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Moe Check! » Lyrical Magical – To Write A Sue

Nanoha prepares to fire.

One bit of advice most frequently heard among blog comments, generally in the vicinity of blog posts about blogging itself, is to Write What You Want, and from there Write What You Know. Which may be all well and good, but this runs smack into the adage of Knowing Your Audience: if your Audience doesn't Know what You Know, then whatever has been Written is likely to go unRead.

Then again, I never promised anything other than two pings on your chosen RSS feed per week, whether or not these pings are of any use. So it goes.

If forced to identify myself in the overall hierarchy of fandom, I would place my name firmly in the nebulous mass of the fanfic writers. Considering the reputation fanfic has among the other parts of fandom, and the derision that fanfic writers themselves (I do not say "ourselves" because I've never done it personally; I am in the subsection of lazy fanfic writers, far too lazy to bother commenting on other people's fanfics) heap upon fanfics which do not meet some arbitrary standard of plot, it is perhaps not surprising that I am quite comfortable by now with my reputation for having no taste whatsoever.

Even worse, I happily commit the sin of creating new characters for use in my own fanfics. These are labelled "original characters", which I suspect provides for a nice shorthand label of "OC", like "AU" or "gen". This is odd, since these characters are not exactly original, save in the sense that they are not native to the canon.

Some of the time, this is because I needed a personality type that is not available in the series itself: Card Captor Sakura was lacking in the deadpan Spineless Harem Comedy Character type, which led to ten-year old Ichiro Onosaka and his unrequited crush on Tomoyo Daidouji. Mostly, however, I just thought that it would be so cool to be a character in that world, and so I create Significant or Powered characters to live vicariously through. Self-inserts, essentially, except with different names, personalities, and pretty much everything except wish-fulfilment.

Such characters, and their authors, are often claimed to be the scum of the Internet, implying that we are worse than 4chan, which has to be an incredible achievement in its own right. It is seen to be in bad taste; since I am a primary fan of Moe Fanservice Anime, though, I have no shame.

And then there are the Mary Sues. This term has been bandied about the Internet for so long that it should need no explanation, but since I'd rather not simply assume, we shall work on the definition that a Mary Sue is a character who is so powerful, so perfect, and so well-loved, that she (or he, for that matter; such are called Marty Stus, or Gary Stus, or some such) overshadows the canon characters. The astute reader may immediately spot the problem with this definition (namely, the sheer subjectivity of every important term), which is probably why the term "Mary Sue" has been argued about for as long as it has existed in the fandom consciousness.

As an example, let me show you them introduce to you one of my favourite original characters to write, a Mary Sue from the marginally-post-StrikerS era of Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, Lumina Celeste.

"Battling my way past the perils of grease and grime," the newcomer announced, silhouetted dramatically upon her perch on the tree branch. "Scouring the land of the filth of ages. One duty have I, and one duty only: to clean and to serve, in the name of Justice!"

"Oh no," Teana groaned.

"I am Lumina Celeste, and all who skulk in the dusty corners of the world tremble at my passing! With expert skill do I sweep the cobwebs of crime into the dustpan of history! No more shall the fungus of evil mar the bathroom tiles of the righteous!" Lumina posed dramatically, if precariously. "On my head, a ribbon! On my front, an apron! In my hand, a broom! In my heart, Justice!"

"Um," Subaru said, "I don't think you should-"

"The burning passion that resides in my frilly skirt is speaking to me! It is telling me that I must defeat you! There is but one course of action left open to us!" Lumina raised her broom high in the air. "Maid Battle!"

"Mina, I really don't think you should-"

"Have at thee!"

Jeria neatly sidestepped Lumina's wild lunge, and shoved her lightly on the back. Lumina desperately pinwheeled her arms for balance, before tumbling down the hillside with a surprised cry of alarm, crashing into several bushes at the bottom.

"Who," Jeria said, "was that?"

"I'm all right!" the bushes assured them.

"She's a friend," Caro said.

"She's an Ace," Subaru added.

"She's an idiot," Teana sighed.

Lumina was created intentionally as a Mary Sue. She is an exercise in whether I could create a Sue in the first place, a test of my imagination and writing abilities. The verdict is still out, but apparently this is harder than it seems.

