It’s funny, you know. I’ve never considered myself a fan-fiction writer and yet lately I’ve been writing a fair bit of it. I’m not a member of the fan-fic community. I literally had to Google terms like ship, het, and one-shot. Writing fan-fiction for me has been about practicing the discipline of writing.
This has really worked for me. For a long time I had resigned myself to the belief that writing fiction would never get me anywhere. Instead I focused on writing non-fiction for a number of publications. Returning to the world of fiction meant I needed to get over my self-saboteur and unfortunately that saboteur often takes the form of a little voice that tells me I can’t put pen to paper until I have absolutely everything figured out right.
Fan-fiction has helped me overcome that somewhat. Writing about characters that I already know allows me to easily pluck a story idea out of the “I wish this had happened” part of my brain and get down to writing. It has been a great way to cultivate a daily practice and also to hone my craft.
What has been extremely important to me however, has been writing stories that keep the characters in-character. I simply cannot understand why anyone would wish to write characters that behave in ways that do not fit in their respective fictional worlds. The most intriguing phenomenon for me is the prevalence of slash-fic (another term I had to Google).
I support all the ways that people express their love, gender or sexuality. What I have a problem with is what I consider to be the abomination of forcing existing characters to behave in ways they never would. I’ve certainly never been tempted to go down that road myself. Until recently.
It has always bothered me that the Doctor did not show up and save the day during the Torchwood series ‘Children of Earth’. My fantasy-world brain was very upset with the Doctor about this. And so I set about writing the most recent story in my ‘Companions Collection’ series in which this very issue is addressed.
I’m not all about fix-its. Some things should just be left alone. Sometimes bad things happen. In this particular story I wanted to explore the relationship between Captain Jack Harkness and the Doctor by using the ‘Children of Earth’ event as a catalyst.
In my mind, this would be an easy story to write. So much emotion – guilt, anger, fear. I knew how it would start and I knew how it would end. My favourite kind of story.
In reality, things turned out to be much more difficult.
First there was the challenge of writing emotional scenes for characters who have a hard time letting down their defenses.
The power relationship between the Doctor and Jack has always been in the Doctor’s favour. In his own world, Jack is the one calling the shots. He is the mysterious person with the secret of immortality. He is the person that people look to for help. Face to face with the Doctor however, Jack is reduced to playing second fiddle.
The Doctor is an alien with the power of time travel. He understands that Jack is a fixed point in time and space. Indeed, he can literally feel it in his bones when they are near one another. As such, the Doctor has always held himself aloof and separate from Jack, even when trying to work together.
Writing scenes that bring down at least some of the emotional walls between Jack and the Doctor turned out to be harder than I thought. It was also a constant battle not to slip over the line into melodrama.
But what I didn’t anticipate was the flow-on effect that I found myself dealing with. And the most challenging – Jack’s feelings for the Doctor.
No secret has been made of the fact that Jack fancied the Doctor even before the incident on Satellite 5 that resulted in Jack becoming immortal. And afterwards in Series 3, Jack laments with Martha about them both desiring the Doctor’s affections without the Doctor giving either of them a second glance.
While writing my story, I discovered that I could not avoid exploring those feelings. Besides having a physical attraction to the Doctor (something that is really not that exciting given Jack’s inclination to flirt with almost everyone) Jack’s character has evolved in such a way that those feelings may have become something much more.
Jack has looked to the Doctor for help in the past and is the only person with whom he shares any kind of intimate understanding about outliving everyone around him. The Doctor both despises what he is, while also being the only person with any insight into what he is. The Doctor was there when it happened.
This is where the challenge took an interesting turn. The desire to explore these feelings in depth showed me for the first time why fan-fiction writers often delve into slash-fic and something that I have now learned is called hurt/comfort fic.
It suddenly became so easy to allow the Doctor to show Jack the love and tenderness that he is likely to have been desperately needing. Having dragged Jack through the emotional equivalent of being run over by a bus, it now seemed unfair that the Doctor would still refuse him, even in his darkest hour.
Personally, this challenge has highlighted the difference between storytelling and fantasizing. While both are an element of the writing process, fantasizing is about fulfilling one’s own desires. Storytelling is about being honest about what is best for the story.
In the end, it was a very fine line. There is something that I find extremely hot about these two men finding solace in one another. And at the same time, there is something equally beautiful and heartbreaking about the reality that it would never happen.
The final curve ball for me was that I had chosen the Eleventh Doctor for this story. While the ninth and tenth incarnations have never encouraged Jack (in fact the Doctor is arguably oblivious to Jack’s affections), Eleven is much more – well, touchy-feely.
Eleven will grasp someone’s face in excitement, hug with impunity, squash his forehead against someone else’s to encourage them to think and will kiss those who inspire him. Eleven can be angry and distant and full of rage, however more than any other incarnation, he can also offer emotional and physical comfort.
