Self-Insert Characters, do they work?

When I was organizing my ideas for an hopefull future project, I was looking through writting tips and character tropes, and I came across self-insert characters.

The general feel that I got for them is that they’re usually the author’s power fantasy of sorts, their perfect reflection projected onto their story. This brought me back to a WIP I once worked on (Which was abandoned) and how I had my own self-insert character. In fact, it was a shameless one at that, as my username is Kirumototep and the character’s name was Kiru. I don’t think Kiru was exactly a power fantasy, I think he was more of a desire to create a character that was “mine” and make that character be of importance to the story, as in fact, Kiru wasn’t the Be-All End-All of the characters, he was strong, yes, but he was an anchor for future plot points and served as a motivator for some other points, if that makes sense…

Coming back to the title of the topic, can self-insert characters work? What are your thoughts on this?

I personally think that they can, as long as the author is able to set boundaries for them. After all, it’s fine if they’re the strongest around, I think, but if they overshadow the MC or make them feel like they aren’t the MC, that marks them as a bad self-insert in my book.

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I’ve thought about this too on numerous occasions, and I’d say that yes I believe they can work, I don’t see anytning wrong with the author wanting to put a piece of themselves into their own work afterall. I feel it’s about representation, in the same way that you write a story to better represent what you want to see story wise. I know that most stories have the MC as a self insert but writing your own story and writing a self insert as an NPC feels different, there’s more room to add detail I feel.

I did mention in another post about RO’s with ties to the main plot overshadowing the MC, as long as that kind of thing is avoided so the reader can still feel as if they are experiencing the story from the perspective of themselves and are not from the perspective of an insert of the author, which I could suppose is always present in choice of games to an extent and with varying degrees.

I totally understand wanting to have a character that is “yours” or “you” in a piece of fiction you create where the MC isn’t, from the perspective of a writer anyways. So, I’d definitely think they can work if certain rules are adhered to and if you wanted to write one into your story I’d say go for it, it’s your story after all, to do with as you will. :grin:

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Self-insert characters can work, but they have to know their role in the story. In interactive fiction, I don’t see power fantasy characters working at all if they intrude on the MC’s ability to live the story. Alternatively, if they’re just a normal side character with some of the author’s characteristics, that could work.

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I’m personally of the mind that writing is first and foremost about doing what the author enjoys, so I think they can! But there can be a trap to fall in if you are too focused on making said self-insert a certain way or only using them as a prop rather than a true character that fits in the story material. I myself often incorporate things I have firsthand experience with or emotions I feel that I would like to express in writing (e.g. a character with a complicated relationship with a sibling, like myself, I would draw on my own experiences to realistically portray the emotions such a thing invokes.)

If a character is a self insert and only a self insert and exists to be a reflection of yourself, then what do they add to your story? Make them react to the plot rather than basing the plot around them, and I still think you can have a good character-focused story where the self-insert plays a dynamic and fulfilling role.

Also; regarding power, I love powerful characters who can work up to having reality-altering powers, if done well in accordance to the plot. Explain why they’re so powerful, give them challenges, give them moral dilemmas as a result of using their powers, make them able to be outsmarted or tricked. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in some badass moments (because they’re badass for a reason!) so long as you don’t oversaturate the reader with how cool this character is and it doesn’t feel unbelievable.

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If it’s too transparently a power fantasy about your self-insert, you may lose the respect of your readership. Plenty of writers write a writer character into their book; but if that character turns out to be the most powerful and charismatic, beloved by all the other characters, the only one to get a sex scene, the one to pretty much single-handedly defeat the evil antagonist, etc., don’t be surprised if it gets you mocked. (Though you may also win awards and make boatloads of money.)

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I have a NPC who is definitely something of a self-insert, although I’ve found that he’s drifting more and more away from me as his character has gotten more well-rounded. Mostly, what I try to be aware of is screentime and character development/focus. It’s easy to favor him, because I’m using this character to explore some of my own struggles and behavior and beliefs and things. So every time I do a scene for him, I make myself go and do something equivalent(ish) for everyone else. I try to make sure that there’s no points where he’s getting a really big scene when everyone else is getting a smalltalk conversation. Something like that, anyway. Not saying I do it perfectly, of course, but that’s the goal I’m shooting for. :slight_smile:

I think for me, what tends to bother me about author avatars is that they are often used to espouse the author’s ideals or morals onto the story, and usually positioned in a way that it’s treated as a given or proven in the story that they are right. I don’t mind a bit of a power fantasy (although those absolutely can get annoying) but when a character seems to exist primarily to be the absolute arbiter of right and wrong, that is usually what makes me roll my eyes and put the story down.

