Tag Archives: films

Book Recipes: How to Write a YA Coming of Age Story

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at coming of age stories. Get ready to go back to high school – don’t you really miss puberty?



  • One monologue-prone teenage protagonist
  • Parents who don’t understand
  • A hot teen issue of your choice
  • High school
  • One love interest, two if you’re greedy
  • Peer pressure
  • A faithful best friend, to be ignored at every opportunity
  • A really bland setting
  • The word ‘like’



  1. Take your teenage protagonist and clueless parents and slap them all in a house. Make sure it’s really boring, so the reader really gets why the protagonist wants a car or something.
  2. Get out of bed, it’s time for school. No, you can’t have five more – get up, I said!
  3. Time to meet our delightfully quirky high school friends. Choose your clique carefully. Everybody hates cheerleaders, so you’re best avoiding them, but remember no-one likes an unwashed nerd either.
  4. Go to class or something. Whatever. I don’t care.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Omigod guys, it’s the high school crush! They’re coming this way, everybody be cool, and make sure to talk about how the main character’s got a zit they don’t want noticed in the internal monologue.
  2. Our protagonist gets to hang out with their crush for some reason, yay! But uh-oh, they were supposed to see their best friend at the same time. How do you choose between –
  4. The main character has hung out with their crush and it’s all been reasonably fine. The hot teen issue came up though. Hope that’s not going to be a thing later on.
  5. Monologue about stuff. It’s that or homework.
  6. The main character has an opportunity to hang out with their crush! Isn’t this just the best. But uh-oh, what’s that coming up ahead? It looks like…
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUUNNNN (image: giphy.com)
  1. OK, the hot teen issue is becoming a bit of a problem now. Sure are a lot of opinions about this thing. Monologue about them.
  2. Ignore your best friend again, you’ve got a crush to drool over.
  3. You’ve been invited to one of the cool kids’ parties! You know, one of those absolutely mythical parties involving jet-skis and cocaine and that thing belonging to their parents that had better not get smashed.
  4. Argue with the parents about it.
  5. Disobey the parents and go to the party anyway! Your crush is there and it’s all great until –
  6. The hot teen issue happens! But you know, in a really bad way.
  7. The police get called and you’re in trouble now. In fact, you’re grounded until the age of thirty-four.
  8. Mope a bit, but then realise that this hot teen issue stuff is important and you’re allowed to have your own opinion about it. Do something thoughtful to show how mature you are now.
  9. Make up with your best friend. Make out with your crush, or don’t, depending on how much of an idiot they’re being. And look at this – you’re un-grounded, and just in time for prom! Maybe those parents do understand after all.

THE END. Serve sprinkled with ‘like’ so everyone knows you’re definitely a teenager.



  • Make sure to get the teenage slang just right. It’s important, yo.
giphy kids
Fleek. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your teen issue carefully. If you’re going for something like sex or drugs, then keep it toned-down. Funny tingly feelings are fine, but full-blown orgies are off the table.
  • Keep to the acceptable pantheon of curse words. You want a few in there to show you’re edgy, but you drop any f-bombs and you’re grounded, mister.
  • Just because you’re writing a teenage character doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your authorial metaphors. Go ahead and lay out the fanciest literary imagery you can think of – and then add ‘like’, ‘whatever’ or ‘or something’ to the end of the sentence. They’re teenagers, it’s what they do.
  • Make sure your main character spends 40% of the book shrivelling up with embarrassment. It’s comedy!
  • If your main character is a boy, their best friend is always a skinny nerd. If they’re a girl, the best friend is always fat. It’s the rule.
  • Love triangles are optional here. If you do decide to include one, at least one of the people involved must be a Bad Boy™.
  • Always, always write in first person.


And here’s one I made earlier…


“I dunno, Cass,” says Martha, leaning against the locker next to mine, “I think it’s pretty risky.”

I roll my eyes and grab my Trig folder. Martha Floffmann has been my best friend since forever, but she can be a bit of a square sometimes. But she’s my best friend, so I don’t mind too much.

“It’ll be fine,” I say, as we head to our next class. “Everyone does it eventually. It’s not like it’s a big deal.”

