Inspiration, Characterization, and Development: The Best Thing

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Fanfiction 101

Introduction to Series: After many moons of writing fanfiction, I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t.  I thought, since I’ve been doing this for sixteen years, I could ramble about my process for a while and offer some insights. If anyone cares. Possibly, they don’t.

This is the only time I’ll publish this in the site news section as well. Once I’ve written another one, I’ll create a page for them. I hope they’re useful. I get bored.

Inspiration 

So I’ve written a lot of stories. I plan to write a lot more. Why? Because I keep getting ideas. It’s an issue. Where they come from? God. I wish I knew.

Seriously, they often come when I’m watching the show. I find myself thinking — what if that character had said this or did that? What would it take for this concept to work? What if instead of doing that, they had done this?  So it’s basically either a What If or a How Can I approach, which is why I mostly work in Alternate History.

For example, I’m currently working on The Best Thing, which as I remark on the story page, began as a completely different concept. Shortly after Lila Quartermaine’s death in the summer of 2004, I found myself wondering how GH would handle that? Or how should they? Would her family members return? So once you start with that aspect, you have to think about where to set it. For me, I didn’t want it so close to Lila’s death, so I picked the spring of 2005, which meant I had to fill in the background for the characters during the intervening ten months.

Which is where the concept of Sam’s death and Jason assuming custody of her daughter came from. At the time I began the development of the story, Jason had assumed the paternity of the baby. I suppose GH had always intended to kill the kid off and there was never any chance Kelly Monaco’s Sam character would be eliminated (though, wow, imagine the fun that would have been). But at that point, it was still in the future. So I opened the story in May 2005, with Jason and Elizabeth engaged and raising Cam and Sam’s daughter, who in that story was named Lila.

I wrote about six chapters back then, all of which were unposted for some reason. I had Sarah and Steven back in town, a large storyline planned for Elizabeth’s parents. Audrey’s biological son, Tom Hardy, would return with his son TJ and his ex-wife Simone, etc.  I had just started exploring the concept of Sonny and Carly looking to regain custody of the baby when my computer crashed.

So Rule #1: Always back up. Use Dropbox. Email your stories. Work from a thumb drive. Whatever has to happen for your stories to stay secure.

I let the story linger for a while, always kind of intending to return to it, but then I had my six year absence so all my stories fell off the radar.

When I returned, I found the old banner image I had once created for The Best Thing.

bestthing

So as you can see, I had intended for the story to be based on the Webbers. However, when I began to develop a new plan for it, I realized how much I had changed as a writer. I had never really tackled the hows and why of Jason having custody of the baby, which I knew would have to be in the story.

Characterization

Once I began to explore that, I began to see this as less of Elizabeth’s story and more of Jason’s journey. I think I can really count on one had how often I really put Jason at the forefront of my stories. Mostly, because I feel like I have the most trouble explaining him as a character. For a character to work on the page, you have to explain their motivations. Characters like Carly and Elizabeth are relatively easy to do this with. Carly is very different in The Best Thing than she is in A Few Words Too Many or even other stories on my site, because of the starting point on the show.

What drives Elizabeth? Why does she continually end up in relationships that are unequal? Why would she stay with Lucky so long or remarry Ric? Why would she have an affair with Nikolas? For me, explaining away these things goes back to her rape and that year with Lucky, where she started to piece herself back together only to shatter all over with Lucky. She’s based on that–never feeling quite right, always a bit damaged. Looking to save someone because it might save her.

For Carly, it’s all about insecurity about being abandoned and a belief that she is fundamentally entitled to more than what she has. It’s what drove her to seduce Tony, to drug AJ, to sleep with Sonny and even turn him into Feds. Straight up until her cover up of AJ’s murder. Carly, in her own head, will always be a trailer trash nobody who has to spend her entire life hoping no one sees that in her. But she trips up — she looks to protect herself before anyone else. And she always thinks about the short-game, not the long-game.

