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 16: Old Series

Wow, sorry I’ve been gone so long. Let’s try to do two tonight while I wait for RP replies.

 

Anyway, I have this problem where there are just some songs I can’t listen to because they make me sad… not because the songs are sad (though some of them are) they just connect to old memories for me and I feel depressed. That in mind I decided I’d write about old things and avoid writing a play for a little while.

 

In any case, chances are that if you’re reading this blog you probably like fanfiction, you also probably write fanfiction. That being said most writers have people they idolize, but even readers will have favorites. I bet that you have favorite fanfiction authors; I bet you can name more than three right off the top of your head right now. 

 

Now, I want you to think about those people. What series do they write in? They probably have a couple they write in consistently, but there is probably only one or two  that they write the best in, and only one series that they right in that is really incredible. It’s also probable that these series are older. There is a reason for all of this.

 

Recently I got addicted to Ao No Exorcist (Blue Exorcist). I watched all of the anime, and I’m as close to caught up in the manga as I can be. I love the heck out of it. I love it so much that I’m just now putting my only characters in the universe.

 

You’re probably going “wait, what?”

 

See, when I was in middle school and I was starting to like Yugioh (meaning I saw the first freaking episode, loved it a lot, and wanted to see more so I started creating my own ‘mental fanfiction’ from the first episode) I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t start mentally messing with the series until I really understood the world and characters. That meant waiting a good half a season before I felt comfortable imagining things for the show, and 2/3s the first season before I started doing RPs with it, and a full season down before I started writing (my bad mary-sue filled) fanfiction.

 

I still do this because I already had the instinct back then to wait. I understand why now: In order to be able to write about anything you really have to know what you’re talking about. In writing a book this means spending years with characters, races and worlds, figuring out how and why everything works, how the character personalities work, why they work, and then adding subtlety so that they will work for the reader as well as the writer. In fan fiction this means knowing the material really damn well.

 

I don’t write Yugioh fanfiction anymore for a reason. I know the series really damn well. I’ve seen the first two seasons on the dub maybe five times each, and remember the rest pretty well. I’ve read a significant portion of thee manga, I even have a good grasp of the characters (Kaiba being the model for a older male character who thinks opposite to me on almost everything and I end up having to fight to figure out good counter arguments to.). But what I also know is that I have no new idea to contribute to the series.

 

You know what else I was in to about the same time? Yu Yu Hakusho.

 

Now this is a series I can go freaking insane in. It’s safe to say in some ways this was my first anime. Okay, Speed Racer was my technical first, and I was obsessed with Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon, and Yugioh before I ever saw Yu Yu Hakusho. A friend, a male friend (I couldn’t relate to other females in middle school. I could barely relate to thee boys) told me to watch it, and I wanted to be able to talk to him (to anybody) so I watched it. Yu Yu Hakusho was the first non-Americanized anime I ever saw. All the previous series I mentioned were gate ways, but they weren’t what got me hooked.

 

Yu Yu Hakusho is a series that I re-watched inEnglandthis summer and I decided to start an RP with a friend because we needed a break from demons (well my type) and wanted something smart but fun. In the middle of rewatching the series I remembered all over again why I loved it: it was awesome.

 

In the past few months I have put out tons of little 1-shots about my favorite character (Karasu), trying to fiddle with his personality in a way that was interesting. I even tried a fic where Kuronue comes back from the dead to see Kurama, again, my version. I was surprised at the reactions, most people were very receptive because no one had thought about it the way I wrote it.

 

See, one of the important things about writing fanfiction is to REALLY KNOW what you’re talking about. To write a good fanfiction you have to really know a series. That means that you really need to see it more than once, and you need to like it enough to think about the series outside of just watching it.

 

You can write fanfiction for new series, but I guarantee that your best work will be with an older series that you loved enough for it to affect your normal writing and your normal characters. Truthfully if a series got you that bad in the first place then you probably are fairly well attuned with it anyway, and writing it will be a lot easier.

