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Submitted on
March 25, 2013
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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:
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).


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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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.
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)
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.
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>…
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.
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?
Angel-Peach-Blossom 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.
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
Angel-Peach-Blossom 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.
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?
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