But Jason? The show hasn’t done as well keeping his character arc intact. Change in a character is fine. You want your character to change, to grow. It’s what allows soap operas to thrive for generations. But when Jason returned to the show in 2002, this began to falter. Initially, Jason’s accident left him with a clean slate. Emotions, looking to the future, basic human interactions, were all a myster to him and they had to be relearned. He once prased this beautifully in a conversation with Elizabeth in 1999 that I have referenced in several stories because it, to me, is what makes Jason essentially who is.

He tells Elizabeth that half of what he learned, he learned from Robin, and the rest from Sonny. He grew up in Sonny’s eyes, but not in Robin’s, which is why their relationship couldn’t work anymore. And it was such a fantastic expression of what went wrong with the J/R storyline. Robin, because she had always been in the role of teacher with Jason, believed she knew better and told the truth about Michael to AJ. She wanted to stop Carly from using Michael like a weapon. Jason never forgave her for that, not really. When they would share scenes together later after Robin’s return, their friendship was there, but Jason never saw her as anything more again. The pain was too fresh.

Jason’s character was a simple man — he didn’t lie about every day things, he didn’t see the point. He really only told the one lie about Michael’s paternity and his reasoning always seemed so right to me. I really believe had that situtation occured later in Jason’s life, in his development, with more distance from the Quartermaines to begin to see their true selves of being selfish yet incredibily loyal and loving as he would in later years–I can’t see him making those same choices.

But Michael’s paternity comes up at a time when the Quartermaines have done nothing but treat him as a brain damaged pale version of a man they loved so much more than Jason Morgan. Though most of the Qs came to value JM later in life, in those early years, there was such a deep desire to have JQ back that they drove Jason away. And Jason watched them torture each other the way they’re wont to do without understanding the core love they have for one another. (They can mess with each other, but an outsider better step off)  He tells Robin during that heartbreaking conversation regarding her telling the truth that he wanted Michael to belong to himself, to grow up and make his own choices about the Quartermaines.

So Jason, like Elizabeth and Carly, has this fundamental event that shapes who he is and how he responds to sitation. Not the accident itself, but rather what came after. The way he was treated by others. He shied away from anyone who saw him as less than whole, so the Qs and Keesha were out the door. Robin would eventually be discarded because she couldn’t see him for he thought he was. He never grew up for her–he would aways be a damaged man she had to take care of. This core of his character helps me understand why he’s so fiercely loyal to Sonny and Carly, despite all reasons not to be. And even why he gravitated towards Courtney in some ways. They look to him to fix their problems. Jason was never a damaged entity to them, but someone who could be relied upon. Someone they could trust.

Which is the characterization I come to for The Best Thing. I work with that concept in my head — that Jason has always been a caretaker. Before the accident, he cared for AJ to his own detriment. Early on, Audrey refers to a conversation with Lila about Jason Morgan inheriting the worse of Jason Q’s traits — that he’ll look out for Sonny until it leads to his own destruction.

So when I started to redevelop TBT last spring, I began with why would Jason take on this responsibility? This heartbreak of raising another child who isn’t his? After the pain of Michael, it would have to be something really big to make that work. And once you ask that question, there’s a logical follow up. Why would Sonny allow it? So it has to go back to this caretaking role. Jason claimed paternity to protect Michael and Morgan, to protect Sonny and Carly. He kept it going because he wanted to take care of Sam and her wishes. And he’ll do it until he’s destroyed to take care of Evie.

So it’s not enough to have a good idea. You have to make it work for the characters. I read ideas for Liason stories all the time that I don’t feel speak to who these people are as characters. Deeply flawed and complex characters. They often come off as so one-note and superficial. And Jasn is a constant battle — so many stories have him saying and doing things without explaining why.

The most important principle of writing fanfiction is that with soap operas, you can do anything. The audience will suspend their belief. They will accept a lot of things. But you have to keep it in character. You can twist motivations to do a lot of things, but you have to begin with the core of that character and take them on a journey. Otherwise, it feels false.

Development

The Best Thing, in its original form–even in its secondary form–looks nothing like the story I’ve been writing for the last six months. There are lot of reasons why that happened. I had an initial vision of the story–one that ultized the 2004 concept. Elizabeth was a student nurse, Jason was a harried single father. She moves in for a while to help him out and their relationship developed from there.

