Before I go any further, you just have to look at this wonderful rage comic made by Finite Anarchy from how to write a Smarter Sookie post. It is the most awesome comic ever. I love it. 😀 Go and roar at her that you love it too, like I did. 😀 Then roar FINITE ANARCHY in her face to make her feel like a proper fanfic Sookie, whence Eric just had an orgasm and roared her name in her face. Women like that …apparently. 😀
This post is about the importance of having emotional integrity in characters. It’s something often missing from amateur writing, and I think it’s a big failure. I was kind of surprised that it rated so well in the poll actually. Colour me shocked. 😀 It’s been on the backburner for a while and slipped further back when I was concentrating on other comments and spoilers and such. And then after this post, it’s straight back to concentrating on spoilers. It’s already forming as I’m finishing this up.
One of the things I like best about Sookie from the books is that as much shitty things happen to her, she still has emotional integrity. When things happen to her, she doesn’t get over them in a heartbeat, and just move on. Apart from character growth (which comes much later) she has initial reactions. So I’m going to use the books to show how sympathy can be built for a character. I’m going to use Sookie’s character, mainly because sympathy for Eric is not difficult at all. Trying to use these techniques for his character is going to be less than useless, because no matter what, reviewers always feel sorry for Eric. It’s impossible to improve the Eric sympathy quotient, because it’s the rare reviewer who doesn’t immediately leap to Eric’s defence for perceived injuries or imagined injuries and tear strips off Sookie for whatever the hell she’s done, like breathe too loudly.
Now, I should note, looking around the fandom, it should be painfully obvious that there are a whole heap of people who don’t sympathise with Sookie – they relish in her pain, and they mostly don’t give a shit about anyone but Eric. Neave and Lochlan biting Sookie to hurt her is constructed as bad torture, but Eric biting Sookie to hurt her is constructed as justified learning experience. One only needs to look at the reviews of any rape-as-romance to understand that a whole heap of women are completely unsympathetic to the pains of other women, and live to serve men – even fictional men. Now’s the time to look at those reviews – there’s been about 20 published/updated in the last month – each rape fic author writing numerous versions. (There’s a cycle to these things, so at least live in hope that it’ll end in a couple of months). That’s a good idea of the proportion of people that no matter how much you try to make the pains of a female character clear to, they just will never care – the same reviewers love every permutation of hurting Sookie. But just factor them in as the people who will never get it – there’s quite a few of them. Just know you can’t get through to some readers.
You should also note that many people don’t read fanfic for this very reason. Coming into this fandom to read about Sookie in a positive way is incredibly difficult – after four years I have it down and know mostly what to expect from various writers. But others don’t come into the fandom with the database that is my brain. So they’d read a couple of stories all about how Sookie should grovel to Eric, or how she’s so much better without any personality and leap right back out of reading fanfic again. It took me a lot of persistence to ‘get’ fanfic, because I just couldn’t understand how the writer and I read the same canon. I persisted out of academic-borne interest, but I almost gave up. So you have to realise that no matter how much you improve emotional integrity, there’s a ceiling on how popular you can get. You want mega popular fanfic, you write the boning.
Even though fanfic is used for a whole bunch of people to hone their writing, there’s a fundamental disconnect between writers and readers. So you can hone your technical skill, but it’s when it comes to upping your game that it gets hard – getting better with readers and getting through to them about what you want to convey. Because, let’s face it, the greater majority of readers come to get their Sookie/Eric fix, over and over. They’re looking for writers to HEA that puppy no matter what, and fangirl the hell out of Askars. Quicker the better, more boning the better.
Rarely if ever do reviews have a critique as simple as “Sookie is a little OOC here” despite the fact that I think that often. Think about the last time you read Sookie falling apart in a crisis in fanfic, sitting down and having a cry, or relying on Eric. You know – like she did at Rhodes, when Eric slapped her awake and made her break a hole in the window…wait… Nary a mention of “SEVERE OOC’ when you see it in fanfic, though. The positive review culture is the friend of the writer who doesn’t wish to improve, and the enemy of those who do want to improve. Readers won’t even mention Sookie is out of character – not even me – not in reviews. I’ll catch it in the neck for something else, thanks, rather than the standard blast A/N and reviewer dogpile for the person who leaves constructive reviews. So here are the pitfalls, and how to avoid them.
