Two Times Delia Learned About Gender

This is part of a longer piece (6 times Delia learned about gender, and one time she didn’t), but the other bits mostly kinda suck right now, so I gotta rewrite them. This does reference those a bit, but uhhh, you’re gonna have to guess from context, I guess.

CN: mention of snakes in a metaphor, gender feels, mild misgendering-ish. Yes, this is a happy piece. Reminder, Delia is Zanchese-Anitian, which is pretty much equivalent to Chinese-American, and speaks Ie, which is a conlang of mine (that I need to work on more…). Please let me know if I screwed up. Nathan is her husband.

There’s some more notes at the bottom.

Continue reading “Two Times Delia Learned About Gender”

Sharing because I forgot I rewrote it (Puzzle-verse)

Dammit. Typed up a bunch, loving the banter and Daniel’s attitude, and then got to the page where I was rewriting it from James’ perspective. So y’all get an early version of the longer unfinished piece. Content note: kidnapping/abduction

Continue reading “Sharing because I forgot I rewrote it (Puzzle-verse)”

Puzzle-verse – Doll Eyes (updated)

So the old version was before I decided that one of the Lloyd siblings should be a girl. Same trigger warnings apply:  immobilization / claustrophobia, discussion of blood. Honestly nearly all the changes are just to pronouns (I may have made one other change?)

Continue reading “Puzzle-verse – Doll Eyes (updated)”

Let’s talk about Swordcat

(TW: mental institution / prison setting, mild threats, cold)

As a reminder: you can request to find out more about the world of the White Knight! Check out this post for topics.

This guy
This guy

Swordcat, aka Leon Smith (the mostly human part) / Lenxoli (the part associated with the sword, which wants to destroy all humans) (See this post for details – tw for ableist language)

 

So they found out that keeping the sword in the freezer helped out Leon one day, during the coldest winter Shard City had had in decades, when the heating system in Stomlin Ward (the special security ward of Stow Prison) broke down, completely.

A little before the normal free time they herded all the prisoners that weren’t horrible security risks into the break room. There were extra blankets and electric heaters. Swordcat was usually found without a shirt 1, but today was covered up, while most of the other inmates were wrapped up in blankets (except Wild Rush, who didn’t appear to notice temperature changes of any sort).

The biggest and baddest claimed spaces in front of heaters, pulling chairs and sofas closer. Wild Rush claimed a couch and heater and curled up next to Daisy. Swordcat dropped a blanket to the floor in front of a heater, growling slightly when another inmate gave him a dirty look, and curled up on the the blanket, his tail covering his nose.

Pretty soon, people were getting cozier, forming clumps of those that could get along.

Magpie sat down next to Swordcat, scratching his shoulders. When that had no negative affect, she curled up next to him. Others joined them. Daisy pulled Wild Rush over, and he sat warming what would have been her cold side.

Finally Techrat was the only one left, sitting on a couch near a heater, with his blankets carefully positioned to not aggravate his phobia of being restrained, and bearing a look that said clearly “Do not touch me. I will turn you inside out. I have the technology” as his teeth chattered. He apparently decided that being close to others was less offensive than freezing and sat between Daisy and Gimmick who both scooted over enough that he was only barely being touched.

It was when the heating was fixed and the store room where the sword was kept rose above freezing, that Swordcat returned to what they had thought was his normal, growly, threatening self, in contrast to the purring snoozing Leon they had found as they checked the break room (It was inhumane to not let the inmates be warm – and there was nowhere they could have been shipped off to – but it would be just carelessness to not check for trading of contraband while they were all so close).

It took only a few experiments to confirm it, and from then on the sword was stored in the kitchen’s deep freezer. While Lenxoli could still be talked to (for those doctors that wanted to risk it), it was much easier for Leon to shut it out.

 

(Note to self – each cell has a window on the other side of the bars made of nearly unbreakable plastic that can be opened as the inmate prefers)

  1.  Which totally isn’t author appeal / fan service, I swear

Snippet – Wild Rush does not react in a healthy way

TW: abuse, assault, threats, threatening with knife, blood, victim blaming

(I’ve decided Charles’ pronouns are ne / nem / neir / neirself)

Wild Rush had the habit of threatening / yelling at / blaming / etc Charles and Andre before Daisy came along.

