Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Roundtable: Hello, Mary Sue

Paraphrased from TV Tropes Wiki: Mary Sue is a somewhat derogatory term used to describe a particular type of character. This much everyone seems to agree on. What that character type is, exactly, differs wildly from circle to circle, often from person to person.

This month our teens had plenty to say about Mary Sues in fiction...

Alexandra: So, topics tonight: Something we covered a bit last time that I thought deserved more attention which is: THE MARY SUE! Also, let’s share horror recs in honor of Halloween.
Chihuahua Zero: The Mary Sue. :3 
Chihuahua Zero: The writer's forum I'm at had a ball game with that topic. 
Riv Re: Bella! 
Jessica: Oh, the Mary Sue. Everyone's favorite.  
Riv Re: Wait. Sorry. I meant "MAry Sue." 
Alexandra: I'm sensing that the Mary Sue might be the most interesting thing... 
Katy: Agree 20:21
Lennon: I'm gonna take a big risk here and say something I'm sure everyone is going to disagree with: I don't think Bella is a Mary Sue.
Katy: No, Lennon? Why not? 
Chihuahua Zero: @Lennon: Well, the thing is about the concept of Mary Sue is that it has many definitions. 
Chihuahua Zero: Basically, what is a Mary Sue? 
Alexandra: Yes, I was going to ask a question related to what is a Mary Sue, and that is this: people say that the term is overused so much and to encompass so many different ideas that it has lost all meaning. 
Alexandra: Do we think it has lost all meaning? 
Lennon: Okay, well the Mary Sue I'm familiar with is the "perfect character" 
Jessica: I do feel like it has become very broad.
Lennon: Bella Swan is a selfish, childish, sleazy teenager. 
Alexandra: Good point, Lennon. 
Lennon: Thank you. 
Riv Re: I feel like the Mary Sue is either perfect, or the complete opposite, in simple terms.
Chihuahua Zero: Here’s an article I wrote on the topic:  http://youngaspiringwriter.blogspot.com/... {And here’s Katy jumping in after the conversation to say YES, this article is fantastic and you should definitely click through to read it!}
Alexandra: So in that regard, Bella isn't perfect by any means. 
Lennon: I do like the Twilight Series though.
Chihuahua Zero: While I think "Mary Sue" might have degraded as an umbrella term, I still think that there are many different subtypes we need to look out for. 
Lennon: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-AUdWz1XZ8BI/UD... {Katy jumping in again to point out that this link features some cheeky cartoon renditions of common “Mary Sues,” not rendered by Lennon.}
Alexandra: Here are two other definitions that are pretty widely regarded: 1) that the Mary Sue is just an author-insert. (Which I think does fit Bella Swan). And 2) that the Mary Sue is SPESHUL. Maybe not perfect, but she stands out for being SUPER UNIQUE and SPARKLY. 
Riv Re: Wait. So are vampires all Mary Sues? 
Alexandra: CZ, that article is fab.
Alexandra: Haha sparkly in a metaphoric sense.
Jessica: I have always thought of them as sort of author inserts...and someone who the story happens TO vs a character who makes choices, has agency, does stuff.
Alexandra: LOL Lennon, just clicked the link you posted. Hilarious! Whoever made that is a genius.
Alexandra: Jessica, I love that second thing you said because it's so true but I don't feel like people point it out very often. 
Katy: Jess, that’s pretty much the way I look at Mary Sues too. That's why I've always thought of Bella as one. But with Lennon's definition, she's not. 
Karen: Speeessshhhuuullll 
Lennon: I don't think Mary Sues exist anymore, or at least that characters shouldn't be labeled as one.
Chihuahua Zero: Hmm...I wouldn't say Mary Sues don't exist anymore, but I think the classic definition is now rare. 
Jessica: yeah, it's tough to discuss which characters have MS elements when there are so many definitions.
Chihuahua Zero: As long as there are new writers, there will always be Mary Sues in some form. 
Alexandra: I think that the term has become too broad to have any meaning, and instead it would be more helpful to rename some of these more specific elements of why a heroine isn't working for a reader, versus just saying "Mary Sue!" and that being it. 
Lennon: I just think there are well written characters and not-so-well written characters 
Katy: I agree, Lennon. And I think passivity often leads to not-so-well written. 
Alexandra: CZ, what definitions do you think have eclipsed the classic definition? (And we could even get more classic and say that Mary Sue used to come from fan fiction!) 
