As some of you guessed, I wrote the massive Reaping the Whirlwind (Boom Boom Ba Remix), which was a remix of Six Drabbles About Dawn and Death by nothorse.
Just for the record: I am never, ever doing that to myself again.
I'm filing this one under, "What the hell was I thinking?"
Actually, I do kind of know what I was thinking, and I deserved to be kicked in the head for it. Repeatedly.
Before I explain my insanity for this year, I want to take time out to thank everyone who read what was basically a novel and actually gave feedback on it. I figured that I'd get zero feedback during the anonymous period because asking anyone to read 230-page fic in one sitting is really a little bit beyond the pale. And yet, people did exactly that. I can't tell you how grateful I am that you all gave it a go.
Special love to brunettepet who not only read every part, but gave detailed feedback on every part (you don't know how much you made my day), to secondalto for listing it in the su_herald that first day, and to original writer nothorse for leaving positive feedback and reccing the story on her personal LJ.
Making Use of My System
The Remix is a funny beast, especially when you're mostly a gen writer like me who is a fairly omnivorous reader. As I explained in my Remix meta last year, when I get my remix assignment, I scan my paired author's fanfic archives. The criteria by which I settle on a story is usually in the following order:
- Which fandoms do we have in common?
- In the common fandoms we share, which one am I comfortable writing in?
- Which characters am I comfortable writing within those fandoms? Do we have any matches?
Again, notice what doesn't really get factored in: shipping. I'm a gen writer who leans favorably towards het, but I pretty much will read most pairings that don't involve incest (my personal squick of the highest order). In that sense, Remix is kind of freeing. If I find myself with a slash-only or het-only writer, it ain't no thing as far as I'm concerned.
To an extent, the match-up with nothorse was a good one as far as favored characters go. Okay, not so much Dawn (not a Dawn fan, and I own it), but Xander is easy enough for me to pull off. I can write Dawn, no problem. I just don't enjoy her as a character simply because I don't find her interesting. The character has plenty of fans who find her fascinating, and I can see where they're coming from in their takes on the character.
One other layer I place over my choice in remixing a story is, "How recent is it?" I should state right out that it's not a huge factor in choosing a story to remix. It's more like a random element I throw into the mix when trying to decide between more than one story.
The reason for factoring in story freshness is because someone I had remixed in a past round had complained in her LJ that I had chosen an older story from a fandom she no longer was involved in (the original story I remixed is no longer available on the Internet, by the way). While the complaint made me cringe, I could also see her point. As a result, if I have multiple stories to choose from and can't make up my mind, I try to use a story that's relatively recent because I at least know the original writer is still interested in that fandom.
The System Crumbles into a Heap of Ash (and It's All My Fault)
The initial stumbling blocks on my road to remixing this year were both at my end:
The first problem is that I was out-of-pocket for the first 5 days of the Remix (I was in Maine pestering puffins on a puffin safari...pictures and video will be forthcoming), which means that I had no idea who I was assigned to until Thursday. Factor in that I spent another two days digging through nothorse's files, and I didn't even start writing until a week after the assignments were sent out.
The other problem I had is that nothorse organizes things strictly by tags. I want to stress something here: This is strictly a problem with me. It is not a problem with nothorse, her system, or how she chooses to organize her fic. Her navigation works and the tags are well organized. I was able to find what I needed once I focused in on only a handful of tags, but the immediate look-through had me blinking just a little bit.
For me, tags are great if I'm looking for something specific and need a fast way to find them. But if I'm trying to get overview of what's actually in someone's fic locker or get an overall picture of someone's tastes and/or style...not so much.
I also wasn't sure which items were still WiPs — as in the case of nothorse's uniquely charming and funny gender-bender When Xander was a Girl series of ficlets — and what was finished — as in the case of Six Drabbles about Dawn and Death.
Initially, I zeroed in on When Xander was a Girl for my remix, but my uncertainty about whether or not it was a WiP (nothorse was still adding drabbles to the collection) made me back off for fear of stepping on her toes. Six Drabbles about Dawn and Death was actually a default choice because I at least knew that those series of drabbles had been done both recently and were finished as a series.
