When fan fiction writers stray from the real, or canon, world of television NCIS:LA and into an alternate universe of their own creation, questions of character become ever so important. One challenge is keeping Deeks and the gang in character in their new world. Another is introducing original characters who can seamlessly interact with him and move the story forward. We talked with our group of fan fiction writers about these issues of characterization.
“Eric, if you don’t get us out of this fucking freaky sci fi bullshit you’re going to be really glad you don’t have balls anymore.”
Kensi raises her – his? – eyebrows and whispers to Deeks, “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Sam cuss before.”
Deeks doesn’t look up from his boobs. “I think technically you still haven’t.”
…Sam’s not smiling. “I’m glad you all are having fun with this.”
Deeks has started fondling his boobs. “I will have fun with this forever.”
Kensi swats Deeks’ hand away and accidentally brushes her hand against his chest. Something stirs in her pants and she’s simultaneously horrified and excited.
“That’s not fair, Fern – wait, why are you blushing?”
Kensi turns even redder and tries to surreptitiously clasp her hands in front of her.
“You know what we should do?” Deeks says, eyes bright and lashes luxurious. “We should kick Kensi in the balls so she can truly appreciate the sensation!”
Kensi snorts. “Yeah, sure, right after we put you in a lycra miniskirt and six inch heels and then make you jump a chain-link fence.”
Almost without exception, our authors feel that when writing an AU story, it’s crucial to keep Deeks in character. “The Deeks character is so awesome,” Jericho Steele explains, “it wouldn’t feel right to tamper with that… there’s a key to making an NCIS:LA alternate universe feel real for the reader… the characters have to remain true to what makes them unique or as close as possible. If a writer veers too far away from the people we know and love… the AU loses believability and doesn’t hold our attention for long. peanutbutterer concurs, saying, “My favorite part of AUs is having the same character in different circumstances and seeing how they’ll react. Changing the personality, to me, that makes it a different character and that doesn’t appeal to me as a reader/writer… The problem with AUs is it makes it very easy to lose sight of the characters and then it becomes more original fiction than something based on NCIS:LA and at that point it’s very easy to lose readers.”
Tess DiCorsi notes that, “The freedom [of an AU] means you can do something different but for a good AU, I think there has to be something that grounds them in canon. Kensi can be an 1879 Montana rancher’s wife if she’s written properly but she can’t be someone who backs away from a fight or is more concerned with churning butter than defending the people she loves. A well written AU can sell me on any idea as long as the characters are basically the same.”
imahistorian notes that “The cons [of AU] are possibly if the characters are taken too far away from what they originally are, though I think it can also be argued that that is the very point of an AU story.” ZBBZL, who’s actually written one AU with Deeks as a completely out of character dirty cop, generally approaches her story-telling with consistent characterization a priority. “His personality I try not to change, or else I would write about another character completely,” she explains. “The circumstances I build around him explain the changes I can make about him. But overall I try to stay true to who he is. If I succeeded is a question to ask to the readers.” Or as thepixiesmademedoit puts it, “a writer can step so far away from the show that they lose sight of who the characters… truly are. I think that you can run the risk of things becoming unrealistic – though this is, like all writing, totally subjective. It will always be an individual journey for both reader and writer.”
And it’s not even really about hating having to move to L.A. and leave her friends and school behind, or even her dad’s new fiancée. Lauren is nice, and despite this Barbie Mermaid thing about her, she’s actually smart and fun to be around. Sure, she does spend too much time trying to take her out for step-daughter/step-mother bonding time to the mall, but Kensi actually quite enjoys their violin lessons together. No, the real problem is not Lauren.
It’s her son.
Sixteen year-old Martin – Kensi refuses to give in and call him Marty – is the bane of her existence. He is everything that Kensi abhors: loud and obnoxious, skirt-chaser and self-proclaimed heartbreaker. He smells like fish because of all his hours spent at the beach surfing and hitting on girls, and she can’t stand his stupid drawl.
She just cannot.
