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July 2019
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Aerden [userpic]
SPH/TA Stuff

SPH or Two Alleys: The town of Newent has an orchestra!

*squees happily*

Me, to Seth: "No, you may not join the orchestra. Isn't applying to be an auror, running GMI, and volunteering at the Birds of Prey Centre on weekends enough?"

Seth: "I don't have to volunteer at the Centre." *wheedles, contemplates twisting his author's arm"

Me: "I'll see what I can come up with for Two Alleys, I promise. Now let go of my arm!"

TA/Writing: I'm having a bit of a problem creating the characters for Two Alleys. I'd like to write Seth and Paul without the horrible situations they were in, in SPH. But if I do that--if I set everything right in their lives, what am I going to use for internal conflict? How am I going to find something that quietly eats at them, so I'll find them interesting to write about? Paul and the DE was really too extreme, and given that the DE are sociopaths and Paul isn't one, it just didn't work. But damn, it made (I hope) some good drama. Okay, maybe it just made melodrama, but at least it kept me riveted in certain of their posts.

How do you come up with conflict that isn't overwhelming, heart-breaking conflict? Or is overwhelming conflict what I should be striving for?

Hm...No. Something that is so bad, it makes your character want to commit suicide is too much.

I think once again I am coming to the question of whether I should tone Paul down or not. If I don't tone him down, is he too Mary Sue? On the other hand, the sheer intensity and drive of the character is what fascinates me and makes me burn to write about him. I really love his intensity, and I don't want to lose it.


Edit: I found this webpage, which gives a pretty good description of what a Mary Sue is.

Mary Sue Characteristics Check-Off List:

  1. Any brilliant, beautiful original character in a fan fiction story who joins the canon characters to be the center of attention, set everything right, make off with the main canon character's heart (or several of them!), and/or die dramatically in someone's arms. No, I wouldn't say that fits Paul.
  2. Mary Sue is any original or deeply altered character who represents a slice of his/her creator's own ego. Well, um, there you've got me, John. While Paul does not represent myself, I certainly think he would be an interesting person to be or to be as talented as.
  3. Treasured by his/her creator but only rarely by anyone else. It's pretty obvious to anyone who reads my journal that I enjoy the heck out of writing Paul. What other people's opinions of him are, I can't say with certainty. At least one person liked him enough to allow her character to become his wife. I suspect people may be sick of hearing me chatter on about him in my journal, though!
  4. A Mary Sue is a prima donna (usually but not always badly-written) who saps life and realism out of every other character around, taking over the plot and bending canon to serve his/her selfish purposes. I don't know about prima donna, but the guy is definitely an alpha male of some variety. Sapping life out of everyone else? I don't think so. I hope not, as that would have made the game very boring, and that frankly would be an insult to the other writers' creativity, as far as I'm concerned. If I ever bent canon to accommodate Paul, it was more due to my unfamiliarity with the HP universe at the time than to any desire of mine to wrench things around to make my character the star.

Having gone through this, I don't think Paul was/is a Mary Sue--at least, not ever on purpose.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

One of the hallmarks of a Mary Sue is how they imbalance the story. Does Paul's nature make the story seem to be all about him?

You could try balancing him against other characters or shift the plot so that the things that make him special to you aren't made to seem more important than anything else in the story.

Of course, that's the editor in me speaking, I suspect. Ain't easy keeping a story in balance when you really like a character.

Deborah--Hm. Well, let me tell you a little about Paul. He's a character I created for a Harry Potter RP that I was in--the father of my main character, but Paul took on a life of his own.

Paul arose partly from my inexperience with the Harry Potter universe. I did not understand when I created him exactly what the Death-Eaters were like or how sick they had to be. I discovered how sick they were in the game, after I had already created Paul to be a DE.

The man in my head was not a sociopath. He had a conscience, even if he kept it buried. Once I learned what the DE were really like, I could not continue to write Paul as one, so I had to have him break with them, and I had to change his reasons for becoming a DE and for staying with them. In the new version, he was brought into the group against his will as a hostage for his captive father's good behavior and also because Voldemort found Paul's talent with legilimency to be useful.

Paul's goal became rescuing his father, but to do that, he had to climb the ranks in the DE, which meant he had to steel himself to do things he hated. I therefore had to make him a very strong character, to withstand the mental and emotional inner conflict.

I also discovered while writing him that, because of his high intelligence, he hungered for challenges, for difficult things to do. He became very skilled at casting the Imperius curse because he understood how to be subtle with it. Instead of the sledgehammer force that most DE would use, Paul employed the delicacy of a micro-scalpel. Despite the fact that he thought it was wrong to mess with other people's minds, he also enjoyed the sheer difficulty of doing this sort of thing. It was more intellectually challenging and satisfying in a horrid way than anything he had ever done in his life. So there was this love-hate attitude going on, as well.

