Fix 19: The Savior

Wow, MarySueFixer! You suck at updating!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fix 18: Write Males

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

 

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

 

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

 

Double standards? Completely!

 

But will it help you practice? Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That’s all my friends! Happy New Years!

 

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

Fix 17: Trust Your Instincts

I cannot say this enough, but you need to trust your instincts.

 

If you are writing a Mary Sue it’s very probable that you are doing so because you are having good instincts that went wrong. My Mary-Sue (let’s call her the unfixable Sue… or the one that I can’ make into a heroine no matter what I do) graduated college at the age of 15. Why? Because it was important to me that my character be able to have an education, but she went out and did so many things I know she couldn’t be both a full time student and the adventurer/dimension hopper she was.

 

In Inuyasha Kagome is shown constantly battling education vs adventure, but it never seemed realistic. She would have had to miss more than half her school work, and there are just some things you can’t miss half of, and school is one of those things. So I made my Sue have finished college, making her quiet smart. In order to make it not so… unbelievable I sent her to the equivalent of ITTech, so she was a computer teacher inJapan at 16…. Okay I know it didn’t make sense, even then I wasn’t happy with it, but I also knew I couldn’t make it any better with what I had then.

 

Surprisingly this was actually good. What is showed was that in middle school I was trying to apply logic to my fantasy, something I think is very important. It meant that I was thinking about my character in correlation to the world I’d created, and wasn’t just worried about having fun. I was considering cause and effect. I also knew that I couldn’t fix it at the time, and allowed myself to have that character run her course anyway, which I needed to do.

 

Every sin is a virtue pushed to far. Gambling is courage and risk-taking. Cowardice is caution. Pride is self confidence. The same thing with Sue-traits. Every Sue trait is a good idea pushed too far. Sues are created because a girl has realized that in order to create a female protagonist the character had to have good traits. The problem is that normally the Sue is just taken too far.

 

Here’s another one of my own examples. My sue character was at one point paired with the following character: Kaiba from Yugioh, Kai from Beyblade, Sesshomaru from Inuyasha, and Karasu from Yu Yu Hakusho. When I think about it now it’s less that I was attracted to those characters (though for some reason Karasu still makes me giggle like a school girl), it’s that I liked their character. In reality those types of characters are the types I like to write: Strong male character who are more than a little bit broken or screwed up. And yes, they are broken. For people to become stronger they must first be broken, but a strong person isn’t someone who locks themselves away from the world, that’s a sign of fear and weakness.

 

I like that kind of character. They are incredibly interesting, especially since they masquerade their weakness as strength and the world not only allows them but imagines that they are strong and unbreakable. I love that, it’s fascinating!

 

So my Sue was paired with those characters in the same way that a doctor does and autopsy on a cadaver: practice at the real thing. See, the general purpose of any Sue is actually to interact with a certain character, often to heal them. I’m someone who likes reading about the healing process, I’ll admit. (I’ll also admit to liking a character the most when they’re at they’re most broken because that is when they are most interesting.)

 

The purpose of my Sue was fix these broken characters. To do so she first had to diagnose them (meaning I had to create their back story, AKA the stereotypical Sue’s Love interest back story), and then fix them. In my own hackneyed way this was my way of studying the characters and figuring out how to construct that type of character.

 

Yes, sometimes the Sue-love-interest is someone the author is attracted to, and I was attracted to those characters. I even figured that out eventually when I was about to be ‘in love’ with Rio from the third Digimon series and thought that was too much. Same way I stopped myself from ‘falling’ for Kurama because I had a friend who liked him.

 

When I think about it I’m really not attracted to those characters. If anything I know that if I knew them in real life I would hate them. So much so that my Sue character and the Kaiba based character got a divorce because he wouldn’t let her write anymore. Kaiba is also my most enduring Anime Crush. He lasted about five years. I’m chalking that one up to opposites attract, because I both love and hate his derivative character.

 

The truth is that everything you’ve ever written has the seed of a good idea. Sometimes you have to strip down everything but that idea and start over, but everything comes from a good idea. Based things that you liked as a child are things you probably will still like as an adult. When writing your Sue you’re dealing with the things you like for the first time in the form of a person who actually can handle it (aka: the Sue). Often it’s not the Sue that we like, but the world we put her in, or the people she’s attracted to. And there’s a reason we like them.

 

I told you about the character I liked; truthfully I’m not much better at writing that type of character than any other. I’m branching out more, but almost all of my characters, male or female, have a touch of that brokenness, and those that don’t do not for a very specific reason and often have a person strength and freedom unmatched. I understand the broken type so well that now I can work with the truly free. And those free characters… man alive, it’s like write sunshine after writing raven feathers. That’s the only way I can explain it.

 

Let me also say that the instincts you have now, things about yourself that you can’t explain, they probably have a reason as well, and that will probably serve you in the future. I mentioned Karasu a number of times. He was the one name on that list that did not fit, and while I’d argue he’s the most broken of any of them he’s a minor character and a villain, on that is never shown to have a redeeming quality… and I freaking love him for all that he is, not for what I think I can make him. To date I have five, 5, five characters based on him. None of them are him but I keep searching and I feel like I might be getting closer. Somehow his character appeals to me instantly, for reasons I can’t explain or understand, and the only other character I can compare and attraction to is Iago from Othello, but even that doesn’t match because my love for Karasu was pretty instant.

 

I don’t yet understand why this is, and being a writer I can figure that it’s not because I’m a sociopath (that and I freaking hate seeing pain. Reading about it I okay, but actually see it, even a villain’s pain hurts my heart). What I know is that this is a character that effects me at such a base level, right in the bottom of my heart he as a character, for all his vicious broken devious strength and evil, for all that he is that appeals to me so badly that I wish I could contain him. He appeals to me in the same way shiny red things and yellow roses appeal to me. I like seeing it and having it so much I just want to bottle it up where no one else can see it.

