Watson likely stories

Fic Postmortem for "Cloud Animals"

Postmortems! Where I figure out what I learned from the process of writing a particular story, what I did well, and what I could have done better.

Intentions & the request

Wanted: England in the summer, a mention of Dawn, a comforting Giles.
Unwanted: Bondage, alcohol.

Summer + comfort gave me one strong image of Xander & Giles lying on their backs in the grass, staring up at clouds. Summer in England means either post-Grave or post-Chosen setting. I already have a post-Grave England-in-summer story ticking along, and I hadn't written any post-series stories before this. So post-Chosen it was. That meant the comfort was likely to be about the death & loss at the end of the fight against the First Evil. Anya, eye, some Slayer-ettes, Council, Sunnydale itself: that was a pretty harsh experience overall.

The main instruction I had for myself was don't overreach. My maleslashminis story ran over 9K words; my cya_ficathon story ran over 14K. This time I was determined to be short and to keep my ambitions sane. Which for me turned out to be under 3000 words. Phew!

I thought I'd have one conversation, rambling a little, over the course of a single day, ending with the revelation that gets them together. I turned around a couple of assumptions from previous stories; e.g., Giles in this one is without the experience, which is non-canonical, but hey!

My other goal was to really nail down the setting and get physical. To build skills with scene-creation in my readers' minds.

I nearly wrote alcohol in by accident in my first draft: the conversation was much longer, and extended to a nightcap, which is when the moment of revelation happened. Then I re-read the request and said oops! And that prompted me to do one of the smart things I did with this story.

What worked

Which was: making it a lot shorter than it was. Even though that was not very long. Draft 1 was about 4K words. This one, 2700 nearly exactly. More conversations about the Council? Gone. Dawn coming home? Gone. Cooking dinner & rambling conversation while eating it? Gone. Instead, focus! In something this short I don't have the words to waste on stuff that doesn't count.

No Xander-babble in this. And the language of the narration is not strongly his. I wanted that change of pace from the previous story. I was happy with my Giles dialog.

I had cloud animals & the title early. I had building & reconstruction much later, then noticed the pleasing contrast.

What didn't work

The gear-grinding at the moment of decision for Xander. There was nothing as obvious as the "o felix culpa" in "Breaking Glass", but it was still too obvious. Also, the potential for it isn't set up enough earlier, I think. I wanted Xander's holdup to be a bit of staring backwards, or worry about the pile of rubble, and then the choice to be to turn forward and start rebuilding. Give the relationship thing another shot. A moment of courage. I could have done better with this.

I didn't do a good job of bringing that kitchen into being. I did some high-level summary stuff, but I didn't describe what I can see in my head. So I'm not sure you see what I see. Thus I didn't get near one of my stated goals in writing this. Sigh! Next time. And there will be many more next times...
  • Current Music: Brian Eno : Dune (Prophecy Theme) : Dune original soundtrack recording
I really like it when you share these. The importance of focusing, distilling everything down to what's essential, is something I'm also finding. I really don't Have to follow my characters every single minute of every day. That's what we call a documentary, and a boring one, at that. Fiction is something altogether different.

And I like how you've caught on to the way certain parallel images or ideas can lend a structure to your work. I think it's pretty normal to find more possibilities and exploit them as you are writing, but you have to have a few things when you start. Because we human beings respond to patterns and structure. I think too many fan fic authors don't get this. They might have a very witty dialogue moment, or write really hot sex, but -- so much of it tends to be empty. I'm glad to say you don't seem to have this problem.

Which is not to say you're perfect, but that's the other reason I like to see these from you. Nice to know it's not just me struggling with some of these writing issues.

Thanks again, for the story, and the post-mortems. Keep 'em coming.

Because we human beings respond to patterns and structure.

True true, so true! And art is artifice.

For me, the more conscious I can make my process, the better able I am to examine it & improve it. There are some things about writing that I'm happy to leave as mystery: where the images and ideas come from, when they're burbling up. But once the raw materials are on paper in some form, time to be aware of process and to think about how we go about arranging them into story.