Every time I see this phrase, I feel like it’s a little dirty.

“Oh, go self-insert!” 

Yeah. Sometimes my brain is a 14 yo boy (although admittedly my 15 and 16 yo girls would make a sailor blush at times. Dinner conversations are frequently… interesting.) Anyway, I was talking about writing, not sex. Although….

Robert Heinlein famously said about writing to do it in private and wash your hands afterward, a clear parallel to a much more intimate act. If we follow that line of thought through, we come up with writing being a pleasurable act for the author (we’ll leave the other side of the equation out of it for a moment) which seems reasonable, because why else would we inflict this kind of effort and angst on ourselves? So yes, in a sense we the writers are, ah, F*&ing ourselves. It’s all a mindf*&k, though.

But does that make the main characters of our books a self-insertion? The more common, less literary term would be Mary Sue (or Marty Stu), which is outlined by TVTropes (here be dragons, or at least TymeEaters).

The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing.

She has an unusual and dramatic Back Story. The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, and are quick to adopt her as one of their True Companions, even characters who are usually antisocial and untrusting; if any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal. She has some sort of especially close relationship to the author’s favorite canon character — their love interest, illegitimate child, never-before-mentioned sister, etc. Other than that, the canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.

The problem is that while somewhat obviously this is a deeply flawed, highly cliched character, it’s not always the case when a critic snubs a book for containing a self-insertion. A Mary Sue lacks a growth arc, first of all. She (or he, in the case of the Marty Stu) springs onto the scene perfect, and being practically perfect in every way, has no desire nor need to change and grow into the role the author has set them into.

Chuck Gannon has been criticized for his main character, Caine Riordan, being too skilled, and obviously a wish-fulfillment character. I can see why – Caine, in the books, is a very competent person. But I’ve also met and talked with Chuck and I know that he is a brilliant man, behind a humble approach. And I know that he has friends who can do everything Caine can, and more, so for him to write this character came naturally. Where it stretches readers beyond belief is actually in the fact being stranger than fiction department.

Our own Peter Grant caught flak for his Steve Maxwell character being a ‘golden boy’ who could make no wrong moves. Peter thoughtfully considered the criticisms, and added flaws to Steve, but thankfully he didn’t break his hero in the process. It took me a while to put a finger on what I liked about Steve, but it finally clicked in a recent conversation about favorite superheroes, and why so many of us like that other Steve, Captain America.

Captain America (I unequivocally reject the Hydra version) is a nice guy. He’s a superhero, yes, but he’s also a guy you feel like you could sit and have a cup of coffee with, telling stories, and that he’d get up to go rescue a kitten, and it wouldn’t come across as too-good-to-be-true, he’s just that nice a guy.

Coming back to the pleasuring oneself aspect of authorship, yes, simply writing a character we could insert ourselves into ,and escape the humdrum world into a more perfect place would be a masturbatory experience. However, I’d like to think that ideally, writing is more akin to a shared pleasure experience. We’re not creating a book we’ll be taking to bed, after all. No, we dress it up, straighten the seam on it’s stockings, and watch it sashay out the door… and waltz into the arms of a reader. That is the goal of writers who are publishing. A two-way street of mutual enjoyment.

I’ll not take this too much further… just know that if I can write something that makes my readers happy, it makes me happy. So yes, I am inserting some of myself into my work. And writing a heroic main character who wins through the obstacles placed into his path, growing and developing into a better person as he does so? My fans like that kind of thing. So do I. I don’t like dark, brooding characters for whom nothing ever goes right, and the universe is out to get them. I’m sure there are readers out there who do. Hopefully they can find the writer for them, because I’m not the one.

Writing is perhaps the ultimate mindf%$k. Was it good for you? Because it was good for me…


Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, characterization, WRITING: ART

115 responses to “Self-Insertion

  1. Tom

    I’m a fan of Steve Maxwell and Caine Riordan for the same reason I loved watching Leverage.

    I like watching competent people be competent.

    As for Riordan, he’s a polymath. As something of semi-polymath myself, I had no trouble believing every single thing in those books.

    • I wrote this in part because a review accused my latest of being a self-insert, which amused me. I’m not a terribly confident person, but I do know that if I put myself into a book, no-one would like it. “You can’t make them an artist *and* a scientist. People don’t work that way!” which is just funny – and I get that reaction in person all the time.

      • Tom

        Well, in fairness, it IS a weird combination. 😉

        Honestly, the self-insert isn’t always bad. I’m pretty sure Owen Pitt is a self-insert of Larry Correia, at least to some extent, and he’s one of my favorite characters.

        Where it becomes a problem, IMHO, is when you make that self-insert to idealized and too Mary Sue.

        Frankly, you’re not the type to do that kind of thing.

