Thursday, December 10, 2015

Self-Insert Out of Control, or The Creepiest Writing Experience Ever

Valley does what she wants. That's what she's like in the story, and that's how she behaves towards me.

Fanfiction wouldn't let me go. While I write novel-length fanfictions my original works somehow always turn out to be short stories. I've even managed to turn ideas for original novels into short stories. Don't ask me how I did that. One of my readers said about one of them that it seemed like a trailer. ... Well, I don't know. Maybe one day I'll actually make a novel out of my Log Out short story. Maybe. ;)

For now I'm cursed with fanfiction. In 2013 I actually planned to start writing an original novel, yet ... I came across Assassin's Creed III and its Protagonist Connor Kenway and I didn't have another choice than to write a fanfiction in order to release that squealing fangirl inside of me, so she'd let me alone. I still made the best out of the situation by writing that fanfic in English and thus improving my language skill.

And I also made an interesting experience with a self-insert character who started to make autonomous decisions.

No, Connor's love-interest isn't the self-insert. Meggie is a contract killer with only eight fingers and a broken voice who pretends to be a worse person than she really is, regularly arguing with Connor about morals. About her, my readers said that she's an awesome character and not the typical OC. There was another female OC in that story, a minor character, a ... comic relief, actually. The main purpose of Walburga Meisser a.k.a. Valley was to be that drooling fangirl I was and make Connor feel awkward:
"Nice to meet you too, Connor!" The reddishness in her face slowly became a deep, dark red as her gaze slid along his chest and arms. "How can I help you? Would you like a drink? Or anything else?"
For some reason Connor didn't like the way how she stressed 'anything else' ... Was it really a good idea to talk to her?
"I was wondering if you could help me," he said, trying not to stare at the corner of her mouth. Was she ... drooling?
He was also alarmed by the way how she leaned forward, displaying her shiny white bosom and lowering her voice. "It depends ..."
Valley is the daughter of an innkeeper in New York in 1784 and has quite a way with her customers, mainly sailors and dockworkers who are easily persuaded to have another beer when looking at her "shiny white bosom". This isn't what my personality is like; on the contrary, everyone who knows me is pretty sure I'd be a terrible waitress. Yet my self-insert isn't based on the real me anyway but on an inside joke between me and my mother: It refers to my looks that, I say it without any false modesty, match the 18th century beauty ideal and would fit the typical image of a girl in a dirndl serving beer.

Even though there's a huge difference in the personalities of me and Valley we're very similar: She looks like me, she's intelligent and thinks strategically, she has a good memory, she's German, she grew up bilingual (though her languages are different from mine) and she has a one-sided crush on Connor.

A Self-Insert Autobiography

In the world of fanfiction Valley is a very unusual self-insert. She isn't a Mary Sue; she isn't even the protagonist; she's just the embodiment of the reason why I wrote that story: fangirling. However, that doesn't mean I never commit the horrible sin of a "typical" self-insert, since there actually are two Mary Sue self-inserts in my writing biography: In my very first fanfiction - it was about Harry Potter - I couldn't decide whether I wanted my Mary Sue self-insert to be with Draco Malfoy or with Sirius Black, so I created two Mary Sue self-inserts - one for each of them. To my excuse: I was 13. ;)

My next self-insert, one who even shared my name, was a tragic and a bit more realistic Mary Sue without romance: She was a great warrioress, but she made a military career by pretending to be a man. She was admired for her skill, but the only person who fell in love with her was a noblewoman who loved her male persona and gave away her secret as soon as she discovered her true identity. Feael lost her position as a military leader, yet was still allowed to fight on the battlefield where she was killed soon after. Following her death, the whole kingdom fell. To my excuse: I was 14.

After that there weren't any real self-inserts until Valley, except for stories based on actual events in my life. I strongly associated self-inserts with Mary Sues and believed that they were a bad thing. In fact, they aren't. Many great novels have self-inserts in them. The works of today's bestselling Russian detective and historical fiction writer Boris Akunin, for example, often contain references to the author or to his name. J.R.R. Tolkien has included an enigmatic Character called Tom Bombadil into his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy, someone who is completely immune to the One Ring, and some people believe that Tom is supposed to represent the author himself. At the same time, it's widely known that Tolkien strongly identified himself with Beren and his wife with Lúthien from The Silmarillion. The names of Beren and Lúthien are even written on J.R.R. and Edith Tolkien's grave. Let's also note that even the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies contain a self-insert element, as the director Peter Jackson has a short appearance in every one of them. And in the game industry there's the RPG genre in which the player is meant to create a self-insert and experience the story of his almighty self.

A Self-Insert's Evolution

Self-inserts can be a clever, funny and highly interesting tool, if handled properly. However, what happens if a self-insert starts developing a will of his own just like any other character? If he yearns for emancipation? Is it still a self-insert or a real original character? Or is the emancipation just an illusion while the self-insert tries to tell the author something?

