Fix 9: Un-purpling Your Prose

Why Purple Prose is a very bad idea:

 

If you’re wondering why I have taken so long to update I will tell you. Between having to write a very drawn out paper on Shakespeare plays I’ve seen, breaking into three parts (Why Merchant of Venice can only not be anti-Semitic if all characters are played up as being bad people, Why the witches in Macbeth being played as children allow for Satan to guide the story, and how Claudio from Much Ado About Nothing comes off as an abusive spouse unless he’s played like an emotionally stunted soldier), combined with a severe lack of sleep, added to viewing a very not good “lost” Shakespeare Play (which ought to remain lost), with a very sudden decision to travel alone to Stratford to see Merchant of Venice again, and then getting off at the wrong bus station, you’d be very tired and unlikely to write even a grand posting on how not to write a Mary Sue.

 

As you can tell, I fairly well fail at purple prose, but you should also be able to tell from that last insane paragraph that too much detail or information can be a very bad thing. All of what I said was true, including getting lost in the equivalent of Hickville, UK. Unfortunately what I wrote is not that interesting. My own eyes skip over all of it, desperately looking for a point and never finding it. My whole week could be summed up like this: papers, no sleep, Stratford, Shakespeare, Hickville UK, Patrick Stewart, Kuroshitsuji, tired. Or even better: I had a long week.

 

One of the most important parts of writing is to give enough information to get people interested, but not enough to drown them in useless words. Clearly the first paragraph was not the best way to go about writing anything. It is both overly wordy and unclear. The second summary is also unclear, but it’s also brief, and has the added benefit that it’s random enough that someone might actually care to ask what all those words have in common. The last summary is concise to the fault that no one will care about my weekend.

 

Now you may be thinking: No one cares already. This is true, but it’s only because I have not made you care about it. I started reading Kuroshitsuji this weekend. I finished it within 48 hours even going to Stratford in between. I was surprised at how good it was (as I had previously assumed that it was an over stylized shojo manga that was a shota version of Godchild.) I had tried reading the first chapter about five times and never got past page ten. It seemed boring to me, and the fanart I’d seen had only added to my suspicion that it wouldn’t be a series I would like. Then I read the TVTropes article. I was surprised that while heavily stylized it was a Shonen manga in the vein of some kind of twisted version of Sherlock Holmes, and all the characters were very believable (even for all the ass-pulls the Manga-ka does).  I would have enjoyed this series earlier but the problem is that no one actually ever made me care.

 

One of my favorite books is Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. For all the faults of the book, it’s the one that taught me that you have to start a book with a bang or no one’s going to give a damn. I’m surprised by how popular Kuroshitsuji is, given that the first two chapters (what I normally give a series at best) were very dull and uninteresting. Then again I’m surprised that anyone ever read Twilight, when it takes about 60 pages before it gets addictive enough that you can’t put it down.

 

For all writers it is their solemn duty to make their audience care. I’m not saying you have to write a car explosion on the first page, but your first sentence has to be a catch. For my first book my opening paragraph:

 

“I killed myself.  I did not do it because I was troubled, or because I wanted to stop living.  My family was average.  I was not abused.  I was not bored.  I was not bullied.  I just felt like it.  I just wanted to know what it felt like to shoot yourself in the head.”

 

If you can’t make your characters likeable then it’s very hard to keep your audience, but first you have to catch the reader’s attention. You know what doesn’t get people’s attention? A lot of description. No matter how beautiful the prose, a reader must be trained to slow down as read the description. I’m not a big believer in feng shui, but I believe in feng shui of the text. A friend of mine and I were having an argument about our works. He felt that he would be very insulted if he thought people weren’t reading all of his words. The problem with that view point that really only Philosophers reads every word. Most people read very quickly, focusing mainly on dialogue.

 

There is nothing wrong with this. The only way someone will read every word in your story is if they read it over and over. Consider that it gives them something new to discover every time so they have to keep coming back. What you need to learn to do I guide the reader’s eye to what you want them to see. Punctuation catches the eye the easiest, and dialogue is often the first thing people look at. You can us “I said”, “he said”, “she said”, etc over and over again because chances are that no one will see them. They are something people not and keep going. They are minor speed bumps to slow down the readers enough that they don’t miss anything. That being said if you often adding things like “She murmured softly” just to change up words then your reader will get annoyed. They need to be slowed down a little, but not so much that they notice it.

 

The phenomenon of not wanting to use the same word twice is something writers have drilled into their heads by middle school. You don’t start the sentence the same way every time. You don’t use the same word twice in a sentence or paragraph to describe something. You don’t use the same “big word” (not the little ones like “the, like, and, if, or, of, to, it, etc”) twice in the same paragraph or even page if you can help it. This is where purple prose comes from.

 

The problem with purple prose is that it only deals with half of the writing rules.  You may have noticed that I started three different sentences the same way in the paragraph above. I did so because I was using a Rhetorical Device. If you’ve ever done any kind of speech writing you should know what these are. They are techniques you use to make your writing more persuasive. Normally it’s spoken, but I’ve noticed it can work just as well (if not better) written because it’s more subliminal. Repeating a word or starting a sentence the same way over and over is bad, unless you’re doing it to emphasize a point.

 

I have seen plenty of stories that are generally good where the author connected a trait to a description. I can’t remember any but from Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy. She repeats certain turn of phrases over and over again, but you always know what she’s trying to convey in those times. Whenever anyone says anything “too softly”, you know that something very bad wrong is either being described or reacted to. Whenever Jaenelle (the lead character/Jesus-figure/Macguffin/possible Cannon-Sue) speaks in a sepulcher voice it’s because she is dealing with death as Witch. Whenever Daemon Sadi (or his father Saetan) get the “bored, sleepy” look it means that someone is about to suffer greatly for something very evil/stupid they did. The reader always can pick out these times, because those specific phrases are connected to it.

 

Now, I love the Black Jewels Trilogy, but it does lean on purple prose pretty hard to the point where some people can’t read it at all. So let’s go with something else. One of my favorite movies is Shakespeare in Love (say what you want about Oscar thefts, it’s a damn fine movie, infinitely watchable, and much more enjoyable than watching people die in Saving Private Ryan). Geoffrey Rush’s character (Henslowe) has a bit of dialogue near the beginning of the film:

 

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Hugh Fennyman: How?

Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

 

Both that theme and that last line are repeated over and over in the film. In fact it’s one of the central points of the film.  It’s a running gag, a catchphrase, and a pre-packaged meme all rolled into one, combined with basically defining the process of the movie.  A lot of movies and a lot of books have such things: lines, words, turns of phrase, things repeated over and over again, things the reader connects to characterization and foreshadowing. These are important parts of writing. The problem is that they’re a little hard to do right, especially since most people who write purple prose (normally 11-16 year old girls) have only ever repeated words and phrases in (at best) C-worthy English papers, or Elementary school work.  They have grasped the “Don’t repeat words” part, but not the “How words can be repeated part”.

 

Purple Prose is a symptom of Mathematical English. As nonsensical as that may sound, it’s actually very common in a certain part writing (mainly public school writing). One of the (many, many, many, etc) problems with public schools is the idea that kids are special snowflakes; combined with the idea that teacher can teach if given a script and every student can learn by being strapped in a desk. One of my best English teachers switched counties because ours did something where teachers were literally given scripts and told to teach from the script. They had to follow the exact lesson plans, no matter if they’re students were struggling with the material or bored with the material.  I had lots of higher level classes, so after the scripting went into affect I wasn’t touched by it, but my friends were. I would have not done well with it.

 

The problem with scripting anything is that it leaves no margin of error. Higher level math has margins of error, but that’s not how most people think of math. Most people think of math as cut and dry, wrong or right, only one answer, only one way to get there. The problem with public schools is that not only do they teach math this way, they teach subjects like History, Science, and English this way. Math may recover, for the people who love math often love the conformity. But students who feel that subjects like Science (which actually do need creativity to guide discovery) and History (which is just telling stories in the form of real life, and therefore only a real sadist can make it boring) are cut and dry, only one answer, only one way to get there. It means that students will not only not (ignore the double negative) learn these subjects, but those who actually can learn it won’t be able to share their interests with other students because they won’t know how.

 

Worst of all is English. I spoke with one of my Professors about why we have to write English papers the other day. She said that the point was to figure out how to describe something in a concise and guided manner, with the goal of one day writing books, at least that was the historical ideal. Now though, the goal of English majors is to (UGH!) only become English professors. I’m one of the few morons who actually wants to (and does) write books; good books that make money. As lofty of a goal as this is, a lot of students refuse to aim for it. For this, I blame the public school Mathematical English.

 

Mathematical English is formulaic, while demanding the students have interesting things to say. This is very possible, most classical music, and every sonnet fits this standard… the problem is that Mathematical English makes little room for controversial thought. For one of my classes I wrote a detailed piece on how the relationship of Dumbledore and Harry mirrors the relationship of teenagers to religion. If I wrote this (very well thought out, and actually fairly brilliant) argument in High School I would have received a low grade for writing on ‘Pop Fiction’ of ‘Non-literary merit’. But the point is that I never would have written anything like it at all in High School. Mathematical English forces conformity in a subject that demands freedom. The result is both schizophrenic, and bad. Students end up with ambiguous feelings toward the subject (as there’s a thrill to having written a good paper, but little understand of how you got there), and the writing is often pretty poor or at least rather dull.

 

Purple prose is caused by Mathematical English. The reason is that students are taught that all scholarly writing must be as dry as the Gobi, and all creative writing must have flowing, flowery poetry and descriptions of ridiculous length. If a student is ever is forced to read O Henry the teacher will often comment on the greatness of the brevity, but also insinuate that the student will never be able to write that well, and should try for flowery prose instead. In fact, what most students are encourage to write is something very like Eurdora Welty’s “A Worn Path”, a good but highly over read/analyzed short story that every student will probably read before getting out of High School (if you haven’t, just Wiki it, you probably have and have since blocked it out).

