Tuesday, June 18, 2013


There is an old concept in SFF called the "Mary Sue/Gary Stu." These are characters which act as self-insertion and wish-fulfillment vehicles for the author. The phenomenon is originally named for a common element of Star Trek fanfiction.

But of course, this sort of thing is not limited to fan fiction. To a certain extent, a lot of main characters are vehicles of wish-fulfillment. Indeed, I use the obviousness of the self-insertion of the author as a sort of unofficial barometer of the "maturity" of a work of fiction. The more I get the feeling that a character is living out the author's personal fantasies, the lower the story falls on the rating system (this does not necessarily indicate displeasure with the story itself, though it certainly corresponds strongly).

However, the primary problem behind the Mary Sue/Gary Stu is getting muddied. We're now seeing it applied to all sorts of characters who have a variety of talents and seem generally all-round awesome. My problem with this conceptual drift is that the problem now seems to apply to just about every protagonist ever written.

We like to read about exceptional people. They feature as the main character in a helluva lot of stories. Even the quintessential "everyman" character generally has some extraordinary skill or manages to save the day due to a sudden (and often unlikely) stroke of genius. None of these necessarily merit the label of self-insertion.

In order to restore the trope to its original meaning (or perhaps to do away with that version of it altogether, due to some stick sexism-related issues) I've come up with the concept of Overcompetance.

This is meant to do away with the discussion on self-insertion. I don't really care about it, as I assume self-insertion is happening in some ways (the good authors just disguise it well). Thus all I care about is whether the range of skills and talents displayed by any particular character feels real. At the point where it begins feeling artificial, there begins a display of overcompetance.

Obviously this is a highly subjective assessment (as is everything else in literature). I generally ascribe it to characters who manage to miraculously "discover" several new talents during the course of a book. Encounter magic for the first time and you're already really good at it? Okay. Wait, you only just started riding horses and you do it as if born in the saddle? Hrm. Hold on, you've never held a weapon in your life and after a month with a sword you can best experienced soldiers? Sorry, that's one too many. You fail the test.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Concerning That Whole "Rewriting" Thing

I've never been much of a rewriter.

I'm usually the sort of writer who obsesses over each word before it hits the the page. Thus I I rewrite less than other whose first drafts might have been a little breezier in the making. For me, completing the first draft represents the bulk of the work. I'm thinking about a lot of stuff during its creation that a lot of writers leave for the latter part of the process.

I never planned it that way. It's just the way my writing habits evolved. Polish the first draft as much as possible - fix problems that arise along the way, including going back and rewriting chapters as needed to resolve continuity issues and the like. It takes a lot longer to get a finished story, but then you only need to iterate over the writing to bring the rough parts up to the level of the good parts. Major problems should be mostly taken care of by that point.

With Clanless I'm trying something else, as I believe I've mentioned in the past. I'm attempting to focus on getting the story onto the page faster and trusting in my ability to rewrite it up to quality. I don't know if this method will be faster in the end (and to be honest, the patchy amounts of time I'm able to devote to writing make it harder to judge) but I do want to give it a try.

So far, progress has been... odd. I've skipped entire element of the story to fill in later. I have a myriad of bolded passages telling myself what needs to be added, or what will need to be reconciled if I end up going a certain direction later. I also have a number of passages emphatically marked for replacement because even as I finished them I was cringing at how bad they were. Normally, that kind of thing wouldn't stand with me, even in a first draft. All in all, I estimate I've left a good 15k-20k words to be "filled in later." That's out of 35k words written so far.

Yeah. Not my normal MO. I guess we'll have to wait for the final product to see how it the process helps or hinders - and even then, it's rather hard to control for the effect of any single variable in the writing process. Just too many to account for and "life" is not the most stable experimental environment.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Needed Cover Makeover

The Giant of the Tidesmouth has a new cover by the always-wonderful Graham Hanks.

It may take a few hours for it to trickle through Amazon's system and be reflected on the page, but soon enough this beauty shall replace the old, do-it-yourself-because-you're-too-broke-to-pay-an-artist beast.

Let's all just forget how the other one looked, eh?