Fix 5: Flash Characters

Readymade Villians, just add water!


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

—C. S. Lewis


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


So, go write and have fun!


Tool 1: Testing the Test

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


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


 I have a character who is sexy, with sea foam green hair, who is the best in three given fields: Botany (by magic), Chemistry (by work), and torture (by fun).  She views people, including her husband and her daughter merely as toys that she has yet to break. When she got tired of her toys dying too quickly she combined created drugs to extend life.  She doesn’t she is related to royalty, but her ‘superiors’ don’t try to control her because she scares them a lot. She’s terrifying because she doesn’t believe that the game is over until she’s won; and she doesn’t care if she gets hurt, brutally maimed, tortured, or killed so long as she’s not bored. Personality wise she has few redeeming qualities: she’s stubborn and a leader. She’s very good at the things she actually cares about, and is very protective of what is hers.  She’s not beautiful, but the best way to describe her is like seeing a green saber-tooth tiger, beautiful for the impossibility of it, especially since you will be dead only moments after seeing it. This test gave her a 35, ranking her as a complete Mary-Sue. This test gave her a 20, ranking her a Non-Sue, fully developed and well rounded character.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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