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Defenseless: the Commentary

But first, a word from our sponsor:

I won a pretty at still_grrr 's Characters of Color Challenge for my story The Front Lines, featuring Robin Wood early in his career. And it's very pretty indeed!



Many talented friends were also on the winner's list, no surprise! Thanks, still_grrr, for bringing the inspiration on such a regular basis! This round was especially interesting as, almost by definition, it fed my desire to see more about rare characters.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Defenseless commentary...

Look at my story. Isn’t it pretty? It raises the kills people dead!

Whoa! So totally didn’t see that coming!
--Typical comment about the end of Defenseless

Well, I did, but I can see why others might not have.

The origins of my latest seasonal_spuffy  story lie in the upcoming Who Are You Ficathon . angearia got all excited about body swap fic, which I also find fascinating, but I cannot participate in the ficathon because of the timing. Consider Defenseless an opening salvo, Emmie!

Being a person of rather literal mind, the first body swap that occurred to me was the actual Who Are You? Faith and Buffy swap. I started to wonder what it would be like if the swap was never undone, and how that might play out. I’ve seen some really interesting short fic that takes this tack. There was one, Not, Now by deird1, where Faith takes off in Buffy’s body and soon runs into Dawn and they become lovers and hang out in nightclubs and kill demons. It’s way better — more internal — than I make it sound. I recently read another, where the Council takes “Faith” away and figures out a way to keep killing her over and over to create new Slayers on demand. “Buffy” keeps asking them to stop, but they are the patriarchy and, well, it’s a terrifying story. (ETA: It's Little Sister and Little Sister Revisited by Rowan.) Anyway, I kept thinking about how I wanted to come at it, and it finally occurred to me that the really interesting thing would be if Buffy had no alternative but to face the world as Faith.

Partly, this seems so plausible to me because of Dollhouse. Seeing other people behind Faith’s face is not exactly a huge leap once you’ve seen a few episodes of that show. While I was writing, I also kept getting flashes of Face/Off, which I haven’t seen in years, but has a very similar dynamic as the swap involves a disturbed criminal and an uptight enforcer. There’s also a Doctor Who influence, as that character often permanently changes appearance.

The other idea that had hooked me was the unrelated issue of Spike seeking sanctuary after escaping from the Initiative. It may have been snickfic’s Seraph that first planted the idea, but it could have been something else. You guys are always coming up with amazing meta and little stories that start the thinky thoughts! I lose track. Sometimes I wish I was like the File Lady in the basement of Wolfram & Hart, but then I realize that’s incredibly creepy. Anyway, except for dreamweaver's Something New — which proposed that Spike sought out Buffy because he (like Hus) would naturally come to the strongest warrior — I haven’t ever seen any good reason why Spike would go to Giles.

Think about it:
1. As far as we know, Spike doesn’t even know where Giles lives.
2. What possible connection would he have with Giles? Spike did save his life once, though Giles probably doesn’t see it that way. (Buffy might.)
3. If he was seeking Buffy, why would he go (in the middle of the day!) to Giles’? Why wouldn’t he go to her dorm or her house, to both of which he had a previous invitation?
4. Why exactly would he seek Buffy, anyway? This one is the shakiest to argue against, because they did have alliances in the past, against Angelus and more informally against the Mayor’s henchmen. Still, it seems like an extreme leap to go from those alliances to thinking she would shelter him against demon hunters. (Which, admittedly, she does.)

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed obvious that Spike would first seek out Joyce, who had been sympathetic to him in the past.

So I had two things I wanted to explore: Spike going to Joyce instead of Giles and Buffy ending up (permanently) in Faith’s body. Fortunately, both of the events I’m playing with are part of Season Four, and so making them match up isn’t exactly an impossible dream.

How successful was the attempt? I would say: mixed. I don’t think anybody had any trouble believing the Spike-in-Joyce’s-basement scenario. It’s a situation rife with humor and emotional complexity. I like to think that I am able to get their characters across. I am always interested in how Spike and Buffy relate, and using Joyce as the fulcrum of their interactions worked pretty well. It is a believable way for their relationship to develop, IMO.

The permanent body swap has thus far not worked quite as well. Partly because I never really got to the meat of the thing, which is how Buffy is going to live her new “alternative lifestyle”. I only got through the set-up, with a tiny epilogue to show one direction it might take.