 

So, for you homework. Try and think of the series you loved the most while in middle or high school, the one that most informed your writing and person characters. Go revisit a bit of that series, a few chapters or episodes. See if you can’t find something that deserves to be written about that no one else seems to talk about.

Fix 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 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 4: Consistency

I keep planning on writing about naming your characters. If I keep it up it’ll be a bad running joke. For today let’s go with character consistency.

 

The best thing I’ve ever written was a 10,000 word short story I wrote over about five days to simulate doing National Novel Writing Month (I actually wrote outside of class, so I was one of the few people to be able to finish). It’s really hard to describe, but all you need to know is that the main character is a man in a psychiatric hospital; and he belongs there. When I started the process I wanted to write a Hannibal Lector type character, someone who liked politeness and looked down on people around. When I finished the project I was so, so very sure that the character ended up sounding really whiny and terrible. I liked the premise I had, but I thought I needed to start at the end and rewrite everything.

 

Almost half a year passed before I let anyone read it. I hadn’t edited it at all. The person really loved it. When I reread it I was surprised that not only was the character consistent, his progression into sanity was properly paced and gripping. Aside from grammar issues, the story held up perfectly well and I actually didn’t need to rewrite anything. It was a perfectly polished little gem.

 

This is to illustrate the point: you can’t often see up close what is very apparent from far away.  Character consistency is very important. While not exactly a commonly considered trait of a Mary-Sue, it’s actually a really important part. The problem with a Sue is that her personality/actions can jump from being a “complete badass” to needing to have her ass saved by the love interest. She also may go from being sad about her village being slaughtered to suddenly being terribly in love and happy about being with her love interest. For a point of reference; think how Juliet suddenly goes from being horrified that her cousin’s dead to going to bed with her husband. I don’t think Romeo & Juliet is a good play at all partially for these bizarre jumps in logic. Of course teenaged hormones being what they are, it might actually work like that.

 

Ever heard of mood whiplash? It’s when a movie/TV show/book/fanfiction/play/opera/radio drama/video game/whatever goes from very suddenly from one emotion to another. These emotions are often complete opposite (horrified to laughing). Now, you can do this by way of good story telling or comic relief, or both. In Steel Magnolias one of the main characters has a very dramatic speech after just having buried her daughter.  Suddenly one of her friend grabs another one of their friends (Ouiser) and tells the main character to punch Ouiser. It’s so random and sudden that not only do the characters burst into fits of laughter, but the audience starts rolling on the floor.

 

This scene exemplifies comic relief, but it relies on the trope of mood whiplash. Shakespeare is another example of someone brilliant at using comic relief. (Tangent: I just saw Patrick Stewart play Shylock in Merchant of Venice. It’s both hilarious and horrifying when he draws a dotted box around Antonio’s heart, and later gleefully run the broad side of a knife over Antonio’s chest as Antonia trembles so hard a guard has to hold him still… I’ve never seen anything so tense. The whole audience knew the ending but half of us were still hiding in our seats). Done right, mood whiplash isn’t painful to the audience, but allows for catharsis/drama/plot/characterization/other very good things.

 

This is generally is not the case for works of Mary Sue fiction. A lot of the problem comes from the fact that the characters simply are not given the time to grow. I remember writing a fic where Priest Seto falls for a servant. I had a(n actually good) scene plotted out before I went to bed, but the scene I wrote was under a page. If I had been able to write it now the scene would have stretched out for five or more pages. I was 13 at the time and simply did not have the skill to write so much. I couldn’t figure out how to properly prolong a scene.