 

Can I explain that little piece of insanity? Not really. I rather think that everyone has that thing that appeals to them that much, they’re just sane enough to not admit it, and clearly none of us should (or will) attempt to contain anything like that. But this character appeals to me so much, and I don’t know why. Because of that I feel like when I do figure it out it’ll be a huge epiphany, one that will push me toward the type of writing I’ve been pushing myself toward since I wrote my very first Sue.

 

You live long enough you start to realize that your instincts are instincts for a reason. They work. Why? No idea, but you shouldn’t just ignore them. You need to listen to them and see what they’re trying to tell you.

 

Anyway, I’ve ranted crazy up one side and down the other by now. If you’re still reading be aware that it’s totally okay to be insane in print as long as you act like a functioning human being in real life. (I’m of the opinion that writers are people who’ve found a way to channel multiple personality disorder onto paper.) Anyway, just enjoy. Write what you love, good things will follow, I swear. You’ll make mistakes, but good things will follow.

 

(Also, this post is my lucky number: 21. Go Devil Bats! YA~HA!)

Fix 16: Old Series

Wow, sorry I’ve been gone so long. Let’s try to do two tonight while I wait for RP replies.

 

Anyway, I have this problem where there are just some songs I can’t listen to because they make me sad… not because the songs are sad (though some of them are) they just connect to old memories for me and I feel depressed. That in mind I decided I’d write about old things and avoid writing a play for a little while.

 

In any case, chances are that if you’re reading this blog you probably like fanfiction, you also probably write fanfiction. That being said most writers have people they idolize, but even readers will have favorites. I bet that you have favorite fanfiction authors; I bet you can name more than three right off the top of your head right now. 

 

Now, I want you to think about those people. What series do they write in? They probably have a couple they write in consistently, but there is probably only one or two  that they write the best in, and only one series that they right in that is really incredible. It’s also probable that these series are older. There is a reason for all of this.

 

Recently I got addicted to Ao No Exorcist (Blue Exorcist). I watched all of the anime, and I’m as close to caught up in the manga as I can be. I love the heck out of it. I love it so much that I’m just now putting my only characters in the universe.

 

You’re probably going “wait, what?”

 

See, when I was in middle school and I was starting to like Yugioh (meaning I saw the first freaking episode, loved it a lot, and wanted to see more so I started creating my own ‘mental fanfiction’ from the first episode) I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t start mentally messing with the series until I really understood the world and characters. That meant waiting a good half a season before I felt comfortable imagining things for the show, and 2/3s the first season before I started doing RPs with it, and a full season down before I started writing (my bad mary-sue filled) fanfiction.

 

I still do this because I already had the instinct back then to wait. I understand why now: In order to be able to write about anything you really have to know what you’re talking about. In writing a book this means spending years with characters, races and worlds, figuring out how and why everything works, how the character personalities work, why they work, and then adding subtlety so that they will work for the reader as well as the writer. In fan fiction this means knowing the material really damn well.

 

I don’t write Yugioh fanfiction anymore for a reason. I know the series really damn well. I’ve seen the first two seasons on the dub maybe five times each, and remember the rest pretty well. I’ve read a significant portion of thee manga, I even have a good grasp of the characters (Kaiba being the model for a older male character who thinks opposite to me on almost everything and I end up having to fight to figure out good counter arguments to.). But what I also know is that I have no new idea to contribute to the series.

 

You know what else I was in to about the same time? Yu Yu Hakusho.

 

Now this is a series I can go freaking insane in. It’s safe to say in some ways this was my first anime. Okay, Speed Racer was my technical first, and I was obsessed with Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon, and Yugioh before I ever saw Yu Yu Hakusho. A friend, a male friend (I couldn’t relate to other females in middle school. I could barely relate to thee boys) told me to watch it, and I wanted to be able to talk to him (to anybody) so I watched it. Yu Yu Hakusho was the first non-Americanized anime I ever saw. All the previous series I mentioned were gate ways, but they weren’t what got me hooked.

 

Yu Yu Hakusho is a series that I re-watched inEnglandthis summer and I decided to start an RP with a friend because we needed a break from demons (well my type) and wanted something smart but fun. In the middle of rewatching the series I remembered all over again why I loved it: it was awesome.

 

In the past few months I have put out tons of little 1-shots about my favorite character (Karasu), trying to fiddle with his personality in a way that was interesting. I even tried a fic where Kuronue comes back from the dead to see Kurama, again, my version. I was surprised at the reactions, most people were very receptive because no one had thought about it the way I wrote it.

 

See, one of the important things about writing fanfiction is to REALLY KNOW what you’re talking about. To write a good fanfiction you have to really know a series. That means that you really need to see it more than once, and you need to like it enough to think about the series outside of just watching it.

 

You can write fanfiction for new series, but I guarantee that your best work will be with an older series that you loved enough for it to affect your normal writing and your normal characters. Truthfully if a series got you that bad in the first place then you probably are fairly well attuned with it anyway, and writing it will be a lot easier.

 

So, for you homework. Try and think of the series you loved the most while in middle or high school, the one that most informed your writing and person characters. Go revisit a bit of that series, a few chapters or episodes. See if you can’t find something that deserves to be written about that no one else seems to talk about.

Fix 15: The Class Assigned Fanfiction

Okay, so this isn’t a Fix per say, but more something to think about.

 

I’m taking two workshop classes this semester, which means that my time is filled up with having to write and insane amount of things and be ridiculously busy since I’m also writing for the newspaper, and maybe getting paid to write for another publication. In other words this is an insane amount of just writing focused work. What about this is interesting to you? One of my teachers asked me to write a five-page fanfiction and then review everyone else’s 5-page fanfiction.

 

Does this sound odd?

 

Well, it’s a little less odd, it’s for Playwriting class. We read Edward Albie’s The Zoo Story, discussed it, and then the teacher told us to write a 5 page sequel due yesterday at 5pm, and to read everyone else’s by class tomorrow. Honestly I’ve done such things before for things like The Giver, but that was in middle school. I’ve done creative papers in College for a Shakespeare class where I updated Julius Caesar to where our friend JC was becoming king of the United States (to analyze the missed historical significance of crowning Caesar). All of those things to a greater or lesser degree are writing a fanfiction.

