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When the Good Brother is Not

VampireDiaries_Bookmark_Stefan

VampireDiaries_Bookmark_Stefan (Photo credit: i heart him)

Earlier this week, I had a Twitter debate about the merits of Stefan Salvatore with my friend, her agent, and another friend who chimed in later. It took me a while to put my finger on what exactly my beef is with Stefan, because I’ve never liked his character much, and I certainly don’t like him with Elena.

Along the way, he’s been called the good brother.

And after a lot of pondering, I realized that my beef with Stefan is that he’s not that at all.

Here’s why I think that. This is of course, my subjective opinion.

He Betrayed His Brother

Before Damon got all murdery and rar, Stefan set a high standard of ugh. When the Mystic Falls council was closing in on the vampires in their midst back in 1864, Damon asked Stefan not to tell his father about Katherine. Stefan promised he wouldn’t.

Then he did. Not in as many words, but he gave it away, setting into motion his own transition and the events that would entomb twenty-seven vampires under the church for a century and a half.

Beyond that, the moment Stefan turns, the first thing he does is kill his own father. And that gets moving before he feeds. His next move is to force his brother to become a vampire against his will. I’ve always thought of that as a form of violation. Damon made a choice. Stefan violated that choice. That’s not to say that everything Damon did afterward was Stefan’s fault, but in a mythology where transitioning into a vampire magnifies whatever emotions you had pre-turn, Stefan magnified Damon’s hatred, his betrayal, and his loyalty to a vampire who had played them both.

Stefan’s Default Setting is Monstrous

When Stefan got turned into a vampire, he went all-binge, all the time. It took the Civil War and Lexi to drag his ass out of it. Every time he’s left to his own devices, he gets all super-murdery. He is almost incapable of maintaining his control. I don’t buy into the idea that he’s a good guy with a bad side, because I feel that absolves him from anything that happens when that bad side is in control of his actions.

He goes on a massive killing spree with Klaus. He murdered heaps and heaps and heaps of people before that. Ripped them apart. It’s not fine to kill a bunch of people just because he feels bad about it later once Lexi manages to force some feels down his throat again.

My point is that without external impetus (usually Lexi, later Elena), Stefan’s base nature is to be a mass-murdering fuckhead.

Sure, he survives on squirrels and bunnies when he’s in remission, but that never lasts long, and you never know what’s going to make him snap. There is a very big difference between compartmentalizing a bad part of yourself and controlling it. Stefan has never learned real control, and I do not trust people who have such disparate sides. It’s the same reason why I could never be a big fan of Angel — a person who could snap at virtually any moment and become a psycho killer does not make a good boyfriend. Period.

Stefan made a comment to Elena in Thursday’s episode where he said, “You don’t know what I look like when I’m not in love with you.” And he’s right. Here’s the kicker — show viewers don’t really know that either. Even with all the flashbacks to before he met her, we don’t know how he behaves in present-day Mystic Falls when he’s not in love with Elena. Even through all his running amok with Klaus, he was still in love with Elena.

He Makes Supremely Selfish Decisions

Stefan does what he wants when he wants to do it. He does tend to listen more to Elena’s choices (sometimes), but many of the decisions he’s made are only to create an end that he is okay with. Which is to say, he ignores the desires of others to do what he wants, and then he gets mad when they are upset by that.

This season, Stefan decided he needed to get the cure for Elena. First, he didn’t tell Elena about it. He decided what would be best for her without consulting her. Yes, he was acting on the knowledge that she’d never wanted to be a vampire. But that doesn’t make it right. He doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that people change, and once those changes occur, they don’t change back. Even if they do succeed in curing Elena of vampirism, she will be closer to the woman she was as a vampire than the woman who chose Stefan and went sailing into the river off Wickery Bridge last year.

In choosing that path, Stefan put everyone in danger by his reckless decision to force Jeremy to kill vampires. That scene is one of the most despicable things I’ve seen Stefan do. He knows how Elena feels about her brother. And yet he blatantly uses Jeremy to his own ends.

