Self-insertion

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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; in a fannish context this most often means fan writers writing themselves into their favorite source material so that they can interact with canon or its characters. Fan artists also sometimes incorporate themselves into fanart, and in modern fandoms where this is prevalent these self insertions are usually referred to with a play on the word "persona".

Fan writers may 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, although this may instead be considered a cameo).

Self-insertion as a literary device has a particularly bad rap in fannish circles, due in large part to its association with Mary Sues; generally speaking all Mary Sues are assumed to be self-inserts and all self-inserts are at least suspected of being Mary Sues.

It can be hard for self-insert enthusiasts to find spaces where they can talk about what they like about self-inserts without being heckled or derided by fellow fans who dislike the genre. Authors who write and publish self-inserts generally have received a higher rate of flames and trolling in their reviews; the early 2000's SI fic FF7 Experience was reportedly taken down from fanfiction.net due to "people doing knee jerk reactions to seeing a self insert"[1] despite being well-regarded and fondly spoken of even years after it was pulled from public archiving.

Self-Insertion in Canon

Edward Elric punches his mangaka Hiromu Arakawa in the face.
Self-insertion has a long literary history as a literary device, for example The Divine Comedy where the author is essentially writing himself into the fanon of the 14th-century Catholic Church. Authors may use self-insertion for comedic effect, surrealism, direct audience addresses, or as a part of metafiction.
Fanart of Hiromu Arakawa's self-insert meeting the Elric brothers.
Self-inserts are sometimes confused with author surrogates, but generally author surrogates are only meant to share the same opinions or background as the author, not actually be the author.

Some authors also use self-insertion to directly address their readers. Mangaka Hiromu Arakawa who drew and wrote the manga Fullmetal Alchemist always draws herself as a cow with glasses, and in the 4koma omake panels for the series sometimes draws herself interacting with the characters — for example, scolding Edward Elric for reading too much manga and then being punched in the face by him. Fans sometimes draw fanart of Arakawa's cow persona — her cowsona, one might call it — including showing her interact with her own characters.

One piece of fanart from 2005 shows Alphonse Elric carrying Arakawa's cowsona and Edward Elric saying, "You are so not keeping that." The artist explained: "It's a running gag that Al picks up stray kittens and Ed never lets him keep any. This time the stray is none other then [sic] the creator of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, Hiromu Arakawa! ... Ed probably doesn't like her because cows make milk. XD"[2] Comments on the DeviantArt page consist largely of fans commenting with continuations of the implied dialogue between the brothers, having them argue about whether or not to keep this new stray that Al has found.

Andrew Hussie stares "homoerotically" at his reader.
Andrew Hussie, in troll cosplay, deals with a costume malfunction.

Andrew Hussie, the author of Homestuck has frequently used self-insertion in his works. His first instance of self-insertion was in Problem Sleuth and actually prompted by a fan because Problem Sleuth is a quest. Someone sent in, "AH: Become homoerotically interested in your fan." and Hussie drew himself looking right at the camera with the caption, "Andrew Hussie becomes aroused by fans of MS Paint Adventures. Way to break the 4th wall, numbskull!"

In Homestuck, Hussie's self-insertion makes him into a full-blown character, which he uses in part to make comments to his fans and on fan culture, appearing several times dressed up in cosplay, in one case complete with smearing grey body paint and quickly-broken troll horns, both a staple of Homestuck cosplayers at American conventions at the time, as many, many fans went to great lengths to cosplay as the grey-skinned orange-horned aliens that debuted in Homestuck's Act 5 Part 1.

Sometimes Hussie uses his self-insert appearances to affect the plot, but other times he directly addresses the readers. In the panel depicted on the right, showing one of Hussie's appearances in troll cosplay, the narration goes on to respond to the implied reader's displeasure with Hussie's self-insertion by accusing the reader of being entitled and not understanding just how quickly Hussie could use his authorial power to really make things "ridiculous." Hussie's narration says, "Do you have any idea how much power I wield over you?? [...] It would be so easy! I could snap my gray smudgy fingers RIGHT NOW, and make you read all the troll romance exposition segments all over again, BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK."[3]

Calliope, dressed as her trollsona, has just finished removing her grey Ben Nye makeup.