They’d been expecting it. The boss was predictable about a few things at least. And when they heard his office door slam against the wall, they glanced at each other and dropped their mugs in the sink (less chance of them getting broken that way – they had to replace dishes too often already).

Now Wild Rush has Charles pinned down against the table, one of his knives that always seemed to appear from nowhere pressed against the back of neir neck. It was kind of amazing that the boss could so easily take down someone as big as Charles. Mostly terrifying, but kind of amazing.

“You told me it was guaranteed,” Wild Rush growled.

Andrew watched the sweat trickle down Charles’ neck. “Practically guaranteed. How was I supposed to know that Tectrix would decide he wanted it?”

Charles thought it was funny that of all the things that gave Andre panic attacks, getting chewed out wasn’t one of them. And he’d been the one with a knife against his throat or a gun against his chest plenty of times. Ne wasn’t laughing right now, of course. Ne’d gone pale – you’d think they’d get used to it – and ne was trying to breathe as little as possible.

“You’re supposed to find out these things. What am I paying you for?”

The knife twitched. “Gimmick said-”

“What are you doing?” Daisy shrieked. She pulled Wild Rush off.

He blinked at her. “I- they- we were just talking.” He sounded way too reasonable for someone with a bloody knife dangling from his fingers.

Andre pressed a clean washcloth against Charles’ neck as ne sat up. “It’s not bad,” he whispered.

“You were not!” Daisy said, her voice only slightly less high. “Why would you do that?!”

“They screwed up.”

She made a pained sound and pushed past him to them.

“It’s fine,” Charles said. “I’m fine.”

“No, it’s not!” she said. Andre glanced at the boss. He’d expected him to be pissed, but he just looked confused.

Wild Rush put a hand on her arm. “Daisy…”