 

The problem with this particular type of writing is that it cannot end well. I’m a Creative Writing major because it forces me to write. The problem is that what my teachers want is “literary prose”. The problem with “Literary prose” is that I’ve never in my life read a piece that was specifically designed to be literary and was at all good. Shakespeare was out to make money, not change the world. He kept writing, and talent combined with skill and luck turned out that he did change the world.

 

Yet Mathematical English forces students to believe that they can change the world with “Literary Prose” and short stories (both of which is basically a lie, especially now), when in reality all English Majors do is write things to impress other English majors that very few people will actually read. Short stories don’t sell. Literary magazines don’t sell. Novels sell. Genre fiction (aka, anything not about 18th century aristocrats who speak like they have marble up their ass, or people who sit around in New York, drink, and bitch about their lives.) sells. Comedy sells.

 

In my experience good works of literary merit are often old things that were at the time pop fiction, and all the things that are written as “Literary” is discussed by old scholars and no one else gives a shit. The fact that students are encouraged to write like this… well, problem is an understatement.

 

Now that I’ve harped on for six pages about Mathematical English, how does this apply to Purple Prose? I’ve said it before that Mathematical English leads to purple prose, and it’s true. The normal Purple Prosers are 11-16 year old girls who have only ever been taught that good works are described in flowery language, and good characters get a lot of description. As such, when a girl begins her writing career her prose is often purple.

 

Because purple prose is very hard to write (being not good and long winded), most of the rest of the story is very bare bones. The girls pick out every beautiful word they can find to describe their character, desperately trying to not use the same word (often going to the thesaurus, which any college English Prof. will tell you is a really bad idea). The end result can be best summed up with this strip from Ensign Sue Must Die: http://www.interrobangstudios.com/potluck/index.php?strip_id=992

 

Feel free to laugh… I know I do.

 

Fortunately, I never had the problem with purple prose (at least not in fanfiction), because I had the problem of getting so excited about what I was writing and getting it all out, that I had the most bare bones writing ever, and not in a good O Henry kind of way, but in the instant love/character mood whiplash kind of way.

 

So how do you fix purple prose? A lot of it comes with character description. How you ever done that exercise where you have to describe everything around you? Good, because we’re doing almost the exact opposite! I’m going to work with the description from Ensign Sue Must Die, but I suggest finding one of your own characters.

 

First, I want you to make a list of the traits you want to portray in your description of your character.

 

Mary Sue: 17, blonde hair, blue eyes, attractive, confident.

 

Second, write the most bare bones description you can with all those traits, try to make it one sentence.

 

Ensign Mary Sue, a beautiful blonde haired, blue-eyed seventeen year old girl, walked confidently to the turbolift.

 

Third, fill in a few things. Feel free to make a couple of sentences.

 

Ensign Mary Sue was a beautiful blonde haired, blue-eyed seventeen year old girl. She walked with a tall sort of confidence as she headed for the turbolift.

 

Forth, fill in more. Keep filling in until you have one paragraph (only one, comprised of 4-7 sentences and no more) of description for your character. Remember you build on what you have already.

Ensign Mary Sue was a beautiful blonde haired, blue-eyed seventeen year old girl. She walked with a tall sort of confidence as she headed for the turbolift. She felt a definite satisfaction in the way she looked, knowing that she was every bit as attractive as she felt, and she felt like a tigress.  While definitely not regulation, Ensign Sue had modified her uniform, shortening the skirt and wearing fishnets that she thought were much sexier than the standard uniform. By sheer force of personality she had yet to be reprimanded for the changes.

 

Fifth, build from what you have and keep writing.

 

Ensign Mary Sue was a beautiful blonde haired, blue-eyed seventeen year old girl. She walked with a tall sort of confidence as she headed for the turbolift. She felt a definite satisfaction in the way she looked, knowing that she was every bit as attractive as she felt, and she felt like a tigress.  While definitely not regulation, Ensign Sue had modified her uniform, shortening the skirt and wearing fishnets that she thought were much sexier than the standard uniform. By sheer force of personality she had yet to be reprimanded for the changes.

 

For as long as she could remember she’d studied hard to be able to work in Star Fleet, but now that she’d achieved her dream all she could think about was her other dream: the other, quieter, but more driving dream. Her father was a Star Fleet officer. While she said all she wanted was to follow in his footsteps, that was a bit south of the truth. In reality she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and marry a Star Fleet Officer. So far she’d achieved phase one: join Star Fleet. Now all she had to do was catch the eye of some handsome officer and her life’s goal would be completed.

 

As you can see it’s a far cry better than what was originally written by way of description. The physical description is short because really no one needs to know all that. What’s more important is character, back story, and plot. In two paragraphs I’ve set up the character’s image, her personality, and started off the story (clearly a romance where she tries to seduce all the officers… but that’s why I’m not writing any more of this). Now, I couldn’t make it all better… clearly, but it’s a start. The Prose is also no longer purple.

 

((You can fuss at me for not using the actual character’s backstory… but the real Ensign Mary Sue (or Ensign Mary Amethyst Star Enoby Aiko Archer Picard Janeway Sue to her friends) was clearly written for laughs, and the only way to make her at all plausible was to do some major revisions))

 

What’s most important is to start from the bare bones. Sometimes it’s hard to cut things, so it might be better for me to describe one of my own characters in the same manner, using all 5 steps.

 

  1. 1.       Hope Celestre: Demon, black hair, purple eyes, over-intelligent.

 

  1. 2.       Hope was too smart for her own good and her eyes too purple to be human.

 

 

  1. 3.       Hope was too smart for her own good. Physically she stood out too much; her eyes alone were far too purple to be human.

 

  1. 4.       Hope was too smart for her own good. Physically she stood out too much; her eyes alone were far too purple to be human. But it wasn’t her purple eyes that set her apart, or her lovely black hair, or her small stature. It wasn’t even her child-like demeanor. It was her intelligence.

 

 

  1. 5.       Hope was too smart for her own good. Physically she stood out too much; her eyes alone were far too purple to be human. Her sisters, as beautiful as they were, could pass for human, but she couldn’t pass for anything but a demon. It wasn’t her purple eyes that set her apart, or her lovely black hair, or her small stature. It wasn’t even her child-like demeanor. It was her intelligence.

 

Intelligence seemed like a gift to must, and in reality she wouldn’t trade her mind or her nature for another’s, but it made her very lonely. Her mind worked so much faster than her mouth or hands ever could. Sometimes her sentences would seem disjointed as if she were dumb. Sometimes she’d refer to something she’d sworn she’d said allowed, only to realize she’d forgotten to say it in the process of thinking. Sometimes she’d simply sit absolutely still, unmoving as to not distract from herself from the inner workings of her mind. Her whole presence, so wrapped up in her own mind, was incapable of hiding her oddity, incapable of hiding what she was.

 

 

 

Start small, and work your way up. A lot of problems with purple prose will phase itself out after a while. It’s very exhausting, and generally not worth it. If the girl wants to stick with writing, she’ll generally write herself out of purple prose. If you’d like to speed up your own process, try to write as bare bones as you can and build from there. It will take practice, but you can fix your purple prose addiction, I swear.

 

 

Now, as this is hedging on ten pages, I will leave you with this: I am well too verbose for my own good. I will wax poetic about people and ideas, but I know how to keep the purple out of my fiction, even if it ends up in my essays. I’m also, apparently, a fan of irony.

Advertisements

Fix 8: Moodring Eyes

One of my friends wrote a magnificently bad trilogy and sequel (bastard offspring) to that trilogy when she was in middle school. She thoroughly explained the plot to me one evening, and I had to admit that they were so Sue-tastic that it was kind of staggering.  On the other hand, when she described the bastard-offspring-book I was struck by the fact that it could in fact be saved. The main point of the story was that there were two different worlds, and a princess is banished from her world to ours because she ‘killed her sister(the heir)’. In reality she didn’t do it, but feel so guilty for it that her special eyes gave her away…

Did I not mention that she had moodring eyes?

Well she does, which is very bad for her because everyone can see how she’s feeling and she was feeling so much guilt that her eyes basically had her hanged. The rest of the story involves her coming to terms with her guilt, her duty, and her crush on a normal boy, who she has to leave behind when she returns because it’s illegal in their world to fall in love with ‘out landers’.

I never said I made it fantastic, but my short version was readable, and my friend said she might try to fix her series. What got me so interested was the moodring eyes. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t have characters that do this, but it doesn’t normally cover the range of emotions. I have one character (Raven) whose eyes change. Normally black, goes red when she gets angry, before going back to black when she’s beyond angry… and that’s it. She’s also a demon and she has not other magic, and all her skills are from thousands of years of study and practice. So no, I don’t feel bad about having her have that one mary-sue tic.

I wanted to see if I could try and write a character whose eyes did show their emotion and was a problem. The character eventually gets contacts so that she doesn’t stand out too much in school (because you know, a pink monkey in a land of brown monkeys will get killed), and really it’s more of a problem for when she gets back to her kingdom, but then, that’s what god made contacts for.

