A big trope in fanfiction is the idea of people having soul mates. I’m not going to lie, it’s the perfect plot piece because it allows you to have your One True Pairing without actually having to explain how the hell they could possibly end up together. Plus, it can be done in so many different ways that it will probably never go out of style. Almost like the Marriage Law that seems extremely prevalent in the Harry Potter fandom.
What has piqued my interest in the soulmate trope, is the “Your soulmate’s name appears somewhere on your body” idea that’s been popping up lately. The few times that I have seen it, the name will usually appear on a character’s wrist, although it can show up elsewhere like your heart. There’s also the variations on it: some will just have a letter, some allow the letter to grow into a name, some only have the first name, and some allow for the names of two different people at the same time. A lot of times, if it’s a May/December romance, one of the characters will go years without having a name on their wrist and, depending on the stigma in their community, may or may not feel incomplete because of it.
It’s a solid idea, and I will even admit that I have played with the soulmate trope myself (involving personal visits to Cupid), but I am curious as to where this idea came from and how it got so popular. I’m not saying it’s something that is just sweeping all of the fandoms, but I’ve seen it popping up in my Harry Potter and Avengers fanfiction, and even Glee, according to A3O. There has to be something to it.
Fanlore.org cites a Live Journal thread for a BBC Sherlock prompt session as an example for this subtrope, but it’s dated for the 30th of December 2011, which would probably be a bit too recent. Unfortunately, Archive of Our Own’s oldest fanfic using that trope is dated for New Years Day 2012 (it’s a Teen Wolf fanfic, in case you were wondering).
Wattpad has an entry dating back as far as August 25, 2011, for a story about soulmates’ names showing up on people’s wrists (I want to make a side note that Wattpad seems to be like a Facebook for writers). Judging from the prologue it seems like that story will get icky somewhere down the line though.
Still, from what I’ve gathered, the idea behind this soulmates subtrope is the 2009 indie movie, TiMER. Basically, there’s a company the sells these clocks that they put into your wrist that will countdown to the moment that you’re supposed to meet your soulmate. And like every “knowing something specific about your soulmate before you meet them” story, the main character’s clock is blank. Go figure.
So in the first two years since this movie was shown at Tribeca (it won an award), people were writing reviews about it and a couple of writers begin to formulate the “names on wrist” idea. By 2011 you start to see it pop up in a few fanfics, but it’s not until the end of that year that it shows up in a fandom big enough to make waves (like Sherlock). And then in 2012, we see an explosion of fanfics using this idea.
Admittedly, this subtrope will never be as big as the Marriage Law – which is somehow managing to pop up outside of the Harry Potter fandom (Gundam Wing and X-Men, for some reason) – but it has the same kind of staying power. It’s something that can easily be explained and is usually set up to seem too complicated to be entirely shot down. It’s actually harder to work a loophole into soulmate story than it is for one in a Marriage Law story; you will never find a fanfic that manages to completely circumvent a soulmate bond without lasting repercussions. It’s a foolproof plot.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the soulmate trope, as well as the Marriage Law, only works in Alternative Universes. If your fandom does not allow for it in canon, how can you use it in canonical fanfiction? Soulmates are of the fantasy genre, and Marriage Law is, at best, an emergency reaction to a population ravaged by war. Both work in the Harry Potter canon because it is fantasy/adventure and partially stuck in a particular historical period. Any other fandom needs a fair warning.
In any case, I like this new subtrope and I think it should be expanded on. I expect to write a fanfic review for a story that uses it soon. I don’t know if I will be writing any more posts like these in the future, but keep your fingers crossed for me. Writing about fanfiction and its trends is something that I’ve always wanted to pursue.
Originally written on December 28, 2012 at fangirlx.tumblr.com