Oh, Mary Sue….

So, I am no longer upset at the one review I have on the re-edition of Darkship Thieves (Btw, if anyone is feeling charitable, could you contact Amazon as customers and b*tch that they haven’t linked the ebook edition to paper or had cover, and they haven’t linked this edition to the Baen edition either. They will listen to costumers more.)

I was a little upset, because the gentleman — who patently meant no harm, being one of my newsletter subscribers (the newsletter was hiding comments!) — said that Darkship Thieves is a “Mary Sue” story. He also said it worked and he gave it five stars, but I was still stung.

You see, apparently I come from the pre-history when “Mary Sue” had a very specific meaning. It also denoted “amateurish.”

I’ve been informed the meaning has “evolved” though it is still in most cases meant as a criticism (not in this one, see “that worked.” but in most cases.)

So, for those who didn’t know this: Mary Sue came about because of — I THINK — Star Trek fanfic. A young fan wrote herself — Mary Sue — into a story. The Mary Sue character just did everything perfectly, was courted by both Kirk and Spock, and everyone loved her. Without much reason to, because the fan didn’t bother giving the character a personality. No need, since it was her own.

So, Mary Sue became used for INCOMPETENT author self-insert character.

In this sense, the aspersion offended me mightily. Darkship Thieves is not an early work, even by date of writing (as opposed to publication.) I’d written…. 10 novels, by that point, two of which while unpublished (one the sword sandal and sorcery thing I need to rewrite) had won me national contests. And I didn’t self insert in ANY of them. (For one, I tended to write male characters, when I was young. Took me a while to learn to write females. Look, I’m not a typical female. While I am female, it’s easier to write males. Still is. There’s a reason that AFGM is possibly my most authentic voice.) I know my fans joke about it, but seriously, the only congruence between Athena and I is that we’re both female and bad tempered. That’s not enough for a self-insert. Her personality comes from her history, like mine comes from mine. And … well, there just is very little contact. Oh, wait, we BOTH hate being tied up/restrained. I’ve only experienced it in hospitals, when on IV and/or strapped in so I don’t fall, but I hate it with a passion and try to get out of it as soon as possible. Also, Athena is NOT loved by everyone, and she does a lot of wrong things.

So I was mildly annoyed at the aspersions.

Then it was explained to me that these days “Mary Sue” is used for “competent character” out of a total disbelief in competence or ability to do things among the younger generation, or at least the younger generation of writers, who delight in writing helpless victims.

This at once explained to me why Weber, Correia, Ringo and HEINLEIN all get accused of Mary Sues, and why it never made any sense to me.

It also got me very, very, very grumpy.

I should insert a picture of me yelling at cloud, but considering it’s past noon and I’m writing the first of two blog posts, in pajamas, you might not want to see that.

You kids, get off my fricking lawn.

I like writing competent characters, because for failure and incompetence I have myself, or a lot of public functionaries and institutions.

Now, do I write competent characters with no flaw? AHAHAHAHHAH. No.

My characters often have abilities they don’t know how they acquired (in the DST world) due to gene engineering. BUT they have flaws a mile wide. I mean, Thena tends to do things without thinking, her light of love is choleric, Luce is almost debilitatingly depressive and probably bug f*ck nuts, HIS light of love has his own issues. Etc. because flawless characters don’t get in trouble. Also, I’ve been accused of spending so much time developing the characters personality and emotions that some of the more stodgy readers think I’m writing romance. So, definitely not Mary Sue.

Except of course, my characters tend to be competent. My current “vacation” involves writing two books I’ve been carrying around for 45 years, give or take. AND that character is “competent in spite of himself.” (He was raised by parents who demanded the impossible. So…. he had to do it.) I’m rather looking forward to that book getting me accused both of writing gay characters to corrupt the youth and being homophobic. Given the nature of the world, they might throw transphobic in too. You know, it’s great being me. I haven’t had this much fun since I was accused of hating Asians for writing Connan in the shifter series.

Anyway, the one thing I do NOT write is old style Mary Sues. I don’t write myself, because what’s the fun in that? And I develop the characters personalities because, well, either that’s the fun, or they show up on my door step fully formed. I’m not going to tell you which is true. You figure it out.

