I was discussing this subject with someone – about the fact that there are a whole bunch of crazy “shippers” – which is short for those who yearn for a certain relationship between characters – in this fandom. Shippers are easy to write for, because basically, you could write the worst of tales, and shippers would cheer it on as long as the couple they ship ends up together. Writers have written Eric cheating on Sookie repeatedly, and that’s apparently no impediment to the shipper. They still want them together. They fucking love Sookie the doormat.
For those that hate this worsening trend of Sookie with no self respect, I figured since I read a lot of fanfic, I’d put together an archive of Sookies who actually have self respect. I’ve seen a few reviewers complain about “Oh please don’t make Sookie a doormat!” – but they get nothing but more grovelling Sookie. So I’ve put together an archive of Sookie stories that are completed, where Sookie isn’t completely walked all over. That’s my only requirement for the archive – not if I’ve reviewed it, just if I’ve read it, and Sookie has some sort of self-worth going on.
Of course, Sookie the doormat’s all good for those people who just wanna write their fanfic and have that be the end of it. But the problem is that there are some people who want to write for real, and I think for them, it’s a problem. No matter what shit you chuck at a shipper, they’ll never say they don’t want the couple together. So their advice is worth less than zero in reviews, because if the characters weren’t named “Sookie” and “Eric” and in SVM, no one would want it.
So I’m going to set out some really shitty advice given in reviews by shippers that you shouldn’t actually do for real. And I have little avatars to demonstrate. 😀 I am addicted to making anti-avatars because of the canary in a coalmine effect.
1. They should go to couples counselling/see a therapist.
Okay, this one is the height of laziness. Yes, I understand why it’s done – you decided to write angst, don’t have the stamina, and now you’ve written yourself into a hole and want to reinvent your way out. That’s nice for you. Quick fix, reinvent, little thinking involved – we’ll just have a new character now.
But, when it comes to writing a therapy session, you really can’t just use it as a way to get yourself out of it. Therapy is by no means a way to skip any actual romance and character arc. You can’t just use it to have the character come to an epiphany and change their whole personality. Particularly if you’re professing to write a ROMANCE. I’m not a fan of the genre myself, and only read it in fanfic – and only like it if it has good character foundations. But a romance cannot be reinvented out of the hole by bringing in your therapist, and solving your plots and internal dialogues with a few lines.
A romance – even the most basic one needs to have some sort of internal conflict – that’s the essence of writing a story vs. writing a list of shit that happened. In fanfic, shippers will guzzle that down, because they want the quick fix that is shipping Eric and Sookie together and will then move onto the next fix. In real writing, you need to actually make the characters work for it themselves – showing that they grow into a romance. How hard you make them work for it is up to you – and dependent on whether you want HEA, and how much crap you had characters doing. But you can’t reinvent the way out with a therapist.
It’s also a way to bring in a character who can tell the characters how to get over their troubles in an instant, and never work for it – and they’re always positive about the relationship. They’re like a Mary Sue shipper who comes in and tells the couple everything said in reviews, and the couples act like automatons and just do what they’re told, fixing it without ever actually engaging their brains. They forget they ever had problems, and they always just have a couple of lines of therapy and they’re totally over it. It’s the height of laziness because it ties up all the plot in a short period of time, and thence to the boning.
Now, that’s not to say that all therapists are out in writing. If the entire storyline is based on going to a therapist, that’s fine – that’s actually something interesting. Because the characters take numerous sessions, and the therapy is actually the storyline. It has to be done with a little finesse, but it can be done. A good example is Be T’ipal or In Treatment – which compromises wholly of characters and their therapy sessions. Shutter Island is also a good example (sorry if I spoiled you there) of how the entire storyline is the therapy itself, and the climax of the story is coming to the realisations.
You can even have a therapist come in to sort characters out. But you have to make them a traditional therapist – not someone who divulges exactly how the plot is going to go for the next few chapters, and what should be done. For example, one of my favourite fics has Eric going into counselling for alcohol abuse – the lovely Home series – but he is by no means “fixed” with a couple of sessions, and all of the hard work Eric does resisting drinking himself stupid is all his realisation and spelled out on the page. The therapy is completely in the background to what the character himself is doing – and how he chooses to grow. The reader doesn’t have it come out thanks to therapy that Eric is now a teetotaller with no problems whatsoever.