“Don’t touch me!” And she fled. Wild Rush glanced at them, still puzzled, and went after her. Andre heard a door slam.

~~~~~

Andre scowled as he heard the door unlock. He’d just finished bandaging Charles’ neck – it really wasn’t that bad, hardly worse than a papercut, but it’d bled a lot – and the andrenline surge was dying down.

The boss perched on the chest at the end of the bed, bent all in angles. “Why is she upset?”

“We’re not exactly thrilled either,” Charles said coldly. Andre squeezed neir hand warningly.

“So what? Why is she upset?”

“She likes us,” Andre said.

Wild Rush’s brow furrowed further. “I like you too. So?”

“Generally people don’t assault people they like,” Andre said, suddenly tired.

“If you hadn’t fucked up-”

“Yeah, we know that,” Charles said. “She doesn’t. She hasn’t been here that long, remember?”

He pursed his lips, then said, “She won’t talk to me.”

“She probably needs to calm down,” ne said.

“From what? I didn’t do anything to her!”

“Didn’t her dad used to hit her?”

“Yeah, but…” He glanced away, his eyes crinkling as he thought. “I won’t let anything hurt her. I wouldn’t hurt her.”

“You’re missing the point,” Andre said.

“She knows I wouldn’t hurt her.” He looked back at them. “Doesn’t she?”

“I don’t think that’s the point. She probably doesn’t like to see her friends get hurt either. Most people don’t.”

“And there’s a difference between knowing something and, y’know, feeling it,” Charles said.

“But you fucked up,” Wild Rush said.

“Yeah, we know,” Andre snapped. “You don’t have to threaten us. We know.”

Wild Rush frowned, apparently still baffled. “Okay. Talk to her, okay?”

That was the last time he pulled a weapon on one of them.

I don’t think Wild Rush fits any specific diagnosis. (I’m not doing any research for him at least). He considers Charles and Andre his closest friends and he’d be upset if they got injured or killed, but only to the extent of how someone would be if their favorite shoes got ruined. ‘Well, shit, how am I going find some that good again?’ But he’d be wrecked if Daisy got killed.

White Knight notes for later

This is mostly a note to myself and lots of rambling.

I want to revamp my character diversity – I have a huge number of characters, but there are a lot of diversity categories not represented or poorly represented (like, there are a lot of Asian characters, but very few black people…) (I don’t know what the breakdown of ethnicities actually is, that’s just an example). My plan is to basically use random numbers to fix this (I already use a random generator to determine relative weights, heights, and some other things).

Percentages I’m going to use: (I’m intentionally inflating numbers to increase representation)

  • Intersex: 1%
  • Transgender (binary): 4%
  • Non-binary: 15% (I truly believe that a lot more people would be non-binary if it was more widely known and accepted – which it is in my story) (I’ve decided Delia is a demi-girl, and one of Wild Rush’s henchmen is going to be non-binary)
  • Neurodivergent: ???
  • Invisibly disabled: ???
  • Disabled: ???
  • Race categories… (gonna get the statistics for the US and round up)
  • I’m not sure what else?

Plan for the generator:

Have list of categories, with what numbers mean the character fits in that category. For example, race/ethnicity* could be White, Native American, Black, South Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, East Asian, etc, and by having a list people could easily be more than one ethnicity.

Like any generator, results will probably be tweaked by hand.

* obviously for this, I’d use the words that fit my actual map, since there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between my fictional world and the real world.

Diverse characters I know I have:

  • Lt. Aurita – cop, black / Pacific Islander,  Caling, an ethnic group that whose average height is under 4 feet Pygmy (I can’t tell from googling if this is an offensive term or if there’s alternatives – she’s not a little person, because she doesn’t have dwarfism, she’s ethnically a Pygmy) (Seriously, if I’m screwing up here, let me know). (Edited 4-27-14)
  • Mask – Middle Eastern, disabled (I need some Middle Eastern characters that aren’t criminals – don’t judge me for that, the majority of my characters are criminals.)
  • Delia Troy Burton – Asian, demi-girl
  • Joel Burton (Delia’s son) – Asian, disabled (fictional disease similar to Parkison’s)
  • Emily – Latina, Selective Mutism (I’m not sure if that’s neurodivergent, disabled, or both…)
  • Charles – (Wild Rush’s henchman) gay, non-binary
  • Andre – (Wild Rush’s henchman) gay
  • RV – black
  • (Since Ostanes is set in the same universe, I can count Iosis & Ostanes and their mom for Asian, and Dr. Maurell for asexual and Latino) (basically I already diversitied-up that story, so I’m not worrying about it)
  • (I really need some more asexual characters)
  • (I swear there’s more, I just can’t think of them right now)

Characters that I’m not counting as diverse:

  • Swordcat – multiple, through alien intervention (I need some naturally multiple people)
  • Wild Rush – neurodivergent, mostly likely diagnosis is sociopath (it’s more complicated than that and I don’t want to try to count him as representation of anybody because he’s a really terrible person)
  • Tectrix (I think that’s what I’m going to call him) – Middle Eastern (although that might change. He’s currently problematic and I’m trying to figure out how much of that is stuff I need to change about him and how much can be fixed by having other characters as counterweight) (He’s really just kind of a horrible person and I might just make him white, because making white people horrible doesn’t say anything bad about white people.)

I swear I almost should just make all the really horrible people white, because I’m totally racist against my own race. (That’s mostly sarcasm). (Anyone who non-ironically mentions ‘reverse racism’ will get laughed at and banned. Not kidding.)

Writing – BJD (Puzzle-Verse)

The sequel to Doll Eyes. There’s another vignette coming (focused on Rowan) and a short story I need to finish writing. And I need to edit Doll Eyes to reflect me changing Roland to Rowan. But anyway, enjoy.

 

The screwdriver slipped from my fingers. This wasn’t working.

“Rowan!” I yelled toward my sister’s flat.

A shouted reply from the other flat. “Oy! Some of us are trying to sleep!”

I ground my teeth. The new tenant. A physician. Moved in two days ago. Kept mostly diurnal hours. I wasn’t sure why Ms. Harris thought he would work out. Bother. What time was it?

I glanced at the clock set to this time zone. Nearly eleven. The doctor would have gotten in an hour and a half ago, most likely and Rowan wouldn’t return to her flat until one. I’d just have to make do until then.

