I think I must have been a senior in high school when I took the challenge. A friend of mine urged me to sign up for one of the fanfiction challenge topics on this server she knew of called FQF (which, bless the internet, still exists). She encouraged me by saying we should each do one, sort of like doing it together, be each other’s beta readers. That she would if I would. Or, I should because she was. I forget — anyway, it was peer pressure and I wanted to do it, so I caved.
I’m still a little proud of the work I generated for this challenge, even though it did not make it on the challenge website because I finished it about 44 months too late. It is, however, the only real work of fanfiction I ever finished independently (it may be the only piece of writing, outside of school, that I actually finished), and I learned some things about my own writing process while working on it.
This particular fanfiction website had the stated mission to generate more fanfiction pairing Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, of the Harry Potter universe. I was certain that I could write a decent gay-boy story, and confident even that I could sex it up to an appropriate degree (never mind why I thought this; also, I was wrong).
By the time I signed up, however, there were not a lot of options left. I took one of the few remaining, and my challenge was an alternate-universe in which the Marauders had never become animagi. (What follows will make very little sense to you if you have not read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)
Direction of Story
Now this assignment was.. challenging. For those conditions to exist, something would have to change the trajectory of events. What could cause such a change? I worked backward from the idea of this effect. (Incidentally, pontifications about cause and effect are pretty heavy in the first section.) I decided that the Marauders would have to find out comparatively late in the game about Remus. For this to happen, maybe Remus should be in a different house. For this to happen… uh, let’s say he had a sister who was in another house, and who sort of planted the seed that pulled him in that direction. So I invented a sister – she was my pebble.
But not only that, the premise of the challenge itself would also act as a cause and create new effects. The whole death of the Potters and what follows it basically hinges on a plan that rests entirely on the perpetrator’s status as an unregistered animagus, right? So I had just basically stuck myself with replotting the entire freaking major plot arc of the beginning of the story of Harry Potter. No big.
I wasn’t sure how to make the challenge into an element of the story without letting it take over the entire thing, blowing the scope outward beyond all sexy-fanfic reason.
So I let it. The story grew. What was supposed to be a short and sexy five-pager turned into 72 pages of an overdone exploration of various relationships. And yet somehow, even in crafting scenes that were supposed to morph into sex scenes, my protagonists never did get it on. It was almost embarrassing. Every time I contrived to have them alone together in a secluded place, or playing in a lake, their relationship just wasn’t ready, the mood just wasn’t quite there yet. My story turned out not sexy, and not even overly gay. It was supposed to be fun and almost goofy, silly and saturated, but it wouldn’t go where I kept trying to steer it, and that was my first experience working a story to completion where it didn’t at all go the way I had planned.
Lesson learned: you may think you know where a story is going, but your characters, in interaction with your setting, may have other plans. Planning ahead is not a waste of time for me, because it enables me to begin at all, but the plans can’t be the rules, and I have learned I need to be open about what I think I know about a story.
An example – the character of Katrina was invented out of nothing more than a desire to populate the school with extras (I literally threw her name in during the sorting ceremony because I needed a name), but she took on a strong position as a secondary character.
Pace of Story
Another lesson I learned in writing this story was about pacing. I initially wasn’t sure how to structure it, and settled for just writing the interesting parts, with the intention to fill in the spaces between afterward. I later realized that people want to read the “boring” in-between parts about as much as I wanted to write them. So I never wrote them, and glossed over gaps in time pretty sketchily. But it kind of worked.
Process of Writing
Another thing that I still find amusing is the process of writing the story. I started out fairly strong, but as the story began to drag on in length and take its sweet time getting to anything sexy, I began to wear out. I’m pretty sure there was a deadline, but there was also, like… the end of high school, and all the stuff that goes on in life during that time. I drifted away from it.
Thereafter, I would remember that it existed about once or twice a year, laugh about it, and then pull up the file to read through. This would make me feel compelled to finish it, to finally get somewhere with the thing, better late than never and all that. I would edit what was already there, polishing it as I read, and then pick up where I had left off, trying to work my way to a satisfying conclusion. And then college or life or whatever would butt in and I would drop it, again.
This happened as usual for the last time when I was a senior in college, studying abroad in Italy. I pulled up the story, thinking maybe I would consider finishing it, and was startled to find when I read through it, that it was pretty much already done. I hadn’t known this the last time I had let it slip out of my mind for two reasons – one being, it just slipped out of my mind, but the other feeling of unfinished-ness was because it never got to where I thought it was supposed to go.
But it went somewhere else, somewhere totally different but just as good. I added a couple more lines to round out the finish and it really was done.
It’s an embarrassing work because it’s melodramatic, and immature, and because it never accomplished what I set out for it to do, and because there are some areas where the plot hangs rather thin, and the overpolished wording is too ornate, but I’m still proud of little things about it. I felt like Acca (whose name is actually significant – Acca for the shepherd’s wife who raised the mythological twins Romulus and Remus, Calcula because that’s Latin for “pebble”) turned out more complex than planned (although a little more despicable for it). I thought that the unplanned ‘true meaning’ of the story turned out to be a worthy one. I thought that the banter of the boys was well done (some places more than others), and that their relationship was believable based on their original characterization in the canon. I felt like I took the challenge to a very extreme but very logical conclusion.
But – and here’s the combo embarrassment and pride punch – I just re-read it and kinda enjoyed doing so. It’s like a self-indulgent guilty pleasure for me (which fanfiction already is, by definition, right?).
But I hate hearing my own voice recorded or seeing myself teaching on video. Still, I liked reading this story over again (the later half more than the first half, which is frustrating because that first few pages would not do very well to capture any reader).
What I would really like is to be able to read someone else’s take on the same challenge – someone who did manage to write a short and sexy five-pager, just to see what that would be like.
“The Pebble, the Pool, the Ripple” is also my first werewolf story. My werewolf is borrowed, but Remus Lupin was the character who first made me love werewolves. For this reason, and because of the beloved nature of the other characters involved, it was really important to me to remain true to their voices and personalities as developed by their creator. I was proud when I wrote the story because I felt like I’d done a fairly decent job of it.
So, just in case you want to read it, here’s the document link for all that mess: “The Pebble, the Pool, the Ripple” Rated PG-13.
This month, as I work on my NaNoWriMo project, I’m finding that the story has already deviated slightly from the tentative plans I’d made for it. I’m pushing a new pace on myself, definitely, and looking forward to revision time, when I’ll have a chance to start smoothing out how uneven I already know it all is.
The pace of NaNo helps keep me from stalling and shutting down as I had while writing Pebble/Pool/Ripple, which means I actually plans to finish 50,000 words in 30 days, instead of taking 4 years to produce 30K.
I’m still trying to skip the boring parts and only write scenes that have something to say. This is a struggle for me, because I know that’s not how life works. But, it is how memory works – we don’t really remember every moment of every day equally, or give equal attention to them. What’s routine gets glossed over, and what’s extraordinary gets greater playtime. So even though we live all the boring parts, I don’t have to narrate them.