 

The West Wing is one of my favorite shows because Aaron Sorkin is my writing idol. He leaves at the end of the 4th season to go to rehab (no, really). Stuff happens in the first 4 seasons, but a plot line could be drawn out over a long period of time. The episodes built characterization more than plot… but damn was it good. Then season 5 hits and new writers come in. More and more stuff happens. In the first 4 seasons maybe 4-6 really big things happen. The amount of big things goes up exponentially over the next seasons simply because the writers aren’t on the same level as the original creator. Aaron Sorkin has the ability to hold out scenes and events with amazingly witty exchanges and character growth. It makes everything feel more realistic. In contrast, the other seasons have a lot of stuff happen because the other writers have to keep having stuff happen or else the show will stop being interesting.

 

This is a professional example with the problems with new writers. You can tell ne writers because a chapter is only going to fit in the size of the viewing screen of your computer without you having to scroll down… it may even be smaller… for a new writer this is a huge achievement. When you get more experience you can easily write more.  When I was a kid I used to take the bus to school in the morning. I had set fantasies, and I knew exactly which ones I could run because of how long the trip was.  Eventually I couldn’t do the same fantasies anymore because they didn’t last as long. I started to get worried that I wasn’t able to analyze the same things as well. Someone suggested to me that I just became able to process complex ideas much faster.

 

When I was younger it would take me a long time to get a little bit of writing out. These blog posts take an hour, but I’m either writing constantly or pausing to look things up. I’m able to more easily come up with ideas to express that all link together; and I trust my writing enough to know that eventually I will connect my beginning thought to my planned ending thought, hit all the points I wanted to cover, and all of it flow naturally.

 

So what does this have to do with character consistency? Back in the chapter I described to you, the servant and Priest Seto fall in love in one very short scene. In that scene the servant goes from weeping, to uncertain, to happy. It all happens very quickly and so there’s no character consistency, and the character comes off as not human with how rapidly her emotions change.  Thinking over the plot now ((Priest Seto takes over his duties and if given a servant who helps him look after his brother. He falls for the servant and gets married; then his brother is killed in an accident. He’s hurt, but still has his (now pregnant) wife. Then the woman he loves is sacrificed to one of the gods by the pharaoh’s orders (to help defeat and enemy). Priest Seto loses it and helps lead the charge against the pharaoh.)) it’s not great, but I could completely make it work, especially since the OC servant is just a macguffin to help Priest Seto lose his mind and go to war with the man he’d loved and served before.  It’s surprisingly Canon centered except for one moment when the OC talks about her past.

 

When I wrote it, it sucked pretty hard because of how small the chapters were. There was no room for real development. I had to keep having interesting things happen to keep the story moving. Suddenly characters would be yelling or crying  just… suddenly. The characters lacked an emotional consistency that they really needed to make the fic actually good. I’m surprised anyone read it at all. ((Side note: does anyone notice that old, not good stories can get 56 reviews, but new good things can’t break into the double digits?))

 

Emotional consistency is actually something I still struggle with. I just finished a 24 page (7,000+ word) chapter for one of my fics. It hasn’t been posted as my editor is still helping me pick out the bugs. I wrote it over about a week and a half, on two different continents and over many different times of day. I’m worried that the characters will seem character. Every time I update a story I worry that the characters will seem like how they did in the previous chapters. Normally I do just fine, and once I stop being buried in the writing I can see that. Other times I need help.

 

There are a couple of things I can suggest. The first is to reread what you’ve already written… a lot. I tend to lose salient details, but those details make the characters. It also looks really bad when you forget from one chapter to the next (sometimes one page to the next) a hobby or interest you just described for a character. Rereading refreshes your memory and lets you fix minor inconsistencies before you get too far into the story, and those inconsistencies become big problems. This is useful, but as I can’t be constantly rereading I need other ways to help keep myself consistent.