MSLN is not an easy series to create a Mary Sue from. No, really; the nature of the show is such that no matter how powerful your characters are, it is entirely plausible that the main characters will be able to overpower them with Even More Firepower, or through simple tactics. This is, in fact, how the villains in all three seasons were dealt with.

And the description of "powerful, well-loved, able to overcome every obstacle in her path" almost perfectly fits the main character Nanoha Takamachi herself. Creating another character with the same traits feels rather redundant.

But a Mary Sue I set out to create, and so a Mary Sue shall be born.

First, since everyone seems to think it important, the power level. Personally, I subscribe to the notion of "good enough": it doesn't matter how powerful the character is, if they are powerful enough to deal with the challenges they face, preferably with some ease and without almost dying in the process. But everyone wants to know her power level, so I just assigned her an S, which is around the top-tier level of the canon characters. The magical ranking system in MSLN, for those who are unfamiliar, goes by letter grades, with plus or minus modifiers: D, C, B, so on and so forth. After A, it goes to AA, then AAA, then S, SS, SSS… we haven't seen anything after that, which brings to mind the stock phrase of "off the scale". (Use that too often, and you'll have to get bigger scales.)

I was asked why I didn't make her SSSSSSS or something. Along with looking like an exclamation of an angry snake, I didn't see the point: after all, if she can deal with most things with an S rank, why waste more power that she'll never use? Apart from being inefficient, if she's facing something which an S rank can't defeat, that's probably something I can't write convincingly anyway. Having an SSS villain be defeated by an SSSS character just smacks of "I have more letters than you"; AAA versus S works out to be the same anyway. It's just labels.

So. Now that Lumina has an S rank, I had to decide how she's going to use it. Nanoha is a straight Blaster, Fate has her speed, and Hayate is AoE. The obvious counterpart to all this damage is defense, and so I made Lumina a shield-user. As Captain America has shown, shields can be used pretty offensively as well, especially if Lumina's Device gets to multiply itself several times and not just deflect, but reflect shots.

You can see my wish-fulfilment fanboyishness here. I still can't believe that nobody else thinks that this is in any way overpowered. I mean, Lumina can not only set up trick shots with her own (basic, since I didn't see the need for anything more) blasts, but she can reflect shots back to her attackers. What more can you want?

"I think it's slowing down!" Subaru shouted over the groan of straining metal.

"As expected from Shari!" Teana replied. "Just keep it away from any buildings, and we should be okay!" She looked up at the other figure hovering around the giant robot's head. "Mina, how are things on your end?"

"Monstrous Machine in the shape of a Man! Know that I, Lumina Celeste, the Unyielding Ace, shall halt your path of destruction!"

Subaru skidded to a halt next to her partner. "Ah, Tea, I don't think she's listening to you."

"I am not surprised. Mina! Mina, get back down here! That thing will shut down soon, so just keep out of its way until then! Mina!"

"Though you are a Mighty Mechanism of Metal and Magic," Lumina said, unheeding, "I see that you are faltering before the unflinching wall of our Justice! For we shall never let one such as you pass, though we may be reduced to naught but our bare hands. Indeed, such shall be a fitting punishment for your evil ways!"

"Oh, wow," Subaru said, impressed.

"I present to you my Fist of Justice! For this fist burns with an overpowering desire to Smite the Wicked and Diabolical!"

"I can't look," Teana muttered, covering her eyes.

"The light of our Righteousness shall guide this Fist of Justice to the Heart of this Darkness! Evil robot, meet my fist! Fist! MEET! EVIL!"

-CLANG-

*****

"And that's how you broke your hand?" Shamal said, not unkindly.

Lumina rubbed the back of her head with her other hand. "Ahaha, I kind of got caught up in the heat of the moment."

"Mina, I understand your passion," Subaru said firmly. "Sometimes, all you want to do is punch something!"

"But a giant robot?" Shamal said dubiously.

"Yeah, Subaru does it all the time," Lumina said defensively.

"Subaru has Revolver Knuckle," Teana pointed out. "You're not even trained in hand-to-hand combat, much less able to punch battleship steel unprotected."

