liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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FIC: Whisper, Author's Notes (PG-13; BtVS; Ensemble)

Go To Part 12


Annnnd, whoops!

In taking a look at my FList, I just realized that I spammed the hell out of everyone.

sorry about that

I now know...for archiving long stories backdate them and give a fake LJ cut.

have i mentioned that i'm really, really sorry about this?

If it's any consolation, I'll be off the LJ hook for the next few days due to work commitments, so this is all you'll be getting from me for the next couple of days.

Since I've pissed off just about everyone for the spamming, I might as well throw this in here. Here are the Author's Notes I wrote at the time I completed the story. Some things I remember, some things I don't. Mostly a lot of references for stuff used in the story itself.

And thank you all for your patience.

 

Author Notes on story references, general story notes, and a big ‘thank you’

Buffy’s Fairy Tale: For those that are wondering about all the players in Buffy’s tale, here is a key:

  • Vengeance=Dolly kicking off events in Xander’s life
  • Assorted Monsters=Every villain major and minor the Scoobs have faced
  • Villagers in Distress=Sunnydale High School and the Sunnydale population at large
  • Perilous Missions=The Scoobs’ adventures
  • Unlikely Allies=People and creatures who’ve helped the Scoobs over the years, including certain vampires souled and unsouled
  • Wise Man=Giles
  • Gypsy=Jenny Calendar
  • Queen=Cordelia
  • Changeling=Anya
  • Witches=Willow, Tara, Amy, and other assorted magic users
  • Werewolves=Oz and Verucca
  • Key=Dawn
  • Superhero or Three=Buffy, Kendra, and Faith
  • White Knight=Xander

And no. There is no way I’m writing Buffy’s fairytale. My head would explode. If someone wants to try, be my guest. Please reference Whisper if you do.

Xander’s Whisper: Xander’s whisper always was meant to be a part of himself. I was, at first, going to indicate that deChantal survivors all had the whisper, but decided to let it go. I leave it up to the reader to decide if the whisper was Xander’s own way of coping with what happened to him when he was twelve, if it was a side effect of his wish, or if Dolly planted it in his head so he’d “see and hear” what he needed to over the years.

You might be interested to know that I haven’t decided the issue and still remain unsure about the exact origin of Xander’s whisper.

Epilogue quotes: Two come from the fabulous Sandman series written by Neil Gaiman, available in graphic novels at your local bookstore. The names of the specific graphic novels are included. As for the third quote, it comes from A Wrinkle in Time and remains my all-time favorite quote from any book ever. When I read it at eight, I thought it was the coolest line, made even cooler by what happens in the story after Mrs. Whatsit gives Meg her “gift.” If I ever had to assign quotes describing each character in the Buffyverse, this is, without a doubt, the one I’d give Xander.

Story References: If you’re curious about some of the things referenced in the story, feel free to check the following:

deChantal: The name of the suicide demons was based on the name of St. Jeanne de Chantal, patron saint of forgotten people, loss of parents, parents separated from children, and widows, among others. I found her to be a very fitting patron saint for the favored victims of the suicide demons, even if I’m not a Catholic. I found her especially appropriate for a Xander-centric story because she stressed the importance of love, that living for the sake of love was more important than dying for any reason, and sacrifices necessary when you live for the sake of love. For a brief description of the saint and her life, visit Catholic Saints Directory.

Neil Gaiman: IMHO, one of the best modern fairytale spinners alive today. I have his works on my “must own and must read” list. His writing makes me weep in frustration because I’ll never be as good as he is. Visit his Web site for a complete bibliography and bio.

Bulfinch’s Mythology: Pretty much a standard textbook for world mythology first published in 1855. Great dissection on mythology and meanings, although some discussions seem somewhat outdated in light of today’s understanding of ancient cultures as well as more modern interpretations on the myth of the hero. It can be a pretty dry read, but an invaluable research tool. The book is available for free online.

Xander’s description of the foster care system: Before anyone accuses me of overstating the brokenness of the foster care system in this country, rest assured I’m not. I’ve known one or two people who’ve swung through the foster care system in various states during the 1970s and 1980s and have read more than a few books surveying the sorry state of foster care (care of me being a newspaper reporter covering such issues). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for ‘emergency placements’ in the California system to find themselves in some unusual beds while waiting for an opening in a foster home, up to and including being temporarily placed in homeless shelters and juvenile facilities sharing space with violent offenders. The key problem was too many kids, not enough beds in an environment that could provide some stability for troubled children. I don’t know if these conditions still hold true in the California system (I hope not), but the statements hold true for the time period Xander would’ve had his six-month ordeal.

Into the Woods: Dolly’s obsession with this Sondheim musical is pretty obvious. This complicated little play weaves a number of fairytales together, including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstock, and Little Red Ridding Hood. It also makes reference to several others. The traditional fairytales are concluded at the end of the first act. The second part deals with what happens after happily ever after and what really happens when people get their wishes. Go. Get the soundtrack of the original New York cast. Better yet, see the play when you get a chance.

