dicta_contrion: (Default)
[personal profile] dicta_contrion
Title: Any Instrument
Pairing: Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 131,000
Warnings:Magical disability and the diagnosis and treatment thereof, addressing mental health issues, explorations of identity and self-worth in the aftermath of war, attempts (some successful) to manipulate Harry for the sake of politics, brief accidental voyeurism, coming to terms with sexuality
Enticements: Slow build, mystery, medicine, politics, angst (but not forever!), wandlore, wandless magic, drapples, Slytherins, Unspeakables, the Ministry, an asexual secondary character, dinner parties, coming out, awkward first times, long walks, Wiltshire, Paris, kittens, breakfast, snark, and a happy ending
Summary: Draco Malfoy wouldn't go back to England for anything less than an exceptional case. Being asked to figure out why Harry Potter can't control his magic might be exceptional enough to qualify.

In lieu of Author's Notes, extended flailing in three parts!

First, to my incredible recipients, [livejournal.com profile] femmequixotic and [livejournal.com profile] noeon. Writing for you was truly an honor and a pleasure. Your work, together and individually, is at the heart of my HP fandom origin story. I was amazed, blown away, in awe, and enraptured to discover your stories, which build beautiful worlds and give these characters extraordinary complexity and depth. I've often taken comfort in them in rough moments, escaping to your worlds for an evening to visit other countries, or be reminded that change and love are always possible, or to experience the beautiful, complicated, human love that your characters discover for themselves. To call that a gift is a massive understatement, but I'm at a loss for a better word, so: thank you for the many incredible gifts you've given to fandom, and me, over the years. And for giving me a good reason, with this story, to try stepping up my game. Having you as recipients was the kick I needed to take a risk and try something bigger, deeper, more elaborate, something that I hoped would give the characters a chance to grow and the world to develop. I'm absolutely thrilled (again, understatement!) that you enjoyed it!! And thank you for your lovely comments, too! ♥

Second, I know it's corny to say it takes a village, but it does. Huge, massive, oceans of thanks to my beta and brit-picker [livejournal.com profile] disapparater, who saw this through from infancy to posting, who answered a million questions and caught all my Zs and let me ramble on endlessly and replied thoughtfully and who, most importantly, really is my editor, and told me what wasn't working, when scenes needed more depth, when I needed to stop being lazy and do another rewrite. You were right, and this story wouldn't be what it is without you. No question about it. More village!! Many, many thanks go to [livejournal.com profile] eidheann_writes for being The Fixer (Ficser? Ficxer?) and talking about this way into the wee hours and for telling me to explore the relationship between Harry's emotions and the wand. Wound up being kind of important!! To [livejournal.com profile] firethesound for use of her dining table and for visiting mine and for lots of very productive word-making and excellent conversation. To [livejournal.com profile] ani_mage for great conversations and for pre-reading the first 2/3 and, among othe things, reassuring me that they weren't secretly terribly offensive w/r/t disability and asexuality. To [livejournal.com profile] sophie_french for entertaining a ridiculous number of questions about France, including some urgent last-minute inquiries that must have seemed truly bizarre ("Urgent!! In Paris, in 2008, did Starbucks cups have logos?") but that were always handled with aplomb and kindness and reassuring speed. To everyone who joined me in chatzy sprints for keeping me on task and for cheerleading and support. And to the mods, [livejournal.com profile] capitu, [livejournal.com profile] sassy_cissa, and [livejournal.com profile] gracerene, for being encouraging and patients, for giving me an extension (or three...I'm sorry! Thank you!) so I could edit this behemoth properly, for catching stealth typos, for uploading to AO3, and for making [livejournal.com profile] hd_erised the incredible event that it is. And to all of you, for moments of support and friendship that have ben more valuable than I can ever say. And to everyone who has left comments on Any Instrument, or who left bolstering comments on other stories while I was in the process of writing - thank you!

Third and last, a few thoughts about process and writing.

I've loved seeing other people talk about this in their erised claiming posts and wanted to give it a shot. I could talk about this forever, because I'm a writer and I like to talk about that, but whether any of it is actually helpful to anyone else is another question altogether!

The thing that I find most useful is setting down the rules of the universe before beginning to plot, let alone write. So:

  • What absolutely cannot happen? What are the boundaries of key relationships? Who likes each other and who doesn't and why? How do important things work? In this case, that meant knowing what the limits of Harry's magic were, what its range was, what he could and couldn't do, what would inspire magical outbursts, and why.

