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Yuletide Wrap-Up Post
SSar's Beast

My assignment was to write a story for Sunshine, by Robin McKinley, with the characters Sunshine and Yolande. My recipient, verity, gave me some keywords of favourite and non-favourite things, and left me a note to say she would update her letter later. Okay, I thought, that gives me amnesty to write other things for the first week of Yuletide. I filed Sunshine away in the back of my head.

So, meanwhile, I wrote a fic for the Dormouse to follow this discussion in the nominations comments. And gave it a silly title: Summer of a Germane Narwhale. It felt incredibly productive to start a Yuletide story in September and have it posted by 10 November. Sadly, the rest of Yuletide was not quite so on-the-ball. *g*. I really like writing fic for songs and canon with lots of little jagged bits that don't match up. What got me about this song wasn't the narwhal. It was the line, "What she wears, what she wears, what she wears." Why is the narrator singing ironically about what 'she' wears? (There's only one human in the video, and she's singing!) So of course my story was about a model. I wanted it to be fun and flirty and play a little with power dynamics.

Thinking about it now, I suppose I could have used “what she wears” as a jumping-off-point for a kind of reverse erasure; there may be only one visible woman, but perhaps there’s an invisible one too…

But by then, verity had come back to her letter to tell me to just go ahead with the story, whatever I happened to have at the time. Deep breath time! Following verity’s keywords, I brainstormed in several different directions. (I thought I really liked tonnes of detail in a prompt – see what I like about writing songfic. Apparently I don't need it as much as I thought.)

I decided that for maximum writing fun, a Sunshine story should have worldbuilding, explanation of how some of the magic worked, a connection to a fairy tale (in the way that Beauty and the Beast provides a thematic thread to the original novel), and a lot of the inside of Sunshine's mind, which is actually a pretty alarming place. So: Magic Beans. It took a while – over a week of attempts – to start the story with the style I wanted. The whole second half was written between about 8am and 8pm (with a two hour break to go into town) on a day very close to the deadline. I knew what was meant to happen, I just couldn’t get it there without pressure.

The loveliest thing about that was that I signed onto #yulechat at the end of the day, so tired my hands were shaking, and asked the hippo on duty to find me a beta. The hippo was my friend kurushi. kurushi said: "I love Sunshine; I can do it!" I said, "Really? Wonderful!" Having stared at the story all day (all month), I had no idea if it actually worked, so getting reassurance from a friend was The Best Thing.

I could probably go on about Magic Beans for a while. It took up impressive headspace.

Meanwhile, I’d also written a Madness treat, and picked up a pinch hit. Madness opened early this year, so I used this as an excuse to post a double-drabble sequence for the movie Triangle. (a key to the lock of a heart-shaped box.) I have so many feelings about this movie. I’m not usually into horror, but I like time loops, and I felt it combined the genres superbly. When I first saw it, I remember gasping near the end, when a plot point was revealed, and thinking, yes, that is exactly right, that makes things make a brilliant emotional sense…

The treat idea was one I’d thought of doing as a NYR, because Annie D made the same request two years in a row. That didn’t happen, so the Madness collection was perfect, as I was worried about stepping on Annie D’s assigned writer’s toes – and in fact, they also wrote her full-length Triangle fic, and it is brilliant, and if you know Triangle you should go read it.

The pinch hit I picked up was also for a recipient whose previous requests had caught my eye. Here, alianne had asked for Cameo-centred Obernewtyn fic for the second year in a row. I had thought that would be way too hard for me to do in a week’s time – but I could try, and meanwhile I had a plot bunny for her easy-pick-up canon, Classics by a Six-year-old, which had started rubbing its nose cutely when alianne first talked about the canon during letter-writing season.

So that day went like this:
-go to work
-set keyboard on fire nabbing a pinch hit
-email Dad to say ‘Please, please, please courier these unavailable Obernewtyn books to me’
-have lunch with labellementeuse
-sit in the library for two hours, beginning my story for alianne.


I’m pretty pleased with the story that resulted, The Tree That Moved Around and the Dreams That Stood Still. (By the way, if you know what the title is riffing off without having to google it, I will write you something. Honour system.) It's kind of a love letter to storytelling language and has as many silly references as I could cram in. My beta, thinkatory, was enthusiastic - I only wish I'd had the energy to incorporate one of their plot suggestions, which involved tying in more Wuthering Heights themes. It was a solid suggestion. I just ran out of spoons.

I posted it, feeling good about the prompt, wishing I'd had time to do something relating to the Obernewtyn Chronicles, and vowing to do something with those Chronicles before I had to post the books back to my dad.

But then it was *cough* 20-something December, and I was finishing up Magic Beans, beta-ing ALL THE THINGS (Can you sort out my totally mangled tenses in this 3.5K story? Sure. Can you look over this 14K story for errors of diction? Can do. And so on and so on. I have lost track of how many stories I beta'd for Yuletide this time.) and running out of energy.

I didn't stay up until 5:30am on Christmas Day this time. I managed that goal. (No, I was betaing the 14k at 2pm instead!)

