The Scoop, Season 1, Episode 3: I Am Not Amused, A Simple Twist of Fate, and Jill Roberts
On a serious note, though, I was really excited to pick I Am Not Amused's brain because as you've seen from his articles here on Castle Inanity, he always has an interesting approach to writing. Some days we're convinced we are the same person (our life stories are oddly parallel)...until we sit down to talk about writing.
Which we did here! Enjoy!
Frea: All right, so Frea here with the incomparable I Am Not Amused, who goes by Chris on days when he's not saving Gotham City from--oh, sorry, I meant, yeah, he's Chris. Hi, Chris!
Chris: Did you seriously just out me as Batman?
Chris: I am okay with this.
Frea: I told you this interview was a bad idea.
Frea: Okay, so I have to ask the important question right off the bat.
Frea: Why are you Not Amused?
Chris: What a great question. That is just a really, really great question.
Chris: Next question.
Chris: No, I'm joking.
Frea: Dang, that was all I had...
Chris: It came from when I was a young lad, and I was very cynical and sarcastic.
Chris: Or, if you read my Why We Write column, earlier this morning.
Frea: A fair point. So, young, cynical, sarcastic?
Chris: Yes. I was trying to come up with a new name-- my old one is too embarassing to mention here-- and my friend told me randomly that I never seemed amused or entertained by anything.
Chris: And thus, the name was born.
Frea: Ahhh, that explains quite a bit. So is it true? You have never laughed?
Chris: Not even once.
Frea: Sounds like a challenge for Wepdiggy to fix.
Chris: Wep may try, but all I have to do is think of his Sallie smut and I go all permafrown.
Frea: Alas, poor Wep. He never stood a chance. So, on the serious, there's a question I've been wanting to ask you about fanfiction.
Chris: Oh God no.
Chris: Anything but that.
Frea: I know, but it must be done.
Chris: Sigh. I suppose.
Frea: How does it feel to have a story (Chuck Vs. A Simple Twist of Fate) designed to scare readers off become so popular? I mean, you've got Jill Roberts as a main character, Chuck barely laughs, and Sarah Walker is nothing but a fond memory, which is kind of a recipe for disaster, but your story works.
Chris: See, I have to plead ignorance on this particular topic.
Frea: Oh, and Bryce Larkin is there, too.
Chris: Musn't forget Bryce!
Frea: I almost forgot about him, which makes me ashamed.
Chris: As well you should be.
Frea: I must humbly apologize.
Chris: Apology accepted.
Chris: But, back to the original question, when I began writing Twist -- can we just call it Twist from here on out? It's so much easier to type-- I wasn't in tune with the fandom's views on the Chuck characters at all.
Frea: (The views being 95% of people believe that a story should have Charah at all costs, early on and often)
Chris: Yes, precisely.
Chris: I didn't know that.
Chris: And, in not knowing that, the ignorance allowed me to try and tell a story that had little to nothing to do with Sarah or Casey.
Chris: Which, you know, I'd never have the stones to try now.
Chris: There was also an element of contrarian in there.
Chris: "Tell me I can't have an interesting, popular story without Sarah and Casey, will you? I think not!"
Frea: Really? That strikes me as surprising that you wouldn't try Twist now, hypothetically, as a lot of your writing flies in the face of conventionality, but in a good way.
Chris: I wouldn't start it the same way, I don't think.
Frea: Out of curiosity, how would you start it now?
Chris: If I was going to write the same plot again, I'd start Twist from Chapter 8.
Chris: But, more to the point, I think I'd write a different plot now. A different idea. I knew the Chuck not getting kicked out of Stanford idea had been trafficked over several times before even when I started writing Twist, but now I realize just how trafficked it has been. I'd probably try something entirely different.
Frea: Chapter 8 being the chapter in which Chuck and Bryce are in training and Sarah takes Chuck out during an exercise.
Frea: Chuck not getting kicked out of Stanford? Yeah, that idea's completely passe.
Chris: Yes. Though it wasn't revealed as Sarah at the time.
Frea: I think it was revealed in Chapter 9?
Chris: Just at the end, yes.
Frea: Wow, major spoilers for anybody who hasn't read Twist. Sorry, audiences!
Chris: There are people who aren't reading Twist? I am aghast.
Frea: I know. I meant for the two people in Antarctica with no internet service, clearly.
Chris: Thank you for assuaging my precious, precious ego.
Frea: No problem, that's what I'm here for.
Frea: You set up a pretty great story in the first seven chapters and there is, you know, Agent Forrest, which is sometimes a plus.
Chris: Well, I like the set-up of the first seven chapters, certainly. And one of my favorite moments-- Chuck desperately trying to rationalize his own motivations to Bryce-- happens in Chapter 5. That being said, there are two reasons I'd start it now at Chapter 8. One is that none of those first seven chapters is really necessary. They're an extended setup and, yes, there's interesting stuff in there, but a lot of it is superfluous. But, maybe more importantly-- and I've written about this in Why We Write #1-- is that Chapter 8 is where Twist really found it's legs, stylistically.