Grimm’s Grimmest: An interesting book that includes a number of lesser-known fairytales collected by the Brothers Grimm. Many of the stories are downright bloody and not all of them have a happy ending. A collection worth owning and certainly worth reading if you have a fondness for folklore and reading the original fairytales in all their blood-soaked allegorical glory.

Cinderella: Dolly references the original Cinderella as collected by the Brothers Grimm, a very different animal than the one presented by Disney or in more modern translations. Not being subtle, I made sure Dolly stressed “old school Grimm” in her conversation with Buffy, especially since not all Grimm fairytales have a happy ending. Some are quite bloody, in fact. Dolly’s interpretation isn’t based on any interpretation but my own. Then again, Dolly may have access to the “facts” that the Brothers Grimm simply didn’t have. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Some general author’s notes: I learned the danger of posting a work-in-progress. I had the whole story plotted out, but not written. As I wrote, the story mutated in ways I couldn’t believe. I suffered from a huge amount of flop sweat because it mutated the most after I started posting chapters.

This story was originally conceived as a single-scene character study for Xander, somewhat inspired by a combination of 'Amends' and 'Hell’s Bells.' The kernel of this character study can be found in in Xander's final confrontation with the deChantal, except in that case, Xander’s whisper played the part of torturer, instead of a demon trying to break down Xander’s defenses. The idea was a kind of a wounded-boy-behind-the-shattered-man-behind-the-joker’s-mask thing. I’m glad I changed my mind since there are a few FanFics out there that do a much, much better job on this score. My short-shot very quickly grew to a 25-chapter character study before the first word got published on a Web site. When I started posting Whisper the story was plotted and designed to be just those 25 chapters.

I very quickly realized that if I wanted to write the effective mystery I had in mind, it was going to require a lot more work and a lot more writing. I’d turn out a chapter and would realize that I had left a plot hole that would allow the Enterprise to drive through it and would have to quickly paper it over with dialogue and exposition and I had to move the action forward. Then I’d have to deal with that concept in a later chapter whether I wanted to do it or not because that information had already been published in a previous chapter.

Talk about walking a tightrope without a net.

The other thing that was problematic was the televised series as it progressed. I had to deal with canon and make it mesh with my personal fanon. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with a lot of season seven canon (such as it is) since I purposely set Whisper before the season seven BtVS episode ‘Conversations with Dead People.’ However, every time Willow cast a “locator spell” on television, I had to come up with a damn good reason why Willow couldn’t do it to track the deChantals or Xander. This was doubly important since I needed Xander to be the only one able to see the deChantals for what they were if I wanted the subtext to work. If Witchy Willow could simply throw magic dust on a map to find the lone deChantal, the whole point of the story would’ve been toast and Xander would be stuck fixing windows at Casa Summers. Again.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t even manage to keep Whisper in canon one hundred percent. The Magic Box resolutely refused to stay destroyed because I needed it for key scenes and because I hate using Buffy’s living room as exposition central.

It’s somewhat funny that as hard as I tried to keep Whisper close to canon (Magic Box issue aside), people who read it are universally classifying this story as seriously AU because the Scoobs act like they’re actually friends who talk and are capable of making a plan to fight evil. That’s funny. Heartbreaking. But funny.

I also thought it was interesting how certain elements evolved even after I started posting and writing with what I thought was a clear story map.

Early in the planning process before I started actually writing, the deChantals were mindless scavengers that were kept as pets by a certain nasty class of humans who would enjoy watching them feed on people deemed “worthless” to society. I very quickly realized that the subtext for that kind of set up was more graphic than I really wanted it to be, and even more disturbing in my own mind. The deChantals very quickly went from being the pets of humans to the humans themselves, a more subtle distinction that seemed to be disturbing enough for some readers. Bonus, the subtext itself was left intact and even made even more clear because of that change.

Elements that changed even after I started posting Whisper included Anya and Dolly. Anya wound up having a much larger role in the final story than originally planned. My initial plan was for Anya to play a little exposition fairy at the beginning and then go away about a quarter of the way through the story because of a convention in Chicago or somewhere far away. Simply put, I didn’t think Anya really needed to know about Xander’s past because I (stupidly) thought sure Xanya was dead and gone as far as season seven BtVS was concerned. Yet as the story unraveled, I kept delaying Anya’s departure because she was so useful with all her demon knowledge and no-nonsense attitude. However, I still needed Anya out of town when Xander finally had his breakdown, so she still went on that trip, except now it was a short buying expedition in La Jolla that kept her away a few key critical days.

Anya’s increased role in the story is, surprise, surprise, a direct result of Dolly’s mutation and increased role in the story.