~~~

Ten till one. The smell of curry from the hallway – Rowan’s usual takeaway. I opened my door slightly. “Would you come in?” Her mouth twisted. “Please?”

She huffed slightly. She hated eating anywhere but home, but I wouldn’t ask unless it was important. She pushed the door open with her foot, her expression growing darker as she gazed around my flat. I found cleaning a distraction and rarely bothered.

“What is it?” she said irritably. She caught sight of my left arm and her tone changed. “Oh.”

I’d already laid out the tools on the kitchen table and she gingerly set her bag on the cleaned counters as I sat down. I’d scrubbed the kitchen, as well as I could considering. It’d given me something to do while I waited, as boring as the process was.

“What happened?” she asked as she leaned in to inspect. My arm hung limply, the shoulder slumped.

“I must have jarred it harder than I thought during the fight last night. The rotor’s frozen.”

She frowned, peering over her glasses. “The socket is corroded.”

“I’ll have it looked at.” She glanced up, eyebrows raised. Admittedly, I had the habit of forgetting things, but I’d filed this one as important. “Tomorrow. I’ve no desire to have it fail again.”

It took her only a minute to adjust. The time wasted waiting for her was irritating, but there just wasn’t a way for me to get to the back of my own frozen shoulder.

“I’m reconnecting the terminals now.” She closed the access panel and the skin melded, once again seamless. I bit my lip hard as sensation rushed back down my arm. It was nearly overwhelming but I allowed myself only a hissed breath as Rowan washed her hands.

I rose, flexing my hand to chase away the last of the pins and needles. “Thank you. Enjoy your dinner.”

Writing – A Mouth Full of Ashes

This probably isn’t very good and it has no ending. It exists just to be whump. This is the one I was talking about earlier, with Albert inspired by BaaingTree’s Alpert. But not as cool. This not a nice story.

Trigger warnings: slavery, torture of a fantasy being (golem), sexual abuse of a being unable to consent

Continue reading “Writing – A Mouth Full of Ashes”

Writing – Doll Eyes

Referencing, somewhat, Asimov’s Robot series, and of course highly influenced by Sherlock and the delightful characters on it. (I would seriously just watch an hour of Sherlock and Mycroft bickering with John’s reactions.)

content note: immobilization / claustrophobia, discussion of blood Continue reading “Writing – Doll Eyes”

Where my stories come from

I generally prefer to call my stories that, instead of writing, because I don’t write the majority of them down, and even the ones that I decide I should, usually don’t get written immediately. (For example: my vampire mystery novel that might have to end up being a trilogy or getting a lot of stuff cut out.)

All my stories start as daydreams, generally when I’m laying in bed, but I’ve started stuff to keep me from falling asleep in class, when I was in the car, visiting family for the holidays, etc, whenever I have mental energy that isn’t getting used (which is often…). Most of the stories start with me using the names and characters of whatever I’m currently obsessing with. The characters will get stretched and molded to fit wherever my mind roams. I also have character types of my own creation that show up under a variety of names.

A lot of my imaginings are blatant Mary Sues, interacting with my favorite characters. My most current one, who I’ve been using in more or less the same form since I graduated high school (so thirteen years now) is a fire mage who can do anything she can imagine in fire terms, including shape changing and traveling between worlds and into stories. She beats up demons, monsters, and the occasional god. And runs a school for other superheroes, including recruiting a young version of the Phantom of the Opera. Like I said, blatant Mary Sue. Incredibly blatant. Which is why I’ve completely discarded the notion of ever recording those stories (just getting rid of the copyright infringements would… well, basically remove most of it, honestly, and it’s too much of a massive crossover for me to want to do it as fanwork). I’m trying to replace her with another mental centerpiece but I haven’t come up with a story for her yet (and she’ll probably end up horrendously overpowered as well. It’s a recurring problem.)

