I find UST (unresolved sexual tension) to be a term/phrase that is often misused and can be dangerous when labeling writing. Conversely, it can be helpful. So...what do you do?
UST has a foundation in the inherent chemistry between two characters, three characters, an ensemble cast, etc. Chemistry in general is the heart of most engrossing tv and writing. Without chemistry, the characters fall flat and we are less emotionally involved in their actions.
The thing with chemistry is that it can be interpreted and read in a number of ways, one of which is UST. While I am not saying that all chemistry translates into UST, all UST has its roots in chemistry.
Apparently, this can create a problem in the fanfic world. Someone who likes gen will tend to turn their backs on UST and label it a form of ship/slash. Or a fic that may have UST between Sam/Jack may be dismissed because of a dislike for that pairing.
However, there is a chance that the UST in the fic is not actually UST at all, and just chemistry. Could we be turning our backs on outstanding fiction because we perceive UST in a fic when really there's not? Are we dismissing fic that has amazing chemistry between characters because it's labeled as UST, but that UST can be read as either sexual or not? And are we, as writers, boxing ourselves into a corner when writing a fic that has chemistry between characters that could be read either way?
I'm a fan of labels. Really. I don't want to open a fic and get a surprise pairing inside. I don't want to read a fic that I thought was gen and find that it's really a Jack/Daniel slash fic in disguise or fic where Sam and Daniel are secretly angsting over their feelings for each other. Not when I tuned in for a gen fic. What I'm trying to say is, are we limiting ourselves with UST?
I would say the main draw to the show that many of us share is the amazing chemistry between the cast. Whether that cast for you consists of an original cast -- say Jack, Daniel, Sam and Teal'c -- or a change in cast -- say Jack, Sam, Teal'c, and Jonas. It could be Cameron, Sam, Teal'c, Vala, and Daniel. Landry. Hammond. Janet. Whatever. It's the chemistry between the characters added to a decent plot.
Whether your pairing is canon or not is irrelevant. There is no denying that in most shows there is chemistry between most of the characters. In the case of SG-1, I would argue there is chemistry between all of the characters. I really don't think you can deny the chemistry between Sam and Jack -- some may not see it as sexual chemistry, but there is some kind of chemistry between them, whatever it is. There is chemistry between Jack and Daniel, whatever it is. The same for Jack and Teal'c. Daniel and Teal'c. Sam and Daniel. Sam and Teal'c. And so on and so forth.
The show has given us several examples of chemistry. You can look to Need for Jack's caring for Daniel. You can look to The Fifth Race for Daniel's caring for Jack. Singularity is a good example for Daniel supporting Sam. Holiday can show Sam's caring for Daniel. Foothold is a nice example of Teal'c protecting Sam. Death Knell has a nice supportive scene at the end with Jack caring for Sam. Cor-ai had a passionate Jack fighting for Teal'c (along with the others). The list just doesn't end.
Chemistry isn't all hugs and cuddles, either. Chemistry takes on the form of anger, tension, need, conflict, pain, hurt, separation...the list goes on. We've had examples of this through a show like SG-1 between all the characters.
However, the former examples that I listed, the ones that show deep caring, commitment and love, are more often than not the examples people cite as showing UST. (Though, chemistry that involves feelings of anger, betrayal, sadness, pain, etc can also show UST.) The key is that we can read these scenes any number of ways. Some slashers feel the scenes in Need and The Fifth Race indicate UST and a sexual/romantic love between Jack and Daniel. While, at the same time, some people see Death Knell as Sam/Jack ship. Holiday is one of the eps trumped by the Sam/Daniel people. Foothold for the Sam/Teal'c crew. Yet, someone who does not support that pairing can just as easily see those scenes as friendship.
With such a spectrum and fluidity in the show itself, it's not unusual to find that in fanfic, too. When I read a fic, I expect there to be caring between all the characters, like I see on the show. I expect to see that spark, that chemistry between the characters, reflected in their own unique bonds.
For some, that is not the goal. Not all fic should reflect this attitude. If you are writing a slash fic about a perceived sexual relationship between Daniel and Teal'c, then you might not necessarily need Sam and Jack in your fic. If your fic only concentrates on two characters, one character, a side character...things change. Maybe you don't like a certain character and don't want to read fic that has that character in it. Or maybe your interest is solely in a pairing. Plus, there are times maybe that's all we want to read and think, "Oh, I'm in the mood for some Cam/Sam today..." It's a different dynamic. I'm not really speaking to those kinds of fics here.
But in a standard, teamesque type of story, where all the characters play a role, you're undeniably going to hit that chemistry that is present if it's a well-written story. That chemistry is going to slip into the conversations and actions between Jack and Daniel, Jack and Sam, Jack and Teal'c, etc.
Here's the problem. If an author wants you to know, yes read this chemistry as sexual, a label is slapped on that says UST. If a writer doesn't feel it is sexual, no label of UST. However, some writers don't like to be bound by an either/or attitude and are open to people interpreting their characters' chemistry as platonic or sexual. To slap a label saying UST doesn't reflect the nature of the story.
And yes, I am one of those people ;)
However, by labeling a story gen -- a story that tries to show chemistry between all the characters -- you run the risk of an outcry in the fandom over mislabeling. Some people will say that you're trying to sneak ship or slash into gen story. And sometimes people do, both consciously and subconsciously. But I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of writers out there that are open to people walking away with whatever view they want. If someone reads a story of mine that is gen and walks out of it thinking, "wow I saw something between Daniel and Teal'c" and I never intended that in the first place, I'm okay with that. And it has happened. I'm okay with people seeing ship when it's not there, slash when it's not there. And frankly, I try to write my gen in a way where people can see whatever they want, just like we do in the show.
But like I said, there's always a risk. You can't please everyone. And there will always be someone that doesn't agree with your views. There are fics where this doesn't apply -- full out ship and slash, for example. Also, there are times when a definite UST label is needed and others when gen is more than appropriate. It's a fine line, though.
My concern is that we might be missing some very good fic out there. Fic that might be perceived as Sam/Jack, but really just has some great chemistry between the characters and has a great plot. Or, a fic that might be perceived as Jack/Daniel which actually is just a story that can be read either way, again with a great plot. And that goes for Sam/Daniel, Daniel/Janet, Cameron/Teal'c, Jonas/Sam, even interactions between minor characters and original characters...you name the combination.
I wonder what are your thoughts on this? Again, I used SG-1 as an example but it can be applied to any show, despite whether the show contains canon pairings or not.