  • I found it useful to physically map the grounds and go searching through google images for rooms that looked like what I imagined.

  • I also found it useful to create timelines:

  • First, for what each character had been up to in the years since the end of DH. Did you know that Pansy wrote her first novel in 2004? Or that Hermione went to Australia and then spent three years in the magical departments at Oxford before becoming an Unspeakable? Or that Draco started out going for his potions mastery and changed fields to incorporate Muggle science partway through, even though it meant taking longer to get the degree? I don't know that I could tell you exactly how the story was shaped by all of that, but I'm certain that it was.

  • Second, for the story itself, so everything took place on a specific day and it all lines up with days of the week, cycles of the moon, etc., which made the story feel more believable for me as the author, and I hope some of that transfers through invisibly to the reader as well.

Knowing what the story couldn't do and how much time I had to work with made it easier to come up with new things or pursue flights of fancy, because I could be fairly certain that it wasn't creating inconsistencies that would be jarring for readers.

Other things:

  • This was the first story I've properly outlined and even though I strayed from/reworked the outline as the story unfolded, that turned out to be helpful for a story that was this long. (Shocking, I know.)

  • I relied on the HP Lexicon and Potterwords for information about canon. There are two tags I've set up on tumblr - writing resources and fanfic writing gold - that are a mix of writing advice, tidbits from canon, story ideas, extended canon from interviews and pottermore, posts on how to use AO3, maps of places in the HP universe, family trees, etc. I'm happy for other people to use them if they're helpful.

  • The most useful new thing I did was stolen from [livejournal.com profile] firethesound, who keeps a notebook next to the keyboard and jots down bits of information that might be needed later. That was invaluable! Recommend, and will be doing that again.

I'm also happy to answer questions about process or decisions made in the story, though it feels ridiculously vain to even put that down in writing.

One last thing, which feels very importat to talk about. I wasn't expecting this, but something about writing this story, or maybe such a long story, has moved a few people to suggest that I am exceptionally brilliant or prolific or fast or inspired, that I have some special pool of genius. It's meant as I compliment and that's how I take it. Who doesn't like to be told that they're secretly a genius? But as much as some part of me (I believe we call it "ego") would love to take credit for pure, innate talent, it would be wrong to do so, and I think destructive to other writers. So instead of brushing some dirt off my shoulders, I'd like to say the following:

  • Writing is hard. It can be tremendously fun and rewarding and exciting but that doesn't make the difficult bits less difficult. It's a lot of work. It can be exhausting and draining and, especially when it's at all personal, vulnerable. Writing is hard.

  • Writing is time-consuming. I had the idea for this story at a point in my life and career where I am remarkably free of obligation. I don't have children or a spouse who need care or attention, or (knock wood) relatives who need much support. I can work from home whenever I want and have flexible deadlines. Which meant that I could, for weeks at a time, get up at 7 or 8, go for a walk, make breakfast, and sit down to write for twelve hours at a clip, uninterrupted and in silence. It's not that I'm a very quick writer, it's that I had a lot of time to do this. (This post also speaks to this point very well, and I recommend it.) (I remain thoroughly in awe of writers who do have all of those commitments and still turn out gorgeous stories. How? You are all marvels.)

  • Writing takes training and practice. I've been writing fic for a little more than two years now, but I've been writing other things for longer than that. I took writing classes in school. I went to arts camps all through my teenage years, where I spent whole mornings or whole days in writing workshops, three hours writing and workshopping poetry in the morning, and three hours writing and workshopping fiction in the afternoon. I signed up for more writing workshops post-college and pre-grad school. There is a tremendous amount of privilege there, to have been able to do that, to have had a family that was supportive of that interest and willing and able, even if it put a strain on resources at times, to help me develop it. There is also a tremendous amount of training there. This isn't a novel-length story that I learned to write in four months; this is a novel-length story that I've been training to write for over twenty years. I say all of this not to build myself up (or to sound like a privileged arsehole, though I might), but because I don't want to make this look easy and seamless and natural. I don't want new writers to read this and feel discouraged because their first attempts are not this. Mine weren't either, I promise. You can go back and see growth from my first fics, I think, and that was even after all of this formal training. Please, don't be discouraged. Keep writing, keep reading about writing, think about taking a class if you're able, or finding a writer's group. Read a lot. Practicing, training, reading, writing a lot - that's what makes a good writer. It's not down to whether you were born with natural genius, but whether you want to focus on getting better.