This is largely the result of my Crap Writing Process™. I started this story when I got my posting assignment. Most of the first chapter was written back in April, in one go. I would go back and do little edits, polish it up, and think, “This isn’t bad; I’m in pretty good shape for that June posting date.” Trouble is, I never really got past the first chapter until just before my posting date. I thought about it a lot, of course. I have heard things like, “Oh artists might look like they are procrastinating, but their subconscious is working everything out even while they are playing canasta.” Which is all very reassuring for big-time procrastinators like me, and probably has a grain of truth in it, but at some point you have to put your fingers on the keyboard and not let them get up again until the thing is done, amirite?

The problem with waiting for it to come, la-ti-da, is that if you wait until the last minute, like I did, then the beta process is shot to heck. This story would have been better with a tough beta reader. It also probably would have been longer, even though it is already the longest thing I have ever written. I had every intention of getting it done in May (which, due to real life stuff, was never going to happen) or at least by the weekend before the Thursday posting. Ha! My intentions, let me show you them…

So, the only beta reader was MiAmor, who really only tells me when something is confusing and needs to be clarified. For which I am grateful, but he’s not going to tell me when I'm getting into trope-ville or when I’m being too kind to a character. Probably. So I found some issues on my own after posting or shortly before, but had run out of time to patch it.

One thing is that my tone is fairly light. I tried to insert plenty of sufferin’ Spike, so that it wasn’t a total piece of fluff leading up to the Shocking Conclusion. The structure was:

Act One — Bummed Spike at beginning, suddenly Love Struck Spike at the break.
Act Two — Really Bummed Spike at beginning, happy to get his violence back at the break.
Act Three — Cheerful Lord of the Manor Spike at the beginning, ending with a boatload of manly responsibility for fallout from a tragedy not of his making.

On paper, it seems nice and symmetrical. But the tragedy part is only lightly foreshadowed, and the tone leads people not to expect anything terribly upsetting to happen, since only the usual, canon badness has shown up. In a way, it’s Jossian in that there’s a little of everything: comedy, drama, romance, action, and sudden, unexpected death. I’m not Joss, however, and I can’t say if I got the mix right. I think it might not have the full impact, because of my reliance on a single POV.

In a way, this story is the companion to Do You Believe?, my seasonal_spuffy story from a few cycles back that showed the aftermath of the various spells that assailed Buffy in S4. I wrote that entirely from Buffy’s POV, although I frequently write Spike POV for other, non-Spuffy stuff. I think I write Buffy’s POV because I am trying to figure out her emotional frame of mind. She plays it close to the vest, while Spike lets it all hang out (often unintentionally). She’s much harder to read. For this piece, I went all-Spike POV, and for the most part it worked. However, it came back to bite me at the end, in an important way.

The tragedy of this piece doesn't much affect Spike, so perhaps using his POV wasn't the most effective way to approach it. I mean, I don’t think that I wrote him as so attached to Buffy!Paragon that he’d mourn her bouncy hair and cute bumpy nose. He’s attracted to the Slayerness of her, and her spunky attitude, and her devotion to Joyce, but I can’t imagine that he much cares what hot bod she’s wearing. He’s a flexible guy. It won’t gut him to see her corpse, the way it would any of the other characters. Not at this point in their relationship and his development. It could be that I needed that emotional distance to even go there. Because I love Faith. This is in no way a wish fulfillment story for me. But that distance is there for the reader as well as the writer, and it might have been a cheat for me to go that route.

Because if I really wanted to tell the story of how Buffy has to deal with this change, wouldn’t it make sense to write from her POV? Yes. Yes it would.

Another area of concern is that there are a few places where I switch over to “tell” rather than “show”, because I want to move on, already. I think it’s mostly okay. A story needn’t be all dialogue or all description. A balance is nice. But it’s a balance that can tip very easily. My impatience with “showing” everything does lead to stories that are less than novel-length. (However, I must say that I despise novels that have so much show that I feel like I’m experiencing it in real time. Please, please, leave out the boring minutiae, world-renowned novelist!) I wish I could draw it out AND keep it interesting, but I’m still working on that. I felt that I was using a shortcut, especially in the resolution of the Fyarl adventure, but it didn’t seem important for the story to drag it all out. (Also: still writing on day of post. Shortcut good. Shiny.)

