October Update. Of sorts.

… yeah, that did NOT go the way I hoped. I’ve spent all of October in a severe fatigue crash, bad enough that I haven’t been able to write much at all except occasional bits of random fluff. I’ve been over-optimistically hoping that I’d bounce back in time for NaNo, but although I am now doing better, I think trying to launch into my original November plan would be like trying to run a marathon on a half-healed broken leg.

Instead, I think I’ll spend November getting back up to speed in general, and working on CC and fanfic like I had originally planned for October. I’m toying with doing prompts for Starborn like I did for Kestrien last year, but I feel like I’ve got enough to be getting on with for a month. And I really want the first CC book finished by the end of the year.

Perhaps I will hold my own private NaNo sometime at the start of next year! The space gays are still calling me…

September Writing and Projects Update

(What happened to July and August, Helen? Good Omens happened, and then specifically Pray for Us, Icarus happened and devoured my soul. However I did also move CC on by 10k and in a new and exciting direction, somewhere in the midst of the haze of angsty AU vibes.)

I have a mad plan, or possibly a genius strategy, I’m not sure which. I find myself very tempted by NaNoWriMo this year. Specifically I’d really like to blast the first Starborn novel and get some sort of feel for the story, even if I end up scrapping everything I write on that first go. But as usual, I’ve got multiple in-progress projects that could really use another 50k added onto them, particularly Celestial Chronicle (50k would finish the first book, easy) and I am unsure of my own ability to write a complete original novel in just 50k.

But I have discovered over the last couple of months that now my health has improved and I’ve got back into the habit and enthusiasm of writing, my speed is way up, and 50k in a month is no longer a particularly special goal. So here’s what I’m thinking: spend October finishing the first book of Celestial Chronicle (and writing Instructions Not Included, which has been a bit neglected due to the aforementioned AU) and then spend November completely obsessed with Starborn to see if I can get something out that’s more in the 75k-100k range. I just really, really need/want to write “Disaster Gays Rescue Sad Bisexual From Poor Life Choices IN SPACE”, but I keep getting stuck on the worldbuilding/storytelling balance with it. For a fast burst in something like NaNo, I’m willing to be utterly shameless in just stealing plots and tropes from other things, which may in turn give me more of a structure to build on during a rewrite.

(I am currently playing Subnautica, a survival/exploration game with some absolutely lovely ecological worldbuilding, but perhaps more importantly for this particular context, it features a Good Old Sci-Fi Standby plot: ship crash on planet, other ship go to investigate, that ship also crash, Weird Alien Shit. I am eyeing this plot thoughtfully and considering shoving it into a sack and throwing it at the Disaster Gays. I mean, Starborn is meant to be that kind of series anyway, it’s practically built from the ground up on all my “distress beacon/lost ship/abandoned colony” scenarios I have sitting around in notes files. Maybe I should just dive right into it.)

Anyway, that’s the plan. Casually finish a novel (and a novella if we count INI), casually launch self into attempting to write 75-100k in a month. No pressure.

P.S. I now have a Ko-Fi and a Patreon. There’s not much going on at the Patreon yet but I’m considering posting snippets of the NaNo attempt during November, if I get any interest. Any support is appreciated, as I am currently not working a day job: getting an income stream going, even a small one, will mean I can continue to dedicate my time to writing rather than needing to start thinking about returning to work as my health improves.

The Art of the Alternate Universe

So it’s no secret that I love AUs; my fandom history is littered with them. Specifically, what I love writing (and reading) are canon-divergent AUs, the kind where you change one single detail – one event, one moment – and then follow the butterfly effect through until you end up somewhere that looks very different from what you’d expect.

The thing I love about a really good, meaty canon-divergent AU is the meta-mystery of it. The reader knows how things should go, and the writer drops them into a situation where something different has happened and they don’t know why. The quickest way for me to lose interest in someone else’s AU is if they just explain the change from the very beginning. I love the chills I get as I’m reading this story and we’re meeting beloved characters in familiar settings but it’s all wrong. I love trying to figure out what happened, slowly getting the shape of it in my head, and then finally getting all the details later on. This is why my AUs always tend to be “change one thing and watch the butterfly effect” stories. It turns the whole thing into sort of a detective story from the reader’s point of view, and I love assembling the puzzle pieces, whether as a reader or as a writer.

For example, a fic I never wrote more than a few chapters of: Tempus Furat (Harry Potter AU). It starts on Halloween night, and Sirius Black is walking through the ruins of Godric’s Hollow, and every HP fanfic reader on the planet knows what that means. Except he doesn’t seem all that upset. And when he gets to his destination, it’s not James and Lily’s little cottage, it’s some grand mansion, and although it’s been destroyed, Sirius’s reaction is more like “well fuck” than grief-to-the-point-of-madness. Then the bad guys pop up, but they’re not Death Eaters (even though their numbers include Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Black), they’re calling themselves something else (Firewalkers). Sirius is apparently a member of an organisation called the Silver Guard. He escapes via a portkey to Hogwarts, meets McGonagall, and demands to see the headmaster – who turns out to be Tom Riddle, and not Voldemort, a Tom Riddle who’s certainly got a hard edge to him but is in no way the man who became the Dark Lord.

