Fandoms · writing

Press Play: Tips for Making Fan Fiction Work for You

 

tips forMaking Fan Fiction Work for You (3)

It’s becoming more common for authors to get their start by writing fan fiction. There have been many famous authors who started out writing for fandom before transitioning to original works. Chances are you’ve heard of Cassandra Claire and E. L. James, I’m not holding either up as a good examples of morally responsible writers, but they both got their start writing for particular fandoms.

They, for all their faults, might have been on to something. Something that the traditional publishers have been taking a much keener interest in over the last several years.

Fandom.

Now, before you take me out back and expound on the vices of following in the footsteps of plagiarists and pompous swindlers, let me explain what I mean.

First off, I do write fan fiction and have for several years now. I’m currently well into a 4 book (and growing) series for the Thief (2014 © Square Enix & Eidos Montreal) fandom. Yes, you read that right. There are currently 2 full novels, I’m working on the 3, the fourth is planned and a fifth is being discussed. These aren’t novellas either. The last fic was well over 100K. Not that I’m bragging, it just kind of happened.

So why do I spend my time writing things that I’ll never be paid for? For couple of reasons. Reasons I think you too would benefit from.

Improved Writing:

Over the last two years, I’ve written nearly quarter of a million words for fandom. That’s a lot of words. But it’s allowed me the chance to improve in areas I really struggled with. Setting for example. I was able to practice writing more immersive settings as well as complicated, multi-layer plots. And I didn’t have to wait months to get back edits. The feedback was instant. I could know quickly what was working and what wasn’t, what the readers were focusing on and what they skimmed over, what threads they were really enjoying and what things annoyed them. This kind of feedback is invaluable as an author and one of the reason I will continue to write fan fiction.

Caution: Instant gratification with comments/reviews can get addictive. Especially when you go to writing original fic. Remember to keep a balanced view and not get an ego.

Connect With Readers

Fandom is full of avid and discerning readers. They know exactly what they like and are smart, savvy, and loyal. Some of them spend hours and hours writing up their own meta, head canons and discussing various plot points. They are the kind of people who you want reading your work. People who get excited about great stories and are eager to share them. I’ve been very privileged to meet quite a few of these individuals and have formed lasting friendships with a few.

Writing fanfic has allowed me to discover a whole new audience who craves things they cannot get in mainstream media. Readers who are willing to give my original stories a chance because they are already reading and enjoying my fan fiction and are familiar with the way I write.

So how can writing for fandom help you? Is it something you’d be willing to spend time doing in order to cultivate relationships? Is it morally right/wrong to benefit from writing fanfiction?

Well … let’s see.

There are plenty of pros and cons to writing fanfiction and while I encourage it as a fun relaxing writing exercise it can get stressful if approached wrong. Yes, there is a wrong way to approach writing fan fiction. The graphic explains some of the right ways to approach fandoms.

Engaging Fandom

So what are some of the pros and cons of writing fanfiction? Let’s look at them:

Pros:

  • More exposure to potential readers
  • Practicing the craft
  • Free reads that need little advertising
  • Build a reader base

Cons:

  • Time spent writing that won’t see a monetary return*
  • Shipping wars

I’m sure there might be more cons … but I can’t think of any right now. I personally find writing fan fiction immensely rewarding and fun. It’s allowed me to grow both as a writer and as a person. And no, it’s not always sunshine and roses. I have had characters stolen and been plagiarized. I’ve been flamed and told I should die because of the subject matter of a couple of my stories. But those are rare happenings and the vast majority of fans are utterly thrilled to have well written fic to read.

So don’t be afraid to give it to them. Even just a drabble here or there can get you started. Think of it as a writing exercise, like the ones you had to do in school where you had to write as if you were a character in a certain novel. That is fan fiction.

If you’re not sure where to start pick your favorite TV show, movie, video game or book and look it up on Archive of Our Own. I can almost guarantee there is something out there. AO3 has very comprehensive tags and you’re certain to find something you like and if you don’t … well there’s your opening right there. Write there. Just don’t forget to read other works and stay engaged. You’re there to make friends and meet potential readers.

*While I am not a big fan of turning fan fiction into publishable works I feel it is the right of each writer to make this decision for themselves.

Do you write fan fiction? If you do, do you have any other suggestions? Do you agree with my admonitions? Questions are welcome too. If you are curious about my fan fiction  you can find it here: The Corsair and the Corsetteer.

If you enjoyed this post and would like access to exclusive content please consider supporting me on Patreon.

Characters · Fandoms · video games

Thief Scene Breakdown Prologue: The Drop

Video games are a unique medium. They combine the storytelling of a novel and the look of a movie with the ability to interact with the character and story line. This makes for a unique challenge for the creators. Not only must the characters be compelling and the story line exciting but it has to challenge the player with ever more difficult levels and puzzles. Finding the right balance is difficult at best.  With the advances in technology the new ‘next gen’ games not only have better graphics, but increased levels of storytelling. Titles like The Last of Us, The Witcher, Bioshock Infinite, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Tomb Raider were all contenders last year for the VGX awards and BAFTA Games featured complex characters and memorable characters. This doesn’t happen by accident.

Since Jan 1 there have been approximately 159 games released among them titles like:

Thief (Xbox One, PS4, 360, PS3, PC) – February 25
Titanfall (Xbox One, PC) – March 11
Infamous: Second Son (PS4) – March 21
Child of Light (PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, 360, PC) – April 30
Watch Dogs (Xbox One, 360, PS4, PS3, PC) – May 27
Murdered: Soul Suspect (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, 360, PC) – June 3

Thief was one of the more highly anticipated releases, being the reboot of a classic and one of the few games available on the new consoles. Early buzz was all over the place and reviews continue to be such though the majority are now leaning toward positive.  The rest of this article will not be spoiler free so please read no further if you have not played the game and do not wish to be spoiled as to the plot.
Something many reviewers and players have complained about is the difficulty in understanding the plot of the game and relating to the main character, Garrett. Something this game has done differently is spread out the story line over various media. Reading the prequel comics is nearly essential to understanding the relationship between Garrett and his apprentice Erin. Even so, it is not crucial to playing the game. However, if you truly want to achieve Master Thief status in the game it’s highly recommended that you read every thing you come across. As for relating to Garrett, I will be honest with you, a lot of you simply won’t. Garrett is a very quiet, introverted and private person. However, if you give him a chance you will see a very deep thinking, intelligent and witty man.
What we are going to look at now is each of the cut scenes in an effort to not only disect the plot but to understand Garrett better. One of the key things about Garrett; you must watch his face. He doesn’t speak much and communicates mostly through facial expression and his eyes. And this is what makes me personally so excited about next gen games. This level of detail in the graphics opens up so much more story telling wise. Before a character like Garrett, who doesn’t speak much was difficult to get to know, though Garrett Sr (as he’s affectionately known in fandom) was/and is much beloved. With the new graphics characters who are quieter and communicate more through body language and facial expression will hopefully become more common since not all of us are tall, broad-shouldered, sandy headed extroverts.
This analysis was conducted in partnership with my dear friend Jean M. who has played Thief for many hours and has joined me for much discussion of the game.

Scene Breakdown

 

Prologue: The Drop

Location: Unnamed Building along the Thieves’ Highway

Scene: Garrett and Erin have been looking for information on the location of the Primal Stone Basso’s client wants. In this scene they’ve just discovered a clue to its location and a short conversation ensues.

Jean: Up until the point where Erin laughs, she sounds uncertain – almost like a little girl playing games. Thieving is a game to her. Right up until the point where she see’s Garrett’s face, she’s playing a game of “I can steal more than you”. Except that when Garrett shows up, she can see that he’s refusing to play. I imagine that would make her feel embarrassed. I suspect seeing him reminds her of her shortcomings. I get the impression that she rejects Garrett’s idealistic perfection, not because she doesn’t value it, but because she’s too impulsive and too impatient to be able to mimic it. And looking at him reminds her of what she can’t be.

Davonne: What she doesn’t know is that while she pilfered the obvious chest, Garrett found the hidden safe and valuable ring and necklace inside (This is achieved in game, there is a hidden switch that reveals the cache). He might be slower but he’s also more thorough and more cautious.

Jean: I’m interested in why Garrett’s first appearance at the top of the stairs is of him facing back down them. Was he having second thoughts about taking part at all? I see a mask of indifference. It’s been a while since he last saw her, so given that he has always cared to a certain extent (as he admitted in the final cut scene) it has to be good on a certain level to get to see her, even if he has no wish to work with her. There’s reluctance to get involved with her, but it’s muted because he’s playing nice for Basso’s sake. Although it’s impossible to resist the temptation to play the teacher and lecture her a bit.

Davonne: He’s in full on thief mode complete with mask. He seems to be checking to make sure no one was alerted by all the noise Erin made.

Jean: Erin still doesn’t sound like she’s taking the job seriously. She’s waving the particulars sheet around like it’s some kind of trophy that she gets to read and he doesn’t. There’s an odd edge of almost laughter in her voice. She’s enjoying this, and enjoying the idea of working with him. Waving around the sheet of paper means that Garrett can’t ditch her and do the job solo, because she’s the only one who knows what the job is. It’s not so much about independence, but more about wanting him to admit that she’s as good as he is.

Davonne: The way she keeps the paper from him…it’s a control gesture. I think it might also be her trying get him to see her as being at his level that she’s in control of the situation.

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Jean: Garrett’s getting increasingly frustrated and annoyed with Erin. He turned up for a serious job, and she’s playing control games and making fun of his profession. After all, we know that thieving isn’t just his job, it’s his whole life. She’s playing games, but from his point of view she’s laughing at him. The confident mask is still up. This is the Master Thief we’re watching. Garrett the person is somewhere safely buried.

Davonne: I find it interesting how confidently he holds himself. Even though he’s irritated with Erin he’s still very much in control of himself and the mask is firmly in place.  Her dropping the paper out the window with that head tilt is a clear challenge. It’s almost antagonistic. She’s having fun with this but also wants to appear to be in control. Dropping the letter prevents Garrett from having access to the information and as Jean said, it plants her solidly as the one in control, the one who Garrett needs, not the other way around.

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Jean: More of the same, although the glance down suggests to me that he’s started thinking about all the various things that could go wrong. Possibly starting to formulate plans on how to cope with them.

Davonne: yes I think so, and the look of irritation as he turns to face Erin. I agree that he’s beginning to get worried. Not only is the Baron’s mansion sure to be heavily guarded he’s probably worried about Erin’s attitude toward the whole thing as well. This is not a job to take lightly and he knows it and as stated earlier this is all just a game to her. A fun distraction not a potentially life and death situation.

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Jean: Erin stares at Garrett for a few seconds before responding. She’s looking for something. I think she’s starting to realize that things are more serious than she’s acknowledging, but she’s not ready to admit it. So she makes light of it instead by asking him if he’s worried – if he admits to being worried, then he must be admitting that he’s not as good as she is, because he doesn’t think he can do it. It’s a tense mixture of wanting his approval, wanting to needle him, wanting him to take her seriously, but hiding it by refusing to take him seriously.