Hussie also has a character who self-inserts. Calliope, introduced in Act 6, is an alien who has a trollsona or troll persona. She writes fanfiction about herself and her friends, as well, and views her friends more as characters than people. Hussie intended her as a fairly scathing commentary on his own fans:

[@Unguided]

@andrewhussie Your stupid exposition character is boring and terrible.

[@andrewhussie]

@Unguided how ironic that an obnoxious fan emerges from the fandom to complain about the obnoxious fandom avatar character[4]

Self-Insertion in Fan Art

Although writing oneself into a favorite canon arguably much more common across the board, there's always been a thriving community of fans who love to visualize themselves interacting with their favorite characters or worlds.

Drawing Someone Else's Self-Insert

The disparity between the amount of self-insert drawing and self-insert writing may in part be due to how much more time and effort it takes to learn to draw. While self-insertion for writing pretty exclusively deals with the author inserting themselves into their work, self-insert fanart is sometimes done on commission or by request.

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, with prices started at 9x12 for $25.00 and going up to 18x24 for $59.00. The advertisement read:

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...

Plus, 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.
Pyracantha's friend is drawn in the world of Katherine Kurtz's "Deryni"

The fan artist Pyracantha explains her choices in a piece of art drawn for one of her friends:

Some of my friends are, or were so devoted to the imaginary worlds of their favorite fantasy authors that they wanted to live there, or at least be depicted as living there, so they could live the adventurous life as well as meet their favorite characters in "real life." This drawing is the result of a commission by a friend who had herself placed in Katherine Kurtz's "Deryni" world so that she could encounter her much-loved Dr. Rhys Thuryn, a psychic healer. I had to depict her as ailing but of course not dying. This friend/client is often sick with colds and flu since she works in elementary school with germ-laden children, so being healed of the flu is something much to be desired. Psychic healing is a big theme in fantasy fandom and most stories have some variant of it. I have observed that the fantasy fan community has a lot of ill-health and chronic disorders so perhaps that's behind the strong "healing" element in fantasy.

Deryni Healing My Friend (May 20, 2015)

Drawing One's Own Self-Insert

Many fan artists who draw self-insertion do so because it's comforting and allows them to escape. One fan artist said:

Self-insert is expression. It shows that our love for the fandoms and how much we want to appreciate the characters we have fallen for.

Self-insert is comfort. Sometimes, in life, drawing yourself in the arms of a favorite character boosts up a cheer and makes the artist feel better because it only applies to them.

Self-insert is an escape. When we want to handle something right now in the real world, our imagination can take us away, even for a little bit, before we're ready to face life.[5]

Another fanartist explains that she draws herself as a self-insert in every fandom she's in, because:

The reason that I love self-inserts so much is because for the longest time, I didn't like myself. I was really insecure, I didn't like my face, I didn't like my voice, I didn't like anything about me — I didn't like my characteristics, I thought I was just a living, breathing waste of space.

[...]

Basically, the reason I love self-inserts so much is because when I started to create these self-inserts and create these character designs that were based off of me, and my appearance, and my personality traits... I started to love those things about myself, which was not something that was easy for me to do before. There's still things that I struggle with, there's still things about myself that I really don't like, but it's easier for me to come to terms with those things whenever I project them onto these self-inserts.[6]

Examples of Self-Insertion in Fan Fiction

Mest18.jpg
  • 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. [7]
  • 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

References

  1. Winged Knight, Self Insert Recommendation Thread archive on 07 October 2011. Accessed 14 October 2018.
  2. queenbean3, author's note on FMA - Stray Cow? Posted 12 October 2005. Accessed 14 October 2018.
  3. Homestuck, Act 5 Part 1. Posted 22 August 2010. Accessed 14 October 2018.
  4. Twitter exchange. Archived link. Posted 9 Feb 2012.
  5. KiaraLPhoenix,The Art of Self-Insert Posted 12 September 2013. Accessed 14 October 2018.
  6. CaezHel, Self Inserts: The Good & The Bad. Posted 20 September 2017. Accessed 14 October 2018.
  7. see more at Zine Wiki