First is the physical impact of what happens to Sookie. One of the lacking things about many fanfics is the lack of reaction. In fic – and I’m talking physical injury type devices only at this point – I’ve read a Sookie whipped until she passed out from the pain, one who was raped repeatedly by a vampire, one who was bleeding from the neck for nigh on half an hour, tortured by her lover for days and countless more. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve read Sookie getting yanked around by vampires and nothing happened to her – no dislocations, no bruises. All of these fics had no physical effects on her beyond that day – or even within an hour. The very most you get is a little bit of “soreness” out of Sookie losing her virginity – but nine times out of ten it’s a Clayton’s soreness, because she goes straight back to boning Eric.
Now, reviewers aren’t likely to say anything about the fact that there’s no reaction. Firstly, because a reviewer like me will promptly write off that fic and go on to find something else they can review. With a plethora of choices, the positive review culture doesn’t work so well in attracting new readers or getting invested readers. Why bother to call down drama and inform a writer of something basic like “Getting punched leaves a bruise and she might flinch next time that person comes too close” – really, they should have figured out themselves that punching = bruising. If they haven’t, I’m not informing them how the human body works. That makes the reviewer dogpile sooooo much worse I think, because the reviewers realise they didn’t notice that, and hate extra hard on that reviewer in the dogpile.
Often times, because of the firm belief that there should be more generalised and specific HEA, reviewers are happy to skip over the boring healing or hurt bits for the boning. As long as Sookie takes her beating, and she’s fine with Eric, none of it has to really show up afterwards. The point was made, Eric is now the “right one” and all is well for HEA trajectory. The problem is that for all the effort that’s gone into giving Sookie a beating, you might as well have just jumped straight into the sex scene and had done with it. If no one cared about the beating scene (barring those Sookie haters who probably had a wank to it) then there’s really no point in including it. May as well have written a chapter full of SCREW FLANDERS if word count is important.
I once read Sookie getting a beating for 3 hours from a supposed friend, and then at the end of it acting as if nothing happened. This is a big failure for fanfic – one that no one mentions, because there’s a lot of shortcuts taken. Even if Sookie were healed instantly after this three hour beating – which is excessive author based hatred for Sookie showing in their storyline for their own personal satisfaction – then Sookie should at the very least feel hurt and betrayed that she took such a beating from a friend. She should flinch, and wonder if that friend is really a friend at all – no matter how “necessary” the beating was. It’s hard to see that logic when you’ve been on the receiving end of a couple of fists for a couple of hours. It’s hard to believe a true friend would beat you half to death without any qualms because it’s “necessary”. The only people who can see that logic are the ones who are completely divorced from it, or the ones throwing fists. Not the victim, and not anyone who actually cares about the victim.
So we have the scene where Sookie’s getting the stake pulled out of her side, to show how necessary hurting is not reacted to with complete indifference, even by thousand year old vampires (if they care about you that is):
I felt the blood leave my face and felt hysteria bubbling
up my throat like the blood was leaving the wound.
“Don’t, Sookie! Look at me!” Eric said urgently.
Club Dead, p. 183
Even though Eric isn’t doing it, and Sookie understands it’s necessary, neither of them look down with cold eyes and say “Yeah, whatever.” Eric urgently wants her to concentrate on something else, because he knows it’s going to hurt, even if he is holding her down for the procedure. Sookie meanwhile doesn’t approach it with logic, and act as if pain is a necessary thing she’s completely unconcerned about. Even if readers came out of that scene deifying Eric for showing compassion, it doesn’t mean that the scene was just glossed over, and had no effect.
Pain has an effect – on all characters. It doesn’t matter if they heal right up straight afterwards. Pain is still pain. If the character doesn’t feel it, the reader doesn’t insert it (for the most part) themselves. Notice that even vampires feel pain even though they’re full of vampire blood:
As I watched, the bullet began exiting the wound,
and he leaned back against his seat, his eyes shut.