Enter the Massive Misunderstanding (Or: My Theory of Canon Dominance in Crossovers)
When I initially read Six Drabbles about Dawn and Death, I actually thought it was Four Drabbles about Dawn and Death. See, the last four drabbles were in one post, and I thought it was a complete set. I twigged right away that it was Buffy crossed with Dead Like Me, so my interest was naturally piqued.
When I read the last drabble in the set, I immediately thought, "Holy shit! Buffy just accidentally obliterated Dawn from existence! That's just fucking dark, man."
Then I found the other two drabbles which were in two separate posts, and hit my forehead with a Homer Simpson-eque, "D'oh! That's not what the author intended you dope!"
It appeared that I had been bitten by what I call the crossover disconnect.
What is the crossover disconnect, you ask?
The crossover disconnect is when you read a crossover wearing one set of fandom goggles, but the writer is writing the fic using a different set of fandom goggles. Hence, massive confusion for some readers before they twig to the fact that the writer is going by a different set of canon rules than the ones they assumed were actually in play.
This is why I rarely read crossovers unless I'm familiar with all (or most) of the fandoms involved. That way I should (in theory) figure out which set of goggles the writer was wearing when they put the story together and then (if necessary) switch mental gears and interrogate the story from the proper perspective.
To put it another way: I initially read the drabbles wearing the Dead Like Me goggles, and nothorse was writing while wearing the Buffy goggles. If you're wearing the Dead Like Me goggles, the series of drabbles ends when Buffy brings Dawn with her into the light and accidentally obliterates her. If you're wearing the Buffy goggles, then Buffy has liberated Dawn from her grim reaper servitude and helped her sister get into heaven.
This all kind of feeds into my theory of how to write a successful crossover: one canon must be made subservient to the other if you're going to get the story to work. The trick is to pick the "stronger" canon to hang your framework on, while taking advantage of the holes in the "weaker" canon to make the two work together.
The "stronger" canon, by the way, can be heavily dependent on the story's plot and what you're trying to say. Also, the "weaker" canon isn't necessarily reflective of the quality of the source material, but instead could be the canon that has the most "give" in its basic rules.
In general, I'd say that Dead Like Me's canon is inherently stronger than Buffy canon. One, the rules for reapers, gravelings, and the world they operate in are stated repeatedly in the show itself and repeatedly reinforced because plot points and story arcs are hung on them like lampshades. Two, the show bible (at least for the 29 episodes) is frighteningly consistent. Three, Dead Like Me canon has almost no give to it, at least when you're talking about reapers and how they operate.
I also want to state that there's obviously room for disagreement about that, because nothorse was writing from a Buffy point of view and there was nothing wrong with her approach. The above opinion about "which canon is stronger" is strictly IMHO, which will get you a large cup of coffee if you pair my opinion with $1.70.
I also want to add that I can see situations where Dead Like Me would necessarily be the weaker canon if paired with Buffy. Say, if you were writing a story about Willow catching a reaper with magic and holding them captive, almost by necessity Buffy would have to be the dominant canon.
I know that some crossover writers are going to disagree heavily with this assessment. Hell, I have several excellent crossover writers on my FList and I bet they will disagree with me very strongly. I only explained my theory so that you'd understand how Reaping the Whirlwind got so out of control.
Remixing for Fun and No Profit
There are all kinds of ways to approach a remix, and I've tried at least 5.
Change in Point of View: Five Easy Steps to a Broken Heart (Keiko’s Heart Remix) was a Star Trek: Deep Space 9 story that was nothing more than a straight-forward change in POV. The original, A Five-Point Tour of the Alpha Quadrant was written from the point of view of Miles O'Brien. My take took the same drabbles and presented them from his wife's point of view.
Let's Do the Time Warp Again: Refugees on Sunset Boulevard (The Our Town/Twilight Zone Mash-Up Remix) was a Angel story that was a remix of Sun Worshipers. This was a time-shift. Instead of taking place somewhere near the beginning of Season 3, I placed it after "Never Fade Away." The story heavily pulled dialogue from the original story (word for word) because this time it was Cordelia and Wes in the afterlife chasing after memories instead of living in the now.
