Ah, angst. The spice of fanfic. Well, that and smut, which is a different essay.

Stories are about change. The very essence of plot is about starting in one place and ending up somewhere else. Not, of course, necessarily in a physical sense. But, in a story, something, someone, in someway, must *move*.

This transistion does not *have* to be painful. It can be easy, painless, and still be perfectly valid as a plot. Sometimes, these painless tales are the best of all. Something light, and happy, and uplifting. The characters could be motivated to change in one shining moment of revelation. Or one moment, when, just for a second, the barriers between them go down all on their own.

However, many times, what motivates the change, what drives the characters out of thier comfortable groove, where they would otherwise have stayed, quite contentedly, is pain, like a crop to a race horse. If something is wrong in a character’s world, they will move to overcome it. This is angst used as a motivator. Pain as a driving force. Say Giles is deeply lonely, or Willow is pining away for him. Say Buffy’s death or Willow’s attempt to end the world makes Willow or Giles see things in a different light.

Then, once the story is in motion, another type of angst can come into play.

Drama is about facing obstacles, and stuggling to overcome them. Problems are the friction that plot pushes against, where the sparks and the heat are generated. Even the most pain-free story has some barrier that is, during the course of it, surmounted. In a romance, this barrier is always, at its heart, the same: the line between friends and the mythical happily-ever-after. However, how hard this line is to cross is what varies greatly in different stories, and how it is that it is crossed, and what problems it presents is where the diversity of all romance lies.

In one story, it may be no more than a sketchy line in the sand. In another, it may be a massive wall, twenty feet high, made of steel, topped with barbed wire, and guarded by men with large guns and large dogs and search lights.

Regardless, there is something to keep in mind when building that wall:

There absolutely is such a thing as too much angst. At some point, the reader will throw up their hands and declare your poor, mistreated characters a lost cause. There are several things that will encourage this behavior to happen sooner, rather than later:

1) A simple lack of communication, while a very human problem, is *not* going to go over well with the reader. If there are issues between our two heros that could be worked out if they simply exchange three or four words, the reader is going to be highly annoyed with the author. Miscommunication, except when handled *very* well, is the type of plot device that will throw the reader out of the story. Please, please, please avoid this.

2) Angst that reads as “artificial”. By this, I mean problems that spring up out of nowhere, and seem to very clearly be inserted only to cause pain to the characters. Often, in Buffy, this takes the form of a sudden demon attack, or a similar situation. The main hallmark of this problem, though, is that is has no real connection to the plot.

3) Major illness. Yes, I know that these problems exist in real life. But, generally, that is the reason that people prefer not to see it in fanfic. I learned this myself the hard way after writing a story dealing with AIDS. Serious, real world issues do not fit well in most fanfic stories. It often will come across as using a true tragedy as a plot device.

So, the question is, how to have angst without inspiring reader annoyance?

Angst should be inherent. It should be a vital part of the very fabric of the situation, the plot, and the characters. If you are going to have a demon or antagonist, introduce them right from the start. Not just as a passing line. Have them truly be a part of the plot.

Better yet, though, make use of the problems that are already present.

Willow and Giles are not a couple on the show. There are serious issues involved in crossing that line.

1) The age gap. Giles is about 28 years older than Willow, which is well old enough to be her father. Think for a moment about the gap between you and your own parents. These two characters grew up in different times. Their values and their experiences are deeply influenced by that. They are at very different stages in life, facing different choices. And, of course, there is the social stigma of a man Giles’s age dating a girl Willow’s age. Also, Willow’s parents probably wouldn’t approve, and, when Willow is under legal age, and still in high school, there are real legal risks for Giles. He could be fired from his job and probably deported.

2) Strongly related to the age gap, is the mentor-student type relationship that Willow and Giles do have on the show. Especially in the earlier seasons, but even in the later seasons, he does hold a position of authority over her. This causes a distinct power imbalance in their relationship. Overcoming that is a very big deal.

3) Other love-interests. Over the course of the show, there are only a few episodes where both Willow and Giles are truly single. Often, stories deal with this by simply saying in the author’s notes things like, “There is no Tara in this universe.” I feel this is not only a cop-out, but also a waste of story potential. Removing a character’s canonical love interest from the picture is a vast source of dramatic potential. Finding a good reason for Willow to break up with Tara or Oz (or vice-versa) could very well also lead to a plausible precipitating event for Willow and Giles to get together in the first place. Also, Willow did cheat on Oz in season three, so it is *not* outside the realm of possibility for her to do it again. It is not necessary to dismiss Willow and Giles’s other loves in order to make them a couple. As for the reactions of their lover’s themselves... well, we know for a canon fact that Oz reacts very badly to finding out Willow is with Tara... Tara herself, I see as more likely to simply give in, but Willow might be reluctant to harm her, as she’s very protective and sheltering. And Jenny seems to see the Scoobies as children, and would probably also react badly to the notion of Giles being involved with one of them.

4) The reactions of the Scoobies. Buffy sees Giles as “very, very old,” and any sexual relationships he may have as “gross.” And all this when he was even with someone more or less his own age, at least, as far as she was concerned. How would she react to the idea of him with someone her own age? Especially her closest friend? Probably badly. And, as we saw in season two, when he turns away from Jenny at Buffy’s behest, he places his duty to her above his personal life. And Xander... well, while he does react better in general to Willow’s lovers than he does to Buffy’s, I can see him reacting very, very badly to a relationship between Willow and Giles. His relationship with Giles has always been a fairly edgy one. Like Buffy, he reacts negatively to any mention of Giles’s sexuality. Also, like many Jossverse males, he and Giles have a sort of ceasefire at best. If ever a situation, such as discovering a relationship between Giles and one of his peers, made him see Giles as a true sexual rival, primal as it is, I believe things could get very ugly between them.

5) Willow’s sexual orientation. There’s ample evidence in canon supporting the notion that Willow is bisexual, but even using that explantion, it is still a situation that could cause mental upheaval. Willow spent several years adjusting to calling herself “gay,” and finding that that lable isn’t entirely accurate would change her whole self-image again. Also, especially after Tara’s death, she may see it as a betrayal of her and her relationship with her to go back to “boys town.”

6) Willow and Giles’s character flaws. They’ve both got them in ample supply, and they are a truly wonderful part of their characters. Willow can be both selfish and over-accomodating. She’s power-hungry, and tends to take what she wants, even if it’s not good for her. Also, especially earlier in the series, she’s shy, naive, and has very low self-confidence. Giles can be bitingly sarcastic and bitter at times. He also has a tendency, especially where Willow is concerned, to overlook the things he doesn’t want to see, like her growing problems with magic. And, of course, both Willow and Giles have a dark side. They are the two members of the Scoobie gang who have taken human lives (ok, Buffy killed at least one of the Knights of Byzantium and Caleb, but that was while actively involved in battle). Willow killed Rack and Warren, and Giles killed Ben and probably Randall. They both got into dark magics in their youths, in much the same way, reveling in the power of it, and the high it gave them. They also both paid the price for that magic, and are scarred by it.

Generally, issues like these are more than enough to carry a story. Adding a demon or other outside force to the mix often unnecessarily complicates things. Love, all by itself, is dramatic. An entire story could be written in which no one except Willow and Giles step on stage at all, and it could still be perfectly dramatic. It would possibly be even better for its simplicity.

And, one final note on the subject of angst:

One thing Buffy, the show, does very, very well, is balance angst and humor in such a way that the two powerfully enhance each other. A reader can overdose on angst, and become numb. Comic relief removes this numbness, and always the reader to feel the pain more acutely.

And, of course, it’s all about the pain. *g*

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