I lot of it, I’ll just repeat the same stuff over and over. The fire mage and her friends have been working as singers at the Iceberg Lounge for like three years now, with various misadventures including demons showing up to fight Erik, helping Batman, and mostly just lots of snark and banter. Before that she was redoing the file room in Arkham and occasionally getting dragged into doing security work. Yes, it’s all very very self-indulgent.

But some of the smaller stories, the non-epic length ones and the one-shots, end up pretty good. And I try to write them down. The problem becomes when it’s a series of adventures with no specific end. And then I don’t know where the plot is going and it becomes a mess. I have two of those novels in process.

A lot of them I can pick out what influenced them. Some of them I can’t, aside from liking certain things (why do I like whump? No idea, but I sure do. I only just learned there was a specific term for it, for pete’s sake.) And it’s usually a giant mix of things (I have one – that’ll post once I get it edited a bit – that has an character inspired by Alpert, one of BaaingTree’s characters, some of the set-up inspired by a Sherlock fic, and most of it just my own really messed up brain.)

Easiest fix: make everyone amoebas

Don’t have to worry about diversity when everybody’s genderless, asexual, shapeless, and transparent.

But anyway.

This is going to be one of those awkward things, where I say a dozen things wrong. I apologize.

There’s a discussion over on Shakesville of how everyone is sick of white straight able-bodied male protagonists. And I’m in agreement, but…

Neill, the protagonist of the novel I’m revising, hits three of those (He’s asexual). So, I could make him black or Hispanic or something. He comments on the antagonist being mixed-race (for example: ‘The tip of his tongue moistened his bottom lip, very pink against his dark skin.’) and I don’t know if that would be weird coming from a POC. If not, yeah, he’s now Hispanic. (He probably will be) (And once he is, none of the main characters will be white. Which is groovy.)

But I kind of want to make him disabled as well. But he’s a doctor in a criminal mental institution and a major physical disability would put him more danger, so they wouldn’t allow that? I think? I do think I’m going to make him dyslexic. So, um, suggestions. He had meningitis as a kid, so I don’t know if that could cause something (besides cognitive disabilities. But he’s very smart. Maybe a problem with balance?)

There’s one other character, not for this story, that I want to give a disability to. He’s a guy in his twenties, very smart, and extroverted. He does tech support and that sort of thing. I’m open to suggestions.

(Content notice: discussion of gender essentialism, sexual harassment)

What I’m finding with this is, I’ll think, oh, do this. But then that means that event will be read as something completely different. Okay, so do this other thing, but now that other event reads as… And you’re all looking at me, going use your words, give us examples.

Okay, so I make Neill a woman. Cool, we’ve got this highly educated, very smart woman. Groovy. Exceeeept… at one point Ostanes kisses Neill, without consent. Now, it’s just a kiss, on the lips, no tongue, no groping. That still comes off as much scarier than a dude kissing a dude. Okay, make Ostanes a woman as well. Now people will interpret it as straight women kissing to get attention of guys (even though it happens in a gay bar). (I think – I might be overthinking that one).

But that raises another problem. Ostanes is a dandy. He likes really nice clothes, in bright colors, and he pulls it off. A woman doing the same is going to be read as, well, ‘women like clothes’. So I don’t want Ostanes to be a woman. And there are other problems with changing Neill to a woman, that come down to people thinking girls like girly things. It’s frustrating.

I do want to make things diverse, and I think even if I screw up it’s better than not trying. But sheesh. In story I can say, oh well the society doesn’t think like that, but that doesn’t actually fix anything.

Update July 16: So Thomas Neill is now Tomas Maurell. And he’s overweight and has a bunch of minor problems caused by the meningitis, including a balance disorder and chronic fatigue. I’m still working on editing those in. And the other character I mentioned, has something like Parkinsons (he’s young and in college, so I have to do some research.)