What I’m circling around is that it is okay to have eyes that change colors so long as their consistent in what they do. In the case of Raven, her eyes are something her family is happy for because it means they have some warning before she starts breaking things or trying to kill people. Whenever you add a new/special trait you have to be consistent about the effect, and it has to have some effect on the character. You may think it’s so cool to have moodring eyes, but consider this:

It’s like a moodring that you can’t take off. Anyone can know how you’re feeling, always. If you’re not paying attention, people will know. If you’re in love, people will know. If you’re lying, people will know. There is no way to hide, you are open for everyone to see. Emotions are hard to control, in fact most people can’t control their emotions, only how they act on said emotions. By having your eyes reveal how you feel, you have lost so much privacy. It may look cool, but it’s a great violation to a person. It would affect someone, might even make them more easily depressed. Privacy is a big thing, something very personal, like a treasured doll. When privacy is broken it’s like watching something cherished being broken… now imagine the source of the destruction is your own body? How much would you hate your own eyes, your own vision if this was the case?

You can’t forget the psychological effects. And no, this is not my giving you permission to have your character wagnst. It’s a physical flaw, one that leads to emotional/personal flaws. If written correctly you can see how devastating it would be to not be able to hide when that’s all you want to do. Yes, it is more honest, but at what cost?

For your homework, take one of your characters, anyone, and give them moodring eyes… heck, take a character from your favorite series and given them these eyes. If you’re a Yugioh person, give them to Kaiba, how will that screw with his business? If you’re a Yu Yu Hakusho person, give them to Hiei, a very private person. If you’re a Harry Potter person, give them to Voldemort… just cause. Pick a series, pick a character you know very well. It’s easier to do it with your own character, but the chances are that you’re having a Sue-Problem if you’re here. If so, try a cannon character from a series. Write a short drabble about what happens when the character suddenly has all of their emotions revealed in their eyes. Is it a big deal or not? If they wear their heart on their sleeve already, how does it affect them differently then someone who’s very private?

Fix 7: Inspired Naming

Sometimes when you make a character you’re making it for a certain parameter, like you need a Victorian Lord who trades magical creatures (Lord Jasper Sutherland, aka: the highly unresearched, but I don’t care.) Sometimes you see or read something that makes you go: “I have to fix that!” A lot of people will run to write a fanfiction to fix said problem, and sometimes you go and create a character to fill the void.

 

Anyone who has heard my rant on Aro from Twilight (which I will not repeat here because it’s very long and I get very mad) will contest this with me. My often mentioned ultimate Villain, Erin the Green was impossible to write until I finished reading the Twilight books. I was so angry at what Stephanie Meyers had reduced her main villain Aro (who was a genuinely good character) for the sake of not killing any of her character. The more I described him the more I came to realize how much what I was describing was Erin. Suddenly I could write her. She’d terrifying, but I suddenly understood her enough that I could write her. I’m still too timid to write her as she needs to be written, but I have hope that she will eventually get her own book.

 

I’m someone who reads a lot of Manga (Manwha as well), and one that I truly wish I could find English copies of is one by Chiho Saito (the creator of Revolutionary Girl Utena), called Bronze no Tenshi. This series is what originally got me interested in Alexander Pushkin, and through him the Decembriski and the Decembrist Revolt.  You don’t have to look it up, just know that I really love Russian History, specifically that point in time. If I was a Historian that’s what I would specialize in. All of this came about because of Chiho Saito’s historical romance manga… the problem? The real Alexander Pushkin looks nothing like the one in the Manga.

 

Now I love the real Pushkin up and down all over the place, but I wanted to create someone who actually fit the image in the Manga.  So for my own purposes I created my own Alexander Pushkin (who goes by Pushkin as I have like five other Alexander’s). My Pushkin is very little like the real one, except they are both very passionate men, and once they do get married they are hopelessly in love with their wives.  My Pushkin, unlike a revolutionary poet, is a General, and one of the top three tacticians in the demon race (yes, he’s a demon, roll with it). He’s also got a terrible reputation, one that he himself has made by his own actions and stupidity (which he will freely admit), and as such is only ever able to work in minor kingdoms.  

 

In my last posts I spoke about some new Roleplaying characters I created. One of them I talked about as having the copy-pasted back story of Othello, plus the loyalty and position of Taybur Sibigat from Tamora Peirce’s Trickster’s Queen (my all time favorite book). In doing so I ended up considering inspirations for characters. I’m a big proponent of not naming characters after people you know, but I’m also for naming characters after other characters and historical figures.

 

The Othello like character is Jimajen (the last name of the ruling family in the Trickster Series), Pushkin is clearly named for Alexander Pushkin (to the point that my Pushkin gets mad at the comparisons, because the real Pushkin was kind of ugly). I have a character named after the incredible badass from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Raven (Dmitri Ravinoff). I have two characters named after Taybur Sibigat, a spy named Taybur Dodeka (the last name being another from the book), and King Sibigat. I have two characters named after Jasper from Twilight (Lord Jasper Sutherland, and Jasper the self destructive model). I have one character named for Bob Hope. One for Hero from Much Ado About Nothing. One named for Sjakalen Kaizer from Kaizers Orchestra. 

 

Most of these characters are good characters. There’s nothing wrong with naming a character after another one, if the name doesn’t match up with the culture around it then you have an interesting thing to explain (Dmitri had this problem, and he’s much more interesting and fleshed out for it.)  Sometimes it can give you an interesting talking point. Pushkin’s wife (my friend’s character) often quotes Tyger, Tyger, (Pushkin is part tiger demon), which makes an amusing dialogue about Romantic poetry.  Sjakalen, besides having a ridiculously hard name to pronounce, now has connections to Scandinavia because of his name.

 

Here’s where the problem comes in: Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way. Besides the fact that I’m not even sure I got all the words in the right order, or if the “N” in Dark’ness should be capitalized after the apostrophe, or the millions of other problems with the name, it’s actually the last name that’s our current topic of discussion. Ebony (or Enoby, Enony, or really whatever) is the lead Mary-Suepreme of the painfully bad (and painfully funny,) “Harry Potter” “fan fiction” My Immortal.  This story is so bad that it’s famous, and possibly Troll-fiction. The prose is so purple it’s almost black, and where it’s not purple, it’s minimalistic to the point of not making sense. In the opening paragraph of incredible description the main character states her full name (which I’m not retyping for all the world), and finishes by saying that she’s not related to Gerard Way, but people say they look alike… Gerard Way is the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, something I didn’t know until reading that fic (now it’s burned into my memory for all eternity).

 

The problem with having the last name Way is not that the character has the name, but that the writer has to stop and mention that she’s not related to said real person. As I said, I had no idea who Gerard Way was until reading the name fifty-hundred times throughout the fic. Most of the times when you name a character after another character or a real person most people aren’t going to automatically know.  

 

The point of naming a character after something/someone is to give yourself a touchstone. It’s also a great way to force you to expand the character’s back story. If you have to have a character with an American name sat in a Japanese school, then explain why: Did her mother marry and American? Is she transferring from America? Does she have an American first name, and Japanese last name? Is that because her parents really like American culture? What problems come from this?

 

I have two characters who are American girls but have Japanese names. The first (Sakura) is because her mother really liked Japanese culture, and picked the name for her, and she doesn’t like it because no one pronounces it like how she wants, and it doesn’t fit. Her daughter is named Satori, because Sakura’s husband picked it after his wife.

 

You can be inspired by other characters, by their names, or personalities, but you need to be aware that when you’re creating your own character is needs to be your own character. Pushkin is named for a real person, but he’s also nothing like the real person, or the character in the Manga that his image is taken from.  Erin has the best parts of Aro, but she has so many of her own parts that the only thing the Aro parts did was make her suddenly writable. 

 

So here’s your homework: create a character, but let it be based on another character or person. I suggest picking a historical name (no Adolfs or Napoleons or Shakespeares, try poets or military figures because they aren’t as well known). If you’re going to base you character on another character then I suggest a Shakespeare (who was literally the master of this) character. If you use the name of a person/character, then don’t let your character have more than 3 traits similar to the original. If you base your character off another character they need a new name/location/time period. Use the same personality or backstory. Once you’ve done this, put your character into a location. Figure out how their name/back story affects them by being in a different place than the original. Figure out how the character’s personality is different and the same. If they have the same personality, then figure out what back story would make them have the same personality.

 

Remember that whatever character you make, though based on someone/thing else, is entirely yours, and you should treat it as such.

Fix 6: Never Name a Character After Someone You Know

They say that you should write what you know, but most people take this advice in the very way it is not intended. They will write things based on their lives, or their friends or family. Generally this is interesting to almost no one, and ends up with a Mary-Sue more often than not. To tackle this whole topic would take pages and pages, so I’m picking on a smaller nit today: Don’t name your character after anyone you know.

 

One day I will write on why naming is important, but that’s for another day. All you need to know for now is that names have a power to them. To prove this point: have you ever been really absorbed into something, only to be pulled out of the trance when someone called your name?  Have you ever been walking in a crowd, and suddenly turn around because someone called your name, even if you don’t recognize the voice or person?

 

There’s a manga called Her Majesty’s Dog about a girl who has the power to control people if she knows their name. There are some cultures where they will not tell someone their name until they are friends, because they don’t want their name to be used against them. Names have power to them.

 

You should never name a character after someone you know because of the power names have. Your characters will take on characteristics of the people you know if you do. Now, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it does limit you. It’s harder to write characters to their fullest if you’re worried about how someone will react to reading a character that has their name.

 

I have a rule about not naming characters after people I know for this reason. I don’t want to feel bad about having a character be mean if the person I named them after isn’t. Also, the closer your portrayal is to a real person the more likely you are to get someone angry at you. You will get people angry at you if you’re writing your book well enough, because it means you have a very strong opinion in there somewhere, and not everyone will agree with your opinion. That being said, just think how bad it would be if your aunt gets upset because you named a villain after her?

 

Now, I have broken this rule before. Three times actually in recent memory. I had a character who was a priestess and I named her Saresh. Of course I don’t even know how to spell the real girl’s name, but ‘Saresh’ is someone I worked in the school library with. The character’s nothing like her, but the character’s also named Saresh when all the other names are greek or latin based. It just fit the character.

