Reading Elsanna

So, falling under the heading of no surprise whatsoever, I’ve been reading a metric ton of Frozen fanfic, more specifically Elsanna. While I do love fanfic, Sturgeon’s Law applies, plus I have my own pecadillos, starting with the simple fact that, given who and what the characters are, I’m not going to read anything IU (“In-Universe”).

A lot of the short stories (those of 2000 words or less) are simply pointless; the writers don’t know how to pack in the details the way a short story demands. That said, I readily deleted “Cacophony,” “Empty Halls,” “Something Crazy,” and “Closeted” as unreadable. “The Takeover,” like “Sorority Sisters,” is simply too fast and ridiculous to be believable; the characters fall into trust (much less love) simply because they have to for the sake of the plot, and never question their reaction to one another, so I never finished them.

That said, there are some worth mentioning, not because they’re good romances, but because they’re among the most compelling illustrations of mental illness I’ve seen yet. You Are and Elsa is Suffering both show the progression I’ve noted before; a few chapters of crud, followed by the author hitting his or her stride, followed by a tragically compelling mess of a story. Those two are like having a crazy lover you can’t stop seeing; for all the drama and emotional toil, the high points are just amazing.

If you want the best Elsanna story (and you probably don’t), Anna Summers, Personal Assistant is probably your best bet. In what has to be the most giggle-inducing scene ever written, Anna discusses safer sex and the author absolutely nails her voice. Hilarity ensues.

Fanfic is a supergenre, and the AU settings necessitated by my restrictive choices enforce all sorts of genre categories that drift far from the original material. (I have yet to see an SFnal Elsanna story. I may have to change that myself.) But if you like to read, fanfic is a way to keep those characters moving forward when no one else will give you more of what you want.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been writing fanfiction as a refresher on writing in general, and most fanfiction is romantic in nature: OTP (One True Pairs), ships and crack ships are the catnip of the fanfiction writer. And as I’ve been writing them, I’ve come to appreciate something a romance writer told me a long time ago: every romance is a threesome, and the antagonist isn’t who you think it is.

Let’s review the parts of a story: A character is someone with a goal, motivation for seeking that goal, and conflicts between herself and that goal. The protagonist is someone for whom the external goal arises suddenly, a threat is introduced and starts the story. The protagonist is someone with a problem. A scene is where a main character shows up and attempts to move toward his goal; that is the reason he is in the scene and the reason the scene exists. He will fail in some way; his failure sets up a future scene. The sum of all such scenes makes up the plot.

In a romance, “romance” is the last thing on the main characters’ minds when they’re introduced to one another. They may have antipathy, antagonism, lust, avarice, greed, or some other goal they want satisfied in the course of their introduction to one another; each may simply want nothing to do with the other. Your goal as a writer is to introduce something that, through the course of your story, brings each to understand that the other person is the best thing that could happen to him or her.

That something is the relationship. Remember: each protagonist has preferably two goals at the beginning: an external one (marry a prince) and an internal one (not feel weak in front of one’s peers). That’s four goals, none of which should, at the beginning, suggest that these two characters belong together.

So what draws them together? The relationship. The relationship is an antagonist, and you should write out its goals, motivation, and conflict. For example: Goals: “Get these two characters together / resolve the tensions between them”; Motivation: “the relationship will blossom / the relationship will last”; Conflict: “he’s seeking someone of noble birth / she’s just coming off a bad relationship and has eschewed all men.”

In every scene with either character, the relationship is there. Ask yourself: how does it sneak up on him or her? What does it make each say to the other that furthers its goals? How does it power play the two of them against each other in dialog, furthering its interest in their best interests?

Thinking about the relationship this way, as something each character will seek to avoid or undermine in her own way, can make romance writing a much more entertaining and viable.

After about a year of working at my new job, I’ve finally found the bandwidth to start writing again. I made a few starts and hated them, so I decided to revive my skills by “writing something easy:” fanfiction.

Hah. And I say again, Hah. Fanfiction isn’t easy. It’s harder even that writing traditional fiction, because you’re constrained by your own desire to stay true to the characters and situations you’re appropriating for your material. There’s a checklist of highpoints you have to hit if you’re to keep the fans on their toes, especially if you’re writing something with “secret” material, stuff only the most rabid fans know, like Tony Stark blood type (A-positive) or that Frozen‘s Elsa & Anna are both left-handed.

