A Buffy/Wesley Resource

What to Avoid in Pairing Writing: a Primer

By Minim Calibre

Author's note: this was originally written for a Live Journal audience. Small edits have been made for clarification, and to remove LJ-specific content

I hate seeing stories where the author ignores or whitewashes characters' acknowledged canon emotions. It pulls me right out of the story. It's not like developing an attachment for someone new means that the old attachment wasn't true, or real. As Edna St. Vincent Millay said "After all, my erstwhile dear, my no longer cherished, need we say it was not love, just because it perished?"

In the case of Buffy and Angel, it didn't perish, it's just been unworkable for quite some time, for various reasons. Negating the attachment and the very real feelings there cheapens the new attachment, because if you the writer go with the theory that the old love wasn't "real", then what's to make me believe as the reader that the new one is, either? Love doesn't work like that.

If you're going to write pairings beyond PWP, be true to the characters (I'm not saying don't be true to them in PWP, just that it's less of an issue there). Don't write Gunn as if he never loved Fred, just because you're hooking him up with Lorne. Now, you don't have to mention Fred, but if you do, don't negate the feelings that were there.

Hook Willow or Tara or Anya or Mr. Gordo up with Spike, but don't (depending on when you're setting it) negate or devalue Willow's feelings for Xander or Oz or Tara (or, I say through gritted teeth, Kennedy), Tara's feelings for Willow, Anya's for Xander, or Spike's for Dru or Buffy (depending, again, on when you're setting it. If you're writing a S2 or 3 Spike/Willow, and it's not wildly AU, Spike's not going to be mushy for Buffy, but he is going to have his Dru thing on).

To get more specific, using a common example:

If you're writing Spike/Buffy, and you feel the need to talk about Angel, don't fall prey to cliche. Because the "Oh, manly hero! I now realize my love for my departed other manly hero was an illusion, and your wonder cock has lifted the veil!" shtick is hackneyed and eye-roll inducing* in any kind of fiction. Same is true if you do the reverse after S7; this isn't a dig at writing Spike/Buffy, they're just a good example to use, because it's a popular pairing where you have previous and deep established canon relationships with others (especially with Buffy, because the soul issue alters the interpretation of the Dru relationship on the show itself) with enough writers that, as a reader, I find myself running into that particular cliche on a regular basis. Anything said about them could probably be said about any other pairing where one character has loved a different character if you tweak the specifics a little.

I don't care if you-the-writer don't like Angel. You-the-writer is not Buffy the character. She loved him. Part of her still loves him. He's an important part of her life, and even if she never sees or speaks to him again, he always will be. Deal. Does that mean she can never love anyone else? Of course not. (Side note on where I stand with regards to Buffy's feelings for Spike: I think during S6, part of her was a little in love with him, which isn't actually a positive thing, because she didn't love him, or herself for that matter, and nothing could have come of it. I think during S7, she grew to love him, but that she wasn't ever quite certain if it was romantic/sexual love or friend/comrade love, because she's still young enough to conflate sex and romantic love, and their sexual relationship is still fairly fresh in her mind. Oh, and they totally did it in the fade-to-black scene in Chosen.)

I've digressed. If you've known me for a while, you know this is not a new thing. Anyhow, back to my point. Of course she can still fall in love with someone else. Your job, as a writer, is to make me-the-reader believe it. And you can't do that with poor characterization.

It's poor characterization to have Buffy say "I never loved Angel as much as I love you. I see now that it was all a child's viewpoint of romance." It's poor characterization to have Buffy say negative things about Angel just because you the writer feel negative things about Angel and want to drive home that she REALLY REALLY REALLY loves Spike now. Again: writer != character. (Anyhow, if you have to have negative things said about Angel, Spike's your logical mouthpiece.) If you want to sell me on your pairing, you have to make it plausible, and by plausible, I mean I need to be able to recognize the characters, and a large part of that recognition relies on the characters' emotional histories, so don't rewrite those just because it suits you.

* This doesn't mean that a character cannot recognize that some emotional reactions/relationships were less deep than they'd presumed at the time. Xander, for example, can go right ahead and reflect on the sweetness of his Cordy relationship while thinking how different that was from what he feels for Anya, or Spike, or Clem, or whoever he's fallen in love with, not that I think he'd do the reflecting. What it means is that if the previous relationship was presented as deep and meaningful to the character even long after it ended, you don't go and make it not meaningful in your story.

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