Fix 19: The Savior

Wow, MarySueFixer! You suck at updating!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Fix 18: Write Males

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

 

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

 

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

 

Double standards? Completely!

 

But will it help you practice? Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That’s all my friends! Happy New Years!

 

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

Fix 17: Trust Your Instincts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fix 15: The Class Assigned Fanfiction

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

 

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

 

Does this sound odd?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, how does this relate back to my assignment?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fix 14: Pitch-Perfect

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s break these down one at a time.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Goodnight all!

Fix 13: Variations on a Theme

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nighty night all!

Fix 11: Character Derailment

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, what can be done?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fix 8: Moodring Eyes

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

Did I not mention that she had moodring eyes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fix 7: Inspired Naming

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fix 6: Never Name a Character After Someone You Know

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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