        • Using one’s own experiences just lends versimilitude.

          • Tom

            And the ability to know what “verisimilitude” means. 😀

            • And you can actually spell it!

                • Firefox saves me from many faux-pas… especially the “-eous” words.

                  IIRC, RAH once wrote about twitting Doc Smith on the unbelievable hero in Spacehounds of IPC. He got sat down for a couple of hours during which Doc proved to him that he could do every last thing that his hero did (well, except for the fictional things, like building power transmitting machines a la Tesla).

                  I really didn’t believe it myself, until I studied on industrial processes. I then realized that a high-competency engineer, with practical experience, really could do those same things (perhaps with a bit of trial and error). The main headache in reproducing a technology is actually in the obtaining of refined resources, from aluminum to zinc. Doc’s hero had those in plenty, they just had to be “recycled” into what he needed.

                  This is why I never bought into the idea that if we regress to a low technology (for whatever reason), that we will be stuck in that state forever more. Except for things like fossil fuels that we actually consume, almost all of the resources needed by a technological civilization will still be here, not gone; and they will actually be in a form that is easier to refine (if such is needed – things like aluminum take a very long time to become “unrefined”).

                  Our technological descendants that rise from our barbarian descendants might be making their cheap plastic doo-dads from algae-derived hydrocarbons, but will be able to make just about everything else the same way we do.

        • I am discovering that the truly dedicated one-or-the-other are actually rarer. Most of the artists I know tinker in some things scientific (usually admitting it reluctantly) similarly most of the scientists I know dabble in something artistic, usually with modest (and some what fearful) protestations that they’re not a REAL artist. What seems to be rare is someone being truely just one or the other, and within the both spectrum, someone being willing to discuss both with the same crowd.

          • Tom

            I said it was weird. I didn’t say it was uncommon.

            Scientists and artists are both kind of weird. 😉

          • I am an artist. This is my principle self-designation. I also entertained, for a year and a half of decent college grades, the delusion that I wanted to be an engineer. It was a delusion not because I was doing poorly (though my dad did tell me that I would have gotten better grades had I been enjoying myself), but because I realized at that point that the drudgery to enjoyment ratio was not good for me.

            However, I have a brother who is a rocket scientist. I wouldn’t call him an artist, but he is someone who played in orchestra and has a decent singing voice, and he met his wife while swing dancing. So, yeah, well-rounded is a thing.

            • 0ldgriz

              In my dad’s family, sons were expected to grow up to be engineers and daughters to be artists. Sometimes the difference is mostly focus and self image. My father was excellent at drawing but always called himself a draftsman. Drawing as an engineering skill.

      • amiegibbons15

        I get that too!
        What do you mean you’re a lawyer who’s also good at math and who writes fiction?
        (To fill in the joke, lawyers are notorious for being incompetent at math. Basically, law school is for smart people who can not handle numbers… Which explains a lot about our government 🙂

        • Now, tell me you’re a lawyer able to keep track of your own cases and I’ll REALLY be surprised!

          (Former volunteer paralegal at Legal Aid. I swear, they needed to fire half their lawyers and replace them with secretaries. I keep having to remind myself that I probably got assigned to the most scattered ones, though.)

        • And to tease you, because I can’t resist… Aren’t lawyers and fictioneers the same thing? 😉

      • The disbelief is something I really, really don’t understand. Why would someone ‘only’ be their job? Why can’t a scientist also be an artist? Why, for the matter, can’t a doctor also be a fantastic chef?

        Why ‘aren’t people supposed to work that way?’ I wasn’t aware that ‘people’ – especially in fiction- are one dimensional things defined only by their ‘job role’.

        For the matter, why are people enamoured of ‘incompetent getting better’ – especially in job descriptions where being incompetent usually means getting that incompetent, or the people around them, killed? I don’t understand why a competent character in something like that is suddenly less believable. Or why do people only think that a bad experience/trauma = negative personality result? What about a determination to move beyond that or use one’s own pain to positive ends? Oh wait, in SJW land, those people are victims and never, ever able to rise above their personal issues.

        An incompetent wizard doesn’t survive long – or make it past any wizarding school outside of Hogwarts in fiction – and a soldier who screams at the first shots and pisses himself crying in a firefight is likely to get declared unfit for duty – if he survives the firefight to begin with. A detective who isn’t alert and on his toes gets herself killed really quickly, and quite frankly, what explorer is competent at only ONE THING?

