Fix 9: Un-purpling Your Prose

Why Purple Prose is a very bad idea:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

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

Hugh Fennyman: How?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Feel free to laugh… I know I do.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Fifth, build from what you have and keep writing.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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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 0.5: Sue Authors Anonymous

I was going to write about naming your character today, but I found a more important thing to talk about. Today’s topic is entitled SAA- Sue Author’s Anonymous.

Hello, I’m Marysue Fixer, and I’m a recovering Sue Author.

I wrote my first sue when I was in 6th grade. I was 10, and she was the love interest of Seto Kaiba from Yugioh. She later moved on to being the love interest for Sesshomaru, and then the love interest for Karasu from Yu Yu Hakusho. She had a child by each. Then I moved on to the second generation.

It’s been about four years since I write my first Sue, but she continues to be a part of my original cannon, being the mother of character who’s the mother of a character who’s the love interest of one of my main characters.  My Sue was a self insert, with my name, who did things that I personally would never do. She was beautiful, and had a lot of magic. Her exact title was ‘The Light Maiden’. While I’ve personally modified the title to fit other more interesting characters and ideas, she is still the original.

Today this Sue is a flakey writer was in love with one man, had a child by him before getting married to a rich man, has a child by him and divorces him because he tries to make her stop writing. She married a second man who dies after she had another child. Then she proceeds to be a single mother/writer who has a decent income from alimony. She adopts two boys after that.  She meets her old sweetheart, who now is a porn photographer, and they marry and have twins. She’s blissfully unaware that her children, except for her new twins, have problems; that her eldest son had tried to kill his sister, that he’s also involved in illegal activities and dying of a genetic disease. The eldest son is her favorite. Her eldest daughter hates her for being flakey, but loves her dad and her two adopted brothers, and the boy she found and cares for as a son. The writer’s middle son depends on his sister for a mother figure, and only one of the adopted boys sees her as a mother figure.

She is not likeable to anyone, even me, which is why she’s a background character at best, or never sees the light of day at worst. She’s also not my first O/C, that title is built out by a princess named Rose and a Mouse named Suzy.

The princess never had a good name, so I finally decided on Rose. I have another character named Rose, but we shant speak of her at the moment. Princess Rose was a blonde-haired, blue eyed princess who wore pink dresses and lived in a tower that her evil step mother put her in. Her only companion is a grey mouse named Suzy who has a blonde bob, a green head-band and pants (which show off her Hartman Hips) and a pink shirt and flats.  Suzy has a crystal flower on her headband that has magic in it to protect her. Rose had a crystal red heart locket (that is powerful and therefore must hide from the wicked stepmother) that she can open up and go into when she wants to escape her tower room and go on adventures.

Rose has a prince, who has no name/face/origin, but is blonde and dresses like Eric from the little mermaid. The prince has a mouse that plays the prince role for Suzy, and also had no face/name/origin. Rose also has two friends, both of whom have mice and prince-love interests. Neither of the girls have names, but one is white with brown hair and wears periwinkle dresses, while the other is black and wears lime green dresses. Rose, the infinitely more interesting Suzy, and friends escapes the tower often to go on adventures, but always get Rose in home before her wicked step mother finds out, while the prince desperately tries to find a legal way to free Rose so he can marry her.

I came up with all of this when I was about 5, (about the same time I came up with the fantasy of having to survive in the arctic with only one blanket and no supplies). Until this moment I have never written down. Ironically, the adventures and characters from the original characters are way more interesting than my self-insert Mary-Sue. The reason for this is because when I hit about eleven I wanted to make darker edgier stories. Suddenly the light hearted Disney Princess/Alice in Wonderland innocent stories were replaced with tales of a girl who is struggling with her interest in different nonexistent males as I struggled through puberty.

Some people start later, but the Sue is, as I’ve said, a process of writing. I think that most people’s first characters are like Princess Rose and Suzy. For boys they’re more like the Ninja Turtles (which I was a big fan of as a kid, but I digress). Their stories are light hearted, over exaggerated, often plotless, and fun. Even looking back at them the creator can feel a sense of joy and fun that comes with the story. If I wrote Rose now, her adventures might all be in her locket that she keeps hidden as are all her friends, while she simply sits in her tower and waits for life to pass her by. Or I’d write about young girls sneaking in and out of the tower to have adventures, going between a fearful life and a life of fun. Ironically, my old children’s stories adapt better than my first ‘serious’ work.

