RoughDraftHero Dynamics 101: Part One

Pairs. (Well, in most cases.)

My ideas always come down to the pair: Character A, Character B, and what happens when they meet. For a long time, while I was in my tweens and teens, my day dreams consisted of “Orin” and “Riley”; the stand-in names of my fantasy protagonists, and whatever adventures they had together, be it high school drama or traversing a post-apocalyptic desert.

So the names might have been the same every time, but the personalities were different. And not just the personalities, but the dynamics.

Dynamics are to me what romantic plot tropes are to romance readers: Very fucking important.

Although I started writing in original slash on FP, like many other people, I started reading slash in fan fiction, which is where I developed my personal taste in dynamics. I was twelve years old when I read Fushigi Yugi. There are numerous, excellent pairs in that series, but the one I really glommed onto was Tasuki/Nakago.

Nakago was the big bad, and he really did suck (a lot). But one of the miracles of fanfic means you can sweep away the suckiness and just keep what you like. (Did I mention I’m one of those people who don’t give a shit about canon? I really don’t.) Anyway! This was probably my first, or one of my first, slash OTPs—Tasuki was a (literal) firebrand; hotheaded and willful. Also kind of an idiot. He meshed well with Nakago’s icy aloofness.

How would Nakago view Tasuki? Amusing? Precious? But also, maybe, as a source of ease. Which brings me to my first dynamic addiction.

Soothing through Stupid

Nakago is an A-type warlord personality who dealt with a lot of traumatic bullshit in his life. He’s living in a pit of vipers, constantly having to be on his guard as he survives the court’s machinations.

And Tasuki is… basically just an idiot.

No, he’s not blandly stupid. He’s brash, excitable, but more importantly he’s on the up-and-up. Tasuki is not a viper, he’s a dog. In my world, Nakago would meet Tasuki, and he would see the unattainable, yet deeply desired gift of someone he could trust wholeheartedly . H ow he might react to such an discovery, however, could go in completely different ways.

Nakago may resent what he can’t have. He may do anything to obtain it, thereby corrupting and destroying what he coveted. I read a memoir by Lindy West recently, and she mentioned the phrase “love with an open hand,” as in…if you hold a bird in your hand, you may want to keep it, but caging it will only hurt it.

Nakago loves with a closed hand. He has to learn to uh, not do that, or everything will be ruined. Makes for great angst! (And yes, I have a story cooking with this dynamic).

But things don’t always have to go that dark. Soothing through stupid works on the grumpy too. Examples: The two mains from The Rundown (a really stupid movie), Hiei/Kuwabara from Yu Yu Hakusho, and Korben Dallas/Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element. The whole point is these gruff, grumpy guys have enough people trying to kill them. What they see in the idiot, is someone they don’t have to figure out.

Luckily for the stupid archetype, they just don’t give a shit about looking stupid and/or ridiculous. It’s who they are, with no shame.    

Inferiority Complexxx

Some of you may know that Ventures and Investments evolved from the feels™ Iron Man 2 gave me (to the extent that I named the two main characters after Tony Stark and Justin Hammer). VAI isn’t fan fiction—besides the names, I only pulled the dynamic. Oh, but (deep sigh) what a dynamic it is!

Justin Hammer very much cares about looking stupid. He just doesn’t know how not look stupid, and ridiculous. His envy of Tony’s everything (brains, fame, popularity) had birthed such a massive inferiority complex that he went to enormous stupid lengths just to beat Tony. And failed. Because Justin is a failure.

I love failures. And in my world, Tony does too.

It may start as a game; a bit of a sadistic streak on Tony’s part, poking at that ballooning inferiority complex. He may take pleasure in seeing the overreactions he can garner from Justin. He may, just a little bit, become intoxicated with the knowledge that Justin is obsessed with him. Or, like how it went in VAI, Tony just may really love Justin, but Justin can’t see this because of his delightful inferiority complex. I used a little bit of this in Somnolence as well.

“Healthy” is not how I would describe this dynamic. In fact, it usually comes off as toxic.  What appeals to me is how Character A is so wrapped up in his miasma of jealousy and bitterness towards Character B that he loses sight of his own attributes. However, there is an important relationship ingredient missing from this dynamic.

My fandom OTPs can be grouped together under keywords, but these keywords would create an intersecting venn diagram. If I took the inferiority complex and bitterness of Tony Stark/Justin Hammer, and mixed them with a need for equal partnership in which the two players support each other, I would end up with movie-verse Aragorn/Boromir.

Let me just get this out of the way: I loved Boromir before it was cool to love Boromir, and long before he was a meme. In middle school, I rocked a Boromir t-shirt. Ok?

Anyway. Yes, even at the ages of 12, 13, and 14, I was already “into” the once high-standing, revered man losing his spot to some grungy interloper. Everyone (in the movie and out) loved Aragorn more than Boromir. Who cares that Boromir was brave, played with the hobbits like a cool dad, and was generally loveable, right? He wanted the ring (because he was only human!!!) so everyone hated him.

Except Aragorn, who obviously loved him very much, in my world.