        The people dismiss multi-talented characters as ‘hypercompetent’ forget that specialisation is for insects, and in most cases, if you don’t at least know how to try cobble together a shelter if you get shipwrecked, you’ll die of exposure pretty darned quick. Heck, half the time the ‘hypercompetence’ is just someone who learned a lot of stuff along the way over the course of their lifetime, or lived in entirely different circumstances from modern day. Heck, just the fact that we don’t really consider 16 or 17 year olds closer to adult – or, for the matter, expect them to start shaping up to be able to take on adult responsibilities nor expect them to start being adult in behavior or action – is part of the reason for the ‘people aren’t like that!’ I guess that it also fell by the wayside, along with the expectation that children should listen to, and obey their parents and do their damn chores.

        Come to think of it, I get amazed reactions when I relate that my children do lots of household chores – from preparing simple meals, cleaning the floors, and toilets, to laundry. I don’t really understand that reaction. They have machines and lots of pre-prepared ingredients, like chopped frozen onions, that make the job so much easier. I don’t have to teach them how to haul water from the only source of water from the neighborhood, or teach them how to launder clothes by hand.

        I think the disbelief says a lot more about the critics than the writer.

      • Actually science + art is pretty common as quite a lot of the scientific professions require both creativity and manual dexterity. Like musical mathematicians. Or engineers who write.

        On the other hand there’s no end of artists, writers and musicians who lack the wherewithal to do engineering, math and science because those professions have steep barriers to entry.

        So, if we exclude the parochial progressive gate-keepers (but I repeat myself) doesn’t it go back to the “plausibility” game that all storytellers have to play with their audience? The broader the audience, the harder/better the game has to be played?

    • I think Tom’s hit a critical point – polymaths are unusual, and a lot of people only see one aspect of their/our skill-set. And they don’t see the work involved. If you, the author, show the character working to gain or improve those skills, or seeking out new skills, it seems to cut back on the Mary Sue/Marty Stu impression.

      Someone asked if Rigi in the RajWorld series is me. Yes. She’s also every kid who ever got picked on by the “popular” kids because she or he’s different and doesn’t want to go along with the demands of the bullies. And unlike Rigi, I can’t draw a straight line without a protractor, ruler, and adult supervision.

    • I once wrote a post about the difficulty of writing a character who’s smarter than the author. I used Chuck and Caine as an example of doing it right.

      Then I started reading Chuck’s Facebook dissertations (too long and well-researched to be mere posts), and I realized I had made a false assumption: Chuck really is as smart as Caine.

      Then I met Chuck, and he insisted that he’s NOT smart, but he knows people who are.

      Frankly, if there are people smarter than Chuck Gannon out there, I think they and I might qualify as different species.

  2. paladin3001

    Yes, I have heard of this argument used against other others. RAH a few times and I think Larry as well once or twice. It’s easy to see it happening sometimes because after all an author tends to draw a lot on their personal experience. I have a few MC’s that I am working on and each will draw upon my experience and skill sets. They are not wish fulfillment, just using what I know and have seen. Besides I wouldn’t really insert myself as a fullblown MC into a story. Most people wouldn’t believe it if I did. 😀

  3. I think, to a certain extent, we base all characters on ourselves, just a little bit, even authors who base characters on others. We do that just by imagining what would motivate a character and how they would react. These are all constructs of our mind, so we can’t help but to leave traces of ourselves behind.

  4. I think that both wish fulfillment and self-insertion are important, positive parts of the fiction experience. I won’t say that they are the only reasons to read fiction, but for me the most enjoyable books have always been the ones where I can imagine myself having the adventures that the heroes have.

    What makes a character a “Mary Sue”, in my opinion, is the “so there!” attitude. It’s no so much “Wouldn’t it be great if I could save the world,” so much as “If I saved the world then everyone would love me and finally give me the respect I deserve!”

    I usually don’t have a problem with characters who exhibit a high level of competence in a wide range of skills, it’s when a character has to be shown not simply being good at things, but being better than everyone else at everything that I start to roll my eyes. In some fiction it seems that authors introduce characters whose sole narrative purpose is to be bested by the main character.

    In fact, I’d say that a main character can’t really be a Mary Sue by her- or himself, it’s the supporting characters who make an MC into an MS.

    Maybe that’s why discussions of whether or not a particular character is a Mary Sue tend to be so fractious–that’s the wrong question. Instead perhaps we should be asking if the supporting characters are “Mary Sue Support” characters.

    • Oh, it could be worse… through no fault of his own my MC eventually becomes Galactic Prince, and everyone around him is like, “You? Seriously??”

  5. Luke

    Robert E. Howard did it best.
    Balthus in Beyond the Black River was explicitly a self-insertion.

    He killed himself off. (Figuratively. Later literally as well, but that’s not related. Probably.)

  6. (1) Actually, I can also think of a few popular novelists whose protagonists appear to be “negative Mary Sues”: characters as neurotic, flawed, and immature as they themselves. At times the effect is (unintentionally?) humorous, at times I feel like telling author and protagonist alike to “go self-insert”.
    (2) Competent, but realistic characters with a strong moral backbone do get more “real” if they also have some flaws/deficiencies they have to struggle with.

