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Graphophobia - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Graphophobia
In the last segment of Shifts (the next is in another browser window as we speak), I had an interaction between Tonks and Andromeda, and at the end, I stuck in a "tell-y" line. lyras called me on it (in the midst of a complimentary post, and believe me, I'm not complaining; I never complain about a new subject to write about writing).

This is what I wrote in response (in case you're not following Shifts, but want to talk about a writing issue):

I was going to stop at "Pure maternal trivia"--no follow-up action--and go straight to Sirius, but I was gripped by sudden panic. "Oh, no! I haven't given them an idyllic relationship, I know there's a theory out there that they don't get along, and Andromeda has just expressed rather strong reservations against my known OTP... I'd better clarify that it's not a bad relationship, just in case what I already wrote wasn't clear enough!"

It had been a bit too long since I did a Shifts post. Stage fright or something. (Someday, I'll have been writing long enough to beat stage fright, but I have a feeling that's a long way off. And anyway, the butterflies are all part of the fun, even when they do lead me astray...)



I know I can write characters. It's something I've always been able to do (as opposed to minor things like plot and setting). I started out as a character writer--I write like an actress--and I'll probably always be, primarily, a character writer. Most of my fears are about other things. I have an utter panic about plots being too thin, or themes not being chewy enough to sustain a reader for the length of the story, and certainly about getting setting details wrong.

But because I'm a character writer, it's when I get a twinge of fear about a character that I make the doofiest writing mistakes. On plot, I figure, hey--plots get messed up all the time. On setting... erm, honestly, I'm just lazy and hope that people won't notice the great big blank stage I leave the characters on most of the time. On theme? Lots of philosophical positions about a simple theme well-developed making better fiction than a complex theme that isn't. But character...

What if I haven't got it right?

In this case, I'm aware of a lot of speculation about Andromeda. I know that some fans think that her relationship with Tonks is strained. And I had a moment's panic: Am I not being clear enough? Will people think she's a bad person because she has some extreme reservations about the idea of Dora and Remus being together? And I know that there are some other issues that have to come up that I'm going to run into the same panic with. For example, Remus used to be one of Dora's caretakers; it will occur to Andromeda and to Remus that initiating a romantic relationship with someone who was once in one's care is awkward, and both of them will have the uncomfortable thought, "What if there was something untoward in his mind back then?" Now, it's poppycock; he was a responsible caretaker with no bad intentions in mind. But I just know when I get there that I'm going to panic. I'm not going to want to leave even the possibility vaguely open in anyone's mind. (I freaked out when someone saw it in "Your Very Own Dora.") It's going to be a huge temptation to literally write it out in black and white (or, well, dark green and light green) that of course it's a stupid idea and everyone knows it.

Why is that? I have bright readers. I know I have bright readers, because you all comment, and do so quite brilliantly. Why in the world would I have a sudden fit of panic that without an explicit authorial intrusion, I won't be able to get a point across? (At the moment, I'm thinking of a compromise, of Tonks finding out about this and laughing madly at the concept. Line: "Really, Remus, do you stay up late at night creating silly things to worry about, or do they just come to you naturally?" But what if it's not clear enough????)

And so on.

And I'm the girl who complains horribly about the fact that R.A. Salvatore used the word "anger" in the scene about the Tusken massacre in the Attack of the Clones novel! Isn't it obvious that Anakin is angry? Why use the word? (Yes. I'm a writing geek. I really did tear at my hair over the appearance of the word in that scene. I mean, come on, "the only purpose that Anakin could fathom was that of the rage building within him, an anger at losing someone he did not wish to give up... he should not give in to that anger... the rage was not sated..." All right, already, we get it! He's a bit piqued. Tell us how it feels! Anakin's not naming his emotions just then, he's experiencing them...!)

Yet, I find myself giving in to the Dark Side of over-exposition anyway.

Writing is scary. I have fear of it. I shouldn't give in to being afraid. The fear is not sated, I'm afraid... ;p

I feel a bit...: scared fearfully afeared

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Comments
mrs_who From: mrs_who Date: October 13th, 2004 05:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Hang on a moment, Fern, before bashing yourself up over that little line. You're your own worst critic, you do know that, don't you? :)

First, as it was a bit of a timespan between your last Shifts and the one before, you undoubtedly lost some of the intuitive flow of it. That's just something that happens, and not only in writing. Our brains can only hold "neutral" in a particular groove for so long, before it starts to smooth over. (LOL, not a particularly medical description.) So, you might have felt a need to "tell" a bit more because you weren't feeling the relationship intuitively yourself.