In any case this has been a brief (?) lecture on what Mary Sue is and ISN’T. Yes, there are competently written Mary Sues, that I enjoyed reading. But I don’t write those. I’m really not interesting enough to be a book character (why I’ve resisted writing an auto-biography.) Writing is my chance to kind of be in someone else’s head. Like reading, but more so.

And competent characters are no Mary Sue. While I’m not particularly competent (I trip over my own two feet. Standing still. And I always need a napkin while having a cup of coffee sitting at the table, because I spill a lot. I’m not competent at life!) I know tons of competent people, and trust me, they’re more fun to write about, because they can get out of the tight spots I get them into in ways I couldn’t do.

Therefore, please stop calling competence Mary Sue.

Or I’ll come and stand on your lawn yelling at the clouds. In my pajamas.

And nobody wants that.

94 comments

  1. A little off topic, but I wonder how many “author self-insert characters” are more “how the author wants to be” rather than “just like the author”.

    1. We know one of the like century old ones, the “everybody knows” of Harriet Vane was a *kind of* author insert….but not wish-fulfillment, she was writing what she knew….

    2. Aren’t “how the author wants to be” and “author self-insert character” mutually exclusive? Just sayin’… 🙂

    3. Most of the original “Mary Sues” had the author’s name and that was about it. The Mary Sue had literally impossible figures, hair color, eye color, skill sets, etc.

      The name derived from a parody of the type.

    4. Bilbo Baggins as he is portrayed in Fellowship of the Ring is a Tolkien self-insert. Change my mind.

      He’s an older academic who gets to hang around with characters from the mythic past, write their histories and write verses about them. Also, if you want to stretch things, soul wound from the Ring = experiences in WWI.

      1. Tolkien wouldn’t agree.

        OTOH, the Fall of Numenor started from Tolkien’s recurrent Atlantis dream.

      2. I think The Hobbit may have been in part a parody or send-up of earlier quest stories by people like William Morris in fantasy literature where the hero is always tall and stalwart and a master warrior, dwarves are always wise and profound, the weather is always warm and sunny rather than wet and dreary, and so forth. Heck Smaug’s comments to Bilbo at one point about ‘What about taxes and tariffs and hauling and the rest’ is hardly a comment you’d expect to find from Fafnir to Sigfried in the Nibelungenlied.

  2. :sympathy:
    I still twitch when folks call something decent “cowboy,” and that’s even though pop culture has used it in basically the “guy who rides a horse around cattle” meaning well before I was born.

    Because I was in a rancher culture, and a cowboy was at best a seasonal hire who you made sure stuff was locked up around.

    If you weren’t trustworthy enough to get offered an over-winter job of some sort– not needfully on the ranch, but off of the weight of your work on the ranch– then you were TROUBLE.

    I *know* what they mean.

    ….. and that’s why I read the title, and mentally starting singing a parody of Peggy Sue to as Mary Sue.

    https://genius.com/Buddy-holly-peggy-sue-lyrics

    They started accusing EVERYBODY who wrote someone you might actually like to be or even dream of being as a “Mary Sue.”

    Same way that anybody with a hint of spine was a “cowboy.”

    Well, FINE THEN!

    1. *chortle* The last book of the Adelsverein Trilogy covers the rise of the long-trail cattle drives from Texas to Kansas after the Civil War; 500 pages and not a single use of the word ‘cowboy’ – the men running the drives and working on the ranches are called ‘drovers’ or ‘hired hands’, or if they work with the horse herds ‘wranglers’. I went back to the original 19th century sources and accounts for this. The term cowboy at that time had a slightly disreputable connotation…

      I’m still simmering over the review of Tales Around the Supper Table 2 which called my Jim and Toby story in it a rip-off of Kipling. It’s an homage, a**hole, not a rip-off!

    2. I hope you allow me to nit-pick. 😉

      Most people’s idea of a “cow-boy” comes from the older Western movies/novels where the heroes are called “cow-boys”.

      These cow-boys were down-to-earth good guys looked down upon by the more sophisticated people (especially the sophisticated villains).

      The Western movie/novel cow-boy has very little to do with the Real World Ranchers. 😀

      1. Not nit-picking, explaining where the non-subculture folks are coming from.

        It’s not wrong, it’s just…. like the difference between Emarassed (English, embarassed) and Embarassaro (spanish, pregnant)

        They mean different stuff.

