Telepathic Bitches

I knew you’d all read it if I called it that, but I promise it wasn’t an advertising gimmick – I’m actually going to talk about telepathic bitches. 😀 Mr. Minty and I were discussing the books, and some of the meta themes. Now, he’s only up to All Together Dead, but we were discussing Eric’s character, and how intensely interesting he makes the books themselves. Don’t mistake this for “Eric is the best character” – it was really a discussion about Eric’s murky motivations.

For the record, he thinks I am way too kind and forgiving of Eric. He pegs Eric as far more devious than I do, pointing out that Eric trapped Sookie that first night into not just helping him that night, but helping him forever. That Eric was really a complete bastard and deliberately held “death or torture” over Sookie’s head to lure her into making a deal wherein she agreed to be part of his gameplan. But that he allowed Sookie to think she had some power in the situation by letting her make that deal. Frankly, the Eric in Mr. Minty’s head is scarier than the one I have in my head – and the one in my head is not Mr. Nice-guy.

As I’ve discussed before, Eric just doesn’t talk much. He rarely explains himself, and he never spends half a page justifying his actions. Lots of readers hereabouts would love an Eric based internal dialogue of the books. Mr. Minty pointed out though, that when you become a vampire, that little angel on your shoulder is put to rest.  You don’t debate the right way of doing something any more, you just do what you have to do to keep on surviving and getting what you want. While vampires continue to function as an entity and move around in the world, there is no internal conflict to drive the story.

Internal conflict is necessary for any story, but something that doesn’t seem to be necessary for average to bad fanfic. In an actual book, EPOV would reduce the text to being machine-like, as in “I cleaned up the body, burying at the back of the property where no one would ever look”, and that’s half a chapter reduced to one sentence. It is Sookie’s internal conflict and dialogue that makes the actual story, giving it meaning – her questions about how right it is to kill Debbie Pelt, and what lead up to it. Of course, that’s one of the meta-themes – we are witnessing the slow and steady descent of a Christian woman, who believes in helping others, doing kindnesses and turning the other cheek; become a woman who in the heat of the moment doesn’t react in the way her ideology dictates she should act. That everything is examined as to whether it was right or not, and Sookie’s internal conflict is essential to making it a story, rather than a list.

Then there’s the internal conflict found (or not) in fanfic.

In some stories, it’s the most saccharine internal conflict – all about “What is Eric doing and how can I help him?” or conversely, “What is Sookie doing and how can I protect her?” and it’s usually internal conflict of their timeline of how they can help/protect.  The other type of internal conflict of saccharine nature is all about expressing feelings. For example “Why won’t Sookie let me love her the way I know best and buy her a new fleet of cars?” or “How can I kowtow to Eric and show him that I’m truly repenting of having independent thought that doesn’t meet his needs?” but usually more fleshed out and less obvious than that. Of course, the saccharine internal conflict is pretty grating for me being that romance often bores me in its repetitive nature, and because it all revolves around other characters, rather than the narrator themselves. It’s bad writing merely because you could replace that with omniscient POV and reveal the same amount of conflict, because only one character is acting, and everything revolves around their needs.

Another type of saccharine internal conflict is the very specialised Bill or Eric internal conflict. The bad EPOVs and BPOVs of the fanfic world consist mostly not of a character struggling to resolve their own issues, but having a pity party as to “Why Sookie not get me when I love her so deeply and would buy her so much crap as a thank you gift for letting me fuck her/brush her hair and tell her what to do till the cows came home?” Of course, you can tell how much I love those just by how I summarise them. They’re not really an internal conflict unless you believe that Eric and Bill are insecure manbabies, who exist only to think about their own toddler needs and widdle baby feewings. Since these manbabies do tend to want to do grown up things like have relationships, the solution to their internal conflict is no more complex than “Get the fuck over yourself.” But the usual solution is to have Sookie stop causing conflict and do as Eric/Bill tell her, so he doesn’t have to feel so sorry she doesn’t get him.

