The Driven Wild Universe (or DWU) is meant to play out several "what ifs?" regarding the Daria series, consequences occurring if just one thing were changed. In the case of the DWU, this change involved Quinn getting glasses in the first episode, "Rose-Colored Lenses." While the early episodes of the Driven Wild Universe could have taken place within the series proper, once Quinn chooses to wear her glasses permanently (from "Cheered Down" onward) the fanfiction series breaks from Daria and runs along a parallel path. Kara Wild has stated the the true break occurs after Daria episode 307, "Daria!"; from that point onward, while certain series developments remain (such as the introduction of Tom Sloane as Jane Lane's boyfriend), others such as "Psycho Therapy" never occur because they have already played out in the Driven Wild Universe.
An intriguing AU series, the Driven Wild Universe's main focus is on Quinn's evolution from popular person allergic to school to a glasses-wearing math prodigy who sees a new world opening up before her. (The series proper would later provide its own perspective in Is It Fall Yet? and "Lucky Strike.") At the same time, Wild felt compelled to tweak other dynamics that she felt were stagnant in the series, such as Helen's relationship with Jake. In time, she would give nearly equal coverage to Helen and her sister, Amy Barksdale. Some critics charged that Wild did so at the expense of Daria, who, as the title character, should have been the star. Wild pointed out that she was already being well explored on the series proper; however, during the final episodes of the series, Wild would beef up Daria's role, having her come face to face with the dark side of Quinn's success in math. Jane makes fewer appearances in the DWU than in the series proper, mainly providing much-needed common sense and support.
Kara Wild was initially skeptical that fanfiction could come close to the show, but finally let curiosity get the better of her. She started reading Peter Guerin's fanfiction, before getting hooked on John Berry's work, then C.E. Forman's. Forman's painstakingly canon-like scripts, in particular, inspired Wild to develop script ideas of her own.
Her dissatisfaction with the first half of Season Three, including "Through a Lens Darkly" (which, she felt, should have shown Quinn's reaction to Daria in contacts), fueled numerous "what if" scenarios that she was itching to write down. Finally she did, and "Rose-Colored Lenses," the first Driven Wild Universe installment, was posted on Outpost Daria in April 1999. It was accompanied by the ficlet, "A Desperately Needed Ending (to "Depth Takes a Holiday")." Both stories marked the first time Wild had written scripted dialogue.
Encouraging feedback spurred her to continue writing scripted fics. Wild considered making her next endeavor a lighter story, such as a two-parter called "English Impatient," in which Mr. O'Neill's classes took a trip to England, or an untitled story in which Helen and Quinn both get sick with the flu, but ultimately wrote a darker story, "The Tie That Chokes," in May 1999. The events of "The Tie That Chokes" inspired Wild to write "That Thing You Say," which caused a profound reaction from Daria fans. "That Thing You Say" was one of the few fanfics at the time to have Daria struggling with showing love for a member of her family in a realistic manner.
Between June and November 1999, Wild turned out a new fanfic every two to three weeks. Each one, written in the same quasi-script format, took the story a little bit further and a little bit more off canon. Wild wrote her first eight fanfics in a notebook, then typed them on the computer. She felt that the dialogue came to her faster that way, but as a result, got tendinitis in her wrist and had to settle for writing on the computer. By the time she wrote her ninth full fanfic, September 1999, her series finally had a name: the Driven Wild Universe. The name came from C.E. Forman, who had written the fanfic "Driven Wild" for his continuum and jokingly called Wild "Kara 'Driven' Wild." About that time, Wild decided that her continuum would be 22 fanfics long for a "full" season of Daria. All but the last five DWUs were written from 1999 through 2000. After a three-year break, Wild returned to the Driven Wild Universe to write the last two installments, "Into the Fire" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" in May and November 2005 respectively. She officially completed the Driven Wild Universe in the summer of 2007 when she finally completed the fifteenth installment, "The Age of Cynicism."
Warning: The following may contain plot or ending details.
