Fix 19: The Savior

Wow, MarySueFixer! You suck at updating!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fix 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.