    • Ah yes… I had that problem with a recent series… the MC was enough of a scheming sociopath (and viewed in that light, his apparent virtues became vices) that by the middle of the 2nd book he’d become tiresome, and I was cheering whenever bad things happened to him (generally hoist by his own petard, but still). At which point I wandered away and didn’t finish the book.

  7. “No, we dress it up, straighten the seam on its stockings, and watch it sashay out the door… and waltz into the arms of a reader” …. which my evil twin finished up with “… and then it rapes them.”

    Yeah, I think I’ve read books like that. 😀

  8. amiegibbons15

    I think we all put parts of ourselves into our characters so yeah, that’s not a bad thing.
    The risk is the same with any character, can’t be unrealistic. Can’t be magically good at everything, unless they are magic and that’s their power 🙂
    I’ve seen this with Marty more than Mary but I also don’t read fanfic, but the guy who’s good looking, brilliant, speaks 7 languages, can kick anyone’s ass because he’s just that good, oh and of course he sleeps around because guys think that’s also a good trait.
    Come on.
    Besides the last, which again, guys think is a plus, Marty can do it all?
    I think we hate it so much in fiction because it’s unrealistic, sure, but also because we tend to hate “perfect” people out of jealousy.
    And it’s really hard to sell a book when people hate your character.

    • try very hard not to put myself into my own books. Oh, now and again I’ll put in a personal experience and reaction, or perhaps some small aspect – but disguised and given over to an otherwise completely different person. I like to think that my best characters are completely unlike me at all.

  9. I am reminded of Chris Nuttall’s review for 12 May of Podkayne of Mars, in which it is said that Heinlein proposed the novel to John Campbell and was told off in no uncertain terms, because I infer that Campbell thought that the character would contain nothing of the author.

    It was an interesting discussion you gave us Cedar, and I shall have to reread my current novel to see if this is a flaw there. Your first three paragraphs, on the other hand…dear me.

  10. Sam L.

    Just found this:
    A romance novel. ” Kate Taylor writes, “To celebrate Mother’s Day—the chicken chain’s best-selling day of the year—KFC published Tender Wings of Desire, a novella following the love affair between Lady Madeline Parker and Colonel Harland Sanders … ‘The only thing better than being swept away by the deliciousness of our Extra Crispy Chicken is being swept away by Harland Sanders himself,’ George Felix, KFC’s U.S. director of advertising, said in a statement.”

      • There was another review that called this one a “bodice-ripper.” One Romance writer objected mightily to that (over on PV). I just commented that, based on the cover, apparently nobody – the writer, the artist, or the reviewer – had any idea of what a bodice is. (The covered female has on what is apparently a synthetic knit top. Ever tried ripping one of those?)

      • I HOWLED with laughter when I saw that on my ‘kindle recommends’ thing. And because I could NOT resist, showed the housemate.

        Response: What. *stare* *Squint* *pained groans from the puns*

  11. Of late, I’ve been seeing the concepts “Mary Sue” and “wish fulfillment” used as bats by The Usual Suspects to beat up authors. Particularly Larry, because having read all those books, he clearly needed to shoot some monsters. Being an FFL -and- an accountant would try the patience of a saint, writing a book about killing your boss the werewolf would be just the thing to settle your nerves.

    It is the cinema of the mind. You want to be the director, not the audience.

    I find when I put the war-movies down on paper, they stop. New ones start of course, but novelty takes the sting out of them. That’s what comes of having an over-active brain, I guess. But, by definition that is a self-insertion in the story. That’s my war movie getting played there, I’ve the audience for this show for a really long goddamn time. Obviously its about me.

    But here’s the thing. Owen Pitt may well be Larry finally getting what he wants, and George McIntyre is absolutely me getting what I want, but these are the stories I WANT TO READ. I read every single one of Larry’s books, because those characters are doing things and making choices that I want to believe I’d be brave enough to make too. I want to believe I’d be a monster hunter, not monster chow, and not some pussy running away crying.

    It also scalds me when The Usual Suspects whinge that a character is “too good, too noble, too competent”, as Cedar mentioned about Chuck Gannon’s Cain Riordan. One of the constant gripes in my life is incompetent, stupid people. I can do a huge variety of things myself. I can write a poem, build a car, heal the sick, win a fight, shoot a dime at 100 yards, change a baby, weld, carve, cook, sew, whatever. It isn’t remarkable, its normal. It stuns and mystifies me every time somebody can’t do that, because I am not special. I am a goof. Everybody says so. (Except they all eventually come to me when their car breaks or they get sick. Funny how that works. You are weird old gnarly Uncle Phantom until the shtf, then you’re Cool Uncle Phantom. Personal peeve of mine.)