Quinn Learns That She is Smart
Quinn getting glasses launches the Driven Wild Universe, leading to some of its brightest and darkest moments. At first Quinn wants nothing to do with her glasses, believing correctly that they will hurt her popularity, but finally the lure of being able to see the blackboard proves too great. Quinn wears her glasses continuously from "None in the Family" to "Into the Fire," much to the pleasure of her math teacher, Alfred Phelps. Believing that Quinn possesses great talent in math, Phelps presses her to focus on her studies, first enlisting Jake to watch over her at home ("Of Absolute Value") before taking over the job himself. As with her glasses, Quinn at first resents Phelps's extra attention. However, as she grows to enjoy math, even going so far as to remain on Lawndale High's mathletics squad ("Charge of the Math Brigade") in the face of ridicule, she sees Phelps as more of an ally. With her family troubles picking up in the final episodes of the DWU, Quinn views Phelps as a surrogate father, someone upon whom she is dependent for her math success. Quinn's final challenge comes with demonstrating to herself that the talent for solving problems comes from her, not her math teacher.
Daria has mixed feelings about Quinn's glasses and math fixation. When Quinn first gets glasses, Daria hopes that it will compel her to look beyond looks and popularity. She encourages Quinn to focus on her studies and even dares to hope that a shared vision problem will bring them closer together. However, Quinn's utter denial of her glasses discourages Daria, as does her uninterrupted popularity once she starts wearing them all the time. Yet it is Quinn's demonstrated talent in math that really gets under Daria's skin. Daria tells Jane in "Memory Road" that while she may not resent the actual talent, she does resent that people treat Quinn as though she is an intellect just for being bright in one subject for a short while, without suffering the lumps that Daria has suffered for being a brain. Daria questions whether this undercurrent of resentment is what drives her growing suspicion of Phelps's behavior, before deciding that concern for Quinn is the real motivator. Quinn, however, thinks that everything Daria does to question or expose Phelps is motivated by pure spite. A wall forms between the two sisters, before Daria learns to accept Quinn's math prowess and Quinn learns that Daria really does care about her.
Helen Finds Herself
The other major plotline of the Driven Wild Universe revolves around the changes in Helen's character, particularly her growing self awareness. Whereas Helen in the series proper shows only occasional glimpses of self doubt, Helen in the DWU is forced to regularly confront her growing dissatisfaction with her family life and career. The plotline is set in motion with Amy's visit in "The Tie That Chokes," where Amy's easy rapport with Daria provokes unexpected, intense jealousy within Helen. Helen finally admits to Amy and herself that her relationship with Daria is not what she wants it to be, and resentment toward Daria for her chilly attitude reaches an exploding point in "That Thing You Say." Even after Helen and Daria work things out, their relationship is not what Helen wants it to be, until Daria suggests that maybe the problem isn't the relationship so much as Helen's own sense of satisfaction, the lack of which might have a different cause. A bet with Daria leads Helen to join Amanda Lane's art class ("Breaking the Mold"), which opens her up to creative possibilities that she never imagined. Feeling more at peace with herself than she has for a long time, Helen experiences just one sour note when she sees Jake's lack of interest. Their marriage hit a major speed bump in "None in the Family," but appeared to be smoothed over until this new development. As Helen commits herself to sculpting with passion, the gulf between her and Jake keeps widening.
Unable to see Helen as anything other than a confident, controlling lawyer type, Jake frets that he will lose her. He views Greg Valmont, Helen's sculpting instructor, whom she met in "Breaking the Mold," as his rival and joins Helen's sculpting class to keep an eye on him ("An Uneasy Marriage"). Yet Jake's own enthusiasm for sculpting, coupled with his growing friendship with Anthony DeMartino, exposes to Helen just how wide the rift with Jake has grown. Tearfully, she confides in Greg, and Jake's worst fears are confirmed when Helen and Greg share an impulsive kiss. Filled with guilt and fearful of the implications, Helen starts to break down at home and at work. Emotionally absent at home, she is unable to focus on her job until strong hints that she will be fired ("All But Forgotten") prompt her to survey her life and finally flee to Amy's apartment for some much-needed perspective. After talking to (and fighting with) Amy in "Memory Road," Helen returns home to confess to Jake. However, it turns out that Jake is not innocent, either. In "All But Forgotten," Daria and Quinn learn that Jake's friendship with DeMartino instilled him with enough confidence that he started teaching classes at a community center; in "Memory Road," they learn that Jake became closer to one of his students and has come very close to committing adultery. Once Helen and Jake confess everything to one another, they agree to separate, believing that it will give them the chance to find out if they still belong together.
