kaydeefalls: drunk!raven pointing at YOU (queen's gambit)
[personal profile] kaydeefalls
All right, let's do this thing. (There are still several unclaimed days, if anyone wants to add to it!)

From [personal profile] via_ostiense: thought processes, ideas, any commentary on writing Queen's Gambit?

Ah, yes, the three-year fic. And here I thought I could finally stop talking about it now that it's done. :P The thing is, I had just written Boden's Mate in a mad dash on the X-Men kinkmeme, almost 80k words in the space of about seven weeks. I had never before (or since) experienced that kind of writing high. I loved that fusion universe so much, guys, you don't even understand. (Or, well, probably many of you do, being writers/artists yourselves.) But when I finished that fic, I couldn't bear the thought of leaving that world behind. I had buckets and buckets of stories I still wanted to tell in that AU, including a whole bunch of backstory that actually incorporated the characters from Inception. (There are fragments of a prequel languishing on my Google Drive that will never see the light of day, alas. Just know that Mal trained Charles in dreamsharing with the CIA, and Arthur worked with them at the time, too.) Primarily, though, I wanted to deal with the issue of Cain Marko. So when I officially posted Boden's Mate on AO3, I linked to it on the kinkmeme and threw in a bonus Marvel-style postcredits scene in which Nick Fury approaches Raven in a dream. That wound up becoming the first scene in Queen's Gambit.

My first and biggest mistake with Queen's Gambit was the idea that I'd do a sort of Ocean's Eleven pastiche with it, a complex but fun sort of caper story. I figured that the layers and complexities of dreamsharing would translate well to that sort of con. So that meant I wanted eleven main players, all of whom very loosely correlated to the characters in O11. I knew Raven would be the main character in this one, so she became the Danny Ocean stand-in. Alex became Rusty, and so on. The problem is, that gave me way too many POV characters to follow, and to justify it, I came up with the two-mark issue...which vastly overcomplicated the plot. I should have stuck to just Cain and a smaller core group of dreamers -- Raven, Alex, Hank, Angel, Charles, and Erik. I don't know what the plot would have become, though; I knew I had to actually tackle an inception, but that wouldn't have worked with Cain as the mark. IDK.

I do know that incorporating Emma and Logan, in particular, slowed me way the fuck down. I did my best to consolidate their arcs by using canon from the first Wolverine movie, in which Kayla is Logan's lover and Emma's sister, but still, that subplot should have been cut entirely. This is the danger of posting WIPs; you can't go back and change the beginning. If I'd written the whole thing before posting, I would have made some MAJOR edits. But on the other hand, if I hadn't been posting as I went along, I doubt I ever would have found the impetus I needed to actually finish it -- it would have been abandoned about three chapters in. So...yeah. On the plus side, dredging up plot parallels with Wolverine is what gave me the idea for Alex&Hank&Sean's backstory with Stryker. I mean, I'd established that they'd been in the military together back in Boden's Mate, but the details of their squad came from the team Logan and Victor served on under Stryker in Wolverine. It also gave me the chance to include a Wade Wilson cameo, which was a lot of fun to write. (And the soldier Alex killed in his flashback-dream is Bolt Bradley, played by Dominic Monaghan in the movie.)

Since I'd pretty much used up my First Class parallels on Boden's Mate, it was fun plundering the other X-Men movies for this one. The dream levels were lifted directly from X2, obviously -- Stryker's attack on the mansion for the top layer of both dreams (with Alex subbing in for Logan with the hand-to-hand-through-wall-of-ice moment), and the dam at Alkali Lake for the second level of the inception. Likewise Stryker's loathing of his son. I paraphrased several of his lines from X2 in the fic, particularly when he describes his wife's suicide. In the practice dream, Sean's city is San Francisco as seen in X3; so are a few of Cain's lines. Cain was difficult to write because he doesn't really play a role in the movies (and the Juggernaut in X3 has none of the comics backstory with Charles); I still think he wound up too cartoonish a villain. Oh, well.

