What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters

I’ve lived two lives. There’s a time before, and a time after, and the designation between one and the other is marked off by a shift in perspective brought about by the death of two family members, an extended period of mourning that resulted in severe writer’s block, and the abandonment of fandom for two years. That’s a tough way to start off any blog post, so I want you to understand this right off the bat: if you’re coming from fandom, welcome. You and I have a distant relationship. You may know of something I’ve published in one place or another — be that the Tumblr I run, Fuck Yeah Rogue & Gambit, or something I’ve written in the past under a different pseudonym. I hope this doesn’t come off too pretentious, but as a fan writer, when you build an audience and leave them for a time, you still hear about it later. Every review, personal message, and email I received after leaving The Ante adrift in that two-year stint was a jab to the heart. Every one a reminder of where I came from and what I found myself incapable of revisiting because it hurt too much.

I came back after four years and posted a chapter that had sat on my hard drive for the duration. Seventy pages. The response was staggering. I might’ve cried a couple of times.

Yeah, in the time before, you might’ve known me as Luce. I wrote a three hundred thousand word fan fiction about my two favourite X-Men: Rogue and Gambit. Reading it over now, I realize the execution’s pretty dreadful, but the impact it had on the five hundred people reading was phenomenal (there are likely more, but the metrics don’t log anonymous followers.) The impact it had on me reshaped the course of my life in the after for the better in every possible way.

Rogue and Gambit: I Want a Lifetime

You might be here reading this today because, like me, you’re a fan of the X-Men; or you might be here because we hang out on Twitter and share a goal to become professional writers.

Maybe you’re transitioning from fan fiction to original fiction yourself, or maybe you’re a friend or work colleague from real life. (I still find it funny that I can make that distinction; this one guy I had a brief fling with several years ago, after mentioning my involvement with HP fen, became obsessed with the idea that I played Quidditch. I never have, and I dropped him for being a nuisance about the broomstick. I still consider it a saving grace that I never brought up that one time I cosplayed Genevieve Gaunt’s Pansy Parkinson; hacked off all my hair into a bob and dyed it black to go to a three-day long con. He might’ve asked me to bring out my Slytherin robes for kinks. Dick.)

It’s a mixed bag of an audience, so I’ll do my best to speak to everyone while hopefully not alienating anyone in the process.

I’m an advocate of character conflict. I feel that it moves stories along, and I feel that there’s a certain amount of intrigue generated in the reader when characters don’t get what they want. There’s also a particular effect in the reader when certain expectations are set for fulfilment, and the writer yanks it away at the last possible opportunity. I’m not into easy fulfilment. It’s my goal as a writer to make the reader hurt, laugh, cry, and desire. I’m into despair as a device that makes you want to see the heroes succeed and the bad guys fall. But sometimes, you have to let the bad guys win, and sometimes, you have to kill your darlings to do it.

Rogue and Gambit as a couple and apart were strong archetypes that let me flex my muscles in an arena where the odds were already set against them:

Remy LeBeauRemy LeBeau began his journey as an X-Men with a spotty past, a history as a thief, ties to a criminal organization, and as a playboy that couldn’t be shackled down by any one woman — likely the result of his involvement with a childhood sweetheart who rendered him significant emotional damages. Remy and Belladonna were arranged as the Romeo and Juliet of the Thieves and Assassins Guilds, and the results of their relationship, similar to Shakespeare’s telling, wreaked havoc on the two families though their union was intended to unite the Guilds. (He killed her brother who objected to the union. It was an accident, but it got him booted out of New Orleans. Whoops.)

Rogue was introduced as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; a fact that’s often overlooked because her tutelage under Mystique was so brief. The animosity resulting from the break in the mother-daughter relationship pushed her into the X-Men, and for a long time, like Remy, Rogue was regarded as a dark horse — someone not wholly trusted until she earned her place. The relationship with her foster mother was never wholly repaired, and was still a contributing factor in determining her character up until her (most recent) death.

Both characters’ mutations put them at odds — Rogue, who absorbs the life-force and abilities of the beings she touches, couldn’t form meaningful emotional bonds as a result of having to keep herself at a distance — and Remy, who’s abilities allow him to kinetically charge inanimate objects at will, and was unable to commit to anything longer than a brief interlude with anyone else — were set up as star-crossed from the beginning.

