In a recent post at Vox Popoli, Vox Day dropped a heckuva a bon motte regarding Mary Sue characters:
Authors have a tendency to reveal more about themselves than they realize…
That sentence fragment got my noggin joggin’ about the novels that I’ve written to date, and my current work in progress in particular. Longtime readers will notice that my protagonists tend toward middle-aged family men, a class of which I am a proud member. Which makes the follow-on thought all the more relevant:
…often, more than they would like, when they write themselves into their stories.
Do I write Mary Sue’s? Nope. Not at all. But I do write what I know, and that means characters that rank solidly in the delta sector of the sociosexual hierarchy. For those of you not familiar with the rankings, it’s a refinement of the alpha dog/beta male dichotomy that takes into account characters who lack the natural alpha’s leadership abilities or who just plain don’t understand relationships at all. In this system betas are the high-achievers who flock to alphas and serve as loyal lieutenants, gammas are the perpetual outcasts convinced they are the secret kings of the world, and in between are the regular joes who do all the work that keeps society functioning, the deltas.
The classic expression of the virtues of delta-hood are the men of Easy Company, whose stories are told and shown in Band of Brothers. These guys are the solid warriors who stand in the breach and do the daily grunt work. Most of the men you know are deltas. They write the code, they file the TPS reports, they crunch the numbers, and just generally go on about life in their own simple terms. Give them a solid alpha to watch out for them, to direct their efforts as part of a team, and they can do great things.
As you might have guessed, I consider myself a prime example of a solid delta. The pressures of high command are not for me. I’m content to plug away in my cubicle making a little money for the corporation, so long as they make it worth my while, and pursue my hobbies in relative peace. As a result, most of my protagonists also follow the delta mode.
Hey, write what you know, right?
Which isn’t to say that they lead boring lives. They strive and plug along, and when push comes to shove they rise to the challenges life throws in their way – just like the men of Easy Company. In fact, I contend that deltas make for the best stories. They have plenty of room to grow, they can be pushed along by fate or led along by a determined alpha, and they are far more relatable to most readers than the rare alphas or the pathetic gammas.
Consider the unnamed protagonist of Space Princess. He’s a regular guy who just wants to fix his sink on a late Sunday night, when he gets swept up in a galactic fight that pits civilization against raw brutality. Through the entire story he gets passed along the chain of command, and in the final fight (of this story) rises to the challenge presented. The character of Rome from A Moon Full of Stars really wants the village to consider him an alpha, but mostly just wants the respect and honor due to a man who takes risks for his community. These are the stories that resonate with the fat part of the bell curve of men, and these are the stories that can help men find and accept their own place in our world, while still inspiring them to strive to be better men.
And aside from all of the vitamins they provide for the soul, they are just rollicking fun adventure stories. What cubicle drone couldn’t use a little more of that old time heroism in his life?