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Mary Sue: So Bad It’s Good

Quick roundup of what we’ve learned so far. We’ve talked about what a Sue is and how to recognise one, including a short list of the different types. We’ve also discussed why Sues as character types are problems: a potted summary is that their lack of characterisation distorts the story around them and glosses over serious issues. But last time I raised the issue of gender criticisms of Mary Sues – namely, that a lot of the flak they get tends to be couched in all these weird gender connotations. From a purely literary perspective, some of the criticism is justified: Mary Sues are bad characters. But some of it isn’t, and that’s usually where the gender stuff comes into play.

Which leads me to ask the question: can Mary Sues ever be a good thing?

giphy no
Thank you, Mr Jackson. (image: giphy.com)

Everybody loves to make fun of Mary Sues. They’re silly, over-the-top sparkly little messes, and pointing out just how stupid they can get is certainly this nerd’s idea of a good time. But the thing that everybody tends to forget is that Mary Sues are often the hallmark of young or inexperienced writers. The kind of mistakes that Sues embody – such as a lack of flaws, a lack of consequences for their actions, or a 360-degree panorama of adoration from every other character – are the sort of things you tend to see from writers who haven’t quite got to grips with their craft yet. They’re not exactly a finished product.

For me, this is where Sues come into their own. They’re a problem that a writer tends to encounter at the beginning of their journey, much like one-dimensional villains, or scene-setting which makes the reader think all the action happens in a plain, white room. The more you write, the easier it becomes to avoid this kind of pitfall. A solid awareness of what constitutes a well-written character is one of the best tools a new writer can have, and being aware of Sues as a potential writing problem is a part of that. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is.

giphy paddington
That’ll do it. (image: giphy.com)

Here’s a short list of questions you can ask to see if your main character is a Mary Sue:

  • Does everyone love her?
  • Does she ever find anything difficult?
  • Do other characters care about stuff that doesn’t directly relate to her?
  • How much time are you spending talking about her appearance, her heritage, or her incredibly cool powers?
  • Does she change over the course of the story? How?

The ideal answers should be: no, yes, yes, not much, yes + explanation. But this is a very brief guide: there are plenty of excellent resources out there which will help with character building. There’s an extremely comprehensive Mary Sue litmus test floating around, plenty of writers’ resources, and there’s also my own ten-question test I used in the Strong Female Characters series. The bottom line is once you’ve identified your Sue it’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of tools to help you fix it, and in doing so you’ll become a better writer.

But Sues are still useful in their own right. Aside from being a test of skill for every writer they can also help writers bridge the gap between fanfiction and original fiction. It’s not uncommon for people to start out writing fanfiction, develop some confidence, and then start trying out some of their own original ideas and characters. Of course, this isn’t always a good thing.

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NAMING NO NAMES. (image: coolspotters.com)

But that’s not the only benefit of Mary Sues. They can actually be pretty empowering, particularly for young girls. Even though we have been getting more stories where women can actually do stuff instead of waiting to be rescued, there’s still a strong cultural narrative that places women firmly in a passive position. Films like Wonder Woman and books like The Hunger Games help, but they’re a drop in the ocean. Writing a Mary Sues in fanfiction can be a way for teenage girls to make their mark on a story that they already love.

Picture this. You’re a fourteen-year-old girl feeling overlooked. There’s a lot of big and important things going on around you but you don’t feel ready to meet any of them. You’ve got advertisements on all sides telling you to look a certain way, and maybe there’s people in positions of power telling you to act a certain way, too. Things which once seemed simple are suddenly incredibly complicated – sex, growing up, and all the weird expectations that come along with them. And you really love Harry Potter.

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I mean, who doesn’t? (image: justanotheranimefan.wordpress.com)

This is really where we can see the appeal of Mary Sues. In that situation, why wouldn’t you want to make a space for yourself in a fictional world you already love? And, to make things better, it’s a world where you can look the way you want, where you can be the most important person in the universe, where you can do whatever you want and where all the messy parts about growing up and falling in love will unfold in exactly the way you want them to.

Frankly, I’m the last person to judge teenage girls for writing Mary Sues. I’ve done it myself and I can understand why they do it. It’s escapism, it’s a creative outlet, and it’s safe – I completely get it. It can be a very positive force for the people who actually write them.

Confession time: I wrote several Mary Sues throughout my teenage years and every single one of them was jaw-droppingly bad. I actually found a brief snippet of something I wrote when I was thirteen on my computer and it was so awful I could feel myself shrivelling up. It was about this girl called Sofia who went to Hogwarts, had a mysterious past and was really good at drawing, and if I remember right there was a love triangle with Harry and Draco and then Voldemort wanted to steal her soul for some reason? The point is, it was terrible. Like, really, really bad. And that wasn’t the only one: I also wrote some Phantom of the Opera stuff, more Harry Potter but this time with the Marauders, and possibly also some Pirates of the Caribbean stuff as well. I really can’t remember. Fortunately for me, Quizilla, which was where it was all posted (for some reason, not really sure why I put fanfiction on a quiz site) got taken down a while ago. Hopefully they’re dead and buried.

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No no no NO NO NO NO (image: tumblr.com)

But it was what got me interested in writing as a whole – not just actually making stuff but the mechanics of how it all works together. I got feedback, which admittedly wasn’t always helpful, but it encouraged me to go and get more. Once I got bored of fanfiction I had more confidence to move into writing my own stuff, because I’d tried out a lot of the basics in an environment I was comfortable in. And once I was getting proper criticism that got me interested in the mechanics of writing, which led to editorial gigs at university and eventually working in publishing. Now, I can look back on all the stuff I wrote in my teens and cringe-laugh, but I can also look at the stuff I’m working on now and see a tangible improvement. Writing is something I’ve really had to work at and without my legions of terrible Mary Sues I definitely wouldn’t have developed half the critical skills I have now.

So there you have it: my long-winded, slightly-TMI view of Mary Sues. There’s no denying that they are bad characters. They’re poorly written, poorly plotted and warp everything else to fit themselves. But a lot of the criticism they get isn’t justified, particularly when it starts straying into some of the weird gendered stuff. And they do actually have some benefits: learning to navigate characterisation is an important part of any writer’s journey, and they can provide an important outlet for teenage girls.

Are Sues stupid? Hell yes. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses. It’s like putting stabilisers on a bike. They’re there when you need them, but sooner or later they have to come off.

