Sunday, February 13, 2022

Is Mary Sue Still A Thing?

Today's blog anniversary post goes back to 2009, when, it appears, I was worried about accidentally writing Mary Sue characters. Basically, Mary Sue characters are characters created as a sort of fantasy stand-in for the author. They grew out of fanfiction and often appear in situations where some kind of established male character exists. The Mary Sue character becomes his romantic interest because of her many, many fine qualities. 

It's been a while since I've seen references to her, so she may not be as common these days. Nonetheless, I'm reprinting this Mary Sue post as a warning.

Unless, of course, you like Mary Sues. Then, of course, do what you'd like.

In addition to the whole Mary Sue issue, I think this post is interesting in terms of childlit blogging history. 

  • First off, both the blogs mentioned in the first sentence are gone now, though Kelly Herold and I are Facebook friends these days. (The same with Kelly Fineman in the second paragraph.) A lot of childlit blogs are gone from back in the day. I do stay in touch with some of those bloggers, though.
  • Second, go to the original post and look at the "engagement" in the comments. Back in the '00s, childlit bloggers often interacted in comments. It wasn't unusual to see a salon-like atmosphere. That's been gone for a long time. A big part of that is probably due to people moving on to "quicker" types of social media like Facebook and Twitter. Another part, I believe, is that the Internet became overwhelmed with litblogs, at which point readers had to give up reading them, because reading blogs would be all they would ever do. I know I don't read any regularly, now. I read a blog post when its writer catches my attention...on Facebook or Twitter. 

Friday, May 22, 2009 How Do I Avoid Writing Mary Sue?

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?


Test said...

I somehow missed when this WAS a thing, although I was certainly blogging in 2009. I do miss the interaction, as well as the reviews-- Twitter is NOT the same. I'll be sticking around for the forseeable future, but tend to stick to just book reviews. I do enjoy the occasional philosophical discussion. I think the Mary Sue phenomenon is more YA than MG, and that divide has become deeper over the years.

Gail Gauthier said...

You're probably right about Mary Sue being more a YA thing. I think that's because Mary Sue often has a romance element, with more of a physical element than you commonly see in MG.