I think Aragorn would have been jealous of Boromir in his own way—Boromir took up the mantel of responsibility with a zeal that Aragorn had run away from. Aragorn may have felt like an imposter, and so respected Boromir for his convictions. Unfortunately for Aragorn (but not us, because we love angst), Boromir would have less positive feelings in return.

And the truly sad thing is, if there weren’t all these complex, resentful feelings in the air, Aragorn and Boromir would make for an excellent equal partnership. They would have each other’s backs, one bolstering the other in times of hardship (and vice versa). They could counsel each other about important matters, because both carry so many responsibilities and so many lives depend on them. Basically, they could be each other’s rocks.

Leather Pants Draco

There’s a phrase I like: “Take what you need, and leave the rest.” For me, this holds true with writing… only it would probably be changed to want, not need.

…sorry

For the many, many fanfic authors who saw Draco Malfoy as a sexy, minx-like, leather-pants-wearing siren, his “canon” traits were not needed. Or wanted. This never bothered me, (even if a snively, weasley Draco appealed much more than the sex god fandom wanted him to be) because I wasn’t reading Harry Potter. I was reading someone’s fanfic—where there aren’t any rules and the points don’t matter.

(I think my general *shrug* attitude about OOC fic it probably a part of why I never got into writing fanfic. I cannot, for the life of me, inhabit other people’s characters with the degree of skill that many fanfic authors do.)

Sure, if someone’s Draco had brown hair and loved rainbows after the rain, I probably would pass on that fic because… why. But as long as the character was recognizable from his bones, I could get into it. There are basic core features of Draco’s character that make him appealing.

Justin Hammer is not appealing based on his canon character. And neither, frankly, is Tony. But I could take what I needed (bitterness, jealousy, inferiority complex, power imbalance), and leave the rest.

If you were to list, in keywords, what you loved about an OTP, what would it consist of? Funnily enough, my list has not changed that drastically over more than ten years, although the fics I see those keywords in are few and far between (sobs).

Part two coming soon…       

A Tale of Two Things I Watched/Read Last Week

First off, they were Law & Order and some yaoi. Looking at the notes I wrote during work instead of working, apparently the most crucial takeaway was: Idiots, D/s.

As no one would say, I have good taste.

Anyway.

In Law & Order, detectives Briscoe and Green were being aided by a narcotics officer who was grilling an informant for them. The informant was blissfully stupid, like adorably so, and I got the distinct feeling the cop found him cute like a puppy, even as he threatened prison time for the informant. That seems plausible, right?

And then in the yaoi comic, there was an arrogant idiot who thought he had the upper hand against another dude, but he was woefully wrong. The other dude played him like a fiddle, uncaring and mean. This particular one shot left me with negative feelings—however there were some elements I enjoyed.

It wasn’t until I was sitting bored at work, that I realized that what I liked about the L&O episode and the yaoi were thematically linked. But when I did, I set to breaking down what it was that caught my attention. Here, word for word, I recreate the lists:

Liked Didn’t Like Would Have Liked
  • Idiot, rat sub
  • Dom mean, but sweet
  • Dom possessive
  • Dom has a line
  • Dom [illegible] infatuated
  • “Mean Sweet”
  • Dom enjoys his superiority over idiot but this translates as caring for idiot
  • Violent
  • Too mean
  • Not enough sweet
If Dom lost his “cool” facade once. Not like gets angry, but shows an embarrassing side. Also exposes how invested he is in the idiot.


Yeah, the lists are simple and um… pretty repetitive. But they helped me narrow down what bothered me about the media I had consumed, and then brainstorm what I would have needed to happen for me to love said media.  

“What could make me not hate this?” is probably one of the most common catalysts for new writers. I would have loved the yaoi one shot, if things had gone my way, but they went that author’s way instead. HOWEVER, even though I didn’t necessarily like it, I absorbed the feels and dynamics that appealed to me, which could be synthesized into one of my own stories later. (Of course, some of these elements have already popped up before; for instance, The Rebel pairs a cowardly idiot and the beleaguered almost-sadist who loves him.) But new inspiration helps me refocus my ideas.

In L&O, I liked how the cop verbally cornered the informant like a cat traps a mouse between its paws. I liked that the cop seemed to enjoy this game. I liked that he seemed attached to the informant. And there was a very similar scene in the yaoi. But I liked the L&O episode more.

Why?

The informant may have been a lowlife caught in the cop’s sights, but he knew the game. The cop’s barbs may have hit their mark, but then they slid off the informant’s impenetrable shield of stupid, barely leaving a scratch. There may have been a power imbalance, but the informant knows how use that imbalance for his own ends.

… I mean, that goes a little beyond the scope of a two-minute scene in L&O. But you could extrapolate all the ways those two men interacted; you could fill in the dots, which is how a lot of my ideas start.

Does this mean the yaoi was trash that should be disregarded entirely? No. Things you hate still mean more than things that leave you apathetic, and this yaoi made me angry because I could have loved it. So why did I hate it? What would need to happen for me not to hate it?

