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The Problem with Self Inserts

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By MakingFunOfStuff   |   Watch
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Published: March 26, 2013
The Problem with Self Inserts



There is nothing wrong with inserting yourself into a story. Like anything, it can be well done or... not so well done. The fact is, the majority of people who tend to write about self inserts happen to be beginners. Naturally, that causes there to be a pattern of certain, specific mistakes that are frequently found whilst reading anything on the internet. The purpose of this deviation isn't to say that self inserts are bad. I'm simply going to point out the most common mistakes that we usually encounter.

1. Making ourselves better than we really are.

Don't be fooled by the word "better." This can be replaced with mysterious, deep, dark, tragic, romantic, lovable... anything we want. Maybe a mix of a few of those things. The point is, the version of ourselves will be biased.

2. Not making anything bad happen to yourself

Let's talk about the word "bad." Does this mean something, perhaps, like... getting a disease? No. It means anything that interferes with the biased image you want to portray (whatever that might be).

3. Getting big headed

Sometimes people who write about themselves start thinking about themselves waaayyy too much. They even begin to believe their own biased images of themselves (or worse. Think that everyone else falls for it too).

4. Falling into the trap

"I know! I purposely won't make myself perfect. I'll keep saying that I hate myself!"

C.S. Lewis said it the best: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

It's not about what you (or your character) would say when asked if they think they're special. "I'm the best!" "I'm the same as anyone else," and "I don't deserve to be here," are all irrelevant, meaningless phrases unless you, as the author, prove it in the way that you PORTRAY the character.

Nobody makes a Mary Sue on purpose. They are all unconscious. How many stories have you actually seen with a stereotypical Mary Sue in a pink princess gown who says, "I'm better than everyone!" and is supposed to be? Give me a big, fat break. Let me make this clear:
NOBODY IN THE WORLD WRITES THAT WAY.
That is a fake, stereotype of Mary Sue made up by dumb people to feel good about themselves for not being like nonexistent even dumber people. The same people who thought they were smart for saying the world wouldn't end in 2012 when NOBODY sincerely believed that.
I'd say 100% of Mary Sues are characters that the author believes is a good character.
But I'll leave it at that since I already have a rant about Mary Sues (see link in description).

EDIT: CLARIFICATION

I'll be honest. Most good characters ARE self-inserts. And this is what I mean by that:
ALL well-written characters we create, inevitably have parts of us inside of them. That is actually HOW characters are well-written: because the author could relate to them and knew what they were talking about.

I know from experience that it's possible to write about characters that are over your head, and that is usually when they are poorly written. When you have a character like this, it's best to try and find a part of them that you can relate to, or at least look to real people so you can do a kind of imitation. Just make them real.

A word of advice: if you don't understand your own character, nobody else is going to. If you can't get into their head, their head will never be worth getting into at all.

I have nothing against self-inserts. I think inserting parts of yourself into characters is actually *necessary* (well, as always, depending on the style of the story. Naturally in a picture book or something it isn't that important. Again, make things deep enough for whatever you're writing). In fact, I think it's your best (probably only) bet at making a good character at all.
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© 2013 - 2019 MakingFunOfStuff
List of most common cliches in stories: [link]
How not to Tell a Story: [link]
Mary Sue definition: [link]
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Comments65
anonymous's avatar
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Ju-chan09's avatar
I have a self insert. But I don't write any Fanfictions with my self instert. I don't write anything with her/me. 
In fact, I don't write anything at all. (Neither FFs nor original stories.) 

So you (and other people) might think: "But then ... how can you have a self insert?" 

And see, that always confused me. When ever I read/hear something about SIs people always talk about writers and writing. 
I don't write. I'm not a writer. And I don't plan to be. 

Now you (and others) might ask: "But if you don't write or plan to write, then what did you create your SI for?"

Well, the answer to that is quite simple: I just thought it would be fun to imagine myself in this other world. 

It all started with me thinking: "If I lived in this world I would join 'this' group" and then I started to imagine how it would be if I had been born in this world. 
I inserted my RL-family - even asking them what they would do/be in this world. 
I either took things directly from my RL-self - like my SI would be born on the 09.09. and would like to eat carrots with peanut butter (yeah, I know that I'm strange - but try it! It's so delicious! I love it!) and other things I 'translated'. 
What do I mean by 'translated'? 
Well, for ex. I took my hight - compared it to other peoples hight - doing research on hights in our world, calculated how tall I am compared to that, then did research on the hight of the characters in the show and then calculated how tall I would be:
My RL-self compared to RL-people => my SI compared to the people of the fictional world. 
I even inserted my home 'country' in a translated version in this world. 
And of course, in this world different things would have happend to me than the things that happened in RL. 
But I always thought: "How would I react/would have reacted in this situation in RL?"
Then I even started to think about: "If I really was a character from that show, in which episode would I have first appeared in?" And stuff like that. 

So, I didn't create an OC and realized //Omg, my OC is so much like myself!// No, I created a self insert with the full intention to create a version of myself in that world and make it resemble my RL-self as much as possible while adjusting it to the world I put myself into. 

I have all of this and so much more in my head and talked about it with my friend. 
And why? 

Beauce it's FUN!!! 
Because imagining yourself in other worlds/universes is just sooooooooooo much FUN!!!!! 

So ... you don't have to be a writer to have a self insert.
Medievor's avatar
Wow, beaten to the punch. That's what I've wanted to say. When writing self-inserts, make them true to yourself and have fun. Think about how you'd react to situations and write accordingly even if it means you're screaming and running from something.
Johnny12575's avatar
Johnny12575Hobbyist General Artist
I've been reading the reasons people avoid making self inserts is because they always tend to make them mary sues. Or what they wished they'd be. Ok

Hell, when I made my oc, nobody realised that it was a self insert because he turned out to be a non confident edgy side character with nothing to really offer to the story or be of any help, who was feeling hindered and being driven by jealousy, only to end up getting shut off by most characters and in the end die to serve the main character's character development.