The reason for this is that when you start creating characters they’re often you sticking yourself into a situation. When you’re a kid you may fantasize about going to magic worlds, but you’ll do so by the Harry Potter/chosen one route, or by stumbling across a magical item that takes you to a magical world where you can explore. Otherwise you create characters who aren’t you, but are characters you want to see have adventures. When you’re a teenager you often want desperately to be anywhere else than your boring life. It comes from a bizarre split between childhood and adulthood. You want to be seen as adult, but you also want badly to play. The Mary Sue is the answer.

Mary Sue is the author avatar in the story, yet unlike children, teenagers have become self conscious of their faults, and so try to mask it with creating a perfect character. The Sue is a perfectly natural way of expressing ones-self and should be accepted as such. Think of Sue as a way for the new writer to improve their writing style. They can fix character later, but the important part is practice writing.

A lot of people treat Sue as something to be reviled. This is a really bad way to think. Sue authors are normally new writers: people testing the waters of writing, expressing imagination on paper, testing their own limits. While it doesn’t seem like it sometimes: words mean something. Some people feel like Sues are toxic and must be flamed to death. This way of thinking is toxic. What you write matters, even on the internet. Let me give you a personal example. I’ve mentioned in passing that I Roleplay, just text-based post-by-post, one-on-one Roleplaying. I’ve done it for about as long as I’ve been writing fanfiction. The end result is ten years of near constant writing has improved my writing and my ability to form characters.  But you notice how I said I only do one-on-one roleplays?

I’m a naturally shy person. I’m very opinionated. With friends and teachers I can be loud and even a little pushy when it comes to my ideas. I’m a great public speaker. All that said I am very shy. I don’t make friends easily, and I over analyze mistakes I make. When I was new to RPing I friend requested a lot of people who had similar interests as me. Someone was offended by this and stalked me on a forum, flaming me and my newbie writing in every RP thread I was in. Since then I don’t RP in threads, and I don’t RP in groups. This person scared me. There is the possibility that I could have been more open on the internet than I am in real life, but in many ways I’m even shyer online than I am in real life.

This is a very real reason to not flame a Sue author, ever. I can’t say my group RP aversion is completely this person’s fault, but honestly she couldn’t have done much worse to affect me and my specific personality. Your words mean things, and if you say hurtful things you will hurt people. You can’t take your words back in real life, and it’s even more impossible on the internet. There is the edit button, but honestly you remember things said in text better because someone took the time and energy to type up a long ‘you suck’ tirade.

Mary Sue should be discouraged, but it needs to be done directly and carefully. One of the sites I’ve mentioned more than once is a Livejournal blog called Pottersues. The author of this blog reviews only Harry Potter Mary Sue fanfics. She writes funny things about these people, but when she sees a writer who’s clearly new she tells her fans to be kind to the writer.

The problem with a Mary-Sue comes when the writer refuses to fix their work. When you’re a new writer you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. When you figure out that you’re doing something wrong you either try to fix it, or refuse to fix it. The second option is like knowingly dumping toxic waste into a river. Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but knowingly writing Sues, insisting it’s your fic and you can do whatever is not good. Instead of trying to improve you’re hurt yourself, which does hurt others. People take inspiration from other people. Most people become inspired by good word. What happens if someone who stumbles upon your Mary Sue? Someone who could have been inspired by a good work from you? Will they start on that idea they’ve had floating in the back of their head?

I’m bizarre in getting inspired by bad writing. It’s only because I have a desperate need to prove fantasy (Twilight) or Fanfiction (My Immortal) can be well written.  That’s actually how I decided to start this blog. I don’t believe I’ve stated this before, but this blog is for people who know they have a Sue problem and want to try and fix their character. It’s also for seasoned writers like me who can use a reminder about writing good characters. Hopefully someone who’s being willfully ignorant will stumble across this one day and decide that they do want to improve. I believe in the power of words, and I believe that words can sway people, for good or bad.

So keep this in mind: hating on something is funnier and easier. It makes you feel superior. On the other hand, giving some constructive criticism is hard, but much more necessary. You can make fun of Twilight all day, but if you refuse to read the series you’ll never figure out that Stephanie Meyers has mastered the art of writing page turners, something you really want for your story. She’s also mastered the art of selling, since the books suck terribly and no one should want to read them, but lots of people do. You can learn things even from bad things. The quote from Edison is that he didn’t fail to invent the light bulb 300 times (or whatever the actual number is) he just learned 300 ways not to make a light bulb. Learn from your own mistakes, and from someone else.  But I will warn you that you can’t learn from anyone if you bash or flame them. In order to flame someone you do the internet equivalent of sticking our fingers in your ears and going “LALALALALALA” as loud as you can. You don’t gain anything, you may actually lose something, and you hurt someone who probably doesn’t deserve the hurt.