I’m reminded of the comparisons we often draw between Garrett Sr and Garrett Jr – how he’s all about the challenge, and about pushing himself to match the idealized perfect thief, and the accompanying fear of failure and goes alongside it. Erin’s the same, only she’s not able to focus enough to keep pushing for perfection, and she’s not comparing herself against an ideal – she’s comparing herself against Garrett. So she gets angry and blames him for it.

Davonne: Lots of internal conflict here. She’s desperate to prove herself without actually appearing to be so. Garrett is less than amused and it’s starting to show. He’s keeping it reined in for the moment. Despite their not having worked together for a while and his disagreement with her choices he does seem to be comfortable with her for the moment. At least more comfortable than we see him with other people except Basso.

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Jean: The line “yes and so should you” interests me. Garrett’s tone of voice changes. He’s suddenly no longer a deep bass – his tone rises, and almost softens. He’s trying to persuade her, not order her. Maybe he thinks that by admitting what sounds like a weakness she’ll realize that it’s not a failure to feel worried. But as a tactic it relies too heavily on her still being in the protégée mindset, because to come to that realization that it’s not so bad to admit to worry depends on her believing that he is the ideal to be imitated, including in the admission of worry. That’s why it falls flat as an overture. She’s an independent thief now. She has her own solo jobs. She’s still desperate for his approval, but she no longer uncritically soaks in everything he offers her.

Davonne: That interested me too he’s definitely trying to appeal to her.  He is still very much in the teacher/student role with her while she’s moved on and sees herself as being nearly on par with him.  Why he chooses this particular line and delivers it in such a way is important. There are other ways he could have got the point across but he choose not to adopt the chiding tone from the earlier ‘it’s not what you steal’ line. The inflection also gives away that he really truly is worried, not just saying so for her benefit. This job is potentially dangerous enough that he’s willing to put aside his pride for just a moment to try and make the point clear to her. It’s NOT a game and YES she should be worried.

Jean: The line about “I’ll pick up your slack” suddenly offers what sounds to her like an admission from him that he’s not perfect. Even though he’s never claimed to be or pretended to be perfect, and that being worried about the job would be a good idea. Erin and Garrett are heading off on a joint mission where suddenly she’s the one who knows all the details, where she’s the one who isn’t worried, where she’s the one who is apparently in control. She feels that the dynamic of their former joint missions has changed, and now she’s the one in charge. The protégée is suddenly able to control the master. This is also probably why Erin reacts so badly when Garrett tells her later on in the prologue about how she’s not in control.

Davonne: She does seem to get rather excited in contrast to Garrett’s growing reluctance. It’s probably a rather heady feeling for her to have the Master Thief having to follow her for once. She’s already baited him about being slow, challenged him to a game of who can steal the most and deliberately chose a route that allowed her to show off her particular skill set while forcing him to find his own slower route.

Her ‘we’ll be fine’ sounds overconfident and almost flippant. She’s feeling very in control now especially with Garrett’s admission of being worried. She doesn’t wait for him to follow her and doesn’t even look back as she heads out.

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Jean: Throughout the scene, Erin and Garrett are not talking with each other. They’re talking at each other, and neither of them are listening. The scene culminates with the final jab in the conversation being Garrett’s line delivered to the empty air after Erin has already left. She didn’t listen when she was in front of him, so saying his final piece to the empty air after she’s gone is about as effective.

Davonne: This, I think, is indicative of their entire relationship. She listens when it’s convenient or suits her and he doesn’t communicate what he’s actually thinking at least not where she can hear it. He did this several times before the scene.

The whole tone of this scene is one of increasing tension.

Characters · Fandoms

When All Else Fails-Improvise

I’m a person of simple tastes. Specific yes, but simple. Engage my mind. Make me feel. And don’t skimp on the aesthetics. Thief delivers on all three. Much like Garrett delivers the (stolen) goods. He doesn’t disappoint and neither does this game.  Mostly. Now, this is not a game play review. There are tons of those. This one is really good and fair and I agree with him on most points.

For my part I did enjoy the game play. I found it absolutely exhilarating. No, what I want to discuss is the story line and characters, which if you are familiar with my blog you will understand. I do love my bad boys. And Garrett is by no means exempt from that category.

Garrett from the game Thief is a child of the shadows.

Thief is a reboot of the original Thief series first released as Thief: The Dark Project in 1998. It became a cult classic and is still regarded as the defining the stealth genre. Thief (2014) was my introduction to the franchise and to Garrett. If you want discussion on how the reboot uses elements of the old games I suggest browsing the forums. I did not play the old games and won’t be discussing anything from them. This is a fresh perspective.

Garrett is a very interesting character. The design alone was enough to get me interested. But we all know how I like my short, dark and lithe. Well, except Loki, but he’s a god so that doesn’t count. And Deadpool is just…Deadpool and I love him for his mind anyway. Anyway, on to the game. There will be major spoilers so read at your own risk. I highly recommend playing the game through spoiler free as it really ups the enjoyment and anticipation factors.  You can get it on virtually every platform known to man. I personally have it both on my computer and my PS3 but I’m obsessive.

A Light in the Dark

The Clock Tower

Video games have the unenviable task of having to be both fun to play but challenging and having an engaging story line and likable characters. As Rhianna Pratchett (who has been involved with hugely successful games like Tomb Raider and Bioshock: Inifnite) took to the forums at escapist to explain just what makes writing games so much more difficult than writing for film or television.

My role is to take what they have, flesh it out and get it working in the game within the boundaries set by the developer – be they time, budget, design etc. What you get to work with can vary depending on how far development has already progressed. There’s likely to be some spine of a story, some levels designed (in Mirror’s Edge’s case a whole game) and often a bit of character work. By and large it’s at least what the developer will have needed for their pitch doc/proof of concept/green light etc. and enough to get folks actually building stuff. The reason I (and other games writers) talk about the need to get writers/narrative designers in earlier is it would make our role a whole lot easier and more satisfying if *we* helped originate this kind of stuff. When you work as a hired-gun, rather than an imbedded writer, that hardly ever happens. Sometimes this is because the devs want to do it themselves, or they don’t know where to find a games writer. Perhaps they’re just not ready yet, or not used to thinking about story and writer at the same time. Often there can be an assumption that the ‘word bits’ are easy, cheap and that can easily be slipped in somewhere down the line. These attitudes unfortunately bypasses the skills that writers/narrative designers have for character and world building. Something that, you’d think, could be pretty useful to the development process. (http://www.blastr.com/2014-3-4/rhianna-pratchett-reveals-why-writing-videogames-harder-any-other-medium?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter)

Fortunately it seems that Thief managed to get a lot right on both accounts. The story line had me playing till 2am three nights in row because I HAD to find out what happened in the next chapter (I don’t play during the day due to having young children). Yes, I enjoyed the game play, pick pocketing, breaking and entering running along the rooftops and various other fun things, but it was the main story line that captivated my interest.  Well, that and Garrett himself. The opening sequence Garret talks about the fact that anything can be bought, even trust. “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” But as he says none of that matters because when has he ever paid for anything?

This short monologue foreshadows so much in the game it’s not even funny. Not everything is paid for in coin.  And thus begins the prologue: The Drop. We soon meet Erin, and the reunion is bittersweet. It’s obvious the two of them did not part on the best of terms. The tension is palpable with Erin taunting Garrett in what seems like a sarcastic manner but that actually hides a deep seated anger and resentment towards him. “I can handle myself, okay. I can climb faster, I can move faster…” While Garrett is cautious to the point of being wary, Erin is compulsive and violent. Yet he still feels responsible for her. He cuts in, “You can kill faster, make mistakes faster. I get it. You’re not in control.”

Erin blows him off. “Well that’s why I’m better. Deal with it.” She completely dismisses his concern for her because she feels personally attacked for her lifestyle choices. Her focus is on how much she can steal even trying to make bet on who can take more on their way to the location of their job. When he shows up she makes fun of him for not taking as much as she felt he should have. He responds, “It’s not about how much you steal, but what you steal.” Here again we see the difference in their approach to their ‘trade.’

This becomes starkly evident when Erin kills a guard at the Baron’s mansion. Garrett is furious. He only kills if it’s absolutely necessary and Erin knows this. She retorts that the dead guard won’t wake up to follow their trail. He knows that if they aren’t long gone by the time the guard wakes up something is very, very wrong. That she would even consider that shows him that she doesn’t care that she’s sloppy and that life has little value to her. Garrett is obviously worried it’s going to get her killed. This dialog from him is also a clue to the player on how best to approach game play. Avoid detection and avoid combat unless absolutely necessary. Garrett is not a ninja or assassin, he’s a thief and it very quickly becomes evident that combat is not his forte. Neither should it be.

Then Erin goes and gets herself killed.

At least that’s what Garrett believes when he wakes up after the accident. He quickly realizes that something significant has changed. Upon arriving at the clock tower that he calls home it becomes clear that he’s been gone much longer than he ever considered. This scene tells us a lot about him. He quietly takes in the evidence and then makes a decision. He goes to Basso who confronts him demanding to know where he’s been for the last year. Garrett’s surprise is subtle a look and a shift in his stance, a whole year is just gone and he doesn’t know the answer to the question. Basso is frustrated thinking that Garrett just doesn’t want to say. Garrett asks for a job, most likely wanting Basso to not question him any further.

Next he goes to the Beggar Queen knowing that if anyone has answers she will. She claims not to know everything, only ‘the important things.’ Garrett is visibly unsettled when she asks why he’s there.  He takes a moment to gather himself before facing her to ask what happened to him and Erin. Here is when we see the guilt trickling in. She tells him that they found him after the accident and took him in, healed him but that after a while something began to wake him and so they took him home.  However, it is interesting to note that her account doesn’t quite gel with what we find out later. There is still a lot of missing time between when he was found and when he woke up in the cart. She mentions taking him out of the city to keep him safe. This was a red flag to me. Where did they take him and for how long? There are hints later on but nothing definitive. She tells him that if he wants to know what happened the city itself will tell him. This is another huge hint as to what is actually happening.

The Queen of Beggars herself is a very interesting side character, much like Basso. They feel very real and solid. Their dialog is believable and very well done by their respective voice actors. I personally would like to see more of both if there is another game. There is a lot of untapped potential in both of them. I especially like the concept of the Queen of Beggars. A old blind woman who has coordinated the beggars into what amounts to a spy network. Brilliant.

As Garrett leaves she warns him. “There are worse things in the dark than you.” This is yet another HUGE hint to what’s coming in later chapters.