She blushes and pushes her glasses a little higher. “Yeah, but…now?”

“Well, maybe not right this minute, but y’know, soon.”

“Are you really ready for something like that? I know I’m not.”

We stop outside the classroom. “Well I mean, I guess I am. Who’s ever really ready for something like that? But I mean, y’know, if I felt really strongly about it and the right person was, y’know, in the running, then –”

“Hey! It’s Cassidy, isn’t it?”

My whole body goes tingly. My heart literally stops and my entire body starts blushing. I know that voice. When I turn around, he’ll be standing there.

I’m not ready for this. I look terrible – my hair’s a mess, there’s a Nutella stain on my shirt and my dog threw up on my trainers this morning. Maybe he won’t notice the smell. Or the fact that my face is basically one giant zit.

Well, here goes.

I turn around and see him: Trent Calliber. Captain of the football team, tall, with dark blonde hair and green eyes and a face sculpted by literal angels. He looks like a cross between Michelangelo’s David and a swimsuit model and I’m just dead. It actually hurts to look at his face, he’s so pretty.

He smiles and goddammit, I can feel my heart dancing a merengue.

“What are you girls talking about?”

Martha butts in. “Lowering the voting age to –”

“Nothing,” I interrupt, “just, y’know, girl things. For girls. Your hair is…hair today. I mean, it’s nice. For hair. Um.”

This always happens whenever I talk to him. My brain just passes out and my mouth is all welp, here’s freedom, at last. It’s so embarrassing.

Trent’s frowning. Oh God, I’ve done something wrong. It’s simultaneously the best and the worst thing I’ve ever seen and goddammit, why does he have to be so pretty?

“Lowering the voting age?” he asks. “You don’t actually care about that stuff, do you?”

Martha’s opening her mouth but it’s too late – I’m laughing, too loud, and now everyone is staring at me. Oh God, I can see the Nutella stain out of the corner of my eye. I know it’s there.

“No, no, of course not! Voting’s like, for dorks, or whatever. God. Ew. I mean, so last year!”

He smiles. “Great. For a second I thought you were like, a square or something.”

“Me? No way! I’m…triangular?”

He laughs. Oh God. Is it possible to get pregnant from this?

“You’re funny. Hey, listen. I’m throwing a rager Friday night. You should swing by sometime.”

Omigod. Oh my God. Trent Calliber has just asked me out. Trent fudging Calliber. OK Cassidy, play it cool, play it cool. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for.

“I mean, I guess I could,” I say, tossing my hair. Bonus – now it covers up the Nutella stain! “I mean, if I’m not too busy.”

“Oh, Cass,” says Martha, “Friday’s when we’re going to that –”

“So where is your place?” I say, nudging her out of the way. “And what time should I get there? And do I need to bring anything? Is there a dress code? What about –”

He laughs again. I really am going to have to ask the nurse about this pregnancy thing. “Relax, babe,” he says, and my entire body is going did you hear that he called me babe!, so relaxing is kind of off the menu now. “Just be there.”


He walks away. Martha frowns up at me, but she’s my best friend, so I don’t mind.

“I thought you said you were coming to my thing. I’ve bought the tickets.”

Trent is still walking away – slowly, thank God. My body is so tingly I literally cannot think about anything else and I’ve lost all motor function in my arms. Guess that’s why I’ve dropped my Trig folder.

“Did you hear?” I whisper, “he called me babe.”



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.

Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

My Top Ten Favourite Female Characters

So most of you already know about my Strong Female Characters series. That’s over and done with now, and it was a lot of fun, but the series had its drawbacks. The ten-question formula was helpful but didn’t cover everything, and often encouraged me to be a bit on the harsh side. I often wound up being quite harsh about characters I really like in the interest of putting out some sensible criticism.

Well, no more of that! These are the ten female characters I just really like. There’s no real criticism going on here, I just think they’re great.


