Fix 19: The Savior

Wow, MarySueFixer! You suck at updating!


Yes, I truly do. But for once I have a couple of these things planned out to some extent, at least I know what I’ll be talking about. Today is The Savior.


One of my favorite series is the Black Jewels Trilogy. One of my favorite websites is TVTropes. Let’s just say that I look everything up on TVTropes, and let’s also say that I know the Black Jewels series is not very good, but I love it any. One of the things that struck me odd was a point someone made on TVTropes. Someone pointed (though Goodness if I can find it for an exact quote) out that Jaenelle (One of the main characters/the magical MacGuffin that everyone wants) was a Mary Sue because there’s something wrong with anyone who doesn’t instantly love her. I read that and I thought that was odd.


Now, surely that is a common Sue trait. Any person who loves her is good, any who hates her is bad and that’s the end of it. It’s really an annoying thing about Sues and Self-Inserts. I hate this trait, yet I never had a problem with it with Jaenelle. The reason was actually very simple: I don’t just see the books as a series but as a Christian Analogy. Jaenelle is Jesus and you can’t convince me otherwise. I gave her a pass because in their world she is Jesus and is very power/The Savior.


One of the traits of Jesus’s followers is that they were able to tell who he was… or at least that he was a big freaking deal. Not everyone in the BJT universe is evil if they don’t see Jaenelle for who she is. Even the Big Bads figure it out when Jaenelle’s biological family never gets it until the matriarch is actually shown what Jaenelle is. The only characters for whom it’s a requirement to get what Jaenelle is when they first meet her are the people who are her closest friends and her court, AKA: the people who represent her and protect her (her disciples, if you will).


This never bothered me because I accepted it as a function of a Christ Figure. Now, that’s not to say you have to, because I can see how people would hate it and I know that this series that I really enjoy ranks fairly high on the Narm scale, so I don’t expect everyone to love it like I do. But what is important is talking about the Savior, The Christ figure.


One common Trait of the Mary Sue (or women in old literature) involves the notion of self sacrifice. This of Odysseus’s wife (whatever her name is), what defines her? It’s that she waits around for her husband, who by all accounts should be dead.  She has many wonderful suitors who would care for her and lavish attention on her, but she rejects all of them in favor of a husband who’s probably dead. She is loyal and she is self sacrificing. Most women will move on, but she won’t.


Another one (and man alive does this one show up a lot) is the war widow who waits for her husband to return. In Savannah, Georgia there’s a large statue to a woman who waved a flag every day for her love, waiting for him to return until the day she died. To me, this story would see romantic, except I have my (Yankee) mother in the back of my head, wondering why us Southerners would build a monument to the waving maniac.


That story, by the way, there’s a version of it in Pokemon… this type of story is everywhere, and it’s always a woman, loyal and self sacrificing for her man.  It’s as old as the hills and prevalent in most Sues.


But these traits aren’t bad things to have. I mentioned the Christ-Figure, which again, is a trope that is literally older than Christ himself. It’s been around forever and a day. The reason is that it makes a good story. And atheist that doesn’t believe me? Try Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings.


Harry is Jesus, and I honestly can’t understand people who’d read the books and don’t see this, because not only is it obvious, but J.K. Rowling on record said that she didn’t deal with allegations about her religious affiliation while the books weren’t done being published because she was afraid of giving spoilers about the ending… think about that for a moment.


Now, whether you believe in Jesus or not is beside the point. The point is that The Savior is not automatically a Sue. Besides that, America does like The Savior. Think basically every Superhero ever. Another thing to point Americans tend to not attach themselves as much to antiheroes. Think Naruto and how Sausuke is viewed in contrast to Naruto in America versus in Japan. In Japan, Sausuke is super loved ((Which I’m going to say that I don’t get because I actually dislike him so much that I actually judge Itachi for not picking someone else to leave alive)). In America most of the people (guys) I know who watch/read Naruto who aren’t plugged in to Japanese culture really prefer the main character.


The reason why is not even very complex: people like heroes. What’s more heroic than someone willing to sacrifice themselves not just for one person, but for many? It’s why we support our troops. It’s why we like Superheroes. It’s probably even why Jesus has been so popular for so long.


A Savior figure can work very well, the problem is that the savior normally actually needs to lose something. Why is Harry a good savior? He loses so many people he loves, puts himself in constant danger against odds so badly stacked against him. He should fail, over and over again, but he keeps doing it anyway.