Yes, the third chapter was pretty much entirely written on posting day, so there were a lot of seams showing. The biggest transgression is that Spike was portrayed a bit too Marty Stu. I needed him to be the reason that the Faith/Buffy switch went differently. So I had him notice the “offness” of Buffy. I think I made it pretty clear that he’s not using hitherto unknown powers of perception. Faith isn’t that smooth. If Joyce had been less out of it, she might have noticed, too. Also, by putting Fyarl!Giles immediately before this switch, it makes it more plausible that everybody (including Joyce) would be more receptive to the possibility of things not being what they seem. So, I hope I worked that enough to evade the dread “Spike the Omniscient” trope, I hope.

However, he gets Giles to cooperate, goes running all over town on an unspecified mission, finds the villains, rescues the damsel, and doesn’t even snark about it much. He’s not a hero at this point, and worry for Joyce is only so much of a motivator. It all needs work, if you ask me. Sigh.

My Crap Writing Process™ also contributes to the ending being less fleshed out and true to character than the beginning. I might have an ending in mind from the beginning, and often can’t start without that, but I rarely write the ending until the end. When I write a story, I start at the beginning and work my way through to the end. It’s rare for me to write parts out of order, though I sometimes reorder them after they are written. If I’ve taken a break — frequent event — I also usually reread from the beginning to get into the flow before continuing. This means that the beginning bits get the most proofreading/editing time, because I go over them a lot. This works okay with shorter pieces, but with a longer one, it means the later parts get short shrift. By the time I’ve got to the end, I may have read the beginning dozens of times, and generally can’t bear it anymore.

Do any of you think I’m totally out of line with the twist? That Buffy would never do that? I think she might, but that she would immediately regret it. The first time Buffy came close to killing Faith, she did it to save/protect Angel. She intellectually made the decision that Angel was more important than Faith, possibly because Faith was dangerous and working for the bad guys, while Angel was somewhat less dangerous and working for the good guys. I think this was her reasoning, anyway. She and Angel had already broken up, so it wasn’t exactly to save her lover, as she tells Wesley. Saving her friend may be enough of a reason. Her animosity for Faith is a contributing factor, though. My Buffy is no saint.

I have a theory that her near-killing of Faith in Graduation Day is a BIG part of the reason that she so often abdicates responsibility for policing human evil. She’s absolutely right that she can’t be the law when there is human law, even though there are times — as with the Trio — when it would have been better if she did. With Faith, she came close to forcing Slayer justice on a human, as well as letting her personal feelings lead to Slayerly action, and I think it scared the crap out of her. Or would have, if she’d had time to contemplate it before taking on the apocalypse in a few hours. I think that facing the Council as Faith also gave her a bit of insight into the ways that justice can be misapplied when there isn’t any recourse to a “real” justice system. It also echoes her attack on Ted.

In any case, her protective instinct is the thing that got her to almost-murder Faith the first time, and I used that as the reason this time, too. Was Faith a danger to Joyce once she was in Buffy’s body? I can’t say. I don’t think she came back with intent to do harm. In my mind, she just came back to pack a bag to take with her on her way out of the country. Once she found Joyce in Buffy’s room, though, things could have easily escalated. (See, with a beta, I probably would have been forced to spell all that out. Heh.)

Buffy thought Joyce was in danger. Spike couldn’t fight Faith. It was up to Buffy to do it, like always, and it went too far. Of course, Buffy is no monster, and because of her support system and her makeup, it’s not inevitable that murder will twist her the way it did Faith. She is already remorseful, and her punishment is almost built-in, as she has a life sentence of wearing the face of the woman she killed. I think it’s kind of neat, actually.

The choice she made, the action she took, is bound to shake her core beliefs in the simplicity of good/evil. She knows she can go too far. She also knows that Spike’s been trustworthy and helpful.

There are many, many ways this could continue. One interesting possibility is that being physically in Faith’s mind, she will start to share the same brain patterns and change her personality. This is where the breakdown of magic and science happens. It’s the difference between BtVS and Dollhouse. How much of who we are is our physical makeup, brain chemistry, the number of synapses connecting? There are new studies showing that certain intellectual “disabilities” can be undone by changes in brain structure. It’s pretty amazing. How this might play out with a mystical transfer is something I’d like to see explored, but it may be beyond my abilities to do so.

Will she have to stay on the lam forever? Will she just decide to pay Faith’s debt to society, to make up for her own? Can she somehow make the Council or Police see that she’s no longer a threat? Is she no longer a threat? Who will be the new Slayer? Will there be no new Slayer, as Faith’s body is still ticking?