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You’ll get there eventually. (image: buzzfeed.com)
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Book Recipes: How to Write a Space Opera

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at space opera. Grab your laser sword and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • The Chosen One
  • An assorted band of noble heroes. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The wise old sage
    • The gullible, bumbling innocent
    • Space princess
    • A loveable rogue who may or may not betray you later on
    • Team mascot
  • The Most Evil Villain Ever
  • Several unnecessary planets
  • Space war
  • A sweeping, epic romance
  • Vats full of DRAMA

 

Method:

  1. The Most Evil Villain Ever is threatening the galaxy. Oh no! If only there was a hero who could stop them!
  2. Enter the Chosen One, who almost never twigs that they’ve actually been chosen. They sit around doing nothing much important until…
  3. …the band of noble heroes arrive! The Chosen One dithers, but eventually gets in their spaceship.
tenor shopping
Much like this. (image: tenor.com)
  1. Time to dodge the villain’s henchmen and deliver some exposition! Bonus points if you can do so mid-laser battle.
  2. Kickstart the romance. There is a spark but alas, they cannot be together because reasons.
  3. Go to a different planet. Make sure your readers get a look at how weird it is.
  4. The Chosen One is doing pretty well! Have a little skirmish with some of the baddies so we can see how far they’ve come.
  5. But uh-oh, the villain has found out about them! Time for a sinister monologue.
  6. Go to another planet which is different from the other one. Don’t worry, it’s still weird.
  7. A trap!
  8. Kill off your wise old sage. It’s nothing personal, this is just what always happens to fictional mentors.
  9. Go to a different but still weird planet to do some soul-searching and maybe have a training montage.
  10. The romance is getting interesting! If only those pesky reasons weren’t in the way.
  11. But then A BETRAYAL! The Chosen One barely escapes, but everyone else is captured. Captured, not dead, because even villains know you don’t kill off the hostages when we’re heading for the third act.
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It is. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The Chosen One flails a bit, but decides to accept their destiny. Time for THE ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN.
  2. Enter the villain’s lair (on a different and creepy planet). You won’t get shot when you walk in; the villain’s passed around the memo about the third act.
  3. Confront the Most Evil Villain Ever. Everyone else is tied up and dangling over a pit of lava, probably, but you’ve still got time for a chat. Get ready for a deep, dark secret to be revealed, but don’t take it to heart – we’ve got to wrap things up.
  4. FIGHTING.
  5. The villain presents you with an impossible choice: save your friends or thwart their evil plans. Oh no! HOW CAN YOU CHOOSE???
  6. You don’t. The Chosen One uses their powers, saves their friends, thwarts the villain’s plan, and hits the button which says ‘Disassemble Evil Empire’. The romance is resolved and everyone goes home for tea and medals.

 

THE END. Serve in SPAAAAAAAACE.

 

Tips:

  • Don’t forget the ‘opera’ part of the equation. Singing is optional but all your plots, characters and backstory should be needlessly melodramatic.
  • Stuck on the planets? Don’t bother making them all as geographically and biologically diverse as Earth, that would take ages! Just pick a thing and make a planet of it, like so: ‘ice planet’, ‘bug planet’, ‘cheese planet’, etc.
  • Don’t worry about explaining how stuff actually works. We’re here for spaceships and laser battles, not for physics.
  • Aliens are great for background characters, but never include them in your main group of heroes. How will your readers be able to tell if they’re good or evil if they’re slimy?
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Yes. (image: community.ew.com)
  • Forbidden romances are your new best friends. But don’t make them too forbidden. No-one’s going to want to read about a romance between a beautiful space princess and a giant floating nostril.
  • Don’t forget your future prefixes: ‘cyber-’, ‘holo-’, and ‘laser-’. Put them everywhere.
  • Only your villain and background aliens really need to have weird names. Alice and Bob are fine names for your band of heroes, but no-one will take the Dark Lord Billy seriously.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

The moon of Frostilia glittered like a diamond. From her vantage point in the cockpit, Rin could see the vast blue surface of the planet. Below, the infamous trull-beasts would be stalking out of their snowy caves, searching for mukda fish in the nitrogen lakes and eating anyone foolish enough to disturb them. Not that they would. They had enough to contend with, what with Lord Qryk’akjuk’s spies.

Then, it exploded.

“Well that’s just great,” snapped Kai Aban. “Now how will we get paid? Gage, check the holo-stabilisers.”

Gage Sparx adjusted his goggles, tripped, picked himself up and went to check a thing that beeped and flashed. It was very important. “Cyber-drive capacity is at fifteen percent, Captain.”

Kai swore. “Fix it!”

Rin tore herself away from the glittery bits of planet. “I don’t understand,” she said, “who could do such a thing?”

“That’s the kind of thing we’re up against, kid,” Kai said, poking at the holo-dashboard. Something beeped, but in a bad way. “These guys ain’t playing around.”

“I got that, they just blew up a planet.”

Kai glared at her. “Leave the sarcasm to the professionals, kid. You just concentrate on your training.”

Gage fiddled about with some wires. There was a spark, a bang, and he went flying across the ship. Rin ignored him and sat down in a huff.

“But I don’t understand,” she said. “How in all the galaxy could I be the one to defeat Lord Qryk’akjuk? Three days ago I was just a simple miner on my home planet of Quarri-27. Then, suddenly, Lord Qryk’akjuk’s troops invaded the mining colony, imprisoned my childhood sweetheart and told us all that unless we revealed the location of the –”

“Yes, we know,” yelled Gage over the buzz of a power saw, “we were there.”

Rin ignored him and put a dramatic hand to her forehead. “– and suddenly I began to glow, and felt a strange magnetic kind of feeling, and also I levitated off the ground for a little while. But surely that can’t mean –”

There was a puff of smoke. Kai flipped a switch and it snapped off. “Yeah, we know,” he growled, “we saw.”

“– and now, I find myself at the centre of a galactic intrigue, caught between the mysterious Princess Ashara and the evil Lord Qryk’akjuk, with nary a soul I can trust, and I don’t know when I shall see my childhood sweetheart again but I swear, my love, I shall return!”

She finished, dramatically gesturing at the ceiling.

“It’s no good, Kai,” Gage said, “we need supplies. Our laser-ports are at thirteen point four.”