Sirius explains that he was on his way to meet a double-agent, a Firewalker who has agreed to switch sides; he persuades Riddle to help him get away even though Riddle claims absolute neutrality in the conflict between the Silver Guard and the Firewalkers. Sirius makes his rendezvous, meeting up with… no, not Snape, it’s Remus Lupin, with scars across his face (given him by James Potter) and a snarl in his voice and they hate each other and apparently have since school, but Lupin’s decided to turn on the Firewalkers, so Sirius has to work with him.

So this thing had its own plot (sort of, that’s why it never got written – it’s taken me the fifteen years since then to understand my own writing style and how to move a story like this forward without getting stuck on details) about the Firewalkers and their Mysterious Leader planning to attack Muggles, the Silver Guard attempting to stop them, etc. But the real story was the one that the characters themselves weren’t even aware of (well, most of them…) – working out how the hell we ended up in this situation. Why is Riddle not Voldemort? Where did these two new factions come from? Why do Sirius and Remus hate each other, why on Earth would Remus Lupin ever join the bad guys? (Bear in mind that I shipped Sirius/Remus so this was a very deliberate “everything is Very Wrong” plot element.)

I absolutely live for this stuff, for throwing in all these things that make people go “wait, what, HOW, no!” But I also have strong feelings about what makes a good canon-divergent AU, and often it’s not so much about the ways it’s different from canon as the ways it’s similar. One reason plenty of people don’t read AUs at all (whether canon-divergent or the ones that I used to call Elseworlds, i.e. the coffee shop AUs and their cousins) is because it can feel like it’s straying too far from the canon characters and their world. Funnily enough, Elseworlds often have an easier time with that, because authors are usually trying to replicate the canon emotional beats in this new setting.

Canon-divergent AUs can easily get off track, though, if the author becomes too focused on trying to show how Everything Is Different Here, particularly when it comes to characterisation. Now, I am an absolute sucker for specifically the trope where a good person is on the side of evil but I lose interest if that good person has changed so significantly that I no longer recognise them. For full tragedy and angst, I need to be able to see the person they should be and the potential for them to get back to that.

I think that’s the key of it, for me, though it sounds counter-intuitive: a good AU, even one that has wildly broken the canon timeline, should be trying to get back to the same basic outcome as its source material. The characters (at least the sympathetic ones) should be moving back towards their Real Selves from wherever you’ve punted them. If you take too much away from them and don’t allow them to get it back, it’s not a happy ending even if the characters themselves think it is, because we all know how things should be, and this isn’t it. (Conversely, I  am always okay with adding in things that were lost in canon, such as having canonically dead characters survive.)

So going back to Tempus Furat: Sirius and Remus seem to hate each other, but it becomes quickly apparent it’s predicated on hurt of some kind, that something happened at school to drive them apart and they’re both still snarling over it out of emotional self-defence. The conflict between the Silver Guard and the Firewalkers seems like Death Eaters vs Order of the Phoenix under another name, but Sirius and Remus discover that there’s more going on than that, and the leaders of the two factions are connected in some way. A lot of characters who would be dead in canon (e.g. Neville’s parents, James and Lily) are alive. The goal was at the end of the story to be able to have an epilogue showing this universe’s Harry, Ron, and Hermione going off to Hogwarts in ten years’ time, and for it to be not that different from canon. A different history of a different war (but it’s still over), maybe some different faces teaching at Hogwarts, but overall, we’re back where we ought to be, now with bonus living parental figures.

Another example, which I just wrote: in Pray For Us, Icarus (Good Omens AU) I royally fucked up the last 350 years of Crowley’s and Aziraphale’s existence, drastically altering how they interacted with each other and with Armageddon. The first three stories were specifically designed to show off all the ways this world was different and broken, but even then (particularly in Like a Sunless Garden) I was setting things up to make sure I could get them to a happy ending, because I knew that there were some things that could not be lost along the way, or it wouldn’t really be happy. Once I moved on to the “fixing it” part of the series, it was a question of bringing all the strands together so they were ready to be rewoven back into something that looked as much like canon as possible.

So Crowley had to have the Bentley, and it had to be the Bentley, with an equivalent level of love and history behind it. If we got to Happy Ending 2019 and he had no Bentley it would be on some level tragic even if he didn’t know it. Aziraphale had to have the bookshop, and it had to have the same weight of time and history and his relationship with Crowley attached to it. Crowley had to end up back in his own form, with powers and immortality and all his memories. Aziraphale had to be demonstrably able to heal from the trauma of watching him live and die. They had to be together, and be ready to face the future together.

Again, the question I asked myself was: ten years after the end of this story, are they in roughly the same place as we assume they are ten years after canon? In a happy relationship, with a cottage in the country (if in a slightly different location), and immortal lives stretching out in front of them? With the bookshop and the Bentley and good memories of their past together in various forms? With Aziraphale having learned to cast off Heaven’s yoke and Crowley having earned his freedom from Hell?