Getting the ring of the man’s corpse requires a trip to the foundry. The foundry itself was disgusting as is appropriate since it was a holding and processing stage for the cremation of the dead. It didn’t help that I could imagine the smell. The bits of floating ash as well as the piles of it in the tunnels were suitably unsettling considering where the ash came from. The interior gets worse. Bodies are treated like animals for slaughter, hug up on hooks and strung through the foundry till they get to the carters for processing. It’s a revolting and a suitable stage to meet the Thief-Taker General. We last saw him on the roof just before the accident and it seems the unintentional injury Garrett caused has crippled the man. He now has a prosthetic and walks with a cane. He’s driven, greedy and violent; shooting a hapless carter in cold blood. From the other’s dialog it’s a given that he’s violent. They were taking bets on how long it would be until he beat someone again. Though the killing seems to have disturbed them as well. Something is going on, something that has even the General on edge. He finds the ring and takes it. This is our clue that the ring is important. Once the ring is obtained we get further proof it’s important with a short flashback or hallucination. Then it’s a close call with the General.

After getting a message via Jenivere Garrett heads back to Basso’s. There is someone who wants to meet him.  It turns out its the same man whom he stole the ring for. Even Basso speaks highly of Orion letting Garrett know that he respects him as someone who is fomenting change for the City’s oppressed and poor. Normal men like himself and Garrett. “Well, me anyway.” Basso corrects himself with a smirk.

Orion himself is a big bear of a man. He tells Garrett it’s good that he came to which Garret, ever the pragmatist replies, “You’re paying aren’t you.” Garrett takes a moment to look around noting the condition of those Orion is attempting to treat. “Then you’ve bought my attention for now at least.”

It’s easy to see that Orion is a politician at heart, trying to sway Garrett to his side by showing how he’s opposing the Baron’s treatment of people especially those with the gloom. But Garrett’s having none of it. He stays out of politics. Orion states that he realizes Garrett prides himself on being a loner then asks if he really has no stake in what is happening to the people. Garrett doesn’t believe so, he content to continue doing what has always worked for him. Orion asks, “But for how long?”

Garrett is thrown into an aural flashback of the accident and passes out. He’s defensive and on edge when he wakes insisting he’s fine and demanding what Orion wants from him. Once again he doesn’t drink something someone else gives to him. Orion wants a book that just happens to be hidden in the House of Blossoms, an upscale brothel that caters to the elite. He tells Garrett that he doesn’t normally hold with stealing, which gets him a look from Garrett. “A man of politics stealing by proxy. Sounds about right.”

“As right as a thief who steals for a good cause.” Orion retorts with a small smile.

Garret agrees to get the book and Orion assures him that he will be securing a better future for everyone.  “I’ll remember that.” Garrett says before he leaves.

Garret has never been to the red light district. Something that took me a little by surprise for being unusual for most game protagonists. The surprise quickly turned into appreciation for the fact that carnal pleasures are obviously not on his agenda. He goes to find Erin’s hideout knowing she’d been there before. We are treated to his first full blown hallucination of Erin. She tells him he must find a key, something from before she became Erin and that it will lead him to the truth. The fact that her hideout is plastered with drawings and sketches of him shows a bit of an obsessive nature. It’s evident from the hallucination that there is something there he is meant to find. Taking a similar path as in the hallucination leads him to a strange dial. He decides to take it with him. At the brothel while he’s searching he looks into a keyhole and is treated to what is either another hallucination or one of Erin’s memories. At this point I began to wonder how he had her memories and speculated it was related to the accident and his new focus ability.

We meet several interesting characters in this chapter, getting to peek in on private moments. One of note is Eastwick who we learn is an architect. There is also the Madam who happens to be a trans female. A detail I loved. Getting to the book is an interesting endeavor and Garret finds the ruins of a ancient library. Its here that we start seeing strange glowing flowers. Picking up the book triggers another short hallucination and the name Cornelius is repeated along with a new name. Aldous. Keys are mentioned. On the way out something is lurking in the shadows but darts away. The tunnel out leads directly under a bed and someone is getting serviced. It’s the Thief-Taker General who is just as tender with his whores as with his men. Madam confronts him and threatens to divest him of his manhood should he strike the girl again. This really made me love the Madam. She takes care of her girls even protecting them from powerful men like the General.

The ever so kind General tosses the poor girl to the floor where she sees Garrett hiding under the bed. And of course she screams. This was an ‘oh fuck’ moment for me because I now understood just how violent and depraved the General is and it made me fear for Garrett. He can’t get out from under the bed since the rug is on fire on the side opposite from where the General is standing. Thankfully the General is not wearing his wrist mounted crossbow, he does however display an impressive amount of strength flipping the large bed. There is no time for Garrett to move and he rolls trying to avoid the bed but ends up slamming into the wall with the bed pinning him. The General recognizes him and seems rather gleeful at the prospect of killing Garrett. Which given the injury to his leg is understandable. Garrett manages to wiggle free and shoves a table at the General buying himself a few seconds to grab the cane and slip out the door. He leaves with the admonishment to the General to be nicer to the ladies just before a large wingback chair slams into the door. Using the cane to wedge the door shut Garrett makes good his escape.  This scene was a good set up to their continuing conflict and the General’s growing obsession with finding and killing Garrett.

Seven nights later and Garrett is back at the Clock Tower when he hears something out of the ordinary. He finds Jenivire dying and immediately realizes Basso must be in trouble. Things in the City are deteriorating. There are public hangings for the slightest offense without any trial. Garrett heads for the Crippled Burrick and finds Orion rifling through everything in a frenzy. He tells Garrett that the Thief-Taker General has taken Basso and some of his men captive and is upset that the book looks to have been taken as well. Garrett is angry, wanting to know what is so important about a book that his friend’s life is at stake. I find it interesting that he uses the word friend and not fence here.

Orion is agitated and goes on about how important the book is and how the Baron won’t use it’s power for the good of the people. This is a huge clue because as we saw earlier it’s the same book they were using when the accident happened. Garrett, knowing Basso like he does knows the book is safe but he doesn’t let Orion have it until he knows where they took Basso.  Orion tells him that they were taken to the Keep and points him to Jacob. One of his own men who had been studying the Keep looking for a way in. According to Orion he found one. Here Orion makes the mistake of touching Garrett, putting a hand on his shoulder in what is meant to be a friendly fashion. It’s quite obviously not acceptable but it tells me that Orion feels as though he can take liberties with Garrett, as if they are friends. They are not.

Garrett is thankful for the information and only relays this sentiment by stating that once he sees to his ‘fence’ he’ll see about getting out Orion’s Graven. That Garret corrects his label for Basso is interesting and lets Orion know that he calls very few friend. He hands the book over once he has the information on where to find Jacob. Orion tells him, “You are not so different, you and I, Garret. You bring change. One day the people will thank you for that.”

“You think too much of the people.” Garret retorts. This is an interesting statement it shows that Garret knows that any sort of altruistic endeavor is ultimately a thankless one. People are just as likely to try to destroy their saviors as praise them. That and it doesn’t pay.

Once he gets to Graystone plaza it’s evident that Jacob is no longer going to be able to help him. But, he does know someone who might be able to help thanks to his time in the House of Blossoms. The architect Eastwick who was responsible for the design and building of the Keep.

On the way to Eastwick’s city house he notices a fire erupting at the top of the Keep. Time is not on his side. He needs to get to Eastwick and find the plans for the keep and get to Basso before the structure succumbs. Easier said than done. Eastwick’s city house is crawling with Watch guards. We learn that Eastwick has barricaded himself in his study. Finding the hidden entrance leads to a massive study where Eastwick has hanged himself. The plans aren’t just lying out in the open. A puzzle must be solved first which reveals a hidden panel. Grabbing the plans just as the guards break the door down it’s a harrowing escape full of flaming crossbow quarrels, dogs, guards and not to mention leaping from rooftops.  The entire time you get the feeling that he’s enjoying himself. It culminates in a leap that is arrested by a line thrown. He slams into the wall hard enough to probably crack a rib or two and reminded me of the time I fell off a roof at work and my safety harness caught me. Garret of course is unfazed and immediately looks over the plans to determine the best way into the Keep. In doing so he finds not only a way in but confirmation of the rumored Great Safe along with the combination.

Exhaust vent it is. Why am I not surprised?

Getting to the Keep proves interesting because there is a massive explosion debris raining down and killing several of the guards stationed outside. Garrett makes his way through the smoldering ruins of the courtyard. The Keep itself is burning and getting through to the floor where Basso is held is a major challenge. There are exploding gas lines and plenty of fires to avoid. A bloodied and beaten Basso is surprised but very happy to see Garrett. “Thanks Garrett. I was going a little crazy in there. I even wished I had Jenivere with me.”

Garrett who was just ahead making sure all the guards were dead, stops at this comment. It almost looks as if Garrett is going to say ‘I’m sorry’ as he turns to Basso, but the words don’t come. They aren’t needed. Just the look of regret on Garrett’s face is enough. Basso is devastated. He’d always planned on killing the bird himself but even that’s been taken away. That Garrett realizes how much the stupid bird meant to Basso shows another side of his character.

He heads for the elevator surprising Basso. “What are you up to? Oh wait. Wait! Wait! You not thinking about those tall tales about the legendary Great Safe, are you?”

Garrett doesn’t bother to answer. It should be obvious to Basso that of course he’s going after the safe.

“And Garrett…” Basso pauses clearly worried but knowing he cannot stop the master thief. “If you get out of here alive…I mean, you know, when you get out of here. I’ll be at the Siren’s Rest in the Southern Quarter.”

There is nothing more to say and Garrett closes the elevator door.

He does find the great safe and as he pulls the lever he tells himself. “This might be a really bad idea.”

There is an ominous rumbling and the enormous safe lowers from the ceiling. It’s nearly two stories tall and almost that wide. Garrett’s awe is evident in his voice. “The Great Safe. It doesn’t disappoint.” A pause. “I’m going to need bigger lock picks.”

The locking mechanism is daunting requiring multiple steps including six combination locks. As Garret reaches for the second set of locks a quarrel pierces the back of his left hand. It’s not an easy thing to sneak up on Garrett yet somehow the Thief-Taker General has managed it. Clutching his wrist pain evident in every line of his body Garrett turns to face the General.

“Don’t you know, Garrett? Greed is a sin and you must be punished for your sins. But, I understand greed my friend where it comes from. You made it so easy; all I had to do was get you in the building.” He pauses and taps his cane.

Garrett’s mind is working furiously as he scans the room maneuvering to the side of the safe and into the shadows.  It was a trap to begin with.

“You see…I know you better than you know yourself.” The General gloats.

Steeling himself Garrett pulls the quarrel from his hand. The guards are closing in, there isn’t time to be worried about the injury. He slips behind the safe looking for a way around the squad of guards.

Thief-Taker-General

“You’ll swing from a noose in the morning, Master Thief.” The General’s tone is derisive. He’d rather wound and capture Garrett in order to kill him slowly than kill him outright while his back is turned. Garrett makes the snap decision to grab on to the safe as they raise it. It’s better than staying where he is to face six guard with swords and crossbows. He nearly takes another quarrel from the General though and barely manages to hang on with his good hand. Garrett is even more determined now to open the safe and take whatever he happens to find inside. He eludes the guards long enough to get the safe open.

What he finds is nothing that he expected.

