cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Re: Mixing

Having finally found a formula that seems to work for remixing, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the process. I'm not big on prescriptive Do's and Don'ts, so I've written this more as a travelogue, looking at how I went about writing "Home Fires," which is the first remix I've been really pleased with as a story in its own right.

If you just want the quick version, here's the cheat sheet:
  • Ask yourself "What is this story about?" and then "How would I tell that story?" for each of the original stories you consider remixing.
  • Think of the original story as "canon" and riff off it the same way you would in any other fanfic.
  • Stay true to the spirit rather than the detail of the story.
  • Find a way to make it your own, so that you love it the way you love your own stories.

I've also hosted two discussion after the big multi-fandom remix_redux, which are chock full of good advice: 2007, 2006.

And now, on to "How to write a remix according to cupidsbow".

"Home Fires" is my fourth remix, and it works as well as it does largely thanks to the practice I gained through previous remixes. This time around, I finally discovered how to make use of musesfool's brilliant advice: "I think the key to satisfying remixing experiences is finding a way to make a story your own."

This sounds so easy, and yet it still took me three practice runs to really get the hang of it. What follows is what I did, step-by-step, to make "Home Fires" my own.

Step 1: Read and Freak Out
It's exciting but daunting when you first get assigned your author. Whether you know their work or not, there's a certain freak-out moment, when you realise you have to actually fuck around with one of their stories. That's why I always start reading their stuff as soon as possible, so I can get the freaking out over and done with long before the deadline. :)

Right from the first remix I did, I read as many stories as I could by my assigned writer. That ended up being the total output of three of them. With the fourth (who has hundreds of stories, omg, so daunting), I didn't manage to read all of them, but even then, I read all the fandoms I knew. I didn't discriminate by pairing or rating, I read everything. Yes, it took days. I did it anyway.

As I went along, I created my long list of potential remix stories by noting the name and URL of every story that had something interesting in it. I wasn't overly fussy or critical; I wasn't looking for the perfect story. Even if there was just a line or two I liked, a single scene, I put it on my long list.

Step 2. Winnowing
Having created my long list, I could see what I had to work with. This ended up being quite different for each of the four writers I've been assigned. In one case, for instance, there was only one story on the list, so my choice was made for me.

With the other three, I set about turning the long list into a short list. In the first pass, I knocked off the obvious non-contenders. These were the stories I didn't even need to re-read; I just didn't want to tackle them for one reason or another (extreme length or non-con themes, for instance).

Then I went back and re-read the remaining stories, doing two things as I went:
  • Knocking off the stories that were too problematic on second reading.
  • Writing notes about the stories I thought were promising.

The notes were a brief summary of the key points, like length and pairing, and also any ideas I had about how I could spin the story my own way. With siriaeve's stories, I also asked myself these two questions as I was making notes (thanks go to musesfool for these): "What is this story about?" and then "How would I tell that story?"

Here's what my short list ended up looking like:

Of Cold Making Warmth
AU in which John and Rodney meet up after John has been demobilised. John/Rodney. John's POV. Largely a PWP, but I really like this one.
-I could do Rodney's side of the story.
-I could make it canon-based and have John being demobilised sometime after Atlantis/or post-DADT.

Later I added: This one. Change it to post-Atlantis. John coming back from the war, meeting up with Rodney, who was invalided out earlier. It's post-declassification. John turns up at Rodney's flat? Hospice? Conference?

To Touch the Sky with Two Arms
Yes, this could work, flipped to John's POV. Unconnected scenes in which John ends up unconscious and nearly dying. John/Rodney. Rodney's POV.
-I could flip this so that it's John watching Rodney unconscious, make up new reasons, and link the scenes together into a narrative.
-I could do Carson or Keller's(?) POV.
-I could alternate John and Rodney being unconscious.

The Bitch-Slapping Tao of Rodney McKay
Too much specific detail and not enough plot to be a really good choice. Romantic crack, in which Rodney is un-Ascended. John/Rodney. John's POV. I like this one.
-I could flip it and have John bitch-slap Carter.
-I could do Chaya's side of the story! Show the slap fight.

let me sail, let me crash upon your shore
It's short, so I could do something quickly if I get desperate. On a boat after Atlantis has fallen. John/Rodney. John's POV.
-I could do how Atlantis fell and they ended up on the boat.
-I could do Elizabeth's slowly growing awareness of what's happening on the boat.