Meanwhile, his personal life fell apart. He frightened his wife into divorcing him on purpose, because he feared that the DE would either recruit her or use the threat of torturing her as a way to control him. His relationship with his son, who he also loved, became very distant.

At a certain point, when he saw his son's love for his girlfriend, it hit Paul to the bone how very deeply he had wrecked his own and others' lives, and he understood that, having realized this, he could never go back to being a Death-Eater; he would have to leave them. Thuis began his more utward conflict, which I think I mishandled. My goal, though, was to write something really dramatic and powerful. I wanted to tell a story of redemption.

As far as I am aware, Paul did not suck up the oxygen from the rest of the game, save for the occasion of his trial. Aside fromm that, I tried to limit his influence to just his story or where it was invited.

Does that help?


You asked,

One of the hallmarks of a Mary Sue is how they imbalance the story. Does Paul's nature make the story seem to be all about him?

To answer your question the best I can...Paul's story in the game was all about him. But I did not regard the game as a whole to be Paul's story, and I tried never to swallow up the game with his plot or to make the game's survival dependent on his plot.


Actually, the question is more in line with any story you're now writing about him. The trick will be to make sure that the rest of anything you write balances with his detailed personality and doesn't bend over backwards in order to showcase him.

I'm reasonably sure that anything he was in the game would have had to be balanced or the GM would have had things to say. (I speak as a GM with experience with the sort who liked to unbalance the game with their characters.)

Deborah--You said:

The trick will be to make sure that the rest of anything you write balances with his detailed personality and doesn't bend over backwards in order to showcase him.

This is hard for me to answer or to judge from past actions. I tend to simply write Paul being himself, and he handles things as I get the sense that his personality dictates. I don't create plot incidents for him, exactly. I simply turn him loose, and things happen as they will. I don't go to great lengths to showcase him; he just is the way he is and does what he does because of what he is like.

Do you have any sort of example, so I can be sure I understand what you're saying?


Hmmm. Examples. That's difficult because - in general - you don't find the problem in published fiction. Mainly because a published author is usually more experienced than the fanfic writer and has to appeal to someone aside from themselves.

It's also a matter of opinion so take anything that follows with a grain of salt. A large one if the authors I mention are favorites. If I am sarcastic about a favorite, I apologize.

One example (and I think it's partly because she hasn't been edited in some time) Anne Rice. In her earlier books the story telling was tighter, less given to mooning over the wonderfulness that is Lestat. As time has gone on and she has fallen in love with the character she has lost sight of the storytelling and focused too much on making everyone adore the character she adores.

We see a similar problem (and again, she doesn't get edited) in Laura K. Hamilton - whose main character is all kinds of wonderful and, even better, forced to have intercourse on a frequent basis, particularly with the pretty harem that she's been given. But I digress.

I also feel Mercedes Lackey is guilty of it to a degree. Her main characters are always 'special'. Something makes them stand out among others, whether it be their magical skill, their physical or a combination thereof. She then throws every nasty thing she can at them in order to make up for this, which I suppose balances things out but still tends to make the characters suck up all the love in the story.

I suppose my main point isn't what Paul is. It's what the story around him does to establish what he is and how he behaves. Are you finding that you're making characters either love or hate him excessively? Are you finding that you're setting up situations that will make every little detail about the character comes out. Are you writing to impress the reader about how wonderful he is or are you writing a story to write a story. Are you treating the other characters like people, not cardboard cutouts intended merely to showcase Paul. Do you feel that anyone who reads Paul, no matter whom, should adore him because you adore him?

If you're not doing any of the above, or only slightly so, then I'd say Paul isn't a Mary Sue. If you find that you are, try finding out about the other characters, try figuring out and loving them as well.

Deborah--Heh...Someone used Ayla as an example of a Mary Sue, and I had to laugh. It's a joke around our house that Ayla invented everything there was to invent in the prehistoric world.

I suppose my main point isn't what Paul is. It's what the story around him does to establish what he is and how he behaves.

This was a very helpful statement. I think I was able to adequately establish and justify in the story how Paul came to be and why he did the things he did and why he had to be so skilled--to keep himself and his family alive in a hellish group like the DE.

Are you finding that you're making characters either love or hate him excessively

His ex-wife and son love him very much, despite everything, and the DE who are still alive hate his guts for betraying them. Other than that, I haven't imposed emotions toward him on characters, one way or another. People in the DMLE tended to feel sympathetic toward him once they got to know him, but I never let them forget what he had been or how dangerous he is.

