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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.
List of most common cliches in stories: [link]
How not to Tell a Story: [link]
Mary Sue definition: [link]
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:iconju-chan09:
Ju-chan09 Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2019
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.
Reply
:iconjohnny12575:
Johnny12575 Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2019  Hobbyist 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
Reply
:iconcatalystspark:
CatalystSpark Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2018  Professional 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.
Reply
:iconneaganan:
Neaganan Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2018  Hobbyist Artist
I wanted to make a cartoon OC of myself, but I'm scared it seems selfish and arrogant
Reply
:iconalexadoodles:
AlexaDoodles Featured By Owner Edited Oct 11, 2018
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 ? 
Reply
:iconneaganan:
Neaganan Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2018  Hobbyist Artist
Haha, I already did it anyways <3
Reply
:iconalexadoodles:
AlexaDoodles Featured By Owner Oct 17, 2018
samee
Reply
:iconcitruseucalyptus:
CitrusEucalyptus Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2018  Professional General Artist
Thank you for this. :)
Reply
:iconrwqfsfasxctherabbit:
RWQFSFASXCtherabbit Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
I agree with this. Self inserts are fine when done well. :)
Reply
:iconyudrontheglatorian:
yudrontheglatorian Featured By Owner May 31, 2018  Hobbyist 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!
Reply
:iconmythical-luz:
Mythical-Luz Featured By Owner May 29, 2018  Hobbyist 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.
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:iconmmdlizzy2000:
mmdlizzy2000 Featured By Owner May 30, 2018  Student 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)
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:iconmythical-luz:
Mythical-Luz Featured By Owner May 30, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I want to throw up. God no self inserts.
Reply
:iconmirandathegerm123:
MirandaTheGerm123 Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2018  Student General Artist
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?
Reply
:iconsweet-corn-flakes:
Sweet-corn-flakes Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2017  Student 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. 
Reply
:iconxxmisery-businessxx:
xXMisery-BusinessXx Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2017  Professional Digital Artist
Great article. Would recommend it to my friends.
Reply
:iconcherry-lei:
Cherry-Lei Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2017  Hobbyist 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
Reply
:iconmakingfunofstuff:
MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2017
...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.
Reply
:iconcherry-lei:
Cherry-Lei Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2017  Hobbyist 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.    
Reply
:iconmakingfunofstuff:
MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2017
Good luck!
Reply
:iconravenchi:
Ravenchi Featured By Owner Jun 10, 2017
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.
Reply
:iconpegasai:
pegaSAI Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2016  Hobbyist 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
Reply
:icontheprinceofflames:
ThePrinceofFlames Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2016  Hobbyist 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? 
Reply
:iconcreativesketchbook:
CreativeSketchbook Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2017  Student General Artist
Nahhh they're not saying that. They're just saying that it's an overused concept for a character in a story, and honestly, I see it a bit too much also. Many people write them out pretty unrealistically too. Doesn't mean that you can't use it in your story, though. 
Reply
:iconwwwarea:
wwwarea Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2016
I found this by trying to look for positive stuff about this after finding unfair stamps against self-inserts or wish-fulfillment.
I was like "don't we need that in some way" sort of. What's the point of writing without a wish-fulfillment?

Especially in video games. Come on, I know character players had a connection for the character as a self in some way. xD

Anyway, this journal might be fair at the same time.
Reply
:iconburaideviant:
Buraideviant Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2015
What about self-inserting comments into commissions like RPing?
Reply
:iconadam-walker:
Adam-Walker Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2015  Student Writer
I think I may have a self insert.
Reply
:iconshadhardblogger:
shadhardblogger Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2015  Student Writer
Let's say that self-centered people are one of the contemporary problems of literature. :)
Reply
:iconladeary:
LaDeary Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2015
I agree. Nobody likes a self-centered person going on about how awesome they supposedly are. :no: Not only is it frustrating, it's actually kind of sad, and I tend to feel sorry for those who truly believe in such a high, idealized portrayal of themselves. :hmm: Usually, they're still young writers and will grow out of it, but that's not always the case.
Reply
:iconyaoiwriter25:
Yaoiwriter25 Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I find it kinda weird to be honest idk would never read those but that's just me. 
Reply
:iconcjcroen:
CJCroen Featured By Owner May 6, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
TBH, if I did a self-insert I feel like my character would be pretty uninteresting.

I actually am tempted to write such a self-insert, as I feel like that would be a refreshing change from "WATCH ME SAVE DA DAY!!!!1!!!111!" stuff.
Reply
:iconlotusdragonof5000:
LotusDragonof5000 Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2014
The last part really stood out to me, since I'm trying to create a cast of characters for my fanfiction. 