Truth, Justice and Rodney McKay
Probably too long to do it justice. Superman AU, in which John is the alien Alteran with super-powers, and Rodney the rude reporter he crushes on. John/Rodney. Rodney's POV. Gorgeous! I love this one!
-I could do John's side of the story, and what it is that attracts him to Rodney.
-I could do Cadman's unravelling of the romance through comma analysis.
-I could do a news report, or series of them.

It may not be clear from these notes, as they were intended for my own use and I didn't think I'd be sharing them (and I'd like to thank siriaeve for saying it was okay for me to do so), but I liked all of these stories and thought they were strong and interesting and would make good remixes. Every story on the short list was a contender.

Step 3: Brainstorming
I was lucky with "Home Fires" because I got the idea straight away. That isn't usually the case, though. I usually do a brainstorming session for challenge stories, often with someone I trust, so that we can bounce ideas back and forth. I take notes or save the chat session, and paste them into the short list file along with all the other notes.

Then I think about things for a while, and see which story my mind keeps going back to and turning over. That's the one I end up choosing to write.

Step 4: Writing
Once I've chosen a story to remix, and figured out the approach I'm going to take, I go back and re-read the original story one more time.

With "Home Fires," I wanted to keep not only the plot in mind, but evoke some of siriaeve's writing choices. In order to do this, I had two windows open side by side. In one was my blank document, with my notes copied and pasted into it. In the other was "Of Cold Making Warmth." As I wrote, I regularly checked to see how siriaeve had handled scenes. Even though I had a strong idea of what my own story was about, at the line-by-line level I played with her story structure and word choices: sometimes using a similar paragraph construction, sometimes spinning it around to create a mirror image.

I would never usually work so closely with another text, but remixes are a special licence in this regard: the remix is meant to echo the original. And as I was changing a lot of the context in my version, I wanted to make sure I was staying true to the spirit of siriaeve's work.

Step 5: Finishing Up
As with any major piece of writing, the final stage is the spell-checking, doing any last research (I needed to pick a name, for instance, for John's space ship, which was just called XXXX in the draft), and re-writing.

When it came to beta, there was an extra step: my plot beta, lark_ascending, actually went and read siriaeve's story before reading mine, so that she could comment on my piece both as a story in its own right, and how well it was riffing on the original.

And then, after a final polish, it was done.

Final Thoughts
I really love "Home Fires." It's what I've been hoping to achieve with a remix since I signed up the first time--it actually feels like my story, rather than a pale imitation of someone else's. Part of that was obviously synchronicity: siriaeve's themes and writing style were a good match for my own, and there were several stories I could have chosen from. "Home Fires" certainly owes a hell of a lot to siriaeve.

That said, having a step-by-step system in place, so that I could methodically work through the options in the early stages, took a lot of the stress out of the remix process, and allowed me to have fun with the story I ended up writing. I think that's a big part of why I ended up feeling like it was mine.

If you have any questions about remixing, or writing in general, drop me a comment. I'll do my best to answer them.

Extra Stuff: Four Remixes
If you are curious, here are the four remixes I've done, from earliest to most recent:

"Real Time" remixing "First Time" by j_crew_guy (Dogma: Loki/Bartleby, NC-17)

"Having to Live (The Dying Inside Funky Remix)" remixing "Having Someone to Live For" by ALC Punk! (Battlestar Galactica 2003: Kara/Lee, NC-17)

"Like You Touch Me (The Skin Hungry Remix) " remixing "Touch Me Like I Touch You by dogeared (Stargate: Atlantis: McKay/Sheppard, PG-13)

"Home Fires (The Making Warmth Remix)" remixing "Of Cold Making Warmth" by siriaeve (Stargate: Atlantis: McKay/Sheppard, NC-17)
Tags: discussion, essay, links, sga, writing
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