"Tea's right!" Subaru said. "So remember, Mina, the next time you go out to meet Evil, always wear protection… um, Tea, why are you choking like that?"

With her powers decided, let's move on to her reputation. Since we're making a Sue, we'll have Lumina be another Ace. (An Ace in the MSLN-verse is a highly-skilled, high-powered mage, effectively capable of the whole One Riot One Ranger thing. Like a high-level Jedi or something.) Nanoha is the Ace of Aces, and presumably the other characters have their own titles (Hayate is the Mistress of the Night Sky, Subaru post-StrikerS is the Silver Ace). Shields bring to mind steadiness, unbreakability, and overall static strength, and so Lumina becomes the Unyielding Ace.

This did not seem enough, however. So, being that these titles seem to turn up out of nowhere in the rumour mill, let's toss in a few more titles: Mountain Cleaver! Because one time Lumina was in a mad scientist's mountain hideout, missed a shot, and the resultant chain reaction started the rumour of that crazy mage who accidentally blew up a mountain. Blade Breaker! Because she kept trying to expand her arsenal to swords, but failed miserably. Sexy Dynamite! Just because.

In fact, since Mary Sues are supposed to be Pretty and all that, I gave Lumina a fanservice-friendly appearance. To be honest, I doubt this is going to make much difference in how she is portrayed, since every other major character in MSLN StrikerS and beyond are fanservice-friendly. Witness all the posters of the three canon Aces in astonishingly skimpy clothes… besides, it's not like there are any significant male characters for the Mary Sue to pair up with. (Considering the fan interpretations of the canon cast, this may not be a problem.) And since it's all going to be in text anyway, the only way I can really emphasize Lumina's assets if you know what I mean is by digging deep into my Creepy Fanboy persona.

Lumina wriggled. "Teana," she whined.

"What?"

"I'm stuck."

"Stuck? How can you be stuck? We all fit through that hole!"

Ivey crawled back, and peered at the vent. "Oh."

"What's the problem?" Subaru asked.

"Too much milk, apparently."

So now we have powers and reputation. The personality gave me some problems: I know that Mary Sues are meant to steal the scene from the canon characters, but that is a rather vague guideline to follow. What sort of character personality would have the easiest time drawing attention to herself?

Some people reading this may be familiar with a certain Dungeons and Dragons character of mine, played in one of the more light-hearted campaigns. If there was anything I learned from Harold the Rouge Rogue, it was that having no indoor voice may be attention-grabbing, but exclamations like "by Loki's Luscious Llamas!" guaranteed that all eyes would be on Harold for as long as I could come up with stuff like that.

Technically, in another setting, Lumina would have been the sort of character from shounen fighting series I diislike: the loud, flamboyant, overconfident, all-guts-no-brains sort whose mere appearance onscreen would have me scrambling to turn my volume down. And yet, I hugely enjoy writing about Lumina (as the length of this post may testify), which implies a sort of double standard, a sure sign of Sue-ness.

Part of this may be because I usually place Lumina in the near vicinity of a Straight Man character. Since I'm lazy and would rather not exert my imagination in creating another original character, I just grabbed the nearest equivalent from the canon cast.

"You said that she'd be here," Teana said sotto voce. Her mouth was fixed in a polite smile, and she inclined her head respectfully at a passing ambassador.

"She said that she'd be here," Ivey corrected. "I just passed on the message."

"Well then, where is she? We're supposed to be keeping track of that Lost Logia; we don't have time to be looking for lost Aces."

"Teana, why are you belabouring me about Mina's no-show? I'm as worried as you are." Ivey brushed a piece of lint off her dress. The sight of the Hound of the Saint Church in a formal gown and heels would undoubtedly provide months of entertaining anecdotes to those who knew her.

"Whatever her problem is, we can't wait for her. I can only hope that she hasn't gotten into some sort of trouble, as usual." Teana snagged a cocktail glass from a passing waitress. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Lumina said.

"…"

"…"

"Mina, why are you serving drinks at the reception?"

Lumina laughed nervously. "Ah, there's a really interesting story behind that, a story that is as deep as the oceans, as high as the mountains, as mysterious as the moons, as-"

"Does it have anything to do with your current astonishingly appropriate waitress cosplay?" Ivey interrupted.

