I'm blaming julad for this one, too, since she's easy. And what the hell, harriet_spy, because dammit, she hasn't been blamed for anything in way too long and she just might feel neglected.
Ever since Sarah T pointed out that at the end of Three Impossible Things, Lena came out of it completely wrong, I've been somewhat aware I'm really, really *bad* at high emotional content. Making myself write it.
This is actually a choice, though not one I made with the idea that I would be losing much in the way of narrative style. But yeah--my characters commit suicide, genocide, cheat death, shoot people, and blow up civilization, not to mention get the wrong order at dinner, with a level of placidity that may make one wonder if they're on low-dose valium during the Really Big Moments.
It *is* a choice, but two examples recently have caught up to me to make me rethink this. One was feedback for Gladly Beyond, which another writer mentioned the argument between Lex and Clark--the one I deleted, put back, deleted, put back, deleted, put back, restructured, added an exclamation point, and made myself sick over, thinking I'd tripped right into Heavy Kiddy Melodrama--and how much she liked it. Okay, *that* was unexpected. Because I hated it. I absolutely *hated* writing it. I didn't just obsess over that scene--I set up fucking housekeeping with it and took out a mortgage on a long-term residence. And if I could have figured out a way to remove it, I would have.
The other was julad commenting on Look and See, and pointing out I should have gone for the full emotional climax. My skin *crawled*. She wants them to--react? Emotionally? And not theoretically from a comfortable distance? Write that? Like--with exclamation points? And...and *anger*?
I'm all for the melodrama--as long as everyone stays calm and reasonably coherent, and I don't have to go anywhere near an exclaimation point.
As you might guess, ff.net scarred me pretty badly.
Similar comments came for A Handful of Dust, but less so--Lex was pretty much very high and extremely burned out and well, *insane*, so I figured I could get away with it there. And the fact I backed down on the ending in a huge, huge way. Which is true. The original ending was a hell of a lot different. But--yeah. Looking over my body of work in general, I'm seeing a pattern. People emote during memories, flashbacks, or dialogue talking about the past. Expositional emotion. Anything and everything to avoid making them do it in real time. It's a trick. Not a really uncommon one, but one I've leaned on for a damn long time, because, honest to God, the only thing that scares me more to write is mpreg. And that just barely.
Otherwise? They'd damn well better be rational and calm and keep their voices in mid-range or I'll just cut the scene.
Which is why this morning, I woke up and stared at Look and See, then cut it into pieces. I have dissected a completed story, after I posted, and I've never done that before. Ever.
Is this a common problem? I don't think so--I've seen good writers pull off a powerful emotional scene and enjoyed reading it. I've seen badfic writers send me under my desk wishing for sporks when things go so over the top that it's like Soap Opera World, but with worse dialogue. And I've seen in between, but the thing is, I can't figure out *what* it is that makes some work really well and some work not at all.
I have a bad feeling my biggest issue is--I *really* have no idea how to judge. Still reading Gladly, that stupid scene stands out as being *wrong*. It could be as restrained as a tea party or over the top--I have no freaking *clue*. And that makes me nervous to even try.
I mean--here's what idiocy was wandering around in my head.
Justin never sees it coming.
One second, on his knees, Brian's taste filling his mouth, and the next, flat against the wall, Michael close enough to smell, cigarettes and alcohol and club sweat.
"Son of a bitch," brushes his skin like heat, and he thinks he's never seen Michael angry before, he couldn't have, because this is a completely different man. He swallows hard, almost feeling hands on his throat, he can see it in Michael's eyes, the way he'd strangle him here and now in Babylon's backroom and love every second. One ghost that will never bother him again. "You--"
Justin grins back, teeth bared. This is his territory, not Michael's. "Did you really think he'd be *faithful*?"
That second of heart-stopping pain almost makes him stop, because he feels this. He knows, like he knows Brian's body, how it feels to have almost everything and find out it's not enough. Except Michael has even less than that.
But this isn't about feelings or fairness or lezzie shit with words like empathy and respect, and he thinks Brian might almost be proud, because this is so terrifyingly easy. To see what you want and stop caring how you take it. He's lost so fucking *much*, he's given up even more and compromised on the rest.
"You little shit," Michael breathes, like it's a totally new thing. "Stay the fuck away from us!"
