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Becoming self-aware of self-gratification in your writing--using wishes to help world-build but avoid regrets.

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llyralen

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Remember when J.K. Rowling said that Ron and Hermione's romance had to do with her own wish-fulfillment and nothing to do with literature?
Here's a link so we can all remember. =)

After there is distance with time, I realize that some scenes I've written probably don't serve the characters or the plot as much as they serve my fantasies. Before your imagination goes nuts, I'm talking about how I wrote a character who plays the violin expertly and sings about 3 whole songs in 20,000 words, lyrics written out and the whole 9 yards.

Author wish-fulfillment might sometimes be reader wish-fulfillment by coincidence, but probably not as often as we hope. Instead we probably have to actively help our reader want certain things for our characters. Failing to be aware of these problems can lead to regrets-- hopefully ones we can change if our MS didn't get published.

On the other hand, desires can be the genesis of our work. J.K, said, her desires helped create her series and characters in the beginning.

Looking at what is really good for my book and characters instead of what I want myself is a learning point for me. As a reader of other people's unpublished work, I always know when I'm reading someone else's desire that isn't my own and it's kind of a deal-breaker for me if it gets too self-indulgent or long.

This is how I plan to try to avoid regrets:
1. Figure out what is wish-fulfillment during or after it is written.
2. Gain some distance either through time or from critique groups so that I can know if these scenes work for the characters and the audience (everyone would love being a great violinist, right?).
3. Try to replace, if needed, the wish-scenes with scenes that serve the characters, plot and theme. Throw out scenes that don't serve the book. My audience might not want to tag along while I have my fun.

Please share your experiences with this as I am so new to being aware of this as a potential problem to watch out for. And also, did you get better at creating scenes without wish-fulfillment? Or is it still a really powerful tool in the beginning?
 
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mccardey

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Interesting question. (J.K. Rowling, tho :( )

This is how I plan to try to avoid regrets:
1. Figure out what is wish-fulfillment during or after it is written.
2. Gain some distance either through time or from critique groups so that you can know if these scenes work for the characters and the audience (everyone would love being a great violinist, right?).
3. Try to replace, if needed, the wish-scenes with scenes that serve the characters. Throw out scenes that don't serve the book and that your audience isn't sure they want to tag along for.
I think these are really good things to look out for, and to mitigate if necessary but -
Please share your experiences with this as I am so new to being aware of this as a potential problem to watch out for. And also, did you get better at creating scenes without wish-fulfillment from the get-go? Or is it still a really powerful tool?
for myself, I think all of the books I've written have been about Lost Brothers. I realised that the other day, because I'm writing another one. I expect all the books I will ever write will have something to do with the idea of loss and brothers and the wish of re-finding and re-knowing.

I don't think my books are the worse for that. I think a casual reader would be hard-pressed to pick it up. But it's when I find that current in a WiP that I know I'm on the right track.

So I think be aware of it, but also don't destroy it out of hand. Sometimes writing is just about fixing the unfixable. As long as the reader doesn't have to carry the load, it's perfectly fine. Writing is hard work after all - it needn't be all about the reader. It can work for the writer.
 

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In spec fic, it's known as Mary Sue.

(Google fiction Mary Sue Wikipedia)
 
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mccardey

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I've definitely read a lot of MS where the author said he hated Mary Sue but couldn't help writing it.
But you're not asking about Mary Sues are you? You're asking about an author's wish-fulfillment as part of their writing. As I understand Mary Sue that's more about self-insertion. I think that's a different thing.

ETA: I might have mis-read. I've been writing all day. I've been writing brothers all day ;)
 

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I guess it's pretty natural, and in some ways defines the 'chosen one' trope in fantasy.

Writing horror will hammer those tendencies out of an author 😄
 
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But you're not asking about Mary Sues are you? You're asking about an author's wish-fulfillment as part of their writing. As I understand Mary Sue that's more about self-insertion. I think that's a different thing.