Valley behaved well during my Assassin's Creed III fanfiction, and upon finishing the story I thought my little self-insert adventure with her was over. Once again I decided to write an original novel and ended up writing a fanfiction with another well-behaved self-insert who was an overly enthusiastic matchmaker for my favourite character in the Amour Sucré franchise and whose presence was actually legit, because Amour Sucré is an RPG and I just used my player character who is part of the main story anyway. After finishing that story I again was about to write an original novel, yet ... Well, Ubisoft had released Assassin's Creed Rogue a couple of months before that, and a very weird idea just wouldn't let go of me until I started another fanfiction.

This second Assassin's Creed fanfiction is related to the first one. Potential readers don't need to know that one about Connor, since Rogue's Protagonist Shay Cormac doesn't know much about what happened there either, but I mention past events that don't appear in the official Assassin's Creed storyline. And there's Valley. That minor character and self-parody - advancing to the status of a second protagonist and developing her own detailed background story, complicated relationships, thoughts and view of the world. She's still very similar to me, maybe even more similar than her former fangirl parody version. She's more serious, and while some of the events in her life are made-up or determined by history, many of her experiences are my own, even though some of them are represented by symbols. I won't say which ones though, because it's private. I'd just like to stress that unlike her I've never killed anyone. But we both experienced a revolution.

I don't remember how exactly I got the idea to explore the meaning of love by pairing the 55-year-old Shay with the 20-year-old Valley who are members of two antagonistic secret orders and whose relationship is defined by spying on and being ready to kill each other. Not to speak of the age gap of 35 years. It's like ... It's like the idea was just suddenly there. And while writing I feel that the question "How the hell does this work?" isn't only what I ask myself, but first and foremost what the whole story is about, making me explore the past, the childhood and the subconscious of both characters.

Weird Perspectives

What's creepy about this is that I decided to write the story as Shay's first person narration. In other words: When I write about Valley I do it from the perspective of a man who is very attracted to her. Now let's add that it's determined by the sexual habits of both of them that many scenes in which they interact with each other take place in bed. I don't write pornography, I always feel like I should respect the privacy of the characters I write about, but it's still weird and creepy. I didn't think about this aspect when I started the fanfic. I didn't think that I'd have to write regularly about how sexy I am. Why did Valley do this to me?!

Another creepy thing is that by analyzing my self-insert's psyche I kind of analyze my own. Self-analysis is an old habit of mine, yet I never did it in this form. I did analyze myself by giving various characters of mine some of my traits, by making them symbolical representations of different aspects of my personality, but ... I've never analyzed a self-insert like this before.

Valley does what she wants. That's what she's like in the story, and that's how she behaves towards me. She has become a proper original character, yet still remaining a representation of me, stealing character traits I didn't intend to give her, traits I didn't even believe to be my own until I saw Valley grinning at me and saying: "But they are, sweetheart, they are."

Shay, a character that belongs to Ubisoft, also turned into a representation of me. I try to keep his personality as true to the original story as possible, yet since many aspects of his life still remain unknown I have to complete his biography with what I believe to be plausible when looking at the known facts. He doesn't share that much with me - except for his thoughts. And this is where he's just like all the other characters I write about, my own just as the borrowed ones. When I say that the characters in my stories often represent aspects of me it's usually the thoughts. When they argue it's actually me arguing with myself. It isn't anything special, since I heard the same story from many other authors, professionals as well as hobbyists. Shay shares some of my thoughts that contradict Valley's world view, looking at her from an older and wiser perspective. So in the end I actually look at myself from the inside and outside at the same time.

Do you have any idea of how creepy that feels? If you're an author, it's very likely you do. Someone I know once said that writing is a soul striptease. In fact, I've heard, seen and read many authors admit how much of themselves they put into their work. J.K. Rowling is just one example of many. Often it happens subconsciously, so the author realizes his soul striptease when his works are long published, and sometimes it happens completely consciously. But it happens, whether you want it or not.

I'd go even as far as to argue that no matter what art genre you call your home your artworks can teach you a lot about yourself. Art is self-analysis, and this is why I decided not to condemn self-inserts anymore. They're meant to teach and to guide us. To tell us something important about ourselves. And their messages aren't always comprehensible to those who aren't their creator, because they're meant for the author only. As for the readers, let's hope they'll simply enjoy the story.

Now what about you? Have you made any weird experiences with self-inserts? How much of yourself do you put into your art? How strongly do you identify with your characters? And what do you think about self-inserts of other people?

Please answer in the comment section below and share this article if you liked it!

In joyful anticipation of your experiences,
Feael Silmarien

PS: You can find the Assassin's Creed III fanfiction I was talking about here: AC III: Compromise. The Assassin's Creed Rogue fanfiction isn't finished and published yet. Connor, Shay and all the other characters from the Assassin's Creed franchise belong to Ubisoft, and I just borrow them to show the world how much I like the series.

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