Spike is still an amoral vampire. He has shown that he cares about people. Well, a couple of people. He doesn’t have the drive to be a do-gooder, except inasmuch as he gets to kill demons and occasionally the people he cares about give him a shred of approval. But what if Buffy’s delicate state is an invitation to Spike to begin a subtle corruption? Combined with Faith’s brain chemistry, he might make some, you should excuse the expression, headway. Or will Buffy’s demonstration of the satisfaction of a life of higher purpose be catching? Will his nurturing instincts overcome his impulse for destruction?

I have thoughts. But if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already been patient enough. Questions? Comments?

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
zanthinegirl
Jun. 21st, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure I was one of those "Whoa-- so totally didn't see that coming!!11!!" commenters. But in all fairness I totally didn't see that coming. Which is a big part of why I loved it; I've been reading Buffy-verse fic since mid-season 6 and I've read a lot. Buffy stuck as Faith is one I've never seen; and you wrote it very believably. On the other hand Spike going to Joyce makes all kind of sense. Mostly for the reasons you write.

Now I'm going to have to re-read and mull...
rebcake
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:30 am (UTC)
Heh. 11! Cool. I'm glad that even the twist seemed believable. I try not to cover ground that's already been covered, but there are all kinds of boobytraps for fic writers to fall into, including Mary Sueism, OOCism, total randomicity, and a ton of things I probably don't even know about. It's very hard to be objective about your own stuff. I thought that With This Ring was sort of okay, but not exactly ground-breaking, and then it won a bunch of awards! I rely on the comments to let me know if a story works or not, but people tend to be very kind in comments. For which I am very, very grateful!

Which is all to say: thanks for commenting!
scarlett2u
Jun. 22nd, 2010 03:51 am (UTC)
I was in the "whoa" camp. In fact, I had pitched my tent, built a small fire, sang some campfire songs and toasted a few marshmallows...all the time saying "Whoa!".

I want you to know, however, that I mean that in the best possible way. How often do you read a story where there are twists and turns and you are genuinely surprised? I was delighted by your story and am definitely one of your fans. I think you should be proud of the "whoa".
rebcake
Jun. 22nd, 2010 06:00 am (UTC)
*snerk* The Whoa Camp. Is it where they train little Keanus? 'Cos if so, I volunteer to run the lanyard table!

I guess I'm pleasantly surprised that people are so surprised, because I had been living with the idea for so long that it no longer surprised me. I hereby embrace the whoa!

Thanks for commenting on the commentary!
treadingthedark
Jun. 22nd, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
Yep. That was an admiring whoa from me as well! The kind of whoa that Joss would like to get when he kills off someone we love in a happy relationship but can't anymore because he does it too often.
Only better because you didn't do that!
rebcake
Jun. 22nd, 2010 06:10 am (UTC)
OMG, this is the sweetest comment! We are all so, so sick of that happy doomed relationship thing! Don't unhappy people ever die? Perhaps that's unkind. However, I am tickled that I could kill off someone in a way that Joss never thought of! Ha! So there! She wasn't even pregnant! (I hope. *shudder* Ewww.) Though I guess there's still the issue of body-being-taken-over. Hmmm. Actually, Faith abdicated her body. So it's totally different. Right? *puppy eyes*

Anyway, I'm going to interpret the comment as saying that the story succeeded on Jossian terms, except not as predictable. Thanks so much!
treadingthedark
Jun. 22nd, 2010 07:21 am (UTC)
That's totally the way I meant it.
cindergal
Jun. 22nd, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
I thought there was definitely a change in tone with the ending as it was quite a bit darker, but I assumed that was intentional and it worked for me! As you say, with Buffy the show there is often that mix of light and dark, humor and angst, and we mere mortals are always trying to balance it correctly.

I was one who wanted a sequel, because for me the situation Buffy now faces is fascinating for all the reasons you mention. Will she become more like Faith? Will she fall for Spike? Will Spike encourage her to be more Faith-like (as she would have no issues being with him), or will he want her to stay Buffy? I think he'd be a bit conflicted. ;-)
rebcake
Jun. 22nd, 2010 06:54 am (UTC)
Oh, she'll totally fall for Spike. Any Slayer would eventually want to tap that! Well, maybe not Kendra.

I'm glad the change in tone worked for you. I worry that it's too abrupt, but the time to smooth it out would have been before posting, I suppose. Heh. The other thing that makes it harder for us mere mortals is that we don't get the soundtrack to signal the change in mood. Hmmmm. I wonder if anybody has talked about that on one of the writers forums. Probably. Everybody is so very thinky around here!