All of this made writing for Eleven and Jack a huge challenge because Eleven is much more likely to express empathy towards Jack. In many ways he is not only older but wiser than his predecessors. He has a firmer grasp on the need for emotional connections. And yet paradoxically, Eleven can be completely clueless when it comes to affairs of the heart.
With these “character facts”, writing this story became as much about me as it did about the characters. Staying true to the story was a real struggle. In my personal life I desire true intimacy in my relationships and so I project this need onto the story. My heart therefore wants to see the Doctor giving Jack the emotional intimacy he needs.
I also entertain the idea of the Doctor finally being able to let down his own emotional guard– something that I think Steven Moffat succumbed to by introducing the character of River Song.
But that is not part of this story. This story is about Jack and the Doctor.
This is an alternative ending to Matt Smith’s last episode The Time of the Doctor. Not for a moment will I claim to be able to write a better ending. However this was a scene that dropped into my head after watching the episode.
A couple of things:
1) This is a draft. There is passive voice and a probably a fair bit of clunk going on. That’s not important. For me this was an exercise in getting a story out of my head and onto paper as soon as possible.
2) There may be plot holes. I wrote this without thinking too closely about the wider story or the loose threads that needed tying up.
Enemies the Doctor had faced his entire life converged upon the old house, cornering him. And the Doctor stood in the doorway, defiant to the last. He would buy the townspeople some time. Tell the Daleks something clever. Distract them with his death while the others got away.
The Doctor grimaced. There was nowhere for the residents of Christmas to run.
He stepped out into the falling snow, trying to find a place clear of running people.
“I’m here!” he roared and a Dalek laser tore through him just as he knew it would. It brought him to his knees and his eyes met Clara’s across the field. “Run,” he mouthed, no sound coming out. Only a few had made it onto Trenzalore. Soon the whole Dalek fleet would be upon them.
Clara turned towards the TARDIS but spun back round again, her eyes wide. The Doctor’s own eyes narrowed but Clara wasn’t looking at him. He followed her gaze up towards the crack in the universe that had appeared in the night sky – and through the tear came a flood of regeneration energy.
The Doctor felt his hearts thudding too quickly and he clutched his chest, holding on for the miracle come too late. To regenerate amidst battle meant certain death anyway.
He began to laugh, a painful wheezing. “To hell with the rules hey?” he muttered to the Time Lords who would never hear him. He gasped as the regeneration energy fed into his body.
“The – Doctor – is – regenerating!” a Dalek screamed and the Doctor collapsed, his change beginning.
Clara ran to the Doctor, falling to her knees at his side.
“Clara, you have to get them out of here!”
“I have to get you to the TARDIS,” she said, tugging at his arm. Another laser cut through the air above them.
“No,” the Doctor panted, his hands beginning to glow. “I don’t have time and they just want me. Go. Save them.”
Clara pulled away, twisting around in the snow.
“Help me!” she screamed into the chaos. People ran in all directions. The Doctor grunted, the glow of regeneration spreading throughout his body.
“Help him!” she yelled again and this time the people closest to them stopped, turning to see that it was the Doctor who lay dying in the snow. Three or four dropped to the ground beside him.
Screams and laser beams filled the night but the residents of Christmas slipped their hands beneath the Doctor and hefted him from the ground.
“No – please. No!” the Doctor shouted but the people he had protected for three hundred years pressed on, dragging the old man towards the TARDIS against his will. The Doctor held on, struggling to delay his regeneration. It would kill everyone around him.
“Take them into the TARDIS!” the Doctor begged Clara. “I’ll catch up. I promise.”
Clara ignored him, clutching one of his legs to try and keep it from dragging along the ground.
“Leave me!” the Doctor bellowed.
Another group of townsfolk gathered, standing shoulder to shoulder to create a barrier between the Daleks and the Doctor. The Doctor cried out as they began to fall, one by one, to the weapons of his old enemies. With a scream of rage, the Doctor gave up fighting the townspeople and focused his attention on fighting the monsters. He threw himself to one side and let a flood of regeneration energy blast from one hand, taking out a Dalek.
More townsfolk moved to help, clearing a path before those carrying the Doctor. A contingent of the Order of the Silence joined the fray.
Another Dalek trundled towards a group of fleeing youths and the Doctor let another blast stream out from his other hand.
Lasers ripped through the crowd and the Doctor screamed with them as they fell. Still the people continued on. When one of the townsfolk dropped the Doctor into the snow with their death, another stepped forward to take their place, lifting him once more.
Pain lanced through the Doctor’s body as he fought to control his regeneration.
“Hang on, Doctor,” Clara pleaded and she dropped his leg, running for the TARDIS.