 

I realized it when I was writing my little 5-page script (happily titled The Zoo News Story). At which point I realized that I had to write it like a fanfiction. For some reason a lot of people think this means that your work becomes less good, but to properly write a fanfiction you have to really understand the medium shift and the original series/characters/writing style/humor, and then be able to put in the time commitment to do the work to write the big piece. In other words there is a real art to proper imitation, especially since you’re not just copying, but creating from someone else’s foundation. It is now looked down it, but this is what Shakespeare did. This is what Virgil did. This is what Dante did.

 

Because of the recent invention of copyright fanfiction is now seen as something dirty, an almost below the law. But please consider the idea that it’s more… beside the law, all art is. There is nothing new under the sun, says (my slight misquote) of the bible. There is nothing new. Art is the ability to take an old idea and recycle it in a way that is able to reach people. Fanfiction is in someways easier because instead of having to come up with a new story about Good vs Evil you can write about Batman or about Harry Potter. At the same time, the narrowing down of the subject matter suddenly opens up the world with a huge amount of possibilities.

 

To quote Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation: “When told I can [do] everything I just can’t think of anything.” Limitations allow for creativity, even if it’s a creative way of getting around those limits. Suddenly only writing in Harry Potter give the writer a focus, and now the hard part starts. To write a good fanfiction you can write your own version on the world, but frankly I get tried of explaining those away. The best writers blend what is their own and what is in the original work.

 

A great example is Ladya C. Maxine’s (Beyblade) story “Our First Noel”, which aside from the BL sticks very close to the characters, and is so incredibly funny that I still end up unable to breathe whenever I re-read it. What the author does is write it from the point of view of a character, and it’s completely from inside his mind. That opened insane possibilities, since most people have very non-linear and odd stray thoughts. This means that a character who normally seems sane and dependable can be incredibly pathetic and funny without losing the original character. Let me add this isn’t an easy thing to do, but the writer was able to blend her own writing style, her own voice, and the original series in a way that is both different from the original series but not at all alien or unfamiliar.

 

So, how does this relate back to my assignment?

 

Truthfully it made me very frustrated because I only had one reading to understand the characters and write a continuation. Thankfully the character of Peter (one of the two leads) is like a pathetic human version of Aziraphale from Good Omens, so much so that when I described what I’d written to my roommate she fell on the floor laughing because she could completely see Aziraphale doing what I had Peter do. This was lucky because I knew how to write it, but I was still frustrated because I couldn’t get the proper character voice down because I’d only had one view on the original work.

 

There are only three types of fanfiction: the type that’s starting out or bad (since all new people to fanfiction will be bad, and probably willfully bad for a while), the type where the writer knows they aren’t good and are trying to improve, the type that’s amazing and really fits with the original while having their own voice.

 

When you’re new or just ignorant your work will fit in category one. My intended audience (and myself for that matter) is in category two, and we should all aspire to category three. I feel like I’ve even achieved category three sometimes, but not always, really it’s not easy but I continue to strive to reach category three.

 

Now, this is more of a spectrum than three different boxes you check off. It’s completely possible that you ma have to hit all three for each new genre or series you write in, or you may skip the first category whenever you skip to a new series, or you may even just hit number three when you hit a new series, but to hit number three you need understanding of writing, writing theory, your own style, the style of the original series, and the knowledge and experience of having written bad fanfics in the past. No one is a natural born writer, it’s something we learn, as such no one is initially good at fanfiction when they begin. It takes practice and work.

 

So, while I do my little fanfic assignments for class I will go in with my pride as a fanfiction writer, and as a novelist, and as produced playwright, and I’ll hold my head up high. As for what you should do the next time your teacher assigns you a fanfiction… write it like a fanfiction, and have fun. Remember that the only reason anyone writes a good fanfiction is because they see something they don’t think anyone else can see. Remember that you’re writing your part of the fandom, and remember that if you’re reading this an nodding along that you’ve probably got some competency and you can figure out something original to write, so don’t stress and have fun.

Fix 14: Pitch-Perfect

Yeah for putting off good things like sleep to write, and good things like writing to sleep. In any case, let’s talk about a common Mary-Sue trait: the perfect singing voice, the extreme proficiency in a musical instrument, being able to play a violin, a piano, and a guitar. This isn’t as common a trait as it used to be when I first started out, but it’s not uncommon even still.

 

Here’s what I’ll admit, I have about three ‘generations’ of characters, and in every one I have characters who can sing/dance really well. Why? Because one of the main functions I use my characters for it to mentally create music videos, or routines for my characters. Why? Because I can’t do anything else by talk or listen to music during long automobiles trips because I’m very sensitive to motion sickness. I enjoy coming up with a reason for my characters to interact with others and then burst into song (I also really like musicals). It’s come to the point that I pick out characters who ‘sing similarly’ to certain groups or genres. I have one girl who covers all Lady Gaga songs and Lea Michelle’s songs from Glee.

 

You know that entire last paragraph you just read? Well, for everything I wrote 1) not even would close friends be able to connect exactly which characters to what genre, not even the girl I specifically mentioned, 2) I never write any of this down where anyone can read. These are inner fantasies that I exercise for my own enjoyment, and that I love. Even still, I tend to follow a few rules that are important for characters who are singers: 1) when listening to a specific song I imagine a character or group of characters doing a cover of said song. 2) I imagine the characters doing their own version. 3) if the characters in their story actually make music they’re known for things besides their covers.

 

Those last three that I just listed… not important for what I’m imagining, but pretty damn important for a character who functions as a musician. Truthfully, it’s not bad for characters to have varying levels of proficiency in singing/instruments.  I have a character who specifically does not sing well, but she’s relatively proficient (as in can read sheet music and figure out how to play it with some work, and remembers about three simple songs) for Piano and Violin. In her case there was a certain amount of parental pressure involved, and she’s an heiress. Her singing voice though… really not something any sane person would want to hear.

