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Wish Fulfillment

Banes at 12:00AM, Dec. 3, 2015

In the movie Annie Hall, the main character writes a play and uses it to give his failed relationship a happy ending.
There are countless stories where awkward, nervous protagonists…perhaps courtesy of awkward, nervous writers…win the battle, defeat the villains and get the gorgeous girl.

An unknown number of web comics feature somewhat idealized versions of their creators, or are more accurate self-inserts…just with awesome friends or awesome hair.

Of course, most fiction could be said to have some kind of wish fulfilment element to it. Even a crappy, dystopian setting or horror story might have aspects of it stuck in there.

Most commonly, the wish fulfilment probably takes the form of somewhat idealized characters. They are more attractive. Or more courageous. They are more free. Or more successful in romance and sex. Or, once again, they have amazing hair.

Probably just as common would be the less idealized protagonist with the idealized friends, lovers, or associates.

I wonder if wish fulfilment automatically reduces the quality of a piece of work. Personally, I have no problem with wish fulfilment being part, even a large part, of a story. A lot of passion and emotion comes from the things we yearn for. It's the human condition, baby!

The risk is when the wish fulfilment is the first priority of the work. That can be a recipe for derivative, boring stories that are most likely only exciting to the Author. The “juice” that makes it work is the fantasy, rather than interesting characters and a story people can care about.

Again, for my money, fantasy is totally fine, and quite healthy - but one would have to be careful not to confuse a private fantasy for a story or stories worth sharing with others.

Sometimes, of course, they ARE worth sharing!

What do you think? Does too much wish fulfilment ruin a story? Or does it give them more personality and authentic flavour? Do your own comics have any elements of wish fulfilment?

Best Wishes,


*by the way, be sure to check your PQs for your Secret Santa assignment!



Banes at 8:51PM, Dec. 3, 2015

@ozone - Word, man! You guys have keyed in to the exact solution as far as I can see. There needs to be tension and conflict, and the challenges have to be DIFFICULT for the characters. Sounds like the biggest step to having a wish-fulfillment story that works. I wish I was you guuuuyyyyyyyysssssss!

Ozoneocean at 7:08PM, Dec. 3, 2015

Neal Stephenson's story "Snow Crash" starts off exactly this way. He has a super skateboarding punk teen girl in an orange jumpsuit and a mega hyper super ninja pizza delivery guy all dressed in black, with a big katana, a sooped up black hotrod as tough as a tank with a giant engine and special powers... The pizza ninja is an amazingly skilled hacker and swordsman ironically called "Hiro Protagonist". It starts off with these perfect comic type characters and situations and then he proceeds to crush and grind and test the life out of those characters.

Ozoneocean at 7:01PM, Dec. 3, 2015

Wish fulfilment can be used to START a great world with all the right elements- because if YOU are passionate and excited about that stuff others may be as well or at least your enthusiasm may show through positively in the work. So you START off your stuff that way but then you mess it up! TEST your characters and situations, hurt them, put them in trouble, mess them up, dirty them, that is how you make them more real and endear them more to readers: show that they're not just perfect idealised things that you wish could be real, instead MAKE them more real by having them collide with reality and come off with a bit of damage.

Ozoneocean at 6:55PM, Dec. 3, 2015

The backlash against Mary Sue is I think based on misunderstanding... And it's definitely not just female characters that suffer from it, on the contrary I would say there are way more male Mary Sues. A Mary Sue is an idealised self insert character without fault, an expert at every skill for no reason, who other characters worship and the world revolves around them... Wish fulfilment at its very worst.

Banes at 3:14PM, Dec. 3, 2015

@KimLuster - I think the "we know it when we see it" thing is spot on! Yeah, I've heard of that "Mary Sue backlash" idea around the Internet, too. Right up there with the extreme P.C. police. @irrevenant - Well said! I agree totally.

irrevenant at 12:30PM, Dec. 3, 2015

Personally I think wish fulfilment is mostly a problem when it undermines the tension/conflict because everything just goes the hero's way or the character equivalent where the other characters are dull or stupid so the hero can shine. A hero surrounded by strawmen makes for a laughable story.

KimLuster at 4:49AM, Dec. 3, 2015

Yeah, I'm fine with this - to a degree. A good story is a good story, regardless of the inspiration. Just imagine if you know nothing about the author - is the story good or not! Too much wish-fulfillment, of course, ventures into the dreaded Mary Sue territory, but as I said in a previous debate, I think people come down too hard on potential Mary Sues these days. I've read that, in fan fiction, lots of females are afraid to write a female as a main character, due to the inevitability of being called a Mary Sue...! That's sad. But wish-fulfillment really can go too far. When does that happen? I don't think we can give a clear demarcation, but like porn, I think we kinda know it when we see it (maybe... sometimes the hate of it becomes a meme in its own right and people judge even when it's unwarranted)... This is tough - I do know one thing though, if my character from the Godstrain is a wish fulfillment, I must really hate myself ;)

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