 

The second time was for a Tangled fanfiction I was working on. I went looking through German (Rapunzel is a German tale) monarchs around the time the story was set. I found a couple of King Williams, so I named the King William. The problem? That’s my father’s name, and a lot of the king’s development comes from him dealing with trying to get to know a daughter who grew up away from him, and the tragedy of never getting to raise his little girl.  I have other characters, some of whom are my favorite characters, who I can definitely see are based off my father, at least in some respects (mainly their relationships with their children). In the case of King William I was literally imagining how my father might feel given the same situation. Luckily the character is a good guy, and I have a good relationship with my parents… but it was still unnerving when I realized what I’d done.

 

The last one also for a fanfiction, one involving Scorpius Malfoy and a little sister. The girl doesn’t show up a lot, it’s mainly focused on Scopius and Draco’s relationship, but she does show up. Her name is Emily, which is my name. The problem is that it fit the girl very well. I don’t think the girl was a lot like me, and really her only point was to cause conflict. But you see how I have to explain this? Whenever you name a character after yourself or someone you know you instantly have to explain how they are like and not like the person in order to retain credibility.

 

You can name characters after people you know, but it’s actually really awkward. You have to work harder to maintain credibility. You are more likely to inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, and you are more likely to make a Mary-Sue (especially if the character is named after you). Over all, it’s just generally not a good idea. Thankfully there are millions and millions of names to pick from, so you should be fine.

Fix 5: Flash Characters

Readymade Villians, just add water!

 

While I haven’t specifically talked about different types of Sues, I suppose I should try today. I’ll be touching on the “Villian-Sue”. Now honestly, I haven’t seen a lot of these, because my villains were never supposed to be liked, not when I was in my Sue phase anyway. Now I have villains who range from being terrifying if attractive, to so likable you almost wish they could win but they’re wrong.  The last one involves an OC villain for a fanfiction, where I didn’t want anyone evil, just someone who feels his country will be wronged if the heir becomes he monarch, and is willing to do anything to stop that from happening. Ironically, the audience really loves the villain, and some of them really want him to win in the end.

 

Making characters is kind of my thing. Right now if I do any personal writing, it’s often little character sketches. Things without plot, simply describing a cool character idea I had.  It’s actually a good exercise to do for writing, because there’s no push to go anywhere, you’re simply laying out back story, and getting a feel for your character. The last time I did this I wrote about an atheist bounty hunter in the old west. He’s a fantastically interesting character, but I don’t know enough about westerns to really write things with him.

 

So, how do you write a good villain? Well, I can’t really tell you. The problem with Mary-Sue litmus tests is that they’re really only for identifying one type of character, and sometimes the character isn’t a Sue once they’re within the context of the story. Same thing with the Villain. If your villain is ridiculously powerful, but has something tragic happen to them so their destroying things is ‘explained away’, then you have a very common type of villain. These appear often in movies and books, and everywhere. What makes it interesting is if the hero’s journey include great struggle against the villain.

 

The other thing to consider about the above villain is that unless you’re doing a duel journey (the journey of the hero vs the journey of the villain) it’s hard for the villian’s tragic past to not seem… unnecessary. Remember this mantra “Less is more, less is more”. Hannibal Lector is far more threatening when you don’t know about his past. Same thing with Darth Vader. *spoiler for HP book 7 ending* Voldemort is less threatening when Harry verbally reduces him to that of man. *end spoiler* This is part of what’s wrong with the 7th movie, but I digress.

 

How does any of this pertain to the title? Well first off, characters get easier to make the more you make them. Your first character is often a Sue because you want so badly for people to love them and you spend so much time on them that you over burden them with things. I have characters that I’ve been working on for almost as long as I’ve had my Sue. One of them includes a character who I recently discovered had a mind that worked so fast that she often had trouble communicating. It’s a clear case of Blessed with Suck, but it also makes her interesting to write as she struggles to be understood. (It’s also an interesting variation on the Cassandra story, as my character may know something that could help, but she simply never speaks up because she’s so lost in thought that she forgets to say anything at all.)

 

This character I have just mentioned has taken years to perfect, and now she’s a very well formed character. You can work on a character for years, watch them grow and change within the confines of their original character. It’s a good thing. On the other hand, you don’t always have the time for those fantastically well formed characters. Save them for your magnum opus. Instead, when writing a book, or starting an RP, or something you often have a clear idea in mind, but no pre-formed character to fit the mold of the story.

 

I have a friend who I’ve been RPing with for about 3 years now. We know each other’s styles and characters very well. We ended a 2-year running RP that spanned about 2 hundred years before starting over with it because we go tired of dealing with demons and the characters formed for that world, a lot of whom were characters I’d had for many, many years.  We moved on to some other ideas, but we finally decided on things with political intrigue, like our first RP, but more normal. One of them is set with a basis for a book I’m writing, but set in the Victorian Era, instead of the present (which is a fantastic way for me to explore my world without having to taint the characters I already have).

 

For the plot there’s a witch, and a Lord who she serves. A main part of the plot up until now has just been their interaction (I don’t do RPs without a promise of a future romance, even if the romance is really screwed up). So far my main character (the Lord) has been the antagonist in the story… Lord Jasper Southerland, trader in magical creatures that are otherwise unknown to society (We’re knowingly playing fast and loose with history). Then along came Wilhelm, Wilhelm the Witch Breaker. A man who, like ‘the hero’ is on the outs of society because of his birth status (Jasper is probably a bastard, but his father acknowledged him as a legitimate son. Wilhelm is a confirmed bastard). At the same time, Jasper has more social connections, and his also physically stronger than Wilhelm. Wilhelm, though needing Jasper, hates him because he can’t use him.

 

All of Wilhelm’s back story, appearance, and personality came to me in a flash.  He’s perfectly wonderful for the story we have going, and he’s going to be a fantastic villain. A lot about writing is very much practice makes perfect… another lot of it is stealing strategically then being creative what you stole. Among the Preacher community the saying goes: “A good preacher steals parts of other sermons. A great preacher steals the whole thing outright.” Another thing to keep in mind is that Shakespeare, the God of Writing, never wrote and original play. All of his plays were based on other stories. Most of the characters based on other characters. To quote the bible: “”What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Nothing new exists anymore. It has been done. Well, what does that mean for the writer?

 

To continue with Christian type writers, on the same TV Tropes page I found the bible quote (I’m so too lazy to actually pull out my own bible and look it up when TV Tropes nicely did it for me.) I found this:

“…No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

—C. S. Lewis

 

Here’s an example from the 2nd RP I’m doing with my friend: For the RP I needed a character who is infinitely loyal to the Queen (I’m sure you’ve noticed I play all the male roles in these RPs by now). So I created Jimajen, if the name looks familiar it’s from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster series (of which the 2nd book is my favorite book.) The RP is about spies and political intrigue in a fictional, non-magical, medieval based world. The two sources I borrow the most from end up being Tamora Pierce (who corners the market on good fictional, magical, medieval based worlds) and Shakespeare (who’s Shakespeare).  For Jimajen I literally copy-pasted Othello’s back story, and then added Taybur Sibigat (Tamora Pierce)’s loyalty and position. Jim is the closest friend the Queen has, desperately loyal, and desperately in love with a woman who can (for personal and political reasons) never love him back. Instant character, new and interesting. I’ll probably never use him outside the RP, but Jimajen is a good character.

 

“But that’s a hero!” you say, “What about villains?”

 

It’s about the same actually. Wilhelm the Witch Breaker came from a concept I already had in the story (the Witch Breaker), combined with having just returned from seeing Much Ado about Nothing, and wanting a character like Don John, throw in the boyish good looks of Teaser from Anne Bishop’s Sebastian. Teaser is actually a good character, not a hero, but close, in his world. This is just to say that you can get things from everywhere.

 

Now unlike Jimajen, Wilhelm is a lot more his own person. He is somewhat like a couple of my other characters (including the terrifying one I keep talking about) in that he doesn’t see people as people, but toys he can play with or frogs he can dissect. This causes a lot of problems with Jasper because Wilhelm can’t see Jasper like that, and it really pisses him off *understatement*. Even though I said Wilhelm is his own person, I can easily trace his influences.

 

Jimajen, while being a lot more obvious about where I got his influences, in personality is a lot more original than Wilhelm. I’ve had characters that have similar personalities to Jimajen, but they were like Tset, the Cinderella-like half-breed son of the Tiger King. With Jimajen he is both hard and military, while sweet and strong for his queen. It makes him very believable. For me he is very original compared to my other types of characters.

 

To create a flash character you can’t simply just say: “I’m going to create a character!” It’s a much smarter idea to need the character for something, like a Roleplay. In the first book I wrote every single character was a flash character. This includes the narrator/main character.  All I had was the first line that popped in my head: “I killed myself”, from there I knew I was writing a ghost story told from the point of view of a ghost writing a blog. Everything else about that book came from simply filling in what I needed when I needed… and it surprisingly good.

 

You can create flash characters simply by doing the NaNoWriMo thing of just putting words on paper; but that doesn’t always turn out good product. Another way to create a good flash character is to create a character who fits a parameter. For Jasper I needed a man who was a lord and traded magical creatures. I thought he was going to be a jerk… I just didn’t realize how much until I started writing, or that he was essentially still a child in many ways.

 

Flash characters very rarely come out fully formed, but unlike other characters that you create and tinker with, all the tinkering comes in the writing process. With a normal character you create them to play with, and later write them down. You create a flash character while writing. Mary-Sues are often the characters you play with first. Now, the characters you play with will often end up being much more interesting, but they can also become over burdened with interesting.