 

I have one character who falls into the pop star range, but she’s 1)demon 2)very beautiful 3)has no other real abilities aside from being pretty and singing well, and this is after coming from a race that is normally naturally very good at magic. Really, she needed to have something, and I play her almost never except in my own mind or as a minor plot device to answer phones or play tour guide.

 

I have one character who is very talented in the music area. He writes music, sings, and plays five instruments with a good level of skill (Guitar, Bass, Drums, Violin, Piano). He’s also completely focused on making music in that outside of his daughter his whole world is music, and even she can be neglected when he’s suddenly struck by a tune and starts writing music. He’s brilliant, but outside of a few connections (a sister, a daughter, and two best friends) and a pleasant public manner he’s unable to connect to be unless it’s through music.  For the record his two friends also sing and can play three instruments because their leader singer/music writer needs them to do different things at different times, but they all also have a main instrument they prefer.

 

These characters aren’t unrealistic. I know I guy who in high school have a very high proficiency is about seven instruments, plus singing and low to mid-range proficiency in a number of others. Why? Because he liked knowing so many instruments, wanted to go into music, had a natural talent, and practiced all the time.  The band I mentioned above has two characters in my top ten list (including my number one favorite, who’s the bassist, not the lead singer). I’ve also put a lot of work into their pasts, personality, and abilities. Trust me, they practice a lot to be good.

 

What about the girl I mentioned earlier? The one who covers Lady Gaga and Lea Michelle? Well, one of her main functions is that she’s a borderline con-artist/borderline entertainer. I won’t go into her who back story, because it’s very long, but she and her little group travel around pretending to be different people they’re not to survive and earn some money for resources. One of the ways they do this is to provide shows for people. Actually one of the ways they do this is to since Lady Gaga songs in other fantasy dimensions to people who’ve never heard of Lady Gaga before… Shut up, this is the stuff that doesn’t leave my head!

 

Truthfully the characters singing cover songs never becomes a thing in her normal story because I don’t talk about it. What does become a part of her character is that attitude of showmanship (which aids her cons and lying), and how she reaches a feeling of redemption with her dead father (who was an actor) through her show work that allows her and her friends to scrape by (not so much in the starving artist manner, more in the general poverty of peasants kind of way).

 

So, what’s the difference between what I’m talking about and what a Mary-Sue has? Okay, so here are the questions you need to answer regarding your characters musical abilities:

1)      Is their music an integral part of their character?

2)      Does your character sing like/because *insert favorite singer here*?

3)      Does your character’s musical abilities only show up in relation to a (suddenly) important talent show/cultural fair/play, especially when such a thing has never been mentioned to happen before in cannon, or if it does is normally glossed over or irregular?

4)      Is your character’s musical abilities simply to impress and or make an impact on a love interest/hate interest?

 

Let’s break these down one at a time.

 

1)      Truthfully, musical ability doesn’t have to be an integral part of a character for them to be good at it. Honestly, I haven’t even defined musical ability very well. Personally I can sing okay in a Tenor range (yes I am female, and I also sing Soprano, though I think it sounds reedy, and somehow my Alto range is even more awkward). My dad had a very wonderful voice, and my mom also has a good voice. I have an acceptable voice, and if I had training or cared I could probably coax a pretty good sound out of it. I also used to play the viola when I was younger. Truthfully I’m just not interested in making music, but I have a ridiculous talent of picking out what’s good and bad in music, being about to identify composers/groups/singers with ease (which is something I’ve been doing since I was a toddler, when I connected the composer of a favorite childhood movie to the composer for Victor Victoria after just walking through the room). Truthfully my talent lies in being a music critic, like how my talent for theatre lies in being a theatre critic. I know what’s good and I know what works and I know what I like and I know how to express it.

 

I said all that, but I honestly don’t have an interest in going into music. I enjoy listening and giving my opinion to people, but I don’t want to be a professional. The heiress character from before can play the piano and violin, but the only time it ever comes up naturally is when she plays accompaniment for her siblings. Even still the only time it would come up in a story would be as a way to get a character who doesn’t like her in a room to talk to her, but even that isn’t likely when I have so many other great excuses.

 

Characters can have interests/talents in music without it being what they want to do. There are people with amazing musical genius who never make anything of it, sometimes for no reason except they just don’t care. It may or may not affect their character, or it may just be something the author knows that never gets mentioned in story. The point is that a character probably has some relation to music even if they are brilliant or terrible, you just have to consider whether or not it helps the plot or characterization to include it in the story.

 

2)      Again, this doesn’t have to be bad. Most people have a hero, or an inspiration. My favorite writer is Aaron Sorkin, and his writing ability is my goal.  I write because I realized I could make money making up stories all day when all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little girl was create adventures and stories. For some people they see/read/hear something that touches their life and that person/place/thing is forever their inspiration. Sometimes it’s a singer who inspires them to be a musician. A lot of musicians are inspired by older singer. A lot of artists are inspired by old artists. A lot of film makers and inspired by old film makers. A lot of writers are inspired by old writers. It’s how life goes. It’s normal.

 

What’s painful is that you write your character to be able to sing like Lady Gaga because you want to include her songs in your fanfic, or just because you like her. It doesn’t really feel natural, especially if your character is also the love interest of Harry Potter (especially because the time lines don’t match at all).  Maybe it can work, but probably not.

 

Here’s what will work: the band I mentioned before originally was heavily influenced by Nickleback, at least their songs were. The lead singer’s daughter is actually from a story I derived for him to make his story fit “Photograph”. The fact that one of the few meaningful relationships the character has is his child and that he hasn’t had a relationship since the girl’s mother left them both came from a song that I came to realize is actually only okay. Don’t get me wrong, I like the group, and I kind of admire any rock group that can be so popular in spite of how much critic hate they get. The group I mentioned now probably is more similar in sound/feel to groups like Stone Sour or Foo Fighters, not my favorite groups, but ones that fit with the idea of their music a lot better.