There were gifts! I have posted about my gifts. They are Black Jewels fic, and one was long and rich and sad and strong, and one was glittering and gleeful and bloodthirsty, and my salutations to their authors. This was the second year that my prompts caused a complete stranger to write me a treat fic, which is a really nice feeling on top of a main gift.

Then I woke up on Boxing Day to one final pinch hit email. By now I was convinced I was The Yuletide Superhero. "Yes, elyn," I dramatically cried, or possibly I just typed "I can do that one," more sensibly, into email.

Which is how I spent 10am-6pm on Boxing Day glued to the couch, flipping frantically through four heavy, dense fantasy novels (out of a possible canon six), trying to get 1,000 words of solid story out of books I hadn't read for ten years.

I thought A Serpent's Tooth was a solid piece, in the end. It leaned a little more on retelling-of-canon than I'd like, generally. And I kind of went down tielan's prompt going - okay, I haven't read the second trilogy, so I can't do X - okay, she suggests Y, but I'd need more time to get the character dynamics right - okay, I don't even remember who the characters are she asks for in Z - OK I CAN DO W. Literally the last thing on her list of suggested scenarios. So: it was a story, she commented on it graciously, it's received a lovely dusting of kudos (thank you, readers), and I need to stop looking at it and thinking, yeah, but if I'd had tielan's prompt as a full-length assignment, I'd have done a few more things... Because I would have, sure, but I gave it my all in the available time.

Also, the other person who requested Dragon Prince Trilogy, ryuutchi, was in chat and hippo-ing and immensely comforting to bounce ideas off.

I have since posted three New Year's Resolution fics: two in Sunshine and one in Obernewtyn. No recipient feedback yet, but - that's kind of the NYR culture, sad to say. Due to Ao3 notification issues, it is possible none of the recipients have read them yet, and I don't feel it's appropriate to push the issue: much better to keep writing and improving my skills than worry about fics I've completed. (She tells herself.)

Other things about Yuletide: as I said, I beta'd all the things, and it was lovely, and exhausting, and next year I probably need to stick my hand up a bit less. I also made some friends, which is great; and I forged more links with some Yuletide friends I already had. I am not ashamed to say I frequented yuletide_coal, because sometimes you just want to throw up your hands and go "aaaah I am feeling the pressure," and if you do that in chat too often, it's just plain rude. But in coal, people can ignore you! Or tell you to get some perspective! Or tell you that they feel that way too. I liked _coal this year. Yes, I did see some unpleasant culture in there as well, and of course, opinions I disagreed with. I like to think my contribution was positive. What I got out of _coal was definitely positive.

So. This post is mainly for my benefit: I will want to remember the experience in future (and I will want to remind myself not to get QUITE so caught up in Yuletide in future years!). Yuletide is excitement and joy, the perfect combination, for me, of obligation, delight, and reward.

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Yeah - I think the basic/necessary parts are easy to figure out, especially if you have an idea ahead of time of fandoms you might like to offer and receive. But it's a big community, and there are lots of extra ways to participate that people have come up with, so it can seem extremely complicated if you factor in all those as well.

(Also, what does that mean about your NaNoWriMo? Did you write 75,000 words instead, or spend Aug/Sep/Oct researching? :) )

Edited at 2013-02-15 10:15 am (UTC)

It's also that the prompts seem really interesting and kind of intimidating, like, some of theme are reeeeally long and involved and I sort of ... hm. It's hard to explain, but remember the thing you said in email a while back about scratching the writing itch by accident by talking too much about something? That's the feeling I get when a prompt is too specific. I feel like the author has already written the story they want to see in their head, and I choke at the pressure of trying to match it, I guess? If that makes sense.

(I always spend at least September and October researching for NaNoWriMo and try to have a basic outline -- bare bones only, I leave room for plenty of flexibility but I work better when I'm not clueless how it ends -- and I generally write between 100-115,000 words. This year I hit 117,000 but didn't manage to finish the novel due to poor time management in the planning process, boo, so I didn't have a full outline & milestones to hit when etc. Word count is never actually my problem -- I write an average of 80,000 words a month year-round -- but finishing the actual novel is. I have an OOH, SHINY!! problem ...)

I hear what you're saying about the detailed prompts. There actually tends to be a bit of behind-the-scenes grumbling about that kind of thing, which is when elyn usually makes a post stressing the "optional details are optional" theme.

Here are the prompts I matched on over three years:

Circle of Magic - Tamora Pierce

Dedicate Lark
Dedicate Rosethorn
Briar Moss
Trisana Chandler

If you can write Lark/Rosethorn (or gen) prior to the start of the series or in between that would be so awesome or just something slice of lifey.

Seafort Saga - David Feintuch
Nicholas Seafort
Vax Holser

I love the intense relationship between Nick and Vax, and I wish they had more scenes together. I love how passionate hatred becomes passionate devotion, and my slasher's heart kind of wants them together, because undying loyalty makes me go weak at the knees. But I'm fine with gen, het, or slash, of any rating. I realise that the source material itself is pretty grim, but I'm hoping for something that's a bit less depressing. If you're looking for ideas, maybe what happens when they go on shore leave together? Or attend a party? Or share a watch on the bridge? Or investigate a problem aboard ship? Or a "what if" scenario where something happens differently in canon?

