Characterization crib sheets were the most valuable tool I found when writing BB. People sometimes use them for writing original characters, but they were really useful in Sam and Dean's cases because there's such a wealth of canon characterization to invoke. And I wanted to honor that complexity, and not do it the disservice of reading and then composing it superficially, but... I also kind of wanted to know wtf was going on, too. XD
Which really shouldn't be that difficult when you have just two characters to even deal with! But you have Dean, and you have Sam, and then you have Dean's perception of Sam and Sam's perception of Dean and Dean's perception of Dean and Sam's perception of Sam and Dean's perfection of Sam's perception of Dean and Sam's perception of Dean's perception of Sam; and Dean's perception of his perception of himself, but also Dean's perception of his perception of himself that he's ignoring, and Sam's--yeah, anyway. Shout-out to the SPN writing staff because holy fuck, the ambition--!
To help myself out after I re-read and re-outlined my original draft, I took a step back, took the whole project down to studs, and re-started with the basics.
1. Points of characterization that canon has demonstrated to be true.
2. How this characterization manifests itself within the world of this fic.
3. Why I want to do this/what I'm most excited to develop in this.
Then I moved on to thinking through in more detail the various aspects of this, so I'd have all this working drawn out, and I could reference it whenever I wanted and re-ground myself.
The benefit of having 9 seasons of canon to work with is that rather than simply articulate constrains, it also offers a field of characterization of such depth you can do ALMOST ANYTHING YOU WANT, given enough time and space to justify your course of action. It took me a long, long time to figure out which "anything" I wanted, though. I had to keep revisiting Sam's crib and adding to it and crossing things out as I honed in on that and discarded other (probably perfectly viable) potential characterizations.
Even if they were consistently getting overwritten, having the notes was really helpful, because I was able to track what characterization changes I was making. The key thing about these cribs is that they weren't static, or like, unswervingly ordained characterizations that cannot be altered nor expanded upon. But they made for a much calmer and more orderly evolution of characterization, as opposed to the much messier mess it would have been without this scaffolding. XD
They were also useful as "outlines by exclusion"--pieces of characterization that weren't going to be addressed, or that weren't going to be addressed explicitly, in any case; I feel like whenever you set out to write these idiots (or, okay, any character conceived after like, Hemingway), 70% of what goes on between them doesn't actually go on between them. I find it sort of helpful to have examples of what, exactly, is being excluded.
The top right is supposed to say "before GETTING back TO business." What is proofreading?
Also known as "cribs sheets full of conversations you wish the Winchesters would have but they totally won't. Too bad for you."
And in addition to the separate character cribs, it was also helpful to have this little T chart, too, also known as "reasons the Winchesters won't be having those conversations. Too bad for them":
Dean feels X. Sam feels Y. In response to X, Sam says Z. But because Y and X, Dean believes Q, and enacts P, which mutes Z and inspires R in Sam.
Dean only got one page of rumination to Sam's three, but I'll take this opportunity to assure the world it's not because Dean is not worth ruminating on! XP Otherwise I'd be out of a job, lolol. I had another fic that was due in the middle of BB, so I worked through Dean in that instead. The subtitle of that other fic could be "Dean, this is who you're not in BB."
I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with Dean in this fic appallingly (APPALLINGLY) late in the game, so in order to organize my characterization I used one assemblage of Dean in that other fic, and used the precipitate for this one. Which is a strategy that I kind of liked (in the sense that it really wouldn't have worked any OTHEr way), but still left much to be desired. Because of course, knowing who a character is NOT going to be is only half the battle.
One of the great things about Dean is that there are things he'll say, and things he'll do, regardless of where he's at or what he's feeling; so you can delay making those decisions until appallingly late.
One of the terrible things about Dean is that there are things he'll say, and things he'll do, regardless of where he's at or what he's feeling; so you can delay making those decisions until APPALLINGLY LATE. (And run the risk of never actually, uh, making them. Ever. And pretending that you did. Really.)
And by appallingly late, I mean this is a hasty re-outline from 12 hours before my post-date:
Dear future!self doing future!writing, as helpful as characterization by exclusion really truly is... just write the goddamn crib sheet, too. Just do it. You will thank me later.
I still haven't actually read the final of this fic, because I have other things I'd rather be reading, but my most recent perception is that in spite of all my Sam whining on LJ (I was afraid he was just going to end up an OOC woobie wet blanket), his is actually the better characterized. He owns more of the narrative, so that might be part of it, but dollar to dollar the Sam parts are better than the Dean parts,imho. I'm waaay more okay with that than the other way around, though, because SAM, WE HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING, I THOUGHT WE HAD AN UNDERSTANDING, WHY WOULD YOU DESERT ME, SOBBB, whereas I'm used to being, and can be reasonably comfortable being, a little at sea with Dean.
For Dean in this story, I ended up grabbing hold of whatever seemed like it might launch me toward him--which in this case was Kevin (in the first draft), and then, uh, substance abuse in the third or fourth. I'm not super comfortable with that, because I wasn't sure how that would be received, and whether it would seem... random? In the sense that "Dean and pills? Isn't that calling back to two lines in S6 and one in S8? Uh, why pull that back in now?" But I was working with this Mark of Cain thing, and Dean's general substance tendencies, and as I played with it a bit in Dean's first chapter it granted me some traction. And there are whispers of substance abuse all over S9 anyway, so I just rode it.
I don't know that the story really comes to any definite narrative about all that. On one hand, I think that's exactly how it should be; on the other, I'm still leery. But something I absolutely adored from 9x22 was this sense that even though Dean being kind of psychopathic, neither Castiel nor Sam could really... figure out whether he was okay or not. XP They'd have this sure sense that he wasn't, but then he'd do something that made it seem like actually he was, and it was all very up in the air. And I fucking love that uncertainty. Mwah 9x22. <3333 Since I couldn't have 9x22 in this fic, I thought this might be a way to play with that, anyway. Dean is essentially high for this entire goddamned fic after Chapter 1 and the first half of Chapter 2, within which he's arguably the least "Dean." Because what is baseline, really?
Did it work out? ehhhh
Obviously, all this is not entirely necessary for every single little (or big) fic, ever. But for me it was a way of deconstructing and internalizing S9 and all that that entails, for an extremely characterization-based fic. When you go into panic mode, it's a relief to be able to look back to your own personal Wiki, read over your theorization, and see that theorization in the concrete scene you're writing. So you can be like ohhhh right, that's what I'm doing. Yes, that's what I'm doing.
TL;DR INFORMATION IS BEAUTIFUL. Cheat sheets, yes. I approve. <3 11th hour characterization, on the other hand: Never do that again.