A Mary Sue often will have a self sacrifice moment, maybe to save her beloved, or the world, but we all know that she’s going to come right back. You know reading Harry Potter that he’s going to come back, but our fabulous author has already gotten you so invested that you actually feel worried when he dies. The stakes are high.


In the Black Jewels Trilogy, Jaenelle is Jesus and has a big sacrifice. She doesn’t die, but she does suffer for a long time after she has her big moment and she loses most of her powers. In Anne Bishop’s (the BJT author’s) other series, Ephemera, the hero-girl is Belladonna. Belladonna is less Sue than Jaenelle… by like a lot (which isn’t hard at all), but when Belladonna had her big sacrifice and comes back I just didn’t buy it. The reason is that I never really felt that there was a sacrifice. When the characters are Boo-hooing over Belladonna I couldn’t care. It’s not that I didn’t connect with the world, the first book in the series, Sebastian, is probably Anne Bishop’s best, and I’m super excited because a third book in that series is coming out… but I never connected with Belladonna’s sacrifice… ever, when really she had it very hard.


Now, Anne Bishop is not the Queen of subtlety. Besides the fact that her three main characters are Daemon, Lucivar, and Saetan (who may be the most attractive men on paper this side of Mr. Darcy), the book is very in your face. There is little that she doesn’t spell out for you. These aren’t great books, they’re fun though: mental bubble gum, you don’t have to think too hard. The thing is that for whatever reason Anne Bishop is also very good at storytelling, or at least good at creating characters that people just love beyond all reason. You probably do not yet have this ability.


A Sue who is a savior will, by definition, not really be likable. Chances are also good that the characters around her obsess over her and are only there to hold her up and laud praises over her (probably golden) head.


The difference between a Savior and a Sue is pretty simple: are they people?


The difference between a Suestory and a story: are the people around them real people?


You’ll notice that a lot of the characters I mentioned as good Saviors are actually men. The reason is because of the waving maniac trope I mentioned earlier. A man who is self sacrificing is rare, brave, and heroic. A woman who is self sacrificing is a house wife… at least that’s how we see it. A self sacrificing man is a soldier. A self sacrificing woman is a mother. Not to knock house wives and mothers, because I’m one to believe that they can actually be rewarding jobs (yes, I said jobs). But they are seen as mundane and in many ways just being a mother now-a-days is seen a lazy.


It is perfectly acceptable (or at least a standard idea) that a man goes to work, makes the most money, comes home and plays with the kids for a while and then goes to play. If a mother cannot work, make dinner, raise the kids and keep the house clean then she’s seen a lazy. This isn’t even me knocking society, this is a trope of both fiction an reality. And what I’m saying is that most people think of moms as being self-sacrificing, but none of us want to think about it because we feel guilty.


Let’s go back to The Savior. If a man is to be truly self sacrificing then he has to give up his life in battle… it’s just kind of assumed that a woman’s going to give up her life for her family. Double standards that suck for everyone? Yes, but it’s probably why we don’t see as many women as Saviors (that and White Male as the default for human).


There are Savior women (Belle, Mulan), but they normally do it out of love of family… or their lover. For men, it’s love but we don’t call it that. And it’s a lot… broader somehow. We tend to call it duty.


Again, how does this relate to the Sue? Well, for one thing the Sue will either heavily fall into these tropes (letting a man actually save her over and over although she’s supposed to be powerful) or she tries to go around them by the ‘oh, I have a sword’ method.


Back to a previous point: a Sue is not a person. She’s a bunch of stringed together traits that the author wishes they had. Jaenelle is as close to perfect as it gets, but she also has moments where she just does not fit in with humanity. At one point in the story her (adopted) father is weaving her a story about a woman who steals a man’s shirt and then sends it back in a way that the wife is sure to get with a note lying about having an affair with her husband. Jaenelle doesn’t get the point that her husband is upset because this woman is trying to make him seem unfaithful. All she thinks is about going to the woman and telling to stop and doesn’t get why any person would react jealously to such an obvious ploy.


The character I just a bit beside normal because of what she is, but she still has fears about how she looks or about her friends and family. There are parts of her that aren’t just meant to be worshipped. Besides that, while she is revered her friends are that: her friends. The only man that’s really in love with her is her lover (though nabbing him is kind of amazing). Her other male friends have wives they’re in love with. Besides that the characters themselves are shown having lives outside of her.