"… I thought it was a fancy-dress occasion."

"I said it was a formal dress occasion," Teana snapped. "And, oh, I see you even brought your shield Device along with you, cunningly disguised as a serving tray. Don't any of the staff here ask questions about unfamiliar faces serving drinks?"

"I heard they're kind of short-handed," Ivey mentioned. "Lots of bigwigs turning up for the exhibition. Plenty of part-timers and newbies, although what that would do for the security I can't imagine."

Teana pinched the bridge of her nose. "Okay, look. You've got a convenient excuse for going into the restricted areas now, since nobody's likely to notice the hired help. When I write my report on this, I'll say that you dressed up as a waitress for exactly that reason. The alternate, more plausible theory is far too painful to think about."

Ivey clapped Lumina's shoulder. "We'll be relying on you to send us the word on the ground."

"Right-o. I'm heading back to the kitchens for another round of drinks, and maybe some finger food." Lumina tucked her Device under her arm. "Is there anything else I can get you while I'm there?"

"Aspirin would be nice," Teana muttered.

Lumina's background is… odd. At the time, I couldn't think of anything to spice up her backstory, and so I just had her have a normal life (up until she decided to Fight Crime, anyway): a happy family, both parents alive and written home to, financially comfortable, a thorough lack of any tragedy or hardship. I've never really subscribed to the idea that superheroes need some sort of Tragic Backstory in order to Do The Right Thing: common human decency seemed to be sufficient. Apart from a contrived event cooked up to provide Lumina with her Device, I left the Normal Backstory as it was, being a kind of placeholder until I could come up with something more interesting.

Imagine my surprise when others described Lumina as having a "charmed life", "unique" among original characters. I therefore exercised my right to be Lazy, and pretended that this was what I had intended all along.

A Mary Sue is supposed to be, at base, some sort of self-indulgence on the part of her creator. Lumina Celeste, the Unyielding Ace, represents to me nothing more than the fun of writing fanfics. I keep her free from any Deep and Angsty problems, simply because that is not what she is for. Lumina is my vessel for living vicariously through a character who can yell out stuff like "The acne of Evil shall be cleansed by the delicate facial treatment of JUSTICE" and get away with it. All that she does, I make her do for next to no reason other than because it is Funny, at least to me. And the entertainment of oneself, in a sort of fanfic masturbation, is more or less the point of a Mary Sue anyway.

You may have noticed an unfamiliar name recurring in the examples. Ivey de Lorien is another of my original characters, not quite as fun to write as Lumina, but designed to be rather more balanced and therefore boring. She does provide me with a convenient mouthpiece, sadly lacking among the canon characters, for the opposite side of snark: not the snide criticism of the Straight Man, but the self-satisfied obscure references of the smartass.

"To be honest, I never imagined that you're the Hound of the Saint Church, Ivey," Shari said.

"It's not the kind of thing she wants to advertise," Schach added.

"But surely people would ask? I mean, you're not exactly inconspicuous."

"Oh, they ask," Ivey said, "but I don't tell them that I'm the Hound. It's a stupid nickname, anyway."

"So what do you tell them?"

"This and that," Ivey said evasively.

"I've got time."

"Well," Carim said, "officially, Ivey is a freelance mage who has been contracted to be my bodyguard. That's all."

Signum snorted. "Like anyone really believes that."

"Indeed not," Carim agreed. "Last I heard, the Belkan Senate thinks that Ivey's an anti-Belka terrorist who's blackmailing me for my silence."

"Oh," Fate said. "Is that what they're telling people?"

"No," Carim said, "they're telling people that she's a spy from the TSAB sent to infiltrate and sabotage the Saint Church."

Shari whistled. "And TSAB Intelligence is letting that slide?"

"TSAB Intelligence," Schach said, "believe that Ivey is being groomed by Carim to be a crack shadow operative who will be the Saint Church's answer to the Ace of Aces and the Mistress of the Night Sky."

"That sounds extreme," Fate said.

"Which is why they're telling anyone who asks that Ivey is a hand-picked candidate from the Belkan Senate," Schach continued, "who is to someday assassinate and replace me by Lady Carim's side."