  1. Miss Phryne Fisher
image: fanpop.com

A.k.a. the female James Bond, Phryne Fisher is the lead character in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian series about a lady detective in the 1920s. It’s a long-running series of books which was made into a TV series a few years ago and she is just great. There is nothing she can’t do – whether that’s burlesque, directing a movie or being a racecar driver for a little bit. In all honesty she’s probably a Mary Sue but I like her so much I just don’t care. It’s really refreshing to see a female character who can turn her hand to anything in the same vein as male super-spies – with the added bonus that she is so clearly having a great time doing it.



  1. Marion Ravenwood
image: pinterest.com

I’ll try and be brief as she’s had a proper blog post. Even though she didn’t pass my test I still love Marion. She certainly has her flaws but that’s never stopped me from liking her as a character. She’s crass and full of life, and when things don’t work out for her she keeps trying anyway. Full credit to Karen Allen for her performance – she provides a lot of Marion’s charm and it wouldn’t be the same without her.



  1. Granny Weatherwax
image: wikipedia.org

Surely this one shouldn’t come as surprise. Blog post is here for more detail but the crux of the matter is this: I love seeing a crabby old woman save the day on a regular basis. Granny is sharp, spiky and judgemental, but, y’know, in a really good way. She’s the best and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.



  1. The Other Mother
image: behindthevoiceactors.com

I never did a post on the Other Mother – I dressed up as her instead. For the uninitiated: she is the villain in Coraline, where she spends most of the novel trying to persuade a little girl to sew buttons over her eyes. I would’ve liked to have done a blog post on her but I quickly realised it just wasn’t possible – we just don’t know anything about her, apart from the fact that she’s an eldritch abomination. But for me the mystery is part of her charm. What is she? Where did she come from? I want Neil Gaiman to tell me, but not in a way that’s too scary or I’ll get nightmares.



  1. Toph Beifong
image: avatar.wikia.com

Hands down my favourite Avatar character. I did a blog post on her – do look if you’re interested, as I’ll be keeping this one brief. Toph is loud, rude, boisterous and over-confident and it’s just great. She’s one of the most powerful characters in the series and she knows it, and she’s also consistently hilarious into the bargain.



  1. Sailor Jupiter
image: zerochan.net

The best Sailor Scout, hands down. In some ways she’s very traditional: she’s a great cook, cleans and organises her home herself, and wants to get married and open a cake and flower shop when she’s older. But she’s also a badass warrior with electricity powers, a great martial artist and one of the most physically strong characters on the show. She’s a really interesting combination of masculine and feminine traits, which is what I really like about Sailor Moon – being girly doesn’t mean you can’t be strong.



  1. April Ludgate
image: popsugar.com

April is one of my favourite characters on Parks and Recreation because she’s just so weird. She’s almost like the missing member of the Addams family – quirky, morbid and immature, which makes her moments of sincerity something really special. I really love how playful she can be while at the same time being really odd. Also, Janet Snakehole and Burt Macklin is the best couple’s costume ever, hands down.



  1. Bridget Jones
image: pinterest.com

I’ve done a blog post on our Bridget so I’ll try and keep it brief. Long story short I really identify with her particular brand of cringing embarrassment, especially when flirting. She’s the kind of everywoman I can really get behind, which is to say one that’s based on common experiences rather than common traits. As a young woman working in publishing, I relate to her on a molecular level.



  1. Baby Jane Hudson
image: pinterest.com

The creepier female lead in the 1960s classic, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson is a former child star caring for her wheelchair-bound sister, who went on to become a much bigger movie star before getting in a car accident. There’s all sorts of interesting stuff going on in the movie about sisterhood, Hollywood and femininity but the crux of it all comes down to Jane. Her decision to try and restart her career – reviving her old Shirley-Temple-style act when she’s in her fifties or sixties – is a fascinating look at what the pressures of fame can do to someone, and what happens when women get boxed into a particular kind of femininity that they can’t shake off.



  1. Leslie Knope
image: parksandrecreation.wikia.com

The best politician in America. Again, I did a blog post so I’ll be brief, but I just think Leslie is great. She’s enthusiastic, competitive, wholesome in a way that I don’t find irritating – I just love her.



image: marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com

BONUS: Shuri

I was originally going to keep this list to ten characters but then I went to see Black Panther. AND IT WAS GREAT. Shuri, Wakanda’s irreverent tech genius, is my favourite character, hands down, but all the female characters in the film are interesting, well-developed and compelling. But Shuri’s the best one. Obviously.