    So when Cain Riordan opens the manual and rips into the warp drive engine, that seems no big deal to me. Its a space ship, stuff breaks, you fix it. Duh. When he declines the offer of a lost weekend with the Space Countess because Loyal Girlfriend is waiting back at home, DUH! Obviously he stays faithful, Loyal Girlfriend is worth ten of sleazy Space Countess. Besides, he’s got shit to do. Warp drive is broke.

    To me, it all boils down to what kind of future do you want to live in? I want to live in a place where people stay the hell out of my face, don’t casually break stuff, and don’t screw each other over on purpose all the time.

    The Usual Suspects don’t seem happy unless the Main Character is some sort of psychopath that needs killin’. They want Owen Pitt to be the bad guy. Competence and morality are eeevile and must be expunged. More and more, I suspect this says a lot about The Usual Suspects. They seem like a bunch of malodorous, toffee-nosed perverts with lots of envy and hate in them. I’d have to be crazy to pay attention to people like that.

    So I will take your Mary Sue, wish fulfillment characters and enjoy the hell out of their amazing awesomeness, thank you very much. The more awesome and the more amazing the better, and I want them to WIN. Usual Suspects can k my a.

    • I agree almost totally, all I would say in the circumstances is authors need to make sure the skills the character has that saves the day isn’t pulled out of nowhere in the last act. As long as it’s treated like Chekov’s gun and set up earlier in the story and reinforced throughout then it’s great.

      Part of the problem might be in fiction versus reality. A person in reality who is good at a lot of things can still find themselves in problems they can’t solve, but in fiction the reader has been trained that the person who is good at a lot of things is magic. Take Batman; in reality if someone were as well trained, big, smart, talented, tough as him, you’d expect him to win most fights with a goon, but wouldn’t be surprised if he slipped, or the goon got lucky, or Batman had a cold, whatever. Sure, Batman would win almost all the time but could still lose. In fiction Batman can’t lose to a goon so has to fight a dozen goons and still can’t lose. The reader has an expectation based upon reading fiction so when they see a writer write a competent character they think the competent character will be as over strong as competent characters usually are in fiction.


      • I’m assuming a proper level of storytelling competence, as exhibited by Mad Geniuses. I agree, Mary Sue cannot suddenly display Seventh Dan black belt fighting skills with no warning. That would be silly.

        I also agree, that character can’t be doing -everything- himself, that’s boring. Like a normal human, a proper character has areas of expertise and areas of ignorance. Batman’s not a neurosurgeon, usually.

        But those types of excesses are not what “critics” complain about. They complain Owen Pitt is a self insertion. Hell, they complain that Bilbo Baggins is a self-insertion of Tolkien.

        I say, if that’s a self-insertion/wish fulfillment book, I’ll have some more like that please.

        • TRX

          People tend to see what they expect to see.

          I’ve had a few Alien Encounters talking with people who thought Keith Laumer’s Retief character was some kind of superman. It’s hard to imagine anyone missing the point so badly… Retief was explicitly *not* a superman. He had no special knowledge or skills. He was just an ordinary schmuck trying to do the right thing. His “superiors” were narcisstic and incompetent, his enemies were greedy and weak. Retief prevailed not because of personal superiority, but because the organizations opposing his goals were paper tigers, ready to fall at the slightest hint of opposition.

          A great many of Laumer’s characters were cast from the same mold. But now, what Laumer thought of as an average Joe half a century ago, people perceive as some kind of superman.

          • Dorothy Grant

            Dealing with people who think a character is superhuman tells you what the limitations they conceive as possible are, eh?

            A great thing about good fiction and non-fiction, though, is that you can then reach into people’s heads and say “this is possible!” Sometimes they’re like “Nah, you’re only spinning an entertaining yarn.” Sometimes, they may say “Yeah, but that guy was one in a million who changed the course of history.” Every now and then, we hit the jackpot when they say “I want to be like that, too! I want to try that!”

            Sometimes it’s getting people to try a new food. Sometimes it’s getting them to try to hike in the woods. Sometimes it completely changes their life. And we’ll never know, unless they tell us!

          • There’s a few entertaining pins on Pinterest that posit, rather amusingly, why Humans are desirable additions to alien ships. There was one that had an alien discuss with a human their ‘survivable temperature range’ and it went from sub-zero temps to just slightly over 50 deg C.
            “The first (explorers to the Antarctic) died.”
            Alien: Oh so, having learned that it was a deadly environment for you, you stopped going here.
            Human: Nah, we sent more people.
            *Alien reacts with horrified shock*

            and this one, that someone linked before. It was HILARIOUS, and… true.