        Doesn’t stop me from twitching. 😀

        1. Ah, it’s embarazada, not embarassaro
          BTW, I’m still trying to figure out why tires are often called llantos in Mexican Spanish (neumaticos in Spain).

          If I get time, I need to look at O. Henry’s ranch stories to see what words he used…I do remember cow puncher, don’t know if he used cow boy.

          1. Scanning O’Henry’s Heart of the West (1907), he does use cow boy a couple times, and it seems a somewhat derogatory term. The main characters are either called cow punchers or cow men.

      2. Yet for all that it’s also interesting to note that apparently the earliest meaning of ‘cow-boy’ from England carried the hint that you were someone best watched closely, like any herdsman. I seem to recall that Tory guerillas/bandits in American Revolution Pennsylvania were called ‘cow boys’.

        1. There were itinerant young cow herders who took cows to seasonal pasture, or to market, in Ulster and some British locales,and they were somewhat disreputable too. Buachaill bo, bo for cattle and buachaill for a young man/boy. Or just buachaill can mean a cowherder,too. Me bucko.

          1. Getting a little OT but I also remember hearing the Irish epic ‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’ described as being “almost a Western” in that it was all about cattle rustling. Which makes me wonder if anyone ever adapted it into a Western.

            And I was told some years back by our preacher at the time how shepherds usually had a reputation for being roughnecks and lowlives in the Old World.

            1. I don’t know about “roughnecks” but yes I’ve heard that old-world shepherds were very very low-status people.

              1. Well, given their need to be able to fight off raiders and predators after the animals, I imagine they had to be ready for violence most of the time.

                1. Well, “being able to fight” and “being a roughneck” can be two different things. IMO A roughneck is someone who goes around starting fights. 😉

      1. 😀
        Thing is, that’s only…kinda real.

        There’s also “be an honest worker on the ranch.”

        But you don’t have to TELL guys, “Do what dad does.”

    3. Huh. I never thought that ‘cowboy’ had any negative connotations to it, outside of those people who romanticize American Indian cultures to an unhealthy and foolish degree. Going by what little I’ve read I would have seen the earliest cowboys in the Old West as being something more like the ranch owner’s huscarls or bannermen, the people you could trust to be standing behind you with weapons to hand when an enemy showed up.

      1. That is who the good ones became; subbing in “random biker gang dudes” would work otherwise.

        …..

        Humor point, my grandfather and his foster brother *were* biker gang guys.

        Who just wanted a good place to settle down, after WWI.

    4. Ah, but if I allowed that I’d been a pretty fair hand with stock, would 99% of the population have a clue?

      I mostly just say that I grew up on a ranch and chased cattle around.
      If someone gets excited that “you were an actual cowboy”, I agree. It’s simpler.

      1. :nods: Absolutely.

        I have a really fun story that I can’t tell very well, of thinking I was going to die because I let slip while in a taxi in Japan that my family worked on a ranch…. did you know someone can drive while completely turned around and waving both hands, yelling “LIKE CHON WAYNE?!?!?” at the top of his lungs?
        It was probably not actually several blocks, but…. ^.^

        Thus, I snicker at myself. 😀

      1. Zuko. 😀

        Uh… he said “hey, suiciding an entire squad of our guys is bad,” his dad took offense, burned off half of his face, and then exiled him until he could find, capture, and bring back the human personification of All Magic Powers who had been missing for a century.

        So, he did it…..

        https://avatar.fandom.com/wiki/Zuko

        1. See, that’s how a character earns being a badass.

          And the hilarious/awesome thing is, he’s probably going to be like his Uncle Iroh when he gets old.

            1. Was going to say, being aore awesome character than Iroh takes some doing…

              I have not read Embers. May have to do that. Also trying to get my fanfic thing ready for release into the wild, and start my own original book. Much nailing down of characters needs to happen.

              Too many things and not enough time.

              1. I have not read Embers.

                If you have a Kindle reader, take it off of AO3 and read it that way.

                It’s a “didn’t get the serial numbers off” retelling of Avatar with a lot of the world building stuff done seriously.

                Good luck on your story!

                1. Thank you. Definitely an odd feeling getting ready to send something out, even if it’s just a fanfic. I think I’ve gotten past the ‘want to burn my notes and wipe my hard drive’ stage, but definitely an odd feeling.