Kai smacked the dashboard and swore again, because he was a maverick. “We’re going to have to make a pit stop. What’s the closest space-port?”

Gage pulled up the holo-map. “Formaggio? No, wait, Ellenidor. But we’d have to pass through the Brugdefsel Asteroid Belt. It’s risky, Kai.”

Kai grinned. “Risky is my middle name.”

“No it’s not,” said Gage, “it’s Roger.”

“Well I’m going to change it to Risky and then you’ll have to shut up, won’t you?”

Rin glared at them both. “Have you been listening to a word I said?”

“Oh, sure,” Kai lied, while Gage hid behind a cyber-spanner. “You raised some really good points.”

Rin beamed. “Great! I wanted to get your advice on something, though. As you know, growing up I was always an outsider. I never knew my father, who all said mysteriously disappeared the night I was born and has never been discussed since. But just last week, I found a secret stash of –”

Kai put the spaceship in gear and drove off. He would have to try very, very hard not to aim straight for the asteroids.

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Mary Sue: It’s a Girl Thing

It’s time for more Mary Sues. So far we’ve talked about what Sues are and why they’re bad. Feel free to refresh your memory of the previous two posts, but it boils down to this: Mary Sues are disgustingly perfect characters who, because of their own perfection, tend to ruin the stories around them. Most of the time you can’t really have a well-written story with believable characters if there’s a Sue involved, and it can also lead to dismissing some very serious real-life problems.

As you might have guessed, most Mary Sues are female. The character is set up to be female by default – if you want to talk about the male equivalent you have to be more specific and talk about Gary Stus instead. But from the moment the term was first used, it was set up specifically to talk about female characters. It was first used in the 1970s to parody a particular trend in fanfiction: a female (often teenage) original character falling in love with an established male character from an already published work. Paula Smith, who came up with the name, used it to talk about Star Trek self-inserts and unrealistic characters, but the fact that she chose ‘Mary Sue’ is significant. It explicitly signals that this is a problem seen with female characters. The clue is in the name.

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I feel like I really shouldn’t have to explain this one. (image: giphy.com)

The most notorious Mary Sues are female characters. Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, Jenna Silverblade, Atlantiana Rebekah Loren – these are all young female characters who were created to fall in love with male characters from Harry Potter, the Zelda games and Twilight respectively. A quick websearch will show you that most readers believe Mary Sues are female as well. All the artwork, fiction and writer resources relating to Mary Sues assume that the character in question is female.

But is this really fair? Perfection is hardly something that women have a monopoly on, no matter what the poets say. Part of the definition of a Mary Sue is that they are perfect, attractive, powerful and loved by all. These are not uniquely female traits and never have been. The other part is that their lack of flaws and central position in the story warp other characters’ reactions to them and, in the worst cases, the setting and plot as well. These aren’t uniquely female traits either. So why is it that Mary Sues are seen as a female phenomenon?

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We don’t have a monopoly on sparkling, either. (image: tumblr.com)

Let’s take a brief moment to look at Gary Stus. Gary Stu, sometimes called Marty Stu, is the male version of his character. That’s what defines him. Other Mary Sues are defined by what they do: Villain Sues, Twagic Sues, Jerk Sues are all identified by their actions, appearance and the way they treat other characters. Gary Stu is identified by his gender alone. They’re much less common but there do tend to be a few differences: Gary Stus tend to be a lot more active and less prone to getting kidnapped.

But these are surface differences. When you get right down to it, there’s no real difference between the male and female counterparts. Both Mary Sues and Gary Stus are disgustingly attractive, practically perfect in every way, and warp the plot around them just by their presence. Much like Mary Sues, the antecedents go back much longer than you might think: if Mary Sue is Cinderella, then Gary Stu is Prince Charming. We’ve seen archetypes of perfect male characters since storytelling became a thing, just as we have with women. What we haven’t seen is male characters getting called out on this.

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Oh I wonder why that could be?? (image: giphy.com)

Part of this is probably down to the differing ideals of male and female perfection. Bear with me, because I’m about to make several sweeping generalisations. Broadly speaking, the ‘ideal man’ in historical storytelling is strong, decisive and heroic. He’s a problem-solver who wins battles and can make great speeches. Contrast this with the ‘ideal woman’ in historical storytelling, who is passive, pretty and quiet. She doesn’t make speeches; you’ll be lucky if she says anything at all. In recent years women’s roles, both in fiction and in real life, have moved away from this. Unfortunately men haven’t been so lucky. In some areas we still expect the same things from masculinity as we did decades ago and as you might suspect, this can be really damaging. It could be that part of the reason we don’t see as much backlash against Gary Stus is because they still fit with predominant ideas about what a man should be.

Allow me to illustrate my point. There’s this character you’ve all heard of. She’s so unbelievably cool and always has the latest tech. She always looks good no matter what she’s doing. She speaks several languages, drives amazing cars, is trained in more weapons than you can even name and she’s a total badass who could kick the Incredible Hulk into next week. She can get with any guy she wants, and they all want her. She’s been all over the world and has saved it more than once. She knows about fine wine, poker, and always has a quip handy even if she’s just jumped out of a plane. She can talk her way into anything and fight her way back out again, never lets the bad guys get away with it, and does it all for Queen and Country.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s James Bond.

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IT COULD HAPPEN LET ME HAVE THIS (image: Radio Times)

James Bond is one of the most popular characters in fiction. Millions of people turn out to see the Bond films whenever a new one is released. But when you get right down to it, Bond falls into a lot of the same characters as a Mary Sue does. He’s unrealistically cool, can have any woman he wants and doesn’t have any flaws that hold him back. He’s not an exception, either. Tarzan, Batman, Luke Skywalker and Zorro have all been described as Stus too, but on them this isn’t really a label that sticks.

So why have Mary Sues manifested themselves as a female problem? I expect that part of it is because of the rise of fanfiction, which is often written by women rather than men. Obviously it’s difficult to dig up statistics confirming this, but those we have available (which are, of course, limited by online anonymity) suggest that this is the case. According to this survey, three-quarters of all users on fanfiction.net are listed as female when their gender has been made public. The vast majority are also in the 13-17 age bracket. So if the vast majority of fanfic is written by teenage girls, we can expect to see a lot of fanfic about teenage girls. This may also account for some issues with characterisation and quality, too. I know the stuff I was writing when I was a teenager was really awful, at any rate.