"That explains the tabloid headlines," Shari mused.

"You mean they're actually printing all that?" Fate said.

"No," Shari said, "they're reporting that Ivey and Sister Schach are secretly planning to overthrow Lady Carim in a bloody coup, and rule the Saint Church together."

"I'm almost afraid to ask," Fate said, "but what do the people believe?"

"They think that Ivey's my secret lover," Carim said calmly.

There was a lengthy silence.

"Considering the vast number of activities I'm alleged to be involved in," Ivey reflected, "I think I should ask for a raise."

14 Responses to “Lyrical Magical – To Write A Sue”
  1. Meagen says:

    I know that Mary Sues are meant to steal the scene from the canon characters, but that is a rather vague guideline to follow. What sort of character personality would have the easiest time drawing attention to herself?

    Once again, you're coming at this from the wrong way. Mary Sues don't steal the scene because they have a personality that makes them step forward to take center stage. They steal the scene because the *author* writes about them and only them. Only their actions drive the plot. Only their backstory is important enough to flashback to. The Lost Logia that everyone's searching for was actually their favourite childhood toy.

    They don't lose, or fail, not even for comic effect, ever. (They would only be called "Blade Breaker" because every blade used against them breaks.) Also, anyone who doesn't love them and applaud everything they do is Wrong and probably Evil (and more likely than not, a character the author doesn't like).

    It's said that "Mary Sues are written, not made". The chief annoyance of a Mary Sue story is the bad writing. The story, instead of being *about* the Nanoha-verse and people having wacky adventures therein, is all *about* a single central character who acts like a narrational black hole.

    If you've never stopped a plot in the middle of an important battle just to admire your own character's sparkling eyes, you've never written a Mary Sue.

  2. sebsmith says:

    Yeah, the writing looks like you got dropped with somebody else's mary sue and are making fun of them whenever you can get away with it.

  3. Silverdragon15 says:

    Just out of curiosity, where can I find your stories? Your Mary-sue is actually something I want to read about.

  4. DKellis says:

    @Meagen: I'm trying to determine if it is valid to have a character designed entirely for self-indulgence labelled as a Mary Sue.

    The thing is that I don't especially care if Lumina overcomes all her difficulties, or if she defeats every enemy, or if she has a sparkling backstory. All that just strikes me as fluff, unrelated to the real point of the story that revolves around her. What I see as the most important aspect of Lumina is that because of her, and quite certainly because of her, Hilarity Ensues.

    I have stopped battles due to her presence, because Lumina lives in a strange world that is not quite vanilla Nanoha-verse, where it is entirely plausible for her to swoop in to the rescue with "I am the loose change in the vending machine of JUSTICE" and not get shot at, while hero and villain alike go "wait, what?" She doesn't use that distraction tactically, because that would make it Not Funny. If it's Not Funny, it's not going in the story.

    Lumina operates more or less entirely on Rule of Funny, specifically funny to me. I write Lumina to laugh at my own jokes; to me, that qualifies as self-indulgent Mary Sue-ishness.

    @sebsmith: I never thought about it that way before. It does seem like it, doesn't it? I should examine whether I'm having so much fun writing Lumina because I'm making fun of Lumina. She doesn't (consciously) represent a parody of Sue-ness or anything; I wanted to go "screw character balance, let's just have fun making a character".

    @Silverdragon15: Lumina Celeste has not yet debuted outside my hard disk. Right now her primary use is as stress relief: when I get tired of keeping track of zillions of plot points in my Serious Stories, I just hammer out a short scene of Lumina being herself, and everything seems all better.

  5. Meagen says:

    Well, whatever you were *going* for, you've ended up with shining proof that a good writer can write total wish fulfillment and still make it an interesting story. :)

    Don't worry, though, if you release it on the Internet, *someone* is bound to make an unfunny MST of it that consists mostly of going "wow, she's such a Mary Sue!".

  6. TheBigN says:

    What Silverdragon15 said. I wouldn't mind seeing OCs like those in a Nanoha fanfiction. Let me know if you ever decide to release them to the internet. Or maybe e-mail me the story. :P

  7. anon says:

    Do post that fic, it's pretty damn hilarious, if these are anything to go with.