 

I have another group that I mentally formed just to have something to think about when I listened to one of my new favorite groups: Five Finger Death Punch. Again, this is only mental; but even in my head I feel less like it’s the group creating those songs, and more like it’s the group covering those songs, and I don’t think their sound matches up right, it’s more like the passion is similar.  I used preformed characters for this little experiment, and honestly it was interesting to see how it affected the dynamic of their little group of friends. Even though it’ll never make it into their real plot it’ll affect the characters. One of the main problems with basing a character on a pre-existing group/singer is that it’s more that the character is showing off how cool they are, and the music their sing is never used to help their character grow.

 

3)      This one, I’m not going to lie, is the hardest to overcome. Really, the problem is the suddenness of it, especially if it’s in a fanfic. It’s like Hogwarts suddenly putting on a school wide play, or Yusuke suddenly having to do a cultural fair so he can see your OC singing, fall in love with her and dump Keiko. You see how this progresses? If the event only shows up to have your character show off, and if it’s not let up to or doesn’t fit the normal series it’s from then it’s really hard to see your character’s amazing musical abilities as anything but trite and annoying.

 

You can include a school festival/play, even in a series that doesn’t normally have one (especially if it’s set in Japan), but you need to set it up first, and why we haven’t seen it before in series? Is it cause no one cares? Or because the main cast has the luck of Harry missing the sorting his first three years? You just need to really think it out if you’re going to do this, and I urge you not to do it just to have your character impress another.

 

4)      But what is your character does go into music just to impress someone else? Two words: Skip Beat! This is a series about a girl who follows her ex-love interest into show business so that she can get so good that she over shadows her ex to take revenge. She starts to learn acting because of the guy she hates but soon comes to love it by her own power. Okay, it’s not about music, but it fits the mold. It’s a common shojo idea of manga, but it works and can work beautifully. The girl followed her lover interest into music, then what? Does she learn to love it on her own? Does he ever come to have feelings for her back? How does he react when he finds out what she started?  It can work, but again, think it out!

 

Okay, now that I’ve over used and abused the number and parenthesis combination as well as the list making part of my brain I must sleep. All I can say now is that your character can be wonderfully musical and very attractive and popular, but you have to realize that they give up things in return.   A character can’t be perfect and as such they desperately need flaws. If you use some common Mary-Sue traits then you should use only a few and otherwise use them sparingly.

 

Goodnight all!

Fix 13: Variations on a Theme

So maybe it’s not a way to fix your Mary Sue problem… or maybe it’s the way to stop the problem before it happens. I’ve read a lot of fanfiction in my day. An insane amount, and I’ve noticed two things: 1) no two fanfiction are alike and 2) there are a lot of fanfiction that are exactly alike. Okay, that does seem contradictory, but it’s surprisingly not.

 

For one of my classes I had to write a paper comparing the first four books of Harry Potter to the Ring of Gyges (from The Republic)… no really, it was a class on Harry Potter as argument… now you know why I have an HP reference in about every single post.  The teacher gave us only two options: that one and another I didn’t take so I don’t remember. What I do remember is that she thought that we’d talk about the invisibility cloak, which to be fair is the obvious answer (the Ring of Gyges makes the wearer invisible and then they can do whatever they feel like doing), but I thought the passage applied better to being an animagus. Only one other person took the option I did, but it didn’t matter if everyone in out 25 person class had talked about the Ring of Gyges and invisibility cloaks because each person’s paper would have been different.

 

Truthfully, if given the exact same topic no two people would write it the same way. They wouldn’t pull the same points, or use the same references, or even interpret the references the same. No two people will ever write the same paper without cheating off each other.

 

On the other hand, people can come surprisingly close to coming up with the exact same idea even if they’ve never come in contact with each other.  I had a classmate whose big 4,000 word paper rated at over 60% plagiarism, and he’d done all his own work. Some of it was the program not recognizing the way he cited his paper (which was correct, but not in the format that the computer was used to), but there was also that there’s simply only so many ways to combine words. Our teacher had a similar problem once where he had sentences that perfectly matched an older source, and they were words he’d written himself. There’s only so many different combination of common words.

 

Another way to put this: there are only so many character interpretations. Let’s take a Harry Potter… there’s really only so many ways you can write that character and still be writing that character and not some variation on the character. Truthfully very few people will be able to write that character exactly outside of the author. I have a friend who writes the best Kaiba based fanfiction I’ve ever read, and a lot of it comes from having 1) written the character for many years and 2) having picked up on a few key parts of a Kaiba and accentuated that.

 

The many ways a good caricature is more realistic than an exact portrait. A great artist will slightly exaggerate someone’s more noticeable traits. The exact portrait may be more exact, but it doesn’t capture the real spirit or personality of the subject.  Same thing with writing a fanfiction. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a part of a character and focus on that aspect (in my friend’s case he focuses on Kaiba as a parent figure to his brother. It might not be exact, but it makes the character feel a lot more real and a lot more in character than any other Kaiba-centered fanfiction I’ve ever read).

 

Now, as I said, not everyone can do this. Did I mention that my friend has been writing the character for years and years? Practice always makes perfect, or at least improves you greatly. Someone once said that no one is a natural born writer. Good writers are people who practice and practice and practice. Just like there’s no such thing as a natural born speaker. You don’t come out of the womb knowing how to speak a language, and even if you naturally have great oratory skills you still need to learn how to properly put words together and expand your vocabulary. The same thing with writing.

 

So, how does this relate to a lot of fanfiction being the same? Well, truthfully a lot of fanfiction will be the same because it’s not good, and it will not be good because the writers don’t have enough practice and they don’t understand the character. If a writer doesn’t understand a character they will often simply hop along with a popular fan interpretation and end up not really thinking for themselves. The reason why a lot of fanfiction isn’t good is because it’s kind of a form of plagiarism.  It’s so much easier to just run with what everybody knows than to think for yourself. On the other hand the bad writer may simply reduce a character to a ‘type’, which is similar to simply not thinking about the character. When I wrote Kaiba he was the tortured-brilliant-jerk looking for love… You know who else gets thrown into this? Just about any snarker in any fandom ever.