But if Mary Sues aren’t a uniquely female problem, they certainly aren’t one that’s unique to fanfic either. There have been Mary Sues since storytelling began. Unrealistically perfect women have been cropping up in stories since the Dark Ages, and they don’t show many signs of stopping. Two of the most notorious Mary Sues of recent years are Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele – both of whom are characters from original fiction.

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Fun fact: they’re also my nemeses. (image: fanpop.com)

So why is this ‘a girl thing’? Is it just that more women write Mary Sues, or that more female characters tend to get called Mary Sues? I’m not sure. Getting into why people write Mary Sues is always going to be a tricky question. It could just be that more women are into reading and writing as a hobby. This has some basis in fact: most surveys agree that women read more than men, something which appears to have its roots in childhood. It could be that more women write Mary Sues because they don’t see enough characters they want to emulate in already published fiction. It could be escapism. We’ll probably never know for sure.

What we can confirm is that there does tend to be a much stronger backlash against female characters than male. Look at the Ghostbusters remake, whose stars were harassed online. Look at Rey from the new Star Wars trilogy, who’s been called a Mary Sue when she’s actually following Luke Skywalker’s role pretty closely. Look at Twilight. Bella is a Mary Sue, there’s no question of that, but the sheer amount of hate the series generated was astounding. The one thing these have in common is that they’re are all female characters at the forefront of their stories. I can’t remember the last time I saw backlash on that scale against a male character. Perhaps the reason why Mary Sues are so exclusively seen as ‘a girl thing’ is that there’s still a lot of underlying sexism in the way we talk about fiction, and what’s seen as a problem for female characters is glossed over when talking about male ones.

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DO IT FOR FEMINISM (image: tumblr.com)

So is Mary Sue an explicitly gendered term? I think so. The male equivalent doesn’t receive anywhere near as much attention or backlash, and I think people’s attitudes to women definitely play a part in that. Mary Sues do cause problems, but it’s not because they’re female characters. Gary Stus cause problems too, but far less people talk about it.

But despite all the problems that Mary Sues can cause, are they really all that bad? Next time, I’ll talk about that despite all their drawbacks, Mary Sues can actually be…a good thing.

giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUUHHHH. (image: giphy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Noir Detective Thriller

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at Noir fiction. Put on your trench coats and fedoras and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One hard-boiled, alcoholic private eye
  • One dame who done him wrong
  • A spectacularly grimy city, with skyscrapers
  • Entire vats of cynicism
  • An informant named either ‘Jimmy’ or ‘Benny’
  • Guns named after women
  • A sinister crime boss
  • Absolutely no happy endings
  • Trenchcoats

 

Method:

  1. Put your PI in a grimy office and have him monologue about things. It can’t be about anything happy or banal, and must be filled with questionable metaphors.
  2. In walks our femme fatale for the evening! They flirt.
  3. She wants him to investigate a murder, for reasons that are slightly dodgy.
  4. Our PI investigates the scene of the crime. There are Clues. All the important ones have been missed by the police, who are incompetent, corrupt, or both.
  5. Time to visit the informant and find out what he knows. He’ll tell you, because he’s a coward.
  6. Oh no! A Clue has led you to a place where criminals hang out! Time to treat your life with utter disdain and sneak in in the most brazen way possible. Hi-jinks ensue.

  1. The boss wants to see you. This is never good. You should monologue some more so the reader gets it.
  2. The sinister crime boss warns the PI to drop the case, stay away from the femme fatale, or similar. It’s a very tense conversation, and always done in front of hired goons.
  3. Ignore him! There’s still eleven steps to go.
  4. Meet up with the femme fatale again and flirt some more. Something she says doesn’t quite add up, but she’s hot, so it doesn’t matter.
  5. A gunfight! Join in.
  6. You have a Clue that contradicts the evidence of the first Clue, in a way that is too intricate and complex to articulate in a sarcastic twenty-step overview! WHAT CAN IT MEEEEAN?
  7. Something bad happens to slow down the investigation! It could be a break-in, a beat-up informant, or maybe even another murder. Monologue about it.
  8. The femme fatale and the PI have a tender/romantic/sexy moment together. Allow a brief sliver of hope, but get ready to crush it later.
  9. So close to finding out the truth! The PI just needs one more edge piece and the puzzle will be solved…
  10. …but oh no, he’s arrested! It’s highly suspicious.
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Hmmm… (image: gifimage.net)
  1. The crime boss appears again, and offers the PI one last chance. Ignore him, he’s not the protagonist.
  2. Break out of jail! Have a chase scene! Punch a guy! Cram the last few pages with action.
  3. Turns out the femme fatale was behind it all along! What an absolute shocker.
  4. Finish off with a big gunfight. The PI survives, but the femme fatale, the crime boss, and that last sliver of hope definitely don’t. Walk off into the rain, bitterly.

THE END. Serve with plenty of liquor.

 

Tips:

  • Always write in first person. If it doesn’t sound like a bitter drunk is telling you the story while slumped over a barstool, start again.
  • Not sure where to set it? It doesn’t really matter. Near future dystopia, Roaring Twenties, nursery rhymes – anywhere can be a noir setting if you put a depressing enough spin on it!
  • Never ever call women ‘women’. Only ever refer to them as dames, broads, doll, toots, or tomatoes. (That last one is not made up.)
AO_Girl_Tomato
What hath science wrought?? (image: annoyingorangefanon.wikia.com)
  • All your gangsters need to have nicknames. They don’t have to make sense, though.
  • Always make sure your main character has a cool name. He’s got to beat up bad guys and solve murders, and he can’t really do that if he’s got a name like Gerald.
  • Cram it full of questionable metaphors. If you get stuck, elaborate, and then put ‘if ya know what I mean’ on the end of the sentence. Readers will assume you are wise-cracking and witty, instead of thinking that you fell down the rabbit hole with a thesaurus in your hand. If ya know what I mean.
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YEAH YOU DO. (image: giphy.com)
  • Contractions and slang make your main character sound tough. ‘You’ is always ‘ya’, don’t hesitate to use no double negative, and always go for ‘gotta’ over ‘got to’. Proper grammar is for wusses.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

They say this city used to be the kinda town where everyone knew each other. A guy couldn’t go a block without seein’ someone he knew. A little old lady with an apple pie. Maybe some kids, playin’ on the sidewalk. Musta been nice.