Internal conflict can also bog writers down in absolute reams of crap as well, with every single little action spelled out “I put my hand on the coffee cup and then thought of Sookie again, how her lips touched it. I couldn’t wait to rescue her and then taste her sweet blah blah blah. I would kill Bill Compton by first blah blah blah.”. The plot in those stories moves at a freaking snail’s pace, sometimes the space of maybe a whole two hours of time will fill a ten thousand word chapter. Too much crap is put down on the page, and that makes reading it a trial. Since I can read philosophy and criminology books with more ease, I find that I skim and eventually just stop reading. I suspect that most other readers do too – even if they just skim to find the ESN. Of course, the writer has wasted a lot of time typing, when they could have put more thought into writing it. Lucky for them, they have a positive review culture, eh? Most formal writers are exhorted to cut their word count by ten percent – not increase it.

Sometimes there is no internal conflict, and well, those stories aren’t bad, they’re just terribly bland. No one wants to read about a series of events, told in the shallow way of “This is what happened next in the plot, and I said “Yes Eric, I’d love to do whatever you want. I exist only to serve you my King.” This sort of story really requires something substantial to happen in the plot, mostly some stupidly outrageous plot twist with Bill trying to invent insect spies to fly Sookie away from Eric, and stupidly circuitous plans, that must be foiled. Or porn – the internal conflict consists of “Can I cum yet?” and readers can echo that. In some stories, all of the internal conflict is actual exposition – no one thinks anything, they freaking talk about it. Truly, an Eric and Sookie trait. Removing that internal conflict creates a bore-me-to-death story, particularly if it’s in first person.

But good internal conflict actually creates a way for characters to think about things that they wouldn’t necessarily talk about. In the case of Eric and Sookie, they don’t talk about really heavy issues if they can help it. It fleshes out a character in a most wonderful way, and really keeps the story going, other than being a list of events that happened. It also creates a way to explain why exactly a character isn’t doing things. So I’ve read around the place that Sookie could get donor sperm to have a baby with Eric – that was on CH’s forum, and the whole baby subject is revisited over and over again by Twilight fans. CH answers those questions once and for all by ruling it out altogether in DITF, as part of an internal conflict. Sookie questions whether or not she could have children with artificial insemination, and argues that she’d heard Eric’s verdict on plastic surgery, so it’s out.

Of course, inadvertently, CH has shown another meta-theme in discussions about her books, based on the idea of internal conflict. I don’t think she meant to do this of course, and it’s a pity it’s done, but still, it does definitely prove her point about how unusual Sookie really is – the sort of person that she is. Unlike some fanfic Sookies, Sookie in the books is not intermittently telepathic. It’s not always relevant to the plot, but it’s always in the background – Sookie continues to work as a waitress, continues to sleep with vampires and shifters, continues with her same behaviour. Sookie hears bad shit about herself and others all the time, and sometimes, stuff is thrown in there to shed light onto her condition.

As I’ve discussed before, telepathy really isn’t any fun. Sookie has been bombarded with really nasty thoughts from others – from Andy Bellefleur thinking of her “cavorting with” Jason in Dead Until Dark to knowing that Alcee Beck beats the shit out of African American citizens because they won’t report a black cop in Dead to the World to Bobby Burnham thinking what a golddigging whore she is in Dead and Gone. Yet she continues to be a kind person who helps others, often to her detriment. If she wasn’t kind, she would have let the Rattrays drain Bill, and Eric run along Hummingbird Road until only bloody stumps were left. Most people wouldn’t think a prisoner on parole as deserving of great kindness, even though ostensibly, they have stopped committing crimes. So too it is with vampires – they are the very last people to whom the great majority of people would give help and succour. It would only be those with fundamental spiritual or ethical beliefs who would help them – it wouldn’t be most people.

But that’s the meta-theme that’s been made evident through the discussion of the books. Sookie herself in her own internal dialogue, is judged a lot more harshly than the telepath subjected to constant degradation in the minds of others thinks of others. Ironically, the telepath who has no choice but to hear the thoughts of others is more tolerant and forgiving than the person who chooses to read her thoughts, and can put those thoughts down or stop buying those thoughts. If Sookie steps a metaphorical foot out of line and doesn’t resemble the perfect example of how to think of Eric and how to serve his needs, if she considers things and actually has internal conflict, she’s punished in the same manner as if she screamed it at Eric at the top of her lungs.

I actually have an object lesson in this phenomenon, as well, and sought permission to talk about it here. Fairyfloss01 sent me a private message saying that she wasn’t sure why exactly there was an uproar about Sookie, when she thought Sookie was in character. Since that fic is one of the five percent I don’t read, I wasn’t immediately familiar with it. I missed the first story, and you can’t read a sequel if you haven’t read the first one. I like her other fic (and recommend it) so I thought I’d look over her fic to see what was going on. Now it’s on my “To Read” pile for when I have time, so thanks Fairyfloss01. 😀 As it happened, it was relevant to what I think about anyway, and this post has been cogitating at the back of my mind for a while.

