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!)

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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 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 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 9: Un-purpling Your Prose

Why Purple Prose is a very bad idea:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

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

Hugh Fennyman: How?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Feel free to laugh… I know I do.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Fifth, build from what you have and keep writing.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

Fix 8: Moodring Eyes

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

Did I not mention that she had moodring eyes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tool 1: Testing the Test

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fix 3: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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