After the separation, Helen's confidence remains at a low point, and she is far less concerned with finding herself than she is with restoring some normalcy to her family life. However, as Daria and Quinn's (especially Quinn's) anger confronts her on a daily basis, she wonders whether separation was the right step. Not until Daria comes to her with a crisis ("Tomorrow Never Knows") and Quinn forgives her does she regain her confidence when it is most needed, and is finally able to look toward building a new life.
Amy Finds Herself
As a byproduct of the Helen plotline, Amy is forced to confront her own issues regarding relationships. While "The Tie That Chokes" shows her rapport with Daria to be solid, it also reveals her distance from Helen and insecurities about her relationship with Joel Silverman. In spite of Joel's request, Amy refuses to tell her family about him until Helen practically forces it out of her; then, after she and Helen part angrily, Amy refuses to tell Joel why she is upset, prompting him to call Helen directly ("That Thing You Say"). Amy feels that he has an exacting, controlling vibe that reminds her too much of her father, while Joel feels that Amy values her privacy too much. They break up shortly before "None in the Family," but once Amy recalls all of Joel's good points, she decides to give him another chance. In "Erin the Head," we learn that Amy and Joel are living together. Yet even as they grow closer, Amy and Joel's relationship is hardly conflict free, with Joel in "Memory Road" reiterating his fear that Amy would rather be living alone. Fortunately for him, his fear turns out to be unjustified, and after a long talk, the couple reaches a new understanding. In the last episode of the Driven Wild Universe, it is alluded to that Amy and Joel will soon face a new challenge: the birth of their child.
Amy's relationship with Helen follows a similar rocky path. It is revealed in "Memory Road" that Amy used to idolize Helen, but became disillusioned as she grew to adulthood. In "The Tie That Chokes," the sisters bond gingerly over flan, before a disastrous game with Linda Griffin causes them to fight anew. Even after they make up, both sisters feel as though the other is holding something back. Their true feelings tend to be revealed in the form of accusations rather than sober dialogue. After Helen's crisis in "Memory Road," though, Amy returns to Lawndale and the sisters have a tender, remorseful discussion that signals a greater bond between the two of them, and that Amy will be on hand to help Helen through her separation. In "Into the Fire," Helen is seen talking to Amy (unheard) over the phone about her problems with Daria and Quinn.
The Fashion Club Gets Up-Ended
One byproduct of Quinn getting glasses is that the Fashion Club dynamic is thrown asunder. Whereas in the series proper, the FC remained fixed until nearly the end, in the Driven Wild Universe, Quinn is dropped from the club in "Andrea Speaks" once it is proven beyond a doubt that she wears glasses. For a short time, Quinn fills the void by serving as Lawndale High's head cheerleader ("Cheered Down"), while a vengeful Brittany (whose spot Quinn stole) is accepted into the Fashion Club. However, Stacy and Tiffany quickly grow tired of Sandi and elect Quinn Fashion Club president in her place, prompting Brittany to retake her old spot and an outraged Sandi to quit. Betrayed and vulnerable, Sandi strikes back by running for student body president against Jane ("Outvoted"). In the end, the students choose Jodie, but Sandi gets into student government as vice president thanks to her mother, Linda Griffin, bribing Ms. Li. Jodie is never able to forgive, and Sandi is never able to forget, prompting a vicious fight between the two in "Surreal World," in which Jodie challenges Sandi's fitness to hold office. Not long afterward, Jodie receives an anonymous racist note ("Primarily Color") that she thinks is from Sandi, which causes Sandi to be suspended until she demonstrates to Jodie that she is innocent. Embarrassed by her behavior in "Surreal World," Sandi does some soul-searching and starts to make amends. She drops out of student government, apologizes to Jane for her treatment in "Outvoted," and secretly joins a Unitarian Universalist church ("Tomorrow Never Knows"). Sandi's newfound sense of fulfillment allows her to be a friend to Quinn when she really needs her, after she has been betrayed by Phelps.
