary characters, in the first sentence.
- The sentences (and, I’m assuming, the entire fic) use modern words and syntax. This might be attributed to the general situating of these fics within the modern-day universe. (I’m not sure how this language would change if say, a Merlin Coffee Shop AU fic was situated in its own canonical (historical) universe and not in the modern-day universe — and even if it would change.)
- Because fanfiction is crafted with familiar characters, even seemingly innocuous first sentences like “there was a special place in hell for the jerks who fucked up his display,” “it was stupid, to be half in love with a person you’d never even spoken to,” and “it starts, like it always does, with a sleepless night” are capable of giving away a lot of information to the informed reader. If the reader is familiar with the fandom then they would immediately place who would grow mad at someone fucking “up his display,” who the character might be “half in love with,” and who might be prone to a “sleepless night.”
- A range of forms (declarative, interrogatory, exclamatory, dialogical, text message, diary entry, etc.) and sentence lengths can be found in these first sentences. Points of view, however, are almost always restricted to the third-person POV.
I’m not sure how these observations would translate while thinking about other fanfiction genres, and if that movement is even possible. However, while thinking about the Coffee Shop AU genre these observations helped me to better understand the limits and expansive possibilities of fics within this category. It’s very exciting that the structure of fics within this genre provides scope for exploring characters like Alexander Hamilton, Hannibal Lecter, etc. — characters who I traditionally do not imagine as belonging in a café because they either belong to a completely different, historical era or seem too twisty and dark to be capable of fitting within the feel-good vibe of a Coffee Shop AU fic. It’s also really exciting that plot elements from different genres like the Soulmate AU and the College AU can also be easily woven into these fics. Hence, while the Coffee Shop AU genre is limited by its feel-good vibe and compulsory happy endings to a lighter emotional range, it simultaneously also does provide massive scope to writers to push the boundaries of the different shades of emotions they can play around with by crafting complex, interwoven worlds — all of which remain anchored by the coffee shop.
The first sentences in this poem reference characters from multiple fandoms like the Marvel Universe, BTS, Harry Potter, Hamilton, Merlin, etc. As I mentioned above, some of these universes do not traditionally lend themselves to meet-cutes in cafés. However, fics within this genre always successfully interpret these characters in ways that seamlessly blend them into the space of the coffee shop. For instance, let’s consider this first sentence from a Merlin fic: “Merlin slipped into the Avalon Coffee Shop, brushing his fringe out of his eyes.” The positioning of Avalon—a terrifying space within the Merlin Universe—as a coffee shop—an irredeemably warm and happy place—is a brilliant move! It immediately serves to lift the horrifying shadows which loom over the characters in Merlin—by defanging the villainous Avalon, the first sentence itself assures the readers that nothing irreparably bad would happen to their favourites in this fic. This sentiment is reinforced with the second half of the sentence in which Merlin brushes “his fringe out of his eyes.” It’s a tiny action but one which immediately softens the edges of Merlin’s character for the reader. It makes him accessible by interpreting him as a ‘normal’ guy with quotidian, frivolous concerns like his hair falling into his eyes — just like the rest of us.
And I think that is exactly what I enjoy the most about a Coffee Shop AU fic: that no matter how dark and fatalistic an event in my life might seem, chances are that if not tomorrow, then, maybe, the next week the shadows would lift, and I would be left only with frivolous concerns like my hair falling into my eyes. A warm cup of coffee to go. Hope.
[arranged in order of appearance of the first sentences within the poem]
matildajones. “Here’s to the Static.” Archive of Our Own, 23 August 2014, https://archiveofourown.org/works/1321726.
pocketsizedtitan. “The Little Titan Café.” Archive of Our Own, 9 March 2015, https://archiveofourown.org/works/1032582.
donutsandcoffee. “one for the money, two for the show.” Archive of Our Own, 24 March 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/6324574.
ellievolia, sirona. “A little bit of your taste (in my mouth).” Archive of Our Own, 20 December 2011, https://archiveofourown.org/works/297329.
orphan_account. “He Takes His Coffee Black.” Archive of Our Own, 20 October 2012, https://archiveofourown.org/works/535628.
smilebackwards. “645 Riverside Drive.” Archive of Our Own, 25 May 2012, https://archiveofourown.org/works/412845.
orphan_account. “hot mess (and i’m falling for you).” Archive of Our Own, 3 October 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/7920865.
cydonic. “Chocolate, Raspberry, Cinnamon.” Archive of Our Own, 15 April 2015, https://archiveofourown.org/works/3749974.
angela13. “Flirt With Me Like We’re Strangers.” Archive of Our Own, 10 November 2019, https://archiveofourown.org/works/15732360.
melonnim. “can you be (mine?).” Archive of Our Own, 23 March 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/6111532.
