liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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How to Pull Teeth from a Bear While It's Trying to Eat You (Meta for "The Monsters Are Due...")

I'm taking a break from doing my taxes (which I've put off for waaaaaay too long) to write this promised story meta.

It also helps that Marcs!bro wrecked my concentration to call and tell me how much he dug How to Train Your Dragon. While I appreciated the thought and the call, it was less-than-no help. Me hate going through paperwork. Me hate math. It doesn't take much to distract me.

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

First off, I want to thank everyone who's commented so far, and is planning to comment, and will comment. I promise to respond after I finish the taxes (sometime after tomorrow night).

Secondly, let's talk about how to pull teeth out of grizzly bear while it's trying to eat you, otherwise known as, "the hell I went through writing The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square."

The finished product is actually a mash-up of three electronic scraps that had been floating around my computer's hard drive for more than a year.

That's right. Never, ever throw away those stillborn fic bits, and bits you've cut from existing fics. They have a habit of becoming exactly the thing you need, and always when you least expect it.

If you're at all interested in how I put this story together, and lessons learned from writing it, click on the cut.

1. Throw out the original idea(s) if they don't work, and keep trying until you find one that does.

The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square wasn't even my first stab at a story for the apocabigbang. It wasn't even my second. Or my third.

It was my fourth.

This is why it took me almost 4 months to write 75 pages. For comparison purposes, it took me 6 weeks to write more than 150 pages for Reaping the Whirlwind. Actually it took 4 weeks. The first week I was on vacation in another state, and the second week I spent re-watching the entirety of Dead Like Me, including movie, to make sure I was up DLM cannon.

Nuked Idea the First:
The first idea involved Xander and a dragon who had adopted him after all the technology in the world had stopped working, except in a few key "techzones". The problem was I couldn't wrap my head around how the larger world worked, which was a shame really. I really enjoyed writing the interaction between Xander and his somewhat terrifying companion, and it's honestly some of the strangest dialog I've ever written.

(I can't resist posting a snippet.)

“You should hunt,” George says behind him. “Strongarm cannot miss your prey so long as you wield it.”

“I know that. I know how to shoot something fuzzy, I know how to dress it, and I know how to cook it, as I’ve demonstrated for the past two days,” he says without looking over his shoulder at the cavern opening. “I’m just too tired to go all stalker-y on the local wildlife today.”

“Men hunt for their food,” George insists as the dragon’s head snakes into the peripheral vision of his right eye. “You are a man, Alexanderharrys. You should hunt while the game is plentiful and familiar, not cut your meat from metal that’s not fit for armor.”

“Correction. Men who were alive last time you were awake hunted,” he counters. “Men in my time went to the supermarket. All in all, given a choice of pulling what I want out of the supply pack with almost no effort, and spending several hours just looking for something edible I can shoot at, I know which I prefer on general principle.”

“Super-market?” George gives him that oh-so-familiar look, the one that says, “Watchyoo talkin’ ’bout Alexanderharrys.”

“Unh, supermarket.” He screws up his face and thinks of a modern equivalent that a dragon might understand.

Ha! Modern! Now there’s a funny that everyone can enjoy.

“Oh! I got it.” He grins. “It’s like market day in the nontech or the greyzone, except it happens every single day from 8 in the morning until 10 at night. Some of them were even open 24 hours a day. Meat came in…” He hesitates because he doesn’t want to say ‘plastic-wrapped Styrofoam’ because then he’d be stuck explaining that phrase all day. “…already butchered, dressed, and ready to cook,” he finishes lamely.

“A mere gathering of food.” George appears to have gotten the gist at least. “Knights have changed much since I last flew.”

He resists the urge to sigh and explain one more time how he’s not a knight and never had been, although his stupid, hormone-driven, teenage self would’ve been devastated to know that he lost that idea a long time before Sunnydale bit the dust.

He’s learned that beating his head against a rock is more productive than arguing with a dragon that’s got an idea stuck in its head. Like how George absolutely insists on calling him Alexanderharrys. Not Xander, oh no. That’s not a real name, according to George. Not even Alexander because that’s only half his name in George’s worldview. He can only assume it’s Harrys instead of Harris because, well…


He doesn’t know why, exactly. Maybe dragon tongues have a hard time getting around the name “Harris”, although the perpetually pissed-off Grecian gods know that George seems to have no trouble pronouncing any word in any language he damn well wants to pronounce.

