I was the "Ask the Author" girl last week at spnroundtable, and I got asked some really interesting questions. I'm saving them here for my own recollection, and also to encourage anyone who wants to continue or begin a conversation to do so.
I'm kunju (innie_darling), and the lovely girlmostlikely asked me to be this month's guest author, so here goes!
My history is neither exciting nor long. This is the first fandom I've really been a part of, though I watched a few shows religiously and even wrote a few stories for some of them (X-Files, BtVS, Firefly, and Veronica Mars). I got a livejournal a year and a half ago, posted my first Supernatural story a few days later, and I've been happily ensconced here ever since.
I've been far more productive in this fandom than any other, though I am not by any stretch of the imagination a prolific or quick writer. A list of my Supernatural stuff is here. I don't know if it's something about me that's changed or something about this fandom that makes it possible, but for whatever reason, I find myself trying all sorts of new things with the fics I'm producing. I've written character studies and plotty stories; past tense and present tense; first-, second-, and third-person narratives; het, slash, and gen; funny, crack, and sad; long and short; canon characters and OCs; AU and FitB. Not everything worked, of course, but I like feeling like this fandom will let me do anything I can dream up.
There are things I haven't written - the big one being Wincest - that I have no plans to try; mostly (aside from Wincest, which I do read regularly), these are genres or plotlines that don't appeal to me. I don't want to list them here, but if you ask, I'll be happy to tell you what's on the list and why.
And I've been incredibly lucky with my betas, finding people who will give it to me straight and put in the time and effort to make me a better writer.
I think that's it. Ask away and I'll do my best to answer!
deirdre_c Q: Hi, Kunju! *waves dorkily*
So, I'm supposed to ask writerly questions, eh? Um. Can you talk a bit about story length? You do both short and long pieces so well. What is the difference in writing them? Do you go into a story knowing approximately how long it will be, or do they just sort of evolve (or, alternatively, tail off)? Do you recognize any relationship between length and subject/character/style in your own writing? A preference for what you like to read?
A: Hi, Dei! *waves right back* Thank you for the kind words!
Hmmm, that's an interesting question, because I find that I only think about it when I know I want something to be very short or very long. When I'm not thinking about length, my stories tend to come out at about 3,000 words, so I consider that to be average.
The short pieces I tend to imagine in terms of a single scene, one crucial moment. Examples are my summergen fic, "Mountain Man," "Yellow," and "Mayday." I have written a few short pieces that are comprised of tiny bits from several scenes ("Big," "But Surely," "Good," and "Dark Water") but I think those do not work as well. Or at least they function differently - they are more sketches than detailed drawings, if that makes sense.
I haven't written many long pieces, and I never really know how long the long ones will be. Part of that is my writing process - aside from "Nothing To See Here" (and the Ben and Dean series, but that's its own animal and the exception to every rule of mine), I don't post WiPs, and I edit obsessively as I write. So I let the story take as long as it takes. "NTSH" was a little different for me, since it had a fairly complicated plot, and that all on its own demanded a certain number of words. But my other long pieces ("Lacuna" and "Sunshine State") were much less about plot and much more about characterization, and for those I simply put in as many scenes as I thought necessary to make the emotional state of the characters clear. So if you were to pick out a scene from either of those fics, I should be able to tell you *why* it was necessary - what it got across that no other scene could, or if it was required for a cumulative effect. I am aware that this style allows for really horrible self-indulgence, so every once in a while I get stern with myself, but it's hard to be restrained when the Winchesters are *right there* and *so beautiful*.
I really like to curl up and read long stories myself, but aside from the bigbang fics, there haven't been a lot to choose from. A 3000-word story is usually what I end up reading, and I mostly come away satisfied.
Thanks for playing!
mermaid4fic Q: Questions, questions (I really do like this 'ask the author' thing...)
I really loved your story 'nothing to see here' - I've recced it several times, and I have to say that I don't usually fall so hard for gen stories!
