Herself_nyc (herself_nyc) wrote in shared_wisdom,

Angst and OTPs with Herself_nyc

I asked her to talk about two things she does so well, writing killer angst as well as how she is able after so many years to write her OTP ship with such freshness and passion.

First, thank you to the mods and members of shared_wisdom for inviting me to be a participant. I appreciate the honor, and as always, I'm delighted that people are interested in what I write and what (and how) I think.

Having said that, I feel like maybe a teensy weensy bit of a fraud, because I get the sense that the mods hope I'm going to have some kind of actual methodology I can share about what I do, on the topics I was asked to address: ie, writing angst, and sustaining extended and multiple story lines about one particular 'ship.

Whereas the truth is, and I'd better confess it right here, I really don't. Not because I'm determined to hold out on you—that's certainly not it. But because the process of writing fiction, which is something I've done since I was in third grade, has always been profoundly mysterious to me. It's something very instinctual, prompted by an urge that feels primal and not easily explained.

There are differences of course between writing original fiction and fanfiction. I've written quite a bit of both, but I wrote original fiction long before I discovered fanfic, I've published one novel and am writing another. The promptings behind each endeavor are a little different, because writing original fiction is first and foremost about bringing characters to life from my imagination, discovering who they are and what they want, and building them up on page after page from tiny notions into (hopefully) fully-fledged people whose conflicts and desires enthrall me (and then a reader). On the other hand, fanfic for me springs from coming across someone else's fictional world that is so tantalizing and attractive that I want to jump in and participate in it—in the case of BtVS, because I was so excited at the beginning of s6 about the prospect of Spike and Buffy's romantic life, and wanted to see it go off in directions that the canon material wasn't ever going to show.

So to try to answer in any really systematic way how I keep writing this OTP 'ship with such freshness and passion would be like trying to explain why I became obsessed with BtVS in the first place (and NOT with some other show, like X-Files or Stargate), or why I keep coming back to anything I really like and want to experience over and over (like chocolate chip cookies or Astral Weeks or the novels of Anthony Trollope).

It's a testament first of all to Joss Whedon and his stable of writers, who gave us in Spike such a rich canvas for the imagination, and in the S/B relationship, such a frustrating, tantalizing sexy hot mess, that the number of ways to tell a tale about those two seems infinite, and for many years the itch to explore them was so active in me that I just couldn't ignore it. I didn't have to try to write all those stories ... they just poured out. (There were times when I tried not to write them, in fact, and I have to admit that for a while recently I was frustrated because I didn't have something going with my original fiction that could wrest my imagination out of the Spike/Buffy groove ... until finally I did. Which is why I'm on a fanfic-writing hiatus right now—I've finally gotten going on a novel project that tantalizes me the same way writing about S/B has done.

As for writing angst ... again, I'm not sure I've really got what you'd call useful tips. Conflict and obstacles are of course key to fiction, especially romantic fiction. And especially when you're writing about a transgressive couple, you've got all this juicy stuff that just naturally comes up between them—their own conflicts and the conflicts that are imposed on them by the disapproval of other characters as well as by circumstances. I've always been more interested in writing character-driven fiction, and my "plots" are always the weakest part of my stories—I concentrate on the inner lives of characters and tend to make up the action as I go along, often with vast reluctance (I've been heard to sigh 'but why must something HAPPEN?????' ... or to rely on the promptings of more plot-savvy betas (such as the invaluable thedeadlyhook), who can suggest events I might not have thought of all by myself. What underlies all the fanfic stories though, is a what-if question. What-if Buffy really had an open affair with Spike? That was where I began, after those early s6 episodes where they brought down the house, and then she began rejecting him and pushing him away. To me that was far less interesting than if she'd somehow opened up to incorporate him into her life—so of course I had to write. And having written one, my imagination prompted the next ... I wasn't content to leave them be at the end of each of those shortish early stories, and more and more Buffy and especially Spike (who is a great gift to the active imagination), asserted an unignorable pull, because of that delicious trangressive, and yes, angsty nature of his desire for Buffy.

Each story sprang from certain basic givens: Spike wants Buffy. Buffy doesn't want to want Spike—but she does. As far as my advice about writing angst goes, I'd say that if you begin with some such very simple premise as that—what does character A want, what does character B want that is in conflict with it—you're halfway there. And perhaps the other half is that you must be filled with love and fascination and stern stern tenderness for both character A and character B—because I don't think one can really write successful romantic angst without yourself being in love with both fictional parties. (You can certainly write successful fiction about characters you don't love, but that's another category from what we're talking about here.) Out of that stern tender love comes the desire to write fic and not merely to write fic, but to fuck these characters up, to chase them up a tree and throw stones at them, (often two separate trees, at a distance—because keeping the lovers apart is a big element here), to make things worse and worse and WORSE before you allow them them, and yourself, and the reader, that luscious cathartic release of union—where the obstacles are at last surmounted, communication is restored, and character A and character B are allowed to fall into one another's arms ... at least for a brief while. Until the itch takes hold of you again and you find some other angsty reason to pull them apart and run them around until you can once more bring them back to the good place. (If you've noticed that there's a big similarity here between this and, oh, SEX, you're not wrong.)