He Cannot Take Responsibility

Feeling guilt and taking responsibility are two completely different things. Stefan feels guilt for the people he killed under Klaus’s influence (and the body count he racked up before that), but he never really takes responsibility for those things. Instead he puts the blame on others by saying he went with Klaus for Damon. Damon never asked him to do that. That was Stefan’s choice. He also puts the breakup blame on Elena when he’s the one who went off on a murder spree, tortured her and her friends (both physically and emotionally), and all but told her to run into his brother’s arms. Then when she develops feelings for Damon, he throws a temper tantrum and displays probably the best example of middle school whinging I’ve seen in a long while.

Damon didn’t do this to him. Elena didn’t do this to him. Stefan might be heartbroken, but he has no one to blame but himself and his failure to reconcile the part of himself that he wants to be (the kind, gentle, not-a-murderer) with the part of himself he keeps giving into (the ripper who tears his victims apart and reconstructs them in fancy poses). Because he has never really learned how to be a whole person, his two halves have torn him apart. And instead of having the self-awareness to realize that, he blames his ex-lover and his brother. Who, by the way, spent a whole season trying to drag his ass back from where it fell over the cliff.

In Conclusion…

You can probably guess that I don’t like Stefan. I don’t think he deserves the title of the good brother. He acts abominably in many cases, and in deeper ways than does his brother quite often. Then instead of fixing it, of learning how to deal with the warring sides of his personality, he broods about it until he snaps again. I think what irritates me is that people label him as the good brother after being only introduced to the “good side” of him, and ignoring the rest of his history and personality does not make those things vanish. He can’t even keep that good side in control without outside intervention. Without Lexi and Elena and Damon, he’d probably be dead.

 

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Murder, Tea, and Piggles

This week I began another rewrite for my first book. For the first time, I feel like my protagonist has something going for her. I’ve probably rewritten the same first chapter twelve times over the past six years, trying to reinvent the wheel over and over and over again. What I needed was for someone to come along, look at it, shake their head and say, “Nope. You’re facing the wrong way. Look over there.”

Last week, the lovely Julie Kenner did just that for me. The result has been oddly liberating. Not only do I feel able to better express a more fully-realized protagonist, but the new goals I wrote for her can be woven seamlessly into the rest of the book. Instead of feeling like I’m reinventing her, I actually feel like I was able to peel back her exterior to figure out exactly what it is that she needed to be. It works — she is much better this way. There are so many little Easter eggs to sprinkle through the book now, and I think that will ultimately make it a more satisfying read for people. I’d love to tell you about them, but as a whole one or two of you have actually read the thing, it wouldn’t make any sense. So you’ll just have to wait. Until I find an agent, sell the book, and it someday gets published.

Yesterday, Karen McFarland hosted New York Times Bestselling Author Bob Mayer on her blog for a great guest post about creating unforgettable characters. I would highly recommend that you check it out. There were some nuggets in there that I definitely intend to keep in mind when I continue this rewrite.

What struck me most about the advice and feedback I’ve gotten lately is that people need motivations for things. They may not be positive things — in fact, I think that often people are more motivated by the threat of something negative than the possibility of something positive — but they have to be present. Whether it’s trying to get your reader to accept why your protagonist is trusting that stranger or why she is so determined to keep something secret, the reader has to be able to say she understands even if she wouldn’t make the same choice.

So as I strike out on this new path (hopefully not in the baseball sense of the phrase), my protagonist has a few new things in her backpack, including a cat named Piggles. My friend has a cat called Miggles, and when I was thinking about her cat, I was thinking of him going hungry and being mad about it, and voila — Piggles was born. He should be an interesting kitty to play with.

A dog kitty

This is about how I picture Piggles. A dog kitty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The past few weeks, I’ve been acting as a beta reader for three friends. It’s been a really fascinating experience, both because it has shown me some amazing writing from three people who will certainly be big names in fantasy/paranormal fiction before long AND because it’s helping me to look more critically at my own work. All four of us are unpublished writers, and I think we’ve all felt the frustration of running into walls with our work. Sometimes you just get too close to something to be able to see what needs to be fixed. None of us are professionals, but we all have completed novels and all have the goal of being traditionally published. I think we’re all happy to have the chance to get feedback on our work from writers in the same genre.