You can’t just have the therapist be an instant fix for the characters – therapy in real life does not produce fast results, and people don’t always want to do what the therapist tells them. They don’t always present clearly with problems to trot out for one line fixes, and they’re not repaired with absolutely no problems whatsoever for the rest of their lives. They don’t always agree with what the therapist thinks. They don’t always want to got to therapy. In the general scheme of things, therapists aren’t crazy shippers, and don’t want Eric and Sookie together.
2. I hope Sookie’s pregnant!!!
Okay, so there’s no fucking way in the world Sookie would want to be with the giant doucheturd that is Eric, so let’s trap her in a relationship with him by getting her pregnant. Then they have to get it fixed despite the fact that if she wasn’t pregnant, she’d want absolutely nothing to do with this dick.
Again, if you’re writing a ROMANCE you can’t just skip the romance bits. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just smoosh together the odd couple and reason that even though they hate each other, and he decided to screw all of her best friends, and had a go at seducing Jason, they’ll give it a shot to be together for the sake of their children. If not read by shippers, that sounds like a relationship doomed for the axe. In real life, that’s the makings of a deadbeat Dad.
Essentially, you can’t reinvent the character this way either – pregnancy is not an event that instantly transforms the personality of the character. If the character is presented as being someone out there trying to fuck your brother, but then finds out (and he never seems to ask for a DNA test as most of these arses do) that the girl’s pregnant, and instantly becomes a stand up guy. His inner goodness comes to the fore, despite the fact that he was despicable enough to try and do Jason.
Not only that, but you have to explain why all of a sudden, the other character’s brains have fallen right out of her head. Why is it she’s letting a guy who tried to fuck Jason be around her while she’s pregnant? It’s one thing to inform him and invite him to appointments, but yet another to decide that they’re officially together for the sake of the kids. Being forced to be together for the sake of your children isn’t actually romantic – you’ll notice that rarely if ever is it used to explain Guinevere and Arthur, Isolde and Tristan, Romeo and Juliet etc.
It’s also a big problem with a lot of fanfic children – they’re trotted out to be cute, and then presumably for the other 23.5 hours of the day, Sookie stows them in a cupboard. Because they don’t cry, or interrupt important conversations with parents, or be busy bodies, or need to go to school, or anything like that. Even if they’re conveniently explained away as “being with the nanny”, parents do actually have contact with children – the children they profess to love. They don’t just bring them out for cute scenes with Daddy and then go back to being the metaphorical dog in a handbag.
Again, there’s no problem with having pregnancies in writing. But it can’t be a way to reinvent the characters. You can see it well done in plenty of things – people with children. When it comes to pregnancy movies, you can see from Juno that the pregnancy is the point of action on the story and the characters, and it’s a reason for change in personality – but the period of the pregnancy is the period of character arc.
What you can’t do is impregnate the girl and then have a character magically change overnight into the sort of Dad who seems just to make shippers swoon. Not only is it transparent as hell, but in original writing you can’t rely on crazy shippers to love this new turn. They’re not going to see the goodness underpinning that character as transference from canon – as I’ve said before, that’s reliance on CH’s hardwork. They’re going to see a giant doucheturd trapping some chick in a relationship thanks to babies.
3. Sookie should make him jealous by dating someone else for a while.
This one doesn’t work, because again, the crazy shipper is invested in the original relationship in the books. No person would want that couple to be together or to be fated, or anything of the kind. Particularly when you’re writing ROMANCE there really should only be one romance in it. Have a look at how crazy shippers hate the idea of Sookie having sex with anyone else. I mean, it’s always Eric who has 300 girls he’s sleeping with before he shoves the latest out of bed and brings Sookie in to declare her special. Crazy shippers are the same sorts of people who read romance – they don’t like girls having sex with guys they’re not in love with. Shit, even Alan Ball knows that – when you’re going for simple it has to be twue wuv prior to boning if you want to have a hope of investing people in some stupid romance. You can only have the girl tempted to be with someone else – not actually be with someone else.