I wanted to ask why you chose Kathleen from 'the Benders' to be a central character, rather than any other canon authority figure (Linda Blair's cop in Baltimore, various male sheriffs, etc). Was there something about her that you particularly liked, or was she the right person in (approximately) the right place for the story you wanted to tell? Did you ever consider using an original character instead?
Some more general questions, because I find the writing process fascinating as a non-writer:
- do you write stories in order, or start with a single scene and build around it, or write random bits all over the place as they come to mind?
- can you give any examples of a story starting out in one direction, and then undergoing radical changes?
- if such a significant shift happens, do you feel like the characters are taking charge (the lunatics running the asylum?) or do you just change your mind because you think the revised version will work better?
A: Thank you so much! I'm very glad you liked it. You know what? I screamed when I saw the preview for "The Usual Suspects" because I had the idea for "NTSH" but hadn't yet written it and it looked like it was going to cover the same ground. Happily for me, though, the cops in that ep ended up being not all that interesting or smart, and I was free to write what would happen if a good cop tried to figure out what the boys were up to.
As for why Kathleen? Several reasons. First, I really enjoyed her character on the show. I liked that she was competent and smart and had an interesting bond with Dean. She also suited my purposes in that she understood loss and revenge in a very personal way, and I liked that the ep handled the parallels between her and Dean in such a deft way, even though I was fairly heavy-handed about it in the story itself. One thing I really wanted for "NTSH" was the sense of the boys being very young, and Kathleen's age helped with that (Bobby and John are the only other major characters). Plus, the cop in the story needed to have enough autonomy to claim the case and follow it wherever it went, and a young cop (like the "Amy" Dean mentioned in "Shadow") wouldn't have had that. And I wanted a female cop, since I wanted her to have an interior life, and I thought I could do that more convincingly with a female character than a male. I didn't see the point in creating an OC when Kathleen worked out great.
The story wasn't always going to be gen. I'd been playing with giving Kathleen a romance (hooking her up with Ramirez) and having Sam possibly act on Eve's feelings for him. And at one point, there was going to be a guy who liked Sam too. But I ended up cutting them because I felt like the story was full enough.
More generally, I tend to write in order. If a new fic idea comes to me, it's usually in the form of a single scene or a single moment, so that's the part I write down first. As an example, I had a dream that included the dialogue in "Sita" from "I betcha one girl saw something" to "We aren't talking about four-square, here." Once I've got the original idea down, I go back and start from the beginning.
I don't think I've had a story completely change on me. Part of the reason is the way I write - editing as I go along, so maybe it's fairer to say that nothing is ever set completely in stone for me. I also don't come up with a lot of ideas for stories, so when I do, I usually turn it over in my head for a little while before I start to write, just to get a feel for it. I have had plot points not work out - as in the Kathleen romance, or if it's not plausible for one character to have information I need him to have - but my work-arounds have not, in my opinion, derailed the story.
The exception is the Ben and Dean series, in which the lunatics totally are running the asylum. In scene two, I wasn't expecting Ben to be as angry with Dean as he was. And when Dean got wings, I thought he'd put them to good (porny) use, but instead he was just miserable. What can I say? Those two just own me.
Thanks so much for the interesting questions!
tabaqui Q: Kathleen on the show *was* so neat, i was really excited to see a story where she was the main character. And you know...i'm kind of glad she didn't get into a romance in your story. I think that would have detracted from her working through what happened at the Bender house, the confirmation of her brother's death...
She felt *very* real in the story, very much a deeper look at a 'real' person rather than some made-up stuff stuck onto someone to advance the story.
Uh...hope it's okay that i babbled at you here. This is one of my favorite stories and i just had to get my two cents in.
A: Always happy to read whatever you have to say! Yeah, the romance felt superfluous, and the real relationship that had to occupy Kathleen was the one she had with Riley, the one that made her such a great foil for Dean.
Thanks for joining in!
flipmontigirl Q: Tell me about Ben. Tell me everything there is to know about the wonder that he is. :)
When was he "born"? How did you find him? Did you "make" him? Or did he make you make him? Is he like anyone you know in rl?