I think we’re all guilty of getting too close to things, whether you’re a writer or not. Sometimes we get so focused on whatever goal is floating in front our faces that we get lost in that metaphor about seeing the forest through the trees. It’s hard to see the forest when your nose is stuck between a couple creases of bark.

Bark of a Pine tree showing normal sloughing o...

Forest? What forest? Bark of a Pine tree showing normal sloughing of plates of bark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes we can get perspective on our own, but other times we need that gentle readjustment in our thinking to come from the outside — or sometimes we just need a bap on the head with a yardstick. I’m setting out on a new journey with some new goals this month. Instead of completing book three by April 15th, my goal is to have a submission-ready book one by June 1.

What have you needed perspective on in your life lately? Yardstick or gentle turn? Have you had to reevaluate your goals?

Monday Man: Xander Harris

The last few days have seen me curled up in bed alone after long days of work with only a book for company. I’ve been sick and sniffly and generally full of snot, so my husband has opted to sleep in the living room, where it’s more quiet and he doesn’t have to wake up with his face in one of my dirty tissues — the living room is also free of the pirouetting raccoons that live in our ceiling.

I’ve taken three books to bed with me this week: Kushiel’s Dart, the Buffy Omnibus, and a deliciously sturdy hardback compilation of Tales of the Slayers and Tales of the Vampires, just called Tales. The latter two are graphic novels, so I’ve had Buffy on the brain.

Which brings me to today’s Monday Man: Xander Harris

There's two of him. But only sometimes. Image via Wikia.com

Xander is the very first of the Scoobies that Buffy encounters at Sunnydale High. He subsequently sticks his foot in his mouth, where it remains on and on for the next seven years. Xander’s character has always fascinated me. Of all the characters on Buffy, he is the one who most noticeably lacks any superpowers. It rankles him that he gets told to stay behind when Buffy and Giles and Angel (and progressively, Willow) go off to fight the baddies, and for much of the first few seasons, you can see him poking around looking for a place to call his own.

Xander is that awkward guy with an uncomfortable home life who the cool kids like to pick on, then pick on more when he stands up for himself. In other words, he’s me at age 13. He’s not super-student, nor is he into sports or anything that might make him stand out. The one thing that does make Xander a cut above the rest of the guys in Sunnydale though, is that he is an intensely loyal friend.

He saves Buffy’s life at the end of season 1, and he defends Willow when he thinks anyone is putting her in danger — even herself. He does discover his strengths later in the series and puts them to use, settling himself nicely with a career and a new home even though he didn’t go to college. He slowly evolves into a patient sort of person you want around after a crazed monster attack.

Xander also has some serious weak spots. He loathes Angel (founded a lot on jealousy), and he has a few big hypocrisies that he somehow manages to keep a blind spot about. (No pun intended.) Though he dates and almost marries Anya, an ex-vengeance demon who murdered hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people for pleasure for a thousand years, he remains staunchly critical of Buffy’s choice of men, to the point of insulting her about it and bringing it up whenever he has a chance. When Anya turns demon again, he berates Buffy for the choices she has to make until she has to remind him of the massive sacrifices she made to protect the world from the people she loves. It’s a fun little irony, his griping about Buffy dating demons — because throughout the seasons, it’s Xander who’s the real demon magnet in Sunnydale (in one episode, literally).

In spite of his prejudices, Xander sticks by Buffy and the Scoobies to the end, risking more than the rest of them because he lacks the power and experience that his friends have. In one of his shining moments in season 7, he tells Dawn that he sees more than everyone else does because no one is watching him. He is the heart of the Scoobies, and that’s why he is today’s Monday Man.

Xander: Yeah, I get that. It’s just — where else am I going to go? You’ve been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end – where else would I want to be?
Willow: Is this the master plan? You’re going to stop me by telling me you love me?
Xander: Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but it seemed kinda cartoony.

Xander Harris, I salute you.

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