So, Alexanderharrys it is. He hates the name but he’ll deal, especially since it’s a 4-ton killing machine with claws and teeth longer than his arm that insists on using it.

I kicked at the The Dragon and the Guy (the title of my first story) for a good month, and only got 7 pages for my trouble.

Nuked Idea the Second:
My next attempt didn't even get far enough to have a name. It was basically Xander and Faith Road Warrior-ing it through a post-apocalyptic world looking for some sign that the Council still existed. The catch? They work as advanced scouts for a traveling carnival run by Ethan Rayne, who upon getting exactly what he wanted, is repenting of his error and trying to reverse the irreversible damage in some way.

I admit that I may have been influenced by the visuals of Carnivale for this one.

For whatever reason, the story never gelled. After another month of kicking this story around, I got 5 pages of it done before I gave up.

Nuked Idea the Third:
I was getting desperate. The check-in point was fast approaching and I had nothing. That's when I turned to my archive of "stuff". The stuff comes in three flavors: fic that I've started, but never gelled; bits of fic that I had cut for one reason or another from stories I had posted; and bits of fic/dialog I had written down because I thought the ideas were interesting even though I didn't have a story in mind for any of it.

In this case, I took a look at a story I had started for a Twilight Zone fic-a-thon that never got off the ground called The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. Now, obviously this is the name of an actual Twilight Zone episode, but that was the whole point of the fic-a-thon. You take an actual Twilight Zone episode and "remix" it to fit a specific fandom.

The general idea of this one was that Faith and Xander are in a small town on the Great Plains to pick up some kind of mystical object when the end of the world comes. They're in the dark about what happened as much as anyone else, but they pool their survival skills together and try to save the terrified populace from succumbing to panic, even as they're quietly panicking themselves.

The problem comes when a few of the townsfolk get suspicious because, let's face it, Xander and Faith are a little too good dealing with hell-in-a-handbasket scenarios. Then there's the cover stories they had when they first blew into town, which were good enough to hold up for a short stay, but fall apart under actual scrutiny. Before it's all over, Xander and Faith are fighting for their lives against a town bent on blaming someone for things falling apart.

The story was started, but never finished. After signing up, the organizers for the Twilight Zone fic-a-thon pretty much disappeared off the face of the planet. I would've plugged ahead anyway, but I have too many WiPs, and real life got too busy and I dropped the ball.

I picked at the flesh outlines for a little bit, but for whatever reason I couldn't get into the headspace required for that story. In the end, I maybe added a paragraph to it after picking at it for a couple of weeks.

2. Pay attention to real life, sometimes it'll save your ass

I was in a funk. Nothing was working. I would have to pull out because, clearly, my ability to write fiction of any kind had died like the dodo. Even picking at WiPs wasn't helping me recapture the magic.

Two things saved me: I got a DVR and a conversation about "crazy relatives I have known" with Mom!Marcs.

First, let get into the "crazy relatives" conversation. Right around mid-December, Mom!Marcs and I were talking about some of our nuttier relatives, and boy do we have quite the collection.

I should state here that New Englanders, like Southerners, have their own special brand of crazy. Where Southerners favor the Gothic route for their crazy, New Englanders favor the "stealth crazy", you know, the kind of person who seems sane on the surface, but get them in private or apply just a little bit of pressure and out comes the Freak Flag to impressive effect.

For a good idea of what I mean, see anything written by Stephen King. King has made a career out of writing about the New England stealth crazy.

Anyway, Mom!Marcs was talking about this relative who was a stealth crazy and a nun (I had a few relatives who were nuns). Anyway, when my mother was 5, Stealth Crazy Relative revealed her belief in how the Apocalypse was going to go down. See, one day the sky was going to turn black and...

Actually, if you read The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square, you'll know exactly what Stealth Crazy Relative told Mom!Marcs, right down to the hysterical, repeated warning of Don't look out any of the windows.