I guess that's what I think of myself at least. Damn dem issues =p
CatalystSpark's avatar
CatalystSparkProfessional Digital Artist
My best and longest running character actually started as a self insert. I made her back when I was still living as a female (Her name is even a derivative of the name I used back then) and, at first, she was like me in every way personality, knowledge and skill wise. I started using her 13 years ago at this point and BOY has she grown! She took on a life all her own over the years and she is one of my most complex and real feeling characters due to it. Thankfully I've never been overprotective of her either so she's really been through the ringer and it helped me develop her into who she is now because of what I put her through.

I fully agree with what you've said here, they can provide a good basis and learning too and, to a degree, we all put at least some part of ourselves into our characters. The self insert can be a decent tool for someone just starting to write/RP if they do it right, and that self insert can grow a lot and in a totally different direction than the person themselves over time. It's really kind of interesting to think about.
Doggutsz's avatar
DoggutszHobbyist Digital Artist
I wanted to make a cartoon OC of myself, but I'm scared it seems selfish and arrogant
AlexaDoodles's avatar
AlexaDoodlesHobbyist Digital Artist
go ahead, I have a self insert of myself and i havent gotten any shit on it yet . i mean, as long as its not a mary sue or just downright hateable, right ? 
Doggutsz's avatar
DoggutszHobbyist Digital Artist
Haha, I already did it anyways <3
AlexaDoodles's avatar
AlexaDoodlesHobbyist Digital Artist
samee
CitrusEucalyptus's avatar
CitrusEucalyptusProfessional General Artist
Thank you for this. :)
RWQFSFASXCtherabbit's avatar
RWQFSFASXCtherabbitHobbyist General Artist
I agree with this. Self inserts are fine when done well. :)
yudrontheglatorian's avatar
yudrontheglatorianHobbyist General Artist
one character in one of my original stories is a lot like me. but there is a crucial difference, sometimes, he goes beyond what i would/could do. not in terms of capabilities. but willingness to step over boundaries or being more egoistic than me. a little bit like a "bad version" of myself. but he's also a bit more quick-witted than me. and more willing to take risks, but only under the greatest caution.

another character is a literal "worst version" of myself. a protagonist, who only cares about himself and his own survival. only cooperates, if it's profitable for him and isn't afraid to kill somebody.

since i'm struggling with my social skills and coming out of my shell, this character sort of resembles my fear, how i could turn out, if i don't open up myself more.

PS: this is the most mature rant(?) about self-inserts i've ever seen so far! good work!
Mythical-Luz's avatar
Mythical-LuzHobbyist Digital Artist
I absolutely hate OC self insert in cannon stuff even if the character is written well. Like, it's just like that "Your OC isn't part of this universe stop trying to insert yourself in." It honestly just hurts me. It's a pet peeve of mine.
mmdlizzy2000's avatar
mmdlizzy2000Student Digital Artist
Mine too just look at this www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK1YJo… the protagonist who plays is supposed to be male not female (not against gays)
Mythical-Luz's avatar
Mythical-LuzHobbyist Digital Artist
I want to throw up. God no self inserts.
MirandaTheGerm123's avatar
This is really helpful for me... TBH I have never really been interested in self inserts, but then I realized I didn't have a ship for one of my favorite characters... So that's when I made an insert character, I am still trying to work on it... I am asking close relatives and friends my personality etc. and writing down my own flaws/interests/personality etc. Is this on the right track?
Sweet-corn-flakes's avatar
Sweet-corn-flakesStudent Traditional Artist
I love the article. I love self inserts and tend to have bad things happen to myself for laughter if I didn't have those bad things happening to me, then I would look like a big Mary Sue. 
xXMisery-BusinessXx's avatar
xXMisery-BusinessXxProfessional Digital Artist
Great article. Would recommend it to my friends.
Cherry-Lei's avatar
Cherry-LeiHobbyist Digital Artist
Nobody makes a Mary Sue on purpose. They are all unconscious. How many stories have you actually seen with a stereotypical Mary Sue in a pink princess gown who says, "I'm better than everyone!" and is supposed to be? Give me a big, fat break. Let me make this clear:
NOBODY IN THE WORLD WRITES THAT WAY.

My experience with a man child will challenge quote
MakingFunOfStuff's avatar
...Not gonna lie, I have heard of authors like that. One was literally mentally unstable, and ended up in jail. o.e 
At that point I don't even need to make fun of them.
Cherry-Lei's avatar
Cherry-LeiHobbyist Digital Artist
Oh my gosh, well you learn something new everyday. Great article, I hope to write sophisticated fan fictions one day, by means of learning from the mistakes of others.    
Ravenchi's avatar
I read a lot of self-insert stories but I mostly don't consider them self-inserts but rather OC. I feel like a real SI wouldn't even survive 5 min considering the world they fell in and the SI wouldn't really change and grow the way it's picture. I really feel like it's more OC than SI.
pegaSAI's avatar
pegaSAIHobbyist Digital Artist
My character actually says "I'm the best!" and "I'm better than anyone else!" but that's her major flaw, being overly proud of herself haha
ThePrinceofFlames's avatar
ThePrinceofFlamesHobbyist Filmographer
I write SI oc reincarnation fanfics, but I try just as hard to make it so they stumble as much as they succeed. E.g. Just because they're X character now doesn't mean they can win everything, or win everyone over. They have flaws, they change the stories in ways they don't want, and not everyone loves them. I have quite a few who are anti-heroic and selfish. I make them flawed, because why should they get special treatment when they're part of the fictional universe itself? 
anonymous's avatar
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