 

If you know that you write Mary-Sues, it is you assignment to create a few flash characters for RPs or a fanfiction. Just start writing. You don’t have to show them to anyone, they just have to be. Remember that you won’t be completely original, and that’s fine. Take parts of a couple of random and non-relating characters, throw them together, give them a new name, and go.

 

So what about a flash villain? Well, honestly the best parts of villains is that you don’t know a lot about them. It’s sometimes hard to write a good villain if they exist first (although this is a good way to get either poor or great villains). Instead, start with your hero, then you can do two things 1) make the villain be someone who can stop the hero by being strong against the hero’s weaknesses. 2) make the villain a variation on the hero.

 

Type one is essentially an Iago, a person who is able to get the hero where it hurts. Iago is well trusted, but also manipulative. He’s able to get Othello thinking his wife is cheating on him. The character doesn’t have to be manipulative, in fact Iago is far and away the best villain ever written, so much so that I don’t suggest trying to write anything like him. It will pale in comparison. Ironically, the closet modern correlation is the Joker from The Dark Knight. This is ironic because the Joker is also our next example.

 

Type two makes me think of Batman and the Joker. In one of the Tim Burton Batmans, Batman (in human form) complements something in a woman’s home. Later the Joker breaks in and complements the exact same thing. Batman is a great hero because he’s only about two degrees away from the villains. The DK Joker is both a type one and two because he recognizes this matter of degrees, and his similarity to Batman (no sane man dresses in costume and beats people up). He also tries to poke Batman in his weaknesses to force him to admit the similarity.  Again, this is a once in a generation (or maybe a century) type character, don’t try to write it. If you do create the next Iago or Joker it’ll happen, but not if you try and force it.

 

So what do you? You have your hero, and you figure out what are his weaknesses. You either make a character who specifically poke those weaknesses (whether they mean to or not), or you create a character who is very similar to the hero, but just a little different. Wilhelm is a type two. He’s similar to Jasper, but he takes Jasper’s dislike of people and general meanness about ten steps farther.

 

Now, I suggest RPing to do this, because it’s a great way to get instant feedback and it’s okay to mess up. To do this I’d suggest trying to do more than the standard one-word-sums-it-up idea (Band, Highschool, Doctor, Slave, etc). I normally do one on ones, and really only romances, but I like epics a lot as well. So I’m going to list a few ideas I’ve tried before, and you can run with them as well.

 

  1. 1.       A writer has one (or more) of their characters come alive.  There’s a fun bit of meta with this, but I don’t like writing writers, it’s really uncomfortable for him.
  2. 2.       A bad man wishes on a star, and then the star falls and says she’s there to grant him all his wishes. This one I’m still doing. I saw it as someone else’s idea, but they were looking for a pure-hearted person to make the wish… which I think would be boring.
  3. 3.       A Cheerleader is secretly in love with a nerd.
  4. 4.       A Witch and Witch Hunter fall in love.
  5. 5.       A princess from an isolated country has to go on a quest with an outsider so she can save her father.

 

All of these are very random, just one I’ve done, or liked that. Start out with the hero, and then you can figure out the villain. Note that who I’d have as the villain will not necessarily be who you would have.  I listed heroes, but you need to write the villain as well, or at least an antagonist (the person trying to stop the action). It’s often hard to make the story do anything if you don’t have an antagonist (ironically).

 

So, go write and have fun!

The Addendum

This is the Addendum to my original idea for this blog.

 

Originally I planned to write one blog a week… instead I wrote several last week, almost one a week. I cannot possibly do that, especially since I have class, and will be starting full school term (and probably overloading) after my summer study is over.  Instead I am committing to no less than 3 posts a week, on any day a week.

 

At the moment there are three sections:

Sue Authors Anonymous, which will be infrequent and only come up when people send me things to critique.

Standard Fixes, where most posts will go. This section is dedicated to discussing different common problems a Sue may have, why and how they can and cannot work, and how to fix the problems.

Tools for the Job, which will be more frequent than SAA, and less frequent than Standard Fixes.  The point is to suggest specific tools to help fix characters. This section is also for examining the good and bad types of tools to use.

 

I may add more sections as time comes around.

 

This post will fit under a separate section called Rules and Stuff, where things like FAQs, addendums, laws, whatever, will go. Anything in these sections do not count toward my 3 a week goal. They simply serve as guides to help the reader be less confused.

 

The Tags will include the standard fanfiction/mary sue variations, but also any specific series that I mention or refer to. Other things that will be put in tags include other topics and subject matters that I’ve spoken of. The Tags for anything under the R&S section will be minimal.

 

All of this was written when I was sane, and at least semi-lucid due to lack of sleep; but they will continue to apply until such times as another addendum or upon my death.

Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Tool 1: Testing the Test

Question of the day: When taking a Mary-Sue litmus test, should you check off that  you characters has ‘unusual healing powers, capable of stopping death’ if the character has created drugs which slow death so she can enjoy torturing the people more?

 

I’m testing Litmus tests to see which ones are accurate. (This is the first of a new section about dealing with the tools for fixing a Sue.)

 

 I have a character who is sexy, with sea foam green hair, who is the best in three given fields: Botany (by magic), Chemistry (by work), and torture (by fun).  She views people, including her husband and her daughter merely as toys that she has yet to break. When she got tired of her toys dying too quickly she combined created drugs to extend life.  She doesn’t she is related to royalty, but her ‘superiors’ don’t try to control her because she scares them a lot. She’s terrifying because she doesn’t believe that the game is over until she’s won; and she doesn’t care if she gets hurt, brutally maimed, tortured, or killed so long as she’s not bored. Personality wise she has few redeeming qualities: she’s stubborn and a leader. She’s very good at the things she actually cares about, and is very protective of what is hers.  She’s not beautiful, but the best way to describe her is like seeing a green saber-tooth tiger, beautiful for the impossibility of it, especially since you will be dead only moments after seeing it.

 

http://www.springhole.net/quizzes/marysue.htm This test gave her a 35, ranking her as a complete Mary-Sue.

 

http://www.ponylandpress.com/ms-test.html This test gave her a 20, ranking her a Non-Sue, fully developed and well rounded character.

 

I prefer the Ponylandpress.com test because it takes fantasy into account. The springhole.net quiz is listed out more often. No matter what the test says, it is more biased against fantasy characters. It’s meant to cover original characters, fanfiction OCs, and RPG characters. Like a multi-symptom cold reliever it covers not enough of anything; and in fact judges characters if they’re ugly, over-weight, or handicapped as being less Mary-Sue.  I feel like it comes off as more opinionated than the Ponylandpress.com test.

 

The Ponyland test doesn’t worry about which genre you’re writing in, but has general character points, points for if your character is human/immortal, and points for how you relate to the character (which is one part some people over look when “Calling Sue”.)  The Ponyland test has always seemed more accurate to me; it also focused on things like personality more than back story/accessories/skills (which is something the other test does).

 

To be clear, the character I put through the test I had taken through the Ponyland test before, back when I knew less about her. It ranked her as an anti-sue; that was a few years ago; maybe she would have been a normal character in the Springhole test back then.  The biggest difference between the Ponyland and Springhole test (though neither are perfect) is the intent of character. In the question I ask earlier I posed a question of intent. If a character who is very good at healing, but uses it so that she can cause pain, does that add to her Sue-Score, or not?

 

This was also to illustrate that these tests are not perfect. I do have characters that rank high on the Sue test that while not having a Sue-personality, and realistically reacting to their circumstances; have a highly Sue-stacked back story. I walk a tight rope when I write them. The test pointed this out to me so I am really careful. Others are sues that I don’t use except as back characters or by way of character study for male characters. They’re my “Cinderella Pair”.

 

If you read my blog on “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”, one of them is the female demon I talk about. She’s only marginally interesting to me in her quest to find love with humans after so many other husbands have died (I never said she was smart). The other is a half-demon girl who stupidly falls in love with her master. When the master starts to reciprocate she’s happy until she realizes that he wants to free her and marry her. She wants to be his slave (She has serious problem, including falling for a man who has mental issues and is more than mildly abusive).  They kind of sound interesting (honestly, the half-demon, Clair, is a character I love to write as, but I don’t because she is Cinderella). 

 

The “Cinderella Pair” pose an interesting question for me, as does the daughter of the character I ran through the test. The daughter reacts to her parents’ violent life styles with fear and a desperate wish to be a pacifist, though she feels drawn to violence. She acts as sweet as a pixie even if she doesn’t feel like that on the inside.  The question they pose it how to write a good female character. There’s a strong cultural reaction against a Cinderella, and a love of a Wonder Woman.

 

The interesting thing about Sues is that they actually lean more toward Wonder Woman. They are ‘badasses’ but they often need to be rescued by men.  Or they act like a tag-along Cinderella, one who goes beyond purity and happily jumps on her love interest. The problem is the hypocrisy of the Sue.  Cinderella is a Sue because of unrealistic reactions. She was a standard of beauty. Pure and hard working, and sweet literally beyond reason.  People who are abused like Cinderella are not sweet people. They are severely wounded and don’t connect to others that well. Often they will be passive-aggressive. They will eventually do what they are told, but they take their sweet time about it… it’s actually something of a slave mentality. If you separate the psychological problems from Cinderella then you have a Sue.

 

What about Wonder Woman? First off, DC will never be as interesting as Marvel. Outside of Batman, most of the DC superheroes are practically gods. It’s why Super Man has to be rebooted about ever 3-5 years. He gets too powerful.  Second, she was invented by a psychiatrist… no really. All the bondage and sex aspect was consciously built in. Of course Wonder Woman is a complete badass, but her weakness is when she’s tied up (which would be most people’s weakness when you really think about it). The rest of the fight is Wonder Woman trying to free herself (or someone else trying to free her). It’s bizarre twist on the damsel in distress story, where the damsel can take care of herself until she’s captured, then she needs help… which again: very few people can get out of a situation where they’ve been captured on their own. Their captors are either stupid/inattentive (this happens with rape victims), or the victim is trained to be able to escape (spies).