(I ended up having too much difficulty writing for that canon and get the voices right, so I ended up writing for a different thing they'd asked for, as follows....)

The Replacement - Brenna Yovanoff

Mackie Doyle
Emma Doyle
Roswell Reed

I love Mackie because he is so brave, struggling to keep up a normal front, in a world of cold iron that is slowly killing him. And I love how his family and friends are there for him, rock solid, even though he is a changeling. I love that Emma accepted him from the beginning, and regards him as her real brother, and is willing to risk her life to help him. I love that Roswell understands more than he says, and is always watching out for Mackie - and yes, as a slasher, I am interested in their romantic possibilities, although I'm fine with gen, het, or slash, of any rating. (Except that I would rather not see Mackie and Emma go there, despite him being adopted.) If you're looking for ideas, maybe a moment from their childhoods? Or what happens after the events of the book? Or even something exploring the supernatural possibilities, like travelling under the hill, or back into the past, or to another world entirely? And just so you know, I would be completely satisfied with a story just about Mackie and Emma, or a story just about Mackie and Roswell - you don't have to include all three characters.

Sunshine - Robin McKinley

Rae "Sunshine" Seddon
Miss Yolande

See yuletide letter for details
(which technically gets you off the hook for any other details, but)

Their expanded prompt was:

I like awesome stories about ladies. Awesome ladies being awesome together are pretty much all I want for Yuletide. :D Femslash? yay! Friendship? yay! Family? yay! Mentorship? yay! You get the idea.

DO LIKE Stories with evocative mood, humor, and witty dialogue. Plot (and/or feelings!). Porn (with feelings!). Making out. Besties. Queerness. Queerplatonic love. Polyfic. Kink that's more psychological and/or sensual than sexual. I have also never been known to say, "that's too much crack." If you want to write a story where everyone is girl scout cookies, I will not object. (Just please make sure there are alt-tags on the images for folks using screenreaders. <3)

DON'T LIKE deathfic or excessive angst (bittersweet is lovely; melodramatic is no). Dubcon/noncon. Fluff without substance. Dystopias. It's Yuletide: please make my frown turn upside down. Or my smile rotate 360.

I think those are all about average for Yuletide - most people direct their extra enthusiasm into telling you lots of different things they'd be into, rather than the only perfect scenario they've ever imagined.

Ohhh, see, that I think I could deal with. Hrm. And as a potential author I could specify things like "I won't write rape/non-con" etc right, and wouldn't be matched for that? *strokes chin*

You're safe there. The strongest suggestion a recipient is meant to give about that is "Hey, if you can write non-con, that'd be great, if not, maybe do this." Matching is currently not done by rating anyway; the only absolutes are fandom and character.

Also, I'm impressed by the NaNo wordcount. Thinking about it, I feel as though most people I know who've done NaNo have done it for some goal or principle which isn't actually "get a large quantity of words which serves as the first draft of a novel". Either they're trying to prove to themselves that they can write that much on a single topic/project, or they're trying to put pressure on themselves such that they go some way towards achieving that, or they want to further a WIP, or... You're the first person I've talked to to come out of NaNo with a large chunk that could actually serve as a coherent draft - and to have expected to do so.

People do NaNoWriMo for different reasons, obviously, but for me, the goal is definitely "finish a complete first draft of something I don't hate", ha. I know I can write that much, but I tend to have a focus problem. This year I was a bit too ambitious with scope and so I failed to finish the novel, but I'm still chipping away at it.

It's taken time, though -- I started NaNo in 2004, and it wasn't until 2008 (I think?) that I actually finished a draft. 2010 and 2011 were my most successful years, as far as "complete novel start to finish with workable draft" is concerned. Though obviously first drafts are first drafts and will take a massive amount of reworking (I probably have to expand 2011's by about 50%, sob sob sob).

I've found that what I really need to do is have it outlined, at least vaguely, and plan to hit 25% by end of week 1, 50% by week 2, etc. etc., because I write ... a lot, and without direction sometimes I can go crazy. My first year I wrote 86,000 words of epic fantasy and the party hadn't even finished assembling yet. D: I've never been so happy for my computer to die and eat a draft, let me tell you.

I've never been so happy for my computer to die and eat a draft, let me tell you.


So what kept you going from 2004 to 2008? I think I'd personally find it too discouraging to get partway through a draft, have it in a state that would be dubious to keep on with, and commit myself to the same thing the following year.

I am one stubborn son of a monkey. ;)

Actually no, it's more that after 2004 the actual draft was fine -- like, I liked the story and what I'd done and where it was going -- but for whatever reason, once December 1st hit, the drive would disappear. I finally figured out after 2007 (my only failure; I hated the story, hated the characters, and was dealing with massive personal issues so I just said screw it and wrote fanfic instead) that my problem was the lack of budgeting for content, rather than length. Basically what would happen is I'd plan up to a certain point, and every year WITHOUT FAIL November would end right when I no longer had any idea where the story was going. It was too hard to pick it back up afterward and I've still never managed to figure out why.

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