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Drabble URLs, AU - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Drabble URLs, AU
I do love making up quick little alternate universes. This week's hp_100 challenge is to sort any character into a different house. Seeing as I never, ever think about Sortings, it was of course hard to get into Sort mode... ;)

http://www.livejournal.com/community/hp100/912760.html (Tom Riddle in Gryffindor, Sirius fulfills a threat)
http://www.livejournal.com/community/hp100/918023.html (Neville doesn't want to go where the Hat is sending him, Ravenclaw!Minerva can't be bothered)

Anyone care if I go on about the glory of AU for awhile? I'll put it behind a cut, in case anyone does.

For starters, I'll just link to an article I did on AUs at TFN's fanfic archive.

Basically, I think there are three kinds of AUs (none of which is, Waah! I don't like canon so I'm going to change it!) This is what I have in the article.

The "pure" alternate universe. In a "pure" AU, the characters are simply living in the changed universe, with either no knowledge of the universe we know from the movies, or knowledge gained only through psychic experiences of some sort. The author may or may not directly explain what changed. It may be a single event, or it may be a lot of cumulative things. The first requires an explanation. The second? Maybe so, maybe not. The salient feature of the "pure" AU is that it is self-contained, and its conflicts arise from its milieu.

The What-if. A what-if story usually begins in the universe as we know it, then throws in a wrench, which ends up creating an alternate universe as you write. What if the Empire sent time travelers back to find Amidala (as in In the Hands of Time, by Darth Pipes and ami-padme)? What if the Queen's transport came forward in time before going to Coruscant? In a what-if, you'll spend some time going over the same ground as the original, because the changes are just beginning, but you need to then follow the consequences of the actions to their best (or most interesting) conclusions.

The mirror universe. In a mirror universe, characters and situations are the opposites--the "mirrors"-- of the characters and situations that appear in the original source. These frequently involve the originals meeting their mirrors in some way, and so become partly What-ifs and partly "pure" AUs. The thing about mirrors is, they must reflect the person they are aimed at. Seeing your own distorted reflection in a carnival funhouse has some shock value; seeing a distorted picture of a stranger is just puzzling. The rules of plausibility are very much in effect.

I've never tried writing a mirror universe--it doesn't appeal to me all that much, but I enjoy both other forms. By The Grace of Lady Vader is a What-if (What if Amidala lived as a prisoner and was reunited with Vader during the Classic Trilogy?), but by the time we got to Ascension of the Queen, we were pretty much in the territory of the pure AU--things had changed too much. (Although, for fun, we did follow the scene structure of Return of the Jedi for the first half, right down to the music and dance sequence.) I have two unfinished (and mutually exclusive) pure AUs. Coming Home posited an Anakin and Padmé who figured out Palpatine's threat in time to save most of the galaxy, but not all of it--Dooku and his new apprentice unleash a virus that apparently kills Padmé and Leia, and Anakin, long disassociated with the Jedi Order, comes back to raise youngling Luke as his padawan (guess how long our resident chatterbox manages to keep his mouth shut about their actual relationship). I also started one called The True Order (which I don't have a link to handy; EDIT, found it -- http://boards.theforce.net/message.asp?topic=3657335), which posited a dark Obi-Wan, an Anakin returned to slavery and later killed, and a Luke and Leia growing up as slaves to Watto. I have one finished AU called Outer Rim--it's another one where Anakin didn't turn and left the order, and he and Padmé (Amidala, since it was written between TPM and AotC--obsolescence, not alternate universe; there's a difference) raise the kids on Tatooine, but it took some very different turns regarding the prophecy. And it has dark Leia. Lady Vader, of course, features dark Amidala and semi-dark Luke.

I also participated in a round-robin What-if called Shifting of the Sand, in which Padmé's ship is catapulted into the RotJ time frame, and a crossover what-if in which it's catapulted to Middle Earth. (Not All Who Wander Are Lost, one of the stories I definitely want to get onto HB sometime soon, although we only got partway into Two Towers.)