These days, it ain’t so pretty. Sure, there’s a few familiar faces. But they ain’t exactly friendly. Ya see ’em steppin’ out of alleys with a gat pointed at your belly and ya think ‘Gee, didn’t ya rob me last week?’

Not me, though. Nobody robs Mac Hunter. Even in this city, where sleepin’ in the gutter is a step up, nobody’s dumb enough to rob the best PI in town. Besides, they all know I’m broke.

Feet on the desk, I pour myself another glass of hooch. Business is slow, slower than a snail with a gammy leg. I oughtta be drummin’ up a case, but to hell with that. It’s rainin’. Always rains in this godforsaken city.

I light up a Camel. Yellow light stripes through the Venetian blinds, like a zebra, only one with really straight stripes that’s been turned ass over teakettle. Electricity broke two weeks ago and the landlord won’t do a damn thing about it. Says I oughtta be grateful for a place of my own. Hell. He oughtta be grateful he answers to Jimmy “Spoonface” Giuliani. If ol’ Spoonface wasn’t in the picture, he wouldn’t be so quick to run his mouth off.

There’s a knock at the door. Hell. Landlord, again.

“Velma! Get the door!” I yell, before I remember that Velma walked out last week. Said a secretary wanted payin’ in more’n just stale whiskey. She’ll be back. She sticks to me like gum that’s been covered in glue, and then dunked in molasses, and then glue, again. Never could say no to a man with a pack a day habit and a gun in his pocket.

But then the door opens, and trouble walks in. Turns out, trouble is a redhead.

Legs for days and all the way up to her waist, if ya know what I mean. Poured into a dress as black as a black cat in a coal cellar at midnight and with all the lights off. Curls like spiral staircases twirling up to the top of her head, and I couldn’t think of a man who wouldn’t slug a guy to climb ’em. Fur coat. Shiny gloves. A ring that coulda bought half the city, but that ain’t sayin’ much.

“Well?” she says, in a voice like November, “aren’t you going to give me a seat, Mr Hunter?”

Aw, hell. I tip an ashtray and a few empty bottles of hooch off of a chair. She shakes her head, mutters ‘November?’ and sits herself down. It’s like watching a bottle of oak-cask whiskey uncork itself and wriggle towards your hand.

She frowns. “Oak-cask whiskey?”

“Never mind. What can I do you for, Miss…”

“Valentine.”

“I betcha are.”

Mrs Lola Valentine.”

“He’s a lucky fella.”

She fits a cigarette into a long holder. Before I know it I’m lightin’ it for her, like some chubby little drone buzzin’ after the queen bee. Only, with cigarettes and a lighter in my fuzzy bee paws. Note to self: do bees have paws? Probably oughtta look that one up.

She gives me a strange look and takes a drag. “He’s a dead fella, Mr Hunter.”

Damn. Now I remember. Her dear departed husband musta been Frank “Steps” Valentine. Rich. Old. In the Mayor’s pocket and not the one at the back, if ya know what I mean. Shot in the back of the head not two weeks gone. Coroner ruled it a suicide. They always do.

“I know my husband’s death wasn’t a suicide,” she says, fixin’ me with a look that pinned me like a butterfly on a collector’s board. Only, a manly butterfly, with trenchcoat wings, a fedora, and a gat named Ginger in his hand. Antenna.

“Now, Mrs Valentine…”

“You know it too. I heard the tone of your monologue. I want you to find out who killed him. I’ll pay you well, of course.”

She knew I could do with the money. But “Steps” Valentine played a dangerous game, and I don’t mean no game that could be played with the lovely Lola. All kindsa scum had muscled in on Valentine’s racket and his body was barely cold. Eddie “Llama” McMurphy had his slice of the rum-runners. Vincenzo “Beaker” Gorlami was movin’ in on the girlie shows. And worst of all, Boris “the Holly Bush” Krazinsky was havin’ dinner with the Mayor every night, and you betcha he was gettin’ two scoops of ice cream with desert, if ya know what I mean.

But ‘danger’ is my middle name. No, really. It says ‘Mac Danger Hunter’ on my birth certificate.

“And if I don’t take the case?”

“Then, Mr Hunter,” she says, givin’ me a smile that drains all the metaphors right outta me, “I’ll take it to a gumshoe that doesn’t monologue out loud.”

 

Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write an Epic Fantasy

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at epic fantasy. Put on your questing helmet and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • An assorted mix of noble adventurers. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The long-lost heir to the throne
    • The wise elf-mage
    • A drunk, angry guide
    • A spunky warrior-princess
    • A charming but slightly morally dodgy rogue
    • Dwarves
  • The Sacred MacGuffin
  • One Evil Overlord
  • One slightly less evil overlord, for target practice
  • Expendable armies
  • A magic sword
giphy lightsaber
OK, you know that’s not what I meant. (image: giphy.com)
  • A series of oddly-named kingdoms
  • A handful of magical creatures, for set dressing

 

Method:

  1. An Evil Overlord has risen and the kingdom is in peril! Only one thing can stop him: the Sacred MacGuffin.
  2. Assemble your heroes! It’s questing time. Pack your magic sword and we’re off!
  3. Have your heroes amble along towards the MacGuffin. It’s a race against time, but no-one’s really going to care about that until after the halfway point.
  4. Time for group banter. If the warrior-princess is in your band of heroes, it’s also time to start setting up the romance. It doesn’t matter if there’s no chemistry at all. Of course she can’t be single!
  5. Have an amusing tavern scene to pass the time. Make sure to include a bumbling, fat innkeeper.
  6. First encounter with the hordes of the Evil Overlord! The heroes win, and it’s all very exciting.
  7. Keep on questing. Remember that the questing decisions don’t have to make logical sense. They just have to lead your heroes into exciting and difficult situations. Logic is for losers.
  8. A thing has happened which makes questing so much harder! Maybe someone forgot to take their horse in for a service or something. It doesn’t matter as long as the reader knows that now Things Are Serious.
giphy serious face
Put on your serious face, it’s about to go down. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The slightly less evil overlord pursues the heroes. Kill one of them off if you want to show how serious things are now.
  2. The heroes are having doubts. Now is an excellent point to mope about the lovers/families/favourite pizza joints they left behind.
  3. A trap!
  4. The heroes are saved with the help of some magic stuff. Elves, swords, unicorns, take your pick.
  5. The group is fractured! The noblest and most attractive ones decide to continue the quest, while the others go and do something else.
  6. Have a deep and meaningful conversation about duty, honour, sacrifice, and other things that must be discussed with a very straight face.
  7. Our heroes have found a magic sword, or a secret prophecy, or a helpful dragon – the point is, they’ve levelled up for some reason! Hooray!
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I mean, I guess you’re on the right track. (image: picquery.com)
  1. The slightly less evil overlord is defeated! Make sure to take notes, as that was only the warm-up.
  2. The MacGuffin is recovered! Time to limber up for the final battle – and for the group to be re-united, because they clearly overheard the conversation in step 14.
  3. EPIC BATTLE. SWORDS. MAGIC. DRAGONS, PROBABLY. THE ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN.
  4. The MacGuffin does its thing and the Evil Overlord is defeated! Give your armies the day off.
  5. Peace is restored to the kingdom! The rightful heir is back on the throne, the warrior-princess has got married, and the dwarves are drinking themselves into a stupor.

