Friday, November 29, 2013

On Mary Sues

I have never written fan fiction or wanted to write fan fiction, but over the last year, I have been reading it out of curiosity.  The first time that I scrolled down to the comments of a fan fiction piece, I saw this comment:

"Your main character is a Mary Sue!"
My reaction to that comment was “Um, who’s Mary Sue?”  I had a college degree in fiction writing, I had been to writing conferences, I had been to author readings, I had attended workshops, I had read dozens of books on writing, I had turned down an offer to tutor at a writing center, and I had edited for a literary journal.  I had never heard of a Mary Sue.  I’m willing to bet that a lot of writers, editors, and professors have never heard of a Mary Sue.  If they knew about Mary Sues, they would’ve taught me about them, right?

According to Google, a Mary Sue is a poorly-developed, unrealistically-perfect, idealized character that represents the author.  The author turns himself/herself into a character and inserts that character into an established fictional universe (such as the Harry Potter universe or the Star Trek universe).  The fictional author-character interacts with the established characters in that universe in some way. 

Judging by the volume of “Your character is a Mary Sue!” comments, Mary Sues are common and undesirable in fan fiction.  If you Google Mary Sue, there are quizzes that will (supposedly) tell you if your character is a Mary Sue.  While reading fan fiction, I saw authors arguing with commenters and denying that the Mary Sue label fits their characters.  I saw authors begging commenters not to call their characters Mary Sues.  I saw authors apologizing for the fact that their characters are Mary Sues.  I saw authors creating intentional Mary Sues.  I saw a lot of disagreements between commenters over whether or not a character is a Mary Sue.  The Mary Sue label seems to be subjective and applied often.

I decided that you have to be ballsy to put your fan fiction on the internet.  Writers have to have thick skin, but some of those Mary Sue comments are just nasty.  It made me wonder if there are aspiring writers who are so paranoid of creating a Mary Sue that they don’t write.  I also wondered if there are aspiring writers who have quit writing because of the Mary Sue comments.

I’m not sure how to answer those questions, but I really hope that Mary Sue paranoia doesn’t stop anyone from writing.  The fact that I’ve made it this far in my writing/editing career without hearing about Mary Sues makes me think that they’re not something that professional writers spend much time thinking about.  If you enjoy writing, then write.  Don’t worry about Mary Sues.  Constructive criticism is great, but it seems as if some people on fan fiction sites are just trolls who enjoy starting arguments.  Don’t let them discourage you.  Write your story the way that you think it should be written.  Trust your writer instincts.  Now, go write. 

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