And there you have it! A short list of my favourite female characters – and frankly, it was really difficult to keep it short. There’s just so many to choose from!

Book Recipes: How to Write a Country House Mystery

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at the country house murder mystery. Let’s hope we live through all twenty steps.



  • A big old spooky house
  • An assorted group of debonair guests. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The Ingénue
    • A crusty old man
    • A prim and proper widow
    • A bounder and a cad
    • The Femme Fatale
    • Loveable newlyweds
    • The idle rich
  • A sinister butler
  • Storms
  • So much alcohol
  • Unreliable phone lines/roads/Wi-Fi
  • Dark yet slightly sexy secrets



  1. All your characters have been invited to a big country house, for plot reasons. They make small talk like they aren’t going to die.
  2. There’s a big storm! Better gather everyone in one room. It’s not important. I’m sure it’ll be fine – oh, all the lights have gone out.
  4. Some of your guests try and leave, but they can’t! Those unreliable phone lines are down, or the road is flooded, or maybe someone has just Lemonade-ed over all the cars.

  1. Gather your guests in one big room, along with any servants you might have lying about the place. One of them is a MURDERER.
  2. Decide that the best thing to do is wait until morning in one big group. That way no-one will –
  4. Pick a character who will survive until at least step 18 and follow them around for a bit. This one is almost certainly not the murderer, but you never know.
  5. Pick your first suspect. You’re going to want to choose someone who is ridiculously suspicious because –
  6. Oh, no, looks like they’re dead. Never mind.
  7. Okay, obviously it wasn’t suspect number one. Who else could it be? Have your main POV character ponder this for a bit while they wander spooky corridors.
  8. Have another big meeting with the remaining characters. Someone is acting suspicious…
Hmmm… (image: gifimage.net)
  1. Settle on suspect number two. This should be less obvious than suspect number one, but still not something you’d really have to reach for. Someone who your main character has seen sneaking off down a corridor, or having a –
  2. Oh, no, they’re dead too. My bad.
  3. Some more murders happen and everyone is very distressed. First to go is anyone who decides to leave and get help, so your best bet is to keep your main character hidden behind the sofa.
  4. You have found A Clue. Oh boy! This sure takes your mind off all those murders.
  5. We’ve narrowed it down to our third and final suspect. All the clues point to them. There’s no-one else it could be. Gird your loins and get ready to confront the –
  6. Oh, they’re dead as well. Huh. So the real murderer must be…
  8. The butler explains his evil plan for the readers’ convenience and advances on the main character. But just when he’s about to do another murder, we reach the end of our twenty-step guide and he’s arrested.

THE END. Serve with tea and flickering lights.


  • This one comes with an alternate ending! If you’re feeling especially bleak, just have your butler kill everybody and waltz off into the sunset with all their stuff. Make sure he still explains his plan though, that part’s important.
  • Detectives are optional. Feel free to invite one along, but just be aware that in steps 1 and 2 they’re going to have to earn their keep by deducing where people went on their holidays.
  • Make sure to choose the right kind of dark secrets. They can’t be too dark or you’ll put the guests off their champagne. The best ones are sexy and melodramatic.
  • Always include at least one hysterical woman, and one man who thinks the first murder is an elaborate prank.
  • No-one ever, ever suspects the butler.
giphy spanish inquisition
You all knew I was going to make this joke. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your setting carefully. The past is your best bet, because Wi-Fi and working phone lines can really ruin a good murder mystery. Nobody likes a detective who relies on Google.
  • Don’t make your creepy house too creepy or the genres will get muddled. Also, don’t make it gross. Nobody wants to bleed to death on a grubby floor.


And here’s one I prepared earlier…


“I expect you’re all wondering why I called you here.”

The guests were in the drawing room, settling into chairs with coffee. The butler, Stabbington, moved discreetly round the room, topping up glasses of port. Alice Sinclair placed a hand over her glass and sat up straight. It was awfully fun to be asked to join the adults.