 

So is Wonder Woman a Sue? I’ll admit to not being able to say, but it probably depends on the version most often. She definitely leans hard on the Sue wall… but it’s Wonder Woman! Really, she may very well be a Sue, and Cinderella may very well not be a Sue (not by the traditional tests anyway). You can take them through the Litmus tests if you want.

 

The point I’ve been wandering around but not really making is that the tests are not perfect, as is human perception. Our ideals of Sue-dom may very well not really fit our actual definitions. This is the biggest problem with trying to define Sue. One Sue Litmus test I took pointed out that Bon Jovi fails the litmus test… and he’s a real human being.  I don’t tend to define Sue, more try to fix the varying parts. What I know from experience is that unlike an illness where you have to kill the source, the best way to fix a Sue is to fix the parts. In the process of fixing parts you’ll gain enough experience and enough changes in the character for him/her to stop being a Sue and start being a competently written character.

Fix 4: Consistency

I keep planning on writing about naming your characters. If I keep it up it’ll be a bad running joke. For today let’s go with character consistency.

 

The best thing I’ve ever written was a 10,000 word short story I wrote over about five days to simulate doing National Novel Writing Month (I actually wrote outside of class, so I was one of the few people to be able to finish). It’s really hard to describe, but all you need to know is that the main character is a man in a psychiatric hospital; and he belongs there. When I started the process I wanted to write a Hannibal Lector type character, someone who liked politeness and looked down on people around. When I finished the project I was so, so very sure that the character ended up sounding really whiny and terrible. I liked the premise I had, but I thought I needed to start at the end and rewrite everything.

 

Almost half a year passed before I let anyone read it. I hadn’t edited it at all. The person really loved it. When I reread it I was surprised that not only was the character consistent, his progression into sanity was properly paced and gripping. Aside from grammar issues, the story held up perfectly well and I actually didn’t need to rewrite anything. It was a perfectly polished little gem.

 

This is to illustrate the point: you can’t often see up close what is very apparent from far away.  Character consistency is very important. While not exactly a commonly considered trait of a Mary-Sue, it’s actually a really important part. The problem with a Sue is that her personality/actions can jump from being a “complete badass” to needing to have her ass saved by the love interest. She also may go from being sad about her village being slaughtered to suddenly being terribly in love and happy about being with her love interest. For a point of reference; think how Juliet suddenly goes from being horrified that her cousin’s dead to going to bed with her husband. I don’t think Romeo & Juliet is a good play at all partially for these bizarre jumps in logic. Of course teenaged hormones being what they are, it might actually work like that.

 

Ever heard of mood whiplash? It’s when a movie/TV show/book/fanfiction/play/opera/radio drama/video game/whatever goes from very suddenly from one emotion to another. These emotions are often complete opposite (horrified to laughing). Now, you can do this by way of good story telling or comic relief, or both. In Steel Magnolias one of the main characters has a very dramatic speech after just having buried her daughter.  Suddenly one of her friend grabs another one of their friends (Ouiser) and tells the main character to punch Ouiser. It’s so random and sudden that not only do the characters burst into fits of laughter, but the audience starts rolling on the floor.

 

This scene exemplifies comic relief, but it relies on the trope of mood whiplash. Shakespeare is another example of someone brilliant at using comic relief. (Tangent: I just saw Patrick Stewart play Shylock in Merchant of Venice. It’s both hilarious and horrifying when he draws a dotted box around Antonio’s heart, and later gleefully run the broad side of a knife over Antonio’s chest as Antonia trembles so hard a guard has to hold him still… I’ve never seen anything so tense. The whole audience knew the ending but half of us were still hiding in our seats). Done right, mood whiplash isn’t painful to the audience, but allows for catharsis/drama/plot/characterization/other very good things.

 

This is generally is not the case for works of Mary Sue fiction. A lot of the problem comes from the fact that the characters simply are not given the time to grow. I remember writing a fic where Priest Seto falls for a servant. I had a(n actually good) scene plotted out before I went to bed, but the scene I wrote was under a page. If I had been able to write it now the scene would have stretched out for five or more pages. I was 13 at the time and simply did not have the skill to write so much. I couldn’t figure out how to properly prolong a scene.

 

The West Wing is one of my favorite shows because Aaron Sorkin is my writing idol. He leaves at the end of the 4th season to go to rehab (no, really). Stuff happens in the first 4 seasons, but a plot line could be drawn out over a long period of time. The episodes built characterization more than plot… but damn was it good. Then season 5 hits and new writers come in. More and more stuff happens. In the first 4 seasons maybe 4-6 really big things happen. The amount of big things goes up exponentially over the next seasons simply because the writers aren’t on the same level as the original creator. Aaron Sorkin has the ability to hold out scenes and events with amazingly witty exchanges and character growth. It makes everything feel more realistic. In contrast, the other seasons have a lot of stuff happen because the other writers have to keep having stuff happen or else the show will stop being interesting.

 

This is a professional example with the problems with new writers. You can tell ne writers because a chapter is only going to fit in the size of the viewing screen of your computer without you having to scroll down… it may even be smaller… for a new writer this is a huge achievement. When you get more experience you can easily write more.  When I was a kid I used to take the bus to school in the morning. I had set fantasies, and I knew exactly which ones I could run because of how long the trip was.  Eventually I couldn’t do the same fantasies anymore because they didn’t last as long. I started to get worried that I wasn’t able to analyze the same things as well. Someone suggested to me that I just became able to process complex ideas much faster.

 

When I was younger it would take me a long time to get a little bit of writing out. These blog posts take an hour, but I’m either writing constantly or pausing to look things up. I’m able to more easily come up with ideas to express that all link together; and I trust my writing enough to know that eventually I will connect my beginning thought to my planned ending thought, hit all the points I wanted to cover, and all of it flow naturally.

 

So what does this have to do with character consistency? Back in the chapter I described to you, the servant and Priest Seto fall in love in one very short scene. In that scene the servant goes from weeping, to uncertain, to happy. It all happens very quickly and so there’s no character consistency, and the character comes off as not human with how rapidly her emotions change.  Thinking over the plot now ((Priest Seto takes over his duties and if given a servant who helps him look after his brother. He falls for the servant and gets married; then his brother is killed in an accident. He’s hurt, but still has his (now pregnant) wife. Then the woman he loves is sacrificed to one of the gods by the pharaoh’s orders (to help defeat and enemy). Priest Seto loses it and helps lead the charge against the pharaoh.)) it’s not great, but I could completely make it work, especially since the OC servant is just a macguffin to help Priest Seto lose his mind and go to war with the man he’d loved and served before.  It’s surprisingly Canon centered except for one moment when the OC talks about her past.

 

When I wrote it, it sucked pretty hard because of how small the chapters were. There was no room for real development. I had to keep having interesting things happen to keep the story moving. Suddenly characters would be yelling or crying  just… suddenly. The characters lacked an emotional consistency that they really needed to make the fic actually good. I’m surprised anyone read it at all. ((Side note: does anyone notice that old, not good stories can get 56 reviews, but new good things can’t break into the double digits?))

 

Emotional consistency is actually something I still struggle with. I just finished a 24 page (7,000+ word) chapter for one of my fics. It hasn’t been posted as my editor is still helping me pick out the bugs. I wrote it over about a week and a half, on two different continents and over many different times of day. I’m worried that the characters will seem character. Every time I update a story I worry that the characters will seem like how they did in the previous chapters. Normally I do just fine, and once I stop being buried in the writing I can see that. Other times I need help.

 

There are a couple of things I can suggest. The first is to reread what you’ve already written… a lot. I tend to lose salient details, but those details make the characters. It also looks really bad when you forget from one chapter to the next (sometimes one page to the next) a hobby or interest you just described for a character. Rereading refreshes your memory and lets you fix minor inconsistencies before you get too far into the story, and those inconsistencies become big problems. This is useful, but as I can’t be constantly rereading I need other ways to help keep myself consistent.

 

I’m easily affected by the things that go on around me. Again mentioning The West Wing, after watching the show it’s common that I will start imitating the character’s distinctive speech pattern and speed of speech both in writing and in real life. In the same way, when I’m writing something I will pick a song or CD to play that helps me capture the mood I want for the story. Eventually whenever I hear that song/album I will instantly shift into the proper mood for the writing of the story. I easily connect events to song. I can’t listen to “Snow (Hey Oh)” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers without crying because it reminds me of New Zealand (a place I feel like is the home of my soul). I can’t hear “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo without instantly getting into the mood of writing characters for a book I was working on called The Frankenstein Children (A book I scrapped about 25k words in when I realized it just wasn’t working). When I’ve been working on this I have a play list of Lady Gaga’s newest album and Katy Perry’s first. Whenever I hear these songs now I want to write (since I’ve been looping them for 2 days all I’ve done in that time is write). 

 

For me, music is best way to get myself into the proper mood for a story or character, at least for the main character. But that may not be the best way for everyone. I know some people can’t write unless there’s silence, music is distracting to them. You might be able to listen to music before hand, but that runs the same problem as rereading. What you really need is a memory trick to help you remember the character’s personality. I use music because I travel quite a bit and always want to be writing. It’s also a great way to get focused when I’m home for the summer and my parents have the TV on. At the same time, one of my friends in high school noted that once I started working and I had my headphones on I went into my own world. I’d become very focused and productive and she’d have to physically poke me to get me to pay attention to her.  This does not work for everyone.