Jessica: agree, Alexandra. I feel like it's become a blanket name for "female character I didn't like for whatever reason." 
Riv Re: As a Gary Lew who does nothing -- Percy Jackson 
Chihuahua Zero: @Alexandra: I haven't encountered any real examples, but a hypothetical scenario is the "Anti-Sue". 
Alexandra: Passivity is a problem -- characters don't have to develop as much, which can make them feel like author-inserts or "speshul" because readers can't really know them. 
Chihuahua Zero: The "Anti-Sue" is basically an attempt to avoid Mary Sue, but instead making the character implausibility flawed yet adored. 
Alexandra: CZ, dude, yes 
Lennon: I love fan fiction and the stories are filled with them 
Alexandra: Gary Lew or Gary Stu.
Alexandra: I've also heard Marty Stu.
Alexandra: You guys, 10 years ago I was ALL OVER the Harry Potter fan fiction, and I came across so many Mary Sues in that. 
Chihuahua Zero: Mary Sues are most common at sites like Fanfiction.Net. Basically, where no gatekeepers exist. But that doesn't mean Mary Sues can't exist in published works. 
Jessica: I feel like a lot of these ff stories with Mary Sue characters (and also some published works with Mary Sue characters) can get ridiculously popular. People seem drawn to these "author insert" characters on some level 
Lennon: what is wrong with the author insert exactly?
Chihuahua Zero: The thing about Mary Sues is that they're larger-than-life. Larger-than-life, if not generic, can be fascinating. 
Katy: Sometimes because the Mary Sue author-inserts are so "regular," people can easily relate and see themselves in the characters.
Lennon: Writing is an escape, why shouldn’t the author have some fun?
Alexandra: Jessica, sometimes I think "author insert" can also turn into "reader insert." 
Alexandra: Katy, that's what I think. 
Jessica: SO true, which we can see from Twilight's popularity.
Jessica: <--- LOVED me some Twilight, so I am not talking crap.
Lennon: I like Twilight, just saying.
Katy: Oh, I liked Twilight fine too (until BD, that is... *shudder*) 
Riv Re: Confession: when I started my MS as a wee little middle schooler, my main character was sort of an "author insert." 5"5, chocolate brown eyes, short messy brown hair, healthy complexion, ME. 
Alexandra: I don't think learning to write good characters by beginning with author inserts is a bad thing, though. A LOT of people base characters on people they know, so it makes sense that we'd also base characters on ourselves. I mean, I doubt that there's any author out there who hasn't used personal characteristics in some regard in a few characters. 
Karen: It's ok, Rive Re, I'm a Mary Sue in real life so I like to make my characters that way. http://us6.chatzy.com/elements/smileys/default/smile.png 
Chihuahua Zero: In middle school, most of my protagonists were similar in appearance. Lately, they've been diversifying. 20:38
Karen: Every book. Every time. 
Katy: Riv, my very first MC was an author insert too. I learned a lot from that writing experience though.
Alexandra: I totally learned. I made Lily Potter into a Mary Sue. http://us6.chatzy.com/elements/smileys/default/wink.png 
Chihuahua Zero: I think writing Mary Sues is a part of growing as a writer. The question is: Will you become skillful enough to write characters beyond the concept. 
Chihuahua Zero: My first real MC was an author insert. The second major one was a generic fantasy hero. Both have been exiled from canon. 
Alexandra: The protag of my "practice novel" was me. 
Riv Re: Yeah, my MC is more developed too. I should hope that I learned a bit about writing in the past few years. 20:39
Jessica: I think this is also why a lot of people start out writing fan fiction... the characters/canon are already there, and you can practice with what's given.
Alexandra: I don't like giving much physical descriptions of my MCs. I tend to give hair color and general body type, but other than that unless there's a plot reason to describe something, I don't. 
Alexandra: Jessica, great point! 
Katy: Same, Alexandra... Other than my super hot love interests. 
Alexandra: Haha, Katy, Alison and I had a discussion about that! We describe the love interests, but we rationalized it with the fact that the MCloves them so...of course they'd notice every single detail. 
Lennon: I have a question…
Riv Re: shoot…
Lennon: Why is it only female characters that get called on for being "Mary Sue"s? Males ones exist too.
Chihuahua Zero: I think because there are more female writers…
Jessica: Oh man, Lennon...I was trying to figure out how to ask the same question.
