AKA - that thing I do on occasion because it helps future endeavours.
Note to self: When you think “hey, that’ll be a challenge!” Guess what? You’re right. You’re righter than right. You know what challenges you, and that most certainly does. Unless you really want a challenge – step the hell away.
I’m going to say this now – I have no idea how Matthew went through 33 drafts of the first episode of Life on Mars and kept going, because I would go insane. I genuinely do not get how he didn’t come to loathe Life on Mars with every fibre of his being.
I went through six major drafts of “As Humans, We Crave Disappointment” [three after wonderful beta-work by aerye] and let me tell you, by the end, I was crawling the walls and trying to find the best methods in a bid to kill all humans. And, of course, I am stubborn, so I wouldn’t give up. Maybe that’s how he managed it. Maybe he’s stubborn like me. Maybe he had the promise of money. But I suspect it’s more that it was a story that he really needed to tell.
It started out with a prompt. A lovely little prompt from the yuletide New Year Resolutions Challenge – a Gene/Sam story where Sam returns to 2006 but discovers he doesn’t fit, so he goes back to 1973 to be with Gene.
I mark it up as Sam/Gene. To me, they’re equal, but because I more often write from Sam’s POV, he’s necessarily first for me.
We now know Sam’s returning to 2007 – if he’s returning at all.
I came to realise when writing the story that I just do not see Sam doing that.
So. Unlike Matthew, I was writing a story that I didn’t really need to tell, because it didn’t gel with my concept of the character. And this was something I only discovered when I had written my first draft. Sane and sensible people would give up at this point. I didn’t have to write the story. No-one knew I was writing it. I could walk away, far away, and live in peace.
Except for that whole thing where I’m a masochist.
My first draft was rife with unattributed dialogue and some very strange descriptive language, because most of it was written late at night and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my stories written late at night tend to be… different from those written when I’m wide awake. Sometimes, this is for the better (“The Too, Too Fragile Mind”, pops into view.) Sometimes, this is for the worse (the countless crack-addled stories which haven’t been shared pop into view.)
The second draft necessarily needed to fix the random ridiculous parts of the story. I had to work with the construction of the plot and have it make some kind of working sense. I also needed to figure out how I wanted Sam to do his time travel thing. It appeals to my morbid sense of humour that it should be through being run over, time and again, plus it’s a relatively accepted method which has been used before. And, whilst I enjoy sci-fi, I’m not really very good at making it up.
The third draft had me trying to add more non-crack-addled detail. I have a tendency to be sparse and economical with words. It’s not that I don’t like words. I do. I love them. I just prefer the minimalist approach. I get bored reading swathes of description, so I don’t write that way. This might change with time. I’m still experimenting with voices and trying to find the right one for me. There’s minimalist and then there’s non-existent, and before the third draft, I was tending more towards the latter than the former.
This is when I contacted aerye, who is a fantastic writer and who I know beta-reads for others. I asked her to beta-read for me. She accepted because she’s wonderful. Her notes were fantastic. She sensed my two major problems with the story and gave me some fantastic suggestions, brought the things which confused her to my attention, corrected my that/which problem, and made me get rid of a very bad pun (occur, occur, occurrences.)
At this point, one of my two major problems (apart from it being a story I didn’t need to tell), came in the form of me wanting the story to end on the kiss, but knowing that I’d either have to play fast and loose with the earlier chronology or… you know, stop being stubborn and not have it end on the kiss.
The other had to do with internal consistency regarding Sam’s deciding to return to 2006/2007 in the first place. In this third draft, there was very little in the way of explanation about why Sam would want to. This, of course, came from me over-relying on the audience’s knowledge of Sam’s fixation on this goal, even when he starts to enjoy 1973. Also, I couldn’t think of any good reasons. See, I have no trouble at all envisioning Sam not wanting to leave 1973 – but somehow, having him go back to the future and then want to come back to the seventies is beyond my ken.
This from the person who writes Sam as a serial killer fiction.
I played around with it some more. aerye gave it another look. I re-edited to her corrections and notes. Then, I got my mother to read it \o/. She could easily see why Sam would want to go back, and found it perfectly in character. She also liked it ending on the nod. She didn’t like that it went back and forth through the two different timelines, but she never likes that, and by this stage, I didn’t have the stamina to change the entire structure of the story. Still, I changed some things which she brought to my attention. And I was left with what’s up at Yuletide now.
A large part of the challenge of the story was the Sam/Gene component. Whilst for some reason I love Sam/Gene to death, it’s also very difficult to write convincingly. I always want it to be a drunken brawl that turns into something else, either full of guilt and self-loathing, or never spoken about again. That’s the easiest way to imagine it, realistically. But that has been done. Many times. I’m trying to subvert it, simply because it’s seemingly the only way the relationship can play out.
No. There are no sweet love songs in this couple’s future. Gene would feel guilt, and he would feel self-loathing. I’m fairly sure. And Sam would think he’s nuts – because – well, have you looked at Gene? He’s an overweight, nicotine stained, gruff cop who displays homophobia and has an unhealthy obsession with male bonding. There are no fluffy bunnies and unicorns in their horizon. But. Um. They need each other. Sam needs Gene to remind him how to feel. Gene needs Sam to keep him on the straight and narrow. They’re partners. And they sizzle with each other. I know that a lot of their on-screen chemistry comes from the fact that Phil can just smoulder at anyone, but really, they do. They’re sexy in ways that a 30-something and 40-something man should not be sexy. And I have many happy thoughts about them kissing, when is probably very bad of me, but there it is.
I went for a very quiet depiction of their relationship. I’ve done the fight and kiss thing, at least twice. This time, no visible punches are thrown (they are alluded to – because, hey, this is Gene we’re talking about.) But it’s not easy between them. It never will be. They won’t be entirely happy together, roaring off into the sunset in the Ford Cortina. It’s --- as humans, we crave disappointment. They may kiss again, they may want each other, they may do more than either of those, but time and circumstance will fuck them up.
This is me. The hardcore romantic.
I actually really like the way their relationship plays out in the story. It’s not hot groping in alleyways or slamming against the wall or pushing for dominance. It is different from any other representation, but I still think it’s in character, in-so-far as them wanting a physical connection together can be in character. It’s the unspoken part of their friendship, those shared confidences, that intangible fear, that feeling of warmth.
The title is based on something Bill Bailey says in Part Troll. He’s referring to being English, and being English myself, I agree wholeheartedly, but I thought it was appropriate for the entire human condition. As humans, we crave disappointment. We’re always setting ourselves up for it – building ridiculous expectations and cursing when they don’t come true. It’s an ironic title, because by the end, whilst it isn’t an overwhelming high, it is a happy ending. Sam craved disappointment, but it didn’t come. He got what he wanted. He got 1973 back. He got Gene. At least for a short while.
Amusingly, it also turned out to be a self-fulfilling title, because this story has tortured and disappointed me in equal measure. It’s still not what I want it to be, as a story. But I don’t know how to fix that. I suspect that I don’t yet have the skills or knowledge to do so. I have to learn when to cut my losses and go for stories that I need to write – for reasons other than “I AM NOT GIVING UP!”.
Another story, another opportunity to learn from my mistakes.