Yeah, the question of how Faith-like Buffy would become, or Spike would want her to become, is really interesting. In some ways, she's already been knocked off her self-imposed pedestal, and her mom's attitude toward Spike is bound to have some impact, but she's still got the Angel/soul thing to grapple with. It will play out very differently, though. I'll have to fight my impulse to make it all neat, tidy, shiny, and happy. Well, maybe some happiness could be worked in.

Thanks for the helpful comments, darling!
red_satin_doll
Oct. 8th, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
I've just read the story and I have to say your commentary here - the strengths and flaws of the story - are all on the mark here. I LOVED the sections with Joyce and Spike interacting, especially in the beginning. You write Joyce so well and those sections hit my sweet spot in a big way.

I agree with the Marty Stu-ing of Spike - or what I mean is, I noticed it in the story and it felt like he was awfully nice, terribly accomplished, the hero of the piece, etc etc - more late S5 Spike than S4. And it got a little less interesting for that, if that makes sense?

I did not see the twist coming at the end - and I assumed it was an accident, to be quite honest. Remembering how savage their fight got at the end of WAY, and given that it's two Slayers, it wasn't hard for me to assume that the wrong punch, a hard shove, being knocked into something hard or sharp, or getting one's skull cracked against the mantelpiece, etc. I hadn't really even though to tie it to Graduation Day. the twist was definitely WHOA, but since I love Buffy so much, I wanted more of that the way it ended was too short as you say, felt wrong to be in Spike's POV, and too flip. It's not just losing her body, she's lost her life, quite literally.

I have always wondered though if the bodyswap on the show had any lasting effects on Buffy. We get the sense that being in Buffy's body and life has very much affected Faith, but what about the other way around? You mention this in your commentary above, and I've always wondered too if something of Faith's darkness didn't cling to Buffy's pysche, as it were. In any case, the bodyswap almost seems to foreshadow Buffy's own increasing psychological darkness (and the dark turn the entire show takes, from Restless on.) That would be a fascinating thing to explore. This story is 2 years old however so I assume you haven't gone that route?
rebcake
Oct. 8th, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
I didn't really worry too much about Spike's "niceness" in the first 5/6ths of the story. I think all his protective, nurturing impulses have been there for a loooong time. Pre-vamping, really. A lot of his prickliness in S4 was due to being constantly belittled by everyone around him, who found his predicament funny. In this story, Joyce is giving him support, sympathy (to a point) and is treating him like a person. Spike usually gives back what he's given: snark for snark, respect for respect.

But that doesn't make him a hero. Not yet. Buffy is the hero, and I don't like him stealing her heroic thunder.

I'd say that chances are good that killing Faith was an accident, or at least a heat-of-the-moment over compensation. But it's not without precedent, and Buffy's always going to wonder if she wanted it on some level, at the very least.

I never really assigned Buffy's increasing darkness to the body swap. It's been there all along: When She Was Bad, Ted, Graduation Day. Even so, it would be interesting to explore where this scenario would take her.

When/if I do the sequel, it will definitely be from Buffy's POV!
red_satin_doll
Oct. 8th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
I didn't really worry too much about Spike's "niceness" in the first 5/6ths of the story.

It didn't bother me either until close to the end of the story. I think perhaps the lack of any other outside characters (such as the Scoobies) gives it a slightly closed-off feel? The interaction between him and Joyce was ACES, though. YOu are my go-to gal for good Joyce fic.

I never really assigned Buffy's increasing darkness to the body swap. It's been there all along: When She Was Bad, Ted, Graduation Day. Even so, it would be interesting to explore where this scenario would take her.

Oh it's definitely been there all along, but there's something about Faith, and her interactions with her, that seem to bring that out - nearly murdering Faith - and there's really nothing else to call it, it's attempted murder, and the fact that Buffy doesn't succeed is an accident; but the consequences of that to Buffy's psyche are really not touched upon on the show until Faith comes back in S4. I actually love that TYG is mostly from Faith's POV - the part of her watching the video of the Mayor is really devastating, and it makes sense that she'd see herself as the victim. It's a fascinating dynamic. (Made all the more interesting to me by the fact that, borrowing from the vamp terms used in the Buffyverse, Buffy is Faith's grandsire (or grandmother, if you like, in the Slayer line. Again, that's not really explored either.)

When/if I do the sequel, it will definitely be from Buffy's POV!

Yes please! I imagine there'd be the requisite period of depression and catatonia, of course, maybe followed by rage and acting out? Or not acting out and feeling torn inside? You write Buffy so well, it'd be delicious, angsty stuff.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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