Yes. She told all of this to a 5 year-old. And just to add to the shit sandwich, said Stealth Crazy Relative made sure to tell my 5 year-old mother this when no one else was around, namely Grandmother!Marcs who would've torn Stealth Crazy Relative limb-from-limb if she heard this. Then Stealth Crazy Relative Who Was a Motherfucking Nun made Mom!Marcs promise not to tell anyone because then, when the Bad Thing Happened, the demons would get her and drag her body and soul to hell.

I shit you not.

To make it even better (Yes! It gets better!), Mom!Marcs was born in 1941, which meant that World War II blackout drills were a recent thing — as in something she remembered — at the time she was told.

These blackout drills, by the way, consisted of emergency sirens going off, the entire city going dark, and everyone pulling down these special shades to block out any possible risk of candlelight (turning on your electric lights were strictly verboten) reaching the outside world. The theory being, of course, that any stray beam of light could give enemy airplanes a nice, fat target to drop a bomb on. (It should be noted that while New England wasn't menaced by enemy aircraft, the coastline was menaced by German subs on occasion.) Grandfather!Marcs was in the Civil Defense, and he'd have to go outside during the blackout drills, patrol his neighborhood, and issue citations for anyone who didn't shut off their lights or pull down the blackout shades.

Now, I'm not entirely sure if the blackout drills were still going on at the time Mom!Marcs had her chat with Stealth Crazy Relative, but it's safe to say that her little 5 year-old brain could remember the terror of sitting in her dark kitchen while the emergency sirens wailed and an entire city went to black. For years afterwards, whenever the sky would get storm-dark (as it does when a violent tropical storm is coming in) she'd get hysterical and pull all the shades closed, to Grandmother!Marcs complete consternation.

And since Mom!Marcs didn't want to get dragged to hell (remember, 5 years-old!), and since Stealth Crazy Relative Was a Motherfucking Nun, Mom!Marcs didn't tell anyone for years.

Even now, despite the fact that Mom!Marcs knows the whole story is utter bullshit and most definitely does not pull the shades when the sky gets dark in the middle of the day, she admits to feeling just that tickle of nervousness in the back of her brain.

And no, she's never forgiven the now-dead Stealth Crazy Relative Who Was a Motherfucking Nun and Should've Known Better for effectively making her Live With Fear for a good portion of her childhood.

Shortly thereafter, SyFy was running it's annual New Years' Twilight Zone marathon, which happened to include "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "Third from the Sun" in the rotation. Since I had a shiny, new DVR, I fired that puppy up and got to watching.

And thus, thanks to a combination to two real-life things, my inspiration was re-ignited, and The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square was born.

3. Never throw any idea away, even if it's useless at the time you have it.

Remember what I said about never, ever throw away those stillborn fic bits, and bits you've cut from existing fics? Yeah. This.

I said that The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square was in reality a mash-up of 3 different fics. That's not entirely true. It was a mash-up of two stillborn fic bits, while stealing the title and basic idea from my stillborn Twilight Zone remix fic. All three of these things, by the way, have been kicking around my hard drive for more than a year.

That's right. A year.

The first pre-existing bit was Moira witnessing the argument between Xander and Faith near the beginning of the story. However, the witness wasn't Moira, but an adult female neighbor who'd been woken up by the argument. The basic set-up (near as I can recall) was that Xander and Faith had recently moved next door, and almost immediately rubbed the otherwise close-knit neighborhood the wrong way. They were anti-social to the point of being rude (i.e., they were ungracious when welcomed to the neighborhood, declined invitations to cook-outs, and turned down the offer to get involved in the annual block party), seemed to be be Doberman-crazy-protective about their privacy, and gave off a vibe that marked them as being "off". The witnessed fight would lead to the neighbor having wacky adventures in trying to figure out the deal with her odd-ball neighbors.

Oh, something else. This was the opening salvo in a comedy. The whole story would be told from the neighbor's point of view, while the reader (who would be in the know) would be snickering about what Faith and Xander were really doing in town pretending to be a married couple and skulking around in some less reputable areas of suburbia.

It was a nice idea, but I couldn't think of a way to make it work.

The second pre-existing bit is the very last exchange between Moira and Xander in the fic, and it hews pretty closely to the original. The intent behind the conversation is even the same. Xander had done something that had put the girl in danger in a round-about way. She witnesses her family get slaughtered, but Xander manages to save her and only her at the last moment. He drags her to a nasty hotel room, and the conversation ensues.

