It’s not every day that five of the best NCIS:LA fan fiction writers combine forces to tell a single story. In anticipation of a new wikiDeeks feature called Writing Deeks, we talked with all five about the experience of writing “War Games.” How did it come about? How did they make it sound so cohesive? Who decided to set Deeks at odds with Callen, and to put Densi together? Let’s take a closer look at this thing called relay writing.
From Stir Fry to Games of War
He slowly put on his helmet as his mind wandered, shouldering the backpack before swinging his leg over the bike and sitting quietly for a few minutes, smiling softly to himself as he revved the engine and felt the vibration between his legs. Slipping on his dark glasses, he rode the bike out of the courtyard and began to settle into his bad boy alias, searching back through his memories of his wild days running with Ray and a few of the more unsavory characters in his neighborhood. He opened the throttle and pushed the bike faster as he wove his way through traffic toward the freeway, a crooked wiseass grin on his face.
“This is gonna be fun,” he yelled into the wind.
The story got its start with an idea from phillydi for a multi-writer story. She and Sweet Lu discussed the best way to pull it together. As Sweet Lu describes, “At first we were going to just open it to anyone who wanted to participate, but we realized that idea would make the process unwieldy with no end in sight, so we set some ground rules.” They decided to go with 10 chapters and 5 different writers, and approached writers they knew. That led them to other wikiDeeks contributors imahistorian and Kadiedid, along with Jericho Steele.
Sweet Lu started things off with an opening chapter and a working title, “Stir Fry,” a reference to the multiple writers participating. Her chapter established the beginnings of the plot, the dynamics between the characters and where the story fell within the show’s timeline. Aside from working out a few logistical details, no additional planning occurred. As imahistorian describes, “The general idea… was to start off with something loose that each writer could then bring their own ideas to.” Sweet Lu notes, “We wanted it to truly be an adventure and a true relay.”
Sweet Lu goes on to say, “The first chapter was easy…all set up. I knew I wanted it to be an undercover mission set in the desert and for the whole team to be involved.” Jericho Steele remembers getting “…the basic premise: Deeks goes undercover as an old alias and the story involves a weapons smuggling operation.” And with that, the relay was underway.
But about halfway through, the group began to realize they needed a bit more structure. As Jericho Steele describes, “At first, we were just writing off of the previous chapter but as time went on, we realized that while the chapters were good, they had no sure direction.” Kadiedid puts it another way: “I think we were afraid it would go off the rails if we did what we wanted with no specific direction.” So Sweet Lu completed a bare bones outline for the rest of the story. It “gave the writers enough to work with,” describes Jericho Steele, “and helped us to map out our individual chapters so that they would fit in with the rest of the story.”
The other significant mid-course adjustment was the addition of an epilogue, which didn’t occur until the story began posting and Sweet Lu took in the reader feedback. She realized that people would want a greater sense of closure than Chapter 10 provided. She says, “…even though I ended the story in the perfect place for my taste, a lot of the readers would want to know what happens after and I understand that.” She decided to add a team-centered theme with a Densi ending to finish the story off.
From Five Voices to One
“…Just because it doesn’t go exactly according to G. Callen’s master plan doesn’t mean a mission is failing. Rolling with the punches is sometimes required.”
Kensi looked at him fondly. “I think you kind of like it when things go slightly awry.”
Deeks grinned. “Yeah, slightly awry is kind of my wheelhouse.”
“War Games” doesn’t read like a mix of five different points of view. Kadiedid says, “If you just read it straight through not realizing that there were several authors, you would definitely be surprised when you found out there were five of us. That’s due to the thoughtful approach each writer took to their contributions.”
Each writer read (and reread) the previous chapters to get a good sense of where the story was heading before beginning to write the next installment. They considered the preceding chapter’s point of view and character dynamics, as well as any storytelling gaps. imahistorian says, for example, “My first chapter came later in the story and it felt to me like the Deeks/Kensi interactions had been a little light, so that was a big part of what I focused on.”
But always there was a desire to keep things cohesive, and a consideration for the writer who would follow. As imahistorian described it, “I was worried about introducing characters or taking the story in a direction that would be difficult for one of the other writers to pick up and continue. I didn’t want to sabotage anyone writing after me!”