I know creativity isn't maths, I know it can't necessarily be explained, but I'd like the closest thing to an explanation you can give me. Because I'm in love with Ben, hopelessly in love, and that's never happened to me, not when it comes to an OC. :)
A: Whoo! This might get absurdly long, because there is little I love more than Ben.
The story "Sunshine State" came about because of a theory I came up with to explain why Sam's a year older than his Stanford classmates - namely, that he was on the Stanford soccer team and took fewer classes to accommodate his practice schedule. That ended up not happening, but the image of Sam and a soccer field wouldn't leave my head (I always liked soccer boys better than football boys). So that fed into Ben.
Ben himself almost wasn't Ben. monkiedude had put up a poll about the boys' sexual experiences, and I commented that I believed Sam was a virgin when he got to Stanford, possibly because he thought he might be gay or bisexual, since he was so wrapped up in Dean. So I was originally planning to have Sam deliberately find someone who reminded him of Dean, sleep with him, and try to figure himself out. There have been other stories that use this deliberate replacement-sex idea (the very best, for my money, is monkiedude's "Gatorade and Vodka,") but when I thought about it, I couldn't see the Sam in my head, awkward, virginal Sam, whom I wanted to track from the beginning of his time at Stanford until nearly the end, having the nerve to do that. So I rethought, and figured that the way I could really imagine Sam-slash happening was if he found someone very much like Dean, who would love him and take care of him, and Sam would have no clue why he fell into a friendship with this guy so easily and comfortably. THAT was Ben.
So then it became a matter of (1) writing a character who's pretty much Dean without being a hunter and (2) writing a relationship between this person and Sam that felt romantic and yet friendly and fraternal too. The second issue actually turned out to be a little easier, since I knew I wanted Sam *not* to be a virgin by the time he got together with Ben, and so I got to write Irene, who was a lot of fun, and Karla, who was not. And I think it fit Ben's personality that he had no intention of rushing Sam into anything - their relationship had a slow build that I really liked, showed that Ben could be trusted with Sam's heart. The first issue was much trickier. How do we know what Dean would have been like had the YED not destroyed the Winchester home? All I could do was extrapolate from the way Dean actually is in canon - nurturing, loving, supportive - and try to put those qualities into Ben. And though Ben has all of these wonderful traits and is incredibly beautiful to boot, he's got Dean's hesitation (overlaid with Dean's cockiness), since he grew up as the only gay (or at least out) guy in town, and always felt a little like an outsider, though his family never batted an eye.
The thing that really kills me is that Sam is looking for the security he always had with Dean, and Ben fills that role perfectly, but Ben took one look at Sam - shy, beautiful Sam - and fell head over heels; if they'd just been friends, Ben wouldn't have gotten so badly hurt.
Ben got his looks mostly from Dean, and a little from me (I'm brown-skinned, I have the same birthmarks and birthday as Ben, I dislike cleft chins, and I adore a man in glasses). I thought smoky, charcoal-grey eyes would be nice for him to have. He got his name from monkie, whom I emailed when I was totally stuck for one. And it was janissa11 who suggested the Ben/Dean pairing to me, when I was getting really upset about writing the Ben/Sam breakup. Beyond providing me with my OTP, that pairing also gave me a lot more to consider in terms of characterization. If Ben was supposed to be normal-world Dean, then is the pairing a sign of narcissism on his (and Dean's) part? Once I started writing the B/D scenes, I had to consider how Ben and Dean would differ, and it's been really interesting to walk that line between similarity and difference.
I just *wish* I knew anyone in real life who was like Ben! Though his career path - majoring in mechanical engineering and then going on to medical school - mimics that of a guy I went to high school and college with.
I can't think of anything else to say, but please feel free to poke me if you can. I am so very pleased and touched that my OC has called forth such a strong response from you, and I hope you continue to enjoy any future scenes with him! Thank you very much!
dotfic Q: Hey, Kunju!
Three questions for you. :)
How do you know when an idea is the one you're going to write next -- do you have tells that let you know that this one is the one you must write, the one that's "loudest"?