 

In a previous post I believe I mentioned that one of my favorite anime characters of all time ever is Karasu from Yu Yu Hakusho. I can barely explain it to myself, except that I really like screwed up characters who kill people. Iago is my favorite character ever, and how much does he fit that description? Karasu is famous in YYH circles for being the perfect pre-packaged Kurama stalker/rapist to make the red haired bishie suffer so prettily for the fangirls. Honestly this always makes me squirm because: 1) Damn, Kurama is incredibly strong, stubborn, and a badass who can put Hiei in his place. He’s not weak, and he wouldn’t suffer prettily for anyone. 2) Way to bastardize a perfectly good character (two really). I mean, Karasu only has a little known about him, which leaves so much room for exploration, and that doesn’t mean he has to stalk Kurama forever.

 

I don’t normally read Karasu fanfiction because it hurts me feelings how unoriginal it is. I read two stories in one weekend that managed to follow the standard tropes of the character and still make him interesting. They did this because while he was still obsessed with Kurama he was still his own person, and the writers had something new to say. One used the character to explore the dichotomy ((love that word)) between what it means to be human and what it means to be demon. The other used it to make the (very uncomfortable and highly underplayed) point that rape is not at all sexy. It’s about control, and it’s horrifying.

 

The thing about fanfiction, or really any writing, is that you damn well better have something new to say before going in. I got back to school today and was chatting with a friend, Rocky, who I haven’t spoken to since the end of school last year. He was telling me about his new book he’s thinking about writing. One of the best things about him is that (unlike me) he’s very good at taking one simple premise and being able to expand it into something great. His premise was a bit creepy but would be a great plot point to drive a horror story, even a novel.  We were discussing what it was similar to, and truthfully we could all think of similar things, but nothing exactly like what he was writing. Even if there is something very similar he’ll be able to write his own (different) version because his characters and conclusions will be different.

 

Rocky wrote a screenplay that I read last year. Again, it wasn’t an unfamiliar or uncommon story or plot, but he wrote it in a way that was different than anyone else could write.  Truthfully there is nothing new under the sun (that’s even stated in the bible… look it up, I’m serious). Every single story is merely a variation on a theme, but that’s fine. How much harder is it to write something when you’re told you can write whatever you want and have no parameters. If you can figure out what type of story you’re writing then you can have parameters and be able to express yourself even more.

 

Everything is a variation on a theme. The thing is that the only way for anything you write to be good is to think about what you’re going to write a lot.  I talked about plagiarism before, and really all that plagiarism boils down to is a refusal to think, either because you don’t have the time or the inclination. In some ways I think the lack of thought is what people find more reprehensible than the theft. I mentioned four friends, three who write fanfiction, one who doesn’t even know what fanfiction is.  All of them have something in common: they think about what they write… a lot. They plot, they plan, and they care about their characters and their stories.

 

I don’t always plot and plan. Frankly I’m big fan of the NaNoWriMo method (since I also follow the Shakespeare in Love idea of it “all [being] locked safe up here. *taps head*”). That being said, I do think about my characters a lot. I plot their stories, figure out their backgrounds, know their family and friends. Trust me, I know, and I care. When I start a fanwork I go through a similar process of learning the character, talking about the character, thinking them all out.  The other thing I focus on is not starting a story until I have an idea.

 

I’m not talking about the “Karasu’s not dead, and he kidnaps Kurama” idea, more the “Karasu’s alive, and becomes a serial killer” idea. It there’s nothing new then there’ no point for me to write a damn thing. It’s this same thing with the blog. Yes, there are a lot of blog about writing, or way to fix bad writing, but mine focuses on outlining how to fix problems with characters that will probably only fit into fanfiction or roleplays.

 

Honestly, I think that thinking may be the best way to fix a Mary Sue. Thinking and practice will fix everything. I simply try to draw attention to different little parts to help facilitate the thinking. Honestly I had Mary Sues… lots of them. I’ve just thought about them for eight years. At the same time I’ve been writing non-stop for the same time, so when I finally put the characters I’ve been thinking about for eight years on paper they go from being a Mary Sue to a complex character.

 

A great way to stop a Mary Sue from even cropping up is to think about your story and figure out what you want from it before hand. Honestly, if you are trying to avoid a Sue, and you see that your main character is an OC whose at the center of everything then you’ll probably know something’s wrong. Yes, the idea that’s stuck in your head may never get written, but you may pick a new idea to write which is less Sue-centric, and while you’re practicing writing on that story you can be thinking about your Mary Sue. One day she may be a real useful complex character capable of driving her own plot.

 

A little less concrete help, I know, but there aren’t really short cuts on this. If you’re a visual thinker then write it out and plot web. If you’re like me and can’t stand to write things down and prefer to think them out then do that. Just keep thinking. For the love of all that is holy never stop thinking… ever. Please, I beg of you. It’s not just a writing thing, it’s a human thing. Everything would be a lot better if people actually use their brains and thought about stuff instead of letting other people think for them.

 

Okay, I’m ending this here before I devolve into a rant on ignorance and children. When I start thinking about quoting Hitler I know I need to stop and go do something else. (Yes, Hitler is very quotable… another brilliant speaker… an absolute horror of a human being, but a brilliant speaker… go watch The King’s Speech and agree with me.)

 

Nighty night all!

Fix 12: Villain Sue

See, I go away for a few weeks and suddenly I come back super productive.

 

So, let’s talk about the Villian Sue…

 

I’m not gonna lie to you, I don’t really get these. Maybe it’s that I border too close to the line with my characters (as I tend to like writing anti-heroes as much as I like writing heroes), or maybe that I just really love a good serial killer. I’ve been known to have loud discussions about different serial killers, whether historical or not and what constitutes a serial killer. To give you an example of my love for serial killers: I wrote a short play called Joel, which is about a Serial Killer who thinks that God speaks to him and tells him to kill people who are too far gone to be saved.  Joel, if he weren’t insane, would be too damn perfect… no really, he’s too damn perfect. But it makes him interesting and sympathetic is some ways.