Archive of Our Own. Current status: hidden/deleted.
FestiveFerret. “Triple Espresso.” Archive of Our Own, 14 December 2019, https://archiveofourown.org/works/20512421.
andnowforyaya. “a collection of hearts.” Archive of Our Own, 17 October 2019, https://archiveofourown.org/works/17595041.
HereIGoAgain. “play that vinyl (kitty cat).” Archive of Our Own, 6 April 2018, https://archiveofourown.org/works/14216376.
RangoAteMyBaby (FormallyKnownAsFreya). “To the Moon and Back.” Archive of Our Own, 29 October 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/12393585.
mountainlaurels (homecomings). “i won’t lie (i knew you belonged here).” Archive of Our Own, 3 June 2019, https://archiveofourown.org/works/7041703.
itsallAvengers. “The Problem With Communication.” Archive of Our Own, 30 June 2018, https://archiveofourown.org/works/15116705.
KuriKuri. “Meet (Not So) Cute.” Archive of Our Own, 24 August 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/7856914.
lyriumveins. “Undercover.” Archive of Our Own, 19 June 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/7241365.
alocalband. “Celestial Navigation.” Archive of Our Own, 7 July 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/11414136.
expplipo. “All’s Fair in Coffee and War.” Archive of Our Own, 15 June 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/7209644.
SeasOfTrees. “The Barista, the Burglar, and the Sofa.” Archive of Our Own, 9 May 2018, https://archiveofourown.org/works/14586408.
paperclipbitch. “I’ve Suffered Shipwrecks.” Archive of Our Own, 28 June 2012, https://archiveofourown.org/works/407635.
anarchycox. “I Could Murder for a Cup of Coffee.” Archive of Our Own, 22 October 2015, https://archiveofourown.org/works/5038399.
orphan_account. “no more sad songs.” Archive of Our Own, 4 April 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/10084160.
Archive of Our Own. Current status: hidden/deleted.
Archive of Our Own. Current status: hidden/deleted.
sara_holmes. “The Best Thing since a Double-Shot Expresso.” Archive of Our Own, 20 August 2015, https://archiveofourown.org/works/4538442.
chicklette. “It’s the Best Time of the Year.” Archive of Our Own, 31 December 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/12868785.
perfect_plan. “Coffee, Trapper Hats and Chocolate Wasabi Fudge Cake.” Archive of Our Own, 10 June 2015, https://archiveofourown.org/works/4111735.
mimosa (Error305_Proxy). “I’ve measured out my life with coffee spoons.” Archive of Our Own, 29 January 2013, https://archiveofourown.org/works/611207.
HoshiX7. “Swept Away.” Archive of Our Own, 18 January 2022, https://archiveofourown.org/works/6491575.
cavaleira. “By Any Other Name.” Archive of Our Own, 5 January 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/9209510.
fihli. “Sons Of Libertea.” Archive of Our Own, 21 November 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/6052915.
euphoriae. “if it tastes good, it must be mine.” Archive of Our Own, 27 October 2015, https://archiveofourown.org/works/5087413.
ambrosius. “The Booth in the Corner.” Archive of Our Own, 21 August 2014, https://archiveofourown.org/works/2130657.
hellodickspeight. “There’s a cup with his name on it.” Archive of Our Own, 5 August 2014, https://archiveofourown.org/works/2049750.
Emjayelle. “One-Across Four Letters Starts With ‘L’.” Archive of Our Own, 4 February 2013, https://archiveofourown.org/works/671068.
RayShippouUchiha. “Monday In A Cafe (All You Did Was Look My Way).” Archive of Our Own, 29 May 2018, https://archiveofourown.org/works/14786894.
Anushka Bidani is a poet and essayist from India.