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Avoiding Flames

If you write for FanFiction.net, FictionPress.com, or any other website where you can share your creative writing pieces - then you know exactly what I'm talking about even if you've never seen them yourself.

However, this particular article is geared mostly towards people who have received flames on their works and would like to avoid them in the future - or want to rewrite them so that the only reviews and comments they get are constructive criticism.

i. The Mary Sue (or Gary Stu)

Definition from Wikipedia: A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfilment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional. While the term is generally limited to fan-created characters, and its most common usage today occurs within the fan fiction community or in reference to fan fiction, original characters in role-playing games or literary canon are also sometimes criticized as being "Mary Sues" or "canon Sues" if they dominate the spotlight or are too unrealistic or unlikely in other ways.

I'll be honest here - if you have "Mary Sues" in your story, you will get flamed. It's one of the most hated things in the writing community. Almost all beginning writers have one in their story, and that tends to be forgiven. If you've been writing for a few years, and are still writing them - then your characters need some modifications. However, this might be where the problem lies. In English classes (writing/reading/literature), one does not learn how to recognize a "Mary Sue" or how to avoid them. They may learn how to create a character, but that's as far as it goes. Creative Writing classes might actually teach one how to avoid creating a "Mary Sue" but since that's an elective, it's unlikely for all writers to have that knowledge base without doing their own research.

Here's the hard part: how can you tell whether or not your character is a Mary Sue? To make this short, look up "Mary Sue litmus test" on Google and use any one of them to analyze all of the original characters that you created. The test themselves actually indicate characteristics found in Mary Sues - so if your character has one, you can change it. However, it's okay to have a few of the characteristics - but you want to keep the "sue-ish" characteristics low so your character seems more real.

The definition of Mary Sue written above mentions "canon Sues" - so you might be wondering why I'm not going into fixing those. It's simple, they're canon. If you tried getting rid of their "sue-ish" characteristics, you might get criticized for making your characters OOC - but you could always pass it off as the character being hard to write. For example, the anime Prince of Tennis is full of "Gary Stus" (male version of "Mary Sue") - but hardly any anime fan criticizes Konomi Takeshi for it. However, they're mostly "sue-ish" for their appearances; the complex personalities help quite a bit with avoiding criticism for being "canon Sues". This fandom in particular is quite harsh toward "Mary Sue" authors - well, then anime/manga community in general is harsh. It's not hard to find a parody criticizing "Mary Sue" authors in any fandom unless it's a new one, or less well-known one. Anime fanfiction readers or writers, however, will prefer reading a story about an OOC character than a story revolving around a "Mary Sue" - they can tolerate original characters, but make them real.

ii. Genderswapping/Genderbending

I'll admit to being an avid reader of stories with genderswapping/genderbending. That doesn't necessarily mean that I actually like all of them. It's actually more likely for me to want to break my computer in half when I read them.

You're probably curious. If I hate genderbending stories so much, why the hell do I read them so much? There's a few reasons, actually.
  1. Not all of the authors are courteous enough to let you know ahead of time that the characters are genderswapped.
  2. The summary actually has a warning saying that the story is AU.
  3. There's a *crack* warning.
  4. The author actually does warn you that one of the characters is genderswapped and just lures you in with a great story summary.
Not every genderbending story I read has had all of them, of course. However, these are the main reasons readers may be fooled into reading a genderbending story.

There's nothing wrong with the concept. It's the implementation of it that most people have a problem with. Changing a male character to a female is one thing several can tolerate - it gives fangirls a way of putting themselves in a story dominated by males, so it's absolutely loved by female fans of a shounen fandom. However, they'll hate you if you make the character's personality the complete opposite of the original personality. What a lot of people don't realize is that Fem!Ryoma is still Ryoma - the cocky little brat that Prince of Tennis fans know and love. Sure, some personality traits will inevitably be changed, but not too much.

iii. MPreg

This typically isn't a cause for flames, but it should still be addressed. The only males that can get pregnant are hermaphrodites (boys born with male genitalia and female internal organs). However, those are very rare - and I believe that most parents are told early on that their baby boys were born with female organs inside of them, and a lot of them choose to get them removed early on. More liberal parents are more likely to let the child decide on their own whether or not the organs should be removed, but those would be pretty rare in modern society. Therefore, the most likely possibility would be for someone who was born a female to get a sex change to become a boy. This is only a possibility because they were born girls, and I am unaware whether or not the surgery involves the removal of the ovaries and uterus.

Why am I mentioning this at all? Because I saw a story that made three males pregnant at the same time! This is unlikely even in polygamist relationships. It's one thing if most of the pregnant people are females, but it's highly unlikely for more than one man to be pregnant at the exact same time.

Keep in mind that I'm not saying it's IMPOSSIBLE for a man to get pregnant, only improbable - so male pregnancies should be far apart in fanfiction - at least in fandoms where all the characters are humans. In fantasy and supernatural stories, it can be explained by the genetic and biological make-up being different than that of human's - so I'd say the concept of MPreg is generally more accepted when included in a story about wizards or demons.



This article may be updated at any time with or without notice. Last updated on June 9, 2012.