Link Dump – Bibliobibuli Edition

bibliobibuli n. – those who read too much, and hence tend to be unaware of or oblivious to the real world

Trying to clear out the backlog of links so this is going to be a big one. But I’m including pretties this time.

(as always pics are linked to their source and you can view more of my favorites on DeviantArt)

Continue reading “Link Dump – Bibliobibuli Edition”

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)

Link Dump – Serendipity Edition

The Likeable Unlikeable Character – “Even an unlikeable character has virtues. Eeyore, the melancholy donkey in A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, is not a likeable character at face value. He’s a moper and complainer and oozes negativity. But his unselfishness is a virtue that Milne used to endear us to him. Eeyore didn’t exude happy thoughts but he’d likely give you the tail off his back if you needed it.” (from Novel Rocket)

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Fantastic Batwoman Cosplay – Not entirely related: even though I don’t read the comics (it violates my guideline of not reading anything modern because I tend to get stabby), I appreciate the current Batwoman for not being the same old stereotypical male gaze oriented, super sexy supermodel. I like that she’s generally drawn bigger and curvier, with feminine strength. She’s not generically beautiful. Anyway, unnecessary opinion over. This is just a really good cosplay.

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Ame-Comi Duela Dent (Joker) Cosplay – The character is silly and the statue it’s based on is basically fan-service, but this cosplay is really well-done.

Wordcount for Lovecraft’s Favorite Words – “One of the things any fan of Lovecraft discovers early on is that Lovecraft was very attached to certain words. We either laugh or groan every time we hear something described as ‘indescribable’ or called ‘unnamable’ or ‘antiquarian’ or ‘cyclopean.’ And sometimes we wonder how many times he actually used the words.” (from Cthulhu Chick)

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12 Mind Blowing Number Systems From Other Languages – “The Oksapmin people of New Guinea have a base-27 counting system. The words for numbers are the words for the 27 body parts they use for counting, starting at the thumb of one hand, going up to the nose, then down the other side of the body to the pinky of the other hand” (from Mental Floss)

Tutorials off DeviantArt:

Understanding Your Style: Symbols, Design Pattern, and Anti-Pattern -or- Why a Little Figure Drawing Never Hurt Anybody. (Two parts, this links to the first part and there’s a link there to the second part.)

The Really Flippin’ Easy Way to Make Things Look Like Crappy Silver Age Comics (pretty sure I linked this before, but that’s alright)

Skin: A Tutorial (four parts, just linking to the first.)

Paper Charm Bracelet Tutorial (how to turn paper into cool looking beads)

Link Dump – Lapin Edition

In Which My Toddler Helps Me Think of “Character” in a New Way – “Our son, the one we call ‘B-Dub,’ thinks of the people in his life abstractly. Example: if he sees a magazine ad featuring the car you drive, he’ll point to it and say your name. If he sees a spot on the floor where one of the dogs likes to lie down, he’ll say that dog’s name. But it can be even more abstract, to the point where it takes us time to figure out what the connection is – like it’s a little bit of a puzzle.” (from terribleminds)

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(Go see the full-size version!)

“Well, you should learn to control your temper” – Why Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is NOT an abuse-apologist narrative. “So what does Belle do? Does she put aside her hurt and attempt to be kind and loving? Does she assume he must have a troubled past and decide to go along with his not-requests until her sweet acquiescence tames him? No. She stays the hell away from him, not even allowing herself to be in the same room with him, and has dinner that night with nice people who care about her feelings instead.” (from Sailor Ptah’s Dreamwidth)

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Justice League of Rodents!

1958 Sears kitchen cabinets and more – 32 page catalog (from Retro Renovation)

NPC Characteristics Generator – Linking because it’s also good to give minor characters some sort of background or quirk.

Quickie Character Backstory Generator – another one

Link Dump – Gunsel Edition

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West

11 Weirdly Spelled Words – And How They Got That Way Thought, Asthma, Colonel, and more words whose spelling makes no phonetic sense (from mental_floss).

(All images, click to go to the DeviantArt page and see full-size. I’ve shrunk them down quite a bit more even than the DA preview)

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Savoy Stomp Stomping through the Savoy Cocktail Book. Also other cocktails, recipes, and other blog stuff.

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You *have* to see the full size one of this to get the details. I wish it had better contrast, but it’s lovely.

No Logic in “Etymological”: A Response I Actually Sent Kory Stamper is a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. She gets odd correspondence. This is a response to one of them. (from Harmless Drudgery)

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The Germans have a word for it – and it’s a very long one. ‘The editor of the Accidental Empire series muses on another thing the Germans do extremely well’ (from The Guardian)

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Look! Up in the sky! It’s…it’s… it’s an amazing optics display What you can get from just ice crystals and sunlight (from Bad Astronomy)

Cocktail DIY: Stocking Your Bar At Home I’ve started following the blog which has all sorts of great recipes, aside from cocktails. (from Putney Farm)

They Came From Outer Space Creepy astronomical and otherwise photos (from Bad Astronomy)

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I love the colors in this.

An Open Letter to Writers in 3 Acts: the Anguish & the Glory (from A. Victoria Mixon, Editor)

(note on this post’s title: Gunsel has a factoid associated with it that will never fail to amuse me. From Dictionary.com:

gunsel

1914, Amer. Eng., from hobo slang, “a catamite;” specifically “a young male kept as a sexual companion, esp. by an older tramp,” from Yiddish genzel, from Ger. Gänslein “gosling, young goose.” The secondary, non-sexual meaning “young hoodlum” seems to be entirely traceable to Dashiell Hammett, who snuck it into “The Maltese Falcon” (1939) while warring with his editor over the book’s racy language.

” ‘Another thing,’ Spade repeated, glaring at the boy: ‘Keep that gunsel away from me while you’re making up your mind. I’ll kill him.’ “

The context implies some connection with gun and a sense of “gunman,” and evidently the editor bought it. The word was retained in the script of the 1941 movie made from the book, so evidently the Motion Picture Production Code censors didn’t know it either.

Link Dump Cyan Edition

Yeah, I’m just naming these something silly from now on.

“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” – Neil Gaiman

The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains, part 1 and part 2. Why green lights are blue in Japan, how you name colors if your language only has two words, and a lot more cross-linguistic facts. (From Empirical Zeal)

Tired of cliché? Want to be unique? Pursue the why. Figure out the causes of your scenario and the consequences to add depth to your writing. (From TalkToYoUniverse)

Rules, Schmules: Don’t Follow the Rules, Tell a Great Story. “If you’re more concerned with the technical rules of writing than the story itself, you’re hurting your chances of ever getting published.” (From The Other Side of the Story)

Why I Love That Bad Guy: The “S” and “Z” Blocks. Did you know Tetris has villains? This is just amusing. (From Love the Bad Guy)

Mario’s Creators Answer Burning Questions About The Series. Interview with Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka. We find out the Koopalings aren’t Bowser’s kids and that ‘Dr.’ Mario has no medical license. (From Game Informer)

Review of the Weaponeers of Monkaa (From Michael Crawford’s Review of the Week). And the announcement from Spy Monkey Creations, with more pictures. I don’t need any more toys, but these look awesome to have on your desk to fiddle with. They come apart into lots of pieces (at least 25) and are compatible with all Glyos System toys. The most original thing? Some pieces can be a hand or a head and look nice as either.

And in other pretties news, my latest favorites on DeviantArt: A cat in Nick Fury cosplay, a really amazing Ryuk (from Death Note) cosplay, a gorgeous Voodoo Priestess drawing, and the best tutorial for getting that old comic book look I’ve ever seen.