How to Write Self-Inserts Into Fanfiction


This guide is here to teach writers how to properly write self-inserts into fanfiction.

Chapter 1

Kudos to ChaosSoda!!!! x3

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What is a Self-Insert?

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A self-insert is a representation of yourself in a fanfiction. There are two kinds of self-insert:

1. The kind that is mostly an accurate version of yourself in terms of appearance and relative skill level, sometimes with slight improvements/variations made while still staying within the realm of possibility. (This is the good kind)

2. The “Self-Insert Sue”. This type is either an OC version of yourself (which is always a self-insert Sue) or a highly idealized version of yourself that is everything you wish you could be, but not what you are.

(To clarify: An OC that exists specifically to be an idealized you (even with a different name), and everything you wish you were but can’t be/aren’t, and do everything you can’t do is a Self-Insert Sue, as is a version of yourself that is idealized/improved beyond the realm of possibility/believability.)

NOT all self-inserts are Mary Sues. The only Mary Sue self-inserts are the inaccurate, idealized self-inserts that exist solely for the purpose of wish-fulfillment, and the ones who rob the main heroes of their spotlight and take over the story. These usually have other Sue traits (like over-the-top beauty, mood-ring color-changing eyes, becoming black holes that suck up the whole story and make it revolve around them, etc.) that go along with the idealization.

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Fandoms

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If you’re using this guide, chances are, you’ve decided on a fandom to write for. Whatever fandom you’ve chosen, make sure you know it really well, or you risk going out of character/butchering the canon plot and destroying the whole thing by accident.

Once you’ve chosen a fandom, there are two types of fanfiction you can write:

1. In-Universe Fanfiction: In-universe fanfiction is when you set the story in the canon world of your chosen fandom (ex. A Naruto fanfiction set in the Naruto world). These stories usually (but not always) follow the canon plot, but with some deviations.

Note that some people stick like glue to the canon plot and never stray, while others start off with the canon plot and then go in a different direction, usually in the form of creating their own story arcs (and often returning to the canon plot again, then possibly drifting away again), or extending the story past the ending of the canon material. There is nothing wrong with either of these methods, provided that the new story arcs/extended endings are plausible.

2. A.U. (Alternate Universe)-Style: This is when the characters from one canon universe are brought into another, which is usually ours (ex. Naruto characters in our world). Bringing characters from another canon/world into a high school setting is called a High School A.U.

Note that all crossovers are technically A.U., since the very act of crossing two different canons into the same world constitutes a change of universe for at least one of them, if not both.

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Placement

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Placement can be extremely important, and mean a variety of different things.

One form of placement is your “side” in the story. Are you going to join up with the heroes on the side of good, join the villains on the side of evil, or remain neutral? (there can be more options, depending on the story and canon) It’s up to you to decide that, but, in doing so, you must keep in mind another form of placement: your actual “location” in the story.

Your location in the story is quite important, as placing your character/self-insert incorrectly can render it/you Mary Sue instantly.

For example, say your self insert is human, but you have her living in an Elvish city, where the elves hate humans and execute any and all human intruders. This would automatically make her a Mary Sue, since she’s breaking canon law by being a human still alive in that village.

When choosing a location for your self-insert’s place of residence, you should keep things like the above example and the first form of placement in mind.

For example, if you wanted to meet up with the heroes early enough to be there for an event such as, say, their first meeting with a crucial character who then leaves, you’d want her to either reside in or have a logical reason to be near the area where this event canonically took place.

Then, there’s the third form of placement: your role in the story. First and foremost, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER STEAL THE MAIN HERO’S ROLE. You’re not the “chosen one”, etc. in the canon. That’s the main hero’s job, and you have no right to take it from him/her. In most circumstances, you may NOT share the position, either. The only exception is when the hero is part of a group of “chosen ones“, and then, you may only join this group if it’s not full. (Ex. If the canon says “there can be/are only six chosen ones,” and there are already six in the story you CAN’T be a chosen hero.)

