Today, class, we’ll be doing a thought exercise. Okay, you’ll be doing a thought exercise, because I can’t be trusted to treat the subject fairly right now.
If you were a character in a book, what would you be like? The idea is to take real details of your life and self, and make them interesting enough to read about. Most people like to read about characters who are as good as themselves, or a little better, so you have some room to make yourself faster, smarter, more successful than in reality.
Since this is the internet, don’t share your actual location, place of employment, or sensitive information. No one will know or care if you fudge the details, and the whole point is to make yourself slightly better- or at least different- from the real you.
What role would you play in a story? How would you handle some of the basic plots that turn up in most stories? How do you, a real person, alter the story in ways that a character fulfilling an archetype might not? Which skills and hobbies would your story-self have, and in what situations would they be useful?
Maybe you’re the plucky comic relief, or the guy who knows everybody, the person who makes sure the hero eats a decent meal every once in a while. Maybe you are the hero who needs to be cajoled into eating real food.
The world of your story matters, too. Giving your perfectly ordinary self wings is fine, if ordinary people have wings in this universe.
As I said, I can’t treat the subject fairly right now, but when I can, fictional me is usually still a horse nerd, likes books, and has no social life. That should surprise no one. Basically, I’m Phoebe Marlow from Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester, except not as good with children.
Re: the title of this post- most of you probably know this, but for those who don’t, a Mary Sue is an obnoxious self-insert character. If I recall correctly, the original Mary Sue was a Star Trek character. She was younger, prettier, smarter, and generally better at everything than all the other characters, never faced any obstacles that she couldn’t overcome, and everyone fell in love with her for no reason other than, the writers made it that way. The term is also used to describe characters who are blank slates that the reader can imagine themselves as (Bella from Twilight is often used as an example of that type of Mary Sue). The male version is sometimes called a Gary Stu.
Mary Sues can be annoying, but if you treat the concept seriously from a writer’s perspective, it can be useful for developing characters that read like real people instead of archetypes. Just make sure to leave off the ‘obnoxious’ part of ‘obnoxious self-insert,’ lest your readers chase you and hit you with sticks.
I’ve also done a version of this exercise where I imagine what I’d be like if I lived a hundred, two hundred, five hundred years ago. The obvious answer is, I’d be dead from lack of medical care, but discounting that opens up some interesting possibilities. It’s also fun to do this exercise at different points in your life and see how getting married, having a child, moving to another state, or working a different job changes the results.
Go forth and use your imagination, dear reader! If you were a character, what sort of character would you be?