The three main characters have a defining trait for wishing maybe harder than anyone else for Jaenelle to exist, and yet they have separate problems dealing with things like business, friends, family (a lot about family). They are characters with their wants and needs, separate from the Savior.


For play writing class one kid was writing a play with three characters, the central characters and his friends who were trying to help him. It was a short play, but the teachers pointed out that the friends aren’t good for the play because their whole lives seem to revolve around the main guy and his problems, and that’s not at all realistic of believable.


A Sue is character that must be in the spot light at all times. Any scene that doesn’t feature her has characters talking about her. A Sue goes out and is the Savior (maybe even trumping the cannon Savior), and in doing so everyone worships her. A real Savior is someone who doesn’t ask for praise (or who turns it away with falsed modesty). A real Savior is someone who does what is needed.


Another set of Saviors (though not Christ Figures) are the girls from Tamora Pierce’s Tortal books. Alanna, Kel and Beka Cooper are the best examples. Beka Cooper is probably the best, really. She’s a very brilliant police officer who is essential the protégé of the Provost and could really pick any where she wants to serve. She specifically picks the poorest areas because (while there’s really no glory working there unless you’re so brilliant everyone has to see you) that’s where she grew up and she sees the poor as her people. It’s her job to protect them because no one else will.


It’s her job, and she does it and it’s hard and she breaks her bones, nearly gets killed over and over. She loses friends, is unable to be in love with a man she’s interested in because he’s a thief. She gets dirty and beaten and betrayed, but she keeps doing what she has to because there’s a crime to solve or a person who needs help. She is a Savior and she’s self sacrificing, not like am other, but like a soldier.


If you really, really want to know how to write a girl Savior, read Tamora Pierce, she really gets it.


Fix 18: Write Males

Wow, I took about three months before I updated! Bad MarySueFixer!


Yeah, sorry for the wait. I probably would have posted this update a few hours ago if I hadn’t gone back and reread everything to be sure I wasn’t repeating something I’d already written. So now it’s time for me to pick this up again. Just in time for New Years and the Traditional New Year’s Cold!


So, what do you need to know for today? Write male characters instead of female. No, really. For some reason in our culture the standard for a person is a male (specifically a white male, but I digress). This is what it is, but if you’re having trouble getting RP partners to help you fix your Mary Sues, I suggest trying to write as male characters. Why? Because generally, people aren’t as hard on fics that have a male lead. They aren’t as hard on RPers who are writing a male lead. They aren’t as hard on a girl who’s writing a male lead character, even if the character is bad.


Double standards? Completely!


But will it help you practice? Yes.


I’m not saying don’t write girls, but what I’m saying is that if you’re only writing girls and they’re all Sues then maybe you need to try doing something different. I started just writing male characters because I felt like no matter what I did with my girls they were either being called Sues or were Sues. When I started writing male characters I was surprised because I felt more attached to them. I could get to know them easier. I felt more like they were good on the first try. I have a theory as to why.


I’m working on a fic about the redemption of whiny brat.  I’m working on two other fics simultaneously. The other two have males as their leads. It takes me maybe half the time to reach 3000 words on those two than the one where the girl is the lead character. Why? Well, for one thing, the girl may be my least favorite type to write. She was a villain in story she was in, but not a Voldemort type villain. She was more like one of the Plastics from Mean Girls. See, if you read my stuff, you know I looooooove a good villain. But what I like is the character who’s cruel, vicious, destroying lives and causing pain for their own reasons, knowing full well what they’re doing and just enjoying it. The ones that border on over the top, or just spring board off over the top into the oceans of insanity. I love them.


This character is not like that.  She likes causing pain in the form of gossip and mean words, a bit of bullying amuses her. At the same time, she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong. She thinks she’s the victim. She’s never had to really work. She’s just spoiled. At the end, everything is stripped from her: her power, her support and even her looks. She has two years to try and rebuild her life before those trying to help her (by forcing her to have hard lessons) can’t really touch her anymore. It’s that last part that makes her interesting… but right now she’d just a whiny bitch and it’s driving me crazy.


To be fair, I can like the ‘bully’ type. In Skip Beat! Kyoko (the heroine) plays a character named Natsu who is the leader of a group of bully girls. Natsu doesn’t even do anything aside from speak and exist in the scene, but you can’t forget her. In one scene she black mails one girl from her group (with the girl’s diary) into ‘playing’ with another girl. The black mailed girl ends up essentially waterboarding the other girl with soda, then throws nail polish in her face and threatens to light her on fire. Natsu is still able to steal focus. All she does is sit back and smiles, smiles like she’s in ecstasy, smile like she would enjoy nothing more than to see the girl be set on fire.  I describe her as being deliciously evil.


