Getting Into The Story

Real People in Unreal Situations
by Dave Van Domelen, 2005

   Writers and fans often end up in works of fiction, especially amateur fiction and fanfiction (there's a distinction there, but that's the topic for a different essay). There are common terms for some sorts of things, but not every case of a real person appearing in fiction falls into one of those established categories. I suppose serious literary critics have had terms for all of these things going back generations, but I'm going to make up my own, so there. They will be presented in a spectrum, more or less from "least likely to invoke scorn" to "most likely to invoke scorn".
  1. Public Figure - I include this for completeness. If you're famous in real life, you can expect to get mentioned in fiction every so often. Most people reading this (as well as the person writing this) do not fall into this category.

  2. Tuckerization - A minor science fiction author by the name of Tucker gained fame among the fandom for his practice of using the names of friends and acquaintances for characters in his stories. Since then, the practice has spread, and certain informal rules seem to define it.

  3. Auto-Tuckerization - Sounds dirty, doesn't it? Sometimes a creator will put himself into the work as a minor or cameo character. This is pretty rare, though, since most people you put themselves into their stories given themselves larger roles. The Dr. Van Domelen in my Academy of Super-Heroes setting pushes the boundaries of auto-Tuckerization (and drifts into Fictional Autobiography in one story).

  4. Fictional Autobiography - In this type of story, the author is a major character, possibly the main character. Usually, the author's life is as in the real world, up to the point where aliens invade, magic starts working, the dead walk, etc. The important point, however, is that any fictional elements introduced to the story are created by the author. When someone else's creations are used, see below. Fictional Autobiographies can run the gamut from simply being the chronicler of fantastic events (for instance, if the viewpoint character of War of the Worlds had been H. G. Wells explicitly) to utter wish-fulfillment as the author saves the world with his newfound powers or whatnot.

  5. Self-Insertion - The main difference between the Fictional Autobiography and Self-Insertion is that this sort of story uses characters or settings created by someone else. Usually this means someone else's trademarked and copyrighted properties, but it can also be public domain (the author meets Sherlock Holmes) or a shared universe where the author has permission from the other creators. Like Fictional Autobiographies, Self-Insertion stories can run the range from mere observer to star of the story, but the most extreme cases of the latter fall into the next category. Self-Insertion doesn't need to use the author himself from real life, of course, so long as the character is clearly a "projection" of the author. "Writer Characters" in the Legion of Net.Heroes can be Self-Insertions, for instance.

  6. Mary Sue - There once was a fanfic writer named Mary Sue, who put herself into her stories (mostly Star Trek, IIRC). She saved the day, won the hearts of hunky characters from the setting, and was generally all-around perfect. When Self-Insertion goes too far, it is called Mary Sue-ism. To be a true Mary Sue, it's not enough to make your Self-Insertion character godlike, though. The following elements are pretty much de riguer: If, by the time you've been writing a while, you're not the God-King (or God-Queen) of the entire setting with a harem of every canon character you've ever taken a fancy to, you're not doing Mary Sue right.

    Note: if you do all of these things, but using a canon character or one that is otherwise clearly not meant to be the author, it's called Marissa Syndrome, after a long series of Trekfics in which a child on the Enterprise (I forget which ep she was in) ends up commanding a starship and being ruler of a planet before hitting 18.

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