  • First drafts are not good. I have marvelled at the number of comments I've gotten that point specifically to some of the parts of this story that went through the biggest revisions. Those scenes weren't good at first. Relatedly, hearing criticism and editing accordingly is hard, but essential. I don't think anyone relishes this part, and it's important to find people whose criticism you trust, who you know have your best interests at heart and are trying to help make you a better writer, rather than making you second-guess yourself or building themselves up by tearing other people (you) down. Once you've found those people, you have to listen to them. So when [livejournal.com profile] disapparater called the original epilogue superfluous, humdrum, and unsatisfying....that was true and correct. I did not especially feel like writing a new epilogue at that particular (overtired, cranky, exhausted) moment in time. I wanted that email to say "How brilliant! How fantastic! You are clearly in line for the first pulitzer prize for fanfiction! They're starting that whole new category in honor of this epilogue!" But the reason it didn't say that was that the scene in question was bad. It really was. (Well, and the pulitzer committee isn't there yet, but that's not the point.) And it wasn't just the epilogue that needed that kind of rewriting. Huge chunks of the story were rewritten or edited heavily. The final draft is not the first draft. And if it were, it would have been (rightly!) not nearly as well received.

All of that to say: I am honored (and blown away, and over the moon, and barely resisting the urge to try hugging the internet) because of the lovely and kind and exciting reaction this story has had (and, you know, no one should feel any need to tone it down on my account), but I don't want to perpetuate the myth that good writing comes from genius, so much as a lot of years of being bad, and a lot of years of trying to get better, and a lot of hours sitting at the keyboard drinking too much tea, wearing yoga pants covered in cat hair, and absolutely hating everything, most of all yourself and your words, because writing is hard.

And even then, even when you've finally done something you're content with, maybe even a little bit proud of, it comes down to this strange alchemical thing of putting it out into the world and hoping it will resonate with readers, that someone will be moved by it and will take the time to tell you so. And I am infinitely grateful to everyone who has done that. Beyond words.

Erised recs to follow soon - what an embarassment of riches this fest was!! And, again, unending thanks and love to everyone who helped this story come into existence, or who read it and left comments and kudos, and to everyone who will. Goodness, do I love fandom.

Date: 2016-01-16 08:56 pm (UTC)
eidheann_writes: (default)
From: [personal profile] eidheann_writes
It was fabulous and I was so looking forward to it you don't even know.

Date: 2016-01-16 09:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com

Your comments and messages gave me life. And I don't know that I will ever be able to convey how many things clicked in that convo! You are a gem and I am so grateful for you.

Date: 2016-01-16 09:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] disapparater.livejournal.com
Aww, dude. I'm counting. This is third time you've been so complimentary to me i've wanted to print it out and display it. And this one's in public! ;) ♥

Did you know that Pansy wrote her first novel in 2004? Or that Hermione went to Australia and then spent three years in the magical departments at Oxford before becoming an Unspeakable? Or that Draco started out going for his potions mastery and changed fields to incorporate Muggle science partway through, even though it meant taking longer to get the degree? I don't know that I could tell you exactly how the story was shaped by all of that, but I'm certain that it was.

This, this, and this again. I'm the same. I know all these facts and history about the characters and events that don't go into the fic, but someone benefit it.

Generally, you are a font of useful, interesting and valuable information, and i could talk about writing with you all damn day.

Also, can i just note that i cushioned the blow with words around "superfluous, humdrum, and unsatisfying" - it's all in the considered delivery of bad news :P

Date: 2016-01-16 09:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
You did cushion, yes!! You certainly did. It was a very considered delivery, but still got the point across. And I'd also point out that you then read three different plans for new epilogues as well as the final draft, and that it is now dramatically better. The first one really was quite crap.

YES to all the background and facts. It makes a difference, I know it does. Even if I can't quite say how....

And, you. Just, you. ♥♥♥♥♥♥ Maybe instead of saying nice things I'll just start sending you frames so you can put up the old nice things. (I won't actually stop saying nice things, they're too well-deserved.)