You should also avoid putting yourself in positions you shouldn’t logically be able to hold- for example, 13 year old 5-star general, 16 year old neurosurgeon, 12 year old ANBU, etc.

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Abilities

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Since it’s a work of fiction, it’s ok to stretch your abilities a little bit. This is usually (and, ideally, only) done to make yourself fit into your chosen canon better.

For example, your average high school girl would be utterly useless on a heroic quest, and would probably fail miserably as a ninja. In fact, such a girl would probably be killed early on, or just be a burden on the heroes (or villains). In such a case, you’d want to bolster her abilities to an appropriate level. See here:

* Imagine that, in your chosen canon, many humans can do magic. The average high school girl in the example above is human, so, in this example world, it would be ok (and normal) to give her self-inset magic.

NEVER EVER give your self-insert greater abilities than the heroes! The original canon is not about you, so you shouldn’t be stealing the spotlight and showing up the heroes. This would begin to fall into the realms of Self-insert Sue, God Mode Sue, and Black Hole Sue.

Keep your abilities appropriate for the real you. For example, if you’re physically weak in real life, don’t give your self-insert a huge, heavy weapon. This wouldn’t be believably you, even with the small amount of improvement allowed. In this case, you should, instead, opt for something like magic (if it exists in your chosen fandom’s universe), or a lighter weapon (like a dagger).

Also, you should never bring in abilities that aren’t normally found in your chosen canon. For example, it would be foolish (and Mary Sue) to bring magic into Naruto, since there is no magic in that world. The same goes for bringing in technology that the world you’re jumping into doesn’t have. If there’s no internet there, you can’t have it, either, or any other form of technology their world canonically lacks. You’d be surprised how much something simple like a handheld gaming console or iPod can screw up, when introduced to a world that doesn’t have them. (ex. Just picture a bunch of medieval peasants seeing a Nintendo DS: “What manner of sorcery be this?! Burn this witch at the stake!”)

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Appearance

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Since you’re making a self-insert, obviously, it should look like you. However- our appearances aren’t always appropriate for the canons we choose (in the case of in-universe fanfictions). For example, I have unnaturally-colored highlights in my hair, which would be out of place (and Mary Sue) in a world where hair dye is not canonically found. In this case, I modify my appearance to not include the highlights.

This goes for anything that isn’t normally found in your chosen universe: highlighted hair, certain styles of piercing, nail polish, certain clothing styles (obviously), colored contacts, and so on.

If you wanted to be really particular, you could go so far as to say that a normally wavy-haired girl who straightens her hair should have wavy hair always in a canon where hair straightening irons and blow-dryers don’t exist. In this case, it might be going a bit too far.

Sometimes, it’s ok to modify our appearances in a fanfiction a little. For example, the girl above could simply make her hair in the fanfiction naturally straight, since it’s no different from her normal appearance when she straightens her hair in reality and is, therefore, within the realm of possibility.

As another example, say someone was writing a Legend of Zelda fanfiction. To convincingly insert themselves in the most accurate way possible, they might choose to become a Hylian, in which case they should, according to the characters’ canon appearances, have pointed ears. In this case, it would be fine (and almost expected) to give your self-insert pointed ears like a Hylian should have, in order to blend properly.

It’s also ok to make minor improvements to yourself, but don’t go overboard (that would be a Self-insert Sue). For example, if an author wore glasses, it wouldn’t be a mortal sin if they made their self-insert not wear glasses but still be able to see normally.

This also applies to beauty, weight, etc. It’s ok to idealize yourself A LITTLE, but not too much. Idealization should be kept to a very bare minimum, such as shaving off a few pounds, getting rid of glasses, acne, etc.

Should you decide to go for 100% accuracy with your self-insert, the only modifications your self-insert should have should be the ones mandated by the universe you’re inserting yourself into (ex. Pointed Hylian ears, magical abilities, etc).