Meanwhile, as Fashion Club president, Quinn lives in constant fear that Tiffany and Stacy will change their minds and replace her with Sandi. She tries to keep them happy as best she can, but sometimes her paranoia proves too great, causing Quinn to act just as bad as Sandi does at her worst, as Stacy points out. These fears fall by the wayside, however, as math takes up more space in Quinn's consciousness. At first Quinn is fearful that the FC will scorn her and hides the fact that she is on the mathletics squad, but once they learn the truth, Stacy and Tiffany are accepting. Quinn's increasing absences, however, cause the club to fragment, prompting Stacy in "Into the Fire" to ask, "You mean there's still a Fashion Club??" While Quinn answers in the affirmative, the club's future remains in doubt, and there is good reason to assume that the four girls go on to pursue their own activities while remaining friends.
Except for "Tomorrow Never Knows," which contains seven acts, all of the Driven Wild Universe installments contain three acts, broken up by commercial installments known as "Commercial Hell."
Wild created Commercial Hell because she thought it was standard practice to have commercials in a scripted fanfic, having seen them used by C.E. Forman, John Berry, Peter Guerin, and Danny Bronstein. Wild's Commercial Hells would typically pick apart three different commercials between each act, everything from Mentos to the dot-com craze of the late 1990s to Super Bowl ads. From "The Tie That Chokes" onward, one of the commercial slots was reserved for a "sneak preview" of the next DWU installment. In the second Commercial Hell of "An Uneasy Marriage," Wild went so far as to preview another author's fanfic: Daria 2: The Curse of the Misery Chick. Although Wild viewed (and continues to view) Commercial Hell as a time capsule reflecting then-current trends, she quickly grew tired of finding commercials to criticize. Her final two DWU installments have no Commercial Hells.
Each episode also contains a "prologue" in which Wild states what number it is in the series and lists the the DWU installments that came before it, a practice dating back to when her fanfics were not grouped together at Outpost Daria. Wild would then give the episode an S rating representing the number of sittings it would take to read. Long episodes were given a 3S, or even a 5S. Wild might then make some comments about the episode to come before stating, "Enjoy!"
After each episode would come a lengthy postscript, sometimes the length of a short fanfic. Wild would make her comments and analysis ("Commentary"/"Points of Interest"). She might then follow it with an "Oops!" list of previous mistakes, or a "The Mysteries Of," which responds to a frequently asked question. Early installments included games regarding previous installments, but Wild found that the participation rate was low and stopped when she ran out of new games.
Following the style of many early fanfics, Wild wrote her DWUs in Courier text. After writing "None in the Family," Wild accepted C.L. Basso's generous offer to redo her installments in HTML. Whereas the text versions contain the entire fanfic on one page, the HTML versions list one act per page. In recent years, Wild has had some difficulty with the HTML versions, as she has gone back and reedited some of her text fanfics, only to have the old text live on in the HTML versions. Wild coded "Into the Fire" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" herself, using C.L. Basso's template.
Other elements that Wild adopted from early scripted fics were scene directions such as "cut to" and "Beat," the latter of which Wild used so often, she shortened it to "Bt." As Wild wrote more standard Industry scripts, however, she realized that writers never put scene directions in their scripts and that "Beat" was seldom used so as to keep dialogue flowing at a brisk pace. The result was that the last several Driven Wild Universe fanfics are largely free of "Beat"s and scene directions, and Wild has gone back to several earlier DWUs and weeded them out.
Life is Never Easy
Or rather, growth and change are rarely pain free. Yet rather than hide from the pain, characters should embrace it, as they will usually learn something new about themselves in the end.