I’ve never wholly trusted that Marvel intended them to become one of the 616 universe sweetheart pairings, but ever since the Boisenberry Pie incident, the conclusion in my mind is that they were Meant To Be. They were also meant to fail as a couple — together, but unable to touch, caress, cuddle — apart, but forever polarized in such a way that the attraction was an inevitable end to a decades-spanning relationship fraught with the difficulties created by each character’s personal failings.

RogueEvery time you’d think they were making progress, they’d be pulled apart.  Every goddamn time.

And yet, as a reader, part of me related to that constant absence and constant desire to see them together while understanding that the offer of that fulfillment was the appeal, and not those few moments where they could surmount the obstacles placed before them.

Writing Rogue and Gambit taught me a few things before I ever picked up a book on writing, on creating meaningful characters, or even attempted drawing together that clay-lump of words that fashioned my first character golem (an early incarnation of Eden Pearce from Wake the Dead, who was born Elspeth in the very first draft; who I found hanging out a third-story window contemplating suicide and smoking a cigarette. The scene and the name were both scrapped in a later revision. I’m okay with doing things dark, but Eden’s never wanted to die. She’d destroy everything around her before destroying herself.)

I’m using X-Men Evolution as a starting point for the following examples, bouncing off the final interactions between Rogue and Gambit in Cajun Spice since it’s in the aftermath that The Ante was birthed. We never really got a resolution, but the void between that last interaction on Blood Moon Bayou and the final photograph of the Xavier Institute where Rogue and Gambit stood on the steps with his arm slung around her shoulders is still ripe with possibility.

X-Men Evolution

X-Men Evolution

They cancelled the show before any of it could be resolved.

Insert fan fiction and fancy to solve any lingering desire to see how that happened.

What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters:

  • Everyone has secrets. It gives a character depth. (What we don’t know about Gambit’s time spent with Jean Luc following Cajun Spice is the problem that needs to be resolved. How Rogue came to acquire his trench coat and the ability to fly are open to interpretation, but personally, I always thought Ms. Marvel was involved.)
  • A character’s wants fuel the conflict. (Remy wanted to be free of the Guild, but Jean Luc was captured by Assassins. Some misplaced loyalty to his family brought him back, and though misguided, stealing Rogue seemed to be the best possible conclusion to get the job done. It’s a bit weak, but hell, we can work with that. Rogue would have beaten the shit out of him in that boxcar if he hadn’t made her feel so sympathetic towards him.)
  • A character’s denial of their wants add a layer of interest. (Rogue still has that Queen of Hearts someplace. I imagine somewhere safe; somewhere no one else is likely to find it because she keeps her feelings to herself.)
  • A character’s backstory describes their personality, their personal failings, their greatest achievement. (In Evo canon, Mystique’s a bitch. Jean Luc’s a bitch. And Rogue kissed Gambit first and might or might not remember it thanks to Apocalypse. Go have fun with that.)
  • They’re like two clocks ticking a second off. Eventually the rhythm will line up, but it takes time.
  • Fill the reader in. There are so many plot holes in Marvel canon that it’s easy to overindulge in the little details that never made it into every universe. Exploit it all. Exploit none of it.
  • Action. Reaction. Scene. Sequel. Don’t ever walk away from a plot thread if its meant to slam the reader in the face. You need to see the response of the other characters involved to make it viable, to make it stick, to create an impact that the reader can feel. (Maybe he never called because Thieves don’t keep traceable cellphones. Maybe something happened to him in the duration they were apart. Maybe something Sinister. Pun.)

What writing Rogue and Gambit Fanfiction taught me about writing Original Fiction:

  • Never give the reader the satisfaction of seeing everyone happy.
  • Hold the possibility of everything being okay in front of the reader like a carrot in front of a donkey. This is the lead. This keeps the reader engaged.
  • Not everything needs to be revealed at once. The sordid stuff comes out a bit at a time, and be reluctant to reveal it at all. (Just don’t forget about where you were going with it. That’s doom. Doom that takes hours to re-read before you can move forward.)
  • Always end a chapter on a cliffhanger. Keep that plot moving. Make them want to turn the page.
  • Write about the things you love, research the stuff you’re not sure of. Learn new things. Apply them.
  • If you don’t like what you’re writing, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If you’re not laughing your ass off or crying while you’re writing it, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Accents, adverbs, and French translations are the devil. Probably don’t do it. (If I could rewrite the whole thing over, I wouldn’t. What a mess.)
  • Don’t be discouraged, just put your butt in the chair and go at it.
  • Don’t engage in wank. You’re above that.