ETA: I might have mis-read. I've been writing all day. I've been writing brothers all day ;)
I may have jumped the shark here.

Your brothers are part of your natural author's voice and theme. Celebrate that.

(Erm, unless it's painful or stressful, in which case.... switch to writing erotica 😄)
 

llyralen

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Interesting question. (J.K. Rowling, tho :( )


I think these are really good things to look out for, and to mitigate if necessary but -

for myself, I think all of the books I've written have been about Lost Brothers. I realised that the other day, because I'm writing another one. I expect all the books I will ever write will have something to do with the idea of loss and brothers and the wish of re-finding and re-knowing.

I don't think my books are the worse for that. I think a casual reader would be hard-pressed to pick it up. But it's when I find that current in a WiP that I know I'm on the right track.

So I think be aware of it, but also don't destroy it out of hand. Sometimes writing is just about fixing the unfixable. As long as the reader doesn't have to carry the load, it's perfectly fine. Writing is hard work after all - it needn't be all about the reader. It can work for the writer.
I'm really glad you're expounding on how to use it correctly, because...yeah...this is our most personal stuff that gives us motivation in real life and is the life-source of the importance of our stories. It especially really helps on the over-arching drives and themes. I agree... but then you've got to get distance on it. So don't squash those fireflies, but do capture them in a jar so it can glow and then set them free again? That's my metaphor. =) I like the idea of that theme by the way. I also thought of Charlotte Bronte... her loss of her loved ones and need for their return was the origin of all of her books too, imo. And the origin of her redemption scenes. No... your own desires are useful... especially if they are an important part of your characters, but they are so important to be aware of, especially when choosing what scenes to write for what and making sure you're not throwing random things that don't serve the story. I'm glad you posted this.
 

mccardey

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I may have jumped the shark here.

Your brothers are part of your natural author's voice and theme. Celebrate that.

(Erm, unless it's painful or stressful, in which case.... switch to writing erotica 😄)
I thought I might try horror... ;)
 
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mccardey

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I'm really glad you're expounding on how to use it correctly, because...yeah...this is our most personal stuff that gives us motivation in real life and is the life-source of the importance of our stories. It especially really helps on the over-arching drives and themes. I agree... but then you've got to get distance on it. So don't squash those fireflies, but do capture them in a jar so it can glow and then set them free again? That's my metaphor. =) I like the idea of that theme by the way. I also thought of Charlotte Bronte... her loss of her loved ones and need for their return was the origin of all of her books too, imo. And the origin of her redemption scenes. No... your own desires are useful... especially if they are an important part of your characters, but they are so important to be aware of, especially when choosing what scenes to write for what and making sure you're not throwing random things that don't serve the story. I'm glad you posted this.
Fireflies.


My god, that is perfect. That is just what they are.

*hug* for that.
 

llyralen

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But you're not asking about Mary Sues are you? You're asking about an author's wish-fulfillment as part of their writing. As I understand Mary Sue that's more about self-insertion. I think that's a different thing.

ETA: I might have mis-read. I've been writing all day. I've been writing brothers all day ;)
I guess it depends on what the author wishes for, so this works. =) I've said to a writer "This is too Mary Sue, I'm not worried for one second that your MC will get hurt" and they said "I hate Mary Sues. Hmm... I've got to stack the cards with danger..." and then their Mary Sue of course gets out of no matter what it is and becomes an even stronger Mary Sue and somehow they can't get away from Mary Sue... so why can't they get away? Probably something having to do with wish-fulfillment, and yeah, self-insertion as you said. I would guess.

By the way, this is interesting about what you feel horror and erotica could do for us. heehee =)
 

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This is how I plan to try to avoid regrets:
1. Figure out what is wish-fulfillment during or after it is written.
2. Gain some distance either through time or from critique groups so that I can know if these scenes work for the characters and the audience (everyone would love being a great violinist, right?).
3. Try to replace, if needed, the wish-scenes with scenes that serve the characters, plot and theme. Throw out scenes that don't serve the book. My audience might not want to tag along while I have my fun
I think you have nailed the solution, and the fact that you have recognised it as a potential problem puts you waaaaay ahead of the game.
 