No, I didn't list those just to pitch them, though of course I never argue with readers. :) The thing is, I love AU. I love the way it makes you shift your eyes and look at people through a new lens. What will stay the same about them? What will change? The AU, in its purest form, is a philosophical speculation on the nature of identity itself.

I haven't really finished playing with non-AU Harry Potter yet--too many people I don't know well enough to write AU on. But there are a lot of things that I'd like to look at. I did very brief AUs, of course, for the What-if challenge, but never an extended look at anything. thunderemerald pointed out that Sirius stomping out of his Sorting and out of the magical world in the end of the Sorting drabble above sounds like the beginning of a plot, and I agree. It's starting to coalesce in my head. How would he grow up? What would be different? What would remain the same? How would the wizarding world deal with an eleven-year-old defector?

I don't tend to go for things like, "What if Remus wasn't bitten by a werewolf?" (though that might be an effect of something changed earlier in the timeline)--I like to go for the little change, or the change that doesn't seem momentous to the person at the time. Someone is Sorted into the "wrong" House. Hermione tosses out a funny parchment letter in green ink, rather than giving it to her parents. The twins tease Ron into staying with them on the Hogwarts Express first year, despite his fear of Lee's tarantula. And so on. Just take that one change that no one would think of in the course of a day and watch it cascade down through canon and see what it would create.

And I get very annoyed at authors who say, "Well, I know in canon that so-and-so is such-and-such, but this is AU, and I'm saying she's not."

Nope. Not without a reason, and not without examining what that does to the rest of canon. And the change has to be something vaguely plausible. What in the world would make Lily Evans an American? Or make Harry have the same personality, but different parents? And so on.

I think there are some things that just can't be altered--dates of birth (every month and every, er, time, will produce a different mix of genes... you're not going to get the same child at another point in time), parents' identities, inborn talents, etc. (Eg, Lily is a witch. An AU might posit that she never finds out she's a witch, or her parents forbid her to study witchcraft, but her witch-ness is part of the permanent set of traits about her.) There are very, very few cases where I could see a birthplace changing. If you introduce someone whose family history is totally different than it's been shown, then where was it different, and how will that impact the canon?

AU is just a fabulous intellectual exercise, and I think it's a great way to practice characterization and really get to know a canon character. If I do sit down and write the runaway!Sirius story, I'm going to have to spend a lot of quality time with Sirius. He's always going to be smart. He'll still have magical power and we know from Harry that losing one's temper can make that come out. And Sirius has a bad temper. I think he'll always be very protective of people, but I think I'd have to write him to be absolutely sure.

And so on. I'm actually kind of looking forward to giving it a go, when Shifts is done.

Weirdly, I have a Buffy AU in mind before I've even tried canon. I know better, though, so I won't.

Anyway, I guess that's it.
9 comments or Leave a comment
myf From: myf Date: June 14th, 2004 11:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read Thunderemerald's, er, polite nudging about your Sirius drabble, and I shall add my voice. As a plot bunny, it sounds great. I'd love to read an AU about defector!Sirius. So many interesting implications.... He can't be the first wizard ever to break his wand - is there a community of expat wizards out there? Once you've broken it, what's to stop you from going back to Ollivanders for another? What happens when a very talented young boy who should be being trained about controlling his power storms out?

Please - write it. It could be brilliant.
thunderemerald From: thunderemerald Date: June 14th, 2004 11:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hurrah! I can't wait to see what you do with that idea....

And I do agree with your general take on AU's. I've come across far too many fics whose authors market them as AU when they're really just trying to excuse the OOC-ness of their characters. I guess the most common one is "Draco is suddenly nice to Harry for no apparent reason" (and I think we can blame Cassie Claire for that one, but I digress). I don't like it when there aren't reasons to back things up, which is why I generally stay away from AU's unless they're by an author I trust.