Her host, Sir Jeffrey Spishous-Mann, had got to his feet. The room fell silent. Apart from the howling wind the house was quiet. Crumbleigh Place was on top of a mountain, swathed in snow, and was only accessible after a three-day journey through a dark and creeping forest. Alice thought it was jolly exciting. The house reminded her of a Gothic novel, or one of those perfectly thrilling horror pictures she and the girls had snuck out to see at Bletherleys. If Bunty could have seen her now, she would have thought her terribly sophisticated.

Stabbington took a discreet step forward and murmured in his master’s ear. Sir Jeffrey frowned. “What? Now?”

“I’m afraid it cannot wait, sir.”

“Very good.” He turned back to his guests. “Do serve yourselves, gentlemen, ladies. Stabbington will be in the kitchen sharpening his knives. Where was I?”

An old man who’d been introduced to Alice as Major Edmund Blakely-Smythe spluttered in his chair. “Eh? What?”

His aged sister leaned over and patted his knee. “Sir Jeffrey was just about to tell us something, Edmund.”

“What? Speak up! Get him to speak up, Agnes.”

Sir Jeffrey cleared his throat again. “As I was saying. I expect you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here…”

There was a sudden bang. Alice flinched. Her neighbour – a tall young man wearing an ascot and a predatory expression – laid a hand on her arm.

“No need to be afraid,” he murmured, offering her his hand, “I shall protect you. Jonty Framlingham-Piggott, at your service.”

Alice shook it, blushing. She wished she was wearing lipstick. “Alice Sinclair. Absolutely super to meet you.”

He took a drag on his cigarette. “Isn’t it just. Cigarette, Miss Sinclair?”

“Oh, I –”

Stabbington came back into the room, smoothing his hair back into place and brushing snow off his shoulders. “I do apologise, sir. The cleaning gun went off.”

Major Blakeley-Smythe squinted at him. “Eh? What’d the butler chap say?”

“He says the cleaning gun went off, Edmund,” Agnes yelled into his ear.

“Damn shame,” the Major said. “Happened in India once. Chap never did get it back. Last saw the damn thing swimming in the Ganges.”

Sir Jeffrey took a deep breath. “Anyway. Now that you’re all here, I shall reveal to you…”

Jonty leaned forward and whispered in Alice’s ear. “Frightfully dull, isn’t it? Let’s slip away for a moment. I’ve picked up a few things on my travels I’d be delighted to show you.”

Alice blushed. Matron hadn’t said anything about this. “Souvenirs, do you mean?”

He flicked the ash off his cigarette and smirked. “Of course, dear girl.”

Sir Jeffrey was counting to ten. “As I was saying…”

Stabbington bustled over to the drinks cabinet. He knelt down, fussing with a little packet of powder, and saw Alice looking. “I beg your pardon, Miss.”

“Is that…rat poison?”

Stabbington shoved the powder into his pocket. “Yes. For the rats.”

“In the drinks cabinet?”


“Oh. Well, I suppose they can be very clever little fellows.”

Stabbington straightened up, and Alice saw a flash of brass by every one of his knuckles. He had an awful lot of rings, for a butler. “Very clever indeed, Miss. Do excuse me.”

He left the room. Sir Jeffrey set down his glass. “As I was saying…”

“Eh? What?”

“He’s about to tell us something, Edmund…”

Sir Jeffrey stood on his chair and yelled “I’m very rich and I’m about to die!”

There was a long silence. Snow whirled against the glass; wind howled down the chimney. The guests all stared at their host, who climbed down from his chair.

“Good,” he said. “Now that I have your attention –”

All the lights went out. Then, there was a scream.



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.

Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

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.

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.

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.

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.

You’ll get there eventually. (image: buzzfeed.com)

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!



  • 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



  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.
giphy burgundy
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.
  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.





  • 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?
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.

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.

giphy obviously
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?

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.

giphy pooh
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.


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.

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.

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!



  • 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



  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.
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.



  • 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.)
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.
giphy community
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…”


“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.

Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)