Meanwhile, in This Corner: The Murder of Crows (Blackhawk Down Remix) was a Battlestar Galactica (2003) story that was a remix of Tessellation. This remix essentially happens parallel to the original. The original story is all about Kara being held captive by Leoben. My remix was all about "meanwhile, Kara's husband Sam is going crazy looking for her."
What You Don't Know: Walkng Higher (The Childhood's End Remix) was a Buffy story that was a remix of Winter Garden. The original story was ficlet about Giles and Xander meeting in Washington DC written from Giles's point of view. The remix was written from Xander's point of view and focused on everything that Giles didn't know about Xander during their meeting.
Reaping the Whirlwind (Boom Boom Ba Remix) is what I'd call the Disney-fication Treatment, named in honor of musesfool's remix example of Disney's take on the The Little Mermaid. (I read it every year, and every year it makes me snort with laughter like a water buffalo.) In essence, you take the original story, keep the elements that you think are important, and then add other elements, characters, or plot twists while staying true to the spirit.
Or, at least in theory that's what I was doing. I'm not entirely sure I was successful, which I'll explain in a little bit.
Mechanics of This Year's Remix (and How I Got in Way Over My Head Despite Knowing Better)
Part of the problem is that I had always wanted to do a Dead Like Me fanfic. Hell, every year I add that in as one of the alternatives I'm willing to write in. The reason why I haven't done it is because Dead Like Me fanfic strikes me as a complicated thing to write well. Hell, I actually still think it's complicated to write, and I churned out 230 pages of it!
One of the hallmarks of Dead Like Me is the use of George's internal dialogue as a "narrator". (Bryan Fuller does so love his narrators...and death, too! See also: Pushing Daisies.) Figuring out how to capture that narration in a consistent way, while also allowing for her little asides during the action portions of the story took some doing on my part. The way I solved it seems like the obvious way to go about it, but it really wasn't all that obvious when I started out.
In any case, because I wanted to write Dead Like Me, it was obvious that Six Drabbles About Dawn and Death was high on the list of potential remixes. Like I said, When Xander was a Girl was my first choice, but because I wasn't sure of its status I ended up ultimately not chosing it. Six Drabbles About Dawn and Death may have been an alternative choice, but it wasn't one that made me unhappy.
The decision to write Six Drabbles About Dawn and Death using Dead Like Me as the dominant canon seemed like the perfect way to start. If nothing else, it would put a different spin on the original take, where Buffy was the dominant canon. Naturally, George had to be the point of view character.
Here's where things got interesting. The original drabble set took place over a 20-year period, from Dawn's death to her liberation and was all about Dawn trying to balance her former life as a Watcher with her new life as a reaper. I decided to telescope the timeline down to a few months and made it about George learning how to truly be The Boss of her merry band of Seattle-based reapers.
A large part of this was a function of both the switch in dominant canon and the switch in the point of view character. A smaller part of it was because of the recent release of the Dead Like Me: Life After Death direct-to-DVD movie. To be honest, the movie kind of sucked ass, but it had a kind of fridge brilliance to it. I watched the whole movie about a month before the remix, and for most of its runtime, I was all, "Oh, come on! This goes directly against everything in the series proper!"
It wasn't until a week later when it hit me: What if the whole movie was about the reapers being tested? Rube had disappeared (the repears are assuming he got promoted), and The Powers That Be (at least in the Dead Like Me universe) were actually testing everyone in the group to find out who should replace the dear, departed Rube as The Boss. A test that only George passed. Once you looked at it in that light, every bit of weirdness in the movie could be fanwanked away. George could honestly interact with her little sister, Reggie, because The Powers That Be wanted the last of her family to leave town so she could take on her new responsibilities without distractions. Cameron was allowed to be destroyed as punishment for his crimes against Life and Death (Rube states specifically in the series proper that bad reapers are made to go away).