A Dalek appeared from behind the time machine, heading towards Clara. Another blast of energy took it out, the effort wracking the Doctor’s body with agony.
The door opened and to the sound of people falling and dying, the Doctor was deposited onto the floor of the TARDIS. Clara dragged him by his feet towards the console. The silence inside the ship as the door swung shut seemed to mock the slaughter outside.
Clara looked down at the Doctor, reaching out to touch him but the regeneration glow grew brighter, making her pull back sharply.
“Doctor…” she breathed. “Tell me what to do.”
The Doctor gasped a laugh. “Now you want to listen to me.”
Clara’s watched the Doctor anxiously, eyes glistening.
“You’ve seen me change,” the Doctor continued, his voice tired. “You need to step back.”
Clara shook her head, tears beginning to fall. “No, I mean, what am I going to do without you?”
“To change is to survive, Clara.” The Doctor rolled his head to one side, watching the vision of a grown Amelia Pond coming down the stairs to kneel at his side. “But I never forget,” he continued, shifting his gaze between the two of them. “I’m going to be someone else. But I never forget my friends. And I will never, ever forget when the Doctor was me.”
The glow of his regeneration grew brighter still and Clara pulled back, sobbing.
Regeneration energy burst from the Doctor, changing every cell in his body from the inside out. It coursed through him and he gritted his teeth against the tidal wave that burned away everything that had been him, transforming him into something renewed and undiscovered.
The wave ended abruptly, leaving an entirely different man lying on the floor of the TARDIS. The mysterious man sat bolt upright, boggling wide-eyed at Clara.
“Didn’t I tell you to get everyone into the TARDIS?” he snapped, grey eyebrows drawing down to frame angry eyes. The Doctor struggled to his feet and staggered past a stunned Clara to fling open the door. A shot hit the door beside his head.
“Well come on then!” he shouted into the war raging outside. “What are you all waiting for? Everyone in here. Now!”
How long a time lies in one little word!
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word: such is the breath of Kings.
– Bolingbroke, Richard II (I, ii, 413-415)
Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching a cinema screening of the RSC’s Richard II. The stage production, filmed for a one-off broadcast to a selection of cinemas, was unfortunately not shown live in Australia. Instead we were treated to an encore screening which I saw with some friends at the Nova in Carlton. I had no idea of what to expect, having only read Richard II once before – and some time ago at that.
The above quote had a powerful effect on me. Spoken by Bolingbroke in the first Act, the lines draw our attention to the whimsical nature by which someone in a position of ultimate authority can determine the fate of another. It also foreshadows the consequences that such a misuse of power can bring.
Richard II is the story of one man’s fall from grace. Believing that his divine right to rule is irrefutable, it is not until he is arrested that Richard gains a little insight into where his power lies – with those who accept his legitimacy.
So Judas did to Christ; be he, in twelve,
Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand, none.
— Richard II (IV, i, 170-171)
However, Richard never really comes to fully appreciate this. He does not question the structure that supports his authority and believes himself to be a victim. Richard came to be King at ten years of age after a succession of deaths placed him in line for the throne. Instead of musing about the true legitimacy of Kings, Richard instead laments the fate that awaits those who wear the crown. Richard swings between self-pity and righteous anger, never quite grasping the revelation that despite his so-called divine right, it is his subjects who support his station. His assertions that “Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm from an anointed king” reveals his steadfast belief that it is God’s will that he wear the crown.
Furthermore, upon finally accepting that he has no choice but to rescind the throne, Richard makes a mockery of the whole process. Richard invokes his coronation and turns it on its head,
Now mark me, how I will undo myself;
I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty’s rites:
All pomp and majesty I do forswear;
My manors, rents, revenues I forego;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny:
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me!
God keep all vows unbroke that swear to thee!
Make me, that nothing have, with nothing grieved,
And thou with all pleased, that hast all achieved!
Long mayst thou live in Richard’s seat to sit,
And soon lie Richard in an earthly pit!
God save King Harry, unking’d Richard says,
And send him many years of sunshine days!
What more remains?
– Richard II (IV, i, 203-222)
I need to watch it again. I’m not entirely sure whether this means Richard is simply being sarcastic, whether he believes that only he can wash away the balm of his anointment, or most likely, whether he believes that no action of any earthly means can remove his Kingship.
Aside from the themes of authority and legitimacy, I really enjoyed the creative decisions made by both Gregory Doran and David Tennant. I can see why some of these choices might be deemed controversial. This is a rather dark and tragic play, however the Director has, on occasion, chosen to twist the text to derive comedic meaning. Some have argued that this makes light of the themes however I tend to feel that the small number of humourous moments give the audience a little room to breathe.
I’ve got so much more to say but I’ll never get this post up! I’m going to see it again on the weekend so might check back in again afterward!