A friend of mine fell headlong into Kamen Rider recently. Started up his own tumblr. He’s gone full fanboy, which is adorable. I have Brad to thank for being the inspiration behind this post. Enthusiasm can be infectious, and hearing him talking about buying a bunch of Kamen Rider toys brought back a bunch of warm memories and fond nostalgia for the days and nights I gladly lost sleep for my fandom and the friends I made there — folks who edited my work for me, and posted reviews, and demanded updates. Folks who I flew across the country to meet and hang out with.

There’s been a lot of talk following Days of Future Past about Channing Tatum being recruited for the next X-Men film. I’m hopeful for the future of this fandom, no matter how far I get from it. I look back and I realize that even if there’s a distinction between who I was then and who I am now, there’s still a little gleaming kernel of nerdiness that lets me backtrack into the place where it all started. It punches up my enthusiasm for my original work and makes me long for the sort of responses that once flooded my inbox.

It makes me want to finish the story, have some closure. See how it all went down when Marvel couldn’t give me those answers.

Yeah, man. Excelsior.



Showing 11 comments
  • Reply

    What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters: fanfic to original fiction – http://t.co/84oiKqQONr http://t.co/w3P4cOc8ko

  • Kiran Shahzad

    Ah, this post of yours bought back so many memories. I read ‘The Ante’ and various other stories and have always loved your writing style. I’m sorry to hear about your losses; I can’t relate to losing someone, but I can relate to the ‘shift in perspective’ that leads a person somewhere unexpected.

    On a lighter note, Rogue and Gambit have always been my favourite characters. I remember when I used to write fanfiction…. back in 2007 or 2008 I think? I wasn’t very successful at it but it taught me a lot too. First thing that hit me when I started was that writing is so, so hard. Second, it requires a lot of focus for a scatterbrain like me. Third, it’s like building a home – it requires a lot of details, little things here and there to make the story realistic and the characters a little more believable. And then getting reviews! I can’t describe my feelings the first time I posted something and got positive reviews. I haven’t written fanfiction for years and deleted my old unfinished story, but since last year I keep going back and reading my favourite stories. I can’t help it, I’m a nostalgic person.

    Good luck if you continue with The Ante 🙂 It would be great to see how the story continues!

    • Kira Butler

      Good times and bad times were spent in fandom. I used to sit up until four a.m. sometimes working on that story. Just total frenzy of creation. It’s not something I’m likely to ever experience again due to demands of balancing career and relationships and writing, but I look back on that time and I swear, every time I think about it, I think it saved me in a few ways.

      Were you writing under the same name back then? I always find it interesting that I run into people now who I new under a different identity back then.

      • Kiran Shahzad

        Agree…. Although I wasn’t very deeply immersed in writing (I preferred to read other people’s stories), I can sort of track my evolution through the fandom – the times when I was actively drawing and writing both x men and non-x men stuff, squeeing over reviews, times when no words would come, then losing the energy and motivation to write as my life took a turn for the worse. It took me a while to realize that poetry is my true love and writing long stories isn’t, haha.

        I wrote under a terrible pen name, and still have that account at ff.net. You never knew me though, I was a lurker who was/is really good at lurking. I was too shy to talk to anybody online back then! Kiran is my real name.

        • Kira Butler

          Oh, poetry!! That’s awesome! (It completely escapes me. I love reading it but I can’t write it to save my life.)

          Well, it’s a pleasure to “meet” you in your real name/persona.

          • Kiran Shahzad

            Yay poetry! It just comes to me more easily than story writing, but I’m never sure whether it is good or lame or just plain bad.

            The pleasure is all mine 🙂

  • Reply

    From the blog archives: What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters http://t.co/OzLCXczZ3i http://t.co/UE1zK7718j

  • Reply

    From the blog archives: What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters http://t.co/OzLCXczZ3i http://t.co/MJziQOc3Uo

  • Reply

    From the blog archives: What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters http://t.co/OzLCXczZ3i http://t.co/y7SCZwcNyf

  • @kirabutler

    From the blog archives: What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters http://t.co/OzLCXczZ3i http://t.co/OYDSx4MOIx

  • @kirabutler

    From the blog archives: What Gambit & Rogue taught me about writing original characters http://t.co/OzLCXczZ3i http://t.co/cvqKC3UHqR

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