Overthinking how to fix Ostanes

So instead of finishing writing, like, for example, the short story that’s about half done and would only take a few more hours, my brain insists on going back to Ostanes. Aside from the obvious (making it so it’s not so much talking heads), I noticed it’s basically a sausage fest, at least for the first half. And most of the characters are barely described right now (yes, that’ll be fixed), which means everyone will assume they’re white, able-bodied, straight, and cis. The last two aren’t things that will really come up without me having to force it in.

This is not acceptable.

But let’s talk total diversity (because I want people’s opinions on how to improve it). Diversity bolded and my questions in blue (so you can skip the teal deer if you want).

(Spoilers likely – also, this doesn’t take place in our world, but for simplicity’s sake I’m going to use Terran nationalities.)

Dr. Thomas Neill. White, somewhat overweight (although not mentioned very early), asexual.

Ostanes and Iosis. Multiple (not considered a bad thing in this setting). I need to do something about them denying they are, because it comes off as silly (first, research). But that’s a different issue. Ambiguously brown, probably mixed because he has curly hair. Their mom shows up and is Southeast Asian. We know basically nothing about their dad. Tall and very thin. Ostanes is pansexual. Iosis says he’s asexual, but likes to have one-night stands and make out with people at bars. Ostanes says it’s because it’s a power trip. I think it’s just complicated. Opinions? Iosis at least possibly has a mental disorder or personality disorder (that or he’s just a giant self-centered vain asshole). Ostanes has selective mutism, which I need to clarify.

Various undescribed guards. Easy place to add diversity.

Security chief. Pretty much undescribed. Woman, which I need to mention earlier.

Dr. Caro. Jerk. Male. No description.

Dr. Callis. One of Ostanes’ ex-doctors. Woman. Tried to seduce him, which is problematic. (Or at least Iosis insists she did, but he may not be an entirely reliable witness…)

Dr. Ginson. One of Ostanes’ ex-doctors. Male, no description. Could easily be a woman, which would make up for Dr. Callis.

Dr. Tross. One of Ostanes’ ex-doctors. Male, no description. Iosis thinks he’s a jerk.

Iosis’ victims. The few that are described are men, presumably white. I’m pretty sure that’s fine with me.

Uco. Overweight. Male. He has a heavy accent, but I don’t say from where. He could easily be a woman, but I’m afraid that that’s saying that making clothes is woman’s work? Or am I overthinking?

Uco’s assistant. Male, has Café au lait spots on his face. Could also easily be a woman. Maybe make Uco a woman and the assistant a man?

Delivery people. At least one is a woman. They’re otherwise undescribed.

Anita Trevino, Ostanes’ and Iosis’ mom. Southeast Asian. Woman (duh). Gorgeous. Probably has the same mental/personality disorder Iosis does because their personalities are very similar. One of the few people who can get the better of Iosis, and it’s wonderful.

Dusty. Who still needs a name change. Currently male. Going to be changed to a woman, possibly a woman of color. (Also, probably pansexual, but that won’t come up. I am NOT going to write young Ostanes walking into the kitchen and seeing his mother making out with his mentor. Not happening, but it’d be hysterical. Because I’m a jerk.) The other person who can chew out Iosis and it’s even better. Shows up as a fox (trickster archetype – actual talking animal fox) later. If I change him to a woman, is it problematic for her to be a fox? If so, suggestions for a different trickster type?

Mr. Hiddles. Rabbit of various anthro states. Male. Not changing, because oh god I lurve him. I lurve him to bits.

Elliana. Woman. Probably going to be changed to overweight, possibly a woman of color. Neill had a crush on her. She’s a fairy princess. Opinions wanted. The real Elliana was Neill’s kindergarten teacher, when he had a crush on her. Any problems there that I’m not seeing?

Three old women / witches (presented without judgement). I’m tempted to do the crone/maiden/mother thing, but I don’t think it fits. The king of fish and an ogre. Yes, this story gets odd. I need to foreshadow the change and read a lot more fairy tales to get the tropes right. It’s beautiful and I need to expand it more. It’s just so so lovely.

 

On Mary Sues

In writing, and fanfic especially, Mary Sue gets thrown around a lot. But what is a Mary Sue? Well, you could go read the TV Tropes page… I’ll wait.