Whether you're writing a long, medium, or short piece, do you pick out a specific time of day to write, or do you try to write whenever you have a spare moment (and which is more comfortable for you)?
Which Supernatural character has been the most difficult for you to write?
A: Hi, C!
The first question you're asking almost doesn't apply to me. I don't generate fic ideas or bunnies like a lot of other people I know. When I get an idea for a fic, I write it, because my ideas are few and far between. Last week, though, I had ideas for four stories, and I ended up writing them all simultaneously, shifting to a new one whenever I felt blocked on an old one. But in general, I've only got one fic idea at a time. Ideas that I have for something smaller - scene ideas, for example - get stuck in an email to myself to be incorporated into a future story. A lot of the Ben and Dean scenes have come from this email, and I'm saving a bunch of the ideas for the big AU story I'll be starting soon (once the fourth of my four simultaneous fics is done).
I usually write after work, so late evening and night. On the weekends, I usually wake up feeling virtuous and promising myself that I will be good and write, but I tend not to settle down to work until the afternoon. I was the same way when I was writing my dissertation - I feel like my brain doesn't work properly in the morning. But I do keep my stories very much in my mind even when I'm not writing, and that's been the way I solve the difficulties of a story - just let it simmer in my brain for a little while, see what will work. I do a lot of that thinking in the morning and when I'm lying in bed trying to fall asleep.
In terms of who's been difficult to write, that's probably a tie between Dean and Mary. I've at least tried several times ("Think It Through," "Field Trip," "Bands of Brothers," "Miching Mallecho," and "Dark Water") to write from Dean's POV, but I think when I do I tend to get locked into one mode - humorous, angsty, whatever - and not do justice to the fluidity of Dean's character. Mary I've only tried to write twice - "Think It Through" and "Cleats" - and neither time from her POV. I'd like to try that at some point, because I like the Mary I've come up with, but I don't know if I believe entirely in her, you know?
Thanks for playing, sugar!
gretazreta Q: Hi!
I was wondering if you ever have stories that just hit the wall (as in clunking to a halt) and if so, what strategies you employ for getting them started again?
Do you have any that you just gave up on? Or plan to "finish one day"?
I have, and I haven't. So far (knock on wood), I haven't had a Supernatural story that's ground to a halt. Since I usually take quite a long time to come up with an idea for a new story and write one at a time, by the time I actually start writing, I've had the idea in my head for a few days at least and have sort of worked through the stumbling blocks that are immediately apparent. When I got into this fandom, I had another Buffy story, three Veronica Mars stories, and a sequel to my Firefly story all in the works. But Supernatural proved too powerful, and I've let them go without a murmur.
I'm actually kind of having the opposite problem. I've got an idea for a story - the idea actually came from a friend - that I've been wanting very badly to write for months (since last August, if not earlier), but I'm stuck on how to begin, whose POV, etc. I've got the basic plot down, but I don't have a feel yet for how many scenes will be required. I've tried writing it (I have a single paragraph), I've tried mulling it over, and I've tried talking it through, but so far nothing's worked. So I made a deal with that friend that I'd just grit my teeth and write it as soon as I was done with the smaller fic I'm working on right now, see if I can force something, just get it out, and worry about polishing it later. We'll see what happens.
Thanks so much for playing!
Q: Thank you so much for this, it was actually very helpful indeed. Particularly the part about just gritting your teeth and writing. Because... I don't know, that just really hit a chord. Thanks.
If it's not too late in the game, I've got another (maybe related) question that's been bothering me:
How do you know when it's finished?
A: Ha! It's funny you should ask me that, since someone I trust told me that I seemed to have a problem with endings. Hmmmm, let's see. I've written stories that had a definite end-point in mind (like "Vocabulary," for example - Sam has to find his word by the end of the fic or the story's a failure). And I knew how I wanted "Think It Through," "Lacuna," "Sita," and "Sunshine State" to end, and I did them the way I wanted, even though a lot of people were dissatisfied with the end of "Lacuna" particularly. The only WiP I've ever posted is the Ben and Dean series, so I'm leaving that out of consideration for now. I guess the idea is to wrap up the plot and any emotional arcs. For example, "One Night in Bangkok" cannot end at the prom - it's less about Sam and Krista than it is about Sam and Dean. Similarly, "Nothing To See Here" required more to wrap up all the storylines than just killing the YED - Kathleen needed to be an active participant, and she needed to have something remind her of Riley, so that the motif of sibling love/family love would be the last idea of the fic. Does that make sense?
