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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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She Saved the World A Lot

In honor of Buffy Summers’ birthday today, I thought I’d resurrect this post from last year as a tribute. Enjoy! And if you still can’t get enough of the Slayer, Dark Horse Comics is offering a special deal today on all Buffy comics. Each issue is only $0.99! 

I am a writer. As such, I believe in the power of fiction to be a vehicle for truth, change, and inspiration. Today’s post is a tribute to just that — to a remarkable woman of fiction who has inspired women around the world and continues to do so years after her creation.

This woman changed the face of television’s portrayal of women. She showed the world that a tiny blonde can do more than run upstairs while chased by a murderer and die in the first five minutes of a horror flick. She showed the world that a woman can do more than just get rescued. She showed the world that a woman can live a life of honor and self-sacrifice.

She showed the world that a woman can transcend tradition.

She showed the world that a woman can be a hero.

If my epitaph ever said that, I would be proud indeed. Image via buffy.wikia.com

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a fighter. I’d play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my friends in preschool — but one boy would always make me be April. “You’re a girl. You have to be April.”

I thought April was stupid. All she did was get rescued. I wanted to be Michelangelo or Donatello. Or Leonardo or Rafael. I did not want to be April. I wanted to kick Shredder’s butt. All the boys said girls couldn’t fight. They said girls couldn’t rescue boys — that was the boys’ job.

When I was about eight, I discovered a movie called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To my eight-year-old eyes, it didn’t seem as campy as it does to my now-27-year-old eyeballs. Here was a girl who could fight. Here was a girl who kicked butt. When the show came out when I was twelve, I didn’t watch it because I thought it wouldn’t be as good as the movie. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I moved in with a girl named Casey and plunked down to watch season five on DVD.

Before Buffy Summers became the Slayer, she was the popular girl. She was a cheerleader, a Fiesta Queen, and she had the perfect life — with the exception of the growing arguments between her parents. Then one day, some middle-aged guy showed up and told her she was chosen to fight the vampires. And that she was the only one who could do it.

After a suitable series of “SHUT UP!” and “Yeah, right” reactions, Buffy came face to face with a few vampires, and her new calling got real. Fast forward about a year. Buffy moves to Sunnydale with her newly divorced mother. She starts high school after having been expelled for burning down the gym at her last one. She has lost every bit of security in her life — her mother pours herself into opening a gallery, mostly ignores Buffy, and reads too many pop parenting books.

No midriff top today.

Buffy doesn’t want to slay vampires in Sunnydale. It ruined her life in L.A. Landed her in a mental institution for two weeks. But when she discovers that an ancient vampire is seeking to break free of his mystical prison? She hunts him down even though a prophecy slates her to die at his hands. She risks her life — and loses it.

That should be game over, right? Except the Master made a mistake and dropped her in water. Instead of him killing her, he let her drown — and Xander is able to resuscitate her. When Buffy goes after the Master, she crushes him and stops him from opening the Hellmouth.

As the seasons progress, Buffy matures. Though she longs for a shot at normalcy, she never gives up on her duty or her calling. Although she makes mistakes along the way, the vast majority of them are honest ones. Buffy falls in love with Angel, a vampire who has showed up in Sunnydale to help her. He’s different than other vampires — he has a soul. He’s trying to atone for his past, and they fall hard. Buffy is a hero, but she is also a young woman. What is masterful about her character is the marriage between her weighty calling and her desire for the same things everyone desires: love, acceptance, friendship, family. Her relationship with Angel may be supernatural, but it tells a very human story of a young woman who is mature beyond her years falling in love with a much older man who, after making love to her, becomes unrecognizable. When Buffy and Angel have sex, Angel loses his soul and reverts to the monstrous vampire who terrorized Europe for two centuries. He decides to try and end the world, which forces Buffy into a nightmarish struggle. Although Willow is able to restore Angel’s soul, it happens too late. And Buffy has to kill her first love to prevent the world from getting sucked into hell.

Absorb that for a moment. Can you imagine having to make that choice? Can you imagine putting a sword through the heart of someone you love more than anything on earth? Buffy goes to the darkest possible place in that moment, and although few people every live out that reality, the allegory there is poignant and affecting: sometimes your first love turns out to be something other than you expected and you have to make a wrenching decision to cut them loose before your world crumbles around you and you lose yourself in your own personal hell.

In that moment, Buffy takes her heroism to a new level of sacrifice. As the series progresses, Buffy shows remarkable strength and newfound confidence as she continues to battle the world’s demons. She is compassionate and kind. She helps people who can’t repay her and who never even know who to thank. At her senior prom after the re-ensouled and resurrected Angel has dumped her, her classmates say this about her:

This is actually a new category. First time ever. I guess there were a lot of write-in ballots, and, um, well, t-the prom committee asked me to read this. “We’re not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed you. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s no secret that Sunnydale High isn’t really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here.”
Student #1: Zombies!
Student #2: Hyena people!
Student #3: Snyder!
[people chuckle]
Jonathan: “But whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you or helped by you at one time or another. We’re proud to say that the class of ’99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history, and we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you, uh, uh, this.”
[Jonathan produces a gold, glittering, miniature umbrella with a small metal plaque attached to the shaft]
Jonathan: It’s from all of us, and it has written here, “Buffy Summers, Class Protector”.

Through the series, Buffy battles everything she comes up against. She shows such true commitment and love that she even gets through to a vampire without a soul — Spike. Before he knows why, he falls in love with her. Though his methods are often humorous and awkward, he tries to show it by protecting her sister and having tea with her mother. At the end of season five, Buffy is again faced with a choice. She can allow her sister to die to save the world, or she can use her own blood to pay that price.

Three guesses what Buffy chooses. For the second time in the series, Buffy gives her life to save her family, her friends, and the world. She does it without a second thought. She does it with a look of pure knowledge and understanding.

Buffy lives a life of violence. She is a fighter. She takes punches — and sometimes even her own stake to the gut — and she always fights, no matter how bleak things look. She keeps trying and trying. I’ve heard people call her whiny, but I’ve never seen that. If she ever wants a break, wants a moment’s respite from the burden she carries — it’s a lot less than most people in her situation. She’s experienced sexual violence and came out of it somehow stronger. That moment also catapulted Spike into a decision to seek out a way to get his own soul back — not to win her over, not to prove a point, but to be a better man. To be a man who wouldn’t hurt the woman he loves, even if she never loves him back.

And Buffy? She sees the change in Spike. She finds it within herself to forgive him. There are many things in Buffy’s character that make her truly extraordinary, and that is one of them. Buffy champions Spike for the rest of the show, and I for one believe that her actions don’t show recklessness or a disregard for the safety of others — no. They show a belief in people, that people can rise above their pasts and their own demons and be better. That people can change. And that when they do, they deserve a chance to make amends.

They put the spark in me, and all it does is burn. Can we rest now, Buffy? Can we rest?

Buffy makes many choices throughout the seven years of the show. She has her feelings about things, her hunches. And oddly, her friends often don’t believe her — much to their detriment. She makes the best possible decisions with the information she has, and she understands that in war — especially a war against hell itself — there will be casualties. Yet she feels each one. She carries them with her. When she has the chance to share her power, Buffy makes another sacrifice. She chooses to share her calling, share her strength and power with the world. That is the mark of a true leader — a leader who could consolidate their power and hold it jealously but chooses instead to share it.

Buffy Summers is my hero.

Into the mouth of hell.

So here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

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?

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