For Sweet Lu, it was a successful and satisfying group effort: “One of the best things about shepherding this story along was watching each chapter come in and seeing how talented these writers were in keeping the tone consistent. There were variations in writing style, and surprise additions along the way, but everyone put ego aside to make this into a great collaborative effort even though we didn’t collaborate.”
The Deeks of “War Games”
Attempting to clear his throat only made it burn more, but Deeks was determined to scope these guys out just a little. “I know I’m new around here, but if tying guys up to vehicles is how this outfit gets off… I think I need to reconsider my membership application.”
Neither of the men gave any indication that they heard him. That only made him ramp it up another notch.
“I know men in uniform do funny things to some people, but you two are really going to have to work on your act, because I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling it, ya know?”
“I think I hear banjos … do you guys hear banjos?”
Kadiedid notes that Deeks’ character “lends itself to great storytelling because he can be many things. His undercover work and range of aliases can inspire lots of interesting ideas and circumstances.” So just how did the writers of “War Games” decide which facets of his personality to focus on? Although phillydi felt that all the writers “know the characters so well we don’t have to worry about using the same voice,” everyone made a concerted effort to represent Deeks, “as close to the show as possible,” as Kadiedid described.
However there were a few struggles along the way. Jericho Steele “had to fight the temptation to explore the other characters and stay focused on Deeks … that was pretty hard to do because all of them are so interesting.” phillydi, who doesn’t enjoy whumping Deeks the way some do, had to write the post-beating chapter where he’s taken to the hospital. She agrees that it was a little difficult but notes, “with the hurt comes the comfort which is so much fun to write.” And Sweet Lu may have begun the story with a close-to-canon version of Deeks, but she feels that he may have evolved by the final chapter. “The Deeks in chapter 10 is closer to the way I normally write Deeks,” she says. “We feel his frustration and anger and all the emotion he usually has in my stories.”
Deeks vs. Callen
“I’ll be there under the auspices of SecNav,” Callen interjected, his solid form reflected in the mirror. “My job is to report back on field operations and your job is to provide me with the photographs to go with that report. You’re a new hire. A civilian that came highly recommended, but who rubs me the wrong way.”
“So nothing new then,” Deeks said soberly, watching for Callen’s response.
“Is there something you want to say to me, Deeks?” Callen asked, his voice tightly controlled.
“Just trying on my new surliness,” Deeks said evenly.
From the story’s very first conversation, the tension between Callen and Deeks is front and center. For Sweet Lu, it was all part of setting up the story: “I’m afraid I am the kind of writer that loves tension in my stories and I wanted to establish some of that while they prepared for the mission.” She was inspired by the dynamic between the two men in “Omni.” “Their confrontation at the end of that episode was riveting and I wanted to explore that tension between them and how that might affect the entire team while on an undercover mission. They both glower so well.”
Most of the other writers were happy to follow her lead, even though no one, Sweet Lu included, knew the reason for the dissent. Kadiedid enjoyed exploring the conflict between these two, which she believes might soon appear on the show. For Jericho Steele, writing Deeks versus Callen was a highlight of the whole experience. It caused him “to see Callen as more of a team leader, who is responsible for what his people are doing, rather than Deeks’ friend and teammate.”
On the other hand, phillydi “had a hard time trying to justify the problems between Callen and Deeks. It just didn’t seem right,” she says. “There had to be a really good reason Callen was not supporting Deeks and Densi… I loved that it turned out to be Granger as the bad guy all along… which was perfect in keeping the relationship between the team intact.”
The final twist that made Granger the cause of all the unease was developed towards the end of the process, through a joint effort from imahistorian, who was beginning to write Chapter 9, and Sweet Lu, who was to finish things up with the final chapter. They conferred by phone (“maybe cheating a little” according to imahistorian). Sweet Lu admits that the conversation began “with the realization that neither one of us had any idea why Callen would be so pissed.”
To make matters worse, they needed a motivation that both was good enough to justify Callen’s behavior and could be resolved in the last two chapters. Sweet Lu notes that, “We discussed several possibilities but were constrained by the fact that the majority of the story was already down on paper…make that computers. Luckily, we had decided not to post any chapters until the story was complete, so when we decided to bring Granger into it, I was able to add a couple of sentences to the first chapter to make it plausible. Mel then worked it into her chapter, which was also the first one since chapter one where the team could talk to each other as their true selves and not as their aliases. It dovetailed nicely into the final chapter.” And as imahistorian volunteers, “Granger was a pretty easy character to basically ‘pin’ it on so in the end that developed naturally.”
