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Synonyms: SI
See also: Mary Sue, Anywhere But Here, Tuckerized
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Not to be confused with Reader-Insert.

Self-insertion is a practice by authors of writing themselves into their own stories, either explicitly or in thinly-disguised form.

A less-common practice is fan artists incorporating themselves, or other fans, into fanart.

from B & B Lite, artist is Nancy Stasulis

Mary Sues are often assumed to be self-insert characters, although they tend to be idealized rather than realistic versions of their authors. They may actually be intended as proxies for the reader or as a way for the reader and author to interact through the printed word. Authors may also write self-inserts as humor (for example, in metafic featuring an author arguing with her characters) or as an in-joke (for example, making an extremely minor character a self-insert that will only be recognized by friends).

Self-insertion in Canon

Wesley Crusher on Star Trek is widely considered to be a self-insert character for his creator, Gene Wesley Roddenberry.

In the Dark Tower series of books by Stephen King, Stephen King appears as a character in the sixth and seventh books.

Richard Brautigan's unnamed narrators in The Abortion and his one fantasy novel In Watermelon Sugar are often presumed by fans to be a character based closely upon himself. He explicitly uses a character named Richard Brautigan in "The Lost Chapter of Trout Fishing In America". In The Abortion, he has Richard Brautigan come into the library with a book called Moose.[1]

Amy Tan based several of her characters on herself, her mother and her grandmother, retelling actual events in their lives in The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife and The Bonesetter's Daughter.

Larry Niven's book Fallen Angel, in which fandom saves the world, included nods to several well-known authors and fans, and auctioned off other named characters at SF conventions.

Agatha Christie's mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver has what Christie called a "strong dash" of herself. Like Christie, Oliver writes in the bath while eating apples. When she tries to help Hercule Poirot solve crimes, she often makes the same mistakes Christie herself made in her books.

Clive Cussler appears as an insert character in several of his Dirk Pitt novels, often helping the other characters in some way (such as giving them a lift). Usually they seem to be unable to remember his name or the fact that they've met him before.

Robert A. Heinlein's Lazarus Long in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land voice Heinlein's real political and social opinions, often convincing others that they are right. Harshaw is both a physician and a lawyer, with several advanced degrees. He luxuriates in a Xanadu-like home of enormous wealth and is an extremely productive writer, using a lot of pseudonyms.

Ernest Hemingway based a lot of his characters on himself and people he knew, especially in The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Sun Also Rises.

Anais Nin's characters were closely based on herself and friends.

Mark Twain put himself in many of his stories. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is often cited as this.

J.R.R. Tolkien said that Faramir in The Lord of the Rings appeared spontaneously, but was gradually written to be Tolkien himself and how he thought he would behave in such circumstances. He also regarded himself and his wife Edith as Beren and Luthien from the ancient legend; their names are engraved on his and Edith's tombstones.

H.P. Lovecraft wrote himself into Through the Gates of the Silver Key in 1932. In case it isn't obvious from the description of the "lean, grey, long-nosed, clean-shaven, and stoop-shouldered" old gent, his name is Ward Phillips. Randolph Carter is sometimes considered Lovecraft's more idealized self-insert.

Self-Insertion in Fan Art

In a 1975 issue of the Star Trek:TOS zine A Piece of the Action, a fan had an ad offering to paint other fans in fantasy settings: "Imagine yourself in an incredable [sic] ST, SF or fantasy adventure. Now imagine that adventure made into a lovely full color, hand painted picture for a very reasonable price. Just send exact details of the scene and a clear picture of yourself..." Prices started at 9x12 for $25.00 to 18x24 for $59.00

From a flyer printed in the Beauty and the Beast zine, Dreams of Thee "If you've ever dreamed of becoming a part of the world of the Tunnels, I can whisk you there with the stroke of a "Magic Pencil." Picture yourself interacting with Vincent or chatting with Catherine. Perhaps you'd like to go exploring with Mouse or Jamie or just share a cup of tea with Father in his study. All of things are possible.... The figures, Tunnel clothing, and the chambers will be finely rendered in detail. The emotion, feeling, and sentiment will be appropriate to the action in the drawing. You will feel that you are really a part of the world Below."

Admitted Self-Insertion in Fan Fiction

  • MEST #18 was a Special THRUSH Appreciation Issue (Man from UNCLE). It has 10 pages and was published in 1965 by Ted Johnstone for inclusion in the Amateur Press Association (APA) Spectator Amateur Press Society (SAPS) mailing #71. The issue features the story of a hoax played by Johnstone and local fans pretending to be from the evil THRUSH organization from The Man from UNCLE. [2]
  • Just to show how differently fans thought about self-insertion in those days, Regina Marvinny held a contest in the pages of Tricorder Readings, her Nimoyan Federation LNAF-affiliated clubzine. Entrants were supposed to write a story about themselves meeting Spock. Karen Flanery misunderstood and wrote a lighthearted novella that had Leonard Nimoy visiting her for a day. It was so good they published it anyway. Flanery and Claire Mason also had a one-shot fanzine, Don't You Just Love Leonard Nimoy?, an art portfolio showing herself and Nimoy in a romantic relationship.
  • In Mark's Leaps, a Quantum Leap zine, the author is one of the main characters.
  • Authors in Forever Knight Wars post multiple self-insertion fics in a giant round-robin style RPG in which anywhere up to 300 fans take part by joining teams (called factions), each of which is affiliated with a character or pairing from the show. It is one of the rules of war that one plays oneself, more or less warts and all, without any special abilities. The function of war is to get to know one's fellow fans, though characters from the series are also written into the story.
  • In 2002, the Highlander Holy Ground Forum held a Mary Sue challenge as part of their weekly series of challenges. "Write a (mercifully) short story or vignette in the Highlander universe featuring a character who is obviously a classic Mary or Marty Sue. Extra points for hitting as many of the typical plot and character clichés as you can manage. Roll up your sleeves and show us your worst!" 15 stories were collected.
  • Many Role-Playing Game groups have sessions where the players attempt to write themselves up as characters, often resulting in much argument over the game's method of ranking intelligence and attractiveness.
  • From the editors' description of the zine Fantazy, "[It is a] media-oriented zine featuring both original universe and existing universe/prose/poetry/scripts starring your favorite actors/actresses - AND - yourself! This is your chance to write yourself into a story and appear in the illo! We encourage it!"

Meta/Further Reading


  1. The 23 from The Abortion at Fuck Yeah, Richard Brautigan on Tumblr.
  2. see more at Zine Wiki