And so, the time line was set. The whole thing takes place within months of George's promotion. She starts the story as little more than "the girl who passes out post-its in the morning," but with no real authority. The other reapers may have issues with the fact that George got the promotion, but by the point where my story begins they've fallen in line and are at least giving lip service to her new role. The goal was to move George from being the mascot boss to earning and achieving real authority, and having the other reapers recognize that authority.
nothorse's drabbles fit perfectly into that arc. Throughout all 6 drabbles, Dawn is resigned to being a grim reaper. It makes sense. Dawn pretty much knows from life experience that when you're chosen, you're chosen and there's not a whole lot you can do about it (nothorse's first drabble), shows Dawn uneasily coming to terms with her situation (two of the drabbles here) while simultaneously engaging in small rebellions by telling George that she's going to work for the Council no matter what George has to say about it (this drabble here), insisting on being the one to reap Buffy, and her final run toward the light (those drabbles are found here).
Again, if you're reading with a Buffy filter, you can assume that Dawn succeeds at her rebellions. But since I was retranslating the drabbles using a a Dead Like Me filter, I wondered just how bad the blowback against Dawn was after the end of the drabble. I also figured that George, or at least the George that existed even by the end of the series proper, would do anything and everything to stop Dawn before it got to that point. George's urgency would probably be doubled after the events of the movie, especially if she believed that she and her merry band of reapers were allowed to utterly destroy their new boss Cameron and were spared the consequences because he was a "bad reaper" and that they were only fulfilling the wishes of The Powers That Be by removing him from the board.
The first major change I made to nothorse's original series was that instead of Dawn being reaped elsewhere and then transferred into George's group, I decided that it was going to be a straight-up exchange. George loses one reaper, and gains a new one. Unfortunately, Roxy was the only logical choice.
I admit right here and right now that I wasn't happy about that. I tried to find a good reason to have Daisy be the one to move on (Mason was never in the running), mostly because I don't have a good handle of Daisy's character voice while I do have a pretty good handle on Roxy's. However, Roxy's lapse in judgment in the Dead Like Me movie aside, she really is the reaper most ready for a promotion of the four. Not only that Roxy, despite some of her lapses in the series proper, was very much Rube's right-hand woman and somewhat of an enforcer for the others. I could very easily see her fall into that same role for George, and if the goal was for George to grow into her new responsibilities, Roxy had to be the one who was gone.
To me the important element of the first drabble was that Dawn got the grim reaper nod and while attending her funeral saw her Slayer get falling-down drunk. I not only took this description literally, I made it a thread that ran through the whole story as one of the many, many problems Xander was dealing with after his emotionally charged and ill-advised transfer to Seattle.
The second drabble, which occurred 4 days after Dawn's funeral in the original, was about Dawn's insistence that she was going to still work for the Council despite George's objections. In this case, I expanded the timeline (the conversation happens 3 weeks after Dawn's death) and extended it both in the front end and the back end. Again, this was a case of the drabble could stand as-is if reading it with Buffy goggles and you could assume that Dawn got her way. However, going by Dead Like Me rules, not so much. In most of the original 29 episodes, George tries again and a again to "interfere" or interact with the living in some way. This invariably results in the living doing something they wouldn't otherwise do, and ends with a blowback that leaves George with a metaphorical bloody nose.
And so, for the second drabble, I kept the basic premise (Dawn insists that she's going to work for the Council and George objects). I also added a reason for Dawn's insistence that she's going to do it, despite the fact that she knows it's against the rules (an apocalypse is coming). I strengthened George's arguments against it, and then expanded the scene so that George does something truly crappy to stop Dawn in her tracks.
The problem is that I didn't want to make Dawn a strawman or a punching bag, which is exactly what would have happened if I didn't address the incident at some point in the story. The key element here is that even though George is convinced she's right in the heat of the moment (even if she knows she did a crappy thing to Dawn in order to make her point), the more she learns about the coming apocalypse the more she doubts the rightness of her position. Also important: Dawn doesn't immediately give up on trying to convince George to change her mind and spends a considerable chunk of the story making good arguments for why George needs to change her mind, even going so far as to visit a bookstore she's familiar with so she can do some research on the N'goth (which in this story is nothing more than a MacGuffin) to bolster her case.