 

J.K. Rowling wrote her books in coffee shops. She would take her things and go write. For some people location is everything. Someone told me the best way to study for a final was to study in the room and seat where you’d be taking the test because your mind would connect the information with the room around you. In the same way, if you only write in one place you may be able to keep your writing consistent if you stay in one place. If you are place oriented, I suggest picking a different place for every story so that you won’t have trouble going from the mood of one to the mood of another.

Fix 3: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

Someday I will talk about why naming your OC after yourself/people you know is a bad idea, but for now I’m going to talk about making your character the most beautiful girl in the room.

One common trait of the Mary Sue is that she’s absolutely beautiful. Actually a common trait of fiction/Hollywood movies is the handsome leading man and the beautiful leading woman. These works are often pure escapism, which there’s nothing inherently wrong with being. If you know what you’re getting into it can be very fun.

However, Sue Authors often push their characters past simply being beautiful to being the most beautiful girl alive. We’ll come back to the historical implications of that, but first we will pause to talk about something this phenomenon isn’t. Beauty is subjective, therefore everyone has that image of ideal beauty. As I see it, Zoe Saladana is the most beautiful woman alive (as long as she’s not stick-thin). I think Chris Hemsworth is hottest man, but Johnny Depp is the most beautiful, and Joseph Gordon Levitt is the most personally attractive to me. See the spread? It is completely possible for a character to think their love interest is the most beautiful man/woman alive without that being true to everyone else.

Let me give you an example: Two people meet and fall in love. The woman is decidedly plain, but the man is very, very handsome. They both get married in a loving and loyal relationship. The very handsome man thinks his wife, who most people see as plain, is very beautiful. Later the man gets cancer and dies, leaving his wife and son alone.

Do you know what this is? If you’re thinking it’s some sappy romance novel, it’s not. This is a real life story, this is actually what happened to my aunt. Her first husband was decidedly very attractive, and most people think of her as plain. But when you see their old wedding pictures you can clearly see that he thinks she’s absolutely beautiful. This is why I hate that song “Beautiful Soul”.

This is my way of saying that you can have such a pair. I have an original set where the male is a handsome actor, and the female is a company executive. They’ve been together since they were teens, but before that they were friend. A lot of people think she’s keeping him around with money, when in reality he thinks she’s the most beautiful woman alive. It causes the female all kinds of worry because she knows that she’s average at best, maybe pretty if she cleans up for a ball or something; but never beautiful. It makes her wonder if he’ll leave her when he wakes up and realizes that she’s not beautiful.

Here we have not stepped into Sue territory because things like this do happen, with actors.  I’m blanking on the name, but there was a famous old day Hollywood heartthrob (who died in the past few years) who was married to a rather average woman, and stayed married to her. Go ask your parents or grandparents. A lot of women found this loyalty as part of the actor’s appeal.  There are lot of stories of attractive women marrying unattractive men, and it does happen in reverse as well. You can write this and not instantly slip into the realm of fantasy or Mary-Sue.

If your OCs love interest thinks they are the most beautiful girl alive, that doesn’t make them as such, and you don’t need to worry about this. A lot of people associate Mary Sue with the trope of So Beautiful It’s a Curse. Heard of the Odyssey? The Illiad? The Aeneid? All of these are major works of literature based on the story of Helen of Troy, a woman so beautiful that men are willing to go to war for her after she gets kidnapped by another man and spelled by Venus to love the other man. Now, a lot of Greeks hated Helen (which is very funny, since Helen is the ancient Greek word for Greece).  But honestly all she did was be beautiful, and then the gods got involved.

Now, I have characters that I describe as the most beautiful male/female alive. I’ll get to the female in a moment, but let’s talk about the man. First, both of my characters are demons, which means that they could more easily be more attractive than humans. Second, both are from races that lend themselves to being beautiful (and there are others). Third is that they do have problems because of this. The man is a military trained man, one who, until he proved himself, got a lot of flak for supposedly sleeping his way to the top.  When he did finally prove his ability he has the problem of people judging any woman he’s interested in, especially because his first love interests are human. There’s also the problem that his beauty shows that he’s a half-breed of a very specific demon race. His blood status has always been a huge problem in the society he lives in, and it doesn’t help that his father once told him that he didn’t regret sleeping with the character’s mother (who was a prostitute at the time), but he regretted his existence. The man has a very real hatred and love for his parents. It adds up to make a very complicated character. Of course he still fits in the Pantheon (the place larger than life characters go).

The female is a little more down to earth as basically all she can do is sing and be beautiful. She’s from a family of strong magical powers, and she has almost none. Her family is built very strongly on tradition, and in each generation there are certain roles people fill. Hers was the ‘most beautiful woman’. The woman before her was so beautiful that she had a medusa-effect that ended up killing men who saw her, so she was locked up for most of her life. Ironically the female is looked down upon for not being as beautiful as the last woman.  Later the female’s village is sacked, and… well… she’s a very beautiful woman who’s been captured. You think about it.

Your character can be the most beautiful person alive, but the instant this happens the character is instantly thrown head first into the Pantheon. Most beautiful in the world is the stuff of fairy tales and greek gods. Now, you can have beauty as a curse and not fling your characters into the Pantheon, but we’ll get to that later. For now let’s talk about what to do with characters in the Pantheon.

The first is that if your character is larger than life, you can’t play them as modest, or as normal people. They need to be aware of the rift from society, because they aren’t normal. No, you don’t make them whine about it. Want good examples of this? Gandalf, Dumbledore, Voldemort (who’s down fall comes when he’s reduced to being one of the peons), Aragorn, Aslan. If you watch the Narnia movies, the way Peter and Edmund react to normal society after having been kings. Aragorn is only able to fit into society by marrying an elf, and becoming king, otherwise he’s on the edges of society. Think about House. At one point in the show, the comment is made that normal people have families that fill their lives, but for men like House who are great, what fills their lives in something else. Sherlock Holmes is the same.

People in the Pantheon are either on the fringes of society, or the center of it. Often times the things that make them special also force them out of the society, almost out of being human. Characters do fit here. People fit here. I can list Presidents: both Roosevelts, Nixon, Lydon Johnson, Andrew Jackson, and so many more.  The Pantheon actually exists in real life. Normally it is reserved for demons or gods, but humans can fit there. I’ll detail the Pantheon more later; but if you create the most beautiful character they are separate from society.

People who are beautiful are often originally thought of as being not as smart as an average person, since the stereotype is that pretty people don’t have to work for anything. This is true sometimes, but not always. In High school students can be hated for being too beautiful, especially in a group of girls. It’s called jealousy; but normally it’s just from the Alpha girls, or aimed at the Alpha girls.  For reference, see Mean Girls. Get a group of women together and they can be very catty. Also, naturally pretty people are less likely to learn certain skills. Goes the same with talented people. I’m natural smart, to my determent sometimes.  I normally don’t have to study, so I don’t. It means I learn less than someone who’s not as smart as me. It means that I have real trouble learning anything I actually have to practice at. My father was a music major, he told me that most of the people with real talent dropped out early. They’d never had to really work for anything before, and when their school suddenly demanded them to work they dropped out. If you work your looks right, you may not have to work as hard, but you’ve actually lost something.

Beauty can be a curse in some less conventional ways too. The two ‘most beautiful’ characters I detailed before? The man literarily cannot walk among humans because he just stands out too much. Most demons hide their power levels so that a person can’t tell if their stronger or weaker (since both are a great beacon to be attacked). He can hide his level, but he can’t hide how he looks, which means that people can easily identify him. There’s also little privacy because of that, and there’s no such thing as sneaking away unnoticed. (Something some celebrities and royalty can probably relate to.)

The woman lives among humans, but she has to spend a lot of time trying to down play her looks with too much make up; and really is only good at singing which leads to the same problem as the man has about being able to sneak away anywhere. If you character is beautiful but shy, this can be a big problem for them. If you character has a phobia of people, but has something that draws people to them then you have instant tension.

What you may or may not notice about what I’ve been describing is that beautiful people do have problems inherent with their looks; just like average people have problems inherent with their looks. A Mary Sue is someone who claims beauty is a curse because she has so many characters lusting after her, but she’s also quick to jump on a number of them (which does lead the others on more, I should point out). A not Mary Sue is someone who hates the way she looks because it 1) reminds her of a parent she hates 2) feels like it’s hiding who she really is 3) is actually afraid of people, and finds her looks draw people to her when she doesn’t want anyone at all.  A woman can be beautiful enough for a group of men to all be interested in her; but OCs are often annoying when they do this. If the OC is the central interest… yikes. If the OC is a background character that is in the way of the main cannon romance, then this is more acceptable.

So here’s a writing exercise for you. I want you to create three main characters, and put them in a setting with a bunch of people (a court, a school, whatever). First, write the story where the love interest and most other men are attracted to the beautiful girl. Have the normal girl be in love with the love interest, and see the beautiful girl as a problem, or someone she feels that she can’t win against. Write a short interaction between the love interest and the normal girl, where the normal girl confesses to him. Now write the same story from the point of view of the beautiful girl who really isn’t interested in the attention she gets.

I’ll leave you on a parting note: for anyone who thinks that you can’t have a good female character who is beautiful enough to attract a lot of male attention, enjoys the attention, and has strong abilities in her own right, think Fleur Delacour.  You can also go with the Femme Fatale, but that’s only if you want your character to be evil.

Fix 0.5: Sue Authors Anonymous

I was going to write about naming your character today, but I found a more important thing to talk about. Today’s topic is entitled SAA- Sue Author’s Anonymous.

Hello, I’m Marysue Fixer, and I’m a recovering Sue Author.