 

I’m easily affected by the things that go on around me. Again mentioning The West Wing, after watching the show it’s common that I will start imitating the character’s distinctive speech pattern and speed of speech both in writing and in real life. In the same way, when I’m writing something I will pick a song or CD to play that helps me capture the mood I want for the story. Eventually whenever I hear that song/album I will instantly shift into the proper mood for the writing of the story. I easily connect events to song. I can’t listen to “Snow (Hey Oh)” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers without crying because it reminds me of New Zealand (a place I feel like is the home of my soul). I can’t hear “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo without instantly getting into the mood of writing characters for a book I was working on called The Frankenstein Children (A book I scrapped about 25k words in when I realized it just wasn’t working). When I’ve been working on this I have a play list of Lady Gaga’s newest album and Katy Perry’s first. Whenever I hear these songs now I want to write (since I’ve been looping them for 2 days all I’ve done in that time is write). 

 

For me, music is best way to get myself into the proper mood for a story or character, at least for the main character. But that may not be the best way for everyone. I know some people can’t write unless there’s silence, music is distracting to them. You might be able to listen to music before hand, but that runs the same problem as rereading. What you really need is a memory trick to help you remember the character’s personality. I use music because I travel quite a bit and always want to be writing. It’s also a great way to get focused when I’m home for the summer and my parents have the TV on. At the same time, one of my friends in high school noted that once I started working and I had my headphones on I went into my own world. I’d become very focused and productive and she’d have to physically poke me to get me to pay attention to her.  This does not work for everyone.

 

J.K. Rowling wrote her books in coffee shops. She would take her things and go write. For some people location is everything. Someone told me the best way to study for a final was to study in the room and seat where you’d be taking the test because your mind would connect the information with the room around you. In the same way, if you only write in one place you may be able to keep your writing consistent if you stay in one place. If you are place oriented, I suggest picking a different place for every story so that you won’t have trouble going from the mood of one to the mood of another.

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 2: Sue/Cannon

Hello my lovelies! Today’s lesson is on pairing your Sue with a cannon character!

A lot of Mary-Sue fanfiction comes from the writer wanting to pair someone (other than the cannon love interest) with a cannon character. Often they want to pair themselves with said cannon character. This is something I have a lot of experience with because 1) This is still a very fun type of RPing as long as I have a partner who’s willing to play along and is about on my writing level and 2) this is how I started writing fanfiction.

I think my first fanfiction was actually one about (Yugioh reference) Joey winning over Kaiba. My Sue didn’t show up until fic two. She’d been plaguing my RPs with very decent people before hand… to the point that I seriously wonder why in the world those people were willing to play the other characters for my philandering Sue (who was affectionate with Joey and in love with Kaiba… I was in middle school), but she finally showed up in fanfiction form. Luckily she didn’t show up a lot… I think all of one… maybe two more times after that.

Now, while the fic is now deleted, I once had a fic with an original character paired with a cannon character get added to a Fanfiction.net C2 (it’s a Community where you can find stories of a same type. It ended up in a ‘best’ list). This fic, when I was deleting it, was not good. By my standards it was wince worthy… by most FF.net fanfics, it was good. The reason why the fic got added was because 1) it was a 2nd generation fic that paired my OC with someone who’s a child in story and 2) it was super plot centered, and based on a serious plot hole the author still hasn’t addressed in all the sequel’s she’s written.

OC/Cannon can be good, but they honestly need to be about five times more original than a normal Cannon/Cannon fic, and needs to be about ten times better written. I have stumbled across a very good Draco/OC fanfiction. What I love about it is that: The girl is a muggle. She never finds out he’s a wizard. Draco is the center of the story. Draco is in character throughout the whole story. They break-up at the end, thereby allowing it to slip seamlessly into the cannon timeline.

The last three are the most important. The Cannon character is the focus of the story, not simply a way to describe the OC. The Cannon character is in character the whole time. The OC doesn’t interfere with timeline.

BUT MARYSUEFIXER… Harry is with Ginny in the end of the books. I don’t want him to end up with her, but with my OC!

To this I say: Do you want him to be with your character or with you?

BUT MARYSUEFIXER… The Cannon character and his love interest have nothing in common!

