Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Alexandra Quick: Canon Errors, Characterization, and Concrit

I have Google Alerts set to email me when one of my stories is mentioned, 'cause I'm egotistical that way and I like to know when I'm being recced, reviewed, or trashed. Of course I was expecting the latter when I saw that Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle had been mentioned on the Dark Lord Potter forums. As you might guess, a story about an 11-year-old girl going to an American wizarding school is not the sort of thing that usually goes over well with people who prefer to read stories about Harry tearing out Ginny's still-beating heart. On previous occasions when Alexandra Quick or Hogwarts Houses Divided have been mentioned over there, it wasn't pretty.

So I read the thread, expecting to see a lot of comments along the lines of "Icky! Girl cooties! It sux0rz!!!!" and "America + OC + no Harry Potter = FAIL!"

There were some responses like that, but I was pleased to see that after the initial wave of trashing, some folks actually read the story and liked it.

And there were some good critiques as well. Maybe I need to enlist a DLPer who kinda sorta likes AQ but doesn't love her as one of my betas next time.

So, I am going to address some criticisms I've heard over time (not just on DLP), and then throw it out to you guys (I know there are only maybe a dozen people reading this), but this is your opportunity to be brutally honest, as opposed to "OMG I love Alexandra!" Which is always nice to hear, but I think Rowling herself got way too complacent, being adored by millions of fans who'd squee at anything she wrote, leading to the poor quality of HBP and DH. I only have dozens of fans (maybe), but I still don't want to hear, "Boy, the Alexandra Quick series started to suck after Book Two...."

First, addressing some "canon errors" I've been accused of (and need I say, there will be spoilers below for both AQATTC and AQATLB?):

The Fidelius Charm

A lot of people think the way I used the Fidelius Charm in AQATTC contradicts canon. I maintain that it does not, though admittedly I took advantage of a "loophole" that Rowling never addressed. Namely, the idea that you can use a Secret Keeper who doesn't actually know the secret (or, in infant Alexandra's case, is not even capable of understanding it). I know that's kind of stretching the concept, and if Rowling were ever asked about it, she'd likely say, "Oh, of course the Secret Keeper has to be willing." But it's never stated in canon that you can't use an unwitting Secret Keeper, so that's the plot device I used for AQATTC.

Conjuring Food

I'm surprised at how many people called me on the casual reference to Constance and Forbearance conjuring food for the picnic at the end of AQATTC. Yes, yes, I remember Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. The thing is, I was assuming they were summoning food they'd already prepared, not conjuring it out of the air. But I plead mea culpa to not making that clear, though I'll point out that Rowling did the same thing, with Molly Weasley shooting sauces out of her wand while cooking.


It's also been pointed out to me that Veritaserum is administered with a few drops on the tongue, not by drinking an entire potion, as Alexandra does in AQATLB. Okay, there I was careless with details. Although I can offer an easy explanation which makes that scene canon-compliant, I admit it's a small retcon which I was forced to think up after the fact.

(The explanation: Raspire gave Alexandra a diluted solution of water with a few drops of Veritaserum in it, rather than a vial full of pure Veritaserum, figuring it would be easier to make her just drink from a vial rather than stick out her tongue while he poured drops on it.)

Moving on to the criticisms, here's what I have heard most often:

Too Much Filler

In other words, I write too much and include too much extraneous detail.

Yeah, I do. It's an easy habit to get into, when you are writing fan fiction. (Check out some of those stories on which run to 300K words or more!) There's no editor, no maximum word count, and 200,000 words seems like a lot less in digital form than it does in actual dead-trees format. AQATTC is almost as long as HBP, and AQATLB would be almost as thick as OotP. I actually intended the second book to be shorter than the first, but obviously it didn't turn out that way. One of my goals for Book Three is to be a little tighter with my writing; I don't know yet if it will be shorter than AQATTC or not, but I'm trying not to let each book balloon to become bigger than the previous one.

I've often been struck by accounts by published authors of how they had to hack out thousands of words -- entire chapters -- from their original drafts in order to get their novels published. (This is after the story has already been accepted -- the publisher says, "You need to chop this by about 50 pages"!)

So I need to resist the temptation to share everything I've created for my world, and keep descriptions to that which is relevant to the story. I know very well that AQATTC and AQATLB both had some stretches where relatively little happened. Some of my readers like all the little character interactions and minor details about the world, but if they were to be published (pretending, for a moment, that they were not fan fiction), I know AQATTC would have to lose a lot of Alexandra's mishaps with Larry and some of the build-up to The Registrar's Office, and in AQATLB I'd need to cut a lot of the interactions between Alex and her friends, the extra scenes with the other Stormcrows, and probably reduce her visit to Roanoke down to one chapter.

Sigh. As Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said, writers must learn to murder their darlings, and I'm still too squeamish in that regard.

Immature/Too Mature Characters

Parodixically, I've heard that Alexandra is both ridiculously stubborn and immature, and that she and her friends often do not act their ages, but more like kids a few years older.

I don't think Alexandra is particularly immature, though she is definitely stubborn. But I do think that both in AQ and in HHD I have often written my 11-12 year-old characters as being a little bit too mature. I probably need to expose myself to more middle-schoolers; I have no children that age, and it's been quite a long time since I was 12. (And like everyone else, I probably remember myself being a lot more mature at that age than I actually was...)

Alexandra is now 13, and I'm really hoping to get her right. She and her friends are at that most awkward stage, when they are just beginning to have adult feelings and become aware of adult issues, and yet they are still very much children.

Alexandra Is Unlikeable

This one threw me for a bit of a loop; I've heard that Alexandra is selfish, stubborn, immature, and bratty, and she is, especially in Book One. One thing I hope is evident is that by the end of AQATTC, she was just beginning to grow up a little, a process that continued (but is by no means complete) in AQATLB. She's never going to completely stop being stubborn; that is very much a part of her character. Her selfishness is something she's slowly growing out of, though she will definitely continue to have some seriously self-centered moments.

But I was a bit surprised at the number of people who said they just plain didn't like Alexandra. Of course being her creator, I can't help but love her, so I'm curious as to how many other people like the stories but don't really like Alex? Yes, she does do some really selfish and stupid things at times, but that was kind of the point -- she pays for it, and she does change as a result. Though not before she makes a few more epically bad decisions...

So, what do you all think? Sharpen your pens and have at me.

(Bear in mind, I already have the general course of the series planned out, so I'm not inviting you to tell me how to write the story to please my fans. There are some things that are going to happen that I have no doubt some people will love and some people will hate.)

And by the way, for the love of Nyarlathotep, please don't go to the DLP forums and try to defend me or my stories. I appreciate the thought, but that's like throwing chum into shark-infested waters. And I've found that most DLPers are actually pretty reasonable, as long as you have a thick skin.
Tags: alexandra quick, writing

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