Posted by: Jess Riley | October 1, 2008

What You Know: More Thoughts

Following quite neatly on from yesterday – and you know, I’m not sure why I’m on this kick, but I daresay it has something to do with being up until 3:30 this morning reading Twilight doing adult, respectable things lately. Without any teen lit whatsoever. Certainly not all night. What’s wrong with you people? Do you really think I’m the type to read Stephanie Meyer?

Anyway, I was thinking some more about that adage of ‘write what you know’, and I thought of another rebuttal to my own point. “But Jess,” I considered, “if someone’s already stretching themselves to be a glorified zombie, and they’re stretching themselves to being a mage, are they going to be able to stretch themselves enough to also be a different age or gender?”

My answer here, after some deliberation, is ‘maybe’. I’m increasingly thinking that realistically portraying characters more and more different from the way you are in real life is a more advanced skill the more different the character is. Of course, I can see the logical extension of this, and I want to stop that right away; playing a character who is effectively a glorified version of yourself is never okay, even if you’re a novice roleplayer. In that case, it’s understandable, but never okay. Even more so than dead parents, even more so than power, even more so than raw sexuality, this is the core of the Mary Sue archetype, and, unlike the other examples, cannot be repurposed and retooled for improvement.

You know, maybe someone else could do it. Someone else could probably do a killer ‘Jess’. I can’t. Any ‘Jess’ in my hands would be a Mary Sue, plain and simple. I’ve tried it before. Mary Sueism bled from its veins like the tears from my eyes when I reread that.

But, of course, I’m sitting here now advising you to write what you know. Isn’t that contradictory, when I also say that writing yourself as a character is shameless Mary Sue-ism? Well, I don’t think it really is. Certainly, I think that just putting a glorified version of yourself on the screen is silly, but all characters need to have some core factor in common with you, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to write them or play them properly. It doesn’t have to be overt and recognisable, and odds are that the better the roleplayer you are, the less obvious it will be. You need to be able to grasp what makes them tick, what makes them think, what they fear and what they desire.

It doesn’t need to be the same as your fears and desires, but you need to be able to conceive of it. It goes back to my point about evil to some extent; a character who does bad things because they are Evil is not a good character. A character who does bad things because they are twisted and they think they are right can be a good character. Does that mean that the person playing this character is amoral? Absolutely not! But it does mean that they are able to conceive of twisted morality and understand it, if not experience it firsthand.



  1. Twilight was actually pretty good. So were the rest.

    What, a guy can’t read that stuff? Unpossible.

    And you’re right – “something in common” and blatant Mary-Sueisms are completely different. Most “roleplayers” don’t know the difference in playing someone else, and wishing they were someone else. It’s subtle, but very important.

  2. I thought that Twilight was OK, and that New Moon was particularly compelling. Eclipse was, I think, somewhere between the two. I haven’t read Breaking Dawn yet, because my sister is still reading it.

    I think it is pretty clear that it’s teen lit, though, aimed at a slightly younger audience. That’s probably why I think they’re good, and my (younger) sister thinks they’re pure, unadulterated awesome.

  3. Well, for someone in their early 30s to say that it’s pretty good, that’s saying something.

    One of my coworkers introduced me to the series, and after I managed to get through the first 150 pages of teen angst and wailing ovaries (read: girl drama), I found that they were a nice way to pass some time.

    Out of the four, I clearly enjoyed Breaking Dawn the most, and I agree with you that New Moon was far better than Twilight and Eclipse.

    If you’re interested, Stephanie Meyer wrote another novel titled The Host. It’s a little slow to start (much like Robert Jordan, just a lot less “I’m going to describe this lace doily right down to the DETAIL by God”), but once you really start to get into the meat of the story, it’s really hard to put the book down.

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