Tag: Mary Sue (page 2 of 2)

The Other Way To Use Lore

Luke, courtesy sfdebris

Yesterday I talked about the constraints of an established universe and what to do if you want to avoid raising the ire of the fan community. However, keep in mind that this is merely advice for most fan works. Sometimes you want to break the established constructs for one reason or another. That’s fine. Nothing new is created without something old being at least partially destroyed.

This is done a lot in fanfiction. A lot of Mary Sues are born out of a writer’s desire to break a character’s norms, have them develop in a different way. Most of the time, that ‘different way’ is falling in love with/universally praising/getting in a situation in which they can only be saved by the aforementioned Sue. On the one hand, this isn’t a bad way to acquaint oneself with writing within the constraints of a given established universe, or more than one if you’re doing a crossover. On the other, be prepared for even more flak than usual depending on which direction your Sue takes you.

I’m not saying all fan fiction has Sues or author insertion characters. The crossover epic Unity keeps the characters from both established universes pretty consistent while playing with reader expectations. If pressed to recommend some “good” fan fiction, that’d be it.

And then there are parodies.

#1, Courtesy of Das Bo Schitt

A good example of using lore for the purpose of parody is a YouTube series called The GMod Idiot Box, created by some guy calling himself Das Bo Schitt. While there’s some pretty screwball comedy that goes on within the episodes, he actually goes to some length describing how his characters came to be. He couples familiar sights and sounds from popular Valve games with well-chosen music and some classic comedy gags. I can’t say everybody would enjoy the videos, as some of the comedy borders on the juvenile, but some of it does get me rolling on the floor laughing.

Which says a lot about me, I guess.

Anyway, those are a couple ways a writer or artist can use established lore without staying entirely constrained within its mores. What are some others?

PT: The Fine Art of Subtlety

You will learn by the numbers! I will teach you!

All right, nuggets, on your feet! We’re going to talk about something near and dear to my black little heart today, and I expect it’s a subject some of you have touched on before. I know I’ve been guilty of this, very recently in fact, so let me begin with an example.

In my current long-term writing project, there’s a reveal that happens at about the halfway mark. Our heroine’s been trotting along, doing her thing and generally being awesome, when she runs headlong into an adversarial brick wall and nearly gets herself killed. When she wakes up, she’s in an unfamiliar environment and made aware of some facts relevant to her situation that had previously been unknown to her. Once she gets over the shock, she’s pretty pissed about it.

When I originally envisioned the scene, it had about, oh, this much subtlety:

STOP! Hammer time!

It’s an old familiar trap. I have a cool idea in my head, and I want to get it out in front of people as soon as possible to say “SEE, THIS IS COOL!” and have them all agree. But they might not, since their heads are throbbing from the abrupt noise and some of them are picking glass out of their faces. Apparently they ignored the notice about the people in the first couple rows possibly suffering grievous bodily harm.

Anyway, it should go without saying that you shouldn’t do this. How boring would it be if we knew right from the outset that the evil armor-wearing asthmatic overlord is really our hero’s father? Or that the quiet, patient and empathetic psychiatrist we’ve been following has been dead all along? Or the planet on which the hero’s crashed that’s populated by damn dirty apes isn’t an alien world, but our own Earth?

The aforementioned stories (now RUINED FOREVER for some I’m sure, sorry about that) work because the big reveal comes not only at the right time during the story but also in the right way. The secrets and cool moments of a story should, like the action and growth of characters, grow organically from the story’s plot and theme. As our characters grow and change, an earth-shaking revelation should be hard-hitting, but not blatant. It’s a balancing act, and will only come with practice.

While we’re on the subject of character growth, I’d like to touch on something while we’re discussing subtlety. Truly effective and lasting characters are ones that grow and change over time, rather than springing fully-formed of awesomeness from the head of the creator. I mean, sure, it’s cool to imagine yourself as the new kid on the block with killer guns akimbo skills and the sort of smile that’d make the opposite sex fall over themselves to get at you (or members of the same sex, or both) but how is that interesting for other people?