            SO yeah, HUMANS.

            • Terry Sanders

              Diane Carey had Chatokay decide the only way they were going to survive the Menace of the book was by reshaping the deflector shields into a wedge. Which, Tuvok assured him, was impossible. So Chakotay came up with a plan. Tuvok strenuously objected, but Chakotay talked him into it.

              So they went into the bowels of the ship and chatted up the resident geeks. They assured him it was impossible. Whereupon Tuvok, as ordered, pointed out that the seminal work didn’t actually *say* it was impossible.

              The geeks looked at each other, said “You know?…”, and drifted toward their workstations.

              Ten minutes later, they said “You’re right! It IS possible! Thanks, guys!”

              “Great!” said Chatokay. “How soon can we start a test project?”

              “Already did. The shield’s a wedge now.”

              Long pause.

              “Um. What would have happened if it hadn’t worked?”

              “I dunno. Blew up the ship, maybe. But we knew it would work. Thanks again, guys, that was COOL!”

              Chatokay made his Fright Check roll, and *didn’t* go back to his quarters, curl up in a ball, and suck his thumb, shivering, for the rest of the book.

              Tuvok, most generously, did *not* say “I told you so.”

                • Terry Sanders

                  Got the author wrong. It’s called INVASION: THE FINAL FURY, bt Daffyd ab Hugh, I think.

                  • Will have to see if it’s on my shelves. Thank you!

                    • Terry Sanders

                      You may or may not end up skimming. That whole series was pretty grim. The *Voyager* one had several utterly hilarious bits, but there was a lot of emotional gray goo in between.

                      (The baddies’ main weapon was like the Scarecrow’s fear gas in a beam. Amped to Star Trek phaser levels. Some millenia ago they’d enslaved the entire Alpha Quadrant, and ruled with such an iron hand that modern Vulcans could still lose it just seeing one of their various races–the racial memories were that strong. The anthologists were apparently going for a horror-story vibe.)

              • Terry Sanders

                Alien: Oh so, having learned that it was a deadly environment for you, you stopped going here.
                Human: Nah, we sent more people.
                *Alien reacts with horrified shock*

                Human: It’s all right. They were all volunteers.
                Alien: They…were…*all*…
                Human: We did have to pay extra, though.

            • BWAHA! This is great stuff! ~:D

    • What stops Owen from being a Marty Stu for me?

      His grumbling about the accounting for MHI. Poor bastard still has to deal with the Everyday Bullshit, and I can still see him stuck behind a desk between hunts.

      Mary/Marty Sues/tues don’t deal with everyday crap.

      • The “Marty Stu” accusations re MHI all some from the same pack of idiots who just LOVE an author based on… anything but their writing. Be it plumbing, surface albedo, adherence to some obscure religion, or geographic location, that’s the thing they’re pushing. Because when you READ the story… it’s boring.

        Why is Marvel Comics cancelling the much hyped and much heralded Black Panther & Crew? Because nobody is buying it. Despite the ethnicity of the author and artist, nobody is willing to pay four bucks for this thing. It is -boring- and possibly stomach-turningly cringe filled. I wouldn’t know, having not read it, I am extrapolating from the sales numbers.

        Compare and contrast MHI sales numbers.

        Therefore, the Usual Suspects must find something to object to, so they scream Marty Stu!!! and fling monkey crap.

        That’s why I said right up front, if Owen is Mary Sue/ Marty Stu, I’ll have some more of that please, and a lot less SJW works chosen because of the author’s plumbing, or lack thereof.

  12. The main character of my comic would seem to be a Marty Stu, and isn’t. Sure, he shares some qualities with me but that’s more based on coming up with jokes than anything else (he has my sense of humor because it was the easiest one for me to utilize for a character that was designed to carry the humor. Writing other senses of humor is something I do for other characters but 1500 strips of writing away from what you do naturally? Difficult and unfulfilling. I’d rather write my own jokes, my own way, rather than someone else’s, their way. Not uncommon, Charlie Brown is Charles Schulz, Jon Arbuckle is Jim Davies, Cathy is Cathy).

    A lot of what people see that would make them think it’s a Marty Stu is there as an extended joke that makes me smile. Basically, I designed the character for a silly joke in a play and because I wasn’t going to wear a wig or dye my hair, I just drew me as a cartoon character. I liked the way he looked and came up with a story and some jokes and did a few strips. My buddy liked them and thought I should put them online. Then some kid read it and decided to rail on the strip as a Marty Stu thing as the main character was too attractive. Which, considering how those strips looked in the first month was insanity. He was a chunky, thick, square faced dude who was being upstaged and lectured at by St. Peter. Which, to the kid bespoke a Marty Stu because the character sort of looked like me.