There were three specific plot points I knew for sure going into it: Raven would end up in Limbo, Charles would murder Cain, and Raven/Angel and Hank/Alex would be the endgame pairings. Once I settled on Stryker as the second mark and "I will never work in dreams again" as the idea to be incepted, I also knew that the overall plot would end with dreaming being made public. (The parallel with the ending of Winter Soldier was entirely coincidental, though it made me really happy.) Again, in terms of trimming the fat on the convoluted plot, I almost wish I'd actually made Raven/Alex the endgame pairing -- the primary emotional arc of the fic revolves around their relationship. But I ship Raven/Angel, so I preferred that in terms of the romance, and I do like that the core relationship of a 90k epic was a purely platonic friendship. The Hank/Alex, however, never quite worked for me, and I wish I hadn't felt obligated to shoehorn it in -- but there I was constrained by what I'd already written in Boden's Mate, which definitely set up a Hank/Alex romance and needed the payoff in Queen's Gambit. (The original prompter on the kinkmeme had requested Charles/Erik and Hank/Alex -- that's the only reason the secondary pairing existed at all. I don't ship it.)

For a while, Charles was going to be the one to save Raven from Limbo, either alone or in conjunction with Angel. But I couldn't make that work with his decision to kill Cain -- that had to come out of a place of total despair, to justify so thoroughly breaking his own moral code. I did intend to spend more time with Charles and Erik after the job, dealing with the emotional fallout, but by the time I got there, it was clear that they were better off as secondary characters, and I didn't want to suddenly pull their relationship back to center stage. They got the primary arc of Boden's Mate; this one was for Raven and Alex. I don't think I wrapped up the Raven/Alex arc as well as I would have liked, but by finding their emotional resolutions separately through their own dreams (Alex with the projection of Darwin, Raven through her experience in Limbo), it made it possible for them to tentatively strike up their partnership again at the end. I do think that foursome will eventually be brought into Charles's school. (And I enjoyed subverting expectations ever so slightly with that -- the school they build is Emma's Massachusetts Academy, not Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. I already destroyed the X-Mansion in Boden's Mate, and this Charles would have no reason to ever want to rebuild there.)

It was important to me that Moira finally get her own emotional resolution, as well -- I gave her a bucketload of PTSD revolving around dreaming in Boden's Mate and then never went anywhere with it. I'm glad she finally got closure at the end of Queen's Gambit. Also, yes, the Avengers absolutely exist in this universe: I made sure of that when I gave Coulson his cameo at the end of Boden's Mate. They're all dreamers, of course, instead of supersoldiers/gods/what have you. In Queen's Gambit: Moira & Coulson are in L.A. after a meeting with Tony Stark; the safe house was unavailable at first because it had just been used by Thor and the Warriors Three; Grant Ward and Melinda May are Coulson's backup outside the hotel (this was written before the events of "Turn, Turn, Turn"); and the "developing situation in Times Square" that Moira gets called away from Charles to deal with at the end is, of course, Steve Rogers. I know MCU-Inception fusions have been done already (my awesome beta [archiveofourown.org profile] ninemoons42 wrote one herself), so thankfully I'm off the hook for that. But were I to write one, Steve would be the extractor, Clint his point man, Natasha the forger, Tony the architect, Bruce the chemist, and Bucky the shade (and former point man). Thor would either be the tourist who hired them or another extractor. Loki is definitely another forger. The Howling Commandos were Steve's original extraction team. Etc etc etc, I am not writing this again.

And if anyone's wondering what the original Inception crew are up to in this 'verse: Dom retired after the Fischer job, for real. Eames and Arthur partnered up as extractor/point man, with Ariadne their usual architect and Yusuf as their chemist (though he rarely needs to participate in the jobs themselves). Saito's corporation is the first to capitalize on dreamsharing going public, thanks to Stryker, and he makes BANK. He keeps trying to hire on the rest of the crew, but they prefer to remain freelance. Arthur will make a few hefty anonymous donations to the Massachusetts Academy once it gets up and running.

Um...not sure what else to say, if anyone's even still reading this blather, but if you have any specific questions about that 'verse, please ask! I like nattering on about my own writing. I'm very self-centered that way.
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