And much as I liked at scene, enough to quickly type it up when I had it, that's all it was. A scene. I had no plans to use it, I didn't have any particular story in mind for it. It just was this weird, stand alone page I had, but had no idea how to use.

So, when I decided to get off my ass and give it a fourth try at writing this story, I went through all bits on my hard drive to see if I had anything at all that would give me a head start. I took one look at my Twilight Zone mash-up, took one look at the "neighbor witnesses Xander and Faith fighting", and one look at "We're the good guys" conversation and went, "EUREKA!"

Now, I'm not entirely sure what it was that convinced me these three elements (mixed with the real-life stuff talked about above) mixed together would make a good story, but I was convinced that I had it in hand.

Yeah, I'm not sure how my brain always works either.

4. Sometimes the Heroes are the Antagonists. It all boils down to your point of view.

Right from the start, the story was going to be told from an outsider's point of view. It wasn't a brilliant brain flash, but more from laziness. The bits I had going in were told in that mode, and I couldn't think of a way to make them have punch by telling them from Xander's point of view.

So, third-party it was.

And because I had to have a description for the fanartists who were assigned to me, I wrote up a two-page long detailed plot summary for them to work with, thus permanently locking me in this mode. There was no changing it without significantly changing the plot. Seriously. Just imagine if this story told from Xander's or Faith's point of view. I can't do it. My imagination completely fails on this score.

(Although I got the idea stuck in my head at one point that Xander slipped and fell back into old habits involving the pre-fight "I'm gonna die" quickie with Faith...something that's actually in character for him. Okay, maybe not the cheating, but definitely the pre-fight quickie since we've seen him do it more than once. On screen. Anyway, this was going to help fuel his guilt at the end of the story. However, file this idea under "pics or it didn't happen", because it didn't happen despite the crazy momentary idea I had and ultimately rejected as being true. But other than that, imagination fails.)

The problem with going this route is that Moira's whole focus was her situation and nothing but. That meant that as I wrote the story, it was more and more reading like a 12 year-old's angsty diary entries. There was no story focus at all, just Moira bouncing from one event to the next while all the real action was happening somewhere else.

It was frustrating. I had the plot written out in fairly good detail. I had a solid idea. The writing was rolling along. Yet the story was completely unfocused. It was maddening.

It wasn't until Xander scares the ever-loving shit out Moira by hinting that he murdered someone to get her to convey everything he said to her mother, that it hit me.

The story was missing an antagonist. What was more, Xander (and by extension his friends) was that antagonist.

It was a really "duh" moment for me.

You'd think that obvious thought would be obvious, but it wasn't. I usually write Xander as the protagonist, so that's kind of my default. I very rarely write Xander as an antagonist (this is different from being antagonizing, which he can be and quite frequently is). The only two stories where Xander-as-antagonist is in play that come to mind are Water Hold Me Down (although that's more alterna-Xander than Xander) and Facing the Heart in Darkness (where Xander does act like a bit of a shit, even if it is justified). Usually when I write him he's the protagonist.

My problem is that when I started writing, I was mentally putting him on the side of the protagonist. There's one small problem: he's not. He wants to keep her and his wife alive, yes. He's willing to make deals with the devil (or the Council) to keep them alive, yes.

But he's not necessarily on the same page as they are.

Case in point: His lying for years about who he is.

I should admit that I go back-and-forth about whether or not Xander acted selfishly here. Yes, he'd been thrown out of the Council. Yes, he'd been moving from place to place and on his own for three years before he even met Katy and Moira. Yes, he'd been deeply unhappy and angry about his lot in life.

And yes, he had every right to reach for happiness when it became crystal clear that life as he knew it was over.

Where I fault him (and, again, I go back-and-forth on this), is that he didn't tell the truth about himself until he was backed in a corner, and even then he looked for a way out until it became clear that he didn't have a choice. Okay, spilling 100% of the truth was impossible. However, I think he had an obligation to warn Katy that he once held a job that resulted in him making enemies who'd be happy to see him dead, if not outright kill him, and that meant she and Moira could become collateral damage. In my mind, this is why Katy was so pissed with him, over and above the whole my-God-my-husband-is-schizo idea.