                  The weirdest part is I’m not even sure what genre it actually is. It started as fantasy slice of life, except its essentially how those two characters ended up married, except I’m pretty sure I completely wafted past the conventions of romance.

                  So probably I’m heading towards adventure stories where in characters get paired as part of their character growth, ala the Hostess’?

                    1. Oh. I have something kind of like that in my FMA WIP. Although not as much military action. More restoration after war with some fighting every once in a while because that just kinda happens.

                  1. I don’t even have anything of my own out there, and I’ve hit that like three times.

                    IGNORE IT NEVER DELETE ANYTHING.

                    It’s never bad, it’s just not in the right place.

                    ….the right place may never come, but you’re at like a silly cat picture level saving so who cares?

                    1. True that. Heinlein’s Thou Shalt Pencils down and Publish! also helps.

                      And who knows, maybe I’ll get to use that one scene where he walks in on her reaching the top shelf by climbing on the cabinet doors with another character? There was never a good spot to fit that one in here.

                    2. I’m pretty sure you’re the one I heard that rule from.

                      Unless you’re talking in the “I should be writing” vein, in which case I’ll mention I do recall Larry Correia has a rule that is someone tells him he should be writing. He’s obligated to take the day off…

                  2. The weirdest part is I’m not even sure what genre it actually is.

                    I spent the last 30 years listening to my parents complaining about music and books suddenly going into genre.

                    Publish it, share it, see what happens.

                    1. Is the plan. Will also try to figure out how to convert it into kindle compatible formats, and see about the rules for linking it around here for folks who might be interested. That one is a fanfiction, so it can just sort of wander around the back workings of the web wherever it will.

  3. You know, if you ever need cash quickly again, we could probably kickstarter doing a video of you standing on a lawn while yelling at clouds in your PJs…

    You know think this crew would fund it in like 5 minutes 🙂

  4. Using “Mary Sue” as a description for competent main character stories seems like a waste of a term.

    Everything I’ve seen described as a Mary Sue focuses around characters that are said to be awesome/moral/beloved without actually showing any characteristics that would lead to that. They become a black hole that consumes the plot and vitality of any scene they enter, because they just show up, wave hands and things are awesome and everyone can go try on new handbags now.

    To a degree I think it is authors that want to write characters who are awesome at things and either don’t know how to build up the character to that point, or otherwise end up skipping the middle.

    I also think it’s a bit of a hard to nail down concept because it is possible to have characters who do drop in and instantly fix situations in a good story, but I believe it requires the thing they just popped in and fixed to not be the true central conflict for the main character.

    For example, a Superman-like character story entirely focused on him fighting low level mooks is going to be Sueish. But make the focus on a Supermanish character trying to figure out how to, say help a daughter who is crashing out of school while juggling his secret hero life isn’t. At least as long as she doesn’t just listen to everything he says because he’s Superman and she’s just a teenager.

    I think Hela Syndulla (Star Wars Rebels), despite being the omni-mom, mostly avoids being a Marry Sue because despite how she’s generally able to just fix things whenever she gets involved, the story is about the kids, and the kids keep ducking off and getting into metric tons of trouble.

  5. I’ve never seen it used to mean merely “competent” characters, in the sense of a fictional person with more skills and self-preservation instincts than the inhabitant of the average horror film. I have seen it used to mean “wish-fulfillment” characters, in the James Bond/Peter Wimsey sense. The character who is endowed with everything (or a significant fraction of everything) the author doesn’t have and wishes they did, from money to lifestyle to abilities, the character who usually spends their time solving other people’s problems because their own are, honestly, relatively manageable.

    I barely made it through On Basilisk Station and don’t think I’ve tried any of the other Honor Harrington books. I don’t recall enough about Basilisk Station to have an opinion on Harrington as a Mary Sue. Pet cat she’s allowed to take everywhere and super-strength in normal-g have kind of a wish-fulfillment vibe, but not more so than Bond’s or Wimsey’s lifestyle. Darkship Thieves was a book I read more for the setting and adventures than for the people, but I don’t recall anything particularly Mary Sue-ish about Athena, or even all that wish-fulfillment-y.