THE END. Serve dusted in a fine layer of magical background creatures.

 

Tips:

  • Language is super important – it’s got to sound epic as well as look epic. People don’t ‘look for’ stuff, they ‘seek’ it. Never, ever use contractions. It’s not ‘because’, it’s ‘for’. Basically, if it doesn’t sound like it’s written on parchment, go back and start again.
  • Make sure you give your characters the right names. Barbarians need names with lots of consonants in. Elves need names with lots of soft sounds in. Evil Overlords should have names made up of all the difficult bits of the alphabet. If in doubt, spell a normal name badly and stick ‘Brightblade’ at the end of it.
  • Stuck on what magical creatures to use? Anything that could be airbrushed onto the side of a van is fine.
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That wasn’t quite what I had in mind… (image: pinterest.com)
  • Horses are basically happy, furry cars with four legs. Don’t worry about making sure they’ve got enough food, water, rest etc. – that would just get in the way of the plot!
  • Kingdoms are good. Simple country villages are good. Councils are almost always bad or inefficient, and Republics should be treated with suspicion. Empires are stone-cold evil.
  • Never trust a Grand Vizier.
  • Fantasy races are a must, but you really only need two or three. Elves are wise but kind of girly. Dwarves are silly. Orcs are bad, stupid and ugly. Goblins are the worst. For anything else use this rule of thumb: if they’re attractive, you can trust them.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Alyss Brightblade tugged her hooded cloak a little closer and hammered on the tavern door. Behind her, her companions shivered in the rain. Apart from Wolf. The barbarian, who had come from the wastes of the frozen north, had stripped down to his fur-lined underpants again.

A wooden panel slid open. Alyss caught a glimpse of a jowly face. “What d’you want?”

“We seek shelter from the storm and a hot meal for our bellies, innkeep.”

The innkeeper opened the door. He was a fat man with sideburns and a large white apron. “Come in, then. And tell your barbarian to put a shirt on.”

Alyss glanced back at Wolf. The rain glistened on his chest. She wouldn’t tell him to put a shirt on just yet.

They filed into the inn and huddled around the fire. Durdon, the dwarfish axe-master, made straight for the bar, tucking his beard into his belt and rolling up his sleeves as he went. The rest of them found a table in the corner.

Lorrolarriel looked around the inn with barely-concealed distate, his elfish nose wrinkling. “Must we really seek shelter in such rude accommodations?”

Wolf grunted. Alyss blushed. He was so strong and silent. And stoic. And tall. And –

Lorrolarriel leaned forward. Behind him, Durdon tossed aside an empty horn of mead and called for another. “It pains me to allow you to travel in such squalor, Princess.”

Alyss shushed him. “I thank you for your courtesy, wise elf-mage, but it is necessary. If I am ever to reclaim my father’s throne, I must seek the Grail of Antioch in secret. Lord Kraegorn can never know of my plans.”

“You are wise beyond your years, my lady. But still, this place is so…sweaty.”

The innkeeper came over with a tray of bread and cheese and three flagons of ale. He slapped them down on the table and bumbled back to the bar, tripping over a table as he went. At the bar, Durdon finished his second horn of mead and laughed.

Alyss picked at her bread and cheese. “I would walk into a thousand sweaty taverns if it meant restoring my birthright, Lorrolarriel.”

Wolf grunted. Alyss smiled a secret smile. She knew he’d understand.

Durdon slumped onto the bench, a drink in each hand. One of them had a twirly straw. Alyss beckoned her companions closer and spread her map across the table.

“We are here, at the tavern of –” she checked the menu “– the Monkey’s Wineskin. Lord Kraegorn and his forces hold the Pass of Antigorr, here.” She pointed. “That way is barred to us. To the west is the Bog of Kra’ka’harrgh – impassable at this time of year. To the east are the Mountains of Prigwyth, but I fear we will be too late. Winter is coming, and the snows will make crossing the mountains impossible.”

Durdon hiccupped and moved onto his second drink. Wolf nodded at the map and grunted.

Lorrolarriel gave a disdainful sniff. “We do not all have the constitution of Northmen, barbarian.”

Wolf growled and reached for his warhammer. Durdon slurped his drink through a straw. Alyss raised a hand.

“Good sirs, please. We have foes enough without fighting amongst ourselves. Now, as I see it we have but two choices. We can travel to the Republic of Syssyss and request an audience with Grand Vizier Qrix. He could grant us safe passage through the Pass of Antigorr. Disguised as Syssyssian emissaries, Lord Kraegorn would not attack us.”

Lorrolarriel frowned. “Can he be trusted?”

Wolf snorted. Alyss flushed. She’d made herself look so foolish in front of him. He must think she was nothing more than a child. He’d probably put his shirt back on now, just to spite her.

“I fear not,” she said. “But our other choice is far more dangerous. If we hired a guide, we might be able to skirt around the edges of the Bog of Kra’ka’harrgh and pass through the Very Dangerous Desert.”

Durdon wandered off to the bar to get some shots. Lorrolarriel leaned forward and peered at the map. “But my lady, that is marked with a skull and crossbones. And if you look here, in the margins, the cartographer has added a little note. It says ‘don’t go here, ever’.”

Alyss rolled up the map. “I fear we have no choice.”