If Xander didn't trust Katy enough to tell her even a highly edited version of the truth, even if he convinced himself that he lied for their protection, I'm not entirely sure he should've married her and potentially put her and her daughter's life in danger without Katy's knowledge and consent.

Gah! As I said. I go back-and-forth on this and can be convinced either way.

In any case, viewing Xander as the antagonist, coupled with Moira being the protagonist and point-of-view character, allowed me to leave this whole question of just how culpable Xander is for what happened to Katy, Moira, and by extension all of Newport, R.I. open for debate. I don't resolve it (even for myself) because I don't have to resolve it. The characters can debate it and decide for themselves whether Xander is culpable, but I don't. If I had to guess where the characters fall, by the way, I'd say that Xander and Moira vote "culpable"; Angel and Willow vote not; and Faith is of two minds about it, but figures there's more important shit to worry about than pointing fingers.

The other thing that Xander-as-antagonist allowed me to do was more fully embrace the double-meaning of the story title. If I told the story as if Xander was a protagonist, there'd only be one meaning. It would refer strictly to the demons and only the demons.

However, since Moira is the protagonist, the "monsters" in the title also refers to Xander's friends, something the artwork illustrates really well. I mean, think about this, Moira's life is pretty much destroyed the very moment Faith makes contact with Xander. Hell, it's destroyed actually before even Xander knew there was a problem, but Faith's arrival is a sign of bad things to come. Even if Katy had lived, life as Moira knew it was pretty over and she would still be on her way to London and cued up for evacuation if the world came to an end.

So, in the end, making Xander & Co. the antagonists gave focus to the story and made Moira's change in attitude toward Xander a lot more believable.

5. The little things matter.

Rhode Island happens to be one of the many places I have lived over the years. This means I'm fairly familiar with the state. And by state, I mean, "Very large small town." Seriously. Rhode Islanders have a very special mindset about their state that's impossible to replicate, even in other relatively small states like Massachusetts. Rhode Island is tiny. So tiny, in fact, that everyone who grew up in the state went to high school with everyone else's relatives. So tiny, that everyone in South County knows your business, even if you live in North Providence and commute to Boston for your job.

I kid you not. I have experienced this. First hand. Multiple times.

This also means that I know Newport fairly well, and if I got something wrong about Newport and its environs it would be fucking embarrassing.

That meant research to make sure my memory wasn't faulty. (Thank you Google Maps with your street view!)

So, anything I say about Newport — any place name, any business name, any location, any physical description of Moira's surroundings — you can bet your ass that if you drove to any of those places you'd find it exactly as advertised, up to an including the Del's where Moira and Xander have their World Famous Del's Lemonade in Middleton. Hell, I've been to the Del's in Middleton, and to the one in Newport.

This making sure that I get the details right, by the way, necessitated a title change. Yes, my working title was The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. One small problem. Newport doesn't have a Maple Street. There's a Maple Ave. and a Maple Drive, but no Maple Street. And I hate to say, but neither Maple Ave. nor Maple Drive have the same cadence as Maple Street. The title lost something in the change.

That meant I had to cast around for something that had a pleasing cadence while still maintaining the character of the title. I settled on Washington Square as being the perfect alternative. It's Newport-specific, it's a part of the city that everyone has to go through if you're going to get to the tourist-y areas, and it's near the waterfront.

Okay, these little details are important to me, and is something your average reader might miss. But, if your reader happens to be familiar with your setting a major mistake will throw them right out of the story. Some of them may start to wonder if you know what "Google" is.

And if, like me, you're familiar with the physical setting of your story?

Like I said, it's just fucking embarrassing to get it wrong.

6. There's a reason why television writers, and most novelists, suck at writing children.

The wise-beyond-their-years adolescent is a staple of pop entertainment.

Wanna know why?

Because writing adolescents suck.

You may be young at heart, youthful in mind, and have a "real age" that's decades younger than you actually are, but at the end of the day you (adult you), are not an adolescent. You've got an adult brain with adult experiences, and that's gonna color any memory you've got about being a kid.

So good luck on pulling from your own experiences when writing from the point of view of a 12 year-old girl, dumbass.