Other people’s mileage on this may well vary; I expect there are people out there who feel like having an AU end up back on the same track as canon is a cop-out, but this is how I approach it and the kind of AU story I like to read. It feels very much like a puzzle, and I love the meta-narrative that can only exist because the reader is aware of the contrasts and similarities between canon and this divergent timeline. It’s a feeling I’ve never managed to capture in original fiction (historical AUs just don’t do it for me). And I fully intend to just write AUs of my own original stories too, at some point. 🙂

June Writing Update

A funny thing happened at the start of this month. The Good Omens TV series came out, and I lost my goddamn mind over it, and that’s pretty much been my emotional state for the entirety of June. I wish I could say I’m sorry but I’m NOT. It’s so fantastic being this into something and part of a fandom that is also collectively losing its mind in such a joyous way.

So anyway if you want to read my Good Omens fanfic, it’s over at AO3. As is a music video I made. I have it really bad for this series and with me, that means launching into a multi-chapter plot-heavy sequel thing, because of course it does.

It may not have been the worst timing, to be honest: it’s given me a chance to let CC sit a bit while I figure out where to go next. It’s also stirred loose the block I had on TOSOT (because casefic is casefic even if one involves Dartmoor and daft one-liners and the other involves Kyoto and high-octane angst, and also I have a bit of a rage-against-the-heavens thing going on) and shown me that when appropriately driven I can write 5,000 words in a day. (It’s not something I plan to make a habit of. It would burn me right up to do that too often. Still, good to know.)

So basically I’ve written something like 25,000 words in June, most of them about an angel and a demon who are So In Love, but some of them about my idiot children too, and I’m having All The Fun.

Goals for July: rotate between Celestial Chronicle, The Other Side of Twilight, and Instructions Not Included.

Also post the first three chapters of CC so people can get a look at the rewrite and where I’m going with things.

(Belated) May Writing Update

I ended up being away when I would normally have done my update, then had a very busy weekend and week!

Celestial Chronicle

Wrote chapters 8 and 9. 9 ended up being an unexpected slog and I couldn’t quite figure out why, until I suddenly realised that it wasn’t about what I was writing, but what I was going to write. I have been assuming that chapters 10-12 would cover the same sort of ground as they did in the original draft, i.e. the confrontation with Neikos, the labyrinth, the Kyoto lead-in, the Kestrel/Luna kiss etc. But this draft has changed so much, that actually it’s going to go completely differently. 90% of that stuff needs to happen at the end of this first book, rather than the halfway point, and that requires a lot of reworking of things, because it means I need to bring in Guardians Marina and Terra, and another Archduke, before I get there.

So now I need to figure out what my mid-book crisis point is if it’s not that, but chapter 9 immediately became easy to write as soon as I stopped trying to force it to lead into the old scenario, so I think I’m on the right track. Might need to take a break for a couple of weeks and write something else so I can turn over the options in my head.

Goals for June: figure out what’s going to happen next and hopefully finish ch10-11.

Starborn

Continued worldbuilding work. I tend to over-correct away from worldbuilding because I have read so much advice that says “don’t get sucked into worldbuilding so much that you never write the story”. Which is true! But actually if you’re trying to create a coherent alternate setting of any kind, there is a lot of non-writing work to put into it, otherwise you end up doing what I’ve been doing this month, which is writing three sentences and then stopping because you need to name someone or something, or figure out the logistics of your spaceship.

It’s still worth doing the writing, I think, since that helps find out what questions you need to answer (and of course square brackets are a writer’s best friend for placeholders), but it’s been slow going as I feel out where I’m headed. I’m also having the usual problem of Just How And Where Do I Infodump Without It Being Too Much Of An Infodump, compounded by the fact that I’ve got three layers of backstory to worry about – there’s the general setting mechanics, the immediate political situation, and the personal histories of the characters involved.

Goals for June: Continue to explore character stuff and pin down background details so they’re consistent.

Look, I amuse myself, okay

“Okay,” Akemi said, “new plan. We do whatever Hikari tells us, and maybe we don’t get murdered by a tent.”
“Fine with me,” Shoichi muttered, still rubbing his head.

No idea if this scene will make it into the final version. It might be too silly and fillerish. But for now, at least, I am enjoying the Great Battle of the Celestial Guardians Versus Shoichi’s Tent. (It goes a lot better for them once they let Hikari at it. She’s good at instructions and assembling things.)

Avengers: Endgame

Short version, NO SPOILERS: it was a triumph, I am so impressed by the cleverness of the storytelling and meta-closure, and by how much heart it had, and how much love for the characters and the fans shone through.

It wasn’t perfect. There are a few things I want to dig into. Some of those things are inevitable consequences of the realities of making films, and although they sadden me, I think the film does the absolute best it can with those realities. Others I’m a little more critical of. Overall, though, my feeling at the end of the film was satisfaction. A closed loop, a complete story, a victory that came at appropriate cost.

Longer version below the cut. Spoilers abound.

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