Sprawled against the backroom wall in Babylon, Brian still on his tongue and the tips of his fingers, Justin almost laughs. "No."
Michael's mouth works open, trying to find the words--return to that rational, normal place where Justin's the eternal stupid kid and he's the all-wise adult and Brian's just a fantasy for them both. Where Michael always knows Brian best and Justin will never quite get it. This sacred place of Brian-and-Michael-best-friends-forever that Justin's never been able to touch until now, because when Brian fucked Michael, he finally gave Justin the weapon he's always needed and never wanted.
"This is what you're going to get," Justin says, and his voice is too loud even at a whisper, and he can feel the eyes of the room on them, and somehow, that makes it even better. "You want him, you get everything that goes with him. The tricking and the drugs and the sex in your bed with other men. And you're gonna get me."
"He won't fuck you after this." Michael says it like he's reading it out of a sacred book off a mountain, holy write of Brian and Michael Fucking Belong Together, and maybe they do, but that doesn't mean shit to Justin and never will. He should have been dead in a parking lot and he's not, he shouldn't be able to draw again and he can, and he shouldn't ever have been able to go down on Brian when he's finally found the Love of His Fucked Up Life with Michael and he still did.
"Right. Tell yourself that, every night when he's gone and you wonder where, and when he's here and you can't find him, and when it's lunch and he doesn't show up." Just this bare second to breathe out, watch Michael's eyes widen--he never though about this, not really, coasting on love and fulfilled fantasies, and Brian's a fantasy, right, but never the kind Michael wants--and Justin smiles, slow and deliberate and it shouldn't feel this good. "Because he'll be with me. Even when he's not."
Pain blossoms across one eye like fire, and Justin thinks it should hurt more, but it's just victory and it's supposed to hurt when it's this good. His head hits the wall and he grabs at the wall to keep him from staggering, and shit, it hurts, but it's just too fucking surreal to be anything but amazing.
Because what *is* Michael anyway? He's Brian's home and security and first true love, right, but he'll never make Brian hard after seven tricks at three in the morning, drunk and high and senseless and so fucking hot, never make him break down and never, ever hurt him the way Justin can, still does, and always will. He'll never be what makes Brian want and chase and fight and never be what makes Brian bend and never, ever be close to what makes him *change*.
And Michael will never be a pretty blond wetdream, a neverending fantasy, will never be the body Brian can lose reality in.
And Michael doesn't know that, not really, not *yet*, but he's going to learn.
When Justin can see again, Michael's holding one hand in horror, the anger drained away, and he looks fifteen and scared to death and so very sorry. Like he has no idea what's happened, what he's done, who he is, the man that could do this, and Justin almost, almost tells him. This is what he does to us, and this is what I like and this is why I was with him and why I'm with him still. He may be your perfect fantasy, but he's always been real to me. And that's what I *want*.
"Justin--" An apology dripping off a single breathless word.
Justin touches his eye to feel the swelling. He remembers with his body. He'll remember the backroom now as the throb in his eye and sore knees, aching head and Brian's taste, as the place where he won, whether Michael knows it or not.
"I won't ever let him go," Justin says, wondering if he can taste blood, too, if he bit his cheek. He doesn't remember. He doesn't even care.
"He needs me." Almost broken. Michael breaks so easily, like spun glass that looks so solid until it's dropped and it's just so many fragile slivers on the floor. He'd never survive Brian even if Justin had never existed. Justin will be kinder than Brian would be if he can.
"Brian's never cared about what he needs. It's what he wants that matters."
Michael backs off a slow step, maybe aware of the people watching them, maybe knowing how hideously fast this will go over Liberty Avenue, maybe just trying to get himself back under control.
I'm sorry, Justin thinks, pushing off the wall and straightening, ignoring the pounding in his head, the way his vision blurs. I'm sorry it was you, that you love him this much, that you got in the way, and I'm sorry that I have to do this, because I could have liked you and even loved you, but that doesn't mean shit.
"When he fucks you tonight, you'll smell me on him and remember how it looked when I went down on him, won't you?"
Michael's eyes widen. "And when he doesn't say a word when he comes, you'll wonder if he's thinking of me."
He walks away and breathes out.
It still doesn't hurt.
Okay, this is *hard*. And still not right. Must mull.