Writing Moira was well nigh impossible. First I wrote her as too literal-minded. Then I wrote her as making all kinds of from-thin-air connections. Then I wrote her as too naive. Then I wrote her as too worldly. Then I wrote her as too stupid to tie her own shoes. Then I wrote her as so sharp that she could cut herself. Then I wrote her as too oblivious. Then I wrote her as too observant. Then I wrote her as too self-centered. Then I wrote her as not self-centered enough.

I did this all at the same time, by the way.

You do not want to know how many times I wrote the past-tense sections of the story (as opposed to the present-tense sections with Moira in the motel room, which were barely rewritten at all) to make Moira actually act and sound like a 12 year-old girl.

It was torture. Pure, unmitigated torture.

And I'm still not sure she scans as a "real" 12 year-old girl to another 12 year-old girl. Since my main audience for this story is most definitely not 12 year-olds of any kind, it's not a huge problem for readers.

It was, however, a huge problem for me. Because I felt like I was on unstable footing throughout the whole writing process, my hold on Moira's character remained shaky at best even up to the bitter end. I can see the patches and fixes I put in place in my approximately half-dozen (more in some places) re-writes, and for that reason her wildly swinging perspective on Chris/Xander sometimes reads as, "She's reacting this way because the plot demands it" as opposed to something organic.

Believe me, that feeling was a whole lot worse in the middle of the process than it was toward the end. I think I mostly managed to dial in Moira's character to a more organic place for the most part, but I don't think I was a 100% successful.

Needless to say, I will never, ever write a story from the point of view of a character that young again. Teenagers, fine. Adults, even better. Pre-teens? Never, ever again if I can help it.

7. If your denouement is too long, then fix it.

One of the main problems I had going into the story, and one I was aware of right from the start, was that the bit with Moira, Xander, and Faith in the motel room was too damn long if I wanted a gut-punch ending.

When you're left with that kind of problem you've got two choices: either make the ending shorter, or play games with your structure.

I tackled the problem by first cutting the ending down to its bare minimum. Keep the exchanges and character interactions that transmitted important information to the reader, but jettison the rest.

It was still too long to have the desired effect, but cutting it even more would leave out important information, or would obscure just how much Moira and her perspective had changed as a result of everything that had happened to her.

There was only one thing left to do: Play games with the structure, or in this case, parallel construction.

I was hesitant at first to do it, because at the end of the day it's a trick that can easily turn into a crutch. I had used it A Gift of Ordinary Magic and Walking Higher. I had used it to a lesser extent in Behold, Little Padawan!

Frankly, the construction of The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square most closely resembles Walking Higher, in that you have a tense and noun/pronoun change to mark the parallel story. The reader is able to twig that this section is different from that section. The two are obviously related, but the how isn't entirely clear at first.

Now, if you look at the construction, the main story is written in a pretty straightforward manner. It's past tense, written in third-person limited, and everyone has a name.

The parallel story (in the motel room) is written in the present tense. While it, too, is written in third person limited, only Faith is a assigned a name by our point-of-view character. Xander is consistently referred to as "he", and Moira is consistently referred to as she. It's also significant that only Faith uses Xander's and Moira's names in the course of conversation. The point-of-view character won't even dignify Xander with name through most of the parallel story, and can't quite allow herself a name either. It's supposed to show just how damaged Moira is as a result of what's happened, as well as the depth of her anger and feeling of betrayal with respect to Xander.

Or, at least, that's what I hope was conveyed.

So, I was pretty sure I had it licked. I'd alternate the main story and the parallel story, thus shrinking my denouement from 6 pages (more or less) down to a half-page.

One smaaaaaaaaallll problem with that: I didn't have enough material from the motel room to make it work. I tried changing the starting order (fight first or Moira in the motel room first?). I tried adding my cut material and adding more besides (it ruined the arc of the parallel story).

I tried everything.

I then settled on alternating thus: parallel story, 2 sections of main story, parallel story.

Where it fell apart was the end, because following the pattern would have the story ending on Moira waking up in the motel room after Willow knocked her out, rather than on the "We're the good guys" conversation.