Keeping Deeks in character in the midst of a new universe is challenging, but so is introducing original characters from that universe who feel just as dimensional, as real, as the characters we’re already so familiar with. Fan fiction OC’s are very similar to the guest stars we see pop into each week’s episode. “In a lot of ways,” describes Tess DiCorsi, “it is what the program does every week with the bad guy of the week, the victims, who helps and who doesn’t help our heroes.” She adds, “There are other writers who do amazing jobs with original characters. A good original character makes a good story sing.”
For many writers, casting an original character begins with their purpose. thepixiesmademedoit explains, “Any new character, whether they’re a permanent addition to the story or just a fleeting visitor (I think either can be important), needs to have a purpose for being there. I think you have to have a reason to drop them into the plot, and preferably it’s to progress the story in some way.” For Tess DiCorsi, “They are usually driving the plot and important to the mystery.” She notes that they are easier to include in longer stories, especially case fics, than in shorter Densi-centric stories. imahistorian adds, “I only create them and bring them into the world if I need the story to move in a particular direction, or for them to bring in information or provide challenges for change and growth for Kensi and/or Deeks that aren’t always present in the existing characters from the show.”
Sweet Lu uses OC’s to give Deeks different people to interact with, who can “bring out different aspects of his character,” she explains. “An original character can add texture to the main characters’ own interaction. The same can be said for the OC that supports Deeks or the other members of the team. If they help Deeks, we like them, plus it’s nice to contrast an outsider’s view of a main character with members of the team. An OC can reveal something the other members of the team might not see or realize.” thepixiesmademedoit also uses them this way. “New characters are often a fantastic way, a tool of sorts, to help open up and explore different aspects of Deeks, Kensi, etc. Even if they turn out not to be in line with what the official writers come up with, it’s still a great way to open up new avenues of storytelling.”
imahistorian enjoys having these OC’s mix with Kensi and Deeks. “It’s also great fun to write original characters that might rub Kensi or Deeks the wrong way, or provide a relationship (sibling, best friend, parental) that we haven’t seen on the show,” she describes. “Getting to write Kensi and Deeks in those different roles is so much fun because the interaction is completely new and different. As a writer I want to make it fit with the people Kensi and Deeks are, but writing the human interaction lets me play with dramatic emotions like love, hate, anger, and joy. Capturing that for Kensi and Deeks while also being true to who they are on the show and who they have become through the course of telling a story is immensely satisfying to me as a writer. And original characters can help those situations happen.”
When he saw the young man hesitating, Jericho reached over and patted him gently on his shoulder. “It’s okay Deeks. You’ve just met me … no need to get into any really deep conversations.”
For some reason, having someone like Jericho from outside their team to talk to made him feel that maybe he could talk about certain things. It was nice to have an outside perspective… someone that didn’t have a history with himself or Kensi. Callen and Sam were great but they were Kensi’s unofficial ‘older brothers’ and they tended to be a little on the protective side. Eric and Nell were wrapped up in their own little back-and-forth ‘thing’ and didn’t seem to really grasp all the complexities that made up the Deeks/Kensi dynamic. And Hetty? Well… she was just Hetty… who knew what she was thinking.
Feeling his heart thump in his chest, Deeks tried hard not to say the words that popped into his head, but he was tired of holding it all in.
“That’s just it… no one really wants to talk about it.” He released the door and Jericho let it pull itself closed as they both turned and just looked back out into the parking lot. Deeks reached up and ran his hands through his hair, trying to get his turbulent thoughts in line. “Sam and Callen make fun of it sometimes, Hetty acts like it isn’t a big deal and Kensi… well… Kensi… she’s…”
“Complicated.” Jericho finished for him.