To this I say: Really? Not every relationship has to be built on being exactly alike or exactly opposite. Your best friend doesn’t have to like the same TV shows/music/books/movies/furniture/food you do in order to be your best friend. Your boyfriend doesn’t have to have the same interests or job as you to be loving and supportive.

BUT MARYSUEFIXER… My OC is better for the Cannon character!

To this I say: Again, Really? Okay sometimes this may be true. I have a couple of original characters who are married, but their relationships can be at best described as toxic or mutually destructive. But you know what? They don’t fit with anyone else, and it’s way more interesting that way. If your OC breaks up the bad relationship then a lot of the interesting parts of the plot go out the window. On the other hand, if the Cannon character has a perfectly good love interest then there’s no reason for you to even be thinking this.

I am a huge proponent of sticking to Cannon as much as possible. I’m not saying you have to not pair your OC with a character who’s already paired… but I’m seriously against it. I suppose you can break up the cannon relationship if you must, but for the love of Bob, don’t just write the real love interest as a bitch. It’s a huge cop-out, and often just makes your story bad. If you have to pervert a cannon character’s personality so you can get rid of them then you have a problem.

So, a few things you can do. 1) Pick a character who the author hasn’t paired off. 2) If you do pick a character who gets paired off, then do something really interesting with it. 3) Always focus on the Cannon character. 4) Don’t ignore the Word of God (what the author says, or is in the text).

Now, here’s an example of a fic where OC is paired with a Cannon character. I’m going to run with Draco/OC because it’s popular, and I mention it earlier. In the standard Draco/OC fic he meets the OC/Sue in Hogwarts and falls in love with her. End of story. But Rowling said that Draco Malfoy marries Astoria Greengrass. This poses a big problem to Draco/OC’s happily ever after.

So, there are a couple of options. The first (and most obvious) is to get rid of Astoria (divorce/death) in favor of your OC. This is a possibility, but not the most original. If you have to do it, you should focus on Draco dealing with his loss, and how he starts to love again. Essentially it’s a hurt/comfort fic (which I generally do not like).

Now, for the more original idea: Draco and the OC have a fling before/during his marriage to Astoria and has a child with Draco (preferably younger than Scorpius as to not interfere with Cannon). Astoria is (rightfully) crushed. She tries to work it out with Draco, but eventually leaves, taking Scorpius with her. Draco moves back to the OC and his other child, though the OC always wonders if maybe he’ll cheat on her too. Draco has limited visitation rights with Scorpius, but is allowed to escort him to Hogwarts for his first day of school.

This is a scenario I like because the Cannon character receive the most focus, the OC is a driving part of the plot without being the plot, there’s a lot of unresolved feelings all around, and it fits in with the cannon time line. It also sets up for Scorpius starting to date Rose Weasley just to anger his father (which is a pairing I like for no real reason). Please feel free to steal my idea. If you write it just please 1) link it to me! 2) do the sequel with Scorpius and Rose, at least a short one-shot. I just love the complication it all adds.

So, we’ve now established that you can make OC/Cannon work, as long as the plot is interesting. Now it’s time for me to give you things to do. First off, for whatever character you want to pair with your OC, please consider what the most obvious way to get them together is. The only way this will work for you is if you write very well, good enough to be an English Major. I don’t suggest even trying this way. Instead, think of every possible alternative. If you know they end up with one character at the end think about ways around that in a way that doesn’t mess up the timeline. A summer tryst when the main couple is broken up, a divorce, a death, an affair.

If you have to break up an established couple, remember to not make the love interest a complete bitch. It will almost universally make your story terrible. Instead, focus on bringing out the good and bad traits in both the Cannon character and his original love interest. A love triangle is much more interesting when you can like all three characters. If you’re having trouble with the original love interest I suggest making a list of their good and bad traits, and be honest. If, like Astoria Greengrass, the eventual love interest has no description or screentime, you get to write then from your own mind. Treat them like another OC. Write them not as bad/evil, but simply as the one who doesn’t even up with the Cannon character.