Are you finding that you're setting up situations that will make every little detail about the character come out?

I'm not sure. He's a character who comes on like a freight train, at least in my mind. I think, if he were an actual person, he could walk into a room, and there would be a presence about him. It's like...I don't need to engineer ways to show details about him, because everything is there, simply in the way he acts.

Are you writing to impress the reader about how wonderful he is or are you writing a story to write a story?

Definitely writing a story to tell a story. The wonderfulness is countered by the fact that he has done some really bad things. No matter how much I like him, I cannot ignore that, and I want readers to feel the same way.

Are you treating the other characters like people, not cardboard cutouts intended merely to showcase Paul?

Nope. I want all of my characters to feel real, or they have no value.

Do you feel that anyone who reads Paul, no matter who, should adore him because you adore him?

Hehehe! Uh, there you got me, John. (g) But seriously, no, I don't expect everyone to enjoy reading about him, just because I do.

I think he's not a Mary Sue; he could just be one very easily if I were not careful. My goal is to write him as well as he deserves to be written, if that makes any sense. He's very complex, and I don't want to do a shoddy job.


This is about Paul and Seth. Well, actually it's about how I feel about my characters in RP.

One of my characters (Mandy) was killed off without my permission in the game I was in, and it hurt me a lot because she was - all things considered - a normal young witch. She had her insecurities, sure, but she was learning to not let them get to her. She was a pretty happy kid, and her death seemed so senseless because she was so close to resolving her internal conflicts.

The other character I had in that game (Terry - alive, but adopted by another player) was very sociable and happy-go-lucky, but he had one major conflict in his life - his father had left the family when he was a young boy. He's afraid to get too close to people, in case he'll be hurt again.

My third character, Eddie, graduated at the end of HBP and recently had his father killed by Death Eaters (his father was an auror), and is trying hard to be calm about the fact that he's now the man in the family (he has two younger siblings still in school). He just joined the DMLE.

I enjoy playing all my characters immensely. When I'm writing applications, I try my best to keep things open to possibilities (this is why I often pick canon characters who have only been mentioned once or twice in the books).

I do create characters with conflict, but more often than not it's the sort of conflict that lets them grow as characters, if that makes any sense. Mandy had to learn to be less of a wallflower, and she did. Terry had to learn to stop thinking that just because his parents got divorced, he'll have doomed relationships. Eddie is learning to be more willing to take risks to defend people he doesn't know, all for the greater good.

The conflict should never seriously threaten to overwhelm the character.

As for Paul or Seth being Mary Sues... I don't think you could ever turn any character into a Mary Sue, even if you tried. You're a good writer :)

Rin--They killed off Mandy without your permission?!

Oh, my God....I think I'd have been in just about a killing rage over that, if they'd done it to me. But I think that's because I regard my characters as my intellectual property as a writer, rather than as parts of a game. I always consider even my gaming characters as 'characters I can use in a novel,' so I'd be really ticked off for a while if someone else decided to willy-nilly kill them off. The only thing that would calm me would be the realization that it was only that particular incarnation of the character that was killed, and not the character in my mind. Even if Paul or Seth died in a story, they would still exist in my head.

I feel so strongly about this that it really, really upset me for Paul to kill Cicuta Bulstrode in SPH. Not only did that make me feel like a murderer, I just plain felt it was wrong to do to someone else's character, even with Shusu's permission.

They should at least have asked you if you would mind letting Mandy die for plot purposes. That would have been polite and would have given you some choice in the matter.

I like your idea of creating conflicts which allow the character to grow. That in itself can tone down a character by keeping the original conflict small and intimate, allowing the character to solve greater outside conflicts once he has resolved the smaller conflict inside himself.

This is very helpful, and it gives me a new path to think about for all of my characters--boh for RPs and for books. Thank you very, very much!

If you'd like to play in Two Alleys, by the way, you're very welcome to. Its focus is on original characters who have graduated from Hogwarts, and it takes place post-HPB. Canon characters are also welcome, but I'm not on a big recruitment push for them. The game has not yet really started, as Sarah and I are working on the introductory post.

I think you're a darned good writer, too, and I still think Isodora was a good character with a story that kept me glued to my screen. She was the star of her own story, and I see nothing wrong with that. A good RP is the interweaving of all of its characters' stories. Izzy had as much right to star in her own plot as, say, Millicent had to star in hers or Paul in his. If she became a powerful force in the game, it was because others were not picking up the slack. I was as guilty of that as anyone, because I joined in on Izzy's and Piotr's plots without having a clear plot idea for Seth or Paul, near the end.

A 'Mary Sue' can only arise if other characters are weak. That's how I see it, anyway. (g)