Apr. 14th, 2017

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[personal profile] maidenjedi asked questions #5 & #15 about Oil, an X-Files genfic from the POV of the black oil alien, written in 2003.

5: What part was hardest to write?

I remember going through many revisions of the last few paragraphs. Knowing what note to end a story on is critical, and since this fic is so weird it wasn't easy. Some of the obvious choices for thoughts to end on wouldn't have worked. The main character as we've known it essentially ceases to exist by choosing to give up its individuality, but doesn't die. There's no concern for what happens to Krycek because in this POV humans are not very relatable. The alien doesn't end up caring much about those things. What stirs its emotions is something we don't consider a "being" but more of a process — Earth's water cycle — because the alien also exists as a process, so it feels kinship there. I considered that the heart of the story and wanted to leave the reader thinking so too, but I had a hard time putting it into words in the way I wanted, and was repeatedly told by beta readers to stop overexplaining and trust that readers would get it. As usual, they were right.

15: What did you learn from writing this fic?

A lot. I had so much less experience in writing at this point that I was still improving by leaps and bounds with every attempt. I remember [livejournal.com profile] bardsmaid patiently explaining how less can be more — how too many details are cluttering instead of clarifying. This took time to come to grips with ("what, you mean I have to take whole sentences out? but I just wrote those!") but became key to my writing style and process.

It was also a lesson in not being too wedded to early ideas or too proud to change them. The story actually has its roots in a piece of original fiction I wrote to Keladry's offhand prompt "The Life and Times of a Cherry Coke", which explored the concept of what it would feel like to exist as a liquid. I actually submitted the story to some literary magazines that published oddball stuff and was turned down. Fortunately I was able to overcome my dented ego enough to have the thought that maybe the story didn't work, but elements of it could still be salvaged and made into something better, and eventually that grew into "Oil".

The reason "Oil" works where the Cherry Coke story didn't is that intriguing concepts and pretty descriptions alone weren't enough; they needed a compelling character and situation, and something at stake. The oilien storyline in XF met that need perfectly and gave my earlier ideas direction, and to follow that direction I had to give up my attachment to something I'd already worked on to the point of submitting it profesionally, and be willing to basically start over. We all know you're supposed to kill your darlings, but I think this marked a turning point for me in putting that advice into practice.

More to come! If you want to check out the rest of the questions or pose one of your own, the original meme post is here.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth. Feel free to comment wherever you're comfortable.


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