Just how do these original characters spring to life in our writers’ minds? Everyone has their own technique. Sweet Lu often starts with the physical aspects before she imagines the character’s inner life. “Creating an original character is exciting and a little daunting at the same time,” she says. “I find myself searching for them in the oddest places. Whenever I am out and about, or on a plane, in a mall or restaurant, I watch people. I look for types that might fit one of my stories, especially if I am in the middle of one. I found two for my last story at a baseball game… I find that starting with a physical description, even if it’s to point out something odd about that person, or something they do or how they stand is an effective way to solidify that character in my mind. It doesn’t have to be much, just a line or two. If I can’t relate to the character, no one else will either. I build from I there.” She goes on to give them a name and then starts on their personality. She thinks about, “…are they sweet natured, are they mean…can they be a combination of both? Not all bad guys are totally bad and all good guys can’t be perfect. They have to be believable human beings. If a character only appears briefly to move the story along, they still need to resonate with the reader, so I add a little something to make you remember them in case I have to use them again… Any small description helps make that character a little more real.”
imahistorian also likes to draw from reality. “…every original character I’ve written shares a characteristic with someone I know in real life. It brings them to life to me which I think helps make me write them better.” thepixiesmademedoit talks about the importance of matching OC’s with the show’s characters, saying, “If you’re bringing in characters that are friends and family, then for me it’s about using the right language, the right phrases and colloquialisms, as well as writing the familiar actions and gestures that these people would share. A shared history and believable backstory is also useful in cementing the ties that bond the show’s characters to any new ones.”
In addition to giving them distinguishing physical characteristics, our writers also work to make their OC’s personalities distinct and most importantly, real. “That’s always a goal,” says imahistorian, “that original characters will seem real when placed in Kensi and Deeks’ world. One of the tricks is to make original characters have flaws and complexities just like real people do, and just like Kensi and Deeks do. They can’t be perfect people and as a writer I try to give original characters a history of their own. Challenges they’ve had to face, good things that have happened to them, bad things that have shaped them.” thepixiesmademedoit sums it up this way: “Any story, any character always comes down to whether it ‘feels right’; whether the voices sound right in my head; whether they fit and blend in with other characters as well as the story I’m trying to tell. If the character is going to be a more permanent addition then I like to have them pretty well formed in my mind. I like to be able to have them as a living, breathing person wondering about in my head, I have to believe in their existence, because if I don’t then I’ll never be able to make them real for anyone else reading the story.”
The restaurant was not overly busy. With the weekday lunch crowd thinning, he saw a nice table in the corner of the patio. Deeks sat down, rolling his shoulders and stretching a little.
“L.A. traffic will do that to you every time,” a man said as he sat across the table from Deeks. He was tall, slim and fit. Dressed in a black Keith Richards and the XPensive Winos tee shirt, a pair of tan cargo shorts and Teva flip flops, Deeks’s new dining partner was one of those men who could be forty or could be seventy. His hair was long, grey and pulled back haphazardly into a ponytail. Youthful enough but not young. “I don’t know how you Los Angelinos do it.”
“Let me guess,” Deeks said. “You’re Ira Weiss.”
“Glad to meet you, man,” Weiss stuck out his hand but Deeks made no move to shake it. If Weiss was disappointed by Deeks’s reaction, it certainly didn’t show. “I’d be lying if I said Callen told me a lot about you.” Weiss looked around. “I’ve been in and out of Los Angeles for decades but somehow I’ve never been in this place. This is cool.”
Deeks eyed Kensi as she was walking to the table. He scratched the left side of his jaw where he had an old scar. They set a number of distress signals over the years, that was certainly one. “I started coming here as a kid,” Deeks shared. “My old man liked his fish.” Deeks watched as Kensi retrieved her weapon while still carrying their lunches and two drinks. She was a woman of many talents.
Next time we’ll talk to our writers about some of the special original characters they’ve invented to interact with Deeks. Some of them are surrogate family members, while others are super evil bad guys. Join us for next week’s Writing Deeks: Heroes and Villains.
Want to Read More?
To find the stories quoted above, follow these links:
peanutbutterer, “And Gunpowder” Ch. 23 “Genderflipped”
Jericho Steele, “Aunt Hetty”
Tess DiCorsi, “Scattered”
Or, go back to the last Writing Deeks, Alternate Universes.
A special thanks to @thewingsofnight for creating the wonderful artwork.