That is, if you're talking about when the story should end. If you're talking about when the writing process should end, I do have an actual answer. Write your story, thinking it over as you go, forcing yourself to cut things that you like but don't belong, etc. Send it to a beta you trust, someone who knows how you write. I've picked people I've already had private correspondence with, but some of the best writers I know simply put up posts asking if anyone's around, available, and willing to do some beta-work. Then consider your beta's comments carefully. Think about the changes she's asking you to make, and which seem right to you. Do your rewrites, and then (and this is the important step that I think too often gets skipped) sit on your story for at least a day or two. Don't think about it, or at least don't reread it. Give yourself a break from it. After a day or two (or even longer), go back and read it with fresh eyes. You might see missing words, or suddenly you'll realize that you need to structure it differently. So make your final changes and then post! Whoo!
girl_wonder Q: Hey sweets! *waves* You already know what a high opinion I have of your work.
What's your favorite part of writing? What's your least favorite?
As a writer, what do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?
You obviously don't have to answer the latter if you don't want to.
Finally: Sam. Pink or yellow?
A: I just need to bite the bullet and answer your questions, or else I'll just keep thinking and never actually write anything down for you. And thank you for the lovely words!
My favorite part of writing: (1) The thrill of getting the initial idea (mine usually come in the form of a scene or a look on a character's face or a line in a character's voice), which is like getting a little private movie in my brain. (2) Writing the story. It sounds obvious, but I really do love the work that goes into writing something.
My least favorite: (1) Figuring out *how* to write the story - what tense, POV, etc. Sometimes this happens automatically, sometimes not. I had several false starts with "Lacuna" but that second-person narration was really pushy and I finally gave in. And you know how badly I'm stuck on "Generation." (2) Rewriting. Not that I doubt my betas (see above, re: MADE OF AWESOME) when they tell me to cut or edit, but I have a tendency to fall in love with words and phrases, even my own, and every time I cut something, it costs me a few pangs.
Rereading kind of falls into both categories for me, because I've yet to reread one of my own stories and realize way too late how to fix a clunky line or what the perfect word would have been. But sometimes I really love the way things got put into words. My current example is the end of B/D scene two with "Dean's eyes blaze" - I think that said everything I wanted to say right there and it still makes me happy.
My strengths as a writer: (1) I like that I make sure things are clear in my head before I start writing, that things that never make it to the surface of the story can be gleaned anyway. Example - in scene eight, Ben asks Dean to stay with Mark, and I knew how the Ben/Mark phone call would go, how Dean and Mark would get along, etc. (2) I like the way I use words, especially with these characters. And I like that I've been able to write such a variety of genres for, essentially, the same two characters. I like that I've written tragedy and crack for Sam and Dean; I like that well-rounded feel we've all achieved together.
My weaknesses: Many more, unfortunately, but that gives me something to work for, right? (1) As I said before, I fall in love with words, and it's hard for me to restrain myself sometimes. I hope I don't write fic that's out of character, but I see myself heading down that path sometimes. (2) Things tend to be so clear in my head that I assume everyone else knows exactly what's happening in my brain and so sometimes I don't make the connections that readers need me to make, simply because I assume it's obvious. (3) I'm very poor at writing setting and action. I find myself completely unconvincing when it comes to these things. (4) I am not someone who's brimming with ideas. Usually, I get an idea and then I write it. And then weeks later I get another idea and the process starts all over again.
Sam - pink for lemonade, yellow for everything else. Even now, he can still close his eyes and see the exact shade of Jess's hair.
So that's it for my official week, but feel free to keep playing!