This leads me right into the foruth drabble (Dawn walks into a bookstore, the bookstore owner recognizes her, and it turns out that the bookstore owner is a reaper of living books). nothorse came up with a really brilliant idea for her unnamed bookstore owner in what has to be one of the more perfect examples of meshing two canons with conflicting elements. In the Dead Like Me world the only supernatural undead creatures that exist are reapers themselves, which makes it difficult to graft Buffy canon into it. At least Buffy canon has enough wiggle room to allow for the existence of reapers because of their supernatural status.
It was already canon in Dead Like Me that humans weren't the only creatures that had grim reapers. Pets also had their own reapers (invariably children who died unexpectedly). It's also canon that there are different "divisions" and that reapers specialize in reaping only one kind of death (although it's hinted that reapers can transfer divisions, as in the case of Penny). George and her merry band reap "death by external influences". Penny (who is, yes, played by Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson) and her crew reap "death by natural causes". There are also reapers who specialize in "death by plague" (they complain in canon that they don't get a whole lot of business) and in one of the deleted scenes on the DVD Rube introduces George to reapers who specialize in "death by the Black Death" (they're stuck in a perpetual twilight with no hope of ever moving on) in an effort to cheer her up because "death by external influences" will always exist no matter what, which means that George will always have the hope of moving on from the life she's found herself in.
Thanks to nothorse's innovation of a "book reaper", it wasn't that hard to come up with a division that dealt strictly with "death by supernatural influences" and to put the book reaper in that division. From there, it was a matter of coming up with an in-story excuse for why none of the reapers who deal with mundane deaths had ever heard of this highly secretive and highly specialized division before now. The in-story excuse for this shocking hole in the reapers' collective knowledge about the supernatural division is that the reapers who deal with supernatural deaths operate by a different set of rules because their targets are a lot more dangerous than the norm, hence they're kept separate from the other divisions. I strongly hint that the reason why the reapers learn of this previously unknown division is because it's part of the rebalancing that's happening as a result of the empowerment spell that was cast in BtVS episode, "Chosen". More supernatural people running around means more supernatural deaths, and that means the reapers in the other divisions now need to about it.
As for how the "book reaper" drabble was incorporated into the actual plot, it's pretty much as-is. Dawn walks into a bookstore where she knows she can get the manuscripts she needs for her research, and finds out that the owner is also reaper. What I ended up adding to that is that Dawn, who has been blocked from Council work, ends up working in the bookstore as both a translator and the book reaper's "gal Friday", with strong hints that she was hired partially because the head of the local supernatural division wants to keep an eye on her. So, in short, Dawn got the victory I denied her in adapting the earlier drabble.
The fifth drabble where Dawn insists on reaping Buffy was also incorporated and expanded. In this case, I let Dawn keep her victory because I considered it a vital element in the progression. Aside from the expansion, the drabble pretty much plays out as-is. To be honest, I had to twist myself up in knots to make it happen. Luckily for me, Dead Like Me never outright states that it's against the rules for reapers to reap their family members, although it is shown time and again that reapers do reap people they know and may even consider friends. That wiggle room was enough to at least build a reason for George allowing Dawn to do it, even if it was against her better judgment. Admittedly, the reasoning was built on shaky ground. I had to build in George's realization that if she were in Dawn's position and found out that Reggie had a post-it, she'd also insist on doing it, and build in the lesser motivation that George didn't have a whole lot of room to talk since she had taken Xander's post-it for herself for what was at best shady and self-serving reasons.
The sixth drabble where Buffy drags Dawn to her light, and the drabble that initially caught my attention, was the most problematic to deal with. If I let it play out as-is, and if I was playing by Dead Like Me Rules, Dawn's ending was a tragedy. The question ended up being, "How do I turn this around into a happy-ish ending?"
Enter George with a last-minute rescue to stop Dawn entering the light.