    “Pet” characters who aren’t alter egos but whom the author is so fond of that he keeps piling the awesomeness on until the character no longer works in its original setting, is also a thing. Tolkien was trending that direction with Galadriel in his post-LOTR writings, reaching the point where even having her take basically the same positions as her borderline-saintly brother Finrod made her too complicit in Feanor’s rebellion for Tolkien’s tastes. “Pet character” might be a better label than “Mary Sue” for wish fulfillment characters who aren’t really intended as an author’s alter ego.

  6. Another possible reason for the misuse is the way a certain type of person (not always on the left) abuses language.

    Imagine a brat who always wanted to be a writer. Call her “Robin”, maybe. She had a comfortable upper middle class upbringing, had her various degrees (it’s always multiple with this type) fully funded without any effort on her part, and entered the world expecting to be Queen Bitch, because she got all the papers and documentation. Everything ever since has been very confusing to her. She got prestige and awards, but stupid readers won’t buy her books. She got positions and titles, but old people made her look foolish at conventions. (How is that even allowed?) And worst of all, she gets accused of writing Mary Sues because she simply writes the world the way it actually is — everybody recognizes her heroine’s wonderfulness, those who don’t are dastardly villains, and things just get handed to her, because that’s how it works. (And even more importantly, that’s how it is supposed to be.)

    So, to “get back”, she accuses one of those Evil Writers (you can always tell the bad ones, they make money) of writing Mary Sues. Because Evil Writer’s characters earn what they get, instead of having it handed to them because they deserve it. (How fascist!) And Evil Writer’s girl characters — I cannot possibly emphasize this enough — do not hate men. And Evil Writer’s male characters are competent and sometimes even right! Even worse, the males are sometimes right when the girls are wrong!!!

    So of course you write Mary Sues, because “Mary Sue” means “bad”, and the rest is just details.

    1. In re: misuse of language, there’s also a lot of “I have heard this word/phrase used to mean something bad, so I shall use it to describe anything I don’t like.” Rather the same way racist/fascist and other such words have been used.

      Not all bad writing and poor character development is Mary Sue-ism, but there’s an awful lot of people who use that shorthand for anything they don’t like. Especially when they can’t explain what they don’t like or why. Happens a lot with skin-suited themes/ideas/premises.

  7. “Mary Sue” is almost always an insult, though it seems to mean different things to different people. For me, it’s a matter of how the narrative treats the character. When the narrative simply allows the main character to go about her own business, that isn’t usually a Mary Sue. When no fewer than three gods show up for no better reason than to tell a character how awesome she is? Mary Sue.

    I’ve actually thought a lot about this topic (I could probably write a guest post on it if you’re ever really desperate for something), but ultimately I think what it boils down to is a huge disconnect between how the narrative is presenting the character vs. how the reader is perceiving the character. If the story is trying to tell me that this is a great leader with amazing perception and intelligence, but what a see is a bossy, whiny bitch who’s only right because the story ties itself in knots to make her so, that’s a Mary Sue.

    1. “If the story is trying to tell me that this is a great leader with amazing perception and intelligence, but what a see is a bossy, whiny bitch who’s only right because the story ties itself in knots to make her so,”

      IOW, “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you over the sound of your actions.”

  8. Oh, and just as a minor historical note: “Lieutenant Mary Sue” did in fact come from Star Trek fan fiction, but she was a deliberate parody of the type of characters that tended to populate those fics. By the time she came around to give the archetype a name, it was already an established trope.

    1. And everybody on the Enterprise loved her (okay, fair enough, that could happen…mmmmmaybe), but also all the men were in love with her, especially Kirk and Spock. And she always saved the day.

      Self-insert is funny, but all-powerful mind-controlling goddess usually isn’t. (Although if you have a fun, winning writing style and successfully combine fan-insert with power-fantasy, Mary Sues can actually be popular characters with readers.)

      Sarah’s characters are very competent, but they are nowhere near the all-encompassing power levels of a Sue.

    1. Well, yeah, but why pay attention to that kind of idiots? (Except as inspiration to do the opposite, if you don’t have enough plot bunnies already.)

  9. This is where my eye-twitching becomes painful.

    You get this feeling that they’re re-defining the terms because if they have to use the old dictionary…they come off as bargain-bin basement level at best.

    “Mary Sue” is a good one. The current definition has become “female characters we don’t like,” when the original one was more “creepy female self-insert character.” Think the female character in a bad yaoi story where the two boys coo over her mercilessly, when they aren’t banging each other like a screen door.