From Dead to Worse, p. 80
And yes, Sookie has been maligned because she didn’t feel sorry enough – there are paragraphs of huge indignation that she didn’t fawn over him, and was “too cold”. Like Eric was all fawning over Sookie when she got a stake in the side, and worrying, biting his lip and such…wait…. So pain has to show an effect even on the toughest character. Yes, it’s out of character for Eric to sit down and cry, but it’s also out of character to say “The stake Bill shoved into me felt like an insignificant splinter”.
One of the biggest problems is the use of magic or vampire blood to “solve” the problem. Now, you can magic someone better, or give them vampire blood, but your readers are unlikely to actually care about the bad things happening to Sookie unless you actually craft a little bit into the whole thing. You’ll notice how little Sookie is given vampire blood in order to heal her up. A good example – the draining and rape in the trunk. No vampire blood given to heal that immediately after:
The mangled bite mark on my neck looked really disgusting, as though a dog got hold of me.
Club Dead, p. 247
It’s not as if the draining and rape finished having some sort of consequence as soon as they’d made Sookie live. And look at how many people are up in arms about the rape – because they felt it. It doesn’t matter that their opinions differ, it’s that CH didn’t waste her time writing a scene no one cared about when it happened.
Vampire blood isn’t used to heal Sookie’s injuries all the time, like it is in fanfic. Even when Eric sees her in pain, he’s just as likely to hand her a broom with a triumphant smile as he is to give her vampire blood. Healing Sookie quickly will get to the boning, but that’s the thing – you’ll place emphasis on the boning, not the injury. There is no point in doing it if it’s just going to be ignored by all your readers, or not given the appropriate weight. If you’re going to pull out some traumatic event, give it weight and don’t immediately erase it. Otherwise you’ve wasted your time and might as well have clipped out plot and put in boning. I can assure you, boning gets reviews. The hounds will find you.
You’d be better off having some sort of Eric showcase, wherein Eric can meander on in his inner musings. I’m sure you’ve all read the “Eric inner musings” standard trope. It’s all about how Eric is so sad, and really, Sookie deserves it for being an epic bitch. All these years he’s loved her and she foolishly didn’t prostrate herself at his feet and become his footstool. They’re pretty popular. And they’re way better than some violent scene that has no impact on readers, when they’ll give you straight up sympathy and appreciate for the Eric inner musings standard trope.
So what do you do if you want the readers who have that bone in their head to care?
Easy – make Sookie care. Don’t have her get over it in a heartbeat. You can’t expect readers to feel sorry for her if you start the chapter with the concept that it is all her fault that bad things happen to her. That’s what’s working in the Eric inner musings – he’s feeling all sorry for himself and the reader is sympathising with him, and he’s never, ever, ever at fault. Fanfic is full of it – all about how Sookie is wrong from the start. Next time you read some “angst” notice how often it starts with the premise that Sookie is wrong. If she’s attacked, it’s because she foolishly left the house after Eric specifically told her not to. That’s a common device – Eric says clearly and concisely that Sookie shouldn’t leave the house, and then Sookie’s brains fall straight outta her head and she thinks Eric’s only fooling or something. Like when he told her not to go to Mississippi because she could be hurt….wait…. See? “SEVERE OOC” is everywhere.
If Sookie spends her time focusing on the offence to Eric, and how much her violent attack hurt him, then the readers are going to mimic her. So you could just go with the standard “Eric is a whiner” inner musings and leave it at that. No need to write a violent attack scene if you could just skip that and have it so that everyone feels sorry for Eric anyway. You’ll get the same feedback anyway, and you can always find Eric some sympathy. He can even reminisce back to that time when Sookie didn’t immediately drop to her knees in fealty. You know 100% of the books.
You have to watch your subtext as well. So for example, if you were to write in SPOV “I was truly worried about what would happen if I got pulled into vampire politics too many times, and who would kill me if I put a step wrong. Eric wasn’t telling me anything.” You’ll be more likely to elicit sympathy for the character than if you wrote “I was whining to myself again about stuff that happened in my life. Boo hoo for me. Vampires sometimes beat me up, and I never asked questions.” It’s the way you make her care – this sort of subtext (that often leaps off the page for me) will not make people feel sorry for a character. It’s rarely quite this obvious, but I’ve just overblown this for you so you can see it.
