Liz (amidala_thrace) wrote,

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When fics take over

(NOTE: This is the meta I talked about previously that goes, kind of, with Chapter 70 of Insanity Underrated. It should have gone up at around the same time as 70 did, but as most of you are aware, I've been grappling with some health issues lately, and that rather delayed my ability to type it up in anything resembling a coherent fashion. Also, while this certainly makes reference to IU because that's the main fic project on my mind at the moment, I'll be discussing To Ignite the Stars as well - my Star Wars AU - and trying to apply what I say here to writing at large.)

I think one of the most interesting phenomena I have experienced since starting to write is something I'll refer to as "story takeover". I'm sure that many writers will be familiar with what I mean here - the point at which a piece of writing veers suddenly from the predetermined plan you had for it, and starts to completely ignore your outline in favour of basically writing itself. As the author you are largely powerless to stop or control this, since if you try, the story simply will not do what you want it to. You have to exercise a certain amount of control, since if you don't your poor story will eventually end up collapsing in a pile of nonsensical glop, but if you try to keep too tight a reign on it, eventually it will suffocate.

A clear case in point, for me, is what happened while I was writing Chapter 70 of Insanity Underrated. I had originally planned to include an intimate scene in that chapter, a significant leap forward for the characters after Kara's return from New Caprica, and the writing of the opening to that scene (where they stand up from the couch and Kara kisses Lee, to his surprise) went fine. But then, I got roadblocked. I'm certainly no stranger to writing smut - I've done it before, and I'll doubtless do it again - but everything I tried to put in this particular scene came out sounding trite, out of character, and very much like I was writing an instruction manual ("Step 3, insert Tab A into Slot B"). I think I rewrote the scene about three or four or five times before finally giving up, because for some reason it just. would. not. WORK.

So I got online and chatted with my beta, and it was Katie who suggested that perhaps the scene wanted to go in a different direction than where I was attempting to take it. On the surface, this made no sense to me, because I was pretty sure I knew where the story was going and how to get there. But obviously, the fic itself had other ideas, and it was adamant in refusing to allow me to proceed with my plan. I decided to just start writing, allowing the story to tell me where it wanted to go instead of the other way around, and lo and behold, the material that was produced eventually ended up being part of the finished product that is now posted to my writing community.

After I'd posted the chapter, I was left to wonder what the heck had actually happened. Yes, the best-laid plans of mice and writers go oft awry, but this had been a very deliberate - and successful! - attempt on the story's part to subvert a scene that I originally thought worked. Why did the story suddenly decide that wasn't going to cut it anymore?

The answer in this case, I believe, lies with what was appropriate for the characters in that moment. I'd spent a lot of time before that focusing on Kara's and Lee's reactions to her return, but I had done so independently - that is, the characters never actually got together and outright got to talk about/experience how each felt. They never got to respond, as a couple and as a family, to the New Caprica invasion. Of course, I had planned for a lot more of that upcoming, with the baby's birth as a catalyst, but I think the story realized before I did that there had to be some sort of set-up scene that would lay groundwork for them coming to terms with New Caprica, and that under the circumstances, it could not include a sexual component. Kara is ordinarily a highly physical person who would welcome using sex as a distraction, but she has spent the last four months doing everything she can to avoid being touched by the man who is keeping her prisoner, is trying to convince her she's in love with him, and has outright told her he killed her son and has designs on the baby she's carrying. Given those circumstances, even coming back to Galactica and being in a supportive environment, it's going to take her a while to recover even if the only man who now might want to touch her is her husband, someone she loves and trusts - and who won't touch her if she makes it clear she's uncomfortable with that. Additionally, Lee can see, as an outsider (who is admittedly close/emotionally involved with the situation), that Kara isn't ready for sex yet, despite what she might think. She hasn't wanted him to touch her ever since she returned, and all of a sudden she's trying to leap back into sex. To have it happen that quickly was, in hindsight, not believable. It wasn't believable that she would be truly all right with it, and neither was it believable that Lee would allow it.

What happened instead, as I said, accomplished two things: 1) It provided a more believable alternative to the scenario described above. 2) It paved the way for some of the healing that the characters will have to do, in addition to how and when they will get there. Further, it let them heal as a family, because that does not and cannot happen in a vacuum. Will, young as he is, has a part to play, just as Lee and Kara do. Sophie will also be affected, since the consequences of the New Caprica storyline won't simply vanish overnight. Even small things have their ripples that echo long past the point at which the original event ends, and New Caprica was certainly not a small thing. That's partially why, although I didn't necessarily want to do New Caprica and complained about it endlessly, it was also in no way something I could just skip or rewrite as I pleased. Without it, the plot that I have and the story that I have simply wouldn't work, and continuing to write it would have been largely meaningless. Insanity Underrated isn't fix-it fic, although there is a component of that to it. But I can't just decide to scrap an element of the plot because I don't like it. If it's crucial to the plot, which this is and was, then too bad so sad. I can't explain it in terms any plainer than that.