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mccardey

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I guess it depends on what the author wishes for, so this works. =) I've seen authors who you tell them "This is too Mary Sue, I'm not worried for one second that your MC will get hurt" and they say "I hate Mary Sues. Hmm... I've got to stack the cards with danger..." and then their Mary Sue of course gets out of no matter what it is and becomes an even stronger Mary Sue and somehow they can't get away from Mary Sue... so why can't they get away? Probably something having to do with wish-fulfillment, and yeah, self-insertion as you said. I would guess.
Ah yes - I can see that. Yep. Bloody Mary Sue, hey?
 
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lizmonster

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"Mary Sue" initially meant authorial insertion, especially in fanfic where the author Our Hero usually became the romantic partner of a series' MC.

The term been co-opted by those who don't like non-male heroes in spec fic and try to shame writers into restricting their characterization of those heroes.

I flinch every time I hear it.

If you think you've got an over-powered character or an unconvincing confict, that's a different issue, but wish-fulfillment is part of a lot of our fiction. I tend to run my characters through a meat grinder and have them survive, because I'd like to be the sort of person who could go through a meat grinder and survive. (Spoiler: I probably am not. :))
 

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I think it's a terrific question. I agree with mccardey that many writers are driven by a longing for something, and will poke and poke at that longing from different angles, story after story. It's certainly true of my writing. My stories tend to be about people whose longings are in some way analogous to mine, even if their lives and personalities are rather different. And so for the characters whose longings are met (they aren't, always), in a way that is a fulfillment of my own longings.

For example, my story "The Candlestick" came about from some idle musing about what it might have been like to have met my favorite author when she was alive. I had the idea, while daydreaming about this, to embody that fantasy in a character I'd been developing for a long time, who was most definitely a sort of road-not-taken version of myself, somewhat idealized with traits I find appealing but don't necessarily have.

The story that emerged can absolutely be described as a kind of wish fulfillment, a not-exactly-me young woman influenced by a relationship with a not-exactly-her author and her work. But it's also a story, with tension and a character arc (and a rather cheesy and obvious ending, but what can you do). And that's the part that really matters, I think, if you are hoping to find readers and not writing only for your own pleasure and enjoyment. There's nothing wrong with working with your fantasies as raw material, but be sure to make them stories in the technical sense.

:e2coffee:
 

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I write and read a fair bit of fanfiction, which is pretty much all wish-fulfillment in some way, and generally, it's pretty great. You can tell the writer is passionate about the subject matter and it really shines through. Even if there's a character, subject matter or theme I'm not a big fan of, it's usually written with such unashamed love that it wins me over. When I compare things to fanfiction, it's usually a good thing.

The Harry Potter epilogue, though, is pure fanfiction, but not in a good way. Everyone is paired off kind of arbitrarily, like there really wasn't anything going on between Ron and Hermionie until the last book. There are a ton of ships out there where the two characters have almost 0 interaction in canon, but they make stuff up in the fanfic so the relationship feels organic. But JKR controls all of HP, she can put in whatever she wants, and there really wasn't any build-up to the canon ships you see in the epilogue. The whole thing is very...weird.

Every human works on the same basic premises, they want to be happy, they want to have fun, they want to do enjoyable things. I HATE driving, the entire experience is awful, but one of my favorite movies is about a car race since it does such a wonderful job showing the momentum, the adrenaline, the energy and power of driving this big, powerful car so fast and skillfully. Meanwhile I fall asleep during the Fast and Furious movies because the focus is just 'hey this car looks cool" "wow this thing exploded isn't that neat." As long as your wish-fulfillment stuff is resonating with these base desires that everyone has (and you're passionate writing it!) then I think people will enjoy it.
 

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I’m glad you guys so far are showing that wish fulfillment is a real reason we all write (it is).