I wrote my first sue when I was in 6th grade. I was 10, and she was the love interest of Seto Kaiba from Yugioh. She later moved on to being the love interest for Sesshomaru, and then the love interest for Karasu from Yu Yu Hakusho. She had a child by each. Then I moved on to the second generation.

It’s been about four years since I write my first Sue, but she continues to be a part of my original cannon, being the mother of character who’s the mother of a character who’s the love interest of one of my main characters.  My Sue was a self insert, with my name, who did things that I personally would never do. She was beautiful, and had a lot of magic. Her exact title was ‘The Light Maiden’. While I’ve personally modified the title to fit other more interesting characters and ideas, she is still the original.

Today this Sue is a flakey writer was in love with one man, had a child by him before getting married to a rich man, has a child by him and divorces him because he tries to make her stop writing. She married a second man who dies after she had another child. Then she proceeds to be a single mother/writer who has a decent income from alimony. She adopts two boys after that.  She meets her old sweetheart, who now is a porn photographer, and they marry and have twins. She’s blissfully unaware that her children, except for her new twins, have problems; that her eldest son had tried to kill his sister, that he’s also involved in illegal activities and dying of a genetic disease. The eldest son is her favorite. Her eldest daughter hates her for being flakey, but loves her dad and her two adopted brothers, and the boy she found and cares for as a son. The writer’s middle son depends on his sister for a mother figure, and only one of the adopted boys sees her as a mother figure.

She is not likeable to anyone, even me, which is why she’s a background character at best, or never sees the light of day at worst. She’s also not my first O/C, that title is built out by a princess named Rose and a Mouse named Suzy.

The princess never had a good name, so I finally decided on Rose. I have another character named Rose, but we shant speak of her at the moment. Princess Rose was a blonde-haired, blue eyed princess who wore pink dresses and lived in a tower that her evil step mother put her in. Her only companion is a grey mouse named Suzy who has a blonde bob, a green head-band and pants (which show off her Hartman Hips) and a pink shirt and flats.  Suzy has a crystal flower on her headband that has magic in it to protect her. Rose had a crystal red heart locket (that is powerful and therefore must hide from the wicked stepmother) that she can open up and go into when she wants to escape her tower room and go on adventures.

Rose has a prince, who has no name/face/origin, but is blonde and dresses like Eric from the little mermaid. The prince has a mouse that plays the prince role for Suzy, and also had no face/name/origin. Rose also has two friends, both of whom have mice and prince-love interests. Neither of the girls have names, but one is white with brown hair and wears periwinkle dresses, while the other is black and wears lime green dresses. Rose, the infinitely more interesting Suzy, and friends escapes the tower often to go on adventures, but always get Rose in home before her wicked step mother finds out, while the prince desperately tries to find a legal way to free Rose so he can marry her.

I came up with all of this when I was about 5, (about the same time I came up with the fantasy of having to survive in the arctic with only one blanket and no supplies). Until this moment I have never written down. Ironically, the adventures and characters from the original characters are way more interesting than my self-insert Mary-Sue. The reason for this is because when I hit about eleven I wanted to make darker edgier stories. Suddenly the light hearted Disney Princess/Alice in Wonderland innocent stories were replaced with tales of a girl who is struggling with her interest in different nonexistent males as I struggled through puberty.

Some people start later, but the Sue is, as I’ve said, a process of writing. I think that most people’s first characters are like Princess Rose and Suzy. For boys they’re more like the Ninja Turtles (which I was a big fan of as a kid, but I digress). Their stories are light hearted, over exaggerated, often plotless, and fun. Even looking back at them the creator can feel a sense of joy and fun that comes with the story. If I wrote Rose now, her adventures might all be in her locket that she keeps hidden as are all her friends, while she simply sits in her tower and waits for life to pass her by. Or I’d write about young girls sneaking in and out of the tower to have adventures, going between a fearful life and a life of fun. Ironically, my old children’s stories adapt better than my first ‘serious’ work.

The reason for this is that when you start creating characters they’re often you sticking yourself into a situation. When you’re a kid you may fantasize about going to magic worlds, but you’ll do so by the Harry Potter/chosen one route, or by stumbling across a magical item that takes you to a magical world where you can explore. Otherwise you create characters who aren’t you, but are characters you want to see have adventures. When you’re a teenager you often want desperately to be anywhere else than your boring life. It comes from a bizarre split between childhood and adulthood. You want to be seen as adult, but you also want badly to play. The Mary Sue is the answer.

Mary Sue is the author avatar in the story, yet unlike children, teenagers have become self conscious of their faults, and so try to mask it with creating a perfect character. The Sue is a perfectly natural way of expressing ones-self and should be accepted as such. Think of Sue as a way for the new writer to improve their writing style. They can fix character later, but the important part is practice writing.

A lot of people treat Sue as something to be reviled. This is a really bad way to think. Sue authors are normally new writers: people testing the waters of writing, expressing imagination on paper, testing their own limits. While it doesn’t seem like it sometimes: words mean something. Some people feel like Sues are toxic and must be flamed to death. This way of thinking is toxic. What you write matters, even on the internet. Let me give you a personal example. I’ve mentioned in passing that I Roleplay, just text-based post-by-post, one-on-one Roleplaying. I’ve done it for about as long as I’ve been writing fanfiction. The end result is ten years of near constant writing has improved my writing and my ability to form characters.  But you notice how I said I only do one-on-one roleplays?

I’m a naturally shy person. I’m very opinionated. With friends and teachers I can be loud and even a little pushy when it comes to my ideas. I’m a great public speaker. All that said I am very shy. I don’t make friends easily, and I over analyze mistakes I make. When I was new to RPing I friend requested a lot of people who had similar interests as me. Someone was offended by this and stalked me on a forum, flaming me and my newbie writing in every RP thread I was in. Since then I don’t RP in threads, and I don’t RP in groups. This person scared me. There is the possibility that I could have been more open on the internet than I am in real life, but in many ways I’m even shyer online than I am in real life.

This is a very real reason to not flame a Sue author, ever. I can’t say my group RP aversion is completely this person’s fault, but honestly she couldn’t have done much worse to affect me and my specific personality. Your words mean things, and if you say hurtful things you will hurt people. You can’t take your words back in real life, and it’s even more impossible on the internet. There is the edit button, but honestly you remember things said in text better because someone took the time and energy to type up a long ‘you suck’ tirade.

Mary Sue should be discouraged, but it needs to be done directly and carefully. One of the sites I’ve mentioned more than once is a Livejournal blog called Pottersues. The author of this blog reviews only Harry Potter Mary Sue fanfics. She writes funny things about these people, but when she sees a writer who’s clearly new she tells her fans to be kind to the writer.

The problem with a Mary-Sue comes when the writer refuses to fix their work. When you’re a new writer you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. When you figure out that you’re doing something wrong you either try to fix it, or refuse to fix it. The second option is like knowingly dumping toxic waste into a river. Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but knowingly writing Sues, insisting it’s your fic and you can do whatever is not good. Instead of trying to improve you’re hurt yourself, which does hurt others. People take inspiration from other people. Most people become inspired by good word. What happens if someone who stumbles upon your Mary Sue? Someone who could have been inspired by a good work from you? Will they start on that idea they’ve had floating in the back of their head?

I’m bizarre in getting inspired by bad writing. It’s only because I have a desperate need to prove fantasy (Twilight) or Fanfiction (My Immortal) can be well written.  That’s actually how I decided to start this blog. I don’t believe I’ve stated this before, but this blog is for people who know they have a Sue problem and want to try and fix their character. It’s also for seasoned writers like me who can use a reminder about writing good characters. Hopefully someone who’s being willfully ignorant will stumble across this one day and decide that they do want to improve. I believe in the power of words, and I believe that words can sway people, for good or bad.

So keep this in mind: hating on something is funnier and easier. It makes you feel superior. On the other hand, giving some constructive criticism is hard, but much more necessary. You can make fun of Twilight all day, but if you refuse to read the series you’ll never figure out that Stephanie Meyers has mastered the art of writing page turners, something you really want for your story. She’s also mastered the art of selling, since the books suck terribly and no one should want to read them, but lots of people do. You can learn things even from bad things. The quote from Edison is that he didn’t fail to invent the light bulb 300 times (or whatever the actual number is) he just learned 300 ways not to make a light bulb. Learn from your own mistakes, and from someone else.  But I will warn you that you can’t learn from anyone if you bash or flame them. In order to flame someone you do the internet equivalent of sticking our fingers in your ears and going “LALALALALALA” as loud as you can. You don’t gain anything, you may actually lose something, and you hurt someone who probably doesn’t deserve the hurt.

So here’s what I’m offering. SAA will be a part of this blog. If you submit a piece of work I will critique it for you. Please keep in mind that you can ask for a private critique, and once the work is posted on the internet it’s there forever, so if you want to keep your original work to yourself I don’t suggest letting me post it here.

I won’t say that I will read and critique your work, especially if I have a lot of entries. But one of the best ways to learn is through the hands on help. For whomever I’m doing the critique it will be a good, character driven critique of the things you can fix and possibilities for your text. For the reader, you can see how to dissect a work, and maybe use the same technique on your own work. I suggest some hands on practice of critiquing as well, so readers can comment on the work as well.

Please be aware that if you want help with grammar, I’m not your person. For my fiction I have people who edit for me. They range from my English major friends, to my parents who are real grammarians, to professional editors, even teachers. I also need these people because I’m not a great grammarian. If you really worried about grammar there are blogs for that and a helpful little book called Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

Back to more normal fixes tomorrow, but I felt everyone needed a chance to understand why I’m in the business of fixing, and not just poking fun.

Good night my lovelies,

Marysuefixer