Well, not hating something is a low bar. So there are levels to consider. I’d probably have enjoyed the yaoi if the sub stood up for himself, or if the dom was less mean. I would have definitely enjoyed it if the dom’s cool exterior cracked at least once, showing that he was just as human as the sub.  

If I wanted to dig a little deeper, I’d expose the dom’s investment in the sub. If he could walk away from the sub without caring, then that dom is dead to me. The fact that he’s expended so much energy in this person, antagonizing him, sure, but focusing only on him nonetheless, should prove his commitment. It ain’t healthy, but it hits that sweet spot.

So how would I put these amorphous feels and ideas into play? Usually random stories will bubble up, and I spew them, unpolished, at innocent bystanders. Example:

What can I say? I like what I like. But as mentioned in the above image, this idea holds many similarities to Space Pirate (although Jimmy is a different kind of idiot). Something tells me that I’ll spend my whole life reconfiguring themes and dynamics over and over, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you why. But even a random scene in Law & Order spoke to me; one conversation between two characters we would never see again wove itself into the already established canon I pull my writing from.

So this, in a way, is how the sausage is made. I don’t break the thought process down so much usually, because once the idea or “feel” is filed away in my brain, a lot goes without saying. (Or thinking, I guess).

Take it easy

Fun fact: I hate the word plotty

Hi. Hello.

Just as an FYI, the last writing advice post I flung onto my blog detailed how epithets (ex: the blond man, the fit man) were awesome. Apparently I was wrong? But that’s the level of expertise you’re dealing with here and all I can say now is I’m jealous of how confident I was giving that advice then.

So, behold: here’s some shaky unconfident advice. If you try to make me take responsibility for it, I won’t. I’ll deny everything.

But who is the advice for?

I’m sure, by now, you’ve heard of the many different kinds of writers there are out there, such as planners, do-whatevers, trousers, seesaws, and bananas. Or something! Anyway, my point is that ground has been covered in painstaking detail, so I’m not going to delve too far into the “types” of writers other than my type, which is– it sounded good at the time. In other words, the stupid type. The FICTION PRESS type. *Cough*

This advice is for anyone who wants it. But mainly it’s for that earnest, enthusiastic writer who unashamedly posts their no-paragraph-breaks, badly punctuated, hot mess of a story online, and hopes for the best.

Even now, I dive headlong into a WIP without knowing where it’s going from the first word onwards. That’s just how I write. The catastrophic flaw built into this technique is that somewhere in the middle of the story, you lose control. I’ll use two examples of mine:

  1. Leviathan. Fucking Leviathan. I love that story to shreds, but when will it end? Why does each chapter rise and fall in action as if it were a novel unto its own, and finally conclude with yet another fucking cliffhanger?

    Oh. You expected me to know the answer… Okay.

    I had too much fun writing it. Each chapter was FUN FUN FUN but like a house of cards, I kept stacking up drama and twists that would eventually need to be dealt with, otherwise the whole thing would implode. I learned a lot writing it, and found a lot of readers, but at the cost of leaving the poor fic wallowing.
  2. Soft/Wolf. This bullshit was supposed to be 20,000 words max. Young buck comes home from college, fucks his omega babysitter into the ground, they live happily ever after. Did this happen? No. Ok, yes, there was supposed to be the drama with the pack members keeping anyone from dating the omega while the alpha was at school and he was all pissed about that, STILL. I lost my way. Bummer.

Currently I have about eighteen… hundred thousand WIPs (that’s works in progress, btw). Most of them I want to finish, but wanting is a strange sort of thing–it doesn’t necessarily guarantee the desired outcome. However, I’ve made myself feel better by–wait for it–plotting.

For instance, Crooked House, my fantasy novel about wizards and magical, cranky houses, is (technically) plotted. I know how it goes, and how it ends. Nice, right? Now I just need to write the sucker.

I know how it goes, though. Overplotting can kill the momentum. It does for me. Even now, almost ten years after starting Demons of the Heart, I still start my story with a blank page and make up everything as I go along. But here’s what I suggest:

After that first ~spurt of passion~, maaaaaybe jot some notes down about a possible plot, just so you can know it where it’s (possibly) going. Why? So you don’t waste your time, and break your heart, over a story you’ve spent a long, long time writing. Don’t think what you’ve written is set in stone. Those notes are just to glance at when you find yourself 30,000 words in the hole, and you have no fucking clue what happens next. Trust me, this will happen.

So I’ve put together two things for you:

Plot Template: This is based off a pretty generic three-part plot. IMO it will keep your story snappy, and once you get the hang of it, you can start breaking the rules.

Worldbuilding Template: This is generated from several lists that I tried to boil down into something simple that’s just supposed to make you think a little bit about the world you want to build. There’s some more resources at the bottom.

Feel free to download or copy so you can use them 🙂

So, in summation:

  • Write like the wind, free and earnestly
  • Maybe, when you slow down a bit, make a plan
  • Even if you’re deep into the story, you can still plot
  • Here’s some fun templates

Happy writing!