The safe is empty except for a primal stone fragment. Picking up the fragment triggers another hallucination that seems to have bits of Garrett’s past woven in as well. Then we hear Erin again. She’s in pain and desperate to escape whatever is being done to her. Garrett chases her specter through what appears to have been an orphanage, the bed frames twisted and warped by vines. Again she tells him to follow her that she has a secret to tell him.

“You grow up strong when you grow up alone. There is no one to help you up.”

Garrett knows this intimately. “And no one to hold you back.”

“Is that why you let me go Garrett? Because I was the only family you had?”

Garrett stays silent. Neither affirming or denying the statement.

“We never did see eye-to-eye. Big brother knows best.”

Garrett’s voice softens as he replies “I tried to help but you wouldn’t listen.”

Erin retorts, “You know, I was just thinking the same thing about you. I’m going to make them stop. I want to sleep like you did.” Panic creeps into her voice. “Northcrest! He’s here! You want to know what happened? Where you’ve been? Come to the asylum. Moira harbors truths others would sooner forget.”

During this conversation Garrett is walking down a long hall. He gets to a door with a barred window. Beyond it he can see a figure huddled in the corner.

“You’re here to save me?” Erin asks. She laughs. “Then you’ll need the key. Look behind you.”

The hall is gone. He’s in a room with a small statue now. The statue holds a piece of the primal stone.

“Just steal it. You’ve never hesitated before.”

The moment he picks up the fragment, the spectral Erin surges up and grabs his wrist leaping for him.

The vision ends and Garrett is falling. Or rather the safe is falling with him in it. It’s a rough and tumble landing and he staggers out barely keeping his feet. The Keep is in ruins.

“That didn’t go quite according to plan.” He concedes. “I need to get back to the clock tower and clear my head.”

Exiting-the-Great-Safe

The Graven uprising has begun. The Watch are now the ones being slaughtered in the public squares. The City is degenerating into chaos. Garrett heads for the Siren’s Rest to find Basso. He needs answers. Basso is drowning his pain in the swill they serve.

“You look almost human Basso.” Garrett quips from the booth behind him.

Basso chuckles. “If you can survive on what the serve here you can survive on anything. How’s the hand?”

“Sore.”

“Like your pride, I’ll bet.” Basso shakes his head and snorts. “That shit-bucked needs to get what’s coming to him.” Basso’s concern is evident but he knows better than to fuss over Garrett’s injury. As he stated, Garrett’s pride took the greater hit getting played like that by the General. Then something rather unprecedented happens judging from Basso’s reaction. Garrett asks for a favor.

“You still have your boat?”

Basso sighs. “I’d get a room here if I were you…find yourself a nice gal and bed down till this whole thing blows over.”

That’s not acceptable to Garrett. “I need to do a little research. It’s about Erin. I need to get across to the Moira Asylum.”

Basso is skeptical but supportive. “Just let me know when you wanna go…I’ll be there.”

Basso has a small row boat. He’s waiting in it when Garrett arrives to leave. The usually cat footed Garrett is unsure and unsteady as he gets into the boat. Now that he’s faced with the prospect of actually being in the boat he’s not nearly as comfortable with the idea.

“Now I remember why I hate boats.” He grumbles one foot in the boat the other still on the dock arms splayed for balance.

“Well, I hate swimming a whole lot more, so get in.” Garrett plops down with less than his usual grace and Basso all but swats his hands away from the oars. “No. I’ll take the oars.  You row about as well as I can dance.”

Garrett grips the sides of the boat. “Sure. The exercise will do you some good.”

Basso just laughs and starts rowing.

He eventually asks Garrett what Erin has to do with Moira. There is a pause then for the first time in the game we are treated to Garrett opening up and actually discussing what he remembers of the accident. The hallucinations are bothering him a lot more than he’d like to admit and he wonders if he’s going crazy. That he trusts Basso enough to show this kind of vulnerability is a clue to just how much he’s coming to rely on the fence. He really does consider him a friend.

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Huh?” Basso’s not quite following but willing to listen.

“Spirits, you know, the dead…coming back to haunt the living? Punish them.” Garrett thinks Erin is trying to punish him for getting her killed. His guilt over what happened is eating at him and driving him to find out what actually happened after the accident.

“You think Erin is haunting you?” Basso’s tone isn’t dismissive, he’s genuinely concerned and it shows in the way he looks at Garrett.

Garrett hangs his head and there is a soft sigh, “I don’t know, perhaps.” He pauses for a moment. “I remember… a ritual…some kind of explosion…Erin died. I’ll never forget it. And everything else is…gone.”

Basso’s concern deepens his brow furrowing as he listens. “Aw c’mon Garrett…I know you wouldn’t have put that gal in harms way. She’d have put herself there easy enough.”

They arrive at the dock and Garrett is less morose and more determined. “There is an answer in here somewhere. I could feel it.”

Basso warns Garrett that things at the asylum might not be optimal for find information. After a riot there has been no communication with anyone on the island and the few boats that did venture there didn’t return.

“I don’t know what you expect to find in there but be careful. Don’t become a ghost yourself.”

Garrett pauses before looking over his shoulder. “I’ve been a ghost all my life.”

A ghost. A nonentity. Something no one wants and everyone avoids. This is how Garrett sees himself. His independent attitude has lead to loneliness.

And thus begins Chapter 5: The Forsaken. It’s a turning point in the narrative and marks the start of the third act in Chapter 6. There is a lot that happens in this chapter and a lot of new information. It happens to be one of my favorite chapters. It’s also the most eerie and haunting as Garrett slips around the seemingly deserted asylum. The front door is locked but then again Garrett was never one for front doors. After scouting around the parameter and walking back by the door he notices that its now open. Someone seems to be expecting him. The interior of the asylum is quiet as a tomb, dimly lit and obviously abandoned in a hurry. There are still documents laying around. By the time he makes it the patient wing of the hospital it’s increasingly apparent that it’s not as abandoned as he would probably like it to be. There are many ominous signs. Large scratches on the wall and a pool of blood in front of the door leading to the female wing. But that’s where he feels he’ll find the answers he’s looking for.

Along the way he finds more documents. The story they tell is heartrending. It’s been confirmed that while Erin is Patient #19 Garret could have possibly been Patient #31, the Archivist. If this indeed is the case then why didn’t the Beggar Queen tell him that’s where he’d been. She obviously knew since she mentioned they took him out of the City, to heal him.

Looking through a keyhole into a room with drawings plastered on the walls we are greeted by Erin on the other side of the door.

“You shouldn’t be here.”

Garrett is a bit taken aback. “Erin. Is it the asylum that’s haunted, or me? Why were you here?”

Garrett experiences another auditory hallucination that or a flashback to the accident. Erin is in pain. Documents point to room 3F. He eventually finds her room and it leads him even further down, into the lock down ward in the basement. Turning on the generator allows him access to the room he needs. It’s an examination room complete with a restraining chair. As soon as he grabs the syringe off the seat he’s thrown into another hallucination. At first it seems as if Garrett himself are in the chair fully restrained. But it’s Erin’s memory. Erin, almost as if speaking to herself tells Garrett.

“Don’t show him you are scared. Don’t let him see you lose control.” Baron Northcrest enters, walking by the spectral Erin. “I wanted to stop him.” She continues. “I wanted to save myself. But they won’t let me wake up.”

Baron Northcrest is determined to get the primal out of Erin but doesn’t want to kill her. She asks if Garrett understands the fear of being trapped, being used. The doctor brandishes a large syringe and starts for Garrett who struggles against the restraints.

The Baron becomes frantic. “Quickly! She’s corrupting it!”

“See.” Erin scoffs. “I ruin everything.” Apparently she’s heard this before and from Garrett judging by her tone.

The Baron and the doctor close in further restraining Garrett and the syringe heads for his right eye and Erin screams. The vision starts to fade and we hear the doctor. “It’s no good. I’ll take her back down to the prison level.”

Garrett comes next to the chair. He’s unsteady when he stands and looks around the room. “I thought you died.” His voice is soft, almost pained. “But, it’s worse than that. You did steal the primal that night. Now, the Baron wants it back.” He heads for the prison level and enters a hallway. Bodies are slamming against the shut doors, twisted taloned limbs snap through the cracks in the doors trying to grab him. He makes it to the door at the end of the hall just as they start breaking through. He’s grabbed and dragged back through the door. Light envelops him and he finds himself in another hallway, this one lined with the strange glowing flowers. Gravity doesn’t seem to work the same way and he falls though a door. Erin is talking. She wants to know why she’s alone and where Garrett is at. Then we see how the freaks came about. They were human.

She tells Garrett that she thought he was the one she could trust and to follow her to the truth. Here again Garrett’s whole motivation is reiterated. He’s driven by guilt and even his typically fiercely independent nature won’t let him leave it be. He has to know the truth of what happened as much to absolve his conscience as to see if Erin truly is still alive and in need of assistance. It seems that she is as the hallucination-or is it a memory she’s showing him-continues.

“Someone is going to die.” She tells him as the vision fades.

Garrett’s not sure if he’s going crazy or not at this point, but everything seems to be leading him to the Baron. So it’s back to the Northcrest Manor. It’s under attack by the Graven Dawn but Garrett manages to find the Baron in his study. Garrett demands answers from him.

Garret and the Baron

“Nobody likes my answers.” Northcrest is unfazed by Garrett’s threat. He goes ahead and explains the primal to Garrett and his plans for it and what happened to Erin. Orion, also known as Aldus, took her from Moira, not Cornelius.

Garrett has once again been used and the Baron realizes that Garrett himself is the missing piece Orion needs to complete what he’s trying to do. He maneuvers Garrett into an elevator and then sends him down with the intent that the Graven will kill him on sight. Garrett for his part goes to find the last piece of the primal stone. He manages to break the contraption holding it only to be confronted once more by the Thief-Taker General. Held fast by a boot on his injured hand Garrett looks for a way to get free as the General gloats about how he’s going to take his hand as a trophy. The claw comes in handy here, Garrett slamming it into the General’s bad leg. Then its a wet ride through the sewers.

He goes back to the clock tower and we get an interesting conversation between him and the Queen of the Beggars. How she got into the tower is a mystery. She shows just how astute and observant she really is uttering one of the more iconic phrases in the entire game.  “In order to be alone, you must have something to be alone from.” It’s obvious that Garrett doesn’t want to acknowledge this but he knows she is right. He has to get the the Ceremonial chamber and to Erin before Orion accidentally kills her and in doing so destroys the city. He arrives as Orion is beginning the cleansing ceremony using Erin’s blood to heal people of the gloom and dooming them to an even worse fate. Garrett’s proximity to Erin causes his head to ache most likely due to the fragment in his eye. Erin wakes and using the primal freezes time so that Garrett can get to the altar and Orion. Garret steals the amulet they are using to anoint the suffers and time starts again. Orion is shocked and tries to appeal to Garrett, but ends up grabbing Erin and dragging her away. She screams and releases a wave of energy sending everyone including Garrett flying away from the altar.

