Pairs. (Well, in most cases.)
My ideas always come down to the pair: Character A, Character B, and what happens when they meet. For a long time, while I was in my tweens and teens, my day dreams consisted of “Orin” and “Riley”; the stand-in names of my fantasy protagonists, and whatever adventures they had together, be it high school drama or traversing a post-apocalyptic desert.
So the names might have been the same every time, but the personalities were different. And not just the personalities, but the dynamics.
Dynamics are to me what romantic plot tropes are to romance readers: Very fucking important.
Although I started writing in original slash on FP, like many other people, I started reading slash in fan fiction, which is where I developed my personal taste in dynamics. I was twelve years old when I read Fushigi Yugi. There are numerous, excellent pairs in that series, but the one I really glommed onto was Tasuki/Nakago.
Nakago was the big bad, and he really did suck (a lot). But one of the miracles of fanfic means you can sweep away the suckiness and just keep what you like. (Did I mention I’m one of those people who don’t give a shit about canon? I really don’t.) Anyway! This was probably my first, or one of my first, slash OTPs—Tasuki was a (literal) firebrand; hotheaded and willful. Also kind of an idiot. He meshed well with Nakago’s icy aloofness.
How would Nakago view Tasuki? Amusing? Precious? But also, maybe, as a source of ease. Which brings me to my first dynamic addiction.
Soothing through Stupid
Nakago is an A-type warlord personality who dealt with a lot of traumatic bullshit in his life. He’s living in a pit of vipers, constantly having to be on his guard as he survives the court’s machinations.
And Tasuki is… basically just an idiot.
No, he’s not blandly stupid. He’s brash, excitable, but more importantly he’s on the up-and-up. Tasuki is not a viper, he’s a dog. In my world, Nakago would meet Tasuki, and he would see the unattainable, yet deeply desired gift of someone he could trust wholeheartedly . H ow he might react to such an discovery, however, could go in completely different ways.
Nakago may resent what he can’t have. He may do anything to obtain it, thereby corrupting and destroying what he coveted. I read a memoir by Lindy West recently, and she mentioned the phrase “love with an open hand,” as in…if you hold a bird in your hand, you may want to keep it, but caging it will only hurt it.
Nakago loves with a closed hand. He has to learn to uh, not do that, or everything will be ruined. Makes for great angst! (And yes, I have a story cooking with this dynamic).
But things don’t always have to go that dark. Soothing through stupid works on the grumpy too. Examples: The two mains from The Rundown (a really stupid movie), Hiei/Kuwabara from Yu Yu Hakusho, and Korben Dallas/Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element. The whole point is these gruff, grumpy guys have enough people trying to kill them. What they see in the idiot, is someone they don’t have to figure out.
Luckily for the stupid archetype, they just don’t give a shit about looking stupid and/or ridiculous. It’s who they are, with no shame.
Some of you may know that Ventures and Investments evolved from the feels™ Iron Man 2 gave me (to the extent that I named the two main characters after Tony Stark and Justin Hammer). VAI isn’t fan fiction—besides the names, I only pulled the dynamic. Oh, but (deep sigh) what a dynamic it is!
Justin Hammer very much cares about looking stupid. He just doesn’t know how not look stupid, and ridiculous. His envy of Tony’s everything (brains, fame, popularity) had birthed such a massive inferiority complex that he went to enormous stupid lengths just to beat Tony. And failed. Because Justin is a failure.
I love failures. And in my world, Tony does too.
It may start as a game; a bit of a sadistic streak on Tony’s part, poking at that ballooning inferiority complex. He may take pleasure in seeing the overreactions he can garner from Justin. He may, just a little bit, become intoxicated with the knowledge that Justin is obsessed with him. Or, like how it went in VAI, Tony just may really love Justin, but Justin can’t see this because of his delightful inferiority complex. I used a little bit of this in Somnolence as well.
“Healthy” is not how I would describe this dynamic. In fact, it usually comes off as toxic. What appeals to me is how Character A is so wrapped up in his miasma of jealousy and bitterness towards Character B that he loses sight of his own attributes. However, there is an important relationship ingredient missing from this dynamic.
My fandom OTPs can be grouped together under keywords, but these keywords would create an intersecting venn diagram. If I took the inferiority complex and bitterness of Tony Stark/Justin Hammer, and mixed them with a need for equal partnership in which the two players support each other, I would end up with movie-verse Aragorn/Boromir.
Let me just get this out of the way: I loved Boromir before it was cool to love Boromir, and long before he was a meme. In middle school, I rocked a Boromir t-shirt. Ok?
Anyway. Yes, even at the ages of 12, 13, and 14, I was already “into” the once high-standing, revered man losing his spot to some grungy interloper. Everyone (in the movie and out) loved Aragorn more than Boromir. Who cares that Boromir was brave, played with the hobbits like a cool dad, and was generally loveable, right? He wanted the ring (because he was only human!!!) so everyone hated him.
Except Aragorn, who obviously loved him very much, in my world.
I think Aragorn would have been jealous of Boromir in his own way—Boromir took up the mantel of responsibility with a zeal that Aragorn had run away from. Aragorn may have felt like an imposter, and so respected Boromir for his convictions. Unfortunately for Aragorn (but not us, because we love angst), Boromir would have less positive feelings in return.
And the truly sad thing is, if there weren’t all these complex, resentful feelings in the air, Aragorn and Boromir would make for an excellent equal partnership. They would have each other’s backs, one bolstering the other in times of hardship (and vice versa). They could counsel each other about important matters, because both carry so many responsibilities and so many lives depend on them. Basically, they could be each other’s rocks.
Leather Pants Draco
There’s a phrase I like: “Take what you need, and leave the rest.” For me, this holds true with writing… only it would probably be changed to want, not need.
For the many, many fanfic authors who saw Draco Malfoy as a sexy, minx-like, leather-pants-wearing siren, his “canon” traits were not needed. Or wanted. This never bothered me, (even if a snively, weasley Draco appealed much more than the sex god fandom wanted him to be) because I wasn’t reading Harry Potter. I was reading someone’s fanfic—where there aren’t any rules and the points don’t matter.
(I think my general *shrug* attitude about OOC fic it probably a part of why I never got into writing fanfic. I cannot, for the life of me, inhabit other people’s characters with the degree of skill that many fanfic authors do.)
Sure, if someone’s Draco had brown hair and loved rainbows after the rain, I probably would pass on that fic because… why. But as long as the character was recognizable from his bones, I could get into it. There are basic core features of Draco’s character that make him appealing.
Justin Hammer is not appealing based on his canon character. And neither, frankly, is Tony. But I could take what I needed (bitterness, jealousy, inferiority complex, power imbalance), and leave the rest.
If you were to list, in keywords, what you loved about an OTP, what would it consist of? Funnily enough, my list has not changed that drastically over more than ten years, although the fics I see those keywords in are few and far between (sobs).