But it’s been fun. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this stuff. I might post it, but I’m one of those people who so hates when someone doesn’t finish a series they’ve started, and I’m guilty of this, that I’ve resolved never to release anything until it’s absolutely done and ready to post.

About that: one of the reasons I haven’t posted anything in a while is, um, this is embarrassing to admit, I’ve forgotten how to put new stories into the Narrator story engine. So I’ve started on re-writing it. I’ll keep you posted on the details.

Last night, I had the strangest trouble falling asleep. Normally, I try to think through some creative effort while I fall asleep, either a story or a code problem. For the past month, I’ve been pushing hard to finish my troublesome novel, Honest Impulses. Good grief, that link is almost exactly a year old, and for that year now, it has been my brain crack, something I wanted to enjoy, and kep iterating on rather than completing. What really stood out for me, what was really my brain crack, was the wham line [warning: TVTropes!] that turns not just the story but much of the Journal Entries’ ethos on its head.

Last night, I finished the chapter where the wham line is delivered. It’s not as whammy as I’d hoped; it’s more of a slow-burning fuse thing that’s going to reach deep into the future of the series, I suspect, with interesting consequences. But it’s still done, it’s out of my head, it’s been mined, it’s on paper. And it’s no longer brain crack. Now it’s just material to be refined into a story.

And when I went to sleep, there was a peculiar silence. My brain and I had nothing to say to each other. The Honesty trilogy is finally reaching finished draft status, and like a phoenyx rising from its ashes, the Steadfast trilogy may be coming after it. I don’t have much clarity on Steadfast yet, but it’s coming along. The second Fragility story is actually done, but may need some rewriting to accomodate events told in Honest Impulses.

I wonder what’s next?  Yo, Muse, get off your butt and come help me with this.

It occurred to me the other day that of the three Disney films I’ve seen recently, only Wreck-It Ralph really follows the beat sheet, the much maligned guide to writing movies that came out about ten years ago. In Wreck-it Ralph there’s the opening scene that sets tone, the debate (which really is a debate!), the theme stated, the catalyst, the promise, fun’n'games (“Shut up and Drive”), absolutely the entire beat sheet followed to the letter from beginning to end. It works because it breaks other tropes, because the romance between Ralph and Vanellope (and it is a classical romance, because Ralph initially embraces and then sheds his mask for his essentially good nature, although it’s pretty clear that he’s got it from the start), and because Sarah Silverman.

Tangled weirdly compresses and twists the beat sheet: most of the movie is “Fun’n'Games,” the point in the story where the protagonist embraces the weird new world she’s found herself in and starts to enjoy it. Although if you argue that Flynn is the real protagonist, then it’s a more classical romance: the weird new world is Rapunzel, and fun’n'games is from when Rapunzel enters the city to when Flynn spots the Stabbington brothers (from “Kingdom Dance” through “I See The Light”).

Now that I think of it, that really is the way to see the movie. Despite Flynn’s protestation, this is a story about him, and how he saved a plucky young lady from danger. He’s a classic romantic hero: roguish exterior, romantic interior, and he sheds his outer mask for his inner essence when he decides to dance with Rapunzel in the town square.

In that light, “When Will My Life Begin” is just the set-up; it’s “I Have A Dream” where the theme is stated, and the campfire is the debate and catalyst. It is entirely possible for two characters to have different plots and different beats, and Tangled really manages to match up a traditional beat sheet with a wildly unexpected one, and tells us (explicitly!) to watch the wild one while soothing us with a story that’s traditional and familiar.

Frozen just throws the beat sheet away. Anna gets fun’n'games at the very beginning of the film (“For the First Time in Forever”), but the classic beat sheet “world turned upside down” is in fact not the world where the film occurs: it occurs in a ramped-up version of her old, miserable existence, but with one new piece of knowledge that she thinks will help her escape back to the better world. There’s no debate: every character is propelled not by questions but by answers, sometimes wrong answers. Major themes are stated by speakers and and then (sometimes quickly!) contradicted by outcomes. One promised premise (“Let it Go”) is revamped into a story about isolation; the other (“Love is an Open Door”) is so cruelly twisted I heard eight-year-olds in the theater gasp with murder in their eyes.

I kinda admire Disney for greenlighting a story that, really, is so radically different from everything they’ve done before, that not only dances on so many ancient Disney tropes with ecstatic glee, but is also willing to completely ignore The Formula on which Hollywood has been depending for so many years, and instead try to tell a good story about good characters trying to do the best they can.

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