“Yes, well,” Lorrolarriel muttered, “I cannot help but muse on our quest ahead, my lady. Might we not be better placed to seek the help of the Griffins of the Tiny Forest? With their aid, we could fly straight to the Holy Citadel of Ka’bathor, retrieve the Grail and avoid spending six months camping in the woods.”

Alyss blinked at him.

“Well of course we can’t do that, Lorrolarriel,” she explained, “it wouldn’t count.”

 

Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Mary Sue: What the Hell are you talking about, Jo

It’s time for me to talk about Mary Sues.

giphy aragorn tom
Hold me, Aragorn! Or Tom. You know, whoever’s free. (image: giphy.com)

I’ve mentioned them on the blog before, mainly when I was doing my Strong Female Characters series. The term ‘Mary Sue’ has become a great piece of critical shorthand, so it often came in handy. I spent quite a lot of time trying to work out whether certain characters were Mary Sues, but often didn’t really have the time to go into a huge amount of detail.

GET READY FOR HUGE AMOUNTS OF DETAIL, GUYS!

Briefly put, a Mary Sue is a certain type of poorly-written character. Often (but not exclusively) seen in fanfiction, what really makes these characters stand out is that they’re just so perfect. They never have any flaws – or if they do, their flaws only make them more appealing, and never actually cause any real problems for them. They’re often physically attractive. They’re usually teenage girls, often with more than one love interest (or villain) passionately declaring their love before the story’s over. They’ll have a dark and tragic past, but the consequences of this are never fully explored – it’s just a secret our Sue can reveal when she wants sympathy. She never fails. She’s always an expert in everything she does, whether it’s speaking alien languages or mastering ancient martial arts. All the good guys love her, all the bad guys want her to give in and join the dark side, and she always saves the day.

captain-hammer-is-here
Seems the day needs some saving expertise. (image: uproxx.wordpress.com)

Essentially, they’re really, really annoying.

When you get right down to it, Mary Sues aren’t really proper characters. Most fictional characters (and yes, I am about to make a sweeping generalisation here) are intended to reflect real people. A well-written character should seem human, with all the messiness that being human entails. Mary Sues don’t have that messiness.

This isn’t all that uncommon in characters, though. Mary Sue is a pretty modern term, but the flawless and ideal character the term describes goes back centuries. If you look at most classic fairy tales – such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White – most of these characters could be described as Mary Sues. The original stories just don’t focus on the mechanics of their characters, so they’re often described in very broad strokes. They are kind, and good, and meek, and that’s all they are. A lot of this comes down to the purpose that fairy tales fulfilled. While on some level, they are told for sheer enjoyment of the story, a lot of them were also told as a way of showing people how to behave. Charles Perrault, in his seminal collection of fairy tales, made this explicit by adding a few lines to the end of each story that explained the moral in no uncertain terms.

The invention of the novel as a story-telling format didn’t kill off Mary Sues, either. (You can’t kill off a Sue, they’re too perfect.) The moralising Sue is a staple of nineteenth-century literature, particularly literature aimed at children and young girls. Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Princess, Heidi – all of these books are children’s classics, but all of them are based around characters that are so perfect that they don’t seem like real children. This is because they were never meant to. Heidi, Sara and Cedric are ideals, not accurate portrayals of children. Every flaw has been ironed out. They’re good, obedient, cheerful, resilient, and say their prayers every night, just as the ideal nineteenth-century child was supposed to. Overworked governesses probably found them very useful.

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Along with a few other things. (image: pinterest.com)

The other form a Mary Sue can take is a self-insert. This is exactly what it sounds like: an author living out an adventure by writing themselves an avatar in the story. This is the form more modern Mary Sues take, and this too has its roots in nineteenth-century literature. It carried on all the way up to the 1970s, when Paula Smith first coined the term in ‘A Trekkie’s Tale’, a short parody about the adventures of Lieutenant Mary Sue, youngest officer in the star fleet, that was published in a fanzine.

Since then, the term has blossomed, like a beautiful and perfect sparkle-flower. Readers have become much sharper when it comes to spotting Sues, so now the term ‘Mary Sue’ is more like a big sparkly umbrella that encompasses lots of smaller categories. Here are some of them:

  • Classic Sue: practically perfect in every way. Beautiful, cheerful and sickeningly sweet.
  • Marty Stu: the same, but a guy. Surprisingly rare, for reasons I’ll talk about in another post.
  • Jerk Sue: angry, sometimes violent, always wearing a ton of black eyeliner. For some reason everyone loves her.
  • Twagic Sue: basically exists to have terrible things happen to her and then die meaningfully. The definition of a lost little lamb.
  • Villain Sue: the most successful cape-wearing villain ever. Also she’s really hot.
  • Relationship Sue: exists only to date the author’s character of choice.

There are more. Thousands more. Fortunately, I found this handy-dandy chart.

Chances are you’ve come across some of these characters before, and hopefully at least got a good laugh out of them. Who can forget Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, the most goffik student Hogwarts has ever known? What about Jenna Silverblade, Link’s one true love, secret elemental, and tireless nymphomaniac? Or how about Atlantiana “Tia” Rebekah Loren, Edward Cullen’s infinitely more gothic soulmate? They’re overpowered, they’re ridiculous, and they’ve got all the boys wrapped around their finger – but you could probably sneak off in the time it takes for them to say their full name. And that’s not even counting the Mary Sues who are in books that were actually published.

Bella_Swan
NAMING NO NAMES. (image: wikimedia.org)

I’ve got a lot to say, so here’s what I’m going to do. This post will be the first of a short mini-series where I talk about Sues until I’m blue in the face. Why are Mary Sues so reviled (apart from the fact that they’re really annoying)? Where does gender come into all of this? Is there a way that Mary Sues can be a good thing? These are some of the questions I will try and answer, before I get sidetracked and start laughing about their stupid names.

So choose a ten-syllable name, grab your pet unicorn and prepare your tragic backstory. It’s about to get perfect up in here.

Book Recipes: How to Write a YA Dystopia

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at YA dystopian fiction. Get ready to be Chosen and we’ll get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One totally dark and edgy heroine
  • At least two tall and handsome love interests
  • One standard post-apocalyptic setting
  • One vague, shadowy organisation that runs everything
  • Token background characters to be killed off at will
  • The Prophecy
  • A social categorisation system that makes no sense
  • A bunch of futuristic-sounding names
  • Angst
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)

 

Method:

  1. Use your post-apocalyptic setting and social categorisation system as a backdrop for our edgy heroine. Don’t explain too much, unless you’re describing what she looks like.
  2. She has been Chosen!
  3. Introduce your love interests. They must fit into one of the following categories:
    1. Overlooked childhood friend
    2. Dark and mysterious bad boy
    3. Plays guitar
  4. The Prophecy is revealed and it’s all about the heroine. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just needs lots of Impressive Capitals.
  5. Training montage!