CH can do that in her books because they’re not romances. If you write romance, you can have a woman who isn’t a virgin, but you can’t just switch horses in mid-stream and have the female date one and then another, and then back to the same idiot who fucked up first time round. The crazy shipper professes to always want Eric and Sookie together – and they don’t give two hoots if the relationship doesn’t make any sense, or if Sookie is a complete doormat.
Romances don’t tend to have too long of a shelf-life – you have to keep building to the culmination – you can’t falter and stutter along the way. Bringing in another character to show a guy the error of his ways doesn’t work so well. Better not to have the first guy make such an error. Much emphasis is placed on sexual fidelity in romances – heaven forbid they should sleep with someone else because they’re destined to be with that guy for the rest of their lives. It’s a carry over from the old virgin standard – one man for life is replaced with once you find that man, you sleep with no one but him.
4. I hope they talk things out/Sookie should tell Eric blah/I want them to get along/Sookie is selfish for doing that.
Most stories are required to have some sort of tension. You can’t have a story if you don’t have tension. The crazy shipper is so concerned with their ship that they’re worried they may not see Eric and Sookie’s HEA for the 1000th time. They always worry, despite the fact that Sookie and Eric almost always end up together, and Sookie gives up her entire life to do as he wants. She sleeps a lot when he’s dead to the world and she has no worldly impediments to interfere with her Eric based worship.
In real writing, you have to have tension going, or it gets boring. The crazy shipper wants you to get rid of any and all tension to be reassured, but that doesn’t make for a nice character arc. It also means that you can’t build any romance whatsoever, because essentially, the reader is reassured it’s a foregone conclusion. It’s just a matter of trotting it out to the end.
It also means that the plot stalls in the exposition – there’s far too much talking going on and not enough doing. The reader is handed everything on a platter, and most people don’t like that. In fact, if you look at daytime soap operas, you’ll see that they use tension to keep people hooked on long running serials. Reassurance is fleeting for a moment until the end of the story, when you don’t need to keep readers stringing along with your plot. That’s the big payoff for most stories – the tension of not knowing.
5. That was a good transitional chapter.
And lastly, one that’s bothered me for a while – to the point that I asked two trusted sources if it existed in Literature, because my knowledge is not total. I’d never fucking heard of it, despite doing some study on story and character archetypes, and story structure, as well as analysis of fiction. There’s this idea that there are “transitional” chapters. Ah, no, there aren’t. A plot is a transition from one point to another. If you’re not moving plot ahead, then you’re not writing a story. If you write twenty chapters of a fic, and one counts as “transitional”, that means woe betide your PWP.
Plot should continuously move forward, when telling a story – otherwise you end up like Grandpa Simpson – with an onion tied to his belt, which was the style of the time – ie. pointless segues. Even my writing on this journal constantly moves forward – each paragraph is an individual thought explained out, and then it transitions to the next one. I don’t pause and do a little dance every second paragraph – I keep moving you through it to the end. I even do it at times, by adding one word from this sentence into the next sentence, an academic trick to keep the flow going.
That’s not to say that you can’t have chapters that essentially don’t go anywhere – but they should be in the minority, not the majority. A little indulgence that the readers can bask in. For example, in Dead to the World, the shower scene was an embellishment for reader enjoyment – but not every chapter was like that. The plot moved like a motherfucker – so many things happened in the rest of the book. I actually prefer that style of writing, where plot goes from zero to sixty – and it’s classic horror/fantasy stuff, to move your plot. But even if you don’t like the fast plot style very much *waves to Thyra* you still have to have plot moving all the time, even if it’s at a snail’s pace. You can’t have occasional plot thrown in for the sake of “transition”.
For the shippers themselves, just in case they read this…and get this far:
Don’t worry dude – I’ve read a lot of fanfic. Eric can sleep with 300 women during their relationship and Sookie will always accept it and forgive him. Sookie will always re-bond with Eric, it’s just a matter of waiting. Give it more than one chapter, eh?