Clearly that wasn't going to work. One, the "punchline" was "We're the good guys". Two, it confused the order of events to such an extent that a reader could reasonably believe that Moira waking up in the motel room was the proper end of the story, rather than the "We're the good guys" conversation.

The end result is that there are 3 sections of the main story between Faith leaving Moira and Xander and the "We're the good guys" conversation.

It breaks the pattern, but it was the only way to make the pieces fit together and still maintain my gut-punch ending.

8. Sometimes it's better not to explain anything. Just wave vaguely in its direction and let the reader do all the work.

My big failing is that I sometimes get so stuck on the details that the story disappears. I've got some honking big examples of this in actual fic I've posted. Too many to count, actually.

I know this is a problem. I'm working on it.

And trust me when I tell you, the temptation to do it in The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square was almost overwhelming.


To explain how Xander went from Council Operative, to Guy Pretending to Be Normal, the Guy the Council Won't Let Out of Its Sight.

Every time the temptation kicked in, I'd have to remind myself that Xander is the antagonist, my protagonist as a 12 year-old girl who hadn't a clue as to what was going on; and that transmitting that information to reader would require Moira overhearing/witnessing Faith or Angel or Willow telling Xander shit he already knew because he lived through it.

You see the problem.

In the end, I dribbled hints about Xander's past life and the whys of his predicament throughout the story by having Faith or Angel obliquely make reference to past events, or having Xander tell Moira a story about "a guy he knew".

One thing that I hoped came through that even when Xander tells Moira his little story, he's still lying. He's not just lying about who Xander really is (he lies about that even before it becomes clear that he needs to terrify Moira into telling her mother about their conversation), and about Xander's murder (yes, he metaphorically "killed" Xander, but he acts as if it was a real murder to scare Moira into talking to her mother).

He also lies about why the demons are so hot for his scalp. Or rather, he lies by omission. It wasn't just, "Xander ruined their evil plans". Angel drops the additional information that "Xander acted like he was one of their kind of people and then brutally betrayed them when he thought he had the goods to prove they were plotting to end the world" (some readers picked up on that).

So, yeah, I have a pretty solid idea for Xander's backstory and how he got from A to B to C.

Will I write it? Probably not. My experience writing this story was so miserable and hair-pulling inducing that I kind of want to not deal with it in any creative manner for awhile.

9. When technology glitches, don't panic. Or rather, panic, but don't let it kill you.

I made reference to this earlier, but I'm going to repeat it here.

I lost the last 20 to 30 pages of this story, as in all of Parts 4 and 5 as posted.

I didn't find out about this until two days before it was due to be posted.

I had finished the weekend before it was due to be posted. I decided to take a couple of days off so I could do a final read-through with fresh eyes and edit accordingly.

One of the fanartists wanted to get a look at the final draft. I figured, "No problem!"

Cue me opening the file and discovering, "Problem! A third of my story has disappeared!"

I searched my thumb drives, I searched my hard drive, I searched my backup drive.

I hard earlier drafts of the story, but not the draft I actually finished.

I wailed. I yelled. I beat my fists on my keyboard.

Then I got writing.

Thankfully, I have a pretty good memory. I was able to reconstruct most of what I had lost. As for what I didn't remember, well it obviously wasn't important enough for me to remember, so it's maybe for the best that it's gone.

However, I still have to clean up the typos and weird coding that showed up in some parts, which I'm going to get to piece mail sometime this week after my brain decompresses a bit.

As for what happened to the missing pages, near as I can figure out I accidentally over-saved the latest version of the story with an older file while I was re-arranging the flow of the main story and the parallel story.

So, yeah. When shit happens, sometimes the best you can do is pull on the waders and fight your way through the muck.

So, that's everything I got.

I honestly don't know how I feel about this story or the end result.

It was frustrating to the point of distraction to write, and a whole lot of work for a mere 75 pages. I swear to God, not even Whisper was this much work, and that was my first novel-length Buffy fic, which I wrote while Season 7 was airing.

Hell, it was almost as hard to write as Cookoo in the Nest, and that story was a first-class bitch to pull off.

Right now, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square. I may learn to love it and have a kinder perspective on it with the passage of time, but right my warm and fuzzy feelings are pretty much centered on the fact that I'm relieved it's over.

After writing this? Remix is gonna be a piece of cake.

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