Date: 2016-01-16 10:09 pm (UTC)
capitu: (sultry)
From: [personal profile] capitu
This is amazing to read. :)

I'm so happy you were part of erised, Dicta. ❤❤❤

Date: 2016-01-16 11:50 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-01-16 11:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thank you for making it so wonderful!! And for being so very lovely all the way through. ❤❤❤

Date: 2016-01-16 11:29 pm (UTC)
birdsofshore: (curlew)
From: [personal profile] birdsofshore
I'm on my phone and can't fling myself around as energetically as I'd like to, but a big YES to this post.

My favourite part is this:

"How brilliant! How fantastic! You are clearly in line for the first pulitzer prize for fanfiction! They're starting that whole new category in honor of this epilogue!" 

Why DO betas never say that? It's a mystery to me. Perhaps we need NEW BETAS? :D

I also loved the bit about phases of the moon. I am so slapdash about some things in my fics, (plot? characterisation? :D) but I will happily spend half an hour working out , for instance, where Orion would have been in the sky over London on Nov 24th 2001 at 11 pm. I can now use the excuse that it is adding authenticity for the author.

And I'm ignoring the bit about writing taking training and practice! I didn't want to hear that! Can't it just happen magically? *hopeful*

Darned good post. Fandom loves you back, you know?

Date: 2016-01-16 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Now I'm all fling-y and flail-y! ❤❤❤

It does sort of happen magically, I think? You just do it, and then do it some more, and then look back and realize how much better at it you've gotten...that's sort of like magic? Granted, not as nice as it would be to have an actually spell. Expecto Novelum! Or maybe that would be a potion? Writus Felicis? Next time you're in a crowd of wizards, see if someone has tips on that, would you?

And goodness yes, the details. There's a bit where Draco's looking out his window at night and I did, in fact, go check the phases of the moon to find out how dark it would've been. But I do think it adds something! Also that you're not nearly so slapdash as you might pretend. (Or if you are, you're an excellent slapdasher and I'd like lessons, please.)

Date: 2016-01-17 03:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemonen.livejournal.com
This story really was so brilliant! All the honour to you and everyone who helped you create this. And, you know, all the things you write about the process and all that goes into a fic and the time and the practicing writing and learning... It only makes it more impressive in my eyes. If there's something I've always been lacking, it's patience, and it seems to me that's exactly what it takes to become a good writer (and talent of course, which you have in spades). I'm in awe of all of you who write, who manage to take the time that's necessary to create good fiction, and so grateful that you do. So thank you <3
Even with no writing ambition, I love reading about people's processes and I especially love the little things that you know about the universe and the characters' backgrounds, but didn't make it into the fic. Thanks for sharing this!

Date: 2016-01-17 05:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
♥♥♥!! I'm glad it's interesting and not entirely self-indulgent! And you know, I think it's just differennt sorts of patience. I don't think I'm a terribly patient person on the whole, but I enjoy the process of writing enough that the impatience sort of falls to the side some. On the other hand, I'd love to be able to draw the way you do, to actually show people how all of this looks in my head, and I've never had the patience to get good at that. I get much more frustrated with drawing badly, for whatever reason, and haven't had the patience to develop any sort of eye for it or skill at it. So I'm in awe of those of you who are able to do that! And very grateful that you do, so we get to really see different visions of this verse! ♥♥

Date: 2016-01-17 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kedavranox.livejournal.com
Even though I'm a terrible human and I have yet to comment and rec this fic, I have to say, I think it was the best in Erised. Wonderful work.

Date: 2016-01-18 01:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
As you know from Breathe Me, my comments are sometimes quite late - no worries! So glad you enjoyed it!

Date: 2016-01-17 11:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alisanne.livejournal.com
Thanks for sharing your writing process and letting us know all the things that work for you. I am fascinated by how others write long, complicated stories since I am not such a great planner. You seem very organized and thoughtful, traits which I would do well to cultivate, I think.
Anyway, thanks for this. It was very illuminating. :)

Date: 2016-01-18 01:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thanks for the thanks!! So glad it's interesting!!

Loved this!

Date: 2016-02-09 07:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maya231.livejournal.com
Really enjoyed this! Thank you for writing and I'm off to read more of your work. Also your profile picture looks like a ceiling I see frequently!

RE: Loved this!

Date: 2016-02-11 02:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thank you!!! I hope you enjoy what you read, and am so happy you liked this! And you're probably spot on about the ceiling - it's pretty unique!


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