Kelly Herold of Big A, little a has a new blog called Crossover where she will be blogging about "crossover books"--books that end up with two audiences, adult and YA or adult and even younger. She got the ball rolling with a discussion of America's most recent crossover, Twilight.
The blog comment that really got my mind spinning was Kelly Fineman's regarding Bella being a Mary Sue, who has moved from being a proxy for the author (Mary Sues were originally defined as characters based on authors' idealization of themselves. See the second Urban Dictionary definition) to being a proxy for readers. I think she has a good point.
The other character I've come across recently who seems like a Mary Sue to me is Mary Russell in A Monstrous Regiment of Women. I've heard that the Mary Russell series is also read by both adults and teens.
Mary Russell is a more traditional Mary Sue than Bella Swan in that she has so many superior qualities--intelligence, sophistication, a college degree, money. Anything she puts her hand to she's successful with. Plus she appears as the love interest for a character who already exists (Sherlock Holmes), which is how Mary Sues got their start in fanfiction. Bella, on the other hand, is pretty bland and inept, though she is loved by all. Her love interest is a type that has existed before (a vampire), though Edward, himself, is new to her series.
What both characters have in common is a sexual tension with a male character who is also idealized, one who watches over them while also serving as a threat. In Twilight Edward, who might go mad with lust at any point and kill Bella, controls her by treating her like a child. In A Monstrous Regiment of Women Sherlock Holmes "saves" Mary with physical violence--injecting her with drugs at one point and hitting her at another.
Now, I don't think many professional writers sit down and plan to write Mary Sue characters. (Though maybe we should, since they appear to be very popular.) However, it happens. For example, I've read that some critics believe Harriet Vane in the 1930's Lord Peter Wimsey novels is a Mary Sue for Dorothy Sayers, the books' author.
So my thought now is, if writers use their own experience in their writing (and this one sure does), how do we avoid writing Mary Sues? Do they always appear as a love interest? If I stay away from romance, will Mary Sue characters stay away from me? If I don't write about anyone over the age of thirteen will I be safe? What if I use male main characters? Will that work?
Training Report: Started a new piece of creative nonfiction today! Started one segment for the 365 Story Project. Decided to keep the grandfather around for the year, which will mean big rewrites in the first three months, but, heck, I'll do that next year. Did a little bit of planning for future segments. Hope to do some work this weekend.