  10. Tomorrow I will see if I can dig out Mary Sue Must Die.

    More on topic: When I first heard of a Mary Sue in re: fanfic, I innocently wondered what the problem was. If you are not boring, and your character is inserted into the drama as a “what if” and assuming capable writing skills…

    Why should anyone care?

    Well, that led me back to the original Mary Sue fanfic… Awful stuff. So… If you’re a woke Marxist skip the self-insert.

    1. A big part of the problem with Mary Sue in fanfic is that the audience doesn’t really want to read about original characters no matter how well done they are. It was their love of the original source material that brought them to that part of fanfiction.net or AO3, and they’re likely to be touchy about anything that seems to be impinge on it. Fans of the Harry Potter series, for example, are there because they like Harry Potter, not Stephen Moon or Ariana Black, and any character who seems to be usurping Harry’s place will catch hell.

  11. I think also the Mary Sue gets conflated with creator’s pet often as well and they aren’t the same thing.

  12. IIRC, Ensign Mary Sue was: The youngest fleet officer (little training, no experience), the smartest and most cunning officer on the Enterprise, very cute, completely selfless, and beloved by everyone.
    BTW, she had a dozen middle names but Sue was her last name.

    The current definition seems to derive from the Rey character in “Star Wars.” Overpowered and unlikable but beloved (especially by the writers).
    Thena was not a Mary Sue.

    1. Honestly, finding out that the original Mary Sue was a parody make sense– there’s some nonsense, yes, but not the up to 11.

      So… kinda, anything you don’t like that’s a little similar is Mary Sue. Because the original was a strawman.

  13. Thank you for this post, and these comments. I never understood the Mary Sue issue. Now, I think of the Kindle offerings sent daily from freebooksy.com and how many of the leads are former FBI agent turned chef; or former SEAL turned innkeeper; who must save the world using their awesome skills and limitless network of contacts – hackers, arms merchants, etc. The “former wonder person” designation is just handwavium to explain Mary Sue’s hyper competence.

    Is that right? Or am I still having trouble understanding it?

    1. Yes, you are still misunderstanding it. Competence is not Mary Sue-ism. A Mary Sue is an idealized author-insert character (who the author WANTS to be, generally, rather than who they are–tough, smart, capable, popular) who has specific traits–usually a tragic backstory (to elicit sympathy), minimal training but is the best at everything but especially combat-related skills, instantly popular with everybody, and no flaws. That last is important, because it’s WHY Mary Sues are considered bad writing. Stories are about how characters overcome their flaws and inadequacies to get the job done. If you don’t have any negative traits, you can’t overcome them and grow.

      Merely being hypercompetent is insufficient. Even superstrong, mostly invulnerable, always-good-guy characters like Superman and Captain America have insecurities and character defects they need to overcome. It’s the unexpected vulnerability of these characters that draws people in. That would be why SuperSeal Joe Blow has, for example, a new love interest in each book. It’s something for him to care about and make him vulnerable.

  14. My favorite thing today: a confirmation that I don’t know what is going on.
    I’ve worked HARD to become a cultural hermit, and it has paid off again! because I don’t recognize the character described in the acronym ‘AFGM, as in’:
    “There’s a reason that AFGM is possibly my most authentic voice.”

    But, I made up a couple: Actually Flabby Gay Male; Authentic French-German Mustard; Absolutely FABULOUS Game Master; Aggravating Fiber-Gobbling Monkeys; I could go on for hours.

      1. Oh. Yeah. Of course. I would have figured that out. Eventually. Because when I reviewed it in 2015, I RAVED about it :
        “She wants a story to stand on merits other than a gimmick, and she wants characters to stand on other merits than what is between their legs and who they sleep with. THAT’S IT! That’s all that it is, and as long as she writes books that only contain the kind of men who only sleep with women, and the kind of women who only sleep with men, she can’t communicate effectively about that value of hers, that we, as persons, are more than just plumbing.”
        I guess that means I can’t sit at the Cool Kids Table this week.
        I’m gonna go take a seat on the Lame Couch now.
        Sigh.

        1. >>I guess that means I can’t sit at the Cool Kids Table this week.

          Lucky!