Use of negative words steers readers without them realising it, because they wouldn’t read the first bit with “whining” and automatically think “Fuck you writer” as I do – they’re not thinking about the story that they’re reading. They’re being gently guided – and when it gets to the end of the chapter and they find themselves not feeling sorry for Sookie, it’s because they haven’t read the author’s subtext as clearly in “whining” – they’ve taken that Sookie is “whining” at face value, and thus discounted anything there was said in that sentence. After all – think of all the times you’ve read Eric’s inner musings with him calling himself “whining”. Cause I can’t think of a one. But I’ve read it in the inner musings of not only Sookie herself, but other characters thinking it about Sookie, and occasional EPOV about Bill. It’s a nice little way to feminise and thus dismiss characters as unimportant. Sookie is already a girl, so you don’t need to worry about making her easy to dismiss.
Of course, sometimes it’s even in the A/N – “Sookie is being a dickhead in this chapter, but we all can be, or at least she can be”. It’s not so much subtext as directions on how to read it. Few are going to read the bit about how we can all be dickheads – that word is firmly attached negatively to Sookie herself. If the author says straight out that the character is being a dickhead, then why would reviewers think sympathetically at all? Dickhead is not very evocative of sympathy, and nor is the author insulting the character they wrote (I think they should say “I’m a dickhead and wrote a scene you’ll hate because I can’t figure out how to write any other way). The A/N in that case just encourages the Sookie hater with “Hey, come, go to town on this chapter, she’s completely unjustified and imperfect!” and they inevitably get their wish.
It seems kinda silly to have to say it, but words actually mean things when you’re a writer. You can’t afford to be so terribly sloppy with your syntax. It’s not as if the internal dialogue of Sookie is so lacking you don’t have any examples of it. If you’re curious to know how often Sookie rags on herself, take any chapter of any book – re-read the shower scene chapter or the favourite chapter you have, and notice how often Sookie says things to degrade herself. Notice how often she craps on about how lacking she is. If you have more than that in one of your chapters, that is your own subtext. It’s not a realistic reflection of the character – it’s your hate for Sookie, or the way you hate on yourself in your own thoughts (in which case, God fucking help you).
With physical injury, it’s as simple as having it affect her in future. It’s relatively easy to remember that yanking some girl around by her arm could lead to a dislocation. I mean, Sookie’s forgiving, but she’s not immune to injury. If you’re prone to forgetting that she’s been bruised up, you can make a note of it at the time:
If I lived until the next day, I’d have severely strained muscles, but it would be worth it.
Dead Until Dark, p. 274
That way it will underlie the actions of the character – the reader has already been told there will be repercussions. Of course, then you’ve got to keep in mind that the next day she won’t be running any voluntary marathons. That’s one of the biggest problems – is that Sookie, for example in other things goes for days actually hurting. Before you jam pack another scene on top of it, remember that scenes have to be cohesive. So when Sookie takes drugs at Alcide’s, when she gets to Eric’s, she’s still stoned. And then she is weird all the way through that scene – strangely calm and out of it.
That’s one of the other ways that CH builds up sympathy for the Sookie character – not by making her at fault, and not by instantly healing her so that none of the guys have to see the impact of what they did to her:
And Eric was also lucky that the first words out of his mouth were
“Sookie, are you all right?” In his anxiety, he grabbed me, one
hand on either side of my waist, and I cried out.
Dead as a Doornail, p. 291
When you read that line, you weren’t mourning the death of a male – the vampire Charles Twining, right? Even though he officially got a bigger injury than Sookie that day (ie. he’s dead) you didn’t think “Well, why is she complaining when Charles is DEAD? I liked him!” I liked Charles too, but I didn’t feel sorry for him while he was hurting Sookie, and I didn’t think that Sookie shouldn’t be complaining here.
The other way is even if she is at fault, it’s all about the language that you use to show her at fault. It’s not about making out like Sookie can’t make mistakes, or that she’s just a victim, but rather something like this:
I spared a glance for Gabe’s face, which was quite blue. In his
agitation, Godfrey was squeezing Gabe much tighter than he
ought to. I wondered if I should say something.
“You do consort with vampires,” Godfrey accused and I
switched my gaze back to his face. I knew I’d better not
let my concentration wander again.