"Stealing Harry" by copperbadge is a good example.

As yours would be, I'm sure, if/when you tackle the defector!Sirius fic.
ashtur From: ashtur Date: June 14th, 2004 11:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never really given much thought to writing AU (I'm stalled enough as is), though when it comes to history, I've mused along those lines more than once (the whole for want of a nail thing). Yet, a well thought out and concieved AU can be fascinating. Of course, in HP, there are 2 Major AU premises available (what if Sirius remains secret keeper, what if Voldemort chooses Neville), but it would be much more interesting to choose a smaller moment, the way you talk about it and go from there.

Hmm... Hermione doesn't overhear Ron on Halloween... and soisn't hiding in the bathroom when the troll gets loose... so Harry and Ron go back to the dorms like good lil students... *hmm...hmm...hmm*
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: June 15th, 2004 06:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm too canon-bound.

I love reading the natural extrapolations one can make from reading. Why did Marietta betray the DA? Where did Sirius go during the summer after POA?

Backstory interests me. Lily/Remus? Lily/Snape? I'll buy into either.

Different POV? Gorgeous. Probably my favorite type of fic and I suck up well-written stories like Bones to Bones.

But... what if Hermione hadn't heard Ron's comment and wasn't in the bathroom when the troll arrive? Not interested.

This is why I loved Vader's Mask but couldn't read Lady Vader.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 15th, 2004 06:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, it's a valid lifestyle choice. ;)

Of course, I like doing it with history as well, so I enjoyed the weird, shifting history in The Eyre Affair, and like the alternate history of America as much as the magic in the Tales of Alvin Maker series. (All based, essentially, on the idea that the Restoration didn't happen; the British king installs himself in the southern colonies, New England and England proper remain Puritan (and New England remains a colony), and the U.S. only forms in the middle states. Fallout also includes all of Canada remaining French, no stop to Napoleon, etc.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: June 15th, 2004 07:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Is that what Alvin Maker is about? I love Orson, but I can NOT read those stories. I looked for excuses to put the book down!

I much prefer Shifts. I vote for you finishing Shifts first before allowing the plotbunny to wisk you away to another story.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 15th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC) (Link)

from Sreya

I always love your explanations of AU. :)

I'm forever coming up with "little" AU ideas -- I can think of a particular moment in canon that could be different, and I then think of all sorts of fallout, even years down the road. But the hard part is figuring out the BIG implications of the change -- how would the end result change? Would the hero become a villain, or the villain a hero? Would the happily ever after become dystopia, or would the troubles which gave rise to a hero never occur at all?

For example, I've been wrestling a bunny for over a year in which James Potter wasn't at Godric's Hollow the night of Voldemort's attack. Lily still died for her son, and Voldemort was still destroyed by Harry... but James is still there to raise his son. I can come up with all sorts of things between then and when Harry goes to Hogwarts which would change, but once I hit the Hogwarts era and Voldemort's struggle to return, I'm having a hard time figuring out what would be different. Would Harry still be motivated to fight the way he is in canon? What different weaknesses would he have, what different strengths? How would being raised as a famous wizard change his mindset about the world he is in?

It's usually after reading one of your AU essays that gets me really kicked on this particular idea again, and yet at the same time feel that it's just not ripe enough for writing. You're a terrible influence, you know that? :D
silverhill From: silverhill Date: June 15th, 2004 10:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Dammit, Fern. :p I updated one of my fics last night and was feeling all proud of myself. And then you put up four drabbles and just blow me away.

You really are amazingly talented. Well done.

Oh, and I completely agree with you on AUs. I hate the "it's AU" excuse to change things willy-nilly. Well-written AUs can be fascinating because they're still true to the story (in terms of characterization, the universe's rules, etc.).
sannalim From: sannalim Date: June 15th, 2004 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just look what you've done! I've gone and spent my whole afternoon reading your SW AUs, and gotten barely a scrap of work done. :)
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