(I hope you keep making these)
Reply
:iconteleway:
Teleway Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2014
I know someone who bases her knowledge of characters off a show from reader inserts. She won't bother reading or watching the show. 


....I'm not kidding.
Reply
:iconmmpratt99:
mmpratt99 Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2013  Professional General Artist
This is why I go with a character who's not only a political refugee but also a recent immigrant and has trouble finding permanent housing. If you want, you can read more about her in one story>mmpratt99.deviantart.com/art/T…
Reply
:iconnightshade43:
nightshade43 Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013
While I oppose the use of Self-Inserts, I tend to add one core trait about myself into a character and tweak it in a way to make it unrecognisable to others. That way I can have a basis of which to develop my character without putting myself into the character themselves.

I also notice how a lot of people brush off self-inserts as one dimensional female characters in fan fiction, failing to realise that quite a few canon characters across multiple mediums ARE self-inserts.
Black Beauty is a prime example of a self-insert done well. The author wanted to get across the concept of abuse on horses, and instead of an educational article she wrote a story, inserting her ideas across many characters. It's partly why English classes won't touch the story (Black Beauty not acting like a "real" male horse), even though the point of the story was to educate on human behaviour instead of equine husbandry behaviours.
Movies have self-inserts too, from Jennifer Annistan playing the exact same role to Quintin Tarantino inserting himself into the movies, only to die in elaborate and entertaining ways.

I use to hate Self Inserts, but once I realised that there are different reasons for their existence I tend to be more relaxed with them.
I find the ones in many stories hopelessly boring and avoid writing them at all costs, however.

I liked your guide. It focuses on teaching instead of bashing, which people seem all too eager to do with Self Inserts.
:+fav:
Reply
:iconfiredragon104:
FireDragon104 Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks, I'll remember these suggestions if I try
my hand at such work.
On the topic of reader-inserts, as you seem
quite informed of them, can you explain why all
reader-inserts are romantic? Certainly you can
be in the story without it being a love story or
fan-fiction, right?
Reply
:iconpeachymiku:
PeachyMiku Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2013
Hope you don't mind someone else answering!

The way I see it, it's because many newer writers tend to be shippers. That's not to say that experienced ones are not, but it seems to happen to the newer more. It's not just reader and self-inserts either. I've noticed that a lot of stories seem to have romance as the focus, especially when there is shipping involved.

The problem though is like you said. You can be in a story without it being a love story. But a lot of newer writers seem to think that it is necessary. Even in fandoms where it doesn't make a lot of sense.

In the case of reader inserts, I think it is also outright assumed that anyone who looks for those stories are looking to be shipped with someone. So, just about all of them end up romances as a result of this.

I'm not saying that I am 100% right on this, but from what I've seen, that seems to be the case.
Reply
:iconfiredragon104:
FireDragon104 Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
No, I don't mind at all!
Thanks for your answer! It has helped make sense of this matter.
You know, this ties in well with something my sister once said;
"Love is common because it's an easy plot. A little drama, some
unnecessary fluff, throw in a touch of betrayal and BAM! Plot in 5
seconds."
Reply
:iconpeachymiku:
PeachyMiku Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2013
You're welcome! Happy to help!

Your sister is right. That isn't to say those stories can't be good if they are written well, but that goes very well with what I said.
Reply
:iconelithianfox:
ElithianFox Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I've been thinking about the concept of a self-insert lately, and I came up with a thought.

Most of my characters can relate to me and the way I perceive myself, despite them being completely different from each other. There is not a single character where I can't find an obvious similarity with myself, and it's a concerning thought. Is it normal? And should I also look at the differences?
Reply
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:iconelithianfox:
ElithianFox Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the reply, it's a help! It's okay that it's long c:
Reply
:iconmakingfunofstuff:
MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013
XD
Reply
:iconpoisonivy524:
PoisonIvy524 Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Student Writer
I literally love you for this...

I-
I just.
This is perfect though
Reply
:iconmakingfunofstuff:
MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013
thanks! :)
Reply
:iconlasswithapencil:
lasswithapencil Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
You know, I've always wanted to do a self-insert, but I've been afraid of looking Sue-ish. This is a comfort. Thank you!
Reply
:iconmakingfunofstuff:
MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2013
I'm sure you won't look Sue-ish as long as you're not biased about it. I say, go for it! :D
Reply
:iconweekendhunters:
weekendhunters Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I'll keep that in mind. Mind if I include this into my group ~WeTheWriters?
Reply
:iconmakingfunofstuff:
MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2013
Sure, go ahead :D
Reply
:iconyoyonah:
yoyonah Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Well put. I try in my own self insert thing to stay away from Mary Sue crap.
Reply
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