  1. Our heroine finds out the shadowy organisation is plotting something! Better grab the love interests and investigate!
  2. FIGHTING!
  3. The heroine and one of the love interests are separated from the group! Better use the time wisely and make out.
  4. A Mysterious Secret is discovered. Don’t pay any attention to it until the final third of the book. We’ve still got chapters to fill.
  5. An authority figure tries to tell the heroine what to do, but they’re over twenty-five and can be safely ignored.
  6. Time for a deep and meaningful conversation with the other love interest!
  7. More training. This time there’s a love interest there, so it’s sexy training.
  8. The Prophecy is coming true, just like the Elders said!
  9. Angst. About everything. You wouldn’t understand.
  10. Time to go and destroy the evil organisation! Suit up. If there’s anyone you want to get rid of, make sure the heroine talks to them before she leaves. Then they’re a goner.
cop_sign2_2916
Just two days until retirement! (image: tvtropes.com)
  1. Sneak into the organisation’s lair. While you’re there, make sure the heroine agonises over who she’s going to make out with.
  2. BETRAYAL! Kill off a few background characters to make it stick.
  3. Time for the final showdown! The heroine bravely goes off to sacrifice herself, but not before making out with someone. I mean, she might die.
  4. Our heroine confronts the main villain, who sneers. There’s a big fight and a few tense conversations but it all works out well in the end.
  5. OR DOES IT??? Prepare for the inevitable trilogy.

THE END. Serve steeped in teenage angst.

 

Tips:

  • Stuck on coming up with futuristic names? Help is at hand. Just take a normal name and spell it badly.
  • Responsible parents should never, ever be a feature. Anything like bedtimes, eating vegetables, and insisting you don’t throw yourself into danger at every possible opportunity would just get in the way of your heroine’s adventures.
  • Never kill anyone off unless you’re absolutely sure you aren’t going to spin this out into a series.
  • Always, always, always use first person, present tense.
  • Don’t know how to organise your dystopian society? Take a random online quiz and base it off that. It doesn’t need to make sense – all it really needs to do is generate pointless tension.
giphy running
Quick! To Buzzfeed! (image: giphy.com)
  • Any opportunity to have a ~*Forbidden Romance*~ should be seized at all costs.
  • Don’t think too much about the whole apocalypse part. Hint at it in a mysterious sort of way, but don’t explain it. You don’t want your readers wondering how toothpaste survived a nuclear holocaust but electricity didn’t, you want them arguing over which cute boy the heroine should kiss!

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

For a second when I wake up I almost forget what Cycle it is. I’m back in The Dormitory with Khamm, Hollow, and Mareen, and any second now we’ll be shaken out of our bunks for Morning Nutrition.

But then I remember. I’m not in The Dormitory any more.

I get out of bed and pad over to the mirror. Elder Landseer’s house is so much nicer than The Dormitory. There are carpets, and a sink with brass taps – something that I haven’t seen before. Apparently there used to be all sorts of things like that, but they all got destroyed in The Cataclysm. Still, I don’t have time for such silly, girly things. I’d much rather be out hunting. I guess I’m not like other girls.

I examine my face in the mirror. Just an ordinary, everyday girl with aquamarine eyes, pure white hair and a scar shaped like a twisting vine on one cheekbone. Nothing special. I pull on my plain grey tunic and leggings and braid my hair. I wonder if they had braids before The Cataclysm.

There’s a knock at the door. Seconds later a guy comes in. I’d know those chartreuse eyes and obsidian hair anywhere. It’s Tretch Landseer, Elder Landseer’s only son. He raises his eyebrows at me, mockingly. “Come on, Freesia. Don’t keep us waiting.”

“It’s just Free, thanks,” I mutter. He wouldn’t understand.

He smirks and holds the door open for me. Stupidly, I trip over the carpet as I pass. I brace myself, ready for the fall, but before I hit the ground Tretch catches me around the waist.

“Careful,” he says, smirking.

I push him away, blushing. I don’t know why he’s being so nice all of a sudden. The Elders and their families hardly ever notice the Dormers. It’s only when we’ve been through The Ceremony that we actually become important.

My Ceremony was supposed to be yesterday, just like everyone else’s. It happens every year: when a Dormer turns sixteen, they are Chosen for their Echelon. There’s five, and once you’ve been Chosen you’re there for the rest of your life.

Khamm and I were both hoping for Venture. They at least get to have some fun – they’re the bravest out of everyone in The Colony, and they get to go beyond The Borderlands. But there’s also Bounty, who farm, Sinistra, who rule us, Meticule, who keep the records, and Pufflehuff, for the rest. Khamm was lucky – he got Venture after all. But when I went into the Room of Knowing, where the Ceremony takes place, nothing happened. I just stood there in the dark for ages, until Elder Landseer opened up the side door and told me I’d better follow him.

Tretch smirks at me again. He’s standing by a door with a twisting vine carved into it. Without thinking, my hand drifts up to my cheek. It looks just like my scar…

I go through the door. It’s pitch dark inside. I stand in the middle of the room and wait.

“Citizen Freesia Brightwater?” a voice asks.

“It’s Free, actually.”

“You are Citizen Freesia Brightwater?”

“Yes, but I go by –”

There’s a rush of whispering all around the room. I squint into the darkness.

“It’s true!” someone says, “she bears The Mark!”

“Her? She’s far too young.”

“She hasn’t even been Chosen! How can a Dormer stand against the Conclave?”

All at once the lights come on. The room is filled with people. I’m standing on a circular stage with rows and rows of seats rising up on every side. The Elders are sitting on a bench high above me, but it’s not them I look to. Khamm is in the front row, his chocolate-brown eyes wide with concern, his tawny hair rumpled, like always. For some reason I turn, and see Tretch looking at me too. There’s an expression on his face I’ve never seen before.

“Citizen Freesia Brightwater,” says Elder Landseer, getting to his feet, “you have been Chosen. Only you can save the world.”

 

Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)