You do not want to know how many times I re-wrote George's and Buffy's argument. You really don't. A large part of the problem was that Dawn was entirely too passive through the initial passes, which meant that Dawn's sudden decision to tell Buffy that it was okay for her sister to move on kind of came from out of the blue. In other passes, George came on too overwhelmingly strong and too overwhelmingly right that Buffy looked more like a petulant child who wasn't getting her way instead of the overprotective big sister who truly believed she was saving her sister from a fate worse than death. In still other passes, George came across as right, but doing it in a way that she looked like a cockblocking bitch as Buffy desperately tried to save Dawn. And in still other passes, Buffy gave up too easily in the argument.
I think that at the end of the day I managed to strike a good balance, in large part by making Dawn a more active participant in the exchange. While I'm not entirely sure this came across during the scene in question, I tried to have Dawn reacting in such a way to show that she realized during the argument that George wasn't just enforcing the rules; George was genuinely terrified that Dawn would be destroyed if Buffy got her way. It played a role in why Dawn wasn't throwing accusations at George on the ride home, and why she tried to say something to George before she ever left the car. It was a factor in why Dawn didn't even try to hit back when George chased after her and started screaming in her face, and why Dawn gently called George out on the fact that George was crying as well as screaming.
While Mason's off-screen blow up at Dawn may seem like overkill, if I was using George's reaction to Betty's loss as a template for her emotional knee-jerk reaction it only made sense that Mason would have a similar reaction, if for slightly more complicated reasons than the simple unwelcome suspicion that Betty might have knowingly committed a form of suicide.
Finally, we get to the third drabble, where Dawn lists all the things she misses about being alive. Some of this gets re-stated in her conversation with George in the Pancake Stack near the end of the story, and some of it is merely hinted at. Oddly enough, this was one of the easier drabbles to incorporate because I didn't have to build anything around it. I could pretty much leave it as-is without any problems.
Adding the Other Elements (or How I Didn't Leave Well Enough Alone)
Now we're getting into "I overthought this" territory, and why I'm not convinced that Reaping the Whirlwind is entirely successful as a remix.
What I could have done, and maybe should have done, was turn the drabbles into a series of ficlets where that narrowly focused on the events related in the drabbles with nothing else built up around it. By the rules of the remix, the complicated plot I built around them really wasn't necessary and (in some cases) may not be welcome by the original writer because it might be seen as a subtle criticism of the original story.
Luckily for me, nothorse liked the remix and didn't view it my version as a criticism (thank God, since that wasn't the intention).
In any case, had I only focused on the drabbles at hand, I would've maybe ended with something that was half of what I eventually posted. A lot of the background in the Dead Like Me universe would have been stripped right out, as would the character motivations behind what they were doing. As for closure, forget about it.
Another big element that would've been stripped: George's subplot with Xander.
A large part of Xander's sudden appearance in the story was rooted in the first drabble. When Dawn talks about her funeral, she mentions that her Slayer was there (albeit falling-down drunk), but it struck me that she said nothing about the other Scoobies being in attendance.
For whatever reason, the idea got stuck in my head: What if none of the Scoobies went to Dawn's funeral? There could be a lot of reasons why, ranging from the fact that the Scoobies were engaged in world-saving to the idea that everyone (except Buffy) was dead. There could be a lot of good reasons why they weren't there, most of which would be forgivable reasons in Dawn's eyes.
Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make the idea work. For a start, I couldn't imagine that Buffy wouldn't show up for the funeral no matter what else was going on. If Buffy showed, I couldn't imagine any of the other Core Four not showing up.
In the end, I split the difference. Three out four of the Core Four were there (Buffy, Willow, and Giles), but the fourth (Xander) didn't show because he simply didn't know about it because of extenuating circumstances. Xander was chosen because: 1) based on televised AtS canon Xander is in Africa and could conceivably be harder to reach depending on where he was on the continent and, 2) it wouldn't be that hard to gin up a reason for Xander's move from Africa to Seattle (misplaced guilt, party of one). It wasn't all that inconceivable that Xander could potentially not know about Dawn's death and funeral because he was legitimately out of reach because he was dealing with a bloody crisis.