You’re hitting the nail on the head with mentioning either “make it serve the story” @Lakey or “make sure it resonates with basic desires.” @ChaseJxyz

I know horrible examples of wish-fulfillment that hardly any reader would want to sit through, though, and when reading it you kind of know that it isn’t going to get published and it’s for this reason, but probablh the author doesn’t know it.

But then everyone has their itch to scratch, some different stripes for different types is definitely going on in the niche book world, but I think self-awareness can help a lot for good writing. Universal motivations are great.

Really there is a spectrum from universal to individual and random— the need for acceptance at one end, for instance, and writing a scene fulfilling the desire to eat dish soap with a Shetland miniature pony down on the other end… which is all too interesting! Just don’t write the scene of the 20 year old vapid beauty heavily desiring the 65 year old thinly-veiled author-avatar around me anymore. Doesn’t anyone want to be a concert violinist around here? (This is a joke about me if you didn’t read earlier)

This really has a lot to do with who we choose to read too, doesn’t it? And reader-writer deal-breakers. You know that moment where you put the book down because it launched you into something you didn’t want to experience? That… but it can be a reason for nobody wanting to read it or can make fans angry or dissatisfied like with the Ron-Hermione thing.
 
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llyralen

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"Mary Sue" initially meant authorial insertion, especially in fanfic where the author Our Hero usually became the romantic partner of a series' MC.

The term been co-opted by those who don't like non-male heroes in spec fic and try to shame writers into restricting their characterization of those heroes.

I flinch every time I hear it.

If you think you've got an over-powered character or an unconvincing confict, that's a different issue, but wish-fulfillment is part of a lot of our fiction. I tend to run my characters through a meat grinder and have them survive, because I'd like to be the sort of person who could go through a meat grinder and survive. (Spoiler: I probably am not. :))
I didn’t know the history on this term. The guy who writes the Mary Sue character was the person who explained Mary Sue as a character too good at everything.
 

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I didn’t know the history on this term. The guy who writes the Mary Sue character was the person who explained Mary Sue as a character too good at everything.
Yeah he's not the one who coined the term. It was coined in 1973, and was initially intended as satire.

ETA: In general, male characters aren't seen this way, even if they're too good at everything. Another reason the term gets my back up.
 
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Lea123

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This is interesting to read.

My writing serves as a therapy of sorts. There are things I have been through (both traumatic and every-day level stressful) that I've then twisted and turned into an event or character's trait. None of these are limited to one character, if that makes sense. I can see a part of myself in every character; I don't think I could successfully write about them if I didn't relate in some way. The same with the events. I like to think it's subtle and in some cases, very abstract, but it's definitely there if I were to dig for it.

Would the reader spot it? Unless they knew me, and in some cases very well, then no.

The more I sit and look back at my sub-plots and character's backgrounds, the more I wonder if X relates to a time in life when Y was happening to me.

There's a relationship between two characters in my book that I often 'role play' in my head and it helps me cope with day to day chaos. However, on paper, the two characters and their relationship is never as straightforward and for them, there is no 'happy ending' and it's not sickly sweet. It's my version of fan fic. If my own relationship isn't going well, then my MC's is... it never gets put onto paper because I know it's not true to their life.

I don't mind character's in fiction being in a relationship or being ace at something. What I do mind is when they become obsessive, sickly sweet perfect (Armentrout's Poppy and Castiel kind of thing) or defined by it when, initially, they didn't seem to be on that path. It's like I've become invested in some epic world / story and then BAM. All the MC can think about is *insert repetitive description and longing scene here*.

Same for the skill aspect of it - where is the fun if I know X is going to get out of the situation? Oh, they've got magic and there's no consequences for using it? Cool, I can already see where that story plot is going.
 

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For some reason I thought a Mary Sue was a "perfect girl" ala Mary Jane from the Spiderman comic franchise. Or in more general terms, a too good to be true partner/love interest of the MC.
 
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