Guess what, kiddies! It’s time for another wall of text. But not just any wall of text, oh no, this one’s fanfiction-related. Because that’s totally what this blog is for, right?!
…In any case, I’ve been in a fanfic-reading mood lately, so I’ve been browsing FanFiction.Net a bit more than I usually do. Now, a good rule of thumb when browsing that site is to give each story’s first chapter a quick once-over and hit the back button if the grammar isn’t at least B-grade passable (or if the story is written in English but accompanied by some manner of “i no good at english so plz be nice” note, in which case why are you writing in English and posting your stories if you already know they suck…?). As I touched on last time I wrote about fanfiction, this isn’t always enough to ward off the droves and droves of utter crap that obscure the good stuff. Even people who are absolutely brilliant at writing can suck the big one when it comes to characterization and story-telling. Case in point: people who Gary-Stuify (or Mary-Sueify, as the gender case may be) the main character of the franchise they are fan-ficking.
It happens a lot, and I do mean a LOT, with Naruto, Harry Potter, and Persona fanfiction. It’s easy to understand why it happens with Persona, since the main character is a blank-slate silent protagonist who has no character, so in that case my complaint doesn’t really apply. But nothing makes me hate a fanfiction in quite the same way as an author taking the main character of a story I love, stripping him of everything that made him unique, and turning him into a cardboard-cutout [insert choice of Gary Stu varient here]. There’s no excuse to get these characters wrong, people; they’ve already been characterized, and by much better writers than you (and yes, dumbass, Masashi Kishimoto is a much better writer than you; not that he’s particularly good, but I’m sure you get my meaning, yeah?). The most irritating thing about these stories is that their most common and obvious offense is purely cosmetic: they take even the distinct descriptive features of a character and totally overwrite them. For example…
Harry Potter. He has perpetually messy hair, he’s got glasses, and he’s skinny as fuck. Also he’s a Gryffindor and he’s crap with the ladies. But one author doesn’t like that, so said author gives him laser eye surgery, sets him on a massive protein binge and then force-feeds him approximately sixteen gallons of undiluted testosterone. The result: a positively uber-manly lady-killer who inexplicably has enough magical skill to duel one-on-ten with Lord Voldemort’s Shadow Clone Platoon and come out smelling like Axe and roses, with perfect eyesight but still with the messed-up hair, because without the messed-up hair the characters wouldn’t have a reason to joke about how combing his hair is a hopeless endeavor every two chapters. This uber-manly “not Harry” is usually either a Slytherin or a Ravenclaw, or a Gryffindor who decides to hang out with Slytherins while Ron becomes an absolute jealous prick about it (usually accompanied by some form of character-bashing “hilarity”), and who is suddenly and inexplicably hostile toward Albus Dumbledore, who in a good 75% of these fanfictions is a total manipulative bastard who may or may not be embezzling money from Harry’s absolutely bottomless family vault at Gringotts. Also, this uber-manly not-Harry is suddenly recognized as the Head of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter, making him an important political figure. Neville Longbottom is usually along for the ride as an heir of the Noble House of Longbottom. This revelation usually comes by way of Daphne Greengrass, also known as The School’s Least Offensive Slytherin or, alternately, the Ice Queen (in the actual books, Daphne is mentioned by name exactly one time in book five and then never appears again: in other words, a character left entirely to the reader’s imagination and the tender mercies of the fanfiction community).
Now, maybe you can’t tell why I rage so hard against this sort of portrayal. If so, then consider: they take everything “flawed” about Harry’s physical appearance, or nearly everything, and replace it with the most objectified, stereotypically “dashing” and “badass” male perfection they can imagine. Then they completely gut his personality and stuff one of their own into its skin, usually in the form of someone who is impossibly skilled at magic and not afraid to verbally tear into anyone who looks at him sideways (essentially becoming a mouthpiece through which the author voices anything and everything they don’t like about a given character, directly to their face). They are able to be complete an utter assholes with impunity. The characters that the author likes side with the Gary-Stuified “Not-Harry” and worship him, becoming the picture-perfect friends that they may or may not actually be when they’re in-character. The characters that the author does not like become hated enemies, usually cannon fodder for “humor” scenes that aren’t remotely funny for anyone who isn’t inclined to guffaw like Crabbe and Goyle in the face of character bashing.
It’s a similar case with Naruto, although in that event it’s usually limited to either A) changing his clothes to something not-orange while replacing the hyperactive-idiot with the same basic Gary Stu portrayal described above (read “magic” as “ninjutsu”); or B) giving him some form of overpowered kekkei-genkai, probably the Sharingan or Rinnegan, and then doing everything listed in Option A. Now, I can understand why people dislike Naruto from the “he’s not a ninja” standpoint, but setting aside debate over whether or not this actually works… that is kind of the point of his character. The fact that he does things in a distinctly un-ninjalike way is both a point of characterization and the butt of many a joke throughout the entire Naruto series. There have been, actually, several really good stories I’ve read that explore this aspect and experiment with a “more ninja-like” Naruto without blithely over-writing his personality with something else (Better Left Unsaid by Kenchi618 is a good example), but ham-handedly flip-turning the universe upside-down a well-written story does not make.
And to be perfectly blunt about it, if you’re at the point where you feel the urge to write in an entirely different protagonist and bash everyone that protagonist likes or allies themselves with, why the hell–why the hell–are you even a fan of the series to begin with?
The upshot in both cases and all others like them is that they take everything human and/or relatable about the characters and toss it in the garbage, replacing it with the template of what might qualify as the ultimate male pornstar. Does that sound like a recipe for literary brilliance to you? Because it sounds like piss mixed with vinegar to me.
As a closing bit of clarification, I want to state full-out that alternate-universe stories or time-travel stories are entirely different kettle of fish and weren’t on my mind at all whilst writing this little rant. I have thoughts on those as well (they do tend to degenerate into Gary Stu fics quite easily, too), but those are a seperate matter with their own list of do’s and don’ts that I just don’t feel like getting into right now. I just felt like venting for a bit. Until next time, lads and lasses (which will hopefully be a review of Persona 4 Arena), I bid you adieu.