Which brings me back to the idea of fics wandering from their outlines. And I'm about to partly contradict myself, because personal dislike did play a role in the first major rewrite of the To Ignite the Stars outline. In the original TIS outline, Padmé was in love with both Obi-Wan and Anakin, and she had to make a choice about which one of them to love. She chose Anakin, because she was afraid that to spurn his affections would destroy him. Before Padmé left Coruscant for Naboo and her wedding to Anakin, she spent one night with Obi-Wan, and conceived a child from that encounter. When she miscarried a few months later, she realized that it was pointless to try and conceal her true feelings as she had been doing, and her attitude towards Anakin changed. This eventually became a major catalyst in his fall to the Dark Side.

Now believe me, I am cringing just typing that all out. It goes against so much of what I now believe about the characters and about their relationships with each other, and when I realized this about a month after I'd written the original outline, I ripped up my plans in order to do something more in line with my own beliefs about Star Wars, not to mention what would be most in-character. After pondering the matter, I understood that it would be highly unlikely Padmé would enter into a marriage unless it was truly something she wanted, and she certainly wouldn't do it if she was in any way conflicted about her own feelings. She also would not go back on it or be unfaithful (as evidenced by her extreme loyalty to Anakin in the films) no matter what feelings anyone else claimed to have for her or if she was in any way dissatisfied with her canon marriage. Obi-Wan, for his part, would be highly unlikely to carry on a secret affair behind the backs of the Jedi Order, and he would certainly not betray someone he regarded as a best friend and a brother. As well, I was acutely uncomfortable with the fact that my plot, as it was, could be perceived in a certain light as Anakin-bashing.

Therefore, I rewrote the outline, and the plot I went with is the plot you can now read in the fic. The only thing that gave me pause in doing this was the fact that the father of the twins would change, from Anakin to Obi-Wan, but I decided in the end that I would rather have that be inconsistent with canon than write a fic in which the characters were completely not themselves and there was much implicit character-bashing.

In both situations, TIS and Insanity Underrated, the plot changed in response to thoughts I had and opinions that developed as I became more familiar with the fandoms in question. (There is an Insanity Underrated-related analog to the TIS outline-ripping-up story, but I'm not quite ready to tell it yet because it could be spoilery. The details are similar, though, so in the meantime I'm just going to let the TIS story stand for both of them.) But that, in my opinion, is different from the story itself deciding it wanted to change something. The TIS changes were made because I as the author was dissatisfied with where the story was going. What recently happened to me with Insanity Underrated had more to do with the story deciding it was dissatisfied with where I was taking it.

So what's the difference, you may ask? Well, the answer is I don't know myself, so I can't actually tell you. I'd like to think I have a good sense of when my own writing needs to be rewritten or adjusted (that threshold, by the way, will be different for each writer since we're not all clones of each other), but I have way more difficulty puzzling out what causes a story to suddenly decide it's not being written the way it wants to. There are also situations in which you need to guide the story away from what it seems to want, so it doesn't end up as that aforementioned pile of glop.

The most I guess I can say is, listen to your feelings. Which sounds very trite and non-committal, but let me explain. If something you're trying to write isn't working despite repeated attempts to try and make it work, try letting go, releasing your preconceptions and allowing the scene to take you where it wants to go instead of trying to box it into a corner. But there is also the other side, the discipline side, and sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which. Sometimes you do have to discipline your story. Yes, it has a mind of its own. No, maybe it won't listen to you anyway and do what it wants no matter what you say. But look, two-year-old toddlers have minds of their own. Bratty eight-year-olds have minds of their own. Teenagers have minds of their own. There are still times the writer has to tell the young, spoiled, willful, disobedient story that no it cannot play with matches, no it cannot have cake for breakfast, and no it cannot go to the unchaperoned beach party it's been invited to, and it doesn't matter if that's what all its story-friends are doing.

I may just be a little strict on the discipline standpoint, because I am rather obsessive about outlining and about sticking to that outline, once I think I have one that works. Actual results may vary. But I'm not afraid to mercilessly correct my mistakes, when I'm convinced I've made them. A case in point was scrapping half of Chapter 70 of Insanity Underrated - about 3,000 words or so - when I realized the intimate scene was simply not appropriate. I didn't like tossing out those 3,000 words, for sure, because they represented about a week's worth of work that had not come terribly easily to me. But on the other hand, I wanted a product I could be proud of, and that I felt worked well, and so in the end I fully agreed with the fic that the path I had wanted to take at first wasn't the right one.

In the end, I suppose, my way of writing could be considered rather visceral. If it feels good, do it. If it doesn't, toss it and find something else. But that's what works for me, and other writers will undoubtedly have other methods that work better for them. The best writers remember that what may be an absolute for them will not work for everyone, since we're all different. I think that's why I generally tend to stay away from writing how-to books, despite relying on them heavily during my high school years, because there aren't many writers who can write about their preferred method of writing without talking down to a less experienced writer or setting those absolute rules.

Okay, now that that's out of my system ... I have a story that wants to speak with me. ;)
Tags: thoughts, writing

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