For instance, Quinn's path to acceptance of her intelligence is far rockier than the path she took in the series proper. Wild felt that given that Quinn's identity was so wrapped around her popularity, it would be unrealistic for her to quickly accept a new "brain" identity. Thus, Quinn had to get used to the idea more gradually. Wild would later view Quinn's sudden embrace of both school and her sister in "Lucky Strike" as unearned character growth that did not mesh with Quinn's utter scorn of Daria just a season earlier, although the ground work for her scholastic inclinations was laid in Is It Fall Yet?.
Expect the Unexpected
Wild dislikes formulaic storytelling and thus strove to keep the Driven Wild Universe complex and unpredictable. She may not have succeeded with every plot development, but readers of each installment (who have not read spoilers) should receive many surprises.
Silence is Never Golden
In relation to the above, characters remain silent about their troubles at their own peril. Silence equals avoidance in the Driven Wild Universe, allowing resentment to fester and putting off the inevitable confrontation to come. Nearly every Driven Wild Universe episode has one moment in which tempers overflow and silence cannot be kept at bay; afterward, the characters lick their wounds, reassess, and reach a new understanding with one another. One such example is the fight Amy and Helen have in "Memory Road." After hearing some unpleasant news from Helen, Amy responds with cold silence until finally she bursts with anger, sparking a painful fight. Each sister parts half-convinced that she will never see the other again, before taking the time to review the situation and realize that she does still care.
Redemption Through Self Awareness
As long as a character is capable of looking inside him or herself and examining his or her behavior, the character is capable of redemption. Wild once stated in an interview with E. A. Smith that the only character that falls outside that definition is Alfred Phelps because he refuses to see himself as anything other than a victim of other people and circumstances.
Redemption is rarely a smooth process, although nearly every character undergoes some form of it throughout the series. Another personality trait necessary for redemption is proactivity. Without it, a character is doomed to remain in a pathetic static state. One reason Wild holds Jake of the series proper in such contempt is that she feels he never truly tries to be proactive. In the Driven Wild Universe, she strove to give him a greater sense of urgency.
There Are No Happily Ever Afters
Related to the "Life is Never Easy" theme is the idea that life is a continuous struggle that you have to be willing to engage in so as to get the best out of it. Even "redeemed" characters are neither perfect nor permanently redeemed. One obvious example is the coupling of Amy and Joel; although they appear to be closer by the end of "Memory Road," it would be a mistake to assume that they are headed for an untroubled life. In the unfinished novella, The Winter Chill (a sequel to the Driven Wild Universe), strong hints are left that Amy is feeling overwhelmed by her new life with Joel and their child. Another example within the Driven Wild Universe is Helen's new self-discovery. While one would think that after separating from Jake, she might revel in her newfound freedom and independence, she is instead fearful and sad, and more focused on keeping things normal than on sculpting or dating. That is not to say that Helen will never find happiness, and there are signs that she is adapting to single life toward the end of "Tomorrow Never Knows." Wild finds "happily ever afters" to be boring and unrealistic, and is bothered by the number of episodes in Daria Seasons Four and Five that suggest a character has achieved a permanent state of happiness or maturity (such as suddenly newly mature Quinn of "Lucky Strike").
It's Not That Bad
Just as Wild finds happy endings to be unrealistic, she is also not fond of excessive angst and, with a few exceptions, avoided applying it too thickly in the Driven Wild Universe. Wild holds what might be considered a "pragmatist's" or "realist's" view of the world that when even in the darkest situation, it was possible to take the Sisyphus approach and make the best of it, or at least try to find a way out of it. That does not mean that a character cannot express his or her anger, but Wild believes that characters who wallow in angst are choosing to adopt a mindset of passiveness, passive aggression, and perpetual victimhood. In "Memory Road," Helen calls Amy on this behavior, telling her, "And you, Amy Barksdale, are so convinced you're the martyr -- well I don't buy it! Martyrs are victims, and whether you like it or not, you have some control over your life."
Initially, Wild's premise that Quinn was an intelligent person proved controversial. At the time, Daria had only aired three seasons, and while Quinn showed signs of mellowing, there was little substantial evidence that she could excel at school. Wild defended her interpretation of Quinn on a number of occasions from people who thought that Quinn succeeding at math was as likely as her sprouting pink wings and flying to Holiday Island. Once Is It Fall Yet? aired, Wild's vision was vindicated.