One last demi-thought ... there are, roughly speaking, two kinds of conflict you can put into a story. Let's call them inner and outer. Inner conflicts arises from the characters' personalities, their past experiences, their inner lives and thoughts—every character, to be a character, needs a rich, complex amalgam of these, and they can be contradictory and in conflict themselves. Outer conflicts arise from events outside their control that they have to react to—i.e., the mayor of Sunnydale is going to turn himself into a giant snake, and must be stopped. BtVS was very very good at mixing these, which is why it transcends its pulpy roots and is a rich work of art. While I tend to shy away from creating outer conflict in the stories I write, I'm far from advising any of you to do the same ... BUT I'll remind you that in order for a story to be really successful and satisfying, if its action is built up around some sort of outer conflict, you need to find all the ways in which this dovetails and resonates and builds on what's going on in the inner lives of the players, because ultimately the emotion and all the marvelous effects you're striving for that will make readers swoon and send you worshipful feedback are going to come from what you do with the inner lives. (I.e., what leads Mayor Giant Snake to his doom is sight of the knife gifted to his beloved surrogate daughter, and the rage that fills him at her defeat, a rage that leads him to lose control, overstep, and thus become vulnerable to being blown up.) Now, some writers like to sketch all this out in advance, they'll know at the outset that there's going to be a gift given by the villain to Faith, and that gift is going to come back at the end and be the lynchpin of his demise. Personally, I've never worked like that. I bumble along writing the story, and discover my emotional resonances only just in time ... and then accept what compliments come about how cleverly I laid them out. Which is to say—a lot of this stuff, if you're a talented passionate writer, just comes when you need it—you discover it, perhaps because your subconscious has known it and tips you off just in time. To me, this feels more like life. When I wrote a story in which 7-year-old Jemima Summers reveals an ability to see into demon dimensions, I had no idea that I would go on some months later to write a story in which grown-up Jemima, getting drawn into a love affair with Angel, assumes the mantle of being his seer ... the first person to do so without the terrible side-effects ... because she already had this latent ability to be conversant with the demon world. I guess the "tip" here is—be alive to your own ideas about characters, pile them up, play them out, construct your own mythology of them, and then it'll be there to draw on later on.

That's what helps as well with writing long sagas about an OTP—you want to ring changes and variations on the core relationship as it evolves over time, as I did in the Bittersweets series. Or, having laid out one way that you goes, maybe you want to revert to a certain branching-off point, and ask yourself, What would be different if instead of doing THIS, I had them do THAT? For certain character pairings, such as Spike and Buffy, they're so multi-layered that you can plausibly do almost anything with them, depending on what you choose for a starting point, or what "given" you decide to explore. Some of those I've used as the seeds of stories: What if Buffy and Spike's relationship broke down after decades because she cheated on him? Or what if Spike was presented with a choice between turning Buffy or losing her forever? (This one I never finished because once I'd written the really interesting part—the decision made—I lost interest in the aftermath.) Or what if Buffy was forced back in time and met William? (This one I pulled twice—the second story arising out of a desire to do what I couldn't do with the first one—play out an actual marriage between Buffy and William.) Each of this disparate stories allowed me to play out what intrigued me over and over—the intrigue being, that I couldn't get enough of bringing Spike and Buffy together, and each way I figured out to do it merely sparked more ideas for more ways.

Which brings me to the conclusion of this long ramble, which is: if you're fascinated with an OTP, you're going to be thinking about them all the time, the ideas will just naturally bubble up, and you won't be able to restrain yourself from laying them out into stories. Angst will just naturally occur, because conflict and obstacles are inherent to the satisfying romantic conclusion—without them, all you've got is a Porn Without Plot. (I'm not knocking PWP.)

I'll answer some of the other questions you guys let for me in comments to the intro post in a new post. And of course I'll reading the comments to this one and responding as well.

Meanwhile, my BtVS fanfic can be found here. All completed stories are available at that site. My fanfic LJ comm is herself_nyc_fic. There are some stories in progress posted there, but I can't promise when they'll be completed, because I'm putting all my creative energies into my current novel. It's a closed comm but I'll admit anyone over 17.

My published novel, What Love Means To You People, which is alas out of print, can still be picked up for mere pennies from amazon.com, or obtained from public libraries.

Tags: herself_nyc, speaker
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