Jessica: I am right there with you on that one.
Riv Re: There's Gary/Larry Stew/Lew. 
Lennon: Yeah, but people are more quick to call a girl on it.
Alexandra: Oh, male ones exist, Lennon. If you've ever read that book THE NAME OF THE WIND...biggest "Gary Stu" EVER, by SEVERAL definitions of the term.
Riv Re: But, and I may get screamed at about this -- it's a half-baked idea -- men are easier to write than girls. Especially in the POV.
Alexandra: Eragon, I'd argue, too.
Chihuahua Zero: Hey, anyone read Daniel X? 
Alexandra: CZ, I tried, and I could not. 
Jessica: Oh man, Alexandra, you are the first person I have heard say something negative about The Name Of The Wind. I haven't read it, but my friends are all obsessed with it. OBSESSED. 
Jessica: But I feel like people don't get all HULK RAGE over these male characters like they do with female Mary Sue characters. 
Alexandra: Jessica...I had HULK RAGE over the protag of THE NAME OF THE WIND 
Lennon: I know they exist but no one really comments when a male character is a Gary Sue 
Karen: hulk rage *giggles* 
Jessica: tee hee 
Alexandra: Seriously, y'all. He's got red hair, he's smarter than people four years older than him, he has no money but convinces a very prestigious university to give him money to attend. By the age of like 25 or something, he's already got a bajillion legends about him. 
Alexandra: I can't even. I CAN'T EVEN. 
Riv Re: maybe it all comes back to the MASSIVE topic of having higher expectations for women, etc. 
Alexandra: I have hulk rage that so many female characters get called Mary Sue when TNOTW is hailed as some uber-original fantasy. It's not. I read SO MUCH FANTASY and it's so very much the same as ALL THE OTHER FANTASY OUT THERE 
Alexandra: Ok done now. 
Riv Re: Question: Anyone read Game of Thrones and see any MSs, male or female? 
Alexandra: Eddard Stark is probably a MS. I think Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones is probably like a...is there a version for the author's perfect love interest? 
Chihuahua Zero: Daniel X...maybe I shouldn't try to expand on that. I've already ranted about him. 
Alexandra: Daniel X can form genius-level thoughts at age 3. Is there anything else to say about him? 
Chihuahua Zero: Nope. 
Katy: That's sort of like Ender from Ender's Game, right? 
Lennon: Do NOT bring up that awful monstrosity.
Katy: uh oh! 
Alexandra: I've never read Ender's Game! 
Chihuahua Zero: Hey, can I bring up a topic that I wrote about on my blog yesterday? It's off-topic, but... 
Alexandra: Oh yes, CZ…
Katy: (I did not love EG, Alexandra.) 
Alexandra: (Good to know. I will skip it) 
Jessica: (I haven't read it because of my personal feelings for the author) 
Alexandra: On the topic of Mary Sues...I will someday put my cat into one of my novels. So there will be Cat Sue.
Jessica: Yay for Cat Sue! 
Katy: So, maybe we can wrap up with recs of our favorite scary book(s) in the spirit of Halloween? 
Alexandra: Yeah! Good idea 
Jessica: Meep...scary books are scary.
Jessica: <-- delicate flower 
Alexandra: Jessica, me too. My "scary book" will probably not scare most people.
Chihuahua Zero: I don't have a costume yet...should I go as a literal bookworm? 
Katy: I'm hard to scare, and CZ: YES! 
Riv Re: erm...haven't read any good horror in years… Hunger Games? 
Katy: Have you guys read Lisa McMann's CRYER'S CROSS? Very creepy.
Alexandra: Nooo... I have some Stephen King sitting on my "to read" shelf (my literal to read shelf in my house) and I'm afraid to touch it. 
Jessica: I picked up TEN by Gretchen McNeil at her signing. It's sitting here scaring the pants off of me... and I haven't even started reading it yet. 
Alexandra: speaking of TEN, Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is really good 
Katy: TEN isn't too bad, Jess. It's a good book, but more campy-scary than disturbing-scary 
Chihuahua Zero: 72 HOURS ON THE MOON was more horror than I expected it to be. It had more death than I expected. 
Alexandra: I can only handle camp horror like Sleepy Hollow. Real Horror (Amityville Horror, Saw, etc) scares me waaaaay too much!
Alexandra: Sandman, the comic, is cool. Disliked Stardust, though.
Riv Re: anyone have some Neil Gaiman to rec? I haven't had a chance to pick up THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, or anything else yet (coraline, for example).
Katy: I haven't read any NG, but I love Coraline the movie. It scared the bejeesus out of my 5-year-old! 

What are YOUR thoughts on the Mary Sue?
Any super-scary favorite books  to recommend?


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