In one of life’s great twists, I have found myself accepted into the Advanced Diploma of Screenwriting program offered by RMIT. I applied perhaps a month ago, attended an interview last Thursday and received an offer later that evening.
Strangely enough, my emotional response has generally been one of anxiety rather than excitement. It is a part-time placement however my work circumstances are complicated at the moment. I need to work three days a week and due to circumstances that are out of my control, my hours have been reduced to one day a week. This doesn’t work for me financially so my options are to find another job or wait until February. It is then that I will find out if I’ll still have a job or whether I will be returned to working three days. Fingers crossed for the latter.
Assuming that I can find a solution to my work situation, I then have to concern myself with being able to afford the course. But let’s not dwell too closely to those darkened ponderings. I shall just have to make it work. Somehow.
In other news: Yesterday and I went and saw a cinema screening of the RSC’s Richard II. It was brilliant and I’m feeling called to write a completely separate blog about it. I will therefore refrain from pouring my thought out here at the end of this post – so until next time, I bid thee adieu.
Good news. As anticipated, I’m feeling much more upbeat and inspired today. It’s funny how a good sleep and a new day can change one’s outlook
Today I started off feeling rather inspired. Unfortunately as the day progressed and the pressures of my day job mounted, that inspiration simply drained away.
On one level it is fascinating how my creative mood can shift so suddenly. Just when I think I’m on a roll… BAM! …my mind is suddenly void of any exciting ideas. It’s an extremely mild form of temporary depression. For a little while, all of my ideas seem ridiculous. The colours fade. Those plot points, once so solid, now drip like water through my fingers, dissolving away to nothing.
They’ll come back. The certainty and excitement will return. But not tonight. No point in forcing it. I’m going to go to bed, pull out my iPad and watch Doctor Who.
Really. It does.
You see, I have just finished listening to the audio version of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. And now my brain hurts.
Life experience and a talent for words does not a writer make. I knew this. Deep down I’ve always known that the act of writing is not only about honing an ability to turn a good phrase or write a vividly, poetic paragraph.
And there is only so much we can learn on our own. Mentorship, formal classes, informal groups and study are necessary if one is to take a born aptitude for writing and turn it into a craft. Listening to Story is like a slap in the face – a reality check and a reminder that storytelling is much more than being able to string words together. Storytelling is much more than regurgitating our personal experience of literature, television or film. It is having a story to tell and then telling that story well, as the saying goes.
It has given me a lot to think about. Perhaps most significant is that it has made me think about the way I work. I found myself reacting quite strongly and almost defensively to some of the statements made in this book. I am one of those people who dick around with ideas for weeks on end before ever putting pen to paper. I’m also one of those people who sits down and starts to bang out scenes that have caught my imagination without thinking about where the story is headed. It works sometimes. I have been able to produce stories this way. And yet the most successful story writing experience that I have had so far was after I’d forced myself to write an outline.
In hindsight, if I’d not had a deadline to meet (or if I’d been more diligent) I’d have gone back over my outline and worked and reworked it within an inch of its life before beginning my story.
Then there are all the intricacies of plot, substance, structure, rhythm, pace, characterisation, turning points, acts, rising and falling action, action/reaction, values, conflict, crisis, character revealed under pressure, inciting incidents, subplot, subtext, revelation, dialogue, the list goes on. Perhaps I might blog about a few of these things in the next little while. It might help me to marry my instinctual understanding of these aspects of story to what I am studying and practicing consciously. Like vocalisation, writing things down helps me to process. Yes, that sounds like a good idea. We’ll see how that goes.
Today I was sent the cover for my Doctor Who novella Evolution!
I’d post it here but I’m not allowed to yet. It’s being kept under wraps along with all the other covers for the stories in this season. I’m really excited about it though – and extremely happy with that way it has turned out. It’s so lovely to see a scene (or a landscape in this case) brought to life by an artist.
I’ve now done my final edits and the manuscript has been returned to the editor for one last glance. I don’t expect that I’ll need to make any more changes, which is great. I can now focus on my next project… more to come on that soon!
Yesterday I wrote a poem because all the cool kids were doing it. Okay, so that’s not quite true. I’ve been added to a Facebook group described as “A competition-free relentless support group for radical poets and artists of all flavours”.
After my original offering of, “There once was a man from Nantucket…” I came up with this.
Also, I am not a poet
Standing in the void
requires nothing of me save presence,
as all is stripped of meaning
and Desire is all that’s left.
No past, nor future, nor parallel existence
holds my hand and beckons me
No, I shall languish and thrive instead
in a paradox of pain and potential
This moment -
the dark seed of a thousand suns
reaches in and plucks out my beating heart
holding it up to my face
…and I follow.