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I’m not sure if whole self-inserts can work or not. As others have pointed out, if you become too enamored of any one character, which I think the self-insert is in particular danger of, you run into the danger of overshadowing other, more important parts of your story.

Having said that, I think most if not all of my characters inherit certain characteristics from me. They get my sense of humor or my anxiety. Sometimes they get bigger pieces of me, sometimes smaller. Of course, they also get characteristics that I don’t have.

At the end of the day I think I would err on the side of not including a self-insert. Maybe at the most I would include one as a (brief) “cameo,” but I think it’s easier to make your writing worse with one than without.

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Theoretically they could and should work, but self insert characters oftem come with elements of power fantasy and wish fullfillment that are dificult or near impossible to make compelling or interesting.

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For author self inserts, yes I do enjoy them sometimes…especially when it’s a more minor or side character that can break the 4th wall a little bit, for example to deliver some sage advice to the MC on their journey, make an inside joke, or deliver meta information to the player in a clever way. I find that kind of interesting, and some writers are fun to engage with in that way.

For a character that is in danger of possibly overshadowing the MC… what about just making that character the MC in that case? Or least incorporating some of that character’s backstory or other unique traits into the existing MC? I think I wouldn’t mind that if it was also a character I could play as and root for. I enjoy playing more set characters from time to time.

Personally, I admit I do find it fun to write short stories like this sometimes with self insert characters… I just don’t share them usually and keep them mostly for myself in my own journals. For the most part, I doubt anyone else would find them as cool or interesting as I do, lol. That’s kind of the problem with self insert characters I guess, they can be very personal.

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I mostly agree with you, but I feel the problem with the self-insert being the MC kind of takes you out of the “I’m the main character” vibe, if that makes sense. I’ve noticed in some games here on the website, when the backstory of the character is mentioned, it’s usually because the plot calls for it, it NEEDS it, and when it doesn’t and it’s just a bit of flair, the backstory is usually more open to intrepertation, left ambiguous for the player.

Not saying that it wouldn’t work, but I believe it would be more of a hassle to incorporate the self-insert into the MC.

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Yes that’s makes sense, I suppose it depends what you are going for and how predetermined you want your MC to be. Perhaps there are some things that can be incorporated into the choices presented to the player. But at the end of the day, if there is a problem with the character overshadowing the MC, then either the MC needs more focus and more RP opportunities for the player to flesh them out, or the self insert needs to be toned down. I feel like that is a major component to examples I’ve seen where I didn’t like the author self insert…it was ultimately a cool character that I would have liked, but they just went a little overboard or it felt as if they wanted to hog the spotlight. Don’t go over the top, leave some things to the imagination, and it should be ok.

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I believe that they can work very well if written properly. Back in the day the Naruto fandom had some really intriguing self insert fanfiction circulating. I would even say that those writers revitalized self insert fiction within fandoms.

I know that my example is fan fiction, but if you want to see self insert done right give Dreams of Sunshine a read, or any highly reviewed self insert fanfiction in Naruto or any older fandom.

What I look for in a self insert story are the personal struggles of the character in that world. Maybe the way they thought it would go turned out to be completely different.

If they do become extremely powerful then the road to getting there better be difficult. If they are extremely powerful from the beginning how will that change them, will they unintentionally become the villain of their own story?

Will they unknowingly gain enemies bent on taking them down?

Will they get cocky? How will their narcissism impact their relationships?

These are just my rambling thoughts. I love self inserts, they are basically isekai.

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I really do share your passion! Isekai, now there’s an awesome way to describe it, and a description which I believe fits it very accurately when I look back to short stories me and my friends used to write! Maybe making them a mentor or a villain to the MC might be a decent way to give them their spotlight and have them shine, whilest at the same time giving the MC their own light? Of course we’d have to be careful to not be bias towards giving one or the other “cooler scenes” or more air time…I definitely want to write something with a self-insert, maybe have my friends get involved again, I think that’d make the project so much more fun, and awesome too if I’m able to pull it off!

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In my WIP that i’m writing, i self inserted a version of myself into the game, not as a main character and not planned on having any major scenes (we’ll see) but as a assistant to the MC … when self inserting is it better to make your self insert fade into the background with just a hint that they exist or do you bring them out to the forefront as a major supporting character? For right now i’m going with keeping my self insert meek but it could change…

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