So here’s what I’m offering. SAA will be a part of this blog. If you submit a piece of work I will critique it for you. Please keep in mind that you can ask for a private critique, and once the work is posted on the internet it’s there forever, so if you want to keep your original work to yourself I don’t suggest letting me post it here.

I won’t say that I will read and critique your work, especially if I have a lot of entries. But one of the best ways to learn is through the hands on help. For whomever I’m doing the critique it will be a good, character driven critique of the things you can fix and possibilities for your text. For the reader, you can see how to dissect a work, and maybe use the same technique on your own work. I suggest some hands on practice of critiquing as well, so readers can comment on the work as well.

Please be aware that if you want help with grammar, I’m not your person. For my fiction I have people who edit for me. They range from my English major friends, to my parents who are real grammarians, to professional editors, even teachers. I also need these people because I’m not a great grammarian. If you really worried about grammar there are blogs for that and a helpful little book called Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

Back to more normal fixes tomorrow, but I felt everyone needed a chance to understand why I’m in the business of fixing, and not just poking fun.

Good night my lovelies,

Marysuefixer

Fix 0: The Basics

Hello all,

I’m the Mary-Sue Fixer, here to help you fix all your Sue-related problems. It’s my plane to write a once a week entry with tips of how to fix different problems with Mary-Sue Characters.  I have both read and written fanfiction for a long while now. I took a hiatus for a few years to write my own original work. Now I’m a much better fanfiction writer. I’ve written Mary-Sues in my time, even my own characters. This is how I know that 1) Sue is part of the writing process 2) Sue is part of being a young/inexperienced writer 3) Sue can be cured over time if the writer will commit to fixing their Sue-problem. 

To state it plainly: if you won’t help yourself, then I can’t help you. I am a tool to help you fix your own problems.

So, let us begin with the most obvious question: What is a Mary-Sue?

The term Mary Sue (as Wikipedia will tell you in a much more informative way), came about around the time of Star Trek. The first Mary Sue (by that classification) was named Mary Sue. Mary Sue may have named the trope, but she was not the first. There are many instances of Mary Sue throughout literature.  A lot of them were never very good, but a lot of them were also published. A very old example are the (numerous) stories of a young white girl captured by Native Americans, and swaying the hearts of the ‘savages’ with her pureness of heart. The Mary-Sue shows up in literature for thousands of years.  Just to prove this is profitable: The most modern example people think of his Twilight, which is insanely popular.

The Mary Sue is defined as a character whom is, in short, too perfect for her own good. The Sue often has amazing skill at things she probably has no business being able to know. The Sue may even have hither-to unknown in the fiction-universe powers that no one else has. She may be half-vampire, half-mermaid, half-a lot of things that don’t belong in the cannon. Sue’s may even suffer from the curse of being ‘too beautiful’.

Now, all of these things can be done really well. Mulan is the story of a young woman who goes off to war (where, in the society, she has no business going), and kicks major amounts of ass.  In a (very fun) series called the Black Jewels Trilogy, the main character is specifically tailored to be more powerful than anyone else, to the point that it causes all kinds of problems.  Vampire Hunter D is about a Dhamphir, or half-vampire. Merlin is often thought to be the child of a Succubus and a human. There are even instances where being too beautiful can be a serious problem. In a world where you’re a magical creature being hunted by humans, if you are so beautiful that you look inhuman you have a very serious problem, as do the other magical creatures you’re traveling with.

The truth is that many elements of the Mary-Sue can make a great character, and even Sue-like characters can be enjoyable. The main character of the Black Jewels Trilogy is essentially a cannon-sue, as she’s beautiful and powerful enough to attract men that no one else can, and yet still gets hurt (more emotionally than physically) by weaker characters. At the same time, she’s also the Macguffin for the (previously mentioned and very interesting) male characters, who actually get much more screen time than she does. As I said before, the books are very enjoyable, and while not everyone agrees with me, a lot of people love the main character, even though she’d be easily labeled a Sue in a fanfiction. This leads us to another point: Sue is all about perspective.

There is a serious problem of people classifying any female OC as a Mary-Sue. In reality, I was so afraid of writing a Mary-Sue character that I focused on writing only males instead. This has led to the interesting problem of having to relearn how to write my own gender. On one hand: I have some really great male characters now, on the other hand: I’m just now finding ways to fix female characters to not be Sue. For me, most of my female characters come pre-packaged as Sue, and I work backwards to make serviceable and likeable female characters.