If you choose a high school A.U or set the story in our world, it’s perfectly fine to dress yourself in your normal clothes (you should also avoid changing your appearance except for the absolute smallest of details, if any at all).

If you choose to join the canon world of your chosen fandom, your attire should reflect this. For example, you wouldn’t put yourself in Naruto wearing an Abercrombie t-shirt- that would be Mary Sue, since it breaks the laws of the Naruto canon (brand names like Abercrombie don’t exist). In this case, it’s best to design a suitable costume that fits in with the canon character’s costumes.

DON’T directly copy the design of any canon characters’ clothes (or combine their outfits to make your own), unless their clothes are a common uniform. This would be straying into the territory of Copycat/Clone Sue. It’s fine (and recommended) to draw inspiration from their clothes when designing your own, to ensure that you fit in.

DON’T rip designs from Google, DeviantArt, or Photobucket, either. As a costume designer myself, I know I would be completely p*ssed if someone stole/copied my design(s) for their character, so don’t do it. It’s disrespectful to the original creator of the design, and shows laziness and lack of creativity on your part.

*I know that not everybody can draw, and that detailed written description sometimes just isn’t as good as actually being able to see the design. In such a case, you might be able to find an artist here on Quibblo who can draw out your design for you (assuming you’ve already designed the outfit). If you haven’t designed a costume because you’re just not good at it, you might be able to find someone (who you MUST credit!) to design it for you.*

Appearance isn’t all there is to you, however (at least, I hope not…). You should always make an effort to “play” yourself like you really are. If you’re really a shy person, your self-insert should be, too. Try to keep your behavior as close to real life as possible.

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Romance

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Romance is, almost without a doubt, the most common reason that people write fanfictions, making this one of the most important sections in the guide.

The most important aspect of a romance in a fanfiction is compatibility. I’ve seen so many people pair their self-inserts and OCs with completely incompatible characters that it’s not even funny anymore. Here are some tips to help you avoid this:

* If the character is shown to dislike people with your characteristics (be they physical or personality-wise, or both), don’t pair yourself with them.

* If the character rejects all romantic advances from girls in-universe (like Sasuke Uchiha), chances are, you’ll be no different.

* Opposites may attract at first, but rarely, if ever, last.

*Characters don’t want to date clones of themselves (unless they’re severely narcissistic), so don’t pair yourself with someone too similar.

* Ideally, the best mix would be someone similar enough that you can relate to them, but different enough that you can open each other to new experiences and keep things interesting.

**Get a second opinion from a person who can be honest and knows the fandom and character you want to be paired with well.

You want to ask the kind of person who would honestly tell someone “Yes, those pants make you look fat, try these instead”, or “Sorry, she’s a Mary Sue. Try changing this, then…” You don’t want someone who would lie to make you feel better and tell you what you want to hear.

Getting a second opinion is important, because quite a few people are unable to see the flaws in their pairings/fantasies, in much the same way that many creators of Mary Sues are unable to see that their characters are Mary Sues, or even flat-out refuse to consider such a possibility. These people almost always refuse to believe that they could possibly need help/a second opinion, when, in fact, they’re the ones who need it the most.

Essentially, it’s always a good thing, to get a second (or even third or more) opinion, especially on something like this. A second opinion gives you an outside perspective and can help you see things that you may be blind to, by choice or by accident.

*Avoid pairing yourself with married characters, or ones that already have girlfriends (unless they’re CANONICALLY the cheating type), as it’s highly unlikely that they’d cheat on/leave someone they love for you.

*DON’T make a canon character go out of character (ooc) for the sake of your relationship. If they’re naturally buttholes, they’d better stay buttholes, and if they’re naturally sweet and innocent, they’d better stay that way, as well.

Essentially, as long as you keep yourself and everyone else in character, follow the laws of canon, and don’t over-idealize yourself or create incompatible romances, you should be fine.

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