“This one is mine.” The Thief-Taker General blocks Garrett’s path to Erin. The General is determined to kill Garret with his bare hands at this point. The outcome depends on the gamer. I personally prefer the one where Garrett slips past him and out into the hall. Its truer to his nature rather than outright killing the man. It’s also the best kind of revenge.

It did not come as any surprise to me that Erin is the final boss. Through the entire game she is hounding Garret for abandoning and betraying her compounding his guilt and outright manipulating him at times. She is not an overly sympathetic character even if she does help Garrett, even saving his life a couple of times through various means. It’s never for his benefit though. She needs him to rescue her only because he is the only other person seemingly attuned to the primal.  She didn’t give him the focus ability and whisper advice to him out of any loyalty except to herself. Yes what happened to her was quite horrible, but it was her decision on that rooftop to disregard Garrett’s admonition that she wasn’t ready. She let her pride and vanity override her sense and she paid for it. Garret for his part  has changed, he’s not as insular and isolated as before. He’s allowed himself to trust and to even call at least one person a friend. His drive for perfection and unwillingness to rely on anyone else has been tempered. He paid for his mistakes and even though he was tricked into helping secure items for the very people hurting Erin he made good on his promise to help her.

The final scene leaves a lot open for interpretation. We are lead to believe that Erin survived and left Garrett unconscious where he was. This allows for a sequel to include her. I hope it doesn’t. There are several other characters I think would be much better and offer better motivation and conflict for the next game. Ideally, I’d like to see the Thief-Taker General. He was a wickedly smart and vile character. His ambition easily matches Garrett’s and I think he’s more than a match intellectually for the master thief.

Garrett’s core personality trait is his independence. This most likely stems from his having to rely on himself at a very early age and having trust issues ingrained into him. He’s introverted and believes only in himself and his abilities. He doesn’t want to owe anyone anything. He’s self-reliant with inner emotional strength. He’s always striving for things he wants and enjoys his solitude. He seeks out information in order to make sound decisions and he trusts his intuition. He’s very centered knowing who he is and what his place in the world is. He doesn’t care what other people think and cannot be swayed by peer pressure. He doesn’t like to meddle in other’s lives. He’s very patient but doesn’t waste time. He quickly realizes when something isn’t working and takes steps to correct it. He’s very protective of his privacy and finds it difficult if not impossible to ask for help. He’s highly disciplined and takes pride in his achievements.

But it’s his drive to be perfect that gets him in trouble. He wants to prove to himself that he deserves the title of Master Thief and this means a lifestyle devoid of personal pleasures and creature comforts. He must steal to prove he exists. This has led to a very insular lifestyle devoid of social interaction except when absolutely necessary. While

What's yours is mine.

What’s yours is mine.

Overall I found Garrett to be an incredibly likable rogue even with his faults. I feel we should have been given more backstory with him and Erin to really understand her and why she felt so betrayed and why he felt so guilty.  The whole issue of the Primal could have been handled a little bit better and introduced a little sooner, but it worked the way it was. My only issue was that the last half of the second act and the first part of the third act were too heavy on the hallucinations. It was no wonder Garret thought he was going crazy. I was starting too as well. Erin’s constant harping on the betrayal she felt got old. It wasn’t completely Garrett’s fault what happened the year before. She chose to ignore him. Yes he did take the claw from her, but he was trying to protect her from herself. And she nearly got them both killed. I have little sympathy for stupidity and selfishness and she displays both right from the start.

The entire theme of the game is trust and betrayal. There are numerous times Garrett is asked to trust and several times he’s betrayed. Knowing who to trust and when is always a dicey proposition, especially in Garrett’s line of work. Each betrayal and manipulation feels like a personal assault and trust is the currency paid. Toward the end he’s not even sure he can trust himself. And if you can’t trust yourself…who can you trust?

Thief the Game

http://www.gamespot.com/thief/

http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/thief

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The Owl and the Raven

“The great destroyers of nations and men are comfort, plenty and security. A coward gets scared and quits. A hero gets scared, but still goes on. ”     – unknown

by Leyla Akdogan

“We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion.” – William Shakespeare

The Owl

Heroes rarely surprise us.  They do what we expect them to.  What is right, what is just, what is honorable.  They may struggle getting there but there is never any real question as to the outcome of their fight.  They may die trying but it will be a heroic death.  But what makes them heroic?  Is it strength, intelligence, wit, loyalty, perseverance, morality, sheer bull headedness?  Is it the fact that they do what is right, not for any benefit or personal gain but simply because it is the right thing to do?

Heroes are rarely seen as such by their peers.  Their actions are often regarded as too avant guard, consider Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird or Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.  While a hero’s actions might be altruistic, their motives rarely are.    I personally have always been skeptical of the typical hero.  Why would someone go to such lengths for others with no thought of any gain of any kind?  We all want to be at least recognized for our good deeds if not compensated.

The Raven

Villains rarely surprise us anymore.  They are a necessary evil to thwart the hero.  They are crafty, greed, capricious and cruel.  They seem to appear out of the ether, hate already fully born and festering for revenge on the hero.  They will die before they let the hero succeed.  But what makes them a villain?  Is it strength, intelligence, lack of morality, snark, perseverance, sheer bloody mindedness?  Is it the fact that they do whatever they damn well please just for the hell of it, or at least for some principal gain?

Villains rarely see themselves as such.  They are fully justified within their own minds and see their actions as not only right but necessary.  Darth Vader, Shere Khan of The Jungle Book, Moriarty from any incarnation of Sherlock, Sauron of Lord of the Rings. Shall I go on?  You get the idea.  I personally have always hated the one dimensional evil for the sake of being evil villain.  Everyone has a motive and motive implies will and will implies thought and reason.

The Quandary

So who is the Owl and who is the Raven?  Sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to determine.  This has given rise to the terms anti-hero and anti-villain.  Theses characters are neither strictly one or the other.  They are the vagabond hero and the dubious ally, the thief with a heart of gold and the benevolent overlord.

To illustrate this point I will be drawing on several characters.  Most I’ve discussed before and a couple will be newcomers.  If you are not familiar with my fandoms then beware of spoilers here on out.

First, Megatron.  Yes that Megatron.  By the time we meet him in the franchise he’s a despotic overlord with the mantra ‘Peace through Tyranny.’  A villain’s villain if you will.  Yet we learn that he and his archrival Optimus Prime were once friends and depending on which backstory you prefer, co-collaborators in the rebellion on their homeworld.  In the most recent iteration their friendship fell apart over method.  Megatron, a former slave and gladiator only knew how to achieve his means through violence.  Optimus saw a more peaceful, albeit slower, method through diplomacy.  Neither was wrong in wanting change in their society.  So what made one the hero and the other the villain?  Motive and execution.

Then we have Loki.  In the original works he is not the scene stealing villain from Marvel, but a crafty, cunning and beloved brother.  He’s as mischievous as he is helpful and often his schemes benefit himself more than anyone.  When they do go awry he still manages to find a way to make the outcome work for him.  Yet he allows his jealousy to get the better of him and resorts to murder and extortion.  This doesn’t stop him from helping when a situation calls for it.  He simple will only do it if it in some way benefits himself.  He’s an opportunist.  Again motive and execution come into play.

Now let’s look at Deadpool.  He’s the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ who fancies himself a hero yet can never quite live up to the hype.  When he’s trying his hardest to be the hero is when he fails the most spectacularly.  Its those moments when he stops trying and just does that the hero emerges.  Yet he’s too bogged down by his own demons to ever fully transcend his penchant for indiscriminate violence. He at times both hinders and helps the other super heroes depending on how the situation strikes him and if he can make money off of it.  Much like Loki, he’s an opportunist and will stab a hero in the back as soon as offer a helping hand.  Motive. Execution.

So how do you write a convincing non villain?

Keep them consistent.  Know their motivations, even if they don’t. Make sure their actions are supported by their motives, that they execute their plans accordingly.  Loki and Deadpool are both consistent in that you know at some point they are going to betray you sometimes just for the hell of it.

Characters · Fandoms · Transformers · Uncategorized

The Devout Decepticon: Religion in Science Fiction

It’s often considered that science and religion cannot be in the same room without a fight breaking out.  Yet, many aspects of science fiction involve belief in a greater power or veneration of something.  In fantasy it’s often a given that there will be a religious aspect, some stories even involving gods/goddesses themselves.  Science fiction hasn’t shied away from this either often exploring themes of faith, recreating history and delving into deeply religious cultures.  Yet science fiction in general is seen to be the antithesis of spirituality.  One cannot be analytically and religious at the same time.  One is said to be exclusive of the other.  Science dealing with fact and observable phenomenon while religion deals with faith and belief in the things unseen.

Many people have used science fiction to explore religion, either to deride and mock it or to question it’s place in our cultures.  It cannot be ignored that humans have an innate desire to look to something greater.  It’s shown in every culture, race and people the world over. This is often reflected in our literature.

As an avid fan of the Transformers franchise in all it’s forms I’ve noticed something.  I’m not the only one either.  Many fans have pointed out the fact that the base story line in Transformers can be compared to the Christian allegory. Optimus Prime as the Savior who is sacrificed. Megatron as the devil from the Pit bent on world domination. Being either an Autobot or a Decepticon has over arcing moral implications. The Cybertronian culture as a whole was very religious for a bunch of oversize sentient robots. They had their gods The Primes.

It was a deeply personal decision for a Cybertronian when it came to choosing a faction to join.  According to the new aligned continuity most of the Decepticons came from the working class or the slave laborers in the Pits.  Megatron promised freedom from the elitist tyranny that had existed for eon.  Then he granted it, but at a tremendous price.  Many Cybertronians looked upon him as a god, their Savior.  Others new differently.  The true Savior had to be chosen by the Matrix. The Matrix chose Orion Pax the humble clerk not Megatronus the proud gladiator.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should.  Its the same trope used in Star Wars and many fantasy novels/series. The unsuspecting and humble hero is plucked from obscurity and told Destiny awaits. Its the story of the Messiah told with metal and energon instead of flesh and blood. Star Wars had Jedi and Sith instead of angels and demons.

Religion factors heavily into everyone’s life whether they are aware of it or not.  Science fiction doesn’t gloss over this and shouldn’t. We crave a god but also fear having to be responsible to that god. Just be glad it’s not Megatron.

Characters · Fandoms · Supernatural · Writing FUNdamentals

Protagonist, Antagonist and Just Plain Gonist: Part 2

My last post explored seasons 1-5 of Supernatural and which characters represented the protagonist in each season.  As discussed last time the protagonist is the person with the most to lose in the story line. The one we, the audience, are expected to most identify with on an emotional level.   I’d like to also discuss who the antagonist is this time.

The antagonist isn’t just the villain, they can be anyone who impedes the protagonist from reaching their goal.  Their goal can be the same or the complete opposite.  They may not even be aware of the protagonist’s existence, yet they prevent them from easily getting what they want.  The antagonist doesn’t even have to be another person, it could be nature or the protagonist themself (man vs. nature; man vs. self).  As I said, anything that keeps the antagonist from potentially reaching their goal.

So who has which roles when we start season 6?