If you want a good example of the good-but-the-loser, look at the second season of Friends. Ross has to chose between Rachel who he’s always loved or Julie who is smart, beautiful, and kind. There’s nothing wrong with Julie, she’s just not Rachel. The audience roots for Rachel, but there’s a lot of tension because Julie’s a good choice too, better in some ways. There’s a more recent example from the TV show Bones. Booth must choose between Brennan who he’s been in love with for a while, or Hannah who is equally amazing. The line “and she’s no consolation prize” makes you love the lead guy, but heart break for the lead girl. Having the good-but-loser character makes much better writing.

Now, if you chose to pair your OC with a Cannon who has no love interest you have a whole other set of issues. Normally they are the loner, and therefore the object of affection for the majority of the fanbase. If you write these stories you will probably not be popular. Actually, if you’re writing any OC you’ll probably not be popular. But you need to consider the Cannon character just as much. A guy friend of mine writes amazing Kaiba fics because he focuses on an aspect of Kaiba a lot of people seem to somehow ignore: his role as a parent. My friend pointed out that if (big if) Kaiba found someone, it would need to be someone who would fill a mother-like role for him; someone he could unload his troubles and worries on, someone who can be strict by loving with it. Essentially he needs Molly Weasley.

I have never seen any interpretation like this before, which makes it interesting, but also means that if anyone wrote a Molly-like character for said above Stoic it would mean that the author is probably very focused on Kaiba’s reaction and growth versus how pretty her Sue is. Always focus on the canon character, always. People read fanfiction not for your OC, but to see characters they love doing new things.

In focusing on the Cannon and what they like and don’t like (to do this well, you need to have a really good understanding of the Cannon, and some really well thought out theories, hence why this is so hard) you can create a character that will help the Cannon to mature. Your character will be less a generic love interest that way. If you’re having trouble with this, think about if the Cannon character was your character. What character would you create for their love interest?

Now, let’s say that you’ve picked a character who isn’t paired off, and isn’t all that popular. A friend of mine loves Kido from Yu Yu Hakusho. Don’t know him? Don’t know him and seen the show? If you saw the beginning of the Sensui arc, he’s the blonde punk who holds Yusuke captive by standing on his shadow. He shows up barely and all and he’s my friend’s favorite from the series. If she wrote a story pairing him with someone would you read it? I would because it’s so random, but not a lot of people will.

The biggest problem with OC/not-popular-Cannon is that it is way harder to make anyone care enough to read about it. Yes, if the not-popular-Cannon doesn’t show up much or at all (see Astoria Greengrass) you can basically write them as your own character. It can make the story easier to write, but you still need to be careful. You have to make your audience care about this unpopular character, and you have to make them care about your OC. In some ways you have to work twice as hard as someone who writes an OC for someone who already has a love interest. You have to focus on the cannon, not mess with the timeline, and make both the OC and Cannon interesting.

If you’ve gotten anything from this, it’s that it’s really hard to write an OC paired with a cannon character, write it well, and make people care. When I figure out how to do the publicity bit better maybe I can help you with that. But for now, I’m just your beloved MarysueFixer.

If you’re wondering what Draco/OC fic I was originally talking about:
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5105808/1/Kicking_Down_Castles

Fix 1: Pepper Jack Cheese

There are all kinds of problems with Mary-Sues, but we’re going to tackle them one at a time. Today I’m helping you tinker out one that plagues a lot of Mary-Sue fanfiction, Pepper Jack Cheese!