You back? And just as confused as ever? Alright. This is my definition of a Mary Sue (and I’m using it as a gender-neutral term because I don’t see a good reason not to): A Mary Sue is a supposedly supporting character* that warps the story to be about them and how special they are. The story becomes focused on other characters’ reactions to them and relationships with them.

* In  fanfic, unless you’re doing a story that absolutely doesn’t focus on the main characters, any character is eligible to be a Mary Sue.

There are still the usual pointers:

  • Mary Sues are extra special, whether by being extraordinarily beautiful / handsome, the last of their kind, having unusual powers for their type, etc.
  • Their backstories are often more violent or more special than other characters, way out of proportion to anything else in the setting (hybrid of the two most powerful races, parents are dead AND was a slave, etc).
  • They are often previously unknown relatives or lovers of main characters.
  • They are often better, smarter, more powerful, more competent, etc than the other characters.
  • They are often also self-insert characters or characters that the author considers ideal.

A Mary Sue or two (or ten) does not necessarily mean a bad story. It’s can be a symptom, but no character is inherently bad.

Why limit it to supporting characters? Well, the story can’t get warped to be about a main character, because it’s about the main character. Main characters are usually more fleshed out to start with. If the main character is special in some way, it’s more expected. (For example, in a superhero story, you expect the main character to be the strongest or smartest or both. In an historical fiction, if the main character is a super-genius, that’s no big deal.) You expect the other characters to be defined in relationship to the main characters.

So, let’s look at a few of my favorite things with supposed Mary Sues.

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wesley Crusher, super smart kid that has all the answers. Has Gene Roddenberry’s middle name. Related to the doctor, gains the respect of the kid-hating captain, best friends with Geordi… Has several episodes centered around him and how smart he is… Mary Sue? Yeah… (Further analysis here)
  • Hellsing. Alucard. Super-strong vampire, better and older than any other vampire. Mary Sue? Nope, he’s a main character.
  • Dragonball Z. Goku. Super-strong. Better than everybody. Makes everybody his friend. Again, he’s the main character. Not a Sue.
  • Star Wars. … There are so many options. Anakin. Luke. Jacen and Jaina. The other Anakin. Wedge Antilles in the X-wing novels. Sort of every Jedi ever. Okay, I’m just including this to point out, Mary Sues show up. Often. AND that’s not bad.
  • Got more examples?

And a couple of examples from my own works:

  • Clythia. Regenerates, travels into other stories where she meets all my favorite characters and they all like her and often give her gifts (she had a dragon from Pern at one point, a Shi’ar warship, Merlin showed her to a new world…). Brilliant, snarky, knows more than everyone, super-competent… She’s the main character, yes, but also (originally) a self-insert character, and always a Mary Sue. Which is why I stopped working on her stories.
  • June Tind, fire mage. If it involves fire or can be thought of in fire terms she can do it.Travels into other stories where she meets all my favorite characters and they all like her and… Yeah. Yeah. Which is why her stories will never get written down. (And there have been two or three iterations of this character. And they’re all terribly, horribly, overpowered. If it was anything but fantasy it’d be really sad. One of them had a relationship with Darth Maul and taught Klingons to be Jedis to prove that Yoda wrong about the whole anger thing. I have problems.)
  • In my novel, Ostanes. In the second half (which I haven’t posted), Ostanes’ mentor shows up. (Currently a guy, going to be changed to a woman. I’m going to use male pronouns here though). Dusty. Older than dirt. Taught Ostanes and his parents. Knows everything. Snarky and can put everybody in their place. But the story isn’t about him. We know next to nothing about him. Not a Mary Sue (see, I’m getting better… One day, maybe I’ll even be good.)

So what do we learn from that?

The problem is not so much that they’re self-inserts as wish fulfillment characters. And that the wish fulfillment is through them being better than everyone else. Which, in my opinion, is poor characterization. It’s not as much fun for the audience when everything comes easily to a character. We want them to work for it. We want to watch them learn.