The Densi Element
He paused then sighed, “Kens, I’m just worried about these guys and I don’t want you anywhere near them.”
“I can take care of myself and I don’t appreciate the implication that I’m some sort of helpless female who faints at the first sign of trouble,” she said angrily.
“I never said you couldn’t take care of yourself!” he countered. “I just have a bad feeling about this and I can’t concentrate if I’m worried about what’s happening with you.”
She sighed loudly. “Deeks, you’re going to have to get used it if we’re to continue to work together. You can’t shut me out every time we have a case. It’s not an option.”
He sat silently as he thought about their complicated situation and if they would ever be able to find a reasonable solution.
The story’s biggest break from canon was the inclusion of an established Densi relationship. “Since the story would only be ten chapters,” Sweet Lu explains, “I decided to make Kensi and Deeks a couple so I wouldn’t have to deal with the added tension, wanting that tension to come from of the unknown conflict between Deeks and Callen and the danger of the mission.”
There was no debate on the topic, given that it’s what most of the writers want to see on the show. phillydi thought it worked well into the story’s timeline: “Since it happened right after Afghanistan and we decided to go with that it was easy to write their relationship into this story. It had to be before Deeks started questioning his feelings but it seems to work. There was no discussion really. Which is amazing how coherent it sounds!”
All of the writers seemed to enjoy writing this version of Densi. Kadiedid says, “I think some of it was wishful thinking (hoping) on our part.” For Jericho Steele, it differed from how he usually writes Kensi and Deeks. “The established Densi was new but it was oh so much fun to write … I think I’m hooked now,” he says.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
There was a full moon dangling like a bright neon sign in the empty skies as Deeks headed south along Route 5 to the coast. His internal compass always pointed to the calming waters of the Pacific when he needed time to think or sooth his troubled soul. Kensi didn’t question where they were headed; as far as she was concerned she could ride like this forever, her arms wrapped securely around his waist, her hair blowing in the wind. It was times like these when she could forget about the mission and dream of another world, another life with Deeks away from all the worries that had a way of interrupting their personal lives on a daily basis. But the mission always came first; she knew how fortunate they were to steal a sweet moment like this whenever they could.
The writing of “War Games” began with the idea of seeing “what everyone would bring to the table for writing the character, what individual writing styles and interpretation might emerge naturally,” as imahistorian describes.
For Jericho Steele, the hardest part was, “Having to rise to the level of all the other very talented writers that got stuck with me on their writing team. Really… My biggest fear was letting the others down by not ‘seeing’ how they were trying to portray the story or the people in it… I worried that maybe I made it too serious, humorous, or technical, thereby messing up what the others had already worked so hard to do.” Sweet Lu felt similar pressure, particularly at the end of the story. “The hard part for me was having to write the final chapter… I procrastinated like crazy because I didn’t want to let the other writers down. They had done such a wonderful job through the heart of the story and I didn’t want to ruin it.”
But overall the experience was a positive one. Kadiedid says, “At first, I was worried that maybe I was taking the story in a direction that they might not want it to go but these writers are so encouraging and supportive and I was very relieved when they liked what I had sent them.” phillydi summed things up nicely, saying the hardest part “was the responsibility of moving the plot along and getting it right. Also these are all great writers and I wanted to be able to step up to the plate and come across as someone who could stand next to them proudly.”
Writing Deeks Continues
So what do you say, should we have a fan fiction relay every summer? Until the next time, we’re keeping the analysis going with a new continuing feature called Writing Deeks. We’ll find out what it’s like to write for Deeks from fifteen of the most popular fan fiction writers working today. We’ll look at the challenges of writing Deeks’ dark side, at how events from the show have influenced their stories, and at some special takes on Deeks: Funny Deeks, Underdog Deeks, even Surfer Deeks. And of course, we can’t talk about writing for Deeks without Kensi, so we’ll also look at what it’s like to write Densi- the banter, the sexual tension, the communication or lack thereof. The first official Writing Deeks installment will appear a week from Thursday, on October 9th. We hope you’ll check it out for more insights into what it’s like to write about this most fascinating of characters.