Chris: It was in Chapter 8 that I changed the approach I was taking to writing prose and the style I changed to allowed me to take a more organic, and I think more interesting, approach to viewing past events and tease at future events while remaining grounded in the actions of the present.
Frea: Yeah, I want to talk about that a little bit, if we can
Frea: So I'm your beta reader, which means I get to spend a lot of time with your story, and I've noticed this really curious and interesting pattern where your scenes are set with a very static set of action in the "foreground"--for example, Chuck is taking a drink of water, or Jill is watching late night TV--to counteract these massive leaps of emotional and sometimes physical change.
Frea: What made you decide to take up that style?
Chris: A couple reasons. One of which is that the old style-- which was, essentially, "This happened then this happened then this happened," was getting boring for me as a writer and, honestly, I think it would have become boring for my readers as well.
Chris: Another reason was practicality. Twist was always going to span years, but with the old style, that would have taken at least 20 more chapters to get even close to where we are now.
Frea: Man, I wouldn't know the first thing about it taking 20 chapters to get somewhere in a story.
Frea: So essentially you pick points throughout the timeline of your story and let the readers catch up with what the character has been up to, and fill in the blanks in between?
Chris: Exactly. I was inspired a lot by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk in that regard, who wrote about that novel and said: "Instead of walking a character from scene to scene in a story, there had to be some way to just-- cut, cut, cut. To jump. From scene to scene. Without losing the reader. To show every aspect of a story, but only the kernel of each aspect. The core moment. Then another core moment. Then, another."
Chris: I think that idea has been the biggest influence on Twist.
Frea: Very profound.
Frea: But I'm going to switch subjects here to another aspect of Twist that I think you do particularly well.
Chris: And I was just on a roll.
Frea: Follow-up interview!
Frea: When we first met online, we got into this huge discussion about something the fandom doesn't like much: the characterization of Jill Roberts. You see a lot of fanfics that make her a villain simply because the writer doesn't like the character/is a huge Charah shipper, but you staunchly refused to do so in Twist. Can you tell me a little about your philosophy in the treatment of Jill and even Bryce, who often suffers similar treatment?
Chris: Well, I always felt sympathy for the Bryce and Jill characters, even long before I started writing Chuck fanfiction.
Chris: Bryce I empathize with, just as we share a variety of character traits. Jill, though, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two of what were, for me, the most telling moments of her time in canon.
Frea: her speech in the funhouse of mirrors?
Chris: Strangely, no.
Chris: I like better the moment right before Chuck arrests her.
Frea: Drat. I love that moment, though I think it's because of the camera work.
Frea: Oh yeah?
Chris: Yep. I think that scene really gives us our most honest picture of Jill. She wants-- really, truly wants -- to run away with Chuck there.
Chris: Away from Fulcrum, away from the CIA, away from everybody.
Chris: It showed, to me, that despite everything, Jill really felt something for this guy.
Frea: I can see that, though I still thoroughly disliked her at the time for pointing a gun at Sarah. But then, we're protective of Sarah as a fandom, so Jill was pretty much doomed.
Chris: Oh, I'm not trying to heroize Jill here.
Frea: Hee, right. Sorry. I should stop trying to start debates and just interview you.
Frea: Otherwise we'll end up two counties away with no idea how we got there and no idea where the cow in the back of the truck came from.
Chris: Probably from my hometown. There are a ton of cows... Oh, right. The interview.
Frea: What was the other Jill moment?
Chris: It was during Jill's end-of-season return, where she implores Chuck not to let the government change who he is. It's for very much a similar reason that I like the first Jill moment, so I can't say it offers anything new, but what I got out of both of those moments is very applicable to how I've written Jill in Twist.
Chris: Because, in canon, we see a Jill who has spent six years in Fulcrum life. We see a Jill who has been working in secret against the government, and a Jill who hasn't so much as seen the guy she's cared most about in her life in six years.
Chris: And still, she's willing to leave her entire life behind for the chance to run off with Chuck.
Frea: The cynic in me just snorted and muttered, "Oh, yeah, that'll last long."
Chris: Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to justify her using Mr. Bartowski or threatening him at gunpoint, or being an overall bad person.
Frea: The cynic in me kind of resembles Casey sometimes.
Chris: Doesn't everyone's?
Chris: Back on topic, I'm also not trying to argue a happy Chill ending for canon.
But what those moments gave me was a sense of how Jill would be minus those six years.
Chris: They gave me a frame of reference for how she would have acted when they were a happy couple. Which, to me, wasn't some heartless harpy who was going to claw Chuck's eyes out at any moment.
Frea: Or somebody who sleeps with everybody on the planet with no provocation whatsoever?
Chris: Instead, I got the impression of a girl who was maybe in love for the first time, struggling with being pulled in opposite directions by wanting to stay with him and wanting to do what she had been convinced was right.
Frea: Have you received a lot of flak for writing a sympathetic Jill?
Chris: Yes and no.
Chris: Most people appreciate the story, still, but have their qualms with my portrayal of Jill. I've encountered a handful of readers who are convinced Jill was playing Machiavellian mind games her entire time in canon and even that she defeated the lie detector, regarding sleeping with Bryce.
Chris: Which, you know, I've never seen a lot of evidence to support.
