Fix 19: The Savior

Wow, MarySueFixer! You suck at updating!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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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.

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 0: The Basics

Hello all,

I’m the Mary-Sue Fixer, here to help you fix all your Sue-related problems. It’s my plane to write a once a week entry with tips of how to fix different problems with Mary-Sue Characters.  I have both read and written fanfiction for a long while now. I took a hiatus for a few years to write my own original work. Now I’m a much better fanfiction writer. I’ve written Mary-Sues in my time, even my own characters. This is how I know that 1) Sue is part of the writing process 2) Sue is part of being a young/inexperienced writer 3) Sue can be cured over time if the writer will commit to fixing their Sue-problem. 

To state it plainly: if you won’t help yourself, then I can’t help you. I am a tool to help you fix your own problems.

So, let us begin with the most obvious question: What is a Mary-Sue?

The term Mary Sue (as Wikipedia will tell you in a much more informative way), came about around the time of Star Trek. The first Mary Sue (by that classification) was named Mary Sue. Mary Sue may have named the trope, but she was not the first. There are many instances of Mary Sue throughout literature.  A lot of them were never very good, but a lot of them were also published. A very old example are the (numerous) stories of a young white girl captured by Native Americans, and swaying the hearts of the ‘savages’ with her pureness of heart. The Mary-Sue shows up in literature for thousands of years.  Just to prove this is profitable: The most modern example people think of his Twilight, which is insanely popular.

The Mary Sue is defined as a character whom is, in short, too perfect for her own good. The Sue often has amazing skill at things she probably has no business being able to know. The Sue may even have hither-to unknown in the fiction-universe powers that no one else has. She may be half-vampire, half-mermaid, half-a lot of things that don’t belong in the cannon. Sue’s may even suffer from the curse of being ‘too beautiful’.

Now, all of these things can be done really well. Mulan is the story of a young woman who goes off to war (where, in the society, she has no business going), and kicks major amounts of ass.  In a (very fun) series called the Black Jewels Trilogy, the main character is specifically tailored to be more powerful than anyone else, to the point that it causes all kinds of problems.  Vampire Hunter D is about a Dhamphir, or half-vampire. Merlin is often thought to be the child of a Succubus and a human. There are even instances where being too beautiful can be a serious problem. In a world where you’re a magical creature being hunted by humans, if you are so beautiful that you look inhuman you have a very serious problem, as do the other magical creatures you’re traveling with.

The truth is that many elements of the Mary-Sue can make a great character, and even Sue-like characters can be enjoyable. The main character of the Black Jewels Trilogy is essentially a cannon-sue, as she’s beautiful and powerful enough to attract men that no one else can, and yet still gets hurt (more emotionally than physically) by weaker characters. At the same time, she’s also the Macguffin for the (previously mentioned and very interesting) male characters, who actually get much more screen time than she does. As I said before, the books are very enjoyable, and while not everyone agrees with me, a lot of people love the main character, even though she’d be easily labeled a Sue in a fanfiction. This leads us to another point: Sue is all about perspective.

There is a serious problem of people classifying any female OC as a Mary-Sue. In reality, I was so afraid of writing a Mary-Sue character that I focused on writing only males instead. This has led to the interesting problem of having to relearn how to write my own gender. On one hand: I have some really great male characters now, on the other hand: I’m just now finding ways to fix female characters to not be Sue. For me, most of my female characters come pre-packaged as Sue, and I work backwards to make serviceable and likeable female characters.

I wrote some seriously bad Mary-Sues, but it also allowed me to start my own cannon for my own stories. Not all of the characters I made survived as main characters. Some of the side characters are now the ones I tinker with. Ironically, a female character I created for Hiei who had a history with Kurama (from Yu Yu Hakusho) ended up being still one of my most well rounded and interesting characters. It didn’t help that she up and decided that she’d rather have Kurama-like character and a seriously unhealthy relationship. As the writer, I’m merely the medium for the characters, so I didn’t argue for very long.