I wrote some seriously bad Mary-Sues, but it also allowed me to start my own cannon for my own stories. Not all of the characters I made survived as main characters. Some of the side characters are now the ones I tinker with. Ironically, a female character I created for Hiei who had a history with Kurama (from Yu Yu Hakusho) ended up being still one of my most well rounded and interesting characters. It didn’t help that she up and decided that she’d rather have Kurama-like character and a seriously unhealthy relationship. As the writer, I’m merely the medium for the characters, so I didn’t argue for very long.

Around the same time I created a character to pair with Noah Kaiba (she happens to be the sister of the Kurama-paired character… just go with it). When I finally saw the Noah character I hated him so much, that I tossed what would have made very fine Sue into the back of my mind where all the dark and evil things are. A year later she emerged as one of the most terrifying characters I’ve ever met (made even more terrifying by the fact that she came from my own mind). The only trace of what she once was comes from the fact that she has Noah’s hair color.

I’ve just detailed some of my own character experience to explain this: About any Sue can be fixed, including that self-insert that you no hate but can’t get rid of (I’ll talk at length about that later).  Also, when you’re done fixing you sure, she may be vastly different from how she started out, unrecognizable even. This is a good thing. The point of this is to provide suggestions for you to fix your own characters.

I’m going to mainly focus on fixing your fanfiction OCs. OCs are not inherently bad. The truth is that some characters cannot be paired off with anyone in the series. For someone like me who had a compulsive need to make sure everyone has a happily ever after, at least in love, that meant I had to create OCs. There are such things as good OC characters. I found a very good one that paired Draco Malfoy with a muggle.  Sure, it doesn’t last, but it was a good story. What you need to keep in mind is that OCs don’t necessarily mean Sue. When crafting a story that fits into the cannon, or even just outside of cannon it’s often impossible to recycle old villans. You need to give the heroes new villains, new threats, new side characters. If you’re writing a Harry Potter fanfiction set with the next generation, or if you want to talk about the Potter characters as adults they need new characters to surround themselves with. 

Theses OCs need to be as believable as the original. During the course of the story they need to grow and mature as well. They may find love, and that love might be another OC. The thing is that the OC must always be there to drive the plot towards it end. Villians can easily steal a lot of screen time in a well written fanfiction, because the writer has to set them up as a character. The reader already knows about the cannon characters, but they know nothing about the original characters.

It’s often advisable to not make an OC more than a villain or a side character, but there’s also the possibility of creating the OC as the main character. Sometimes this works really well. In the Black Jewels Trilogy, the author has spent so much time writing about her characters outside the main trilogy that it’s actually now much more interesting to read fanfiction about original characters based in that universe. In a fanfiction you can create an OC and send him/her to Hogwarts. The point in an OC, or really any bit of writing, is to never forego the plot for the sake of character. If your plot demands and OC, you must have an OC, even if you don’t want to. The world is bigger than what we’re presented in any work of fiction. Real people interact with thousands of people, some of whom we may never see after buying a cup of coffee from them. Other times they become big parts of our lives.  

I’ve now spent a lot of time describing what is and is not a Sue, but in reality you can always find better definitions. My job is not to tell you what a Sue is, since you probably already know, but to tell you how to fix it. There are two ways. Now, while I’d argue that Stephanie Meyers’s success is because of some actual good (if ham-handedly done) writing techniques. The point is that most people can’t sell a Mary Sue, and the best thing to do is to fix the Mary Sue. Meyers sold her Sue because she understands pacing enough to get the reader hooked. You can make a good (or at least serviceable/profitable) story in spite of a Sue if you can find a way to make the reader keep reading. That doesn’t mean your writing will ever be good. The other thing you can do is fix your Sue into a being a good character.  This is where I come in.

I have read maybe thousands of fanfiction, good at bad, by both genders, by young-new writers and by older experienced writers. I’ve read many articles on Sues, including from Cracked.com, Wikipedia, TVTropes, and an honest to goodness academic article on the Mary Sue phenomenon. I have written Mary-Sues, and I have fixed them. I have written Gary-Stus and fixed.  I have a deep love of character, and I feel that character driven plots are generally more enjoyable than story or place driven plots. As such, I have a keen eye for what is good and bad in a character. I have taken classes on Comedy, Pulp Crime Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Shakespeare, Romanticism, Script Writing, Creative Writing, and Harry Potter. This means that not only can I spot good characters, I can also dissect any type of writing, include YA novels and fanfiction.

This is my first post, but not my first actual ‘Fix’, that will come later in this week. For the moment, thank you for reading, and I hope to see you again real soon.

Love,

The Mary-Sue Fixer