Frea: I always found it interesting that Jill was brought to task for that...but Bryce never was. But that's my feminist roots grumbling just like the cynic.
Chris: I think it's less a sexist thing than it is a main character thing. In canon, Bryce hurts Chuck more through maybe taking away Sarah, so he's taken more to task for that. Whereas Jill hurts Chuck more through her past falsified indiscretions with Bryce, so she's taken more to task for that.
Chris: Back to the question, though, I've also received a surprising amount of feedback from people who I've managed to win over to the Chill side, those who are actually hoping they somehow make it work, even though they're working for opposing covert agencies.
Frea: People just love the tale of star-crossed lovers
Chris: I suppose. So, you know, I've been proud that I've been able to write their relationship convincingly and even sympathetically. It makes me feel like I did start the story in the right place, even though I don't feel it as strongly anymore.
Frea: The Chill relationship is actually one of my favorite parts of the first section, even though I'm never a Chill fan.
Frea: (I also liked how it was like a prequel to What Fates Impose but that's a different story)
Frea: (Because I am vain, natch)
Chris: Well, the first section of Twist, could honestly be either a prequel to Fates, a prequel to Double Agent, or a retelling of College Years. I've done my best to try and rip off every member of the Cabal. Now all I need to do is introduce a smart and sassy OC to challenge Sarah's interest in Chuck, like in Road to Innocence, and some sort of Glee style musical number.
Frea: If you have Ellie and Awesome do a Sonny and Cher number, our friendship is over.
Frea: Because I will get that song stuck in my head for days.
Chris: Now I have to redo the entire third part of Twist. Thanks.
Frea: No problem. So, switching gears again
Frea: Your one-shots and drabbles!
Chris: How I started my Chuck fanfiction experience, yes.
Frea: You've got this epic story going, but you still produce marvelous stories like Auditory Aphrodisiacs and Complications and Grasshoppers. Tell me, do you ever feel like you have dissociative identity disorder?
Frea: I mean, these stories are profound because they tell the story in very few words, and the word choice has impact because of that fact
Chris: Well, thank you. Writing shorter stories is a challenge, but it's also an opportunity to experiment. The reason I write a lot of these is that I can disguise writing style experiments in fluff. I can attack a single idea in the most concise way, and maybe a more unique way, because of their brevity.
Chris: It doesn't always work, of course. Did anyone read Storms in Encino? The answer to that riddle is no.
Frea: I read Storms in Encino
Frea: That's the one where Storm gets cloned and goes to California, right?
Chris: I rest my case.
Frea: Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Frea: I like that, though. Disguising writing experiments in fluff. How does that work? Do you sit down with an idea and think, "I think I'll tell this story without using the letter 'e?'" Does the story idea hit first, or does the style idea?
Chris: It's always the style idea.
Chris: For Other People's Words, my drabble compilation, I came up with the idea of trying to never use Chuck and Sarah's names and also, trying to center these drabbles around movie quotes. It was placing those self-imposed restrictions that forced me to write those short pieces in an engaging way, otherwise they'd be too trite or too boring.
Frea: Wasn't one entry two words long?
Chris: It's also my favorite chapter.
Frea: Oh. Still. Tough gig.
Frea: Sorry, just kidding. Using fewer words is harder than using more.
Chris: Sometimes. I routinely feel like I'm trying to strike a balance between being as concise as possible and still trying to write lengthy chapters.
Frea: In Twist, that is.
Frea: I can understand that. I get readers that mutter when a chapter is less than 9000 words long, and it always makes me scratch my head. Chapters need to be as long as they need to be! To tell the story, that is
Chris: True facts.
Frea: Okay, I think this may have to be my last question
Frea: And I really wish I remembered what I was going to ask you
Frea: As it would have showcased something pretty awesome about you.
Frea: Oh, right!
Chris: Doesn't everything?
Frea: Since we went back to Twist, I can ask you this: what's up with the album titles for the chapters?
Frea: Are you into music or something?
Chris: I am. Just a little bit.
Frea: Yeah? how much is a little bit?
Chris: Well, I just so happen to get paid to write about music.
Chris: Right now I write primarily for the music websites Prefix and Audiosuede.
Chris: And, of course, I was the music supervisor on your remarkable videos for the Awesome Awards.
Frea: And they're 100% better for it. I still jam out to that playlist on your blog.
Chris: Ooh, yes. My blog, Racecar Brown, does have that playlist on it. It's also where I write about whatever the hell pops into my mind that day.
Chris: So, yes, I write a lot.
Frea: You should get that on a T-shirt.
Chris: "So, yes, I write a lot"?
Chris: And then, on the back, a list of every website I write for.
Chris: It'd be a night shirt, of course.
Chris: Well, thank you very much, Chris, for answering my inane questions
Chris: But of course.
Frea: Oh, one quick question before you go, since I know you spent some time in Chicago.
Frea: Cubs or White Sox?
Frea: Congratulations on alienating half of the audience!
Chris: If I've learned anything from Twist, it's how to alienate a large portion of my audience.
Frea: Their loss. Thanks, Chris!
Chris: Thank you, Frea.