Living Dead in Dallas, p. 154
It’s about where you emphasise, the language you use. Sookie is not concentrating on Godfrey – her mind is wandering. But it would be a whole different complexion on the scene if Sookie were to say “Godfrey asked me a question but I just stared off into space, gathering wool.” By using the bit about not letting her concentration wander, that means that you want Sookie to succeed. It is positive language showing how she can do better, rather than judgement on how shit she does everything. It also keeps the tension in the scene, your sympathy with the character. This is how you do it so that Sookie haters really have to reach to rag on the character. And why would they bother when there’s forums where they can just paraphrase and get agreement?
It’s important to note that if you tend to write without thinking, or tend to splurge it all out on the page, and you dislike Sookie, that hateful subtext I mentioned above is going to be there if you don’t like her. You have to edit it out later, look at the chapter with a critical eye or get your editor to do it. If you’re really stuck, call the girl Ericina, so you’ll feel sympathy for her, since most Sookie haters love Eric and Eric only. Then go through and change it with Find and Replace. You’ll probably find you write less gender stereotypes and less insults if you’re thinking about a man being a girl, rather than one of those girls being a girl.
It’s important to get a control on subtext in writing. Someone who is writing fanfiction with hopes of publishing their own book later has almost no chance of a long running series with a likeable heroine. There won’t be readers like me with such a series – there’ll just be the ones who hate her guts and that will affect your sales. No one will buy your second or third book if it’s littered with this subtext. Because why the hell would they care about her next adventure? The readership won’t increase – and it can’t be denied that CH has no problems with increasing readership across genres. She’s a good role model on doing it right.
For the readers out there like me, who don’t want to get invested in some fic that will do this, it’s easier to see a fic will end up with this kind of scenario by looking at the first couple of chapters. If they’re filled with judgements, even if they’re easy to overlook and are about small things, then you’ll be able to detect it in the first chapter. I scrutinise first chapters really hard nowadays, so I don’t end up thinking things could get good. Even if the storyline looks like it’ll be engaging, if I read anything that is judgement of Sookie – including if it’s by Sookie herself – then odds are that later on in the fic I will get pissed off enough to rage-quit the thing. So I just set myself up with the idea that I’m not going to get invested, even if I continue to read in hope that the writer will get a clue.
But there is an instance where CH inadvertently leads readers by the nose, and you can see how that translates into reactions on Sookie. Looking at Quinn, at least 75% of Eric fangirls hate the living shit out of him, and hate the fact that Sookie ever allowed another penis to follow the “gracious plenty” or whatever. Sookie doesn’t have a right to her own body and owed it to Eric to be at his beck and call because things were hard for him etc. Now consider how often Sookie is seen as unreasonable because she wants to come first – shreds are torn off her for saying those words to Quinn by the Eric fangirls themselves, right? Yet they hate Quinn, and never wanted him to win, so you think they’d be happy, wouldn’t you? Except they’re not. You can find all kinds of hating on Sookie for that – and usually as if the injury has happened to Eric himself.
Where did all this hating on Sookie come from, since Eric fangirls mostly want Quinn to un-exist? Why do they all hate her for one line she said to another suitor in competition with Eric, whom they heartily believe she should never have dated? Well, that would be this:
I felt like a bad person. I felt miserable and bereft. I felt like a selfish bitch.
From Dead to Worse, p. 187
This is what caused that hatred from the Eric fangirls. That Sookie is now a selfish bitch. And that’s taken to be some sort of overwhelming outlook, transposed onto Eric’s relationship with Sookie, because the field is open for Eric now, and Sookie has suddenly become a selfish bitch. Despite the fact that all Sookie wants is not to be put on the backburner for Quinn while he puts her way behind caring for his mother, this is something they have to proactively beat down on her for when it comes to Eric. And that’s despite these self-same fangirls wanting Eric to put Sookie first and stay married, and not put say, Appius or Freyda first. They hold onto the idea that somehow being put at the bottom of the pile is somehow an unreasonable thing to get angry about.