This turned out to be a happy idea, in large part because Xander serves as George's "shadow" in the story. Like George, he thought he had a pretty solid grasp of his place in the world, but the sudden explosion in his life has left him doubting that role and wondering if maybe he didn't take a wrong turn somewhere. Like George, he's starting over in a new position and finds himself precariously balancing his old roles and his new one.
Unlike George, however, Xander does have authority (and like Roxy before him, he's able to give George good advice on how to grow into it), but it's the kind of authority that makes his motivations suspect in the eyes of his new coworkers. The background situation where he suddenly shows up just on the bleeding edge of an oncoming apocalypse unfairly marks him as untrustworthy. As a result, Xander finds himself constantly trying to explain himself and battling it out about how to handle problems ranging from dealing with Dawn's fallen-off-the-wagon Slayer to tracking and dealing with the demon haunting Seattle.
Also, unlike George, Xander ultimately fails to win over his Seattle compatriots. When he leaves, they remain as suspicious and as distrustful of him as ever.
A lot of Xander's story is hinted at (makes sense, it's George's story and not Xander's), starting with his emotional and ill-thought-out motivations for asking for the transfer to Seattle. The clashes with the other Watchers in Seattle are somewhat played out, but the depth of his disagreements with them are under the surface. I also (I hope) hinted at the idea that Xander's assuming that he's universally disliked when that isn't actually the case. The only chance I had to do that was during the apocalypse itself when it becomes clear that the Slayers aren't happy that Xander isn't there to lead them during the fighting and instead get a "wet-behind-the-ears" Watcher that they don't even bother listening to while in battle mode. In addition, the dead Slayer at the end of the same scene hints that it's only right and proper that Xander is involved in the main show of killing the N'goth, rather than be relegated to clean-up duty away from the center of the action, even if it is a last-minute change in plans.
The other thing that resulted in the story's increased page count (as well as it's expansion beyond what I think could be properly termed as a remix) was the MacGuffin, in this case the N'goth as a sign that yet another apocalypse is on the rise. It's the thing around which the whole plot of Reaping the Whirlwind revolves, and plays quite a lot into every character's actions and motivations in the course of the story, but is ultimately so unimportant that its final end doesn't even happen onscreen. It's the connecting element that links everything in the story together.
It's the thing that drives Dawn to initially rebel against the rules, and fall into despair when she fails. It drives Dawn to go into the bookstore, where she finally lands a job she loves and allows her to start finding her place in her strange afterlife. It places Buffy's death right into her path and allows her to finally accept her new role as a grim reaper with a certain amount of troubled peace. It also allows her to see George in a different light beyond the cruel boss who's merely enforcing the rules.
For George, it's the thing that pushes her to look beyond her immediate circle and immediate events and start seeing that there's something of a pattern going on just out of sight. It forces her to become the kind of boss that's somewhere between Rube's authoritarian tendencies and Delores's over-emotional and over-affectionate methods. It gives her room to question the letter of the rules, and gives her the flexibility to find a way to get around their spirit.
It gives Daisy and Mason a chance to see George in an entirely different light, as someone who is genuinely a leader, and not just their buddy with the post-its.
It's the main motivation for keeping Xander in Seattle even after he's figured out that he's made a huge error in transferring to the city. Once it's gone, he exits stage left by willingly seizing on reasons to leave, at first because of the deal he strikes with George and later because he's been recalled to London by Giles.
Another reason for the build-up was I went in with the idea that most people reading the story would know shit-all about Dead Like Me, so I spent a lot of time introducing canon elements from the series. These ranged from Betty's decision to jump into the light (the show laid down some heavy-handed elements to make Betty's leap read like it was a suicide, but I think you could argue it either way), Roxy accidentally starting a religion, to George's story about how she really became a grim reaper, Rube's disappearance and the utter destruction of Der Waffle Haus, George convincing Reggie to take their mother and move out of Seattle, and Cameron's ultimate fate at the hands of the Seattle reapers.
Two other elements that might seem to be plot contrivances, but really are based on Dead Like Me canon is Xander missing his appointment with George and George engineering Xander's and Dawn's closure.