I had planned to keep the opening in May 2005 with Audrey’s funeral, but I tend to write out the backstories for characters so I can have it fully visualized as I write. As I wrote the backstory, I realized that I had to tell the story of Sonny and Carly as well.  And how could I ignore them as part of the backstory? So the more I developed this aspect, the less it worked for me to keep that initial idea of opening it in May. So, it got moved back to December, to shortly after Evie’s birth.

I really wish I had retained the earlier plot sketches but they’ve been discarded. I had kept the Webbers in the story, plannig to have them as a complication to add conflict to Jason and Elizabeth’s relationship. Her mother would be suffering from an illness, Elizabeth would be guilted for not paying enough attention. I kept that for a while, but I couldn’t make a timeline work, and then I realized that I didn’t need a conflcit in the Liason relationship. It would be superficial and I couldn’t think of way to break it down by scene. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to make it work on the screen.

So I eliminated the Webbers, and had to track back. I realized I didn’t want to kill off Audrey after all. I wanted her as a sounding board for Elizabeth. I also didn’t really like the concept of Elizabeth playing surrogate mother and nanny to Jason and Evie. I thought it would devalue Elizabeth as a character. So I had to rebuild her storyline. Which is how you get her, coming home from California after so many months to be with her grandmother and brother, to raise Cam among family.

And once I put Elizabeth in that position, it became blindingly obvious how I should tell the Liason story against the backdrop of Jason’s struggles with Sonny and Carly. They should meet at the crossroads in their lives and fall in love the way they did once before, back in 1999.

After that, I had completed an initial plot sketch which I sent to Cora, who serves as my beta reader and my savior. If you’re at all enjoying the Carly and Courtney aspects of this story (and by enjoying, I mean you find them useful and good additions to the story), she’s the reason. I realized that I had kept Courtney out as a service to myself because I was never much of a fan, but I had ignored the crucial aspect she could provide — to explain Carly’s motivations in a way that wouldn’t be a ton of info dump POV scenes. And her presence adds a great layer to the overall story because I can give closure to an aspect of Jason’s life, and even honor the budding friendship Elizabeth and Courtney once enjoyed.

And that’s how The Best Thing was inspired, characterized and developed as a story. I used that story as a case study for how I approach all my stories now. I used to be pantser — I Shall Believe was written without much forethought and man you can see it.

Why is it a good thing to know where you’re going in a story? To know the end of the journey? What are the detriments when you don’t? Maybe that should be the next article. The Perils and Peaks of Pantsing, using I Shall Believe and The Witness as case studies. If anyone actually reads this and wants to read more of my rambling.

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Comments

  • Interesting. Thanks for this. Another Liason fic writer told me ages ago that one of the reasons she likes your writing is because you write so many GH characters well and you give them a POV that makes sense of their attitudes and behavior.
    When Robin was a child, she believed she knew more about what adults should be doing than they did. She carried that into the rest of her life. Dying Stone was a godsend, and then brain-damaged Jason was the perfect replacement. He had some adult traits, but she was able to shape him and then try to call all the shots. It all fell apart when he stopped believing she had all the answers.
    I couldn’t stand GH’s writing for Courtney, but I could see her getting away from Jason, Sonny and Carly and that mindset and then realizing she wants no part of their lives or craziness.
    I can also see Carly being able to justify taking another child from Jason because she’s so desperate to keep her marriage intact. It’s reprehensible and downright sociopathic, but it’s all Carly. Elizabeth’s line about Carly, “…she probably remembers the name of the kid from sixth grade who tripped her on the playground…” is true. Carly is so egocentric she has no idea there’s a concept of good or evil that exists beyond what someone does to her.

    I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    According to Jane Hughes on November 28, 2014
  • Love your explanation on how you write a story. It makes so much sense in why I don’t really like some stories by other writers. Me I’m lucky to write letters.

    According to leasmom on November 28, 2014