As an aside, Eric as a manipulator – this is what makes him so good at what he does, yet so bad for those around him. Notice how easily people are lead around by the nose. Manipulators can do that. They measure their words. They can get the reaction they want because people are easily manipulated – and this is something this whole post will show you how to do. Sookie knows this, and that’s why she’s smart to be leery of him. I know this, as a manipulator too – poor Mr. Minty has to stop and ask if I’m manipulating him too (and I freely admit when I am and though I can argue I’m doing it for his own good – because I’m high handed as well – this doesn’t mean he’s an idiot to examine my motives, it means he’s a sensible human being not to abdicate independent thought to me). This is why I argue that Eric would eat most, if not all, of his fangirls alive. Manipulation doesn’t have to be all for bad, but considering how damn easy it is to do this (at least for me) there’s something to be said about what a bad trait this can be for removing autonomy.
But back to the point – even though CH did not intend Sookie to get strips torn off her for the line about being a selfish bitch, there can be no doubt that despite the fact that Quinn has a small to non-existent fanbase within the Eric fangirls – and many actively hate his guts for daring to think about using one of Eric’s possessions – they’re still ready to take Sookie thinking she’s a selfish bitch to heart, and tear more strips off her just in case she might harbour some similar thought of doing that to Eric. Take it to heart yourself that readers will look for any opportunity to say mean things about other people, and reduce their opportunities. Use that manipulation to get them to say positive things about her. The more negative things you say about a character, the worse that hatred is going to get.
Looking around at the fandom – this is just about one of the only interactive places where I make sure that I’m positive about Sookie – and it reflects in 80% of my comments. 5% is positive about Bill in the hopes of changing my mind, and 15% positive about Eric for the same reason. Maybe 3% of comments are actively negative about Sookie and what a bitch she is. I get called names more than she does. Sookie however, doesn’t get such a good stream of comments in other interactive forums because the atmosphere means everything. Posts made about her are negative, and they get worse and worse. It’s my personal thinking that if you’re shaky on canon, then you should be extra careful not to read other people’s stories, because I have noticed over time, it seeps into writing – and standards go down, rather than up. I have posts upon posts about how negative thinking about Sookie spreads like wildfire. People are easily influenced unless they have strong convictions or strong thoughts about something.
Finally, you have to have an emotional impact as well. The standard fanfic is to overuse things – to talk something to death. When people are easily lead, this is not the best way to come to a clear understanding of who is in the wrong and why. It’s often obscured because there’s too much talking, and reading comprehension is not so good for some. They’re rushing through to the boning, so they only got the merest glance to ensure Sookie was in the wrong.
So for example, things haunt Sookie long after they’ve been over. This is what keeps the character being realistic – and ties them into the past, explains why they don’t react so well to things they’ve seen before:
I’d heard this story before. A vampire more powerful than me made me
do it: Bill’s excuse for going back to his maker, Lorena, revisited.
I felt the cold, creeping misery of disillusionment.
Dead in the Family, p. 14
If it was Sookie’s first time of hearing that vampire orders fuck her life up, she’d be upset. The second time, she’s just tired. Tired of being told that other vampires can let her be tortured, despite their promises, just because Eric is not free any more than Bill is. That there is no value in relying completely on any vampire to back you up, because they’ll always have some arse in the background who is telling them what to do. That being consistently failed in life is something that dating a vampire can do. Anyone who can’t figure out why Sookie is tired – she’s referencing why she doesn’t bother to get hurt and angry up in Eric’s face – just that this is one long merry-go-round of following orders that will never go in her favour.
There’s other things too – the doubts that creep in about decisions that work well. They create an atmosphere – even not during direct conversations – there is a sense that the character is missing out:
I had a moment of wanting Eric there so badly it made me a little dizzy, and then
I looked out the window at the sunshine and felt only anger at my own longing.
This is what you get, I told myself.
Dead and Gone, pp. 48-49
It doesn’t always require Sookie to tell Eric it’s a hassle he’s not up in the daytime – and that’s the point where you understand not only does the drawback of being a vampire sometimes rankle, but that Sookie cares about Eric enough not to say it to his face. That despite wanting him, she doesn’t intend to hurt his feelings, and gets angry at herself for wishing he was otherwise. You’ll notice with a lot of fanfic, Sookie rarely thinks anything much about herself, or her problems with Eric – she says it out loud, requiring chapters and chapters of angst because the writer didn’t bother to have Sookie think it, rather than say it. Not only does Sookie feel OOC with her blatant cruelty, but then you’re sure to draw the Sookie haters to your reviews. They like it when you make it easy for them.
