The long nightmare is over. Now I get to write a post-mortem for it. It has some good things and some bad things, and is mostly, to my view, a mess of unrealized potential. But now I can move on. And maybe in a month I won't hate it so much.
Okay, it wasn't actually a nightmare and I don't truly hate the story. There are things about it that I love a lot, to be honest. I just had a long guilty struggle with writing it.
Request and intentions
The request was short and sweet: "post-Grave, h/c".
It started as hurt/comfort, but I'm pretty sure it didn't end up as actual h/c.
The first thing I did was watch "Two to Go" and "Grave". I decided on Buffy as comforter, and on her point of view. (There's a great story lurking there with Anya, but I'm not ready to tell it.) And then Giles did what he did in the first scene. I resisted writing Buffy/Giles for a while before yielding.
I had three sections of writing first:
The opening scene with zonky Giles. I wrote this more or less immediately after watching "Grave". Get Buffy & Dawn in England, taking care of Giles, I thought.
The middle scene with Buffy looking out the window.
Willow waking up from amnesia.
When I first watched "Becoming part 2" I said, "She's possessed. Right now. Somebody else is doing that magic for her." The series never picked up those cues, but they've been lurking in me and I decided to run with them in this story.
I also had a bunch of ideas about what Giles was really up to during his time away, and what on earth was so important that he would leave his obviously emotionally-damaged Slayer on her own. I thought: well, what if his own emotional damage was reaching critical point? You can list the crappy stuff that happened to him in Sunnydale, and wonder when he took steps to recover from Jenny dead in his bed, torture, relationships ending, his Slayer committing suicide in front of him moments after he murdered a man to save the world. And then there's the issue that in "The Dark Age" we see a man with a very nasty case of survivor's guilt, 20 years after he participated in killing a friend. In the real world, if Giles hadn't been talking to somebody, he'd be pretty fucked up.
Then I had the exorcisms past & present idea. Then I got stuck, and drew the Oblique Strategy card that said "water". And then all the newagey stuff made an appearance.
The struggle against the entity possessing Willow provides the external conflict and the main plot points. It also was an opportunity to be mean to my protagonists: what if Giles needs once again to kill somebody close to him to end a demonic possession?
I wrote straight through until the bit where they go to the coven for the first time, then realized I had no idea what I was doing. I stepped back and outlined, and had a basic story shape to write to. Then I saw how long it was going to be and panicked. Then NaNoWriMo month happened, and I had to pick it up again cold in mid-December. The outline saved me.
I didn't figure this out until late in the writing process, but there's elemental imagery all over this one. I leaned on the water thing because of the Oblique Strategy, but the other stuff appeared unconsciously. Fire & heat, dust & ashes. Water & air. Earth & water. I kinda like the bit where Buffy thinks about the differences between vampires and Giles with this language.
The Giles magic: can't kill houseplants if they try! There are growing things all over the Giles family places. And Giles cannot stop himself from being what he is, even through the years when he bottles up his power. He is prevented from helping Willow, so instead he helps Buffy. Successfully. Buffy is on a definite upward arc at the end, ready to do some mega-Slaying in London. I like this. I like healed, strong Buffy. Half of the h/c in this one was about Buffy.
I flinched and didn't directly depict them needing to be ready to kill Willow. Once again, not hard enough on my characters. In retrospect, I should have had Willow kill somebody in the coven, have the coven ready to deliver the coup to her, and then Buffy finally figure out the possession. Bring her one step closer to execution. Scare the crap out of the reader while I'm at it...
I'm not entirely sure I made the deal with the possession operate under reasonable rules. The possessing entity is a being with motivations and desires. It wants to survive and stay in the cute human body, and satisfy its appetites. How much of the last four years was Willow, and how much the possessor? I needed to be entirely clear on that, even if I didn't say anything about it directly in the story.
The outline was once again indispensible, but the early writing I did put the story off balance. Too much stuff up front, and I didn't have the heart to cut any of it. And all the good writing happened before NaNo.
Giles needed to be more pissed off with Willow. More of a human being. He's still the man who snarks, post-recovery.
Xander is a bit of a deus ex machina. And his role recapitulates the role he plays in "Grave" too much.
The exorcism: there are some elements there of Giles resuming his Watcher/Council role. I had some ideas about the reconciliation of the two sides of himself, and the other side being something foreign to the coven. But I didn't pull it together well enough.
The ending is not enough. It needs more than what I gave it. Not a lot more. Must avoid nervous underlining of points, but still.
See? I can complain about anything.