Mary Sue

It’s something I’ve mentioned in the course of preparing myself for Star Trek Online, and Classholes Anonymous covered the subject better than I could. The only thing I have to add is this: Not only does a half-Vulcan, half-Romulan, half-Klingon, half-Caitian former Borg drone with powers of the Q who’s also Kirk’s half-grandchild piss people off, it’s thoroughly uninteresting. Not to mention there’s a failure at math somewhere in there.

Be subtle, nuggets. Maintain the mystery. The less you give away, the more people will want to get from you. And, ideally, they’ll be willing to pay for it.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Fan Fiction

Mary Sue

You don’t improve your skills in anything unless you practice. Baseball players go to batting cages, tennis players use automated ball machines, shooters go to gun ranges. Where do writers go? In recent years, a lot of fans of popular media have been writing short pieces of fiction based in the fictional worlds they enjoy. While fan fiction isn’t by any means a form of writing meant to generate any sort of revenue – most fan fiction writers go out of their way to ensure readers know they didn’t create these worlds – it can be seen as a viable means for a writer to hone their skills and weed out bad habits. Backstories for MMORPG characters fall into this category. Regardless of the inspiration, however, there are some very clear things that separate good fan fiction from bad fan fiction.

By the way, in case you’re new to this, works of fan fiction are referred to as ‘fics’, and an established fictional world and the characters within are referred to as ‘canon’.

The Good

Getting into the mind of a ‘canon’ character is an interesting exercise. Some of the best fics have very little action and are introspective, with a main character of the canon thinking about something that’s happened or might happen. Since no major events are taking place that might upset the canon, these exercises are ultimately harmless provided the thoughts and feelings of the character are consistent. For example, a short story on Harry Potter’s deepest thoughts and feelings in the wake of someone’s death can be a touching and powerful work, provided he doesn’t think about how he could have done the deed better or how he’s got the hots for Bellatrix LeStrange. More on inconsistencies later.

If you have an idea for an original character or group of characters in a canonical world, by all means bring the idea to life. Give them a personality, history and world view and set them lose in a playground defined by the rules of the world’s original creators. Take the time to flesh them out in your mind or in your notes before you begin the fic in earnest. Locations and situations of the established world provide the backdrop and drama for your character or characters. Role-playing guilds in a MMORPG fall into this category, and if you can work together to establish the rules and circumstances of the disparate characters gathering, the result can be a rewarding and satisfying one for everybody involved.

The more you write, the better your habits in writing become. Just as a slugger, tennis player or hunter grows more confident and more accurate they more they practice, so too does a writer develop more skill with the language and a unique voice to the more they write. Fan fiction’s a good way to get this practice, and if you have a means with which you’re comfortable for you to get feedback, so much the better.

The Bad

It’s fun to think of how a relationship between canon characters might turn out. But if you’re going to write about it, keep their behavior consistent with what’s been established. Don’t try to turn the hero into a psychopathic murderer or a loving husband into a wife-beater. Putting a villain in a sympathetic light can be tricky, but it can be done if the villain’s motivations are kept hidden from the audience and can be elaborated upon by the fic writer. However, if the canon character is a blatantly evil jerk who delights in putting cute things through wood chippers, you’re going to have a hard time getting an audience to side with them in the course of writing your fic.

When it comes to original characters, be very careful in how the interact with those established within the canon. Avoid it if you can, and if it’s absolutely necessary, keep the conversations short and the behavior of the canon character or characters consistent. If a canon character wouldn’t like the kind of person your original character is, for any number of reasons, be certain to show that, rather than the canon characters simply adoring your original one just because you’re writing the story. The more canon characters you bring into your story, the greater the risk of your original character becoming a Mary Sue.

The Ugly

New writers that haven’t developed good habits and go entirely with what comes out of their heads run the risk of creating main characters that are little more than Author Avatar for whom everything goes right in the end and can’t seem to stop getting attention from members of the opposite sex. Another bad habit that can come from undeveloped writing styles include not doing proper research even if they claim they have. However, if the author in question has gotten hold of a good agent and is establishing their own canon that abides by their own rules, not only can they get away with these atrocious habits, they can become insanely popular.

I can’t really understand it either, but I suppose in some cases, success can justify quite a bit.

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