The uproar in question is based entirely on Sookie’s internal conflict. In this story, Dead Man Walking, Sookie has found out that she’s pregnant. When Eric in his human form starts talking about eating babies (which I’ve also mentioned herein before), Sookie doesn’t really want to tell him that she’s pregnant, because that makes her uncomfortable. She hasn’t accused Eric in his human form of eating babies, just expressed discomfort with the idea of making a close correlation with babies and meals. Humans tend not to think babies are meals, so that’s exactly something your average human wouldn’t be overjoyed with and a person pregnant with a potential meal baby wouldn’t be either. As I said to Fairyfloss01, I’d have a hard time kissing a guy who’d told me babies were a delicacy ever again.

Part of Sookie’s internal conflict, is that as to be expected in an actual three dimensional Eric, he’s not a happy chappy with being human. He’s finding it difficult to cope with, and Sookie notes that he still refers to his actual human body as a separate entity – differentiating himself from “Oberon” whose body he’s in from “Eric” the vampire he used to be. In meaning to be considerate, Sookie doesn’t pile more shit on his plate to deal with, and she’s not ready to deal with it herself.  She resolves to speak to him about it, after wrestling with her thoughts, conscience and further conversation on the topic with Eric, but is prevented by falling asleep, by which time the plot catches up with her.  This is the essence of great internal conflict – and good writing with full characters. It also avoids a lot of unnecessary exposition.

But some reviewers are hating on Sookie because she’s not thinking good enough thoughts for them. Not only that, but as Pam reveals the pregnancy in a rather blunt and abrupt way, Sookie is expected to have dealt with it not on her own timetable – what with it being her body and half her baby…what the hell was she thinking – not on Eric’s timetable – what with it being a difficult time for him and half his baby…what the hell kind of considerate wife is she, eh – but on Pam’s timetable. Sookie is a bad, bad person for not thinking first and foremost about what the hell Pam or any of the other supes might do, instead of crazily thinking about the two actual parents of the baby. Pam certainly wasn’t considering Eric’s feelings when she blurted it out, but it is Sookie who bears the brunt of the uproar because she actually had an internal conflict, and didn’t prove to know in a rather psychic way that Pam would pip her at the post.

This happens a lot to Sookie in fanfic – if she doesn’t get her thoughts in line immediately, and make them simple and concurrent with what readers infer Eric wants, she gets hung out to dry by some readers who don’t seem to understand things very well, or are irascible Sookie haters. Since I check to see if my reviews have gone through, I’ve noticed these sorts of reviewers. Of course, really, if Eric wanted a woman to date who goes along with him, he’d get him a fangbanger, but readers assume he is so emotionally fragile and not resilient to bad things happening to him. That they’ve failed to comprehend that Eric wants Sookie, faults and all – almost like he really does love her.  Either that, or they don’t understand that thoughts are just thoughts, and aren’t the same as actions and speech – that they carry no weight in a relationship if they aren’t expressed out loud.

Of course, these are the same readers who are hoodwinked by the bad EPOVs and BPOVs – they see the Eric (usually) acting like a complete shit, but because he’s thinking nice things, they can’t see that he’s a complete prick. They seemingly expect Sookie in those fics – even if it’s AH – to be telepathic, and know that while he’s fucking other women, he’s really thinking about her. Of course, because they can see inside his head, they infer that that is part of the plot – and expect Sookie to know that on last Tuesday, when she walked in on him screwing that other woman, she should have either known he was imagining her (what a prick anyway – to use another woman as a masturbatory aid) or she should have asked if he was thinking about her. It is completely contrary to logic, but hey, whatever gets the story out of the ditch and means that Eric is back to his sainted position.