Anyone who reads Pottersues know what this means, but if you don’t, Pepper Jack Cheese is when the writer puts some of their own personal tastes on an original character, thereby making that character an OOC Mary-Sue. For our purposes, let’s expand this phrase to an author writing a character, any character, to share the same interests as them. This sometimes happens when the character is a self-insert (see the infamous “My Immortal”). But it doesn’t have to apply to Self-Insert characters; it is a part of the phenomenon though. Whenever an author applies their own interests to a character invariably the author writers a scene including said-thing, and making the story seem disjointed. It can range from completely bastardizing an original character to merely having a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment (TVTropes it up).

Pepper Jack Cheese and Self-Insert are both closely related, in that they came from the same (generally not great) advice to “write what you know”. This is a problem that plagues not just fanfiction, but all amateur writing. One of the first things any writer is told is to “Write what you know” (WWYK). In some ways this isn’t bad advice. I waited start a Yugioh RP until I’d seen at least the first series arc, and then waited to write fanfiction until I’d gotten at least halfway through Battle City (for people who don’t know Yugioh, that’s the first two season). I can’t say I was fantastic when I started, but I at least had some information under my belt. I knew what I was talking about.

This is not how most people take WWYK. They take it that they should write about their lives. Let me state right now that most people don’t want to read about living a normal life. They live normal lives themselves. People read to go on adventures, ranging from murder mysteries, to fantasy, to Sex in the City. Normal People like seeing characters (who they can often identify with on at least some level) doing things that the Normal People will not ever be able to do. This is why a lot of professional writers disparage WWYK. Fantasy writers do write what they know: they write people, they do insane amounts of research, they combine their imagination (which has over years of work has created worlds and people) with real world understanding of stuff like sword fighting, religion, psychology,etc. They do in fact WWTK, but they did a lot of work to be able to do it.

A lot of new writers don’t consider that WWYK means that you have to research on something. They’re writing about themselves! Who knows them better than them? The answer to that is that it’s completely possible that other people know them better, as space lends to a better understanding of an overall picture; and that most people don’t want to be seen as ‘bad’, so they trump up their positive traits. Very few people are able to be completely honest about themselves. Humans are either overly kind, or overly harsh on their views of themselves. Mary-Sues are born from this.

Back to the point of Pepper Jack Cheese. The problem comes with PJC when it 1) completely mirrors the author’s interests and 2) derides the plot. The truth is that all characters have part of the writer in them. Your characters are a part of you. In order to grow you have to be honest with yourself and often find and admit your own faults. Same thing with your characters. You are basically growing little 2.5 dimensional people in your mind. In the same way that babies will always have some of their parents traits, simply due to genetics (which is even stronger if the child is raised by said parents), your characters will always have some of your traits. The trick is to narrow it down to only a few.

Now, if you’re writing a cannon character and want to give them an interest you have, then 1) you better have a damn good reason (of which are not anything similar to ‘I want to’, ‘it will make them more relatable’, or ‘it’s my fic’) and 2) you have to be sure it adds to the plot. Otherwise, it’s just deadwood and unnecessary.

If you’re writing an OC character, the above apply to some extent, but OC characters are a lot more a part of the author than a cannon character. An OC character can become a character for your own original stories later (that’s how most of my characters came into existence anyway). As such, it’s so much easier to give them a lot of your own interesting. Here’s the best advice I can give you: everything in moderation.

Those three words sum up most of the problem with a Sue: she will have little moderation. Now I can say that over and over till I’m blue in the face, but people need specific examples to bounce off and get their minds going, which is why I’m writing this blog.

What you must understand is that a character having your own interests is not bad. In fact it helps with the research process. What you want is to give them a reason for the couple (only a couple) of interests that they have in common with you. For instance: I have an OC for Harry Potter. She’s interested in Genetics (something I find very interesting). The difference is that she cares way more than I do. I like the study, but not enough to read a lot about it. She cares enough study it even while she’s at Hogwarts. She also likes History. I like history. The difference is that I like Russian, Scandinavian, and South American history. She likes British History, something I couldn’t give a damn about. Thankfully the story will doubtfully call for me to need to write about British History.