Wild's decision to take the characters in a direction that did not fit neatly within the confines of the series proper was also controversial. She wrote three-fourths of the DWU during a time (1999-2000) when canon versus off-canon battles were fierce, and many like Daniel Suni held that the best fanfics were scripted and did not deviate in any way from situations on the show. While Wild was spared the scorn heaped on writers like Canadibrit for The Look Alike Series, her work was also not held up as a gold standard like the fanfics of C.E. Forman.
Kara Wild was also vocal about her dislike of Jake, at a time when many fans viewed him as a sympathetic figure, a broken man who would be a better father to Daria and Quinn if only Helen gave him a chance. Wild pointed out that Jake had several chances throughout the series to prove his worth, yet time after time, he either quit too soon or avoided getting involved altogether. Her view of Jake (especially his behavior in Daria Season Four) colored her portrayal of him in the Driven Wild Universe. Jake's whininess was portrayed as willful blindness and self absorption. For instance, in "An Uneasy Marriage," Jake's complaints and paranoid conclusions stand in sharp contrast to Greg Valmont's patience and willingness to listen.
In addition to influencing her stories' structure, Wild credits C.E. Forman and John Berry with helping the Driven Wild Universe stick to a lighter tone, at least in the beginning, with their emphasis on mining a situation for humor. The events of the Driven Wild Universe were strongly influenced by episodes in Daria Seasons Two through Four.
In turn, the Driven Wild Universe is credited with creating perhaps the first nuanced portrayal of Amy, which influenced how future writers such as The Angst Guy would portray her in their fanfics. The DWU's complex portrayal of Quinn and Helen also influenced other authors (such as Crusading Saint, in the case of Helen) to write them in a less one-dimensional manner, although the series proper's softer portrayal of both characters had an obvious effect as well. Before Is It Fall Yet?, several fanfic writers made teasing references to Quinn being a brain or wearing glasses. For instance, Milo Minderbinder portrayed "smart Quinn" in an alternate universe in "Back to the Future, Again! Part 3!," which was originally supposed to be the Driven Wild Universe Quinn herself before Minderbinder decided to keep the reference more general. In "Daria the Movie," Lynn Quinn Michaelis is an A-student who wears prescription "sunglasses" in an effort to hide her vision problem, the Adelmans' nod to the DWU.
- Rose-Colored Lenses
- The Tie That Chokes
- That Thing You Say
- 'Shipped Out
- Andrea Speaks
- Cheered Down
- None in the Family (Parts One and Two)
- Of Absolute Value
- Breaking the Mold
- Surreal World
- Erin the Head
- Primarily Color
- The Age of Cynicism
- Charge of the Math Brigade
- An Uneasy Marriage
- In Her Own Words
- All But Forgotten
- Memory Road
- Into the Fire
- Tomorrow Never Knows
- Alfred Phelps
- Barry Bukowski
- Charles Howard Barksdale, Jr
- Damien Crawley
- Evelyn Barksdale
- Greg Valmont
- Joel Silverman
- Marshall Winsett
- Vince Rogers
- The Driven Wild Universe (all stories)
- The Driven Wild Universe Primer (a good first reference)
- Driven Wild Universe Fan Art
- Driven Wild Universe "Apocrypha"
- Driven Wild Universe interview Kara Wild was interviewed in PPMB in February 2005 by E. A. Smith; many questions were submitted by fans. This was by far the longest and most detailed interview in this series.
- "Mother's Milk" A short story set in the DWU, after the series has ended.
- "They Came from Planet Xulfanex" A "B movie" science-fiction tale set in the DWU, but not an official part of that epic. Technically, it is an AU of an AU.
- "Illusions" Fanfic by CharlieGirl, The Angst Guy, and Angelinhel, in which a universe-crossing Daria meets her DWU counterpart—and her sister, the math genius Quinn ("Illusions," Chapter Three).
- "The Thong Remains the Same" A sex-farce fanfic by The Angst Guy that parodies the characters and events in the DWU.