  8. al103 says:

    >I was asked why I didn’t make her SSSSSSS or something. Along with looking like an exclamation of an angry snake, I didn’t see the point: after all, if she can deal with most things with an S rank, why waste more power that she’ll never use? Apart from being inefficient, if she’s facing something which an S rank can’t defeat, that’s probably something I can’t write convincingly anyway. Having an SSS villain be defeated by an SSSS character just smacks of “I have more letters than you”; AAA versus S works out to be the same anyway. It’s just labels.

    That's the first sign that she is not Mary Sue. Mary Sue would be either at least SSS or low A, but easily defeating S class enemies. So by this and other thing she is not Mary Sue, she is joke character.

  9. Baughn says:

    Where do I find your other fanfiction, then?

  10. liingo says:

    I've been meaning to comment since the last post you wrote on Lumina's Sueness but never got around to it. I can't say that my opinion of Lumina has changed very much since her inaugural post on the AS forums. I can't remember the details, truthfully I can't be bothered to go and dig up the post, but my view of her at the time boiled down to "Defensive character that is very interesting to read, not overpowered, not a Sue and likely to stay that way".

    Truthfully I must have missed the part in her profile that talked about her device multipling the damage of the attacks reflected as I would have slammed down on that right away so in that context I can see how she can be Overpowered. However, IIRC you talked about how she could theoretically reflect starlight breaker or such, which I can't see happening unless the attack itself was pitifully small or Lumina has suddenly acquired a great deal more shields of unobtanium.

    One thing I can be certain of is that she still isn't a Sue in my opinion, due to your excellent writing that avoids a focus on trivialities (ie pausing in battle to admire to looks), among other things. I can think of any number of published characters that when fed into a Sue test, would be Sue's by miles, yet never are denounced by Sues due to the brilliance of the author that has created them. Lumina currently fits into this category, yes she has the qualities that would make her a Sue, but has not become one because of how you have writtten her.

    -Liingo

  11. Arbaner the Terrible says:

    Those bits you posted are pretty funny. As Iiingo points out, good writing goes a long way towards alleviating any possible Sueness.

    Aside from that, one trait I get the impression most if not all Sues have (I don't read a lot of fanfic) is that they are Really Serious Business. (To the writer, at least, even if the reader is trying to avoid spraining something from laughing at the overwrought prose.) Lumina here, however, comes across as "merely" immensely powerful comic relief and a source of aggravation to the more serious characters, which pretty much makes her impossible to take seriously enough to consider her a Mary Sue.

  12. CCX says:

    That last excerpt was the best. Over-the-top characters like Lumina are fun (I once tried to write one of those, but couldn't really make him any more than comic relief), but that exchange was just priceless.

  13. mugenginga says:

    Lumina is NOT a Sue. XD Sorry, but the writing is far to good for her to be a Sue. The problem with the term Mary Sue is one you've pointed out yourself. A matter of perspective. To use the Sailor Moon fandom as an example, some people slap the title Mary Sue on any character that is related to Usagi/Serenity/Moon. The common types for this label are an OC second daughter or an OC long lost/sealed/whatever sister to Serenity. Often a twin with a name like "Calamity" or something of the sort. But those by themselves do not make a Sue, although the former makes an automatic AU setting as at least one canon states the Moon Queen can only have one child.

    The point is, even something as instantly labeled as Sue as that doesn't have to be a Sue. In my opinion, a Sue is determined by virtue of their PRESENTATION IN STORY. The most cliched and "Sue-ish" of character concepts can be one of the single most interesting characters when written well. And you write very well, so the risk of you making a Sue is not high at all. You'd have to do something about your excellent writing to make Lumina a Sue.

    The term has always irritated me. I once saw an OC labeled as a Sue on only two things: She was an OC and made to be the love interest of a non involved canon character. Daisuke (Davis, since it was dub based) of Digimon second season. It was completely impossible to call a character with no posted personality or writing sample a Sue. I don't like the term. Its far too subjective and a lot of people use it to insult people when they don't like the character… or in worst cases, the writer themselves.

  14. Fulfillment says:

    I am so happy to see that there is still some good content to find out there. I'm so tired of google delivering me garbage.

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