We start with Dean, having taken Sam‘s advice and given up the hunting life.  He is our protagonist.  He thinks he is acclimating well to his new life and family.  Yet he is going to be faced with the choice he once gave Sam and for him it, as it was for Sam, is really no choice at all.  He knows what he was truly meant to do and he leaves his pseudo-family to once again become a hunter. He remains a protagonist for the entirety of the season as they look for ways to get Sam’s soul back and keep one step ahead of Crowley.  Crowley is the main antagonist this season with Castiel once again a mirror protagonist to Dean.  Both are looking for more power and ways to get that power and both are played by Crowley.  At the end of Season 6 it seems as though Castiel has made the jump from protagonist to antagonist, having gained more power than he’s capable of safely wielding and declaring himself the New God.

Season 7 rolls around with our sexy New God in full on cleansing mode.  He is the new antagonist that Sam and Dean must find a way to stop.  It turns out that Castiel belatedly realizes he’s compromised himself and goes to them to set things right before he loses complete control.  Sam and Dean as the protagonists are forced to watch someone they care for and call family implode.  After this they must combat the real antagonists, the Leviathan that had been controlling Castiel.  They both remain the protagonists for the rest of the season as they each are proactive and aggressive in their hunting.  Once Castiel is returned to them he becomes a protagonist once again.  As Emmanuel he has to confront what he was and accepts what he did and tries to make amends.  Dean and Sam remain protagonists throughout the rest of the season.  Castiel for his part ceases to be a protagonist once he takes on Sam’s mental illness.  He is no longer proactive, but reactive, a victim as Sam had struggled with previously.  It’s not until the last two episodes that Castiel once again becomes a protagonist taking an active, if somewhat reluctant role in combating the Leviathan.

The next season is a bit more complicated.  We will break this season down a bit more thoroughly.

Dean is back from Purgatory and pissed as hell (pun intended). Sam is torn between helping his brother and wanting to continue his life with Amelia.  Both brothers are protagonists as they are each forced to confront truths about themselves and their relationships.  Both have left people they love behind. Sam leaving Amelia and Dean (believing) he left Castiel in Purgatory.  Both are trying to come back to an understanding with each other and at times act as each other’s antagonist.  We are also introduced to Kevin Tran who will be the primary protagonist in the first several episodes as he is forced to leave his old life behind and become a prophet.  He at first may seem like a victim, but his character quickly shows that he is too smart and resourceful to allow this to happen.  Crowley remains the main antagonist for the season.

Once Castiel does reappear he is not a protagonist, in fact due to Naomi’s interference he is delicately balanced between simply being a secondary supporting character and becoming an antagonist.   He is reactive and unable to make decisions for himself.  He goes from helping to hindering the brothers based on how Naomi wishes things to go in the interim.  However, from episode 17 on Castiel is once again a protagonist along with Sam, Dean and Kevin, Dean having helped break the mind control.  He is proactive and working to keep Dean, Sam and Kevin safe.  His decision to trust Metatron is based on Metatron’s status as an angel and the fact that Dean and Sam were prepared to trust him as well.

Sam is a clear protagonist in that he makes the decision to leave behind his life and complete the trials outlined on the Demon Tablet in an attempt to redeem himself for his past sins.  Dean remains a protagonist in that he must help Sam and keep him safe while at the same time dealing with what seems to be yet another betrayal by Castiel.  He is proactive, finding ways to help Sam complete the trials and also trying to figure out what is wrong with Castiel.

By the last two episodes it’s clear that all three have reached their individual ‘darkest hour’ in the season arc. Sam is dying from the effects of the trials. Castiel is betrayed and loses his most precious possession and Dean is faced with the prospect of losing the two most important people in his life.

So, who will be the protagonist come season 9?  It’s a pretty good bet that Castiel will once again join Dean and Sam as the  primary protagonists.  The changes wrought on him in the season 8 finale demand nothing less.  Dean and Sam will have their own major struggles and the new antagonist could be one of several characters.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it all works out.  Or doesn’t.  This show has a pretty good track record of breaking hearts and stomping on feelings.

Oh and in case you didn’t get the ‘gonist’ in the title:

Urban Dictionary: gonist

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gonist

 1. one who thoroughly completes every task with the utmost confidence and aggressiveness.
Sounds a bit like Dean or maybe Castiel or could it be Crowley?  No, its Naomi or-or Abaddon.  Fuck it, I’m done.
Characters · Fandoms · Supernatural · Uncategorized · Writing FUNdamentals

Protagonist, Antagonist and just plain gonist.

Castiel (Supernatural)
Castiel (Supernatural) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I get started, I want to warn those who might not have watched Supernatural, this post is basically one big long spoiler.

 

As a writer I find Castiel‘s character fascinating and exceedingly complicated.  I know some people disagree, I have only to scroll through the 100s of tweets I got earlier this month for confirmation of this.  They feel he has no place in the narrative and should be removed as a character.

What they are refusing to see is actually taking away a huge chunk of the narrative.  It would be like reading The Hunger Games and ignoring Peeta, or watching Iron Man and ignoring Pepper, or playing Devil May Cry and ignoring Virgil.  His character is integral to the plot and has been since 4:1.

The wiki has a nice explanation of what a protagonist is, but I would like to expound on it a little bit more.

So first who is the protagonist?

Well it could be one person or several people depending on the story and plot.  Supernatural started with two main characters; Sam and Dean.  Sam was the clear protagonist because he was the one with the most to lose, his girlfriend, budding career, et cetera.  Dean was a catalyst, almost a foil for Sam to react against.  Dean was already set in his way.  The pilot episode showed Sam as the clear protagonist by taking away all he held dear and forcing him into a life he did not want.  The audience was meant to sympathize and identify with him where Dean was more the mentor role.  He was Gandalf to Sam’s Frodo, the one who showed up and once again altered his world.

Sam was the more emotionally accessible of the two which also helped the audience to relate.  During the second season their roles became more interchangeable, they each took turns being the protagonist and this helped to develop their characters.

By season three there wasn’t as much characterization happening because the two main characters were no longer the protagonists. They no longer fit the definition.  This left the writers scrambling to come up with season arc that would still have some sort of meaning.  The stakes had to be raised and one of the brothers had to be reinstated as the protagonist.  The opening of the Hell Gate put the world in danger but neither of the brothers had anything to lose at this point, Dean had already sold his soul.  Sam was resurrected, John was dead and Bobby was doing what he’d done for years.  Dean and Sam were main characters but not the protagonists at this point.  By this point the episodic guests have more to lose than either of the main characters and are more emotionally accessible.

Its not until the last few episodes of season 3 that Dean emerges as the protagonist.  His time is running out and they are beginning to realize that there is nothing they can do to stop him from being taken to Hell as Ruby warned them.  He has the most to lose at this point with Sam working to prevent it.

Season three ends with Dean in Hell and Sam allied with Ruby.

Seems like the end of the story at this point and it very nearly was, until someone came up with the idea to introduce a brand new set of characters.  Thus, a whole new dynamic was set up.

Season four opened with a huge shocker.  After months of being dead and suffering in hell Dean is resurrected in the most bizarre way. At least bizarre to him and his brother.  They and Bobby are at a complete loss as to how Dean is now alive. After a horrible seance where a dear friend is maimed for life trying to get the information all they have is a name. Castiel.

Now things start to get interesting.  We still have no clear protagonist except maybe Dean who has his newly restored life/body, or it could be Sam who has his brother back but has been sleeping with Ruby.  Sam has the potential to not just lose his brother, but lose his brother’s respect.  This still doesn’t make either of them the clear protagonist.  Remember the protagonist is the one with the most to lose in the given scenario, the one the audience is expected to connect with emotionally.  They are the one who must go through the most change for the sake of the plot.  Yet Dean and Sam have changed already.  Dean is alive, albeit changed from his time in hell. Sam managed to find a way to continue hunting without Dean, though it involves demon blood.  So where is the plot arc and the protagonist for this storyline?

I’m getting to that, keep your panties on, or take them off, I don’t care.

Season four episode one and we are introduced to Castiel. An honest to goodness angel.  Of the lord.  This is when Dean’s emotional arc is revealed.  He lacks faith and doesn’t feel he deserved to be saved due to what he did while in hell.  This can be seen as him being tapped as the protagonist, but he has a more reactionary than proactive role.  Sam on the other hand is desperate to hide his addiction, this also makes him reactionary instead of proactive.  The only proactive person is the angel and we quickly learn that he’s not any ordinary hammer of god.  This angel has doubts.  He is certain about his role in Dean’s life, but uncertain about the larger picture.  For the rest of the season, he will be the protagonist as he has the most to lose.

Castiel remains the protagonist through the end of the season.  He has the most to lose, his family, his position in heaven, even his status as an angel and his very life are risked to save Dean and Sam.  Unfortunately, we only see him through Dean and Sam’s eyes so a lot of his character development and narrative must be inferred from their interactions.  Sam and Dean for their parts are pawns of both Heaven and Hell.  Sam is used by Ruby to open Lucifer‘s cage which is where we end Season 4.

Season 5 opens with Sam and Dean mysteriously saved from meeting Lucifer face to face.  Sam decides he wants nothing more to do with the hunting life and leaves Dean to continue on his own.  Dean and Castiel will now be the two main protagonists. They are proactive trying to find a way to stop Lucifer and the Apocalypse.  Sam does eventually rejoin Dean while Castiel leaves to try and find God.  This is when the roles switch to some extent. Sam and Dean are finally back to being proactive protagonists. Cas is still a protagonist of his own story arc which is subordinate to and mirrors Sam and Dean’s overall arc.

In the next few seasons his character did create a catch-22 for the writers since he was so powerful and the only way to go was down, so they had to keep coming up with ways to strip him of his powers.

Next time I will discuss seasons 6-8 and how the roles of the various characters changed.

 

Books · Characters · Fandoms · Movies

It’s My Fandom, Get Your Money Grubbing Hands Off.

As you know, I am a huge geek.  I love my fandoms.  I especially love fan fiction.

There is something raw and visceral about a lot of fan fiction and I don’t just mean the horrid grammar, atrocious spelling and lack of knowledge of basic english.  No, it’s the willingness to push characters and situations to their very limits.  Yes technically it is copyright infringement and yes I understand the legal implications involved.  Though it’s difficult to remain sanctimonious about it when so many famous authors got started in their careers by writing it.  My shortlist:

Yes, you read those names right.  There are many, many more where they came from.  Fan fiction is like training wheels on a bike.  You read or watch something that you cannot stop thinking about. Soon a story blossoms in the dark reaches of your mind and festers there.  You’ve never written anything before.  Never sat on that bike.  Yet you can’t help but wonder where these characters might take you. So you hop on and crash a burn.  No worries, we all are terrible when we first start.  Therein lies the beauty of fan fiction.  It’s a relatively safe place to learn the mechanics of writing outside academia.  You post your story to fanfiction.net or livejournal.com or A03 and pray you get feedback.  You will and a lot of it will consist of; ‘This is great. More please.’ ‘This sucks.  You don’t know the characters.’ and the ubiquitous ‘Nice job.’  What really matters is that you are writing.  Because only by writing will you get better.

