(It's de-friendlocked now, though I don't think I've finished tweaking. My impatience won the battle.)
I am reviving my tradition of fic postmortems. If doing it for two stories counts as "tradition", that is. I was thinking about what I did to the fight scene to make it Less Sucky than it was in the first draft. It went through about four drafts before I reached the version you see in the nearly-completed story I posted the other night. Going through that taught me something, so it's perhaps worth examining. Though grr, re-reading it makes me want to do another draft...
But first, general lessons learned from writing this.
Inspiration and intentions. The main inspiration is obviously the one all Giles writers use for this period of his life, his conversation with Buffy in "The Dark Age":
I was twenty-one, studying history at Oxford. And, of course, the occult by night. I hated it. The tedious grind of study, the... overwhelming pressure of my destiny. I dropped out, I went to London... (exhales) I fell in with the worst crowd that would have me. We practiced magicks. Small stuff for pleasure or gain. And Ethan and I discovered something... bigger.I wanted to show that pressure building in a concrete way. And I wanted to show a better side of Ethan: the reason Giles had this relationship with him. (Which we'll treat as canon, since it nearly is so.) I wanted to show genuine affection, though perhaps corrupted a tiny bit by a hint of what was to come. And I wanted to show why Giles might choose that particular manner of running from the Council, what he got out of it.
And the other thing I had was a scene from the first (dreadful) draft of the Novel-Length Bond Story aka the Christian W/S Bond Story. In it, Willow asks the newly-arrived Giles to play Anywhere But Here, and he responds by describing a scene with Ethan asleep while Giles reads a children's book. Giles has a bitter moment afterward, thinking that his destiny has taken everything from him. Ethan was one of the two great crushes of his life. I started with that scene, but it turned out not to be a happy one after all. So this is the Giles from the NLBS, with that magic-averse Council backstory, and a father who did some interesting things that his son will need to... cough.
And it was for a ficathon. The other elements I had were mireille719's prompts: cigarettes; a broken window; a holiday; no sap/fluff. The holiday gave me my basic story (Giles is on the verge of breakdown from Council pressure; Ethan attempts to help by taking him on holiday; Ethan as usual has ulterior motives). The broken window gave me all kinds of other things. Windows are all over this story. Barriers, shattered, to become portals. I'm afraid I only nodded at the cigarettes. Could have done more with ash/fire and Ethan.
Pressure works for me. The ficathon deadline loosened me up, like the daily ficlet game does. I couldn't stop to think when writing part 1.
Character is the source of everything. I couldn't move at all until I understood Ethan better than I did. As always with this writing thing, understanding creates sympathy. I'll never be able to write purely evil Ethan. (I think I'm not above using him as a plot device now and then.)
Rein in my ambitions. My ideas were too big for the time available. Next time, something more modest. Like, maybe 2000 words?
Be more subtle next time. I give the game away three times: in the opening paragraph, when Giles' father quotes the Easter mass, and when I put Milton into Ethan's mouth. I should probably resist doing that next time. Thud, thud. I also thud at the end of the fight against the portal guardian. Sigh.
Research is required. Giles is reading "Culwych and Olwen" in the opening. I read it too. I also read a bunch of "Paradise Lost".
Rewriting the fight sequence
Immediate action, not summary.
Bad: "Giles attempted to grab Mael by the hair, but couldn't. Mael was incorporeal."
Better: "Giles snatched at Mael's hair, but his fingers closed on nothing."
Don't go meta.
If there's a time to use tight third, this is it. Keep the focus on the action, keep the pacing up. No leisurely digressions into the fighting backgrounds of both men, which is a sin I committed in my first draft.
It's always about character.
The fight (like the sex) has to reveal character. It kinda exists for a plotty reason (the inevitable gatekeeper whom the hero must conquer and move past, blah blah), and it is the climactic confrontation. But the scene has to do more than that. In this case, we see Giles using his head and the tools to hand. And we see him fling himself into a fight he doesn't really need to have. And he's vicious. My first draft had none of that.
Make it hard on the hero.
Victory can't be too easy. As usual, I didn't do well here. I continue to work on this. At least I managed to have Giles' trick fail the first time.
Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.
More about that constant persuasion John Gardner and Pooh-Bah go on about...
I've been reading about the German school of longsword fighting, so I know some tiny scraps about that, but knife fighting, nothing! So of course I wrote a knife fight. You will observe the cheating. I suspect that in reality most knife fights are like swordfights: over very quickly, with the stronger/faster/prepared person standing and the other person bleeding on the ground. (Then both of them die from infection a month later.) Duels just don't ever really happen. It's mostly assassinations.
But I had a duel to write between two trained men. The fight needed more concrete detail. My husband stood in the living room with a steak knife in his hand and had me grab his wrist and dig my thumb between his knuckles, so I could see how it worked. He did it to me a few times, too, to demonstrate how painful it is. There's a pressure point in between your second and third knuckles.
I need to do more research, however, about how wounds inflicted in combat affect people. Sometimes they don't notice them until after the fight is over. Adrenaline, and various other mechanisms the body has to allow us to survive an encounter with a predator.
But mostly I needed the details about Glastonbury. I spent some time with Google maps, and with various web guides. theblackmare's photos from her visit to the site, and her narrative about her climb up the Tor, were perfect. (Pages done by people who'd been there as tourists were generally more useful than the official sites.) I hate setting things in places I've never been, and this story taught me that I really should be wary of it.