However, I'm going to defend your choice in the context of the rest of that particular segment. Just before the interchange between Tonks & her mum you said this:

Ted was the strongest imprint on her--thank heaven--but she carried the rest of the family with her as well (more strongly, in Andromeda's opinion, than Narcissa's boy, who was considerably more of a Malfoy than a Black). It had been a good combination.

Who is saying "It had been a good combination"? Andromeda. She's the one whose thoughts we're following during that bit. You split off into dialogue at that point, but we're still very much with Andromeda's POV.

"Mum?"

"What?"

"Is something wrong?"

"No, why?"

"You've just been looking at me for about three miles now."

"I just love you."

"Oh. Is that all?" Dora winked. "Nothing important, then."

"Pure maternal trivia."


Andromeda is being a bit Smarmy!Mum right there, and with fine reason. So, the next line does indeed fit not only Andromeda's POV, but her "mood" at the moment:

They smiled at each other, both of them knowing, of course, that it was the most important thing of all.

Andromeda knows that Tonks knows that "love is the most important thing of all" and it's quite possible that Andromeda was reassuring herself in the exchanged smile and the exchanged (silent) acknowledgment.

I do understand your discomfort with it, but it really doesn't have any more of a narrator's voice than the "It had been a good combination" comment only a few lines up. I took it to still be something of Andromeda's running mental commentary.

I realize we're trained by writing professors to look out for such things, but every line which tells something, isn't necessarily a "tell-y" line. It's determined more by context.

lyras From: lyras Date: October 14th, 2004 01:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Sometimes it is really difficult to know what's best, especially when you're aware of all the discussions that are raging in the fandom. Personally, I find it most difficult to write Harry without doing the "tell-y" thing, perhaps because the books are all from Harry's POV, so we get very few visual or aural indicators of his moods.

I think the fact that three of us here have come up with three different suggestions for the same piece of text (in my original comment I suggested you keep "They smiled at each other" but leave it at that) just demonstrates how personal writing is! Every time I go back to something I've written, I will change something, no matter how small. And then the next time I read it, I might change it back, or I might change something else instead. We change on a second-to-second basis, and therefore so does our writing - at least, mine does!
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: October 14th, 2004 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
For example, Remus used to be one of Dora's caretakers; it will occur to Andromeda and to Remus that initiating a romantic relationship with someone who was once in one's care is awkward, and both of them will have the uncomfortable thought, "What if there was something untoward in his mind back then?" Now, it's poppycock; he was a responsible caretaker with no bad intentions in mind. But I just know when I get there that I'm going to panic. I'm not going to want to leave even the possibility vaguely open in anyone's mind. (I freaked out when someone saw it in "Your Very Own Dora.")

Now I feel guilty. I remember reading The Doll Army and thinking to myself that that was a Remus/Tonks ship fic. And I think I posted as much in my review - and probably did the same for 'Your Very Own Dora' when I read that months later. Don't get me wrong - I loved the way you depicted the characters. And no, I did not see anything untoward about Remus to Tonks... just that something in the way they interacted that got me thinking that something was going to come out of it in the future. Call it foreshadowing.
You're a great character writer, Fernwithy. One of the handful of Star Wars fan fic writers that I trust. I'm not into HP fandom but I've read your HP fan fiction and I've liked them tremendously. Release your fears. You're one of the best out there, anywhere.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 14th, 2004 02:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
They are ship-fics in that sense, and when their romance starts, their history isn't going to suddenly disappear. The one that freaked me out was someone who said that the end of YVOD that I'd suddenly turned it into a Remus/Tonks fic ("I was a bit put off by your hint of Remus/Tonks towards the end... Overall, I really enjoyed this fic, but like I said, I think the suggestion of Remus/Tonk at the end didn't quite work (after all, she is supposed to be six, right?)").

As to "releasing the fear"--like I said, it's good for me. It makes me a better writer most of the time. But I'm more curious about it than anything else... why in the world do I get paranoid about being absolutely 100% clear with no ambiguity when I don't like it when other writers do that?
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