 

I like villains. I love a good villain. Talk to me about Iago from Othello. I travelled to London by myself on train just so I could see Iago be the most amazing villain in the history of villains. The closest modern villains is Heath Ledger’s Joker… I mean seriously! So I really, really, really love a good villain. They’re more interesting, need less description (especially for background), and work better when they’re more mysterious. Think about it: why does Iago do what he does? I bet you can name at least three reasons or more from the text, but what’s the real answer? How about the Joker? How did he get those scars? How many different stories did he tell?

 

So, a Villain Sue… again I don’t really get this. The same way I don’t get Ghost World and Luciferians. I just can’t wrap my head around people like these things. I keep having to look what exactly a villain sue is. So why am I talking about them? I don’t know, maybe just so I can talk about villains and how to make good ones.

 

First off the villain depends a lot on what context they’re in. For one Fanfic I’m working on a have an antagonist/villain who isn’t evil. He’s trying to overthrow the current monarch because he believes that she won’t be able to take care of the country. It’s not because she’s female, or even because she’s been kidnapped, it’s because she doesn’t have the education a monarch should have. He loves his country very much, and he’s been raised to be the monarch, to do anything for the country. He loves the King and Queen, and he loves his cousin (the soon to be Queen), but he’s willing to kill them if it means the safety of his country. He’s not evil, he’s just wrong. His reasons are explored as much as the heroes motivations, but it works in the case of the story. He’s not a villain, really he’s the protagonist because he’s driving the story, yet he’s not the hero. The cannon characters are the heroes.

 

This is a perfectly acceptable (and sadly, rarely done) type of ‘villain’. A lot of times people try to write the villain as sympathetic (or at least understandable). The problem is that in doing so they often make the villain angsty, and therefore not interesting. Sometimes the villain takes over the story… which his fine if the author meant to do that. If they didn’t then there’s just a problem. Villains can be sympathetic. I have a story that I’ve been working on for years which is just terribly depressing. There were two kids who grew up together and got separated (thinking the other was dead), then the boy grew up and murdered the new village of the girl. The problem is that the girl’s village was of assassins, and she’s a very well trained hunter. She eventually tracks him down, and when they discover that they’re the one person both loves most in the world, and hates the most in the world bad things happen. The girl ends up (slowly) torturing the boy to death, and is left alone. Really the boy is the villain of the story as he helped to destroy a village for profit, but you like him (in many ways more) than the woman because he takes the suffering as a way of repentance. He ends up dead, she ends up alone. It’s not a happy story.

 

Now, I just talked about villains I have were I explore their back story and at least make their motivation understandable. These can work as long as you don’t push them too far. In the second example the ‘hero’s’ back story is actually much more depressing than the villain, which makes her even more understandable, but also gives her greater focus. She’s the ‘hero’ because it’s her story… and because she drives the plot. She’s the protagonist at least. The thing is that these villains aren’t scary. They won’t keep you up at night or make you wonder about them. If anything they’re just people, just another character in a plot.

 

Villain Sues seem like they both want to be understandable and yet amazingly scary/thought provoking. You really can’t have both. I mentioned Iago and the Joker, two characters in the pantheon of villains, so amazing that you can’t get them out of your mind, and they take over the whole damn work that they’re in. But you don’t know a lot about them. Okay, the writer probably knows their motivation, but the audience doesn’t and it drives the audience crazy. The not knowing sets people on edge in a way that explanation never will.

 

Villains often fall under the case of ‘less is more’, and I mean this is really important.

 

So, for the fix: First off, I suggest you write out a list of things about your villain. Include personality traits, back ground information, powers, whatever. Then look at those things in relation to the plot. Think about what has to come out to drive the plot. Yes your villains fear of heights may help drive the plot (or at least end the villain), but we don’t necessarily need to know it’s because his older brother dangled him outside a window when he was a kid. It makes the villain far less impressive, while a fear of heights will simply humanize a bit and give the hero a way to beat the villain.

 

The problem with the side of work on the villain is that you need to know the plot beforehand. If you decide to take the “No Plot, No Problem” approach then you can’t figure out what’s important and what’s not until you get to editing (in which case you can use the above method). What you can do is remember ‘less is more’, or focus more on the hero’s journey, and how to make the villain scary and not at all attainable to them.  For my book the villain amounts to a satanic nun, and is modeled after something I saw in an experimental film… and then I went above and beyond on the nightmare fuel (again, this character scares me). The reason why she’s so terrifying is that I don’t even know anything about her. No really, I have no idea. She just freaks me out, and even though she’s ‘beaten’, she continues to exist and is a threat. The heroes don’t have to vanquish the demon, only escape. It means that all the threats they faced continue to be threats, and can be frightening even after the stories over. No one ever sees the metaphorical zipper on the metaphorical monster costume.

 

To sum up: you can write out a villain to be as well known as the hero, but you need to know going in that the hero and villain need to share similar amounts screen time without the villain over taking the hero’s role. But when you do that the villain simply becomes another character. Yes the villain can still be threatening or else there’s no point to the hero’s journey, but they will never reach the pantheon. They will never be and Iago. Conversely, when writing an Iago-like villain you need to strike a balance between what is known and what is not known. You need to make sure enough is known that the plot and character’s actions make sense, but leave out enough that the audience is desperately wanting to know more. And it can’t be in the “what the hell just happened?” way, but in the “shit, the play’s over and Iago never told us why he did it… I have to go see this play again and see if I can glean more information!” way.

 

Anyway, happy villaining!

Fix 11: Character Derailment

Today’s fix is brought to you by Neil Gaiman, if only because somehow reading hi TVTropes page gives me energy, and there’s a good chance of me talking a lot about Good Omens. So, let’s get to it.

 

Frankly, this topic’s more likely to apply to Fanfiction than anything else, but if you listen up you can probably learn a few things for your normal writing anyway. Character Derailment can affect your own characters in roleplays or in your own writing. Please keep this in mind.