Except for those genres where we just want over-the-top adventures and fights. But even then, limits are good things. Limits give them something to struggle with. As an example, one of my favorite characters: The Shadow.

He’s brilliant. He speaks and reads basically every language ever. He has cool gadgets. He’s physically superior – he can climb up walls with his bare hands. He has the best technology. He can disguise himself as anyone. In the radio plays he can read minds (sometimes he basically can in the pulps). BUT, he still gets hurt, he still can’t be in two places at once, he’s still loyal to his agents (who often do poorly-considered things), he can get temporarily out-witted and surprised. If he wasn’t the main character, he’d be a total Mary Sue. Considering he started in the radio plays as the narrator, he could be considered a Mary Sue.

And the stories are awesome.

Let’s talk about Batman for a second. He’s a great example for so many things because he’s had so many versions and so many writers. Batman is over powered. Don’t try to justify it, it doesn’t matter. Batman is a wish fulfillment character and often a proxy for the author’s opinions.

That’s where things get to be a problem. When the author has him smacking around criminals and taking justice into his own hands, instead of working with the police, that can be a problem. When the author Batman spouting misogynistic garbage that can be a problem. (Alternately, when the author has Wonder Woman spouting misandrist garbage that is also a problem). When a character is being bigoted or anti-anything, shown as completely correct – with no shades of grey in there – Batman said it’s bad, everyone else who says it’s right or it’s more complicated is WRONG – that’s a problem.

It’s not a Mary Sue. It’s poor writing. It’s poor characterization. It’s an Author Tract (TV Tropes link redacted) which is a completely different – and much worse – trope (and off-topic for this post).

I have one more thing to talk about. Something that made me sad when I was researching this.

Apparently, any strong, competent, woman character is accused of being a Mary Sue. Because… I don’t know. Actually I do know, and that’s why it makes me sad. I’m going to backtrack a sec and talk about the history of Mary Sues.

It’s named for a character from a Star Trek story from the 1970s (cite) meant to parody something the author was seeing over and over in zines. Now why would a fan genuinely write an over-special female character into Star Trek? Let’s see, they’re amateur writers. They’re new at this. So they haven’t learned how to be skillful in characterization yet (writing OCs is a different skillset from writing canon characters. Canon characters you can let the audience fill in the blanks). This was the original Star Trek, which had all of three named woman on the crew. And most fanfic writers are woman. What if the story doesn’t need a nurse (Chapel), a comm officer (Uhura) or a secretary (Rand)? And let’s be honest, it’s perfectly natural for a writer (of any experience) to write a self-insert character, and for an inexperienced writer to let that character to take over the story.

So, fine, any self-insert character is a Mary Sue. And a female writer is going to make her self-insert character powerful. So, you can see the jump to ‘strong female character written by woman = Mary Sue’ and then, because fans are judgemental, ‘strong female character = Mary Sue = bad’.

I do not agree with this. Actually let me emphasize that more.

THIS IS WRONG.

Competent characters are good. Competent women are good. Competent queer women of color? Shit, point me to that, okay? I want to read that.

A Mary Sue is not just a competent character. A Mary Sue is not just an overpowered character or a self-insert. A Mary Sue is a character (of any gender) who warps the story from being about what or who it should be about, to being about them and how amazing they are.

This does not mean it won’t be a fun story to read. Or an interesting character.

In summary:

  • Well, Mary Sues are fine for fantasies. It’s in your head, who the hell cares?
  • Mary Sues in fanfic (and for that matter, ANY fanfic or writing) is practice for better things.
  • Everyone writes Mary Sues, from utter beginners to great producers.
  • Mary Sues – and overpowered or wish fulfillment characters –  are not inherently bad. But they are something to watch out for, if the intent is NOT to make the story about them.

In conclusion: Write. Write whatever makes you happy. Then write more. When people give you shit about your writing, weigh what they say. Are they just throwing shit or is there good advice in there? Take the good, ignore the rest. Write more. Read, a lot. All sorts of things. Then write more. Read lots of TV Tropes. Use what you learn to write better things.

(edited June 7th)