          … OK, I can only find the cool kid table by what I avoid, but… 😀

  15. “Then it was explained to me that these days “Mary Sue” is used for “competent character” out of a total disbelief in competence or ability to do things among the younger generation, or at least the younger generation of writers, who delight in writing helpless victims.”

    This appears to be the common usage in the “Lit’ratchah” set. If the MC is decent, reasonably competent, and has a moral backbone, said MC is a Mary Sue/Marty Stu and therefore the book is a two star.

    This follows the general drift of SF/F wherein all characters are despicable and/or nebbish imbeciles who achieve their goals by sheer brainless luck and ironic snark. See Charles Stross for the definition of the type, he managed a MC who was both useless AND despicable.

    Any time a character can walk and chew gum at the same time, that’s Mary Sue because they HATES it, Preciousss. They also hate characters who use their powers responsibly, and happy endings. If the nerd gets the girl, that is anathema.

    What do I write? MC ridiculously overpowered, uses said power responsibly, has loyal girlfriend who sticks with him, and also the nerd gets The Girl. (Not just any girl, okay? She is THE Girl.) Most people seem to like it, only one hater who started his review with “Calling Captain Marty Stu!”

    They demand non-binary failures as MCs, the book must leave the reader sad, tired and feeling dirty. I’m pretty happy to disappoint them. Too bad so sad, two-star guy, you were warned in the blurb there would be giant tanks and robot girlfriends.

      1. How’d someone put it years ago? “Too many people judge the limits of human possibility by what they see staring back from their bathroom mirror every morning.”

      2. Certainly seems that way, right? Guy can change a tire, he’s OP! Girl can bake a cake, she’s sabotaging the Sisterhood!

        Girl can bake AND change a tire, wow man what are you saying here? That’s crazy talk.

  16. Tv Tropes has a reasonably good discussion of the debates.

    George Eliot wrote “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” which describes the type well, allowing for genre differences.

  17. fwiw, I tend to associate Mary Sue/Gary Stu with fan-fiction. Wesley Crusher being one of the few exceptions. In some of the early days of Trek FF it was supposedly very bad. ((I believe you’re correct about the origin)) To the point that there was at least one parody song called The Mary Sue Fanfiction Blues. It’s more Star Wars slanted, but the song is practically a Mary Sue Litmus test. (of which I just found at least a dozen)

    1. That would be because Leslie Fish wrote both the original essay and the song “Lieutenant Mary Sue.”

      Marshak and Culbreath got to professionally publish three, three licensed Star Trek novels that are total Mary Sue! She even has Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth!

      OTOH, Janet Kagan’s character Tailkinker has almost every Mary Sue characteristic, but escapes being one – by being a very good character in a novel full of good characters. (Uhura’s Song is the novel.) Nor does she control anyone unduly.

      1. Wow, someone else who read that book! I think it’s the only Trek novel I was ever able to enjoy.

  18. Someone sent me a bunch of essays from lawyernovelist.tumblr that dissect stories and had several dedicated to discussions of Mary Sues in popular culture. Such as the Hobbit movies (Tauriel, Thorin), Twilight franchise, and more.

    lhttps://lawyernovelist.tumblr.com/post/127655144989/so-ive-talked-about-my-definition-of-a-sue-and

    One element of the classifications this person uses I find helpful: does the character make mistakes that rebound on that character? Or only on others. If only on others, odds are higher that the character is a Sue. That’s one of the more subtle ways of telling.

    And there are some published works where the protagonist has gone Sue, even if they didn’t start that way. Maybe Honor Harrington as suggested above, I haven’t read those books. But others. Or there’s a secondary character who gets way too much attention from the narrative for the role they’re there to play.
    Mercedes Lacky has a few Sues: Firesong and Kerowyn, the latter of whom fits “The Asshole Sue is a really nasty piece of work. He’s rude, unpleasant and abrasive to everybody he meets, and yet nobody ever seems to resent him for it. He’s hateful and judgemental, and yet that habit of thought never comes back to bite “. Paolini’s Eragon, I’m told by the family member who read those books. Michelle Sagara West’s Jewel and Kaylin characters. … they’re out there.

  19. For Sarah & other Agatha Christie fans, HC has two different mysteries on sale for $1.99:

    The 4:50 from Paddington is one of my favorites, so I had to get it, even though I have it in dead tree format.

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