In the case of Xander's missing his appointment, an entire episode revolved around just that possibility. It opens with Roxy claiming her reap had missed his appointment, and Rube shrugging it off because he has no reason to disbelieve her. George questions it, and finds out that although such a situation is rare, it does happen. When it does, everyone gets to live consequence-free. George decides to engineer a missed appointment, and succeeds. She quickly learns the difference between a genuinely missed appointment and one where the reaper has engineered it. The gravelings first repeatedly punish her for her infraction. Then she has to deal with all the deaths that occur because she saved one guy. In a later episode, a "clerical error" results in George getting called off a reap at the last minute. Although she eventually gets her mark under different circumstances, it's another instance where the existence of a post-it does not automatically equal a reap.
In the case of George engineering Xander's and Dawn's meeting, this too is based on canon. In a second-season episode, Rube arranges matters so that he's able to meet with his now-elderly daughter right before she dies. Although technically Rube shouldn't be able to interact, the writers cleverly worked around the rules. For a start, Rube never tells his daughter who he is. She recognizes him and calls him "papa", and Rube merely accepts the title. He also doesn't initiate conversation, and he doesn't walk down memory lane. Instead, his daughter does all of that, and he merely responds without ever stating outright who he is or confirming that she's right. After watching that scene nothing short of a million times (thank you DVD), I built Xander's and Dawn's final conversation along the same lines and even went so far as to have George stating the rules that both of them had to follow.
Like I said, in the end I'm not sure that Reaping the Whirlwind works as a remix. While it incorporates the original drabbles as plot points, it headed off in a completely different direction and became a completely different animal from the original drabble set. Don't get me wrong. I think it's a solid story and I like what I ended up with, I'm just unhappy with it from a remix standpoint.
Thankfully, nothorse disagrees with me. For that, I'm really relieved.
Just a Taste of Dead Like Me
For people who know nothing about Dead Like Me, I've snagged a snippet from YouTube so you can get a taste. If you want to see more, all 29 episodes of the series are available on Hulu. (U.S. audiences only, sadly.)
This clip is from Season 2's "Ashes to Ashes". Rube's not placed in the world's best light (it occurs right after he witnessed his daughter's death), but it captures the interplay among the various reapers really well, has George referencing her Millie persona, briefly shows Reggie, and illustrates a typical reap for George.
Now that I've finished with my TL;DR meta, I figure I better point you to the fic.
In this journal I'm going to post one part a day for the next 14 days, mostly because I still think asking people to read 230 pages in one go is asking just a little bit too much. For people that want to read ahead, they can get the whole story on the Remix community.
Title: Reaping the Whirlwind (The Boom Boom Boom Ba Remix)
Summary: What does the addition of supernatural-related reaps to the reaping workload, Roxy’s promotion, the addition of a new grim reaper with supernatural experience, a new sort-of boyfriend who may or may not be a pirate, and an approaching apocalypse all have in common? New grim reaper boss George doesn’t know, but she’s willing to bet that in the middle of it all the universe will kick her ass. Again.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Dead Like Me crossover
Characters: Dead Like Me (order of appearance) — George, Mason, Daisy, Roxy, Kiffany, Delores, Penny, OCs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (order of appearance) — Dawn, Buffy, Willow (appearance only), Giles (appearance only), Xander, OCs.
Pairing: George/Xander (nothing explicit)
Rating: R for language, cartoon violence and death, sexual situations
Warning: Spoilers for all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV show only), Dead Like Me, and Dead Like Me: Life After Death. All comics associated with either series is willfully and cheerfully ignored.
Original drabbles: Six Drabbles About Dawn and Death by nothorse
- Link to Part One of the story in this ElJay.
- For people who want to read ahead, visit the RemixRedux09 community for the whole story.
And, finally, while I was scrounging around YouTube for a Dead Like Me clip, I found this really nice Dead Like Me fan video by Ezyka. Although all of the clips are taken from the series proper, the song, as well as the clips used, fit shockingly well with Reaping the Whirlwind.