In many ways, writing itself is a form of wish fulfilment, beside the cathartic relief, in which you as a writer experience pretty urgent desires for adventure, love and triumph that you share with your readers. That is the secret to the runaway bestseller, to the eleven-year-old at heart wanting to belong in a magical school for wizards, or a misfit thirteen-year-old girl who's beginning to believe boys think she's ugly and repellent.
But it's when wish fulfilment detracts or damages the novel that I have to stand against it. It's almost inevitable in new and/or young writers, and is something that you grow out of with experience and practice. It is important to keep in mind, though, something that Marie Lu said in an interview: "June (the protagonist) has qualities I wish I had in myself. So she was created as who I wish I could be".
When wish fulfilment nosedives, it's common to find a least one mention of the term: Mary Sue. It's not a term I like to use, mostly because of the unnecessary connotations it's accumulated over time. It's usually the product of an author's deep, DEEP love for a character - they don't let anything bad happen, or let others chew them out, and they give them everything, unwilling to make them sacrifice or face challenges.
From memory, I think she:
• was super good at everything without working for it
• had every attractive character fall in love with her
• was just so fucking amazing that she never struggled or was wrong
Now, I want to get this straight because I don't really follow Mary Sue discussions and I honestly believe this: Mary Sues are not
the so-called embodiment of evil a bad thing because they represent wish fulfilment and/or author insertion, but because they are poorly written instances of wish fulfilment and/or author insertion.
And, of course, "wish fulfilment" has been interpreted in two distinct streams:
1. a means by which the author can fulfil their personal fantasies
2. a story/technique to allow the reader to pretend they are the main character
These are by no means bad. If the story is well-written, they are often the same or are intertwined. But, if only one is to be present, it's most certainly better for that to be #2, since there are few reading experiences more banal than watching the author play out their personal dreams that aren't relatable to you as a reader.
I recently had an email that asked: "How do I use my personality in my characters without making them all the same?" In a Being John Malkovich way, I suppose. And here's my answer.
There's this episode of Teen Titans Go! called Nevermore, in which two characters accidentally enter the mind of the darker/drier character of Raven. They encounter different aspects/emotions of her personality, most of which they have never encountered in the Raven they know. Happy, timid, brave, angry, etc. They all wore different cloaks, and though they had the same face and voice, their mannerisms and their behaviour was fundamentally different - they were all apart of Raven, but were individuals in their own right.
Everyone is like this. You have so many different aspects to who you are as a person, and it changes on a day-to-day basis. I have a long school day on a Tuesday, and the way I behave and tolerate others afterward is completely different to how I am on a Wednesday when I'm only at school for half the time.
You have so many different parts to who you are that you could populate a small city with the different variations of yourself over your life. Teenage you and toddler you? Completely different. Use sprinkles (you know, the kind you put on icecream) of yourself, and you'll find that if you're honest about yourself, you'll find more interesting traits.
It's unrealistic to think that we can continually write these characters who have nothing in common with us. We have to write what we know to some extent, and that has some foundation in our interests, passions and experiences. It's the theory of empiricism.
But, remember to be honest and brutal about yourself. We want real you, not job interview you. And really, the greatest pitfall for any character, any author-insertion or wish-fulfilment vessel, is the lack of risk and drama, the absence of conflict and danger - The worst thing for a protagonist is convenience.
So, what about you? Pro wish fulfilment? Do you disagree, is there no successful way to insert yourself, or is it inevitable?