 

Now, Character Derailment is when you have a character that suddenly starts acting differently to what has been previously shown to be their character, and I do mean suddenly. In fanfiction this pretty common in BL (or Boy Love, Shonen-ai, whatever you feel like calling it) where one character suddenly has to be the girl. Character Derailment is a common trait of a Mary-Sue story (for the sullen love interest suddenly turning ‘good’ because of the Sue) or even of the Mary-Sue (see Cannon-Sue). If the character suddenly starts acting in a way that it is not like them then you have a problem.

 

I’m currently in a Yu Yu Hakusho RP with one of my closest friends. I’m playing Hiei for her (and I always play Hiei, I’ve just never been very good at it, since me and Hiei have never really been on the best terms). It ends up this way because my OC is Kurama love interest/torturer (It’s complicated). She was originally Hiei’s love interest who was supposed to hate Kurama, and then she rebelled and I couldn’t stop her. Either way I am not having a good time with Hiei because I see him as literally being asexual aside from Mukuro. Getting him to be interested in a High School girl has been… interesting. The good thing about RPs (or this one especially) is that we said from the outset that Mary-Sues are okay as long as it’s fun. We’ve now branched out into side characters, so it seems like it’s going pretty well.

 

My problems with Hiei have worked out because I’m not trying to write him for a fanfiction. I’ve been writing a couple of Karasu fanfictions. For reasons I can’t explain even to myself I’ve been in love with the bomb nut since I first saw him. I’m starting to get the idea that it’s because I have an attraction to serial killer characters… as characters but not as real people. In any case I’m having the worst time with him because the version in my head has folded off his arms and decided to go one way that seems contrary to his in cannon personality. My only goal going into writing him was that I wanted to write a non-Kurama based Karasu fic that wasn’t just straight angst and rape (since that’s all his stories seem to be, and I’m sick of it). I’ll admit to my own character derailment, mostly due to the misfortune of my characters running off however they want once I give them free reign, and as I already have two OC characters based of Karasu it was pretty damn easy for him to go insane in my brain.

 

(Side not: yes, I do talk about my characters like they’re real people. I know other writers who do this, but it’s a little bit like having split personalities, except that you know they aren’t real and only live in your mind and they never control you… on the other hand you can’t control them much. You only think that you have control. No, this is not an excuse to simply write whatever, saying your characters did it, but we’ll get to that later.)

 

Character Derailment doesn’t have to be bad per say, that is if you’re going an AU story. I knew someone who wrote a Beyblade/Harry Potter crossover where “Ron” was a Death Eater, and the real Ron was actually Tala. Don’t ask how it worked, but it was interesting. For Ron, yes there was huge Character Derailment, but the writer was spot on for Tala, which made the whole thing actually work when it otherwise shouldn’t have worked at all.

 

I mentioned earlier that BL stories are bad for Character Derailment. This is part of why I think they’re boring. Frankly a gay couple doesn’t need a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’. There are those that probably fit that stereotype, but sometimes there are two girly-girls, and sometimes you have two strong men. The problem with BL is that to ‘make it work’ the writer has to change the personality of one of the characters.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

A couple of weekends ago after finishing Good Omens and secretly wishing I’d created Crowley so I could write him forever I went looking through the fandom. In one weekend I was reminded why I no longer read BL nor PWP… because it’s damn boring (the PWP) or they don’t stick to the character (both). If I have to find one more thing where Aziraphale is pathetic I’ll start banging my head against a table.

 

I’m currently working on a short writing experiment (after having discovered that me and my friends basically created an Aziraphale and Crowley about four years ago) with the problem that instead of having a weak Aziraphale I have a weak Crowley (or weaker). I’m working on it, but I’m also keenly aware of it.

 

A lot of the problem with Character Derailment is that the writer gets in their head their version of a character and end up unable to write anything else. I’m more able to read such things because I can understand “oh, this is well written and understandable for X’s version of this character.” Sometimes I just get tired of having to explain things for the writer. No, not everyone will get the character they’re writing about. I know someone who understands Seto Kaiba really well, but he’s written that character for about six years. It takes time to come into any character, especially someone else’s character.

 

So, what can be done?

 

Honestly, the biggest thing you can do is discuss and practice. The reason why your teachers make you write papers is because in doing so you organize your thoughts, make clear statements, and will probably defend that idea a lot stronger after you’ve spent all that time finding proof for your theory. You’ll also remember it better. I spent a weekend discussing Karasu with a couple of people who write the character really well (if very different from how I do). It was good for me because it forced me to find my own version and interpretation. It also made me realize that with a character with so little known about them it’s easier to come up with varying ideas about them. On the other hand you can have varying ideas about a main character depending on what you choose to accentuate from their character. As long as you don’t forget (or can’t properly explain why you’re ignoring) a part of the character’s specific background and personality just about any interpretation is valid.

 

If you want to get good at a character you should discuss them with other people, and you should practice writing as them. You should do both of these a lot. You also shouldn’t be afraid to give them an OC to bounce off of, as long as it makes sense. For Karasu I let him bounce off of OCs, but only if they end up dead in the end. The thing you have to remember about fanfiction is that what people want is to read more about their favorite characters, that what they can read or see simply isn’t enough. They haven’t been completely satisfied yet. There are theories that fanfiction is a female reaction to a mostly male dominated media, sense there are higher rate of fanfiction for shows that don’t have a stronger female audience (see the difference between the number of Bones fanfics vs Grey’s Anatomy). But what the reader really wants to see is characters they like interacting.

 

There’s really not much wrong with writing your own version of a character, but honestly you go into reading a fanfiction to read about the cannon characters, don’t you? You have to remember your readers. The biggest and best way to get over Character Derailment is to focus on your audience and remember why they’ll want to read your story. Audience is everything, at least in this case that should be your mantra.

 

Okay, that’s enough for my sleep deprived brain to spit out for a while. Night all!

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.