Around the same time I created a character to pair with Noah Kaiba (she happens to be the sister of the Kurama-paired character… just go with it). When I finally saw the Noah character I hated him so much, that I tossed what would have made very fine Sue into the back of my mind where all the dark and evil things are. A year later she emerged as one of the most terrifying characters I’ve ever met (made even more terrifying by the fact that she came from my own mind). The only trace of what she once was comes from the fact that she has Noah’s hair color.

I’ve just detailed some of my own character experience to explain this: About any Sue can be fixed, including that self-insert that you no hate but can’t get rid of (I’ll talk at length about that later).  Also, when you’re done fixing you sure, she may be vastly different from how she started out, unrecognizable even. This is a good thing. The point of this is to provide suggestions for you to fix your own characters.

I’m going to mainly focus on fixing your fanfiction OCs. OCs are not inherently bad. The truth is that some characters cannot be paired off with anyone in the series. For someone like me who had a compulsive need to make sure everyone has a happily ever after, at least in love, that meant I had to create OCs. There are such things as good OC characters. I found a very good one that paired Draco Malfoy with a muggle.  Sure, it doesn’t last, but it was a good story. What you need to keep in mind is that OCs don’t necessarily mean Sue. When crafting a story that fits into the cannon, or even just outside of cannon it’s often impossible to recycle old villans. You need to give the heroes new villains, new threats, new side characters. If you’re writing a Harry Potter fanfiction set with the next generation, or if you want to talk about the Potter characters as adults they need new characters to surround themselves with. 

Theses OCs need to be as believable as the original. During the course of the story they need to grow and mature as well. They may find love, and that love might be another OC. The thing is that the OC must always be there to drive the plot towards it end. Villians can easily steal a lot of screen time in a well written fanfiction, because the writer has to set them up as a character. The reader already knows about the cannon characters, but they know nothing about the original characters.

It’s often advisable to not make an OC more than a villain or a side character, but there’s also the possibility of creating the OC as the main character. Sometimes this works really well. In the Black Jewels Trilogy, the author has spent so much time writing about her characters outside the main trilogy that it’s actually now much more interesting to read fanfiction about original characters based in that universe. In a fanfiction you can create an OC and send him/her to Hogwarts. The point in an OC, or really any bit of writing, is to never forego the plot for the sake of character. If your plot demands and OC, you must have an OC, even if you don’t want to. The world is bigger than what we’re presented in any work of fiction. Real people interact with thousands of people, some of whom we may never see after buying a cup of coffee from them. Other times they become big parts of our lives.  

I’ve now spent a lot of time describing what is and is not a Sue, but in reality you can always find better definitions. My job is not to tell you what a Sue is, since you probably already know, but to tell you how to fix it. There are two ways. Now, while I’d argue that Stephanie Meyers’s success is because of some actual good (if ham-handedly done) writing techniques. The point is that most people can’t sell a Mary Sue, and the best thing to do is to fix the Mary Sue. Meyers sold her Sue because she understands pacing enough to get the reader hooked. You can make a good (or at least serviceable/profitable) story in spite of a Sue if you can find a way to make the reader keep reading. That doesn’t mean your writing will ever be good. The other thing you can do is fix your Sue into a being a good character.  This is where I come in.

I have read maybe thousands of fanfiction, good at bad, by both genders, by young-new writers and by older experienced writers. I’ve read many articles on Sues, including from Cracked.com, Wikipedia, TVTropes, and an honest to goodness academic article on the Mary Sue phenomenon. I have written Mary-Sues, and I have fixed them. I have written Gary-Stus and fixed.  I have a deep love of character, and I feel that character driven plots are generally more enjoyable than story or place driven plots. As such, I have a keen eye for what is good and bad in a character. I have taken classes on Comedy, Pulp Crime Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Shakespeare, Romanticism, Script Writing, Creative Writing, and Harry Potter. This means that not only can I spot good characters, I can also dissect any type of writing, include YA novels and fanfiction.

This is my first post, but not my first actual ‘Fix’, that will come later in this week. For the moment, thank you for reading, and I hope to see you again real soon.

Love,

The Mary-Sue Fixer