Dolly originally was supposed to be a single mom with kid who divorced her hubby for being an abusive drunk. In short, she was a minor character who was supposed to counterpoint Xander’s own experience. She was only supposed to show up in the first few chapters and go away as Xander got sucked more and more into hunting the deChantal. This was the plan even after I started posting the story, believe it or not.

Then I just had to write her witnessing a suicide.

Dolly’s role evolved in my mind after that. She was still human, but she lost the kid and the abusive alcoholic ex-husband and became the friendly neighborhood normal human waitress. The reason was because I realized that Xander’s plan to hunt and confront the deChantal wasn’t going to work unless, for some reason, he couldn’t serve as the bait backed up by a gang of armed and angry friends. Originally, Dolly was slated to replace Xander as the bait by accident, forcing Xander to take action when the Scoobs weren’t able to back him up. The scene where Xander “saves” Dolly from the two vampires is actually a re-write of that original idea.

Then I had to deal with this problem: This story would be worthless if at least Buffy and Willow (it only later became important to me that Anya join this group) didn’t know and acknowledge Xander’s painful past. I needed for them to know about Xander risking his sanity to face the deChantal. That simple fact changed Dolly from a passive innocent bystander to active agent where she volunteers to take Xander’s place. I thought I had it licked. Dolly the normal human becomes a temporary auxiliary Scoob who agrees to baithood, but Xander is forced to act alone because the gang is tied up with a random vampire problem. Under this scenario, Dolly would’ve ended the story agreeing to serve as the eyes and ears for the Scoobs using the Café del Sol as her base of operations.

Then everything changed when I wrote the scene where Buffy questions Anya. Keep in mind by this point I had already publicly posted the chapter where Buffy and Xander investigate foster homes.

Originally, this was just me trying to figure out why Hallie didn’t do something for a Xander subjected to alcoholic parents when she was willing to grant a neglected Dawn a wish in the season six BtVS episode ‘Older and Far Away.’ When I was done with that exchange, the ending of the story came to me. What if Xander did make a wish to a vengeance demon and simply didn’t remember? Since this story had become primarily about dreams, memory, and illusion, it seemed to make sense.

After checking Hallie’s appearances on BtVS episodes, I discovered that Hallie exclusively talks about clients that are neglected children, rather than children who were physically abused. I also checked back into earlier chapters and saw that Dolly’s friendly concern could certainly be seen as the professional interest of a vengeance demon. Since Anya told us the vengeance demon that dealt with abused children operated by her own rules, it wasn’t a stretch to see Dolly actively pushing Xander into his final confrontation with the deChantal.

End result? Anya had to be around for the end of the story so she could recognize Dolly when she finally saw her and set up Dolly’s revelation in the final chapter. It would naturally follow that Anya, upon recognizing Dolly, would be able to add up the Xander puzzle on her own.

Anya’s and Buffy’s epilogue parts were written at the same time as the part where Buffy questions Anya about Hallie.

It also meant that it wasn’t enough for Xander to simply confront the deChantals, but also the fears about himself that were laid out in the BtVS season six episode ‘Hell’s Bells.’ Poor Willow got stuck with witnessing that.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I was just as surprised by the end of the story as the rest of you.

Because the dynamics of the story changed so drastically on me when I was almost half-done, certain planned chapters simply got dropped, including chapters about the police visiting Buffy’s house to question her and Xander about the disappearance of Mrs. Owsley, Principal Wood asking Buffy about her activities, a rather funny bit with Buffy storming in on a naked and near-catatonic Xander while he attempts to patch up some wounds, and Spike actually terrified of a suddenly violent Xander teetering on the edge of sanity because of his whisper were just some of them.

Other Dolly-centric chapters took their place. Overall, I think it was a very good trade, although I was sorry to see some of the chapters and minor characters go. I really liked Detective Diego Rodriguez and found his views on Buffy and Xander quite funny, since they go so completely against what we know from BtVS. I think I’ll keep him and do a short fic about the Scoobs being questioned by the police. Someday.

At the end of the day, I hope I did a good enough job covering my own ass while advancing the plot in every chapter. I hope that people were surprised by the twists the story took, but thought each twist made sense based on what happened before. While I wanted readers to be surprised, I also wanted them to think that every revelation made sense when the layer got pulled back.

I hope I was successful on that score.

Thank you: Thank you all for the great feedback, I didn’t get a chance to respond personally to most of you, primarily because this was a WiP and I was trying to write chapters and polish them before posting. Plus, I had a ton of real life issues that had been keeping me very busy. Also, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit this, I had to also fight my disappointment with the BtVS series as it winds to a close AND with spoilers as they broke. It’s not easy writing fanfic for a show that is, IMHO, circling the drain.

All I can say is thank you for the positive warm fuzzies as well as those of you who e-mailed me privately with more constructive feedback, which in turn helped me tweak my writing as I went along. You were all encouraging and fun people, even if you didn’t realize that on some level, you were my unwitting collaborators.

 

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