That’s not the only reason to enjoy fan fiction.  Readers love it too.  It can help fandoms live long beyond their end show or last publication.  It keeps interest fresh and new even when there is no longer any new content from the creators.  You have only to look at the Buffy the Vampire fandom to see this miracle of fan creation at work.  Currently airing or recently published works also benefit from fan fiction.  Go to fanfiction.net click on TV shows and see which shows are in the top three with the most stories.  Those shows have the most active fandoms across all social networks.  Check Tumblr if you dare. (I am not responsible for any mental and/or emotional trauma that results.)  I promise you the fandoms are massive and they love to spend money, create memes and sail their many ships.

It’s the spending money part that has caught the attention of Amazon.  They posted a press release earlier today.  Here is the opening paragraph:

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–May. 22, 2013– (NASDAQ:AMZN)—Today, Amazon Publishing announces Kindle Worlds, the first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so. Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Warner Bros. Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment division for its New York Times best-selling book series Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar; Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard; and Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith; and plans to announce more licenses soon. Through these licenses, Kindle Worlds will allow any writer to publish authorized stories inspired by these popular Worlds and make them available for readers to purchase in the Kindle Store.

So the basic premise is, if you meet their sure to be uber strict criterion you will get your fan fiction published.   Here is the catch taken directly from the Amazon website:

Kindle Worlds for Authors

Kindle Worlds is easy to use. When the Kindle Worlds Self-Service Submission Platform opens, you will be able to upload your story easily—along with a title, editorial description, and other information. Sign up to be notified when we launch the platform.

  • Kindle Worlds will accept novels, novellas, and short stories inspired by the Worlds we have licensed.
  • Using our Cover Creator, you will be able to design a cover for your Kindle Worlds story.
  • World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines. We strongly encourage you to read the Content Guidelines before you commit the time and effort to write.
  • Stories will be available in digital format exclusively on Amazon.com, Kindle devices, iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via our Kindle Free Reading apps. We hope to offer additional formats in the future.
  • You will receive monthly royalty reports and payments for all copies sold.

Start Writing Now

Here are the details that will help you get started:

  • All works accepted for Kindle Worlds will be published by Amazon Publishing.
  • Amazon Publishing will pay royalties to the rights holder for the World (we call them World Licensors) and to you. Your standard royalty rate for works of at least 10,000 words will be 35% of net revenue.
  • In addition, with the launch of Kindle Worlds, Amazon Publishing will pilot an experimental new program for particularly short works (between 5,000 and 10,000 words). For these short stories—typically priced under one dollar—Amazon will pay the royalties for the World Licensor and will pay authors a digital royalty of 20% of net revenue. The lower royalty for these shorter works is due to significantly higher fixed costs per digital copy (for example, credit-card fees) when prices for the entire class of content will likely be under one dollar.
  • As with all titles from Amazon Publishing, Kindle Worlds will base net revenue off of customer sales price—rather than the lower industry standard of wholesale price—and royalties will be paid monthly.
  • Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.
  • Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.
  • Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.

Content Guidelines for Kindle Worlds

  • Pornography: We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.
  • Offensive Content: We don’t accept offensive content, including but not limited to racial slurs, excessively graphic or violent material, or excessive use of foul language.
  • Illegal and Infringing Content: We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is the authors’ responsibility to ensure that their content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.
  • Poor Customer Experience: We don’t accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art, or product descriptions. We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.
  • Excessive Use of Brands: We don’t accept the excessive use of brand names or the inclusion of brand names for paid advertising or promotion.
  • Crossover: No crossovers from other Worlds are permitted, meaning your work may not include elements of any copyright-protected book, movie, or other property outside of the elements of this World.

(http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=amb_link_375976462_1?ie=UTF8&docId=1001197431&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=right-3&pf_rd_r=14ABJT04TRVMYENW24QN&pf_rd_t=1401&pf_rd_p=1558663102&pf_rd_i=1001197421)

Well the first content guideline rules out about 90% of all fan fiction ever written. The second one rules out another 5-7% and oops there is number four.  Looks like we are down to 100% of fan fiction currently available on any posting platform being unpublishable by their standards.  They want G-rated fan fic?  Are they serious?  Most of those shows are PG-13 at least.

As someone who loves fan fiction I’m a bit frustrated that they want to monetize something that is free for everyone.  Fandoms and fan fiction are the fan’s domain, not the CEO’s.  We already buy the books and the DVDs, go to the conventions, buy the swag and give them free advertising so why are they trying to take away one of the last free things we have?

On the other hand I have read some fan fic authors that should be published. Like, yesterday.  They are that good.*  Do I think they should publish their fan fiction.  No.  I think they are good enough, talented enough to create their own original work and create all new fandoms for us to run after with open wallets.

Do I think Amazon is in the wrong here?  No, they saw a legitimate way to monetize something that millions of people are getting for free at the moment and also bring great writers to the public’s attention.

Do I have reservations?  Absolutely.  There are a myriad problems that could and will crop up once the platform goes live.  I expect it to crash repeatedly and be so backlogged they shut it down.  Then there is the creative side of things to consider.  Who protects the author and their rights?  35% royalties sound nice until you stop to consider that this is on the NET profit of the story. So all Amazon’s bills have to be paid and the author then gets 35% of what is left over.  I can tell you it’s not always very much.  I get maybe $1.00 per book that retails for $8.50.

As an author is it worth it?  That’s up to you the author, but I would be very diligent about reading the fine print.  Just remember what Amazon put in their press release:

Forward-Looking Statements

This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Actual results may differ significantly from management’s expectations. (Italics mine.) These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, outcomes of legal proceedings and claims, fulfillment and data center optimization, seasonality, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, foreign exchange rates, system interruption, inventory, government regulation and taxation, payments and fraud. More information about factors that potentially could affect Amazon.com’s financial results is included in Amazon.com’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and subsequent filings.

(http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1823219&highlight)

Now, I’m going to go read some Supernatural Destiel smut while it’s still free.

*EL James is on my shit list too, fyi.

Characters · Fandoms · Supernatural

I’ll See Your Agenda and Raise You an Angel

It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to post.  Work and raising a family and all that mundanity that ruins life had to be attended to.  So this week I’d like to go further into the Supernatural Universe.  Today I read a rather poorly researched and heavy handed article about the character Castiel.  However, she did have a few valid points to make which I will discuss.

When we are first introduced to Castiel he comes across as the Invincible Hero.  Nothing Bobby and Dean throw at him fazes him. Mostly because they are used to hunting demons and what hurts demons won’t hurt an angel.  This does create a conundrum for the writers as Misha Collins himself points out:

“The writers are always trying to figure out a way to deal with Castiel’s character to somehow make it so that Sam and Dean aren’t aligned with a superhero who can make their lives easy.  He’s always encumbered in some way, or going through some weird emotional or mental strife, or being crazy … or being God. There’s always something that’s sort of veering him off so that he can’t be that helpful to Sam and Dean.”

Just because Castiel is an angel doesn’t mean he’s invincible.  It just means that tactics have to be changed, new lore learned and new hex bags made.  As the boys are always saying when it comes to hunting, you have to figure out what you are fighting, then you kill it with what you know.  Problem is they don’t know much about angels and that fact is not ever really expanded on for several seasons.  We gradually learn that there are runes, sigils and other ways to either summon, trap or hide from angels.

Ms MacKenzie states in her article:

“The need to either incapacitate Castiel or put him at odds with the Winchesters has taken a significant toll on the character’s overall arc and development. Castiel has been on the show on-and-off for five seasons, now, and will be returning in a full-time capacity for Season 9, but the character is constantly being reset, regressed, or just plain ret-conned, which makes for an inconsistent and underwhelming story.”

She goes on to cite Season 7 as being proof of this “inconsistent and underwhelming story”  inasmuch as Castiel was nowhere to be seen after the beginning of the season after all the revelations and character building of Season 6.

“Castiel’s character was written out at the beginning of the season, right when it seemed that he finally had a powerful set-up for a strong arc, be that arc a descent into villainy and madness or a redemption from his nearly unforgivable actions in Season 6. He then returned at the back end of the season, an amnesiac who experienced a moment of personal victory before attempting to atone for his sins and landing in a mental institution. His struggles were played up for comedic relief instead of actual storytelling, and then a quick fix trip to Purgatory magically relieved him of his complicated mental issues.”

Castiel as the New God had become too powerful, too absolute and there was actually nothing the brothers Winchester could have done to stop him.  He had to be taken down from the inside, literally from within and this set the stage for the Leviathan arc of Season 7. Castiel was for all intents and purposes the vessel for that new conflict.  It was an homage to the idiom that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’  He was the cautionary tale of trying to do too much, even for the best of reasons.  His reasons being keeping the Apocalypse from moving forward by defeating Raphael.  After Castiel disappears into the lake we don’t see him again until The Born Again Identity.  This is where, once he regains his memories of being a celestial being he attempts to ‘atone for his sins’ by taking Sam’s memories of being in the cage as his own.

This is where I have to agree with the fact that his struggles were made light of.  Many of us with mental illness have to contend with this, as societal perception of our condition is dictated by media representation.  However, this show is not about Castiel’s mental illness, it’s about the brothers Winchester.  If anymore time had been spent on just what Castiel suffered there would have been massive outcry, not to mention that we’d already seen how Sam suffered.  I am of the personal opinion that Castiel’s hallucinations would have been an order of magnitude worse due to the fact that he was terrified of both Lucifer and Michael to begin with.  Yet, he voluntarily broke into the cage to try and rescue Sam.  This time without a contingent of angels to back him up and facing not just demons but two archangels both of whom had killed him at least once prior.  Having to remember what he went through just to get Sam out, then taking Sam’s memories as well drove him into a catatonic state.  No one mentions this.  Not the show, not the fandom (I can’t even find fanfic on it, though I’m sure it’s out there).  Honestly, it doesn’t need to be brought up within the context of the show.  Castiel himself would never admit to it due to his reserved nature and desire to please Dean.  Which in this case he failed.  Again.

“Thus, we began Season 8 with Castiel in Purgatory, still encumbered by the guilt of his actions way back in Season 6, when he went on a power trip, waged civil war in Heaven, and broke Sam’s brain by demolishing the “wall” that protected him from his gruesome memories of hell — a wall that Dean had risked his life to put there. Castiel felt so guilty that when he had the opportunity to leave Purgatory, he just… stayed. We never really figured out why. There wasn’t any good for him to do there except wallow in self-flagellation, and if anything, it added more guilt to Dean’s plate, which he needed like a hole in the head. The writers had to keep Castiel away from the Winchesters at the beginning of the season in order to force Sam and Dean to figure some things out on their own, but they did it at the expense of his character actually growing.”