When writing “angst” you need to have stamina. You can’t just resolve it because you want it over now. Bad things do affect characters. The only people who have chats and then get over things in their entirety are poorly formed characters. No one gets reinvented every single second – even if they resolve it – even if Sookie forgives or resolves or gets closure or whatever, it doesn’t mean that she’s over it. Being bonded to Eric happened, and Sookie recognised it as something she couldn’t escape:
Okay, Sookie, I said to myself. What else could you have done? It wasn’t the time
to do a lot of detailed thinking, but a quick scan of my options came up zero.
All Together Dead, p. 182
Accepting that there’s no way it could have gone differently is not the same as resolving never to regret the consequences – which are high. And after this, Sookie even says that Eric was the best option:
I should be grateful to Eric, and I knew it; and on one level I was.
But exchanging blood at all had not been a choice
I got to make, and I wasn’t going to forget it.
All Together Dead, p. 198
In this way, it builds layers of feeling about it – not just one reaction. It gives depth to her thoughts about it. No emotional impact of something happening should come out of it with “I was 100% happy with this, with no actual depth to anything” – no one will care about whether or not bad things happen. Readers will remember it’s not her choice, and be on board with it – you can find fanfic all about Sookie making the choice to bond with Eric, rather than going with what Andre did to her.
Not only that, but you can hook readers into thinking about things this way. That’s why certain books create fandoms – because they get people thinking and wanting things to go certain ways. To the point that they will go somewhere and write a little story based on that story. The fact that SVM has created a fandom is testament to the fact that people care about the characters, care about the ways things will go for the characters. And hence why any bullshit about how CH is a crappy author are complete lies especially in the fanfiction section of the fandom. Here, there are people so obsessed that they write fanfic to finish things up.
Yes, there is a bit of self-aggrandisement, and quite a bit of arrogance, but all of these readers are hooked – not just on Eric, but on Sookie – consider how easily it is to get a popular Eric/OC fic – so even if Sookie is hated by a portion of readers, or disliked, she’s still the main star of the show. I know I’m not interested in Eric/OC – and few people read only those fics. What CH has done works, even if strips are torn off Sookie by readers. For some of us, we like Sookie and care about her – for others, they’re more interested in men, and what men are doing. And yet they read a book about a woman, from a woman’s point of view. That’s because writing emotional integrity is important.
In order to create some sort of bond between the reader and the character, you want to make them likeable, and make their pain the readers’ pain. Indeed – this is the issue with True Blood – the character of Sookie has been made unlikeable, and too overt with her own pain, to the point that nobody feels it or cares about it, hence the huge amount of Eric/OC fic in that exists. Ironically, of course, it’s only really people who read about Book Sookie who care about the fanfic in that section, and Sookie is necessary for the popular fics in that section as well. And she’s almost always changed to be like Book Sookie, and do what Book Sookie will do. Those who stick to True Blood canon just don’t draw the same kind of reader base that Sookie/Eric do.
If you’re going to prefer a canon, then it’s SVM all the way – even if you write True Blood fiction – because otherwise, no one will care about what you’re doing. That’s why there’s bleed-through into the SVM section – because Truebies aren’t interested in Sookie fic, and there aren’t many Truebies interested in pure canon True Blood. But there are plenty of SVMers interested in making Sookie back into her book character. By removing Sookie’s emotional integrity every week and reinventing her to care about nothing that has gone on before, to have no lasting results, Alan Ball has lost the caring about Sookie that goes on in SVM. CH has managed to effectively buoy two fandoms with this hard work into making readers care.
While you’re writing fanfic, you can rest on your laurels a little, because CH has done the hard yards for you. But it’s essential to start developing these skills if you want to write your own novels. Because otherwise, you’re going to find that people aren’t as interested, aren’t as fervent because you haven’t made them care. Once you leave behind canon, you have to rely on your own skills to do that. It’s essential to learn to make readers care. Without it, your character will be a passing 99 cent fantasy snippet, with no longevity and no deep impact.