This other girl, the one I’m writing, is nothing like that. It’s hard for me to write her. I was trying to pound out 3000 words for a chapter when I switch perspective to her male love interest (one of my OCs). Suddenly the writing became so much easier. I was engaging with the story and I really didn’t want to be done when I finished writing. I wanted to keep going. I was having fun.


I connect better with male characters. I’m much more comfortable writing male characters. Now, I have more practice doing it, but what I’ve noticed is that as long as a male character is enjoyable to read no one will judge how good of a male character he is. This is not true of a female character. Female characters are just as likely to be judged on her physique as she is on her personality, but also as he she adds up against other females, other males, and other characters. Male characters are only judged against characters in general.


Here’s an example: Think Harry Potter and Hermione. Harry is gifted at Defense Against the Dark Arts, part from genetics, part from sheer necessity, part from help and practice. His major flaws can basically be summed up in him having a god complex (He’s stubborn, thinks he’s always right (when he mostly is), and he thinks he has to do everything by himself). On other words he is both male and teenager.  He’s generally seen as being a good hero. Then there’s Hermione. Hermione is brilliant, and yet works hard and studies everything (something, I might add, that very brilliant people often don’t do because they don’t need to). She’s passionate about certain things, and cares a lot about her friends, causes she thinks are unjust, and doing the right thing (even if it means breaking rules).  Her flaws come from being too bossy, a know it all, and getting too flustered (especially under academic stress).


Rowling gets so much SHIT about Hermione, who admittedly might be the hardest working character in the series, as well as the smartest, and who saves Ron and Harry’s asses more times than can be counted because often she’d teaching them and helping them not die. But because she’s not THE hero of the story (and Harry, a male) is, Rowling gets accused of tearing down her own gender.


Now, please consider that if Hermione was the hero, and had the traits I listed of Harry’s that she would be considered a Mary Sue, and that Harry (having Hermione’s traits) would be considered a good character.  It’s often said that the strongest female leads were characters that were written to be men first (Think Salt and Alien).


The thing about writing girl characters on the internet is that so many parts of being a Mary Sue can simply add up to being female that it can become painfully stressful to try and write a non-Mary Sue. If your female ever cries (for any reason, ever) she’s seen as being weakened, but if she doesn’t cry when a normal person would then she’s called a bitch or a robot.


My friend and I have characters that parallel each other. Her character is very effeminate, uses her feminine wiles, and is very spunky, cute and girly. My character is dark, devious, cruel, and stubborn. She’s not unfeminine, but she only uses her sexuality when she’s feeling sweet on her husband. Otherwise, she’s torturing. My friend’s character has cried all of twice in her life. My character cries whenever she’s really in emotional pain and feels it’s personally reasonable to cry when the time calls for it (and will cry while wrapped up in a bunch of blankets).


We realized this was both opposite the normal (since her character is Naruto to mine’s Sausuke in many ways), but it gives them more depth.  We were able to figure this out after we took a break to basically just discuss our male characters for a while.  I hadn’t realized how much my character actually cried, but it made her normal in a way that almost nothing else she does is able to. She has pain, and when the pain becomes too much she cries. The blankets are a call back to when she was a kid and she was afraid of lightening. Her (now husband) would bundle her up in blankets to help her hide from it. When she’s scared or hurting and he’s not around, she goes to find blankets. She can’t escape that human part of her. My friend’s character doesn’t cry, doesn’t see the need, and so when she does it’s really something life changing that’s happened.


Crying, when normally applied to a story, makes a character seem weak. With females, if they cry, they’re suddenly playing to a bad stereotype, but that doesn’t have to be true. One of the main important parts of certain Shonen manga is the dramatic crying scene. People cry, but a male character that cries in a story when they’re hurt means that the hurt is terrible. When a female cries, it means that she’s being weak.


What I’m saying is that in some ways, if you want to not have so much stress and want to try to just write characters, then write males for a while.  Now, you might end up like me where you need practice writing females (I’ve actually gotten much better recently), but what you really need is practice playing with characters. So just go write males.


That’s all my friends! Happy New Years!


(On a side note: Sausuke! Why can’t you just go die already? Itachi totally sacrificed himself for nothing in order to save you!)