The genetics thing is built into the story for a character with pureblood wizards, who’s afraid of how being a pureblood will actually affect her. The history thing is just a horrifying personal revelation on my part that I once mentioned in passing to compare to the character’s dislike of History of Magic. These things only come up to either service the plot, or add characterization.

Your OC is a part of you, so is you’re writing. If you’ve ever had something you worked on thrown away by a disapproving parent, or a truly oblivious substitute teacher who thinks it’s okay to throw away journals because they’re filled with ‘just scribbles’ (yes this last one happened to me) then you probably know the feeling of your heart being ripped out through your throat. It’s why negative criticism hurts so badly. Your writing and your characters are your babies, your children. But your children will never be you. They may look like you, or have similar traits as you; but if you try to force them to be carbon copies of you only bad things can come. You’ve denied them their own lives, made them hate you, or abused them into fitting the mold. And there is a type of bad writing or each of those examples, I assure you.

So, here’s what I suggest to fix your Pepper Jack Cheese. Start out by thinking about your character. Find a sheet of paper or something and write down interests they have. Then put a check next every interest that exactly (or near exactly) matches an interest you have. Put a squiggle next to interests they have that are similar to yours, but that your character cares about more/less than you or in a different way. If your list is completely, or majority populated with checks and squiggles, then you need to do some work.

There are a couple of ways to fix this, but each different technique depends on your relationship with your characters. My relationship can best be described as being like I have multiple-personality-disorder, except I know the voices are only in my head. When I’m particularly vexed, I have been known to have imaginary conversations with my imaginary people. As insane as it sounds, this isn’t an unheard of way of dealing with your characters (writers like the great poet Byron have commented on characters having a mind of their own.)

If you are like me, I suggest ‘asking’ your character to describe what they like and just let them vent. You can take notes if you want to. Similarly, you can try and feel out parts of characters that just feel wrong. I had two characters who I made gay because I wanted gay characters. It just never felt right with them. When I let them be straight again they flourished.

If you’re more concrete or less experienced with your characters you can go back to your shared interest list I had you write earlier. Start by thinking about which interests are unnecessary. Get rid of them. You may stop from simply removing an unnecessary interest if you don’t feel bad about getting rid of it because you like that interest so much yourself. If you think it adds to the character’s personality, then it isn’t useless; but set these interests aside in an “I need to think about it pile”. Then you go through the list again. Start removing things that aren’t important to the plot. Again, you can set aside traits that you think add to the character.

Now we get down to the really decision process. Look at each remaining interest and seriously think about if you let the character keep this interest because it helps them or because you really REALLY like the whatever-it-is. Now, go back to your “I need to think about it pile,” and do the same thing. Any interest that is only there because you’re really attached to the whatever-it-is you strike immediately. Now consider each trait on the thinking-list to decide if it adds to the character. Remember, a character can like something that you don’t mention in the story. Also remember that if you feel in your heart of hearts like a character will collapse without a certain interest it’s probably not a good idea to delete that interest.

Your character has just had some impressive holes punched through its personality. The next step into fill in some of those holes. A lot of times Pepper Jack Cheese makes the characters bloated, which is why we just spent all that time cutting out interests. Think about a couple of interests that you don’t like, but might fit the character. You don’t have to fill in any new interest instantly. In fact, I suggest you leave the character alone. Let the holes fill in organically, and they will. If you think about your characters or RP with them, then the holes will fill in on their own. Sometimes they’ll fill in if you just throw them in the back of your mind and let them alone.

I caution the last one, just because I happened to get a terrifying serial killer out of throwing a character in the back of my mind and ignoring it. At the same time, she’s one of the most interesting characters I have. I can’t grantee you’ll get a super interesting character from tossing a character aside. Sometimes you’ll forget about them completely. Sometimes you’ll make then side characters. Sometimes you’ll come back to them months and years later and actually be able to shape them into a really good character.

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