I disagree completely with this interpretation of Castiel’s actions and reasoning behind staying in Purgatory.  First you have to understand Purgatory isn’t just Hell for monsters.  Purgatory is a place of atonement, of purification.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. (http://www.catholic.com/tracts/purgatory)

Even Dean speaks of the purity of the state of being while he was in Purgatory.  Castiel himself tells us why he chose to stay.  (See video below)  Is this lack of character growth?  Only if you are not watching.  Dean is growing as a character, realizing how deeply he cares for Castiel to the point of making himself sick with guilt.  Castiel is learning to try and make his own decisions and atone for what he’s done in a way that makes him feel whole.  Castiel had no way of knowing that Dean was blaming himself for Castiel’s still being in Purgatory.

Then we get introduced to Naomi.  Unlike Ms MacKenzie I do not see this as retconning the previous angel mythos.  We are given precious little knowledge about the true hierarchy of the angels other than archangels are the most powerful and that currently heaven has no leadership.  Someone like Naomi fits right into this and in no way negates anything that was stated in previous seasons.  It does take away the one thing that Castiel  was truly beginning to embrace.  Free will.

“Here, though, it not only contradicted the information we have about angels, but it contradicted the foundation of Castiel’s personality, and why the audience fell in love with him in the first place. Castiel was introduced as a soldier of the Lord, who was ultimately so profoundly moved by the Winchesters, and his relationship with Dean in particular, he went rogue and did the unthinkable: He began to exercise free will. This was such a key element to Castiel, fans began calling the Sam-Dean-Castiel trio “Team Free Will.”

I completely disagree.  As I stated before, no where does it specifically negate what we know of angels.  It simply adds another layer to what we thought we knew.  I go back to Anna in season 4.  She taunts Castiel at one point about how he was always the good little soldier, following orders no matter what.  Yet we know he doesn’t always.  It was evident in Season 4 and nothing Naomi says or does contradicts what Anna or Uriel stated.  Even Lucifer calls Castiel ‘odd.’  In no way, shape or form does this new information contradict the ‘foundation of Castiel’s personality.’  He himself mentions having been hauled back to heaven after the episode The Rapture for reconditioning.  You can substitute reconditioning with reprogramming and no this does not make Castiel and the other angels emotionless robots.  It does however make them obedient.  Which was always part of the angelic code.  Obedience is absolute.  There is no free will.  If anything Naomi’s interference confirms, validates and cements the reasons we have come to love Castiel so much.  His loyalty to Dean above all else is what made her have to get involved.  The traditional ‘reconditioning’ wasn’t working on him because at his very core Dean has changed him.

But we don’t really know who Cas is. Is he a strong, capable warrior? A power-hungry villain? A self-pitying, sad sack of guilt and angst? A computer to be hacked and re-wired? A confused, bumbling vehicle for comedic relief? The romantic hero who might just be Meg’s “unicorn”? Right now, the only thing we can count on is that he’s a guy who betrays Dean, atones for it, then betrays Dean, then atones for it, lather, rinse, repeat.

Again, I disagree.  He is all of those things, and more.  He’s a complex character and when he does seemingly betray Dean it’s usually with Dean’s best interests at heart.  Dean and Sam have betrayed and belittled him repeatedly yet no one calls their character into question.  Castiel is always loyal to Dean, even if it doesn’t seem that way from Dean’s limited perspective.  Dean has no way of knowing what Castiel is doing when he’s gone and their biggest interpersonal issue is communication so there is plenty of room for mind bending angst and drama.

In last week’s episode, we saw more of the same. While Sam and Dean are investigating Sam’s final trial to close the gates of hell, Castiel goes out to get pie and porn for Dean. While he’s out, he agrees to help Metatron shut down the gates of Heaven by completing three trials himself — trials that kick off with murdering an innocent. Again, he doesn’t feel it necessary to have a conversation with Sam and Dean about this, despite their repeated begging him to be a part of their team and treat them like family, as they treat him. Again, he doesn’t trust them enough to consult them before he starts killing.

Did Sam and Dean consult Castiel before starting the Hell Tablet trials?  No.  Do Sam and Dean consult Castiel before doing pretty much anything they decide to do?  No.  They contact Castiel when they are in over their heads or up to their assess in trouble.  As Castiel has said, trust goes both ways.  Does this mean he’s in the right.  No.  It means that he tends to see the bigger picture and that other forces are in play.  Castiel is a soldier.  Soldiers follow orders and free will or not, its extremely difficult to ignore an order from a superior like Metatron.  It doesn’t help that Metatron plays upon his guilt and then supplicates his love for Dean and humanity by alluding to the fact that war in heaven easily becomes war on earth.  If Castiel has proven anything it’s that he will risk his entire being and existence to keep Dean safe,  Metatron knows this and uses it against him as any good predator does.

“Tonight’s Season 8 finale, “Sacrifice,” will reveal whether Castiel succeeds in locking the Pearly Gates. Since Collins is a regular in Season 9, we assume that if he does “shut down Heaven,” Castiel will remain on earth, which would suggest that one of his trials is getting rid of his grace — the essence of what makes him an angel. (At least, according to what we learned in Season 4. It’s possible that there’s a new twist with all this “coding” we learned about this season.) Heaven would be out of the picture, freeing us from the angel stories that have grown convoluted over the years, and Castiel would no longer be an all-powerful force, freeing the “Supernatural” writers from the trouble of impairing him every year.

Maybe then, finally, Castiel can actually develop in a linear, organic way, instead of being kicked back to square one three times a season.”

I personally will be very disappointed if the gates to heaven are closed so easily.  Sam has suffered for weeks through the Hell trials and the Heaven trials should be just as difficult and debilitating.   Honestly, the only thing that has been kicked back to square one is Dean and Castiel’s relationship and even then not completely.  Dean now understands just how much Castiel means to him and it’s up to Castiel to open up to Dean now.  As for Castiel losing his grace, its only one of several ways to limit his powers and I don’t see them pulling an Anna on him.  She fell to earth and was reborn human, as a baby.  Yeah no, they need a work around for that.

As for Castiel’s character development, it has come in fits and starts, but it is still there.  You try teaching a million plus year old soldier of god how free will works and see how long it takes you to get through all that conditioning, profound bond or not.  There are going to be setbacks, miscommunications and outright confusion at times.  Something we’ve seen Castiel struggle with repeatedly.  Even if it’s played for comedic effect it’s still character development.

Characters · Fandoms · Movies · Supernatural

It’s Not Always About Love, but Sometimes It Should Be

Why Supernatural Should Take it a Step Further

I’ve recently joined a new fandom (yes another one, what can I say).  I was reluctant at first.  It didn’t seem like it was going to be my thing.  I’m more of a robots and time travel type girl and this is more vampire and holy water stuff.  For the record I hate vampires.  All vampires in every iteration without exception.  Big ass mosquitos.

Anyway, this fandom has been around for something like 8-9 years and it’s constantly on my Tumblr and I see references to it everywhere.  So three weeks ago I broke down and started watching it.  It was like crossing the event horizon of a black hole.  At first there is just a gentle pull but the gravity increases with each episode until you are being ripped limb from limb and hurled into an alternate dimension full of  gunpowder, salt and tears.

It was here that I found an amazing example of a close intimate relationship that reminded me of the dynamic between Kirk and Spock or Sherlock and Jon (BBCs Sherlock).  Those types of relationships cannot be written into a script.  Well they can, but it takes something special between the actors to really make it click.  It’s often referred to as chemistry.  You’ve seen when it works and you’ve seen when it doesn’t work.  Gigli comes to mind.

“Research has shown that attunement between two people can accurately and reliably be recognized by others. This awareness often results in spontaneous, descriptive expressions such as “chemistry,” “on the same wavelength,” “soul-mates,” “in the flow,” and “in the moment together”.” –Measuring and Contextualizing “Chemistry” in Movies Tracy Sutton and Gregory Fouts, Ph.D. (http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/sfischo/film_chemistry.html)

Something amazing seems to happen when fans recognise the chemistry between two characters.  They become invested in the relationship.  This is where much (if not all) fan fiction is born.   Fans pick up on even the subtext between characters.  Sometimes even when the writers don’t.

The recent blog post by tiptoe39 Fans & Fantasy: Shipping as… Activism(?) made this point:

And part of being organic is showing the natural diversity that occurs in the world, to pick up on existing chemistry between characters and to explore the very real possibility that it could lead to romantic or sexual relationships. And if, for example, the only women a male character knows are brought in as love interests, as opposed to characters with their own stories, why shouldn’t we believe he’s more likely to fall in love with a character he knows well and has been through hell with, even though that character may also be male? You don’t fall in love with a sex, you fall in love with a person, and usually, by the time you’re in love with them, you already know them well.

This is where my new fandom has excelled.  Right from the first moment the two meet each other there is an intense dynamic, not just between the characters, but between the actors.  There were literally sparks.  The fans noticed within moments of the scene airing if the message boards and forums are anything to go by.  So what made this duo different?  If you have not watched Supernatural through season 3 the video below is a spoiler.  Proceed with caution, though I still recommend watching it.

Right from the start there is tension and an unspoken connection between the two.  The writers for the show initially only planned on the character of Castiel being in 6 episodes.  Then the fan mail hit their inboxes.  The new character had brought in a completely different dynamic beyond the brothers-in-arms that the show previously featured.  Their relationship has only grown from there.

Now in their fourth season together they’ve faced horrible odds, fought with each other, saved each other, admitted their reliance on and need for each other.  Their level of intimacy is pretty much as close as you can get without having a sexual relationship.

To illustrate:

  • They have repeatedly taken care of each other when they were sick or injured.
  • Dean has adjusted Cas’ clothes for him
  • Cas has finished Deans food
  • They have shared secrets only with each other
  • They have provided each other moral support during major events/crises
  • Dean has cried in front of Cas
  • Repeated sustained eye contact
  • They have comforted each other
  • Cas often watches Dean sleep or sits/stands closer than is customary
  • They have put each other to bed on several occasions
  • Cas has woke Dean from his nightmares
  • They have been on long trips together
  • Dean allowed Cas to take his necklace
  • They often share the same hotel room
  • They have saved each other’s lives multiple times
  • They have each risked their lives for the other on numerous occasions
  • They have made medical decisions for each other
  • They have watched each other die

This video also illustrates other points in their relationship.  Again major spoilers.

This is how you develop an intimate non-familial relationship.  It’s happened slowly, organically with all the missteps and confusion of a real-life relationship.  Both have made mistakes and taken the other for granted yet they cannot seem to help but come back together.  It’s no wonder the fans (myself included) would like to see their relationship develop further.

It would be very refreshing to see to non-stereotypical gay men in a romantic relationship.  Too often shows make one of them (or both) too effeminate to be realistic.  They are not a man and a man pretending to be a woman, (though I understand and appreciate that works very well for some couples, more power to them) they are two men who love each other and would do anything for each other.

However, I do not think the network as the balls to allow the show to take what to many of us is a very obvious direction. If they surprise me and do then they will be setting a benchmark, a new paradigm for not just television but societal perception of relationships.  Much like James Roberts has brought a new level of awareness to the Transformers fandom with the More Than Meets the Eye series, it would be nice to see Supernatural shake off the chains of outmoded societal dictates.