The same thing happens in the books of course – Sookie is taken to task for thinking that she was a little jealous of Bill and Judith, then harangues herself for being jealous of Bill and Judith, and resolves to be happy for him. Instead of reading this as a thought that has about as much weight as thoughts do, some will read it as “Sookie went over and pashed Bill on the mouth. ‘Oh Judith can’t have you, Billy-baby! Fuck Eric and the horse he rode in on, I want you and only you.'” They don’t seem to understand that thoughts are part of the internal dialogue – they make a book complex without having to have silly plot sequences like that. They don’t seem to understand that thoughts aren’t the same as actions. That internal conflict actually resolves issues without having to make them public, or a subject of exposition and action. It resolves issues too that are natural to think about, but could be hurtful to either Sookie or Eric to discuss – like the subject of babies. It takes the hurt that is inflicted on both of them out of the equation, and propels their relationship forward, rather than creating unnecessary emotional carnage. It also means that some things ultimately matter – because they are discussed – and some thing ultimately don’t matter and are kept as thoughts alone.

It also means that Sookie and Eric won’t in fact take ten thousand books to discuss everything they need to discuss. They can each come to their own conclusions about issues that they think about, and in Sookie’s case share it with the reader. In Eric’s case, give hints of such resolution to make you wonder all about this mysterious character and what he’s thinking. It also means that we are spared the mechanical nature of Eric’s thought process (which would never bother with “Is it right to kill and eat this human”) and the other “dark” thoughts Sookie admits she doesn’t really want to explore. Since CH has a better understanding than the bland fanfic writer of how horrifying dead things are, I’d say that EPOV as written by CH wouldn’t endear Eric to anyone. If readers think there’s “too much” torture in Dead and Gone? Wait until you read EPOV! Eric would think much more graphic, violent and nastier thoughts. It’s much nicer to dip in selectively for his thoughts on the Rhodes Summit, than it is for his dreamy eyed contemplation of baby showers, with possible feature of actual babies.

Not only that, but in striking contrast to Sookie, readers like that would be telepathic bitches. They prove just how unique Sookie really is. Sookie hasn’t gone over to tell someone off for thinking the wrong thing – nope – she’s taken that and tried to understand the person and the context. Most of the time, even if Sookie has bad thoughts (as we all do) she doesn’t translate that into bad words said to others. But the readers who can’t seem to differentiate thought from actual speech and action, well, they’d be punching you out for thinking to yourself in your head that Eric has a nice butt, or that Eric looks really silly in a tutu, or that Eric might kill you and eat you. That would be to them a right that you don’t have – that right to doubt and worry that the privacy of your head affords you. You wouldn’t have even the illusion of free will and privacy that Sookie gives to others – nope, you’d have to control your every thought. From the “Don’t think about a pink elephant” experiment, that should go down well – totally doable, amirite?

Moreover, the same readers who complain at length about how judgemental Sookie is in her own head, are actually more judgemental and hateful out loud than Sookie ever is in her own head, let alone out loud. I know these things that they think not because I’m telepathic, but because they have communicated them to the entire world. They’re not even hidden in secret forums anywhere – you can google that shit. Just because it’s a fictional character doesn’t mean that I would think that they would be different to real people. I think they’d be just as judgemental, if not more so, because fictional people are fictional – and real people are often less pretty and nice than we imagine them to be. I don’t call fictional people “stupid whores” and I don’t call real people “stupid whores”. Those that go gaga over Eric in fanfic, go gaga over ASkars in real life – there’s a huge correlation because the mindset of the person is the same. So I would think that these readers would indeed be as unforgiving and intolerant to real people as they are to fictional people.

It isn’t so with Sookie – she’s willing to help those who perhaps don’t deserve it. Even though she hears all kinds of crap about herself, she strives to be a good person. Looking around at stuff said about her on the internet, I can guess how hard that would be, and how judged Sookie would feel in the real world. I can’t believe that CH’s Shreveport and Bon Temps populations hold people who think any better or worse – judgemental people with judgemental words exist everywhere – not just in Bon Temps, and not just in Shreveport. Anyone who thinks that only people in her hometown are judgemental hicks would be better served by looking around the internet at what the entire world offers in the way of thoughts on the internet.

I’m glad that Sookie’s internal dialogue and conflict comes from exploring the big metaphysical questions on whether or not it’s right to kill others, rather than the unthinking assumption that people don’t have a right to privacy in their own heads, or should be granted death, pain and torture for what they think in their own head. Sookie reminds herself all the time that people can’t help it. When I say that there are a lot of people in this fandom that I think Sookie is better than, this is what I mean. Sookie is willing to forgive people who think most terrible things, and doesn’t try to be too harsh on them for what they think in the privacy of their brains. I’m thankful that Sookie is a rare and uniquely kind person, and not a telepathic bitch.

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