    There was two ways to go, acquiesce to the criticism and make the character uglier, make him stupid, make him the butt of the jokes instead of the deliverer of jokes, or make him taller, better looking, better comedic timing, basically as a way of giving any critic like that the middle fingers.

    And, well, I’m Irish enough that there wasn’t really two choices.

    It actually works pretty well but I think Misha hit it on the head. All of the other characters in the strip are often annoyed or exasperated at the main character. His mother spends her time taking the air out of his tires and never lets him know how proud she is of him. No one bows before him, and those that do get mocked so hard by him that they end up antagonists. If the others were constantly telling the reader how awesome the main character is? Ouch. That’d suck hard.

    One thing that showed me that the usual suspects weren’t about making other’s work better as to avoiding Mary Sues was the reaction to Rey in The Force Awakens. She ticks absolutely all of the boxes. All of them. Hits them so hard that I assumed the writer had been going for that, or had been told to write a Mary Sue. Not only did they not get after the writers for doing that, they vigorously defended it. Attacked everyone that pointed it out. Screamed misogynist at the top of their lungs. Said Luke Skywalker was a Mary Sue too (even though he didn’t fit any of the criteria).

    They made it clear from their reaction to such an obvious Mary Sue that they were mainly using the accusation to attack their ideological enemies. In fact I think it’d be fair to say most of what they say to be ‘wrong’ these days is more about attacking other writers than it is about improving writing. Crabs in the bucket.


    • Joe in PNG

      It’s funny- both of the new Star Wars movies had female protagonist, but while I can watch “Rogue One” over and over again, “The Force Awakens” leaves me cold.
      And as you say, it’s because Rey is a Mary Sue Classic, and Jyn (sp) isn’t.
      Because Rey is Mary Sue, she doesn’t really need anyone’s help, and that pretty much makes Fynn and the rest of the cast redundant… until Han steals the show.
      Rogue One is more of an ensemble piece- Jyn is competent, but not a one woman army. She’s not the one flying the shuttle, hacking the system, fighting the Imperial armies, or leading the attack.

      My personal belief is that the original script was focused on Fynn, and his conversion from mindless stormtrooper to possible Jedi. Then, some focus group or something wanted more Grrrl Power. So, the female side character got min-maxed to Mary Sue levels, and the rest is history.

      • I didn’t mind Rey so much. She’s a Jedi, she’s supposed to be super-duper. She can do all this fancy shit by feeling The Force, I’m okay with it. Mary Sue works in this story.

        My problem is more how LAZY the writers are. The Millennium Falcon has been sitting in the desert for 20+ years and it was a busted piece of crap when they parked it… but it is still air tight and still has gas in it? And if it works, nobody is using it? It can out-turn and out-shoot brand new, depot maintained Imperial fighters? Sure.

        The Empire has had not one but TWO death stars shot out from under them, but they still build something that one guy can blow up with a fighter?

        Luke Skywalker is such a WUSS that he’s hiding on some backwoods planet, letting the Empire do whatever the hell they want? And he left his own daughter/niece/whatever to rot on Planet Desert Shithole like that? Come on.

        They’re going to have to come up with some reeeeealy good excuses for that stuff.

        Its funny that the Flopatron is busy at his bog swearing up and down that Rey is NOT a Mary Sue, and getting all mad at somebody for saying she is one, when that’s not the problem with the story.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          Apparently the Falcon was stolen fairly recently, as in the last few years.

          And the First Order is just as cocksure as the Empire. Maybe even more so.

        • Patrick Chester

          Rey’s flying the Falcon so well was pretty much the only thing I had a problem with. The duel at the end didn’t feel all that Sueish mostly because I was consistently failing to be impressed with Emo Kylo Ren as a villain. 🙂

          • Draven

            Kyo Ren = Emo Vader.

            • Patrick Chester

              That and I suspect JJ Abrams has no idea how big a galaxy is. Being able to see Starkiller Base’s targets destroyed while on a planet in another system many light years away really broke immersion. Just having Force Sensitives feel the deaths would have been enough.

          • Zsuzsa

            I do not understand those people who call Kylo Ren a “compelling villain.” He got beaten like a red-headed stepchild by a teenage girl who had literally never held a lightsaber before. After that, it’s pretty hard to think of him as anything other than pitiful.

            • I saw the movie in a theater in Phoenix AZ. When Kylo Ren took his helmet off, I exclaimed “Oh my God, its Justin Trudeau!”

              There are lots of Canadians in Phoenix. Half the theater cracked up. So now at Chez Phantom, Kylo Ren is forever more Darth Justin.

      • Patrick Chester

        I suspect Jyn’s main contribution to the Rogue One op was… she knew how to find the file her father left in the archive. Since he used his nickname for her when she was a little girl.

