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April 2016



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writing carnival

it complicates the complication

Just for the record, blackholly is right again, as usual.

The "I'm too lazy to click a link" version: it's frankly misogynistic to identify a competent female protagonist as a "Mary Sue" because she's at the center of her story. She's at the center of her story because she's the goddamn protagonist.

Why is The Lord of the Rings about Frodo? Because he's the hobbit with the ring. If a different hobbit had had the ring, the book/trilogy would have been about a different hobbit.

When I pick up a book called The Great Gatsby or Anna Karenina or The World According to Garp, I'm pretty sure that Gatsby/Anna/Garp are going to be central to the narrative. This works for books with titles like The Wind-up Girl and Who Fears Death (a name, if you have not read it) and The Lies of Locke Lamora too. Hey, there's a name or an epithet in the title. Maybe this book is about this person!

So... if you find yourself uncomfortable with a lot of books by female authors, with female protagonists, and identifying a high percentage of those female as "Mary Sues," well... it is possible that the fault lies not in the protagonists, but in the reader*.

Sometimes a book is about a female character because there are female people in the world.

Crazy talk, I know, but there you go.

*This also applies if you find yourself often dismissing books with queer central characters as "slash."** Sometimes books are about gay people because gay people exist.

**If you are a slash fan, and trying to sell a book to your friends, letting them know it has the manlove is different. I'm talking about the "Straight boys need not read this because it has The Ghey in it" reviews. They say more about the reviewer than the book, is all I'm saying.


Re: Mary Sue: just FYI

Just wanted to state it for the record, because I notice facts and details often get lost in discussions.

My own take is that I agree that the Mary Sue label gets used way too much and inappropriately for all fic [I hate labels anyway and I hate making distinctions among pieces of writing; there's good writing and bad writing and that's it].

But I think at the core of the term, as the discussion with Paula Smith makes clear, is the idea of psychic space or lack of it. A Mary Sue character is so completely identified with the writer, that there's no psychic space left inside for the reader to climb in to and play along. The result is that readers tend to feel alienated ---it's like the writer created the character solely for his/her enjoyment and satisfaction and left the reader out with his or her nose pressed against the glass.

And I should add that, as someone who's taught writing for almost 30 years, I find that Mary Sue is more an early stage of development that, like Piaget's stages of development for children, all writers must go through.

Edited at 2011-08-08 12:55 pm (UTC)


See, this is the thing about all the people insisting that Bella Swan is a Sue. It's not that there's no psychic space left inside her for the reader to climb in and play along; it's that there's too damn much. She actually has a personality, but you have to look for it, because the writer would rather talk about **~*~*~*~*Edward*~*~*~*~**

Re: *

I'd prefer it if this comment thread did not decay into "So and so is a SUE!" / "NO SHE ISN'T!"

As that is directly contrary to the spirit in which I wrote it, and the spirit of Holly's post.

My point is this: it's misogynistic to run around broadly tarring female protagonists written by female writers in general with dismissive labels. If we want to criticize female writers and female protagonists, it's appropriate to be specific and detailed in our criticism, not airily dismissive.

And it's also appropriate to do it else-internets rather than here and now.

Re: *

I agree with you completely. I am not fond of the term Sue to begin with, which probably hasn't come across. In original fiction I find it silly. In fanfiction it generally comes across as "how dare you make an original character the star of the story?" because if you do do that, of course the relationships and power dynamics will change as there is another person involved.

Re: *

Yeah, I'm totally at home with using it in fanfic, as God intended.

Re: Mary Sue: just FYI

It's useful to have the authoritative reference link. It does appear to mean about what I think of it as meaning, but now I have a better source for the (original) meaning, and can refer people to it if necessary.

Re: Mary Sue: just FYI

Personally- as long as the characters are not utterly perfect in every way- I'd rather read about defined, crisp characters who don't really leave me room to self-insert than the vague, generic ones designed for emotional self-insertion. The latter are boring.