  13. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    One thought on the “Marty Stu/Mary Sue” type character.

    Sometimes they are said to be the “super-capable” characters that are the “wish-fulfillment” of the writers.

    Many of my “main characters” are physically-strong characters which I’m not but yet I want to write stories where if the main character was “just like me”, he’d be quickly dead. 😉

    IMO the characters have to “match” the story that they are in or there wouldn’t be much of a story.

    “Somebody just like me” in an action-adventure story would require plenty of help from the writer to win let alone to survive. 😉

    Oh, there are a few “story-lines” of mine that likely won’t see the light of day because the MC just bulled his way through to win. IE No real challenge. 👿

  14. Christopher M. Chupik

    An egregious example can be found in a recent work by a well-known Canadian SF author. The protagonist finds scientific evidence that most people are psychopaths or “zombies”, with only a small elite group of people with a conscience and lo! The protagonist is in the third category, and people with politics the author disapproves of (conservatives) are in the first. How convenient that science manages to align with his pre-existing prejudices!

    • Draven

      what is this so i can avoid it?

      • Christopher M. Chupik
        • The first five words of that blurb would have sent me running, even if I wasn’t already familiar with the author.

        • Draven

          well, hugo and nebula award winning is a sure hint

        • I’ve been avoiding that dude’s work for a decade or more. He’s got a twisted philosophical view that makes me want to barf.

          • TRX

            I read three or four of his books when they hit the dollar bin at the used book store.

            They weren’t worth it.

            Honestly, he’s not a bad writer, as far as being able to string words and a plot together. But he’s writing from a set of default assumptions so far from mine that there’s no “willing suspension of disbelief”.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Another reason to avoid THAT Author. 😦

        • paladin3001

          Used to enjoy his stuff. After the “Hominid” books I just went. meh. Then I learned more and more about how he thought of people like me and decided not to give him the eyeballs on his works.

  15. Draven

    You made up a character who is good at politics, an excellent orator, superb writer and an inventor! obvious Marty Stu!

  16. I write astronauts and rocket scientists, people way smarter than me. If I inserted myself into one of my stories, I’m fairly sure that my Captain Nick Aames would have me scrubbing decks to Mars and back. I am, truthfully, a bit of a slob. If I can function, then the room is neat enough, so why clean it up. Nick would teach me that sloppiness is deadly in space, or failing that, he would drum me out of the service.

  17. BobtheRegisterredFool

    As a long time fanfic reader, I’ve read a lot of self insert.

    I’ve read good SI, fun SI, SI that didn’t grab me, and stuff that probably was genuinely not very good. The good stuff left me enough ‘I want to do something like that’ that I’ve figured out that I am simply dull in most such situations. Sometimes I can’t tell if something is SI or not.

    I’ve also read a lot with protagonists who are in many areas more competent that I am. I like that very well, when the author does a good job at depicting it. It’s not just that I’m not very capable. It’s not just that there are or have been very capable people in this world. Sometimes a superhuman character is fun, sometimes they are a goal for me to chase after. Someone who seeks the right thing in horrific circumstances helps me want to avoid being broken by my own fairly soft circumstances.

    Sometimes I enjoy a character that moves from strength to strength. Sometimes it really is about the ride. Sometimes is is fun to have a main character with a streak of a dozen victorious fights decided by the maturation of a power up or concealed strength. It depends on how well you sell it.

    I recall more stuff where people apparently bitched about sues than where it really bothered me. This is probably selection bias of some sort. Something bores me, I drop it and forget about it. Establishing and remembering that something has the specific sue issue is too much effort. The stuff I pay more attention to is stuff I like, and I’m more likely to note allegations of sue, and think they are unfounded.

    • Draven

      If everyone in books was only as skilled at things as i was, then… for instance… that kid from Tatooine woulda gotten shot down by the first defense turret on the original death star.

      • Better than one based on me would have done. Very short movie, there, with the protagonist going up in a fireball about thirty seconds after taking off. Now, I am a very good “pilot,” so long as the problem space remains essentially two dimensional, but I had to give up on Flight Simulator many, many years ago…

  18. Sam L.

    Thought you should know that California hates authors and book stores :

    • Draven

      yeah, typical of CA. They probably also want to add a tax to it, and have government-licensed autograph authenticators, preferably unionized ones.

  19. mrsizer

    I prefer Mary Sue to bad training. I’d rather just assume there was some good training out-of-story than have geeky nerd from High School become Super-Ensign after Basic Training and Officer’s Training